Asus N550 / N550JV / N550JK review – a sleek multimedia notebook

Andrei Girbea November 10, 2014 Reviews 194 Comments
Tested: Asus N550JV
Rating: 4/5     Price Range: $1000 - $1499
Summary: The Asus N550 line is sleeker, lighter and more beautiful than ever before, without sacrificing power, features or battery life. It goes for a little over one grand and for that kind of money, you'll hardly find anything better, although there are some things Asus could have done different on this machine as well.

The good

sleek; awesome IPS touchscreen; decent keyboard and trackpad; powerful; good battery life; above average sound system

The bad

interior gets very hot when pushed; the sound system is not as good as on the N56; annoying screen glare

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.

Update2: Asus has a new version of the N550 in stores, called the N550JK. It’s identical to the JV tested here, with one major difference: it bundles and Nvidia GTX 850M graphics chip, as opposed to the GT 750M chip on this one. And that translates in better gaming results, as the *50M is closer to the GTX 760M than to the 750M. Even so, I’d expect 10-15% better numbers in most games, so the gap is not impressive. More details about the N550JK, including user reviews and up-to-date prices are available via this link.

Update3: Asus recently launched the N551 series, which addresses some of the N550’s line issues. Check out my detailed review of the Asus N551JK model for more details.

Update4: There’s also a gaming version of this device, the G551 series, meant for those of you looking for a bit extra performance and a more gaming oriented design. My detailed review is available over here.

The Asus N550JV is a Top Multimedia Laptop

The Asus N550JV is a Top Multimedia Laptop

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
Screen15.6 inch, 1920 x 1080 px resolution, IPS touchscreen
ProcessorIntel Haswell Core i7-4700HQ
ChipsetIntel HM86
Videointegrated Intel 4600 HD and dedicated Nvidia 750M graphics
Memory16 GB DDR3
Hard-disk750 GB 5400 rpm
ConnectivityWireless N, Gigabit Lan, Bluetooth 4.0
Ports3 x USB 3.0, HDMI, mini DisplayPort, LAN, card-reader, webcam
Baterry6 Cell 4000 mAh 59 Wh
Operating systemWindows 8
Size383 x 255 x 27.7 mm
Weightabout 2.5 kg (5.5 pounds)

Update: The Asus N550JK-DS71 is a newer version of the N550JV, released in 2014, and it comes with an Nvidia GTX 850M 2GB DDR3 graphics chip. That aside, the JV and the JK models are identical.

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.

Sleek and beautiful

Sleek and beautiful

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.

Screen

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…

Full HD IPS Touchscreen on this top version of the Asus N550JV

Full HD IPS Touchscreen on this top version of the Asus N550JV

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.

Decent trackpad and keyboard, but there's room for improvement

Decent trackpad and keyboard, but there’s room for improvement

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.

The clickpad supports plenty of gestures

The clickpad supports plenty of gestures

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.

New cooling system

New cooling system

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.

v

The Asus N550 runs cool and quiet during everyday use

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.

Sound system

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.

New set of speakers

New set of speakers

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.

Plenty of goodies packed on this N550

Plenty of goodies packed on this N550

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 starts 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. 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.

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.

—  —  —

Update: The Asus N550JV has been replaced by the N550JK these days, and the Core i7-4700HQ configuration with 8 GB of RAM, 1 TB HDD and the Nvidia GTX 850M graphics chip sells for under $1100 these days. Check out this link for more details.

—  — —

Battery Life

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.

There will be several configuration options for the Asus N550

There will be several configuration options for the Asus N550

Wrap-up

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.

While not perfect, the Asus N550JV is a good multimedia laptop

While not perfect, the Asus N550JV is a good multimedia laptop

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.

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About The Author

Andrei Girbea, aka "Mike", Editor-in-Chief at TLBHD.com. I absolutely hate carrying around heavy stuff, that's why I'm fond of mini-laptops and portable computers. I'm primarily using such devices and have been testing them for many years now. Get in touch in the comments section below.

194 Comments

  1. J Zimm March 5, 2015 at 4:37 am

    Dude! Thanks so much for this review. I just decided to buy it based on this, it really covered everything I was looking for. And I believe the cons are things I can live with for the budget price (I got the 550JK version on sale, super good deal). I’ll be sure to leave another comment after I get some good use out of it.
    But again, thank you for the in-depth review!! Keep it up!!

  2. Michal March 10, 2015 at 10:47 am

    Hi guys,
    Is it possible to replace DVD drive with SSD on N550JK without lost of warranty? And is it even possible upgrade the RAM withou lost of warranty? I am asking because I wrote an email to Asus services in Czech republic, and the man who replied me,told that it isn’t even possible to get down the bottom case without lost of warranty. I think that guy was drunk, cause it doesn’t give a sense, that RAM is upgradeable but I can’t upgrade it. Could you give me some information about this? (Sorry for my english)

  3. Tibi March 11, 2015 at 11:16 am

    I have this computer for more then a year and still runs good. I mainly use it for photography and for some minor video editing. It is a powerful machine. Mainly used with PS CS6, Adobe LR, Adobe Premiere (the graphic card make the difference)

    The screen still has a yellow cast but I guess I got used with it.

    The webcam is not working and still can not figure out whether is the camera or the driver.

    The card reader is a bit weak and if you fo not pay attention and knock it or bump it the it disconnects. It has an issue not being able to delete the file from the SD card but it was a software issue address with a drive upgrade.

    Mine is bought in Asia and has mate screen.

    I feel no need to upgrade and I am tempted soon to replace the HDD with SSD

    Cheers,

    Tibi

  4. Bruce March 12, 2015 at 9:57 pm

    Hi Andrei,
    Excellent analysis on your site.
    You thoughts of a choice between an Asus N550JK for $930 vs an Asus N56JN $750. Both with similar specs – i7, 8GB Optical, 15.6″ 1080.
    Thanks.

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