The Asus K50C-SX009V certainly won't impress with its specification, but it will draw gasps of astonishment at its amazingly low price tag. Our review model was supplied by Laptops Direct, where you can purchase it for just £320. That makes it one of the cheapest Windows 7 laptops available right now.
Netbook in laptop clothing
Given its low price tag, you'd expect this to be a pretty boring-looking machine, but Asus has done a really good job of giving it quite a distinctive look. This is achieved mainly by adding a cross-hatch pattern to the lid and keyboard surround, which not only looks cool, but also helps to disguise the fact the whole chassis is essentially matte black plastic. The laptop feels very solid when you pick it up -- there's very little give in the chassis and the lid is sturdy, too. At 2.6kg, it's not too heavy for a 15.6-inch model, and measuring 370 by 256mm, it's not overly bulky, either.
While the design does a good job of hiding the laptop's budget origins, the cost-cutting becomes obvious when you take a look at the range of ports on offer. It's rare for netbooks to outdo laptops when it comes to connectivity, but that's certainly the case with the K50C. All you get here is a pair of USB ports, a VGA output and an Ethernet jack. That's pretty poor when most netbooks manage to pack in three USB ports and often include an HDMI output, too. Naturally, the laptop has 801.11n Wi-Fi on board, but, as you might expect, there's no Bluetooth support.
Things improve slightly on the storage front. Asus has fitted a reasonably generous 320GB hard drive that provides a decent amount of space for storing documents and media files. There's also a DVD writer built in, so you can burn your own CDs and DVDs. On the front lip, you'll find an SD card slot that's useful for transferring files from portable devices like phones and digital cameras.
Screen: check, keyboard: check
Given the laptop's low price, the screen is relatively good. Its resolution of 1,366x768 pixels may be average, but thanks to its LED backlighting and glossy coating, it conjures up bright pictures and vibrant colours. The viewing angle is a little narrow, although not excessively so, and black levels aren't that deep, but on the whole it's sharp and delivers punchy pictures.
The keyboard has a fairly traditional design and uses standard tapered-style keys. It has a little too much flex in the middle for our liking and this makes it feel a tad spongy when you're typing at speed. It is quite large, however, and Asus has found room to squeeze in a numerical keypad, too.
Where the K50C really starts to fall down is when it comes to raw performance. It uses a lowly, single-core Intel Celeron C220 processor that doesn't have much more grunt than the Atom processors you find in netbooks. While it has 2GB of RAM, it runs the more demanding Windows 7 Home Premium operating system (netbooks use the lightweight Windows 7 Starter). The upshot of all this is that it's essentially no faster than a netbook.
It clocked up a score of just 1,481 in PCMark05 and, as with a netbook, applications are slow to load and it really struggles with multitasking. Its performance is only really sufficient for very undemanding users. Its 3D chops are also very similar to those of a netbook -- its SiS Mirage 3 graphics chip only managed to turn in a score of 119 in 3DMark06, so only very old 3D games are going to run at a decent frame rate.
Unfortunately, the K50C doesn't manage to achieve netbook levels of performance when it comes to battery life. It kept running for an hour and 25 minutes in our Battery Eater test, which is not bad by 15-inch laptop standards, but a long way off the 6 hours you tend to get with a netbook.
Many will be attracted to the K50C-SX009V's rock-bottom price tag, but its performance is not in the same league as a proper laptop. If you can accept that what you're getting is essentially a netbook with a larger screen and a built-in DVD writer, you may consider it worth the asking price. But, if you're looking for something with more normal laptop levels of responsiveness, we recommend you spend a little extra on something like the Lenovo B550, which is still cheap, but much faster.
Edited by Emma Bayly