Ever since I first tested an Asus N laptop, I’ve been a fan of this family. Its members, while not the best multimedia machines on the market, managed to offer a nearly unbeatable price/features ratio.
In this article we’ll talk about the Asus N550, the 2013 series of Ns. To be more exact, I have the Asus N550JV over here, one of the top configurations that will be available in stores.
I’ve tested the Asus N750 last week and if you read that article, you probably know by now that Asus changed quite a few things from their previous series. The N550 succeeds the Asus N56, a very appreciated laptop during 2012. And from what I can tell after using it for a while, it has what i takes to become even more popular than its predecessor.
There are of course things that could have been done better, but overall the N550 is a gorgeous and powerful laptop, able to deal with everything you might throw at it, while going for about 1000 euros over here, which translates in a bit over one grand across the pond.
But enough jibber jabbering, let’s see why I liked the new Asus N550 so much.
Important note: the Asus N550JV I got for this test is a press sample, a pre-production unit. Hardware wise, this is identical to the final versions you’ll be able to get in stores, but the exact configurations might be slightly different. Also, final versions might offer better performances, as drivers are still fresh right now, at the time of this post.
Update: Check out this link for the latest discounts on the Asus N550JV.
Asus N550JV Video Review
The video review will take you through most of the important aspects of this laptop.
The specs – Asus N550J / N550JV
And before we get in deep, let’s have a look at the specs, so you’ll know what we’re dealing with here.
|Asus N550 series – Asus N550JV|
|Screen||15.6 inch, 1920 x 1080 px resolution, IPS touchscreen|
|Processor||Intel Haswell Core i7-4700HQ|
|Video||integrated Intel 4600 HD and dedicated Nvidia 750M graphics|
|Memory||16 GB DDR3|
|Hard-disk||750 GB 5400 rpm|
|Connectivity||Wireless N, Gigabit Lan, Bluetooth 4.0|
|Ports||3 x USB 3.0, HDMI, mini DisplayPort, LAN, card-reader, webcam|
|Baterry||6 Cell 4000 mAh 59 Wh|
|Operating system||Windows 8|
|Size||383 x 255 x 27.7 mm|
|Weight||about 2.5 kg (5.5 pounds)|
Overview – exterior and looks
We’ll start with the looks. Asus slightly redesigned the N550 and more importantly, made it thinner and lighter than last year’s model. As a result, while this is not as sleek as an ultrabook, it still is a fairly portable 15 incher.
The N550 also looks good and feels sturdy, reliable, mainly because aluminum is used for the entire casing. There are some darker sheets of metal on the hood and on the belly, while the silver interior is cast from a solid piece of the same material.
Asus took special care of the details as well. There’s a backlit logo on the lid, the same beveled edges we saw on the bigger N750 and also the same punctured patterns around the two buttons found above the keyboard. The one on the right is the Power button, while the one on the left launches the Asus Console, but can also be configured to launch an app of your liking, if you want to.
While still looking at the interior, you’ll notice the large palm rest with a smooth, metallic finishing, and the screen’s new hinge, but more about it a bit later.
All in all, design and build quality wise, the N550 really is a masterpiece. However, there is one thing I didn’t like: the lower joint between the sheet of metal on the bottom of this laptop and the silver inner body, that leaves out some very sharp edges. You’ll find them very annoying when grabbing the laptop.
Anyway, let’s have a look around the sides. Most of the ports are smartly lined on the left edge, with the PSU, the subwoofer’s connector, the Lan adapter, full-size HDMI and Mini DisplayPort video output, plus two USBs and the audio/microphone jack. The Status LEDs sit on the front edge, just beneath the trackpad, while on the right there’s the optical unit, flanked by a Kensington lock, a third USB slot and a card-reader.
Flipping the laptop upside down, you’ll notice only some cooling grills in the middle, as the battery in encased and the laptop is not that easy to upgrade. Still, with the right Philips screwdriver you can get rid of the 10 or so screws holding the entire back panel in place and access all the components inside.
You’ll notice there’s a single hard-drive on this unit with the battery next to it, two memory modules and two large fans and heat pipes towards the back. However, there’s no free eSATA that could take a caching SSD or an extra small SSD for your operating system, the only one available being occupied by the Wireless module.
