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ASUS N56VM Notebook Review: The Do-It-All Ivy Bridge Laptop

Author: Matt Smith
Subject: Mobile
Manufacturer: ASUS

Display and Audio Quality, Cooling, Portability, Software

Display and Audio Quality 

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As is appropriate for a high-end laptop, the N56 comes equipped with a 1080p display. Like the N55 before it the display is not gloss but rather matte – an unusual choice for a multimedia laptop, but one that ASUS seems to be making more frequently (the ASUS G75 we reviewed also had a 1080p matte display).

Packing this many pixels into a 15.6” display results in excellent perceived sharpness. Text is crisp and high-resolution videos are stunning. We found some issues with the display in test images, such as excessive dithering in black level tests and a gradient test image that had wasn’t smooth. In subjective use, these problems seemed to be overcome by the high pixel count and excellent viewing angles, particularly on the vertical axis. Maximum brightness was also boon – it’s brilliant and more than capable of making the display usable on a sunny day. 

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What about the Bang and Olufsen ICEpower sound tied in to the design? It’s good, but not great. Music sounds excellent at medium volume – among the best I’ve heard from a laptop – but at that setting it’s only loud enough to fill a small room. Turning it up to eleven is enough to entertain a larger area or overcome significant background noise, but it also reduces sound quality significantly. There’s a lot of distortion and heavy bass can cause the mid-range to drop away, creating strange fluctuations in volume. 

Cooling

As a large system running relatively power-efficient hardware, you’d expect the ASUS N56VM to be quiet. And for the most part, it is. At idle the fan spins along are a leisurely pace, audible in a quiet room but otherwise obscured by ambient noise. 

Peg the hardware with stress-testing software and the fan ramps up modestly, reaching a distinct level of noise that rarely wavers. It’s audible, but far from annoying, and most users will find it to be an improvement over any previously-owned mainstream laptop.

Temperatures are kept well in check. Both the top and bottom topped out at 92 degrees Fahrenheit, primarily on the left side of the laptop near the exhaust vent. The metal on the interior of the laptop conducts heat well and causes the keyboard to feel less comfortable than it should at these temperatures, but the overall experience is not bad. If you are not using the laptop at full load the interior barely warms above 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

Portability

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Weighing in at almost six pounds and carrying a 15.6” display, the ASUS N56 isn’t terribly portable. Add a pound and you’re in the territory of 7-pound gaming laptops, though this 15.6” laptop is of course a bit smaller. You can certainly place this laptop into a large bag and carry it with you, but it’s unwieldy for frequent fliers. 

The battery is a mid-sized 56 Wh unit that looks larger than it is. So how’s battery life? 

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As mentioned in the Ivy Bridge for mobile review, the endurance of the ASUS N56VM isn’t notable in either direction. It’s not great, but it’s not bad, either. Since this is a new processor technology, some folks may have expected much better life – which doesn’t appear here.

With that said, it’s possible the reference laptop is at a disadvantage due to the lack of battery life related software on the laptop. ASUS usually uses custom power profiles to achieve excellent endurance, but none of that is available here.

Software

Our ASUS N56VM came as a reference platform, which means it was not loaded with the normal array of software that you’d find on a unit for retail sale.

Given what we’ve seen on other modern ASUS laptops we expect that bloatware will be modest. You’ll find an anti-virus trial and a handful of utilities from ASUS that most people likely will not use or need – and which can be easily for gotten once you delete their shortcuts. 

You’ll also probably receive the company’s useful custom power profiles and Turbo Boost monitor. Not the kind of stuff that’ll knock your socks off, but at least they add some value.

May 22, 2012 | 04:48 PM - Posted by Veer Maharaj (not verified)

I would buy this damn asus for the 1080p screen alone :D

May 23, 2012 | 03:22 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

No thunderbolt and are the graphics drivers on the Intel HD side genaric Intel HD graphics drivers? What about Opencl, will I be able to use opencl to utilize the the intel GPU for general purpose compute, while using the GT630M for graphics? Any opencl Benchmarks for the computer would be helpful. Ask ASUS these questions if you can not answers any of the questions yourself. Ask the gaming engine people if they plan to take advantage of opencl to increase the performence of games in laptop computers that have an Intel GPU pared with a descrete GPU, by utilizing both GPUs at the same time?

May 23, 2012 | 08:56 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Great review :]

May 26, 2012 | 05:39 AM - Posted by LiHa (not verified)

if it can just pull the price down below $999, it will be a really good piece to buy. by the way Great review.

May 29, 2012 | 10:04 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Is there an estimate for release date (North American) ?

May 31, 2012 | 07:49 PM - Posted by Starkie24

What is the battery life like for normal day to day use? gaming? watching movies?

