Published on October 31st, 2011 | by Gaming Mike13
Asus N55SF review – multimedia at its best, with gaming on top
Asus recently updated their line of multimedia laptops and we got to play with the Asus N55SF, a followup for their popular and powerful N53SN series. The new version comes with a couple of improvements, adding some extra features, an impressive sound system and a new matte screen.
Asus also went for a different design on this one and while the previous generation was covered in aluminum, this one is made from plastic. Based on early opinions posted online when Asus first showcased the N55 at Computex, many resented the change, and there’s a reason for it.
Still, you will find below that the N55SF is an overall solid multimedia notebook, with gaming abilities. The unit we got to test is a sample (99% identical to the end version, based on what our friends at Asus say), as the final product is not yet available in stores, but should be quite soon and with competitive prices.
Carry on with the rest of the post, a review of the N55SF multimedia laptop, for all the details on this machine.
Let’s start with the specs sheet first though, so we’ll know what we have in front of us:
- 15.6 inch display, 1600 x 900 px resolution, non-glare finish
- Intel 2nd gen Core i7-2630QM quad-core processor clocked at 2.0 GHz, with TurboBoost (up to 2.9 GHz) and HyperThreading
- Nvidia GeForce GT 555M graphics chip, with 2GB dedicated video DDR5 memory
- 4 GB of DDR3 RAM
- 2.5″ 640 GB HDD, 5400 rpm
- Blu-ray combo optical unit
- 2xUSB 2.0 and 2xUSB 3.0 slots, HDMI, VGA, card reader, HD Webcam
- Bang & Olufsen ICEPower speakers with external subwoofer
- Wireless N, Bluetooth 3.0, Gigabit LAN
- 6 Cell 56Wh 5200 mAh battery
- measures 379 x 261 x 35 ~37 mm (14.9 x 10.3 x 1.4~1.5 inch)
- weighs 2.7 kg (5.95 lbs) – with battery included
Asus plans to offer this one in a bunch of different configurations, and you’ll be able to choose between different types of screens (from 1366 x 768 px to Full HD resolution, glossy or matte), processors (Core i3, i5 and i7 Sandy Bridge CPUs), storage options (5400 rpm, 7200 rpm HDDs and hybrids) and optical units (DVD writer, Bluray combo or writer).
However, I find the configuration listed here the most balanced, although I would have enjoyed to have 8 GB of memory inside and a better storage drive.
Design and exterior
For many, this might be the N55SF’s biggest drawback. I too have to admit that I considered it quite ugly when I first saw it, and that’s because of the glossy plastic hood that will scratch and get covered in smudges just seconds after you’ll get your laptop out of the box.
But if you can cope with this and plan to mainly use this baby on your desk, those shouldn’t be that much of a problem.
As for the shape and design, there’s not much setting this one apart from the crowd. The N55 ain’t bigger or thicker than most other 15.6 inchers and its marginally more compact than the N53SN.
The case is a bit dull-looking though, despite having that chromed stripe around the screen for some extra style. Still, after using it for these last days, I got to appreciate its rather sober and classic design. Not enough to make me a fan, but enough to not consider it ugly anymore.
Opening the lid, you get a proper sized palm rest made from matte plastic (which feels quite nice), but being black it’s not a stranger to smudges either.
The palm rest and keyboard surface are completely flat and this, combined with the fact that the laptop is 1.4 inch tall on its front part and the edges are rather sharp, makes typing a bit uncomfortable for your wrists.
Above the keyboard there’s a metal punctured area that covers the speakers and the screen is surrounded by a narrow glossy plastic bezel, with an aluminum band below.
The clip down under will tell you more about the exterior and the looks.
All in all, if it wasn’t for that glossy lid cover and the rectangular body with sharp edges, I’d have nothing bad to say about the casing of the N55SF or its overall build quality.
The pictures below will tell you more about the ports as well.
I like that they put the headphone jack on the front, but USBs are rather cramped on both sides. Still, they needed the space for the optical unit, the cooling vent and there was no way to have those on the back, as they went for a screen that can lean back a lot.
Also, I like the two USB 3.0 slots, a must for any laptop these days and the fact that they come with this thing called Charger+ , that allows you to fast charge USB connected devices even when the notebook is turned OFF.
Keyboard and trackpad
The keyboard on the new N55 is pretty standard for a device in this class. Not really a big fan of the fact that it includes a NumPad, but seems like all 15 inchers offer one these days.
As you can see from the pictures, we don’t have a chiclet keyboard here, but rather a more classic one with flat keys. They are proper sized and there is enough space between them for comfortable typing. In fact, the keyboard is pretty much identical to the one we found on the N53SN, but the keys are now covered in a silver coating, which only looks like aluminum.
Overall there’s not much flex on these keys and travel is just perfect, but they feel a bit wobbly on my test unit. Still, while I wasn’t fond of the keyboard at start, I got used to it quite fast and had no problem actually putting together this review using it.
