Looking for a capable multimedia and gaming machine, but don't want to shell out for a top-of-the-line notebook? The $1,066 ASUS N550JV features a fourth-generation Intel Core i7 processor, Nvidia graphics, a quad-speaker system and a beautiful 15-inch IPS touch screen, all inside an attractive aluminum design. Is the N550JV the all-purpose notebook for you? Read on.
The ASUS N550JV is a solid, handsome notebook that is cool and smooth to the touch. While the bottom is plastic, ASUS clad the rest of the design in aluminum. Its dark gray lid has a beautiful brushed finish, but is unfortunately smudge-prone, making it lose some of its sheen.
The silver aluminum deck features two speakers at the top with ripple-effect dots surrounding an Instant button on the left and the power button on the right. The Instant button can be customized to launch any app of your choice and by default launches the ASUS Console.
Thanks to its generous width, the N550JV accommodates a dedicated number pad along on its island-style, LED-backlit keyboard. A 4.5 x 2.9-inch touchpad is centered with respect to the QWERTY keyboard, and just below this is a row of indicator lights. The silver keys lend a futuristic vibe to the laptop.
Measuring 15.08 x 10.04 x 1.09 inches, the 5.6-lb. N550JV is just slightly bigger and heavier than other Core i7 mainstream notebooks. Both the $1,199 Samsung ATIV Book 6 (14.75 x 9.8 x 0.9 inches) and the $989 Toshiba Satellite S55t (14.9 x 9.6 x 1.2 inches) weigh 5.4 lbs.
MORE: Best Laptops 2013
With full HD resolution (1920 x 1080), the N550JV's 15.6-inch IPS touch screen offers a gorgeous viewing experience. We enjoyed the vivid colors and crisp details on a 1080p trailer for "We're The Millers" and liked that we could make out individual freckles on Will Poulter's face.
We watched videos comfortably at various positions, thanks to the ample viewing angles, but images became darker once we moved beyond 45 degrees left or right. Also, despite having a nonglare coating, the glossy screen exhibited glare that sometimes obscured our view.
We couldn't keep our fingers off the responsive 10-point touch screen of the N550JV, preferring it over the touchpad. The sturdy hinge on the machine gave us the peace of mind; the screen barely budged with each poke. Plus, you can flip the display back nearly 180 degrees.
Although it's not the brightest display, the N550JV outshone its competitors in brightness. At 275 lux, this notebook bests the mainstream notebook category average of 200 lux and put the ATIV Book 6 (246 lux) and Satellite S55t (115 lux) to shame.
The new N series notebooks are the first to feature quad-speaker arrays, promising cinematic-quality surround sound. At full volume, the four speakers lined along the front of the bottom lip filled a medium-size meeting room with sound, and even people outside the room were able to hear the music. We could even hear comedian Louis C.K. complain about his kids over the roar of a handheld vacuum cleaner when we put the volume on max. Unfortunately, the awkward placement of the speakers muffled the audio significantly.
Despite Bang & Olufsen ICEpower enhancements, music that filtered out of the N550JV was disappointingly tinny. We expected more rounded notes and vocals, but were blasted with flat, somewhat canned sounds. When we played "Young and Beautiful" by Lana Del Rey, we could distinctly hear each instrument, but Del Rey's voice sounded hollow and had a metallic echo. We encountered similar problems with other songs, such as "Safe and Sound" by Capital Cities and "Slow Dancing in a Burning Room" by John Mayer.
Attach the ASUS N series subwoofer that comes in the box and you get a thumping bass boost that slightly improves the music, but the flickering rhythmic vibration that it adds can get annoying.
The N550JV also comes with onboard sound management software Waves MaxxAudio, which adds a significant volume boost in Movies mode.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The N550JV sports a spacious chiclet-style keyboard that offers plenty of travel. We found the feedback to be snappy, but we wish the numeric keypad on the right wasn't squished. The layout also features adjustable LED backlighting, which was bright.
The 4.2 x 2.9-inch touchpad is spacious and proved responsive when performing Windows 8 gestures. ASUS includes intuitive Smart Gesture software for toggling various commands. However, the touchpad on our first review unit was misaligned, causing the lower left corner to jam from time to time. ASUS sent us a second unit that did not have the same issue.
ASUS designed the N550JV with dual fans, twin heatpipes and vents to redirect heat and keep the machine cool.
After 15 minutes of streaming a full-screen Hulu video, the space between the G and H keys measured 85 degrees Fahrenheit while the touchpad registered just 77 degrees, cooler than the category averages of 87 and 83 degrees, respectively. The bottom of the notebook also measured a lap-friendly 81 degrees, well under our comfort threshold of 95 degrees.
The HD camera on the N550JV took brightly colored pictures and quickly adjusted to different lighting conditions. Under the fluorescent lights in our office, the lime green of our headphones stood out, but did not overwhelm the oranges and reds of our clothes. The camera was sharp enough to pick out some marks on our face, despite some pixelation.
Located on the left of the N550JV is an army of ports for power, Ethernet, HDMI, mini DisplayPort and two USB 3.0 ports, as well as a yellow jack for the accompanying subwoofer and a combination headphone/mic jack.
The right side houses a Kensington lock port, a DVD Multi recorder drive, an additional USB 3.0 port and an SD Card slot.
Powered by a fourth-generation 2.4-GHz Intel Core i7-4700HQ processor with 8GB of RAM, the N550JV delivered mostly smooth performance. We smoothly streamed an episode of "Archer" from the Netflix app while running a full-system scan, as well as Paint, File Manager and two different Chrome windows with 11 open tabs in the background.
On PCMark 7, which measures overall performance, the N550JV scored 3,546, above the mainstream notebook average of 2,967. This mark is lower than the Samsung ATIV Book 6 (4,357), which uses a 2.4-GHz quad-core Intel Core i7-3635QM chip and 8GB of DDR3 RAM, and the Toshiba Satellite S55t (4,842), which has the same processor as the ASUS, but 12GB of RAM.
The N550JV did much better on Geekbench, scoring 9,503 against the category average of 6,808 and besting the Satellite S55t's 8,238 and the ATIV Book 6's 8,511.
The N550JV's 1TB 5,400rpm SATA hard drive booted in 16 seconds, 20 seconds faster than the category average (36 seconds) and beating the ATIV Book 6 (23 seconds). The Satellite S5T was three seconds faster, booting in a mere 13 seconds.
On LAPTOP's File Transfer Test, the N550JV copied 4.97GB of mixed-media files in 3 minutes and 4 seconds, translating to a rate of 27.7 MBps. That's almost half the category average of 41 MBps, and slower than the Satellite S55t's 30 MBps, but slightly faster than the ATIV Book 6's 25 MBps.
The N550JV did well on our OpenOffice Test, matching 20,000 names and addresses in 3 minutes and 58 seconds. That's almost two minutes faster than the average (5:47) and half a minute faster than the ATIV Book 6 and S55t, which both took 4:23.
Graphics and Gaming
Nvidia's Optimus technology automatically switches between the N550JV's integrated Intel HD Graphics 4600 and Nvidia GeForce GT 750M processors, depending on the task. The N550JV delivered impressive results on graphics benchmark tests, scoring 2,684 on 3DMark 11. That's well above the mainstream notebook average of 1,326 and the AMD Radeon 8770M-powered ATIV Book 6 (2,199). The Toshiba S55t, which also an Nvidia GeForce 740M processor with 2GB of RAM, scored 1,987.
When we played "World of Warcraft" with all three notebooks set to 1366 x 768 and effects at max, the N550JV averaged 73 fps, just below the category average of 75 fps. This showing also beats both the S55t (54 fps) and the ATIV Book 6 (40 fps).
Even at its native 1920 x 1080 resolution, the N550JV's performance remained solid at 52 fps. The ATIV Book 6 managed just 33 fps at these same settings. The S55t's native resolution is 1366 x 768.
MORE: Best Gaming Laptop 2013
In the more taxing "Bioshock Infinite" test on low settings at a 1366 x 768 resolution, the N550JV's notched 68 fps. This score trumps both the ATIV Book 6's 54 fps and the S55t's 45 fps. At max settings on the same resolution, the N550JV's 24 fps fell below the 29 fps category average; it's not quite playable.
Nvidia's Optimus technology on the N550JV promises power savings and longer battery life. On the LAPTOP Battery Test, which involves continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi, the N550JV's 4-cell, 4,000 mAh battery clocked just 4 hours and 52 minutes against the category average of 5 hours and 30 minutes. The ASUS lasted longer than the Satellite S55t (4:20), but lost to the ATIV Book 6 (5:26).
Still, for a laptop that will hardly be carried around much, the N550JV's battery life of almost 5 hours is good enough.
ASUS packed the N550JV with nearly 20 proprietary apps, which can all be accessed via the ASUS Console app. Many of them are useful, such as Splendid Technology, which allows you to adjust the hue and saturation of your screen, and Audio Wizard (powered by Waves MAXXAudio) for choosing different sound modes. We also like the Instant Key feature that allowed us to choose any app to launch when the Instant key is pressed.
ASUS also bundles the video editing and conversion tools CyberLink PowerDirector and MediaEspresso. Additionally, the N550JV comes with 32GB of ASUS WebStorage free for three years, and two different apps (WebStorage and MyBitCast) to sync to that service.
Configurations and Warranty
Our review unit, the $1,066 ASUS N550JV-DB72T, has a 2.4-GHZ Intel Core i7-4700HQ processor with 8GB of RAM, 1TB 5,400rpm SATA hard drive, Nvidia GeForce GT 750M GPU and a DVD drive.
The N550JV-DB71, which costs $979, has all the same specs as our review unit, but lacks a touch screen.
The N550JV comes with a one-year international/accidental damage warranty, 30-Day Zero Bright Dot protection, two-way free shipping and 24-7 tech support.
If you want a great multimedia experience, the $1,066 ASUS N550JV's booming quad-speaker array and gorgeous 1080p display will knock your socks off. Those looking to play more than casual games will also appreciate this notebook's Nvidia graphics. Given that the touchpad on our first review unit we used got stuck, we have concerns, but a subsequent system didn't exhibit the same issue.
In this price range, the Samsung ATIV Book 6 offers slightly longer battery life in a lighter 15-inch design, but the ASUS N550JV delivers better graphics performance and a brighter 1080p display. If you have even more dough to spend, the $1,299 Lenovo IdeaPad Y510p is a better gaming rig, but overall, the ASUS N550JV is a very strong choice for the money.