Asus G550JK review
There's been a shift in gaming laptops, with bulky, expensive systems being challenged by leaner, cheaper laptops. The Asus G550JK is the latest to impress thanks to a good-looking chassis and full-HD screen.
The black aluminium body is highlighted with red, from the backlit keyboard and crimson letters to the glowing logo and buttons. The Asus looks better than uninspired, plastic rivals, and build quality impresses: the base and wrist-rest barely budged, and the screen's slight movement didn't translate to desktop distortion.
The G550JK weighs 2.6 kg and is 27.7 mm thick, undercutting the Schenker XMG P504 and Scan's 3XS Graphite LG156 in weight and slimness. From the recent releases, only the Gigabyte P35W v2 is thinner and lighter.
There's one down side - interior access. It's tricky to remove the base, which is secured by Torx screws, and there isn't room for extra components.
The keyboard is a Scrabble-tile unit that benefits from the design – the keys are light with modest travel, but the solid base provides good feedback. The touchpad is good, too. It's large and smooth, and we zipped around during gameplay – only the fastest games may need a mouse.
It's not without issues. The numberpad's keys are too slim, and the touchpad's buttons are tricky to press in each corner, where more pressure is required.
Asus G550JK review: specification and test results
The Asus is powered by mid-range nVidia GeForce GTX 850M graphics processor with 2 GB of memory. On paper, it can't keep up with rivals, although it's given a hand by Asus' overclocking, which raises the clock a few percent from 936 MHz to 991 MHz.
Only the toughest games gave the Asus trouble. It handled Stalker: Call of Pripyat at every quality level, and ran Tomb Raider at Ultra quality at a smooth 32 fps. It did slow to 20 fps at Ultimate detail level though.
The Asus handled Batman: Arkham City's higher quality settings at 43 fps, and only slipped to an unplayable 24 fps when we turned the anti-aliasing to full.
The Intel Core i7-4700HQ is clocked to 2.4 GHz across four Hyper-Threading cores. The Asus' PCMark 7 score of 3833 points isn't great, though – every rival is quicker.
Temperatures remained stable and the noise remained relatively low during every test. Battery life disappointed, though; in the looping video benchmark the Asus lasted for 3 hours and 19 minutes, while the G550JK lasted only around an hour when actually playing games.
Asus G550JK review: storage and display
There's 16 GB of RAM and a Blu-ray drive, but importantly no SSD – just a 1 TB hard drive. There are three USB 3.0 ports, HDMI and Mini DisplayPort connectors and an SDXC card slot. For network connections there's gigabit ethernet, Bluetooth 4.0 and 2x2 MIMO 802.11ac Wi-Fi.
The 15.6in screen has a 1920 x 1080 resolution, which is good for gaming and general use – not too many pixels to hinder the graphics card or cause scaling issues. The matt finish works well at banishing reflections. It's IPS, so viewing angles are good, with only a tiny lack of brightness if we viewed the screen from above or below.
The great 962:1 contrast ratio is formed from a superb brightness and black levels, and it means deep blacks and bright, vivid colours. Issues were minor – barely detectable banding across gradients and marginal black level crushing.
The G550JK's screen handled much of the more limited sRGB gamut, with a coverage level of 93.1 percent and a fantastic average Delta E of 1.91. Only a handful of red and pink shades weren't rendered properly, but that doesn't stop this panel from making games look fantastic.
We can't lavish the speakers with similar praise. Volume is fine, but quality lacks throughout: tinny high notes, a muddy mid-range and clunking, dull bass.
The Asus is a strong, smart machine with a great screen and comfortable keyboard, but the concentration on design means that more gaming grunt is available elsewhere – and sometimes for less cash. If performance is priority, then competitors have more bang per buck. If you're searching for a gaming notebook that's got power and looks, it's a good option.