The Asus V550C has a 15.6in screen, which puts it in the middle of this test's field, but it's the slimmest laptop on test – its maximum thickness of 22mm tapers to a 14mm front edge. Those vital statistics are almost svelte enough to join ultraportable territory if you excuse the weight, and the V550C continues to impress elsewhere. See also Group test: what's the best budget laptop?
It looks the part. The aluminium-coated lid is finished with a subtle, dark brushed pattern, and the wrist-rest and keyboard surround are both coated with the same brushed aluminium in a lighter colour. The black keyboard rises up from the base, and the screen is surrounded by a glossy black bezel – from afar, this machine could almost be mistaken for a MacBook Pro. Take a look at The 8 best laptops of 2013.
Build quality, though, is mixed – and not quite as good as the Dell Latitude 3440. There's very little flex in the wrist-rest, but the screen becomes slightly distorted when the back of the panel is pressed. The base isn't as solid as we'd like, either. It's more disappointing given the V550C's 2.6kg weight; the Latitude feels stronger but is 600g lighter. See all budget laptop reviews.
The keyboard is one of the best in this group. The Scrabble-tile keys have almost as much travel as those on the Dell machine, and the base is solid. The layout is fine, too, with large keys and room for a numberpad – something that Dell can't squeeze in on its 14in Latitude 3440. The trackpad, too, is a little larger, although it's too skittish – we had to reduce its speed to make it more usable.
The V550C is initially impressive, but it's unable to compete when it comes to performance componentry. It's powered by an Intel Core i5-3337U, which is a low-power part. That's clocked to 1.8GHz and has a Turbo peak of 2.7GHz, but it uses the older Ivy Bridge architecture – the Dell has the Haswell-powered Core i5-4200U, which runs at 1.6GHz and hits a top speed of 2.6GHz but is ultimately faster.
The V550C's PCMark 7 result of 2463 points slips into the bottom half of our performance table, and it's marginally slower than the 2699 scored by the Haswell-powered Dell. While the Asus machine beat its rival in PCMark's Lightweight and Productivity tests, it fell behind in the rest of the software's individual tests.
The Ivy Bridge processor also fell behind in games benchmarks owing to its older integrated graphics core. The HD 4000 Graphics solution averaged 22fps in Stalker's Medium-quality test run at 1280 x 720 pixels, which is two frames/second behind the Dell – a laptop equipped with the newer HD 4400 Graphics core.
Elsewhere, the Asus averaged 37fps and 20fps in DiRT 3 and Bioshock; the Dell was one frame faster in the former test and two frames quicker in the latter.
The Asus has 6GB of RAM and a 1TB hard disk, with the latter proving a quick performer: its sequential read and write test results of 102MB/sec and 94MB/sec are among the best in this group. It's also got better speakers than the Dell, providing more volume and a little bass, but we're still no fans of the V550C's tinny, high-pitched sound.
The V550C's Ivy Bridge processor doesn't just fall behind in applications and games – it doesn't allow the same longevity, either. In our video looping test the Asus ran out of juice after 3hrs 25mins – but the Dell, with its Haswell silicon, lasted for almost six hours.
The Asus has one a touchscreen display, but quality is mixed. Its measured brightness of 184cd/m2 is the lowest here, and the V550C's Gamma measurement of 2.64 far from the preferred 2.2. The screen makes a dim first impression, and colours don't look particularly warm or inviting. It's a shame, because the panel's contrast ratio of 472:1 is not terrible, and the colours themselves are reasonably accurate thanks to an average Delta E of 5.5.