Laptop-loving gamers are often stuck with portable systems that are nearly as bulky as the desktop computers they so studiously avoid. Recently, Asus has scored with interesting design ideas such as the leather-bound ultraportable S6F, and the company's industrial-flavoured G1 is also something you don't see every day: a midsize laptop marketed as a gaming system.
While high-end 17-inch gaming rigs from Dell and Alienware can easily set you back more than £2,000, the Asus G1 gives you a decent set of specs -- a couple of steps down from the top-of-the-line -- squeezed into a 15.4-inch form factor for a reasonable £1,316. It's a shame the gaming scores weren't up to snuff. If you need more video-card muscle, or if the black-and-green design doesn't appeal to your sensibilities, a few hundred pounds more will buy you a better 3D chip and a larger display in Dell's XPS M1710.
Measuring 356mm wide, 284mm deep and 41mm high, the Asus G1 sits somewhere between the mainstream and desktop-replacement classes of laptops. The physical measurements and 15.4-inch display say mainstream, while the sheer weight edges into the desktop replacement category -- meaning this system is best set up on a semi-permanent perch in your office, dorm, or computer room. The G1 is heavier than most 15-inch laptops, weighing 3.2kg, which is about 700g lighter than the 17-inch Dell XPS M1710, but almost the same weight as another 17-inch gaming rig, the Toshiba Satellite P105-S9722 (not available in the UK).
Asus offers some unique touches with the system's design, and you'll probably either love them or hate them. The chassis's basic-black look, upon closer inspection, reveals a subtle crosshatch pattern, which adds some pleasing depth to the flat surfaces of the laptop. Metal rivets in the lid on the hinges add an industrial flavour, but the day-glo green accents on the sides of the lid and on the built-in webcam are decidedly less high-tech looking. The crosshatch pattern extends to the mousepad, while the green theme is carried over to a plastic eyeball logo that sits between the mouse buttons and stares at you through a glowing green light.
As if to firmly reinforce the gaming message, the W, A, S and D keys -- the main control keys for many PC games -- are thoughtfully highlighted in green. This is a laptop that by no means looks unattractive, but it would have a hard time moonlighting in a serious office environment.
The 15.4-inch LCD display offers a 1,280x800-pixel native resolution, which is what we'd except from a display this size, but is lower than you'll find on gaming laptops with 17-inch displays, such as the Dell XPS M1710 (1,920x1,200 pixels) or the Toshiba Satellite P105 (1,440x900 pixels). This will prevent you from playing games at higher resolutions such as 1,600x1,200 pixels, but that shouldn't affect any but the most hardcore gamers.
The system has a standard set of connections, including four USB 2.0 jacks, a mini FireWire jack, a PC Card slot, media card reader, headphone, mic and line-in audio jacks, and VGA, DVI and S-Video outputs for hooking up an external monitor. There's no ExpressCard slot, but there is a tiny OLED display right above the keyboard that displays the current time. You can edit the OLED display to display a personalised message. Standard media controls sit along the front edge of the system. Networking connections include a modem and 10/100 Ethernet jacks, while an integrated 802.11a/b/g wireless. A 1.3-megapixel webcam sits above the screen.
The Asus G1 is a fixed-configuration system, with a 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7200 CPU, 2GB of DDR2 RAM, and a 160GB 5,400rpm hard drive. While that's a decent set of specs for mainstream gaming, multimedia and productivity use, moving up to a Core 2 Duo T7600, as in the Dell XPS M1710 or WidowPC Sting 517D (not available in the UK), yielded clearly superior scores in our multitasking, iTunes encoding and Photoshop CS2 tests.
Still, for a system marketed as a gaming rig, frame rates are what counts. Unfortunately, the Asus G1's Nvidia GeForce Go 7700 GPU didn't put up much of a fight when compared to the latest and greatest GPU -- the GeForce Go 7950GTX -- which is found in both the XPS M1710 and the WidowPC. With 63 frames per second (FPS) in Quake 4 and only 33fps in F.E.A.R. -- both at 1,024x768 -- the G1 just can't compete with these specialised 17-inch gaming monsters. It's a David-and-Goliath story, but this time, Goliath wins. Lest we sound too negative, the Asus G1 has more than enough power for mainstream gamers.