Now, on to that hinge. It stretches over most of the screen’s length and is sturdy, keeping that display firmly in place, exactly how you’ll set it up. And that’s a good thing, especially since the N550 comes with a touchscreen that you’ll keep poking with your fingers.
A very good one by the way, that reacted snappy and accurate to my touches. Of course, having a touchscreen brings along the glossy glass on top of the actual panel, with its reflections in strong light, but since the N550 is going to live most of its days inside, that shouldn’t bother you that much.
As for the actual panel, Asus bundles a 1080p IPS one on this laptop (hardware ID: LGD0323 ), the same they offer on the Zenbook UX51. It’s a bright enough display that offers fairly good colors and contrast, so definitely a big leap from the TN screens we’ve seen on Asus multimedia laptops in the past. Of course, most IPS screens come with light bleeding around the edges and there’s some visible on this particular unit as well. You’ll probably only notice this when watching movies flanked by black bars and you’ll eventually grow to ignore it. At least I did…
On top of that, I should also mention the solid viewing angles and the fact that the screen bends quite a lot on the back. And that makes the N550 a viable laptop not just for desk-use, but for more casual scenarios as well (couch or bed use, for instance), something I wish I could say about more and more devices in the future.
Of course, it’s worth noting that there are better IPS panels out there, able to display more accurate colors and offer deeper contrast. But you’ll find those on more expensive laptops. And unless you’re a graphic artist or something related, I doubt you’ll ever complain about this screen on the N550.
Keyboard and trackpad
Anyway, enough about that, let’s talk about the keyboard. I’ve reviewed the Asus N750 last week and the N550 bundles exactly the same one we saw on that unit. It comes with the US layout on this smaller laptop, but that will differ from region to region. And regardless of this, the Directional and NumPad keys are still narrower than the others and way too cramped.
You’ll also notice that someone at Asus decided to use silver keys on a silver background, so there’s very little contrast and as a result, this keyboard looks… dull, even ugly I might say.
It doesn’t offer the best typing experience either, mainly because the keys feel somewhat plastiky and are a bit too tall for my liking, but it’s a good performer nonetheless.
Oh, and I should mention that this is backlit and you can adjust the illumination by pressing FN and the F3 or F4 keys.
The trackpad is alright, fairly accurate most of the time, smooth and responsive. It supports all kinds of gestures, with up to three different fingers or when dragging from the sides, for those Windows 8 commands. However, like all the clickpads I’ve seen on Asus machines in these last years, this one can still get jerky and jumpy from time to time. It only happens occasionally, but it’s enough to jade the overall experience.
Hardware and performances
Alright, with those already on the table, let’s go ahead and Press the Power button and see what we can actually do with this machine.
The N550 runs Windows 8 and boots from cold in about 15 seconds. Our unit, the Asus N550JV, is one of the top configurations that will be available for this laptop, with an Intel Core i7-4700HQ processor, 16 GB of RAM, dual-graphics with an Nvidia 750M dedicated chip, and a standard 5400 rpm 750 GB hard-drive. There’s no caching SSD on this particular model we have here (in fact, it looks like the N550 will not offer this, since I didn’t see any spare mSata connector inside), and that’s why the entire storage solution will drag down the overall performances of this notebook.
You can of course easily upgrade the RAM if your unit comes with less (supports up to 16 GB), you can replace the hard-drive with an SSD and that’s about it. You could probably remove the optical bay if you want to, but Asus doesn’t offer any replacements for that, like a extra graphics chip (Lenovo does that on they similar model) or an extra battery.
Anyway, I will tell you that this laptop is overall a beast, even with the slow HDD. It can deal with anything you might throw at it, from basic tasks, like browsing, editing texts and pictures, working with documents and so on, all the way to more complex activities, like editing video, running programming software and so on. It handles multitasking as well and the large working area helps too.
If you’re interested in some benchmark results, you’ll find them below. Note that all the tests we’re run with the Nvidia 311.54 driver, the latest at the moment of this review, so when more mature drivers will be released in the future, you might see some small bumps.
