Asus’ X501 laptop range is very much aimed at those on a budget. There are several models in the range but prices start at a mere £299 for this Celeron-based X501A.
Before dismissing the Celeron as outdated, the B830 is quite a recent version, released in late 2012. It’s a dual-core processor running at a respectable 1.8GHz, and backed up by 4GB of memory and a surprisingly capacious 750GB hard drive.
The Celeron isn't bad at this price, but it can't overclock like the pricier Core i5 chips with Turbo Boost. Consequently it produced a relatively modest score of just under 2000 when running the PCMark 7 benchmark suite. This is most noticeable when first starting up, as the X501A seems to pause and gather its thoughts for about 10-15 seconds even after the main Start screen has appeared. (It does live up to Asus' claim that it resumes to the Lock Screen in just 2 seconds from standby, though.)
After this, the X501A is pretty responsive and more than up to the job of browsing the web or running Microsoft Office. It’s no gaming rig, though, as the Celeron uses an older Intel HD integrated graphics processor that can barely reach 20fps even when running Stalker at 1280x720 and with graphics settings turned way down low.
Of course you can’t expect much in the way of gaming performance from a laptop that costs less than £300, and in other respects the X501A is actually quite impressive. It’s very well built for such an inexpensive machine – the casing has an attractive mottled effect, and feels sturdy enough to cope with the occasional bump in a backpack.
The 1366x768 screen isn’t the brightest we’ve seen, but it’s fine for web browsing or watching some streaming video online. Viewing angles aren't great, and the glossy screen makes it hard to avoid reflections, but it's surprisingly good for the price. Colours are vibrant and accurate enough for editing your snaps.
Build quality is better than you might expect, the overall sturdiness of the unit ensures that the keyboard and trackpad both feel firm and comfortable to use. The trackpad is flush with the casing so you can use gestures to navigate around Windows 8, calling up the Charms bar, switching between apps and scrolling and zooming.
Even the Altec Lansing speakers are a pleasant surprise, lacking the harsh, tinny edge that we’ve come to expect from most low-cost laptops.
You also get a USB 3 port (plus a USB 2 port), Bluetooth 4, 802.11n Wi-Fi and both HDMI and VGA outputs.There’s no optical drive built in, so you might need to budget a little extra for an external drive if you want to watch DVDs, rip CDs or simply install some software.
The benefit is a weight of 2.1Kg - which is well below average for a 15.6-inch laptop. It’s no Ultrabook, but the X501A can be carried around fairly easily all day. With a battery that provides a good 4.5 hours of video streaming via Wi-Fi, it's a real bargain.