June 1, 2012 | 07:53 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

It has no WebCam?

Otherwise looks like a good candidate to replace my current older ASUS X5DIN

June 3, 2012 | 05:02 AM - Posted by shardul (not verified)

when will i get these n series laptops in India at cheaper rate and DOS based also

June 22, 2012 | 05:32 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

got mine. the screen is NOT 1080p
It's max resolution is 1366x768
it does have a webcam and is pretty good but I swapped my SSD into it soon after I bought it (literally 2 hours or so later)
keyboard is quiet and comfortable.
The touchpad is similar size to that of a MBP and about double the size of my ASUS f3gs which takes some getting used to.
Comes with the general ASUS BLOATWARE but its a great laptop after a quick clean install of win7.

July 28, 2012 | 03:44 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

it's not the same fullhd model.

August 20, 2012 | 04:58 AM - Posted by Jack (not verified)

I like your review. I just have a quick question. I just got this laptopn and ai have a 120 GB SSD. I was planning to install the SSD as a boot drive and keep the HDD for data. Can I do what I am describing? Is there an additional bay on the laptop for the SSD keeping the HDD?

June 28, 2012 | 08:36 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Just bought one of these (here branded as R501VM) in Australia for A$1,200. Full HD Version. I have swapped the crappy HDD with a SSD, upped the RAM, installed Windows 8 release preview and threw the disk full of ASUS's usual crapware in the bin.

In my view the machine is excellent value. I love the form factor and keyboard. I hate the touchpad but this is not a big issue for me: I use a mouse and disable it. The two year warranty is a bonus and having owned ASUS laptops (including the predecessor N53SV) for the last few years I am looking forward to their great after-sales service should I need it.

July 5, 2012 | 04:56 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Sam's has a US version of the N56VZ with the 3610 i7 processor for $899 - no blu ray and lower res screen but a 7200 rpm 750GB hard drive. Anybody know where else to purchase (preferably in US or Canada) with a high res screen and blu ray?

July 15, 2012 | 03:14 PM - Posted by Q3gun (not verified)

Good review, i went to buy one for me =)
Just want to overclock the only bottleneck: Graphics. Dayym dat 630m (really 540m) has some gpu clock Lock :/ cant get over 810mhz . could even undervolt it to allow higher locks while lovering temerature w lower volt. but dont know how get over dat lock..

July 20, 2012 | 05:27 PM - Posted by Matt (not verified)

Purchased this model recently (here branded as R501VM also (New Zealand))
http://www.elive.co.nz/asus-r501vm-s4142x-i7-laptop-SY04931.php
Packaging was excellent
All items in box - check
Remove laptop from sleeve and open and notice keyboard is a foriegn version (European? - unsure)
Packaging clearly stated for New Zealand but US/English keyboard was not installed....Asus quality control??
Went ahead and powered on, no issues, standard setup went well. Screen is 1920-1080 FHD - awesome and bright!
The software preinstalled was excessive (as others note)
Worse than my 3 year old HP (current laptop about to die) running at about 113 processes..... amazing.
Retailer is issuing refund as their supplier only has the foriegn keyboard version.
This is the exact version of a laptop am after (prefer 8gb ram and better HDD - would get a SSD - fresh OS install) - for general web surfing/ light gaming so will try another retailer (online as no brick and mortar store sells these in NZ).
Felt like an excellent laptop for the 15 minutes of use, the additon of backlit keys is a boon as well as Bluray drive... very hard to find in one unit (in NZ anyway).

July 30, 2012 | 06:28 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Really good review, very in depth and covered all the important points and thanks to this review I have now purchased this laptop =D Thanks!

August 27, 2012 | 05:17 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I found the N56vm on Amazon for $899. I ordered it to replace my VAIO F series 16inch model from about 4 years ago. Hope at $899 it's a good value. My VAIO was no slouch and still runs great. But it's running Vista (you heard me right Vista) and a Centrino processor. Hope I gain something in the switch to the N56.

June 7, 2013 | 08:36 PM - Posted by tyler (not verified)

I bought it last week for 999 euros from Germany. Everything is beyond my expactations - very nice. However, there is one issue, it makes noise while working. It is not the fan noise. It is like as if I have just inserted a CD and it tries to read the CD. Or it is like the noise you hear while waiting after you just power the laptop on. Do you also have this problem? Or is it a problem?

July 19, 2013 | 06:53 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I have no noise after startup. I do have times where my startup will take 3 minutes. Usually it is around a minute or so. Putting in a Samsung 840 pro next week. Hopefully that will fix it. Otherwise, extremely cool laptop. Easily a desktop replacement.

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