- PC Mark Vantage: 9748;
- PC Mark 07: 5031;
- 3D Mark 11: Entry – E4277; Performance - P2723; Extreme – X781;
- 3D Mark 13: Ice Storm – 73665; Cloud Gate – 6856 ;Fire Strike – 1450; Fire Strike Extreme – 709;
- Cinebench 11.5: CPU – 6.96 pts ; OpenGL – 53.04 fps.
And then, the N550 can be used for fun, as it is after all a multimedia laptop. Movies are going to look awesome on this punchy IPS screen and the system can handle all sorts of video files.
And it can handle games as well. That Nvidia 750M chip (the 4GB DDR3 version) is not a top performer, but I was able to run most modern titles on 1080p resolution with medium details just fine. See the results below:
- Metro: Last Light – 44 fps;
- Bioshock Infinite – 32 fps;
- Crysis 3 – 19 fps;
- Grid 2 – 56 fps;
- Starcraft 2: Heart of the Swarm – 45 fps (around 40 fps in a 4 v 4 game);
- Need for Speed: Most Wanted – 28 fps;
- The Elder Scroll: Skyrim – 41 fps.
You might wonder why I ran all these games on medium details? Becausethe N550 is not a dedicated gaming machine and that’s why it will not be able to deal with these recent titles on max settings. Look for an Asus ROG laptop if you want that.
Heat and Noise
Of course, when packing fast hardware inside a thin laptop, this usually leads to overheating. The same happens with this Asus N550, but only when pushing the laptop, when running games or other intensive tasks for hours. In these cases, the area on top of the keyboard, where there’s that Audio by Bang and Olufsen inscription, gets very hot, so hot that you can’t actually touch it for longer than 2 seconds without feeling pain. The same part on the bottom of the laptop gets hot as well.
Taking a quick look at the hardware inside the laptop, you’ll notice that those massive heat-sinks are placed around there and when they do get hot, they disperse the heat onto the metal frame. So Asus could have done a better job isolating the heat-sinks from the exterior, but even so, high temperatures are always going to be part of the story if you want a powerful, sleek machine.
I would really be bothered by heat if it would lead to hardware throttling, as I do want such a computer to perform to the best of its abilities, if required. Luckily, this doesn’t happen here. Check out the pictures below, showing the temperatures/status achieved while running PC Mark vantage and while playing Skyrim for more than one hour. If you’re interested in the detailed LOG for Skyrim (after playing for about 3 hours), let me know, I will add a link to it as well
Anyway, I should also add that If you’re not pushing the N550, it will run quiet and cool. The fans are constantly spinning though, so this is never completely silent.
Speaking about the cooling grill, Asus completely redesigned it. Most of the air is sucked from below the laptop (some is sucked from the right side of the hinge as well, as you can see from that quick peak at the hardware), that’s why it’s important not to cover those grills. It is then blown out through the cuts (middle and left) behind the hinge, which sends most of the hot air towards the back of the laptop, but there’s still a fair amount coming towards us, the users. On the N750, the hinge was sculpted to direct the air towards the back, it’s not the same with the N550, probably because the it is more compact here.
I can’t say that the new solution is a lot better than the old one, but there is one thing that I like: on the older N56, the entire left side of the keyboard and palmrest got hot when running games, areas you would always come in contact with. That no longer happens with the N550, that’s why I do find the new model more comfortable to use for intensive tasks.
Temperatures aside, we should talk about the audio system, a trademark for the Asus N line.
Like many other Asus multimedia laptops, the N550 comes with an external subwoofer, that will take care of all the basses when connected. However, Asus ditched the front-facing speakers hidden behind those punctured grills on the interior and replaced them with some smaller ones, placed on the front-lower edge of the body, pushing sound towards the desk.
There are four of them now and Asus claims this does improve the overall sound quality over their previous generation laptop. But I beg to differ. Even so, the speakers are loud and the sound quality good enough as long as you don’t push the volume too high. Once you get pass 70%, distortions come to play, annoying ones. Hear for yourselves.
Bottom point, Asus decided to change the speakers in order to accommodate the sleeker body and the new cooling system; and while the N550 is still a good performer, for sure among the best in its class, it can’t really stay next to the older N56 when it comes to the overall audio quality.
