(CNET) -- The Asus M70 is the most fully loaded laptop we've seen in a long while.
Aside from its massive terabyte of hard-drive space (enough to hold a few hundred movies or a few hundred thousand MP3s), the multimedia system incorporates a Blu-ray drive and a full-HD display, plus an HDMI port, TV tuner, and five-speaker stereo sound.
Given its full feature set, the M70's $2,399 price tag seems like a steal, especially compared with the $2,499 Acer Aspire 8920, which offers similar features and an 18-inch display, but lacks the storage space and connections of the M70.
A more casual media enthusiast could be satisfied with the HP Pavilion dv9700t, which offers similar features (though with a lower-resolution display, less hard-drive space, and no TV tuner) for nearly $500 less than the Asus. But the well-equipped M70 offers the ultimate feature set for film buffs, file hoarders, and others who want their laptop to serve triple duty as a computer, media library, and high-def home theater.
Make no mistake: The 16.1-inch-wide Asus M70 will take up a significant footprint on your desk or TV stand. It is both larger and heavier than HP's multimedia-oriented desktop replacement, the Pavilion dv9700t, but still a touch more compact than the Acer Aspire 8920, which incorporates an 18-inch screen for viewing HD content. And weighing 8.8 pounds without the AC adapter, the M70 isn't traveling anywhere, except maybe from the living room to the bedroom.
When it comes to aesthetics, the Asus M70 has a consumer-electronics look that should coordinate well with your living room electronics. Its reflective black lid features a subtle horizontal strip design, and the glossy gray keyboard deck is likewise attractive. Chrome accents around the keyboard and white status LEDs on the interior add to the upscale look.
The Asus M70 includes a 17.1-inch wide-screen display with a sharp 1,920x1,200 native resolution. That HD-friendly resolution pairs well with the laptop's Blu-ray drive and affords plenty of real estate for viewing multiple windows side by side.
In addition to an ambient light sensor that automatically adjusts screen brightness, the M70 incorporates Asus' Splendid Video Intelligence Technology, which adjusts contrast, brightness, and color saturation according to your application. With the touch of a button, users can toggle among Splendid settings that are optimized for gaming, movies, pictures, ordinary desktop use, and use in dark environments.
It seems like a gimmick, but we found the presets did make a difference, and we appreciate that we didn't have to fuss with the control panel in order to get decent settings for watching movies or surfing the Web (to name a few examples). Above the screen sits a rotating 1.3-megapixel Webcam that lets you take pictures on either side of the laptop's lid.
Like almost all desktop replacements, the Asus M70 incorporates a comfortable, full-size keyboard with a 10-key numeric keypad. Above the board sit four buttons that toggle various settings: the Power4Gear Extreme key toggles among power-saving modes; a touch pad lock key quickly turns the touch pad on and off; a Splendid key switches among the display mode settings discussed above; and a final key launches the media player. The keyboard deck is otherwise barren, save for a fingerprint reader nestled between the mouse buttons.
The Asus M70's touch pad becomes a media control panel with a touch of the Mode button at the top right of the pad. In ordinary mouse mode, the pad is dark gray, but switching to Multimedia mode reveals glowing white buttons for play, stop, track forward/back, adjust backlight brightness, and mute. There are also two programmable application launch buttons, and the scroll zone along the right side of the pad becomes a handy volume slider.
It's not the first time we've seen controls embedded into the touch pad (Toshiba has incorporated a control panel into some models of its Qosmio line), but it's the first time we've found them useful. Of course, if you're using an external mouse, you can leave the pad in Multimedia mode all the time.
Pretty much any media-related connection you could dream of can be found around the M70's case. S/PDIF out? Check. S-Video in? Check. Blu-ray drive with HDMI-out so you can watch high-definition movies on a TV? Check and check.
Asus also includes a mini TV antenna for use with the M70's internal TV tuner--though the company oddly neglects to include a Media Center remote. And if the laptop's massive hard-drive space just isn't enough for you, the M70 includes an eSATA port, good for hooking up external SATA hard drives. Also worth noting are the M70's four stereo speakers plus subwoofer, which produce full, balanced sound.
The Asus M70 is available in a range of configurations, from a $1,299 basic multimedia system (without a Blu-ray drive or HD-quality display) to a fully loaded, $2,399 entertainment powerhouse. We tested the latter, which includes a processor near the top of Intel's Core 2 Duo line and movie-oriented ATI Mobility Radeon HD3650 graphics. (The midrange graphics card has some lesser specs than many gaming enthusiast cards, but it does incorporate AMD's Unified Video Decoder, which is designed to lighten the processing load on the CPU when displaying HD video.)
Because the M70 ships with the 32-bit version of Windows Vista, it's only capable of accessing 3GB of its generous 4GB RAM allotment; it would have made more sense to ship with the 64-bit version of Windows so that last 1GB of RAM wasn't sitting dormant.
On the Multimedia multitasking portion of CNET Labs' performance benchmarks, the M70 fell in line with other entertainment-oriented desktop replacements, such as the HP Pavilion dv9700t. On our RAM-intensive Photoshop test, the M70 fell behind the Gateway P-172X FX and the Acer Aspire 8920, though the gap is small enough that it's not likely to be noticeable during typical multimedia use.
As evident from the results of our Unreal Tournament test, the M70 isn't really the best choice for gamers; its frame rates, though adequate for casual gaming, were no match for the gaming-oriented (but Blu-ray-free) Gateway P-172X FX.
We hardly expect such a massive system to perform well on our battery tests. However, the Asus M70 lasted an impressive 2 hours, 29 minutes on our taxing DVD drain test. That battery life would be admirable on a smaller laptop and is downright impressive for a desktop replacement with such a large screen.
Asus backs the M70 with a generous two-year warranty and offers online Web-based help and toll-free phone support. The company's Web site includes the expected driver downloads and a brief FAQ but lacks useful features such as user forums or the chance to chat in real time with a technician.
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