Plus, Asus added an extra column of multimedia keys on the left side. They are stiffer than the rest of the keys so you won’t be able to press them by mistake, but they kind of make the whole thing a bit cramped. I for one would have loved if they would have kept those keys separated on top of the actual keyboard. Also, the power button is part of the keyboard as well and placed in the top-right corner.
And then there’s the layout. Once again I got to test the European version of this laptop, which comes with a bigger Enter and a smaller left Shift, and that’s a bit frustrating. The US version however will come with a proper sized Left Shift, so better get yourself that version and the headaches. Plus, I find the arrow keys too narrow for comfortable everyday use, which is a problem if you plan to use the laptop for gaming.
As for the trackpad, it’s made from the same soft plastic as the palm-rest and feels comfortable. It’s also proper sized, as you can see in the picture, supports multitouch-gestures and comes with a big and easy to press click button (still, a solution with independent click buttons would have been better, like on the Asus G74SX).
On the other hand, the trackpad is responsive, but can be a bit imprecise sometimes (mainly when trying to perform gestures), thus I do advice to get a proper mouse next to this laptop.
Overall, we can say that both the keyboard and the trackpad are quite OK, despite both having their own deficits.
The N55SF comes with a 15.6 inch display. The one we got to test offers 1600 x 900 px resolution and a non-glare finish. It’s not a 3D screen like we saw on some of the Asus Gaming laptops, but it comes with great contrast, brightness and viewing angles. And colors are not shabby either.
Of course, you will be able to choose between different types of screens on the final version of the N55, but I feel like this one is the best pick, as my eyes don’t really deal well with Full HD resolutions on a 15 inch display.
Oh, and even though the viewing angles are quite good on this laptop, the screen can also be leaned back almost horizontally, which will allow you to adjust display’s inclination in whatever conditions you might be. That’s more important to have on portable notebooks; we don’t mind having it here of course, but this is a device you’ll keep on your desk 99% of your time, so I doubt it will come in handy that often.
Hardware and performances
There will be many different versions for the N55SF when it will finally hit the stores. The one we got to test offers almost the top configuration, with a Core i7-2630QM processor and Nvidia GT 555M graphics card with 2 GB of dedicated memory, plus 4 GB of RAM and 640 GB HDD.
Of course, you can add more memory (up to 16 GB) and a better storage drive, as this one was a cheap 5400 rpm HDD. And I advice you to do so, performances should definitely improve with a hybrid HDD or 8 GB of RAM. You can easily upgrade those, there’s a bay on the back that allows you easy access to them and we’ll tell you more about this in a later chapter of the review.
So, the N55 packs one of the most powerful processors available for laptops right now and a capable graphic chip as well. Of course, the GT 555M can’t go neck in neck with cards from the GTX mobile line, but still allows you to run all sorts of multimedia content, process video and even run most games (more about these below).
The great part is that you get Nvidia’s Optimus technology on this configuration and the laptop will only use the powerful graphic chip when it has too, otherwise it will take advantage of the integrated graphics on the Core i7 processor, saving a lot of battery life as a result.
You can find below some benchmark results.
Of course, the laptop runs Windows 7. Our version came with Home Premium 64 bit and Asus also bundles this thing called Instant-On that should resume the laptop from hibernation in only a matter of seconds, which is a nice feature, but I for one didn’t use it that much. Plus, I consider it more useful on mobile devices than on such rigs you’ll hardly carry around anyway.
They say the laptop will resume in just 2 seconds, but it took like 15 on our test unit, so maybe with an SSD on board… Yes, it’s faster than on the average notebook, but I still call for marketing gimmick here over a detail you never missed before (or at least I haven’t).
Paired with a Full HD display, the GT 555M would have probably been brought to its knees by some of the modern games available out there.
With the screen it gets though, it manages to play at standard resolution (1600 x 900 px) pretty much all the titles we tested, with some exceptions and as long as you’re willing to trim down details a bit in some cases.
For a laptop not meant primarily for gaming, I feel like the Asus N55SF did handle well this task, don’t you think?
The clip below shows you how to upgrade memory and the storage drive on the Asus N55SF. You only have to remove that back panel hold in place by a couple of screws and you get access to the two memory modules and the one HDD drive (too bad there’s only one though).
Also, there’s another bay there on the back that allows access to your graphic card, however I don’t really know why, as you only get to see the cooler on the memory chips. There’s a “do not open” sign on this bay, so it’s probably made for service use only? But why would they add a dedicated bay for that? Initially I thought it’s meant to allow graphics chip upgrade, which looks like it’s not soldered to the motherboard…
Anyway, I’ll check with the guys at Asus for more details on this one.
If you’d ask me what’s the one thing that sets the N55 apart from all the other laptops in its class, I would definitely mention its audio system. Asus laptops usually come with above average speakers, but the ones on the N55SF are borrowed from its exclusive kin, the NX90, and made together with the guys at Bang & Olufsen.
Thus, behind that silver grill on top of the keyboard hide two 32mm speakers, something you won’t find on any 15 inch laptop, or on many 17 inchers for the matter. However, there’s one more thing: the N55 also comes with an external subwoofer you’ll have to connect to the laptop if you want to benefit from its full audio possibilities.
