Asus V550CA £699
29th Sep 2013 | 13:54
An affordable laptop, but has Asus cut too many corners to keep the price down?
Mid-ranged laptops such as the Asus V550CA-CJ106H can sometimes be a mixed bag. They come with price tags that make it hard to overlook the sort of shortcomings you'd forgive a laptop £300 cheaper. And yet they still can't target the highest-end components for the best possible performance.
Sometimes these laptops can get the balance right, such as the Samsung Series 9 NP900X3D, but more often than not they can end up being rather underwhelming, like the MSI CX61 0NF. So how does the Asus V550CA-CJ106H fare?
Unlike the MSI CX61 0NF, which tries to appeal to gamers with a separate graphics card, the Asus V550CA-CJ106H is a much more straightforward device that's better suited to office work, internet browsing and casual games at home. It's got a decent set of specs, though as sometimes is the case with laptops of this price range, the desire to keep the price down has resulted in compromises to its innards that keep it from reaching its full potential.
A good example of this is the Intel Core i7-3537U processor clocked at 2.50GHz. It's certainly no slouch, and it's always nice to see an i7 variant in a laptop of this price. But it uses Intel's older third- generation design, codenamed Ivy Bridge. These are fine chips, but Intel has since released its fourth-gen design, codenamed Haswell. Check out our review of the Intel Core i5-4670K for a better idea of how the newer generation of processor compares to the Ivy Bridge.
The most important thing to note is that the new Haswell architecture has a few improvements, such as better integrated graphics and more power-efficient design. These ensure a longer battery life, which is essential for laptops such as the Asus V550CA-CJ106H. It's a shame, then, that Asus has skipped these enhancements for a cheaper processor, just to lower the price tag.
If you're looking for a laptop with the latest technology then the Asus V550CA-CJ106H isn't going to be for you. For Haswell-toting laptops, you'll want to check out the Schenker XMG P703 or the Toshiba Satellite S50. Of course, you'll need to bear in mind that these laptops will be quite a bit more expensive than the Asus V550CA-CJ106H. However, if you want some solid tech for a palatable price and aren't too desperate for bleeding edge technology, then the Asus V550CA-CJ106H may be of interest.
As mentioned, the Asus V550CA-CJ106H packs an Intel Core i7-3537U processor. Laptops around the £600 to £800 mark usually go for the slightly lower-powered Core i5 variants when packing an Intel processor, so it's nice to see a Core i7 processor nestled in there. It's a third-generation Core i7 processor, so it doesn't have some of the more mobile-friendly features of the Haswell architecture.
The third-generation Ivy Bridge processors do include improvements over second-gen Sandy Bridge chips, however, including a smaller die. It's also the first Intel processor to use 3D transistors, which are more energy efficient and thus prolong the life of the laptop's battery. Of course, Haswell processors have this feature as well. The maximum TDP of the processor is just 17 Watts, which makes it ideal for a laptop such as the Asus V550CA-CJ106H, as it isn't too much of a burden on the battery, and it runs pretty cool.
The processor is clocked at 2.50GHz, which is a bit slower than you would get on a desktop, but perfectly fine for a laptop, as it carefully balances speed with battery drain and heat. If it was clocked any higher the battery would deplete faster, and more heat would be produced by the processor, potentially making it unstable.
As with almost all modern processors, it's 64-bit, which means that the Asus V550CA-CJ106H can take advantage of the 64GB version of Windows 8 as well as having access to a larger amount of RAM. In the Asus V550CA-CJ106H's case, this is 6GB of DDR3 RAM. This is plenty of memory for most day to day tasks and keeps Windows 8 running fine, but at the same time we're seeing more and more laptops shipping with 8GB of RAM. This means that the Asus V550CA-CJ106H isn't the smoothest laptop we've tried, and heavy sessions of multitasking between a number of intensive applications does take its toll.
It seems almost a bit greedy to be moaning about 'only' getting 6GB of RAM, especially if many people are upgrading from a laptop that had 4GB or less. But we've been spoilt by laptops wielding 8GB, so it's a shame that Asus has cuts corners here. That being said, for light office use, web browsing and photo editing, 6GB of RAM should be plenty.
The Asus V550CA-CJ106H also comes with 1TB of hard drive space, which is divided into two partitions; one for the Windows 8 installation, and the other for your files and programs. It offers bags of room for photos, videos and more, and you'd be hard pushed to fill it any time soon. As it's a standard mechanical hard drive it doesn't offer the speeds (especially when booting up) of a solid-state drive. But that's the price you pay for a lot of extra storage space and a lower price tag.
Other specifications include a 15.6-inch screen with a maximum resolution of 1366 x 768, making sharp, full 1080p high definition graphics a no-no. And there's no optical drive, so you won't be watching DVDs or installing programs from discs either.