Connectivity and others
Connectivity wise, the N550 offers all the things you might need, with Bluetooth, Gigabit Lan and Fast and reliable Wireless (an Intel Centrino N6235 chip, with WiDi). However, support for the 802-11AC standard would have been nice and would have made this laptop more future proof.
There’s also a webcam on this laptop with dual microphones, decent for occasional Skype calls, but not impressive.
Last but not least, it’s worth knowing that Asus bundles the N550 with a bunch of preinstalled software and services. Some of them could be useful, like the free Cloud storage offered for 3 years or the Splendid, AudioWizard or Tutor applications, all easily accessible from the Asus Console interface.
But there are several others you should uninstall if you want to make your laptop snappier. McAfee, Microsoft Office Trial and a bunch of software from CyberLink should be on that list, unless you plan on editing videos, in which case the bundled CyberLink PowerDirector 8 can be useful, although it’s an older version of this software.
In fact, some of you might want to get rid of all of these programs, and I can’t blame you for that.
Prices and availability
Those being said, the Asus N550 is not the perfect multimedia laptop. But for the money, you’re certainly getting plenty.
The N550JV, with the i7 processor, a 750 GB 7200 rpm HDD and 8 GB of RAM, will start at around 1000-1100 euros over here. This however comes with the non-glare, non-touch Full HD TFT screen, probably the one we saw on the G55 and the N56 last year. For the IPS touchscreen configuration you’ll have to add around 100 euro extra.
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Update: These days, the N550JV is available discounted online, with prices starting below $1000. Check out this link for more details.
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The top configurations, with the same processor, more memory and a 256 GB SSD instead of the slow HDD we had on this unit, will get to 1400-1500 euros. All these will be available by the middle of July.
Of course, the N550 will be available in several different version, and I expect cheaper configurations to be launched later this year, with Core i5 processors and slightly slower graphics (probably a 730M chip). But that’s yet to be confirmed.
Alright, before we get to draw the conclusions, there are a few other things i have to add. First, the N550 is impressive when it comes to battery life. There’s a 59 Wh battery inside this unit and corroborated with the Haswell platform and the hybrid graphics system (with Optimus), allows the laptop to last 5+ hours on a charge, if used lightly (text editing, a browser with 3-4 tabs, screen at 30%, Wi-Fi ON).
During everyday use though, with some browsing, movies, music, text editing and so on, I got around 3.30 – 4 hours, with the screen at 50%, WI-FI ON and Power4Gear Battery Saving mode selected. And that’s not bad at all for such a machine.
Of course, when playing games, you’ll only get a little over one hour of battery life, but that was expected. Haswell is not designed to be more efficient under heavy load.
The N550 comes with the same 120Wh battery brick we saw on the N750, big and heavy, but a necessary foul needed to power the beast. The battery charges completely in about 2 hours or so.
Those being said, the Asus N550 is a good multimedia laptop. Not the best on the market, but for sure a very interesting choice in its price range.
Asus made their 15 incher sleeker and lighter than before and added an IPS touchscreen to the mix, while not sacrificing power of the battery life. There are still things that could have been done differently, like the redesigned audio and cooling systems, and to some extent, the keyboard and trackpad. But even so, for the money, you’ll have a hard time finding anything better right now.
How does the N550 stand next to the older N56? There’s not a big performance gap between them, but the new version is more efficient when used lightly. It’s also more compact, etc. The cooling system, while still makes the laptop hot under load, is not such a big inconvenience anymore, as the top part of the interior (the area that gets hot) is not something you’re usually going to come in contact with. The IPS screen is great, but comes with those annoying reflections. You can go for the matte FTF panel, but hopefully a non-glare IPS option will be available as well in the near future. Last but not least, the sound system is a step backwards on the N550; still good, but not as loud or as clear as on the N56.
Thus, if you own a N56, there’s little reason to upgrade to the N550. But if you’re considering choosing one over the other, unless the older version is a lot cheaper, I’d go for the new N series member. As for how the N550 stands next to its rivals from Dell, HP, Lenovo and others, I’ll hold any judgement until I get to spend at least some time with those.
And that pretty much wraps this out. Bottom point, I liked the N550 and I do think it’s a worthy successor for the N56. But I’d love to know what do you guys think about it too. So leave your replies, and questions if you have any, below.