ASUS G20 GeForce GTX 760 PC Review

ASUS ROG G750JH Laptop (Hardware) Review

The ASUS Republic of Gamers G20 is an odd little thing. It tackles odd little problems in odd little ways, but despite its mixed successes it never sacrifices core functionality. As a result it’s unlikely to be anyone’s first choice, but remains a perfectly serviceable gaming rig. Imagine it as a talented employee with some weird hobbies on the side: you may find those hobbies colourful or cute, but you’re much more likely to hire him for his qualifications alone.

asusg20insert1The G20 is a small-form-factor desktop computer, designed to occupy less space than your typical tower and be far more portable. It stands about 13 inches tall, four inches wide and 14 inches long. At roughly 15 pounds, it’s half the weight of some desktop PCs.

It would be exceptionally portable if not for the G20’s biggest oddity: two power cables, each with a laptop-style brick along its length. Not only does this add to the weight of the unit, you’ll also have to ensure that whatever cabin or LAN party you’re going to has enough free power outlets. So while the G20 tower may be smaller than other options, you’ll also be lugging those cables and a power bar along with it. Ironically, one of the reasons ASUS opted for twin cables is that it helps reduce the size of the chassis.

The other reason is the unit’s much vaunted energy efficiency. Adding to the power saved by the cables, the unit vents plenty of heat out the top, taking advantage of “natural convection” (PR speak, we suspect, for “hot air rises”). The result is a system that runs cooler and produces very little fan noise, although we worry about dust and other debris falling through the top vent over time.

Budget-conscious or environmentally conscious gamers can save even more power with the G20’s Eco Energy Mode, which can automatically switch to a less power-hungry graphics card built into the CPU. A semi-idle state is useful for downloading games and updates, while you can still use the G20 as a home server in its full-idle state. However, the Eco Energy Mode is so inconvenient to set up that it’s unlikely many people will take advantage. You need two HMDI cables, attached to either two displays or a display with two ports, plus you need to fiddle with the BIOS.

It’s also a chore to open the G20 for maintenance, requiring a jeweller’s screwdriver to remove those tiny, easy-to-lose screws. You probably won’t be opening the chassis to install upgrades, as the ASUS website specifically states, “It’s not possible for users to upgrade the G20.” That won’t stop the industrious from finding a way, but those knowledgeable and motivated enough to do so would more likely have built a rig from scratch.

For the style conscious, the ASUS G20 may or may not appeal. It’s certainly striking, with its matte black finish, sharp lines and allegedly Mayan-inspired accents. Those accents light up red and pulse by default, giving it a malevolent look vaguely reminiscent of the Red Markers from Dead Space. The colour of the lights can be easily customized through the use of pre-installed software, and the slow, pulsing effect can be turned on or off. Don’t expect to do any fancy tricks with them, however. You can only change the colours in three large blocks (left, right and bottom), so rainbows and patterns are out, and there’s no option to have them shimmer or change over time.

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You’d think that, having gone through the trouble of building in colour customizability, the manufacturers would have left the chassis a consistent, neutral black. However, the G20 has a red band painted down the front, and the bundled keyboard has blue backlighting that cannot be changed. Whatever colour you intend to use, you’d best make sure they look good with metallic crimson (and, if you want to keep the keyboard lights on, electric blue).

Style aside, the keyboard is perfectly serviceable for basic gaming needs and features a handy volume knob. The mouse, however, should be replaced right away, as it doesn’t even have back/forward buttons for web surfing. That’s not a strike against the G20, however, as it keeps the cost down, and most dedicated gamers will want to hand-pick a mouse for their needs anyway.

After mentioning all those middling successes, it’s important to clarify that the ASUS G20 is a very capable gaming computer, even if its claim of being the “choice of champions” is suspect. Our G20AJ-US009S test model packs an impressive quad-core 3.6GHz Intel Core i7-4790 processor, a quality (if slightly outdated) Nvidia GeForce GTX 760 graphics card, a solid 8 GB of RAM and a hybrid drive (composed of a 1 TB hard drive with 8 GB of solid-state cache) that aims for a happy medium between storage and performance.

