Driving with 3D
In both systems, you can turn the 3D effect on and off using Nvidia's software; in the Toshiba, there is also a physical a switch and light above the keyboard labeled "3D."
Both laptops come with a pair of Nvidia's active shutter glasses. For viewing 3D content, Toshiba uses its own Video Player 3D while the Asus comes with Roxio's CinePlayer BD. To level the playing field, I installed and used Cyberlink's PowerDVD 10 player application on both systems, and watched several 3D movies, including Tron: Legacy, Gnomeo & Juliet and Alice in Wonderland.
They both worked -- to a degree. In both cases (with the help of the glasses), I could see the 3D effect from as far as about 10 feet from the computer's screen. Beyond that, the infrared synchronization system lost contact with the glasses and the LCD lenses flickered furiously.
If you're looking for the theater experience, keep looking. Rather than having items pop out of the screen, all the action on 3D rendered for computer viewing appeared to take place behind the plane of the display. It was just as real-looking, exhilarating and thought-provoking, but a little subdued.
As far as 3D gaming goes, both machines did quite well with Portal2, which is in its element when you're maneuvering in a tight alleyway, scaling walls or viewing large scenes. The extra depth really helped make it a more immersive experience.
Overall, it was more engaging than 2D versions of the games. At times I felt like I could reach through the screen and touch the items in front of me.
Using Instant Effects' FXD Interactive Media Player, I watched a 3D business presentation and edited it by relocating and rotating a variety of 3D elements, such company logos, a fanciful dragon and a fighter jet. I can see 3D increasing the impact of introducing a new product or part to potential customers by showing it at all conceivable angles. On the downside, each participant will need a pair of 3D glasses.
And as good as 3D can be, the glasses are a real pain. They are uncomfortable -- particularly if you already wear glasses -- cost about $120 a pair and can make even a super model look nerdy. Plus, they need to be recharged with a USB cable after about four hours of use.
Interestingly, while the two systems were equivalent in maneuvering in 3D, when I was running Trainz 2009, a plain old 2D game, I noticed that the Asus was able to render more backgrounds and details than the Toshiba could. At times, the Asus showed cars and bushes that didn't appear when the Toshiba created the same scenes; the Toshiba had noticeably more flickering as well.
Components and features
These systems are definitely high performers. They both come with second-generation Intel 2630QM Core i7 processors. With four processing cores and 6MB of on-chip cache, the CPU normally runs at 2.0GHz, but it can sprint to as much as 2.9GHz when needed -- for example, when aliens are ganging up on you.
Games are typically resource hogs that need a lot of system memory. The Asus test system came with 12GB RAM (it can handle up to 16GB); the Toshiba came equipped with its maximum of 8GB RAM.
Both are equipped with a pair of hard drives: The Asus includes two 750GB 7,200rpm drives while the Toshiba has a 500GB 5,400rpm drive and a 750GB 7,200rpm drive.
Each of these 3D overachievers has a 17.3-in. screen powered by Nvidia's GeForce GTX 560M graphics accelerator, which uses Nvidia's 3D Vision technology to do the pixel heavy lifting required for displaying 3D images. The difference is that the Asus is equipped with 3GB of dedicated video memory while the Toshiba offers 1.5GB.