Asus M51AC-US015S review

The Asus M51AC-US015S desktop offers multimedia performance and even some gaming prowess a price the competition can't quite match, but the performance lags behind similarly equipped competition.
Photo of Asus M51AC-US015S

Don’t let the simple looks fool you. The Asus M51AC-US015S is a feature-filled desktop PC with enough multimedia oomph to let you enjoy photo and video editing and still kick back with some games. The mid-tower PC is priced at just under $1000, making it more affordable than other multimedia PCs, and you compromise very little to get those savings.

Design and Features
At first glance the M51AC-US015S is a fairly basic, plain looking mid-tower case, with a black plastic front panel, ornamented only with a silver-colored stripe at the top. Look a little more closely, however, and you’ll find a surprising number of features included in the system, including some that are tucked away behind the unassuming panels on the front of the tower. Open those front panels and you’ll find a collection of card reader slots, a Blu-ray combo drive, and a USM slot (more on that unusual feature later).

Between the front and back of the tower you’ll find plenty of connectors and ports, with four USB ports on the front (two USB 3.0, two USB 2.0) along with headphone and microphone jacks, and six more USB ports in back (four USB 3.0, two USB 2.0). Other ports on the back include a PS/2 port for older peripherals, a collection of video outputs (VGA, DisplayPort, HDMI out), Gigbit Ethernet, and a collection of audio connections, which also feature Asus SonicMaster audio technology.

On the top of the tower is a recessed tray for your hard drive or smartphone, with easy access to USB ports. You may not need to plug in to charge your device, however. The Asus is equipped with QI wireless charging—if you have a QI-compatible smartphone, all you need to do is set the phone on the tray. For those devices that do need to plug in to charge, Asus still has you covered, with AiCharger, a smart charging solution that boasts faster charge times (up to 50% faster) and works with iOS and Android devices alike.

On the front of the tower, below the card readers and the Blu-ray drive, there’s another feature you might not recognize. It’s a Universal Storage Module (USM) slot, which lets you connect any 2.5-inch USM-compatible drive without having to open the case or use any connector cables. The standard isn’t widely used yet, but you’ll find similar connectors available on systems from Lenovo, and Seagate has several USM-compatible drives. Our review unit included a 1TB Seagate Mobile GoFlex drive, which fit perfectly into the slot, connected without difficulty, and then showed up just like a second hard drive in the system. The advantage here is that this drive can be used, and then easily removed and taken with for use elsewhere, with cartridge-like simplicity.

Even without the removable USM storage, you’ll still have plenty of storage space, thanks to a 2TB 7200rpm hard drive. Preinstalled on the drive is the Windows 8 operating system, along with common Microsoft extras, like a 30-day trial of Office 365, Skype, and Internet Explorer 10, along with a handful of other fairly benign offerings, like FreshPaint, HuluPlus, and Netflix.

Open up the tower and you’ll find that the M51AC-US015S is outfitted with a fourth-generation Intel Core i7-4770 (3.4GHz, 3.9GHz Turbo), a quad-core processor paired with 8GB of RAM. Once inside the case you’ll also find plenty of room to play. The 8GB of RAM that come with the unit occupy only one of four DIMM slots, for a maximum of 32GB, while an empty 3.5-inch drive bay lets you add even more storage space (up to a second 2TB drive) along with six SATA 6Gb/s connections. Several PCI-E slots are open for use (two PCI-E x16, two PCI-E x1), and a 500W power supply means that you’ll be able to add or swap out components for better performance without replacing the PSU.

Performance

With its 3.4GHz Intel Core i7-4770 quad-core processor and 8GB of RAM, the Asus M51AC offers strong performance for daily productivity, and support for some multimedia editing as well. The M51AC finished PCMark 7 with a score of 4,518 points, but even between similarly equipped systems there is a wide variety in performance—the same Core i7-4770 CPU is found in leading systems like the HP Envy 700-030qe (6,143 points) and the Dell XPS 8700 Special Edition (6,116 points). Despite the performance discrepancy in that test, the M51AC-US015S produced a higher result in Cinebench R11.5, scoring 8.11 points to the 7.32 and 7.95 of the HP 700-030qe and the Dell XPS 8700. Score differences aside, the M51AC-US015S offers solid performance for day-to-day use, even when that use is a little more demanding.

Multimedia performance was fairly good as well. It completed Handbrake in 31 seconds, tying the Editors’ Choice HP Envy Phoenix h9-1320t (31 seconds) and just behind the Dell XPS 8700 (29 seconds). In Photoshop, it trailed behind with 3 minutes 39 seconds, compared with the HP h9-1320t (3:04). Though not the fastest, it will still handily take on photo and video editing tasks for all but the most enthusiastic YouTuber or budding auteur.

Outfitted with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 650 graphics card and 1GB of dedicated video memory, the M51AC-US015S completed 3DMark 11 with scores of 4,826 points (Entry) and 973 (Extreme). This indicates that the system is capable of supporting not only the graphic rendering demands of web and media use, but is even up for some gaming. This was seen clearly in actual gaming tests, where the M51AC-US015S produced fairly decent frame rates in both Alien vs. Predator (57 frames per second at medium resolution and detail, and 21 fps at high resolution and detail) and Heaven (44 fps medium, 21 fps high). You’ll have to back off on both resolution and detail, but the M51AC-US015S will let you enjoy current games along with all of your media.

The biggest thing going for the Asus M51AC-US015S is the price, which comes in at just under $1,000 while providing similar hardware to top scoring systems like the Dell XPS 8700SE and the Editors’ Choice HP Envy Phoenix h9-1320t for considerably less. Granted, the overall performance is a bit slower, but it’s still sufficient for home multimedia use, and the addition of the UMS slot makes it especially worthwhile for those with large media collections that have already chosen to use compatible drives from Seagate and other companies. It doesn’t replace the Editors’ Choice HP Envy Phoenix h9-1320t, but it’s still worth a look.

Specifications
Primary Optical Drive DVD+/-RW DL with Blu-Ray
Processor Family Intel Core i7
Storage Type HDD
Graphics Card Nvidia GeForce GTX 650
Operating System Microsoft Windows 8
Monitor Type None
RAM 8 GB
Type Multimedia
Storage Capacity (as Tested) 2 TB

Verdict
The Asus M51AC-US015S desktop offers multimedia performance and even some gaming prowess a price the competition can't quite match, but the performance lags behind similarly equipped competition.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc