Laptop shoppers on a budget may not think they can afford a workhorse, but Asus' X555LA ($350) can power through tasks that would slow other budget machines to a stutter. This 15-inch Core i3 laptop outperformed competing systems on various tests, and it benefits from long battery life and a pleasant lack of pre-installed bloatware. However, this laptop doesn't come without compromises.
The X555LA makes a good first impression with the concentric circle grooves on its lid, which looks like metal but feels like plastic. Unfortunately, the build quality of this laptop doesn't inspire the most confidence. For example, the touchpad's loud click felt quite hollow. Dell's Inspiron 15 5000 is a little heavier, but felt more solid when we had the laptops side-by-side.
The keyboard is slightly recessed, which is fine, but the touchpad is placed off-center, giving the left wrist less space than the right. On the left side of the chassis is a proprietary power connector, Gigabit Ethernet connector, VGA port, HDMI port, two USB 3.0 ports and a Kensington lock port. An SD card port, headphone/mic jack, USB 2.0 port and a DVD-RW drive line the right side.
Measuring 15 x 10.1 x 1.0 inches and weighing 5 pounds, the X555LA is a little lighter than its competition. Both the Acer Aspire E5 (5.29 pounds) and the Dell Inspiron 15 5000 (5.11) are heftier.
Display and Audio
Watching the American Ultra trailer, the X555LA showed Jesse Eisenberg's skin accurately, unlike the Dell Inspiron 15 5000, which gave him a blue hue. Unfortunately, Asus' display is not as sharp as some of the others in its price range. The displays on both Aspire E5 and the Lenovo G50-45 made it easy to read smaller text in the clip's background signage, while the X555LA could not.
The X555LA's display isn't very bright, either. The nit reading of 160 nits is below the 192 average for budget laptops. The Inspiron 15 5000 is slightly brighter (167 nits), but the Lenovo G50-45 hit a considerably higher 238 nits.
MORE: Best Laptops
The speakers on the X555LA's underside may be small, but they produce a lot of volume. They sound good, too. The bass on Charli XCX's "Break the Rules" was sturdy, while the highs on Kool & the Gang's "Summer Madness" were crisp and precise.
Keyboard, Touchpad and Webcam
Even though the shell and deck of the X555LA didn't feel great, its springy keys made for great typing. I averaged a fairly quick 63 words per minute with 98 percent accuracy, thanks to its keys having a near-ideal 1.55 millimeter travel. Its plastic wrist-rests, though, did not keep me comfortable over time.
The notebook's touchpad was responsive enough, but much like the rest of the X555LA, felt hollow when I pressed down on the pad.
While we don't expect to find high-resolution webcams in laptops, the X555LA's webcam took the worst photos I've seen from any laptop in years. My selfie looked dark and lacked detail and focus.
Powered by a 2-GHz Intel Core i3-4005U processor with 6GB RAM, Asus' notebook handled all the multitasking I could throw at it. With 20 tabs open in Chrome (including Tweetdeck, Facebook, email, two Google docs, two streaming videos and streaming music), the Camera app open and a full system scan running in the background, the X555LA refused to slow down.
Synthetic benchmark tests verified my real-world experience, as the X555LA finished near the top of all the tests we ran it through. It scored 4,220 on the Geekbench 3 overall performance test, which was second among six budget laptops. Only the Dell Inspiron 15 500 scored higher (4,432).
The Aspire E5 took 6 minutes and 51 seconds to match 20,000 names to their addresses on our spreadsheet test, faster than the Inspiron 15 5000 (7:06) as well as all of the other budget laptops we've recently tested.
The X55LA really shined in our multitasking test, which involves opening a 69MB Word document (with plenty of images) while a 1080p video plays in the background. The X555LA took 34.6 seconds to complete the task, which is faster than the Inspiron 15 (41.2 seconds) and much faster than the average budget laptop (52 seconds).
While nobody buys a budget notebook expecting to game, the Intel HD Graphics 5500-powered X555LA was able to run World of Warcraft (set to 1366 x 768 on auto settings) at an acceptable 31 frames per second. That's the same pace as the average for the category, but the Inspiron 15 5000 (37 fps) was faster.
Battery Life and Heat
The Asus X555LA offers fairly long battery life for a 15-inch laptop in its price range.
On the Laptop Mag Battery Test (Web surfing over Wi-Fi with the screen at 100 nits), the Asus lasted 5 hours and 55 minutes. That best-in-class time is longer than the Inspiron 15 (4:46), the 15t Touch (5:24) and the average for budget notebooks (5:10).
Those pushing the battery to its limits won't be burned, either, since the X555LA does not overheat during use. After 15 minutes of streaming HD video, the notebook's touchpad, keyboard and underside measured only 76, 79 and 80 degrees respectively. All of those temps are well below our 95-degree comfort threshold.
I'm thankful that Asus burdened the X555LA with very little bloatware. The few apps that are pre-loaded include Flipboard, Candy Crush Saga, Netflix and Line. It's great to find programs that you may actually want, unlike the junk that Acer packed inside the Aspire E5.
The Asus X555LA is a relatively powerful notebook for those on tight budgets. Its battery life is best in class, and the speakers get surprisingly loud. However, this system doesn't feel sturdy compared with other value-priced laptops, and its display is on the dim side.
Overall, we prefer Dell Inspiron 15 5000 ($450), thanks to its similar power, soft-touch deck and more solid form, which comes in fetching colors like red. Those caveats aside, I mostly enjoyed my time with the X555LA, from its springy keyboard to its impressive endurance.