The unit comes with Windows 8.1 and all the expected necessities, including plenty of USB ports. On the front: a DVD burner, a pair of USB 3.0 ports and headphone and microphone jacks. On the back: two more USB 3.0 ports, four USB 2.0 ports, an Ethernet port, audio jacks, a lock slot, two DVI ports, a DisplayPort and the two aforementioned HDMI ports. It’s also capable of Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity and 802.11ac Wi-Fi.

asusg20insert2So what’s the result for high-performance gaming? Very satisfactory. The G20 boots from off to desktop in around 45 seconds. It can handle your average game (we tested Mass Effect 3 and Dark Souls 2) at maximum settings without breaking a sweat — the fan didn’t even pick up. It ran the more graphically intensive The Witcher 2 at a perfect 60-110 fps at maximum settings, with the exception of its Übersampling option. Übersampling (which renders each frame multiple times and composites them for the smoothest possible finish) is known to bring lesser rigs to their knees, but the G20 kept chugging at a playable 25-45 fps. As long as you’re not the type to push your computer to its limits (we’re looking at you, Skyrim modding community), the G20 will serve your present needs.

However, at the end of the day, there are simply better options than the G20 for its recommended retail price of $1,299. The bells and whistles (compact form, custom lights, energy efficiency) drive the price up, and they either fall short of their goals or cause small problems of their own. The ASUS Republic of Gamers G20 may not be the optimal choice for most, but it’s a capable enough machine to make just about anyone happy.

(Note: While we were loaned the GeForce GTX 760 model for this review, ASUS has cheaper versions of the G20 on the market, as well as the similar but much smaller Republic of Gamers GR8, which may be worth investigating.)

Revisiting Mass Effect

Revisiting Mass Effect

Sometimes it’s easier to appreciate good things in retrospect. This can certainly be the case with art and entertainment like books, films, and videogames. Though a given game may be pretty great on its own merits, the headspace that a player is in when s/he first encounters it can negatively colour the entire experience. Someone who’s fed-up with first-person shooters as a whole will likely find even the most innovative take on the genre boring. A player in the mood for a fast-paced action game won’t get much out of Gone Home’s deliberately paced narrative or the slow-burn survival gameplay of The Last of Us. Where we’re at when we interact with a game for the first time dictates an awful lot about whether or not we’re able to appreciate it. Revisiting the original Mass Effect over the past few weeks has made this phenomenon very clear to me.     

“Where we’re at when we interact with a game for the first time dictates an awful lot about how much we’re able to appreciate it.”
Mass Effect was first released in 2007, but it wasn’t until a few years later that I had a chance to play it. I had finally bought a decent computer—one capable of running BioWare’s science-fiction themed RPG—and was excited to finally check the game out after hearing effusive praise for its story and world-building for quite some time. I definitely wasn’t unimpressed with Mass Effect after spending some time with it, but the game I found didn’t match up to the expectations I’d built up for it. Sure, this was partially the fault of a handful of articles that were maybe a bit too enthusiastic with their recommendations—an understandable side effect of a mainstream game release that does something new—yet it was also, I think, a more personal reaction. I was expecting to get sucked into a world that felt truly alien, full of bizarre species my version of Commander Shepard could form real, three-dimensional relationships with. I hoped for a science-fiction story that would force me to think about grandiose themes like the enormity of the cosmos and humanity’s relative insignificance in time and space. Basically, even though the game touches on these elements as part of its larger intent, I wanted to get something out of Mass Effect that it wasn’t trying to accomplish.

Still, I went on to play the game’s sequels—Mass Effect 2 and 3—closer to their 2010 and 2012 releases and, for the most part, very much enjoyed them. I looked back on the first entry to the trilogy as an intriguing, but flawed template for the rest of the series. Now, a few years on from the conclusion of BioWare’s trio of sci-fi games, I returned to Mass Effect and found that I like it a whole lot more than I did back when I first played through it. It’s hard to pin down why exactly. I imagine it has a lot to do with expectations and the revised mindset that can come from lowering them to a realistic standard. Knowing what I was getting into with a return to Mass Effect—knowing what kind of game it is and where its strengths and limitations lie—allowed me to better appreciate it for what it is. I knew that there were only a handful of characters for Shepard to relate to on a deeper level than one-off conversations; I was aware that the combat system was less third-person shooter than tactical role-player; I was expecting the story to be a space opera with only limited exploration of heavy existential concepts. In short, I like playing the game more now than I did before.

