Asus' N-Series laptops are far from the most portable devices you'll find, but their audio and video capabilities could make them a choice for multimedia and entertainment. The new 15-inch N550JV isn't radically different from previous models in the range, but it's been updated with an Intel Haswell processor and a touchscreen for Windows 8. See all mid-range laptop reviews.
The basic design of the N550JV hasn't changed much. The 15-inch laptop has a smart silver-grey metallic outer casing, and an attractive stenciled design on the inner keyboard panel. There's a full-size keyboard, with a separate number pad and a nice, large trackpad (105 x 74 mm). The keys stand quite proud of the main keyboard panel and travel well, making it a comfortable for extended typing. See also: What's the best laptop you can buy in 2013?
Multimedia has always been the main focus for the N-Series, so Asus opts for a 15.6-inch IPS screen panel with 1920 x 1080-pixel resolution, along with a built-in Blu-ray drive for watching high-definition films.
The image quality is excellent – bright and sharp, and with viewing angles that actually approach the claimed 178 degrees. It does not, however, live up to its ‘non-glare' description, with irritating reflections quite noticeable on the glossy screen.
The other standout feature of the N-Series laptops has always been their impressive audio quality. That's still a strength, and the N550JV includes four speakers and separate bass driver. The woofer is external, about the size of a small tin of beans, and plugs into a dedicated audio connector on the left-hand side of the laptop (which also provides it power).
A small speaker like this won't worry the neighbours too much, but it does add some welcome weight to the sound that you get from the N550JV, helping explosive film soundtracks and gaming sessions.
You can unplug the woofer when you need to travel, although this does leave the internal speakers sounding rather thin. Remember though, this is not a particularly portable machine, and its 2.7 kg weight is well above average for a 15-inch laptop even with built-in optical drive. Chances are it will spend most of its time stationary with the speaker plugged in.
That's underlined by the limited battery life too. Last year's Ivy Bridge model only lasted for 2 hours and 30 minutes when streaming video with its integrated graphics processor; the N550JV can now stretch to 3 hours and 45 minutes. That's a useful 50% increase in battery life, but well below what a good laptop can now deliver.
Performance is something of a mixed bag too. Our review unit was one of the more expensive in the range, selling for about £950 with quad-core 2.4 GHz Intel Core i7, 8GB memory, 1TB hard disk and an nVidia GeForce GT 750M for gaming. That's a pretty powerful-looking combination – but the weak link in the chain is the slow 5400 rpm hard disk. This led to a low score of 2550 points running the general-purpose PCMark 7 benchmark.
You'll certainly notice the sluggish disk performance when first starting up. Even with Window 8's ‘fast start' option the N550JV took a full 30 seconds to boot into the Metro Start screen, and there's a further 30 seconds of thumb-twiddling before you can even launch apps like Internet Explorer to start web browsing.
Fortunately, things pick up once Windows sorts itself out. The touchscreen controls respond quickly and smoothly, and the raw power of the Core i7 processor will allow it to cope with demanding applications such as photo- or video-editing.
While the N550JV isn't a dedicated gaming rig it can handle some respectable games action too. It zipped along at 96.5 fps when running Stalker: Call Of Pripyat at 1280x720 resolution with Medium graphics settings. Then maintained a smooth 55 fps even when we stepped right up to 1920 x 1080 resolution.