Upon lifting the glossy plastic lid of the ASUS N61Jv, the most striking thing is the speakers. ASUS appears to have reached back into the 80s for inspiration and come up with a metallic silver grill and distinctly retro power button (under this grill sit a pair of Altec Lansing speakers). This nod to the past belies the fact that this multimedia-focused laptop is packed with the latest features.
Perhaps the most important of these features is the laptop's graphics subsystem. The N61Jv is powered by an Intel Core i5-430M CPU, which features an Intel HD graphics chip on the package.
These graphics solutions are fine for more mundane tasks, but often struggle when dealing with heavier tasks such as High Definition video or 3D games.
To combat this, the N61Jv also features an NVIDIA GeForce GT325M GPU. Rather than forcing the user to use a function key to switch between the two graphics processors, as we've been used to up until now, it employs NVIDIA's new Optimus technology.
This calls upon auto-updated profiles in the NVIDIA drivers to detect what kind of application is running and what demands it places on the graphics, ramping the graphics power up or down as required.
For web browsing and other simple tasks it uses the Intel HD graphics to drive the 16in display.
Once the drivers detect something more graphically intensive they power up the NVIDIA chip to handle display rendering. This process is transparent to the user and requires no tricky rebooting or delays to get it working.
It handles this switching using the Intel graphics chip as a display controller. The GeForce 325M sends its output to the framebuffer, and the Intel chip then puts it on screen.
This of course means that when the GeForce is active the laptop is running two graphics chips. This has a minor effect on battery life - the price paid for convenience.
In our heavy use tests the N61Jv was able to go for just over an hour with the GeForce 325M running. This is still pretty respectable, and it's the kind of life we would expect from a similarly-specced laptop running just on the Intel integrated graphics. Just don't expect to run heavy workloads when you are far from a power outlet.
This graphics system outputs to a gorgeous 16in LED LCD screen. It has a glossy coating, which we found could get annoying under the fluorescent lighting of the PC Authority labs.
It is, however, bright and crisp. The only negative is that the screen's native resolution of 1366 x 768 is a little underwhelming, especially considering its size.
But a higher-resolution screen would be wasted for 3D gaming: in our Crysis benchmarks the N61Jv pumped out a massive 65fps at low settings, but dropped to a still playable 23fps at medium. By keeping the resolution relatively low, games can be played while still looking good.
While the graphics subsystem is the standout technological feature of the N61Jv it isn't the only noteworthy aspect. This laptop also features a single USB 3 port, only the second we've seen after the Fujitsu SH760.
This is part of a strategy announced by ASUS to push USB 3 across its product lines, and while there are few devices that currently use the technology the number will rapidly expand in the coming year.
If USB 3 isn't your go-to interface for external storage, the N61Jv also has an eSATA port as well as two USB 2 ports. There is also a card reader built into the front of the laptop, unobtrusively hidden on the underside of the chassis. A DVD Super-multi drive completes the storage picture.
Overall this is an impressive piece of kit. It delivers the kind of battery life we would expect from a six cell offering at this price point, but its form factor means that it is more likely to be used near a power point than on a train. It also has by far the best implementation of dual graphics technology to date on a laptop.
Add in the robust performance, the great build quality and a forward-looking feature set, and you have a very impressive piece of midrange hardware.