Yes, having an external subwoofer might not be the most comfortable option, but there’s a reason why Asus had to go for this approach; because they couldn’t place those big speakers inside the laptop and isolate them from the rest of the components, especially the electronic parts on the motherboard, Asus had to cut most of the low-frequency sounds that can be outputted on those internal speakers. Otherwise, the amount of vibrations caused by the bass inside the chassis would have affected the system’s overall reliability in time.
Thus, even though the speakers are identical to the ones on the NX90, they’ve been snipped. That’s why when using only the speakers alone, the sound quality is good, but rather dull and stuffy. However, when connecting the external subwoofer (via that 2.5 mm jack), audio quality jumps to another level, as the speakers are only used to output medium and high frequency sound, while the woofer takes care of the low-frequency signal.
In the video below i’ve tried to show you the differences between using the laptop with and without the subwoofer connected, but since I don’t have the best mic on my camera, you won’t actually feel that much of a change. So I advice you to go ahead and check this out in person is showrooms if you’re interested.
Still, there’s one thing to add: even though the audio solution on the N55SF is excellent for a laptop, you will still get better sound with a dedicated speakers set or a high-quality pair of headphones. So don’t expect miracles here, there’s still so much you can get from two 32 mm speakers and a rather tiny woofer.
Noise and heat
Once again we get to this part of our video review where I’ll have to ask you to take my word on the matter, as I do not own the required equipment for accurately testing heat or sound levels. Hopefully, somewhere in the near future…
Still, I’ve added a temperatures diagram got after using the N55SF for a couple of hours, while performing various operations, including playing games and running benchmarks. You can see that internal temperatures get to almost 90 degrees Celsius (when running 3DMark 11 Extreme test) and they lower to around 45-50 degrees on average when idle.
The exterior doesn’t get too hot though, except for the left bottom side where the heating exhaust vent is placed. Also, the top area gets quite worm when playing games as well, around the X-C keys. Besides these though, the N55SF rests pretty cool, even when stressed.
As for the noise, I can’t say that this one is the quietest laptop I’ve tested, as the fans are active even when in idle mode, but the good part is that it doesn’t get too noisy under load. In fact, I’d say there’s not much of a noise difference between idle and heavy load on this one and you’ll only be bothered by this aspect when using it in a quiet room, without the speakers or any headphones.
There’s a 6 Cell 56Wh 5200 mAh battery on this laptop, but there’s also some powerful hardware inside. Luckily, we also have Optimus to save the day and that’s why we managed to get an average or around 3 – 3.5 hours of battery life on our N55SF test unit, with the given configuration, during everyday use with Wireless ON, Power4Gear Balanced profile and screen dimmed at 50%.
You’ll get better for units with a less power hungry processors or an SSD. And of course, the autonomy can range from between a little over an hour, when playing games, to above 4 hours if you’ll use it for light activities, with Wireless OFF and Power Saver mode activated.
Prices and availability
For the time being, the Asus N55SF ain’t yet available on the market, but should hit the stores by early or mid September.
We don’t have any exact details on prices, but expect them to start from around 700-800 bucks for the lower versions and get to $1000-$1200 or above for the top configurations like this one. I’m sure though you’ll find the prices quite good when compared to the main competitors, as Asus laptops tend to get excellent price/features ratios lately.
In the last years, Asus also improved their Client Service and Warranty services, and that’s also one of the reasons for their growing popularity on established markets like the US and Europe.
We will update this section once we know more, so stay tuned.
Overall, this ain’t a bad laptop, not at all. In fact, if looking for a powerful and multi-valent 15.6 inch notebook these days, you’ll hardly find many better (if any?), especially for a similar price. Of course, it has its flaws, like the glossy and dull-looking exterior (still, that’s only based on my taste), or the rather odd designed keyboard and multimedia buttons, but all these are actually not that bad and there are also tons of strong points to compensate them.
After using the N55SF in the last days as my main computer, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t mind having it on my desk for good.
And while I’m not necessarily impressed by its strongest point, the speakers that outmatch all the competitors, I do appreciate its build quality, the screen and the configuration.
- solid built and overall not that bad looking (not a fan of its look either though)
- powerful configuration
- excellent screen, matte and with just the perfect resolution for its size (15.6 inch – 1600 x 900 px)
- overall comfortable keyboard and trackpad, although not flawless
- excellent audio system for a laptop
- solid everyday performance and can even handle well games
- proper price
- the glossy lid cover is a fingerprint magnet and that black matte plastic on the interior is no stranger to smudges either
- keys are a bit wobbly
- not a fan of the multimedia buttons integrated within the keyboard on its left side
- the sharp edges and tall front side makes typing a bit uncomfortable for your wrists
Asus also offers the smaller N45 and the bigger N75SF relatives of this series, but I feel like this one hit the right spot for potential powerful laptop buyers right now. That’s why I’m sure we’ll hear from the N55 a lot in these next months, as it has the potential to become a bestseller.