3D Mark: 2375
Cinebench: 1612 (CPU render test) 1799 (OpenGL)
Battery eater: 3 hours 11 minutes
The Asus V550CA-CJ106H weighs 2.6kg, which isn't the lightest laptop we've held, but with the 15.6-inch screen and slim design, it's still a perfectly portable laptop. Its brushed aluminium case looks great, and you wouldn't feel ashamed taking this laptop out to public places. The 15.6-inch screen is clear and bright, and its touchscreen is smooth and responsive. It's helped by Windows 8's touch-orientated design, which makes navigating through the operating system using your fingers easy and intuitive.
Due to the relatively low resolution of the screen (1366 x 768), buttons and menus are comfortable to select and touch, which compares favourably to our experience with a number of laptops that have small screens but high resolutions. Of course the lower resolution of the screen does have its drawbacks – pictures and movies don't look as sharp, and the screen gets crowded pretty easily when lots of windows are open on the desktop. Windows 8 looks great on a full 1080p screen, so it's a bit of a shame that the Asus V550CA-CJ106H misses out on that.
Still, it boasts a good-sized keyboard that's very comfortable to work on. The keys are a decent size and are spaced well enough to make typing a pleasurable experience.
With the slim design (helped by a lack of optical drive), it seems the Asus is aiming for an Ultrabook aesthetic but at a reduced price. Kosher Ultrabooks such as the Gigabyte X11 and the Dell Latitude 6430u must conform to a certain set of specifications to be able to call themselves Ultrabooks. So while the Asus V550CA-CJ106H's slim design, processor and USB 3.0 ports would get it through some of the checkpoints, the lack of a fast SSD and battery life means it can't be classed as one.
Speaking of battery life, in benchmark tests we managed to get 3 hours 11 minutes of life while performing medium to intense work. This included word processing, web browsing, photo editing and watching video. It's not a great score and we'd have liked to see it somewhere over the five-hour mark for a laptop of this price, but it's not the worst score we've seen. With a few tweaks to Windows 8's power settings and some careful use, you may be able to eke out another 30 minutes to an hour.
Given the integrated graphics (Intel HD Graphics 4000) included with the Asus V550CA-CJ106H, we weren't expecting gaming to be a flawless experience, and we were right. Newer games became choppy even on lower graphics settings. If you want to play games on your laptop as well as work, you're better off getting a gaming laptop such as the Razer Blade – although expect to pay a lot more. Our 3DMark benchmarks produced a rather underwhelming 2375 score. The Asus V550CA-CJ106H's impressive processor provided much better scores, but that's to be expected of an Intel Ivy Bridge chip.
The overall result is a laptop that's quick and smooth when doing day to day tasks, but which lacks an extra bit of oomph when you're working on more demanding applications. Sometimes it just feels like it's being held back by some of the cost cutting choices Asus went for.
As with other laptops in this price range, the Asus V550CA-CJ106H has an unenviable task of balancing power and price, but it doesn't do too bad a job. There are some nice features, such as the generous 1TB of disk space included and the touchscreen, but there are also some trade-offs.
Thankfully none of the latter are deal breakers, and they help keep the laptop on the right side of £1,000. The processor might not be from Intel's latest and greatest generation, but it's still a fine processor that, due to it being last year's model, knocks a fair bit of change off the asking price.
Going for 6GB of RAM instead of 8GB is another compromise that, while disappointing, won't be too much of a problem for day-to-day use. However, if you're going to be photo or movie editing, or using hardware-intensive programs, than that missing 2GB of RAM will soon be felt.
The biggest disappointment is the low resolution of the screen. It might give the on-board graphics a bit of breathing space, but it means items on the screen aren't as crisp or clear as we'd have liked.
The outside design of the Asus V550CA-CJ106H is sleek and stylish, with the brushed aluminium case giving the laptop a suitably premium feel. When closed, the laptop is thin and easy to carry. While the processor isn't particularly cutting edge, it does its job well, and is better than other processors we've seen in similarly priced machines.
We didn't like
The low resolution screen is a shame, and the Intel HD Graphics 4000 just doesn't cut it for games. While the lack of an optical drive keeps the body of the laptop nice and slim, it is sometimes a bit of a hindrance, especially when trying to install older software where a download option isn't readily available. Battery life is also disappointing.
If you're fine with the compromises we've listed in return for a more wallet-friendly price tag, then the Asus V550CA-CJ106H is a decent laptop. For most tasks it will be absolutely fine, and the good processor and capacious hard drive space makes this a reliable business laptop. However, for the asking price it may be worth shopping around or spending a little more to get a laptop that's future proof for the next couple of years. The additional outlay could well save you money in the long run.