Not one to be pigeon-holed, the Asus N55SF brings the smart, professional looks of an office laptop, adds the Blu-ray drive of an entertainment machine and tops it off with the powerful graphics processor of a gaming rig.
Even better, the processor's grunt makes it a good performer in all three areas. With a relatively affordable price tag, it could be a great option if you want one laptop to suit all aspects of your life.
The model I tested came with an Intel Core i7 processor, 6GB of RAM and is available now for £750.
Design and build quality
Unlike other gaming laptops like the MSI GT680 or the Alienware M14x, the N55SF doesn't make a big song and dance about having a dedicated graphics card shoved inside. Instead of angry colours and glowing vents, you're met with a mature, even professional look.
The lid is covered in a glossy piano-black plastic with a metallic band surrounding it, giving it an appearance similar to HP's Envy 14 Spectre ultrabook. It doesