Excellent performance and multimedia features make this desktop replacement a nearly perfect dorm room companion.
While the Asus N55SF may not be the speediest desktop replacement laptop that PCWorld has ever tested, it’s still darn fast. It also offers good gaming frame rates, and delivers considerably better-than-average sound and video. At only $1249 (as of November 9, 2011), it’s about a third the price of top-performing desktop replacement laptops, too. Unless you need workstation muscle, it should be on your short list.
The N55SF’s WorldBench 6 score of 128, while not record-setting, is still very good, and about what you’d expect from an Intel Core i7-2630M processor and an Nvidia GeForce GT 555M GPU. The main differences between the N55SF and some of its faster, pricier rivals, such as the Dell M6600, are that the CPU and GPU both sit a couple notches down from the top of the scale and the GPU isn’t workstation-class (in other words, OpenGL and CAD optimized). That said, you’ll find games playable at any resolution and detail, short of ultrahigh detail at 1920 by 1080.
The rest of the N55SF componentry includes 8GB of DDR3 memory and a 7200-rpm, 750GB hard drive. The array of ports consists of two USB 3.0 connections, two USB 2.0 ports, VGA and HDMI video-out, and an SDHC/MultiMediaCard slot. The webcam is high-definition, and connectivity includes 802.11b/g/n wireless, gigabit ethernet, and Bluetooth 3.0.
The N55SF also has a BD/DVD burner, which brings me to the 16-inch, 1920 by 1080, LED-backlit display: It does a marvelous job of displaying Blu-ray and other HD movies. It offers an extremely sharp image, and is a lot brighter than average; you’ll probably find yourself turning the brightness down several notches under most circumstances. The screen also provides an exceptionally wide viewing angle.
The input devices on the N55SF are both attractive and a pleasure to use. The silvery keyboard is nearly full size, and has a better-than-average feel. You’ll find a full numeric keypad as well as a handy column of multimedia keys at the far left of the unit that allow you to start and stop playback, as well as mute the sound and raise/lower the volume. The power, Wi-Fi, and other switches also reside along the top row of keys. The concept of integrating all the buttons and switches into the keyboard works quite well.
Although the touchpad and buttons are the same color and texture as the keyboard deck, grooves along the edges delineate them both visually and tactilely. Both are nicely responsive. The semiglossy texture (if a texture could be said to be semiglossy) is quite pleasantly so.
The Bang and Olufsen ICEpower sound on the N55SF is exceptional, though you’ll need to plug the included mini-subwoofer into its dedicated port to get the full experience when listening through speakers. The subwoofer adds the bass that’s commonly missing from the vast majority of laptops; it’s another item to pack and carry, however, and it isn’t particularly svelte, albeit very light. Of course, the N55SF is not a laptop you’ll necessarily want to tote around a lot: It weighs 6.2 pounds, and battery life is reasonable for the class at 3 hours, 52 minutes.
A small part of the reason that the N55SF costs less than the competition is that it ships with the Home Premium version of Windows 7 instead of the Professional edition. That choice reinforces the laptop’s envisioned role as a PC/entertainment box for dorms or small apartments, as does Asus’s decision to bundle CyberLink MediaEspresso, PowerDVD, and PowerDirector, plus other music and video software. Asus also provides SonicMaster, an SRS-like bass, spatial, and frequency enhancer designed to help out with the audio, as well as to partially compensate for the lack of bass if you leave the subwoofer behind.
Asus backs the N55SF with a two-year warranty, a nice perquisite with any product. On the other hand, the company might have missed a styling bet by not rendering the entire unit in semigloss: The top of the machine and the screen bezel are a full-gloss black that, in my eyes, cheapens the appeal of what is most decidedly not a floozy of a laptop.
The Asus N55SF will appeal to anyone who wants great performance as well as a 1080p/Blu-ray movie viewer, a stereo system, and a competent gaming machine in a svelte package. For the price, you won’t do better.
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