Discovering that we have a greater appreciation for a work upon revisiting it is probably a pretty common experience. How we judge any kind of media is inherently personal and so dependent on the nearly infinite minor joys and irritations that colour daily life, it’s a wonder people’s opinions ever line up. It’s worth keeping this in mind when encountering a game that disappoints  despite months of pre-release hype. It’s also a good thing to remember after dismissing a work of art or entertainment because of a poor first impression. Barring the kind of deep, fundamental issues that can make a game completely irredeemable—offensive or problematic content, say, or outright bad design—there’s often something positive to discover in a title that was previously dismissed. This obviously can’t be the case in every instance, but taking the time to see if there’s more to apparently disappointing games than first appeared can definitely be worthwhile.

Mass Effect 3 ending rewritten in 400 pages

Mass Effect 3 ending rewritten in 400 pages

Like many fans of the Mass Effect series, Gerry Pugliese was a little disheartened to find out Commander Shepard’s final decision in Mass Effect 3 ultimately came down to choosing one of three colours, so he decided to rework it through a 400 page rewrite.

Calling it Mass Effect 3: Vindication, Pugliese describes the project as a fan “revision and blueprint for fixing Mass Effect 3.” The revision includes additional characters, a variety of romance options, and new missions. They’re combined with revised plot points, including ten new ending scenarios, some that go ‘they lived happily ever after,’ others that describe Shepard succumbing to the Reapers’ power and turning him, and some of his companions, evil. Hopefully one of these endings also include Shepard obliterating the Prophet who tried to tell him what to do.

Despite the tongue lashing Bioware received because Mass Effect 3’s underwhelming ending – massive plot holes, and a complete disregard for the implementation of the choices you’ve made up to that point can anger fans quickly – it has emphasized the passion many people have towards the Mass Effect series, and even showcased the creative talent many of these fans possess.

You can read all of Vindication below, or download it hereMass Effect 3 was released in March, 2012, and up until the end of 2013, has sold nearly 3 million copies. BioWare is actively developing the next game in the franchise.

Drawing to a Close

Drawing to a Close

A good story has to weigh each of its elements equally: for all the power a strong opening or climax may have, their impact may be drastically reduced without an equally powerful conclusion. Most forms of entertainment understand this and shape their narrative appropriately, but videogames, while occasionally having very good storylines, often seem to forget just how important crafting a satisfying ending is.
I started thinking about this topic after finishing Mass Effect 3, the final (I hope!) chapter in Bioware’s sprawling sci-fi trilogy.

Read moreDrawing to a Close

Does Mass Effect Belong to BioWare or the Fans?

Does Mass Effect Belong to BioWare or the Fans?

It finally happened. With the release of Mass Effect 3, one of the great trilogies of this console generation has finally come to a close. Unfortunately, while the game has been—as expected—selling pretty well, there’s internet controversy surrounding many aspects of its release. On the BioWare forum itself, there’s a petition from fans to actually change the ending of the game, perhaps provide an epilogue in the form of DLC that alters the closing events of the trilogy. Without going into spoilers, it’s safe to say that while Mass Effect 3 brings the story of Shepard to a close, there are many things left unaddressed and this has become a source of significant disappointment to some fans.

Read moreDoes Mass Effect Belong to BioWare or the Fans?

EA launches download service Origin

EA launches download service Origin

Electronic Arts is on a role. A few days ago they joined with up retro-download site Good Old Games and now they’ve launched Origin, a direct download service. After installing the download client, Origin will give players access to exclusive content like special trailers and the ability to create a personal gamer profile used to interact with other users. Multiplayer, mobile gaming and web browsing are standard, and with a few titles already available Origin is off to a good start.

Origin is offering only first party titles right now and their library of games is relatively limited. Crysis 2 and Darkspore – along with a number of other titles – are currently available for players to download, and games like Mass Effect 3 and Alice: Madness Returns are available for pre-order. For mobile gamers, Origin is offering such gaming gems as SCRABBLE, but initial scepticism aside there are more games on the way.  Support for the PSP, Nintendo DS and 3DS is available, and more than 

Origin’s site says, “Origin’s new social features allow you to create a profile, connect and chat with your friends, share your game library, and effortlessly join your friends’ games.” It sounds just like Valve’s online service Steam, but there’s no mention of third-party content.

EA’s new download service is part of their digital strategy. By doing more than just selling products to their market, they can create a online community that will not only support Origin, but also increase the number of people buying its online-only content. The company is already planning to use Star Wars: The Old Republic as a test bed for this by offering up content only available through their retail client.

While still in its infancy, Origin is already off to a good start by having a focus on exclusive content and social gaming. This download service is anything but unique; however, it’s promising a few interesting things. For more info check out the site here. Just hold onto your video game retail boxes, they’re going to be collector’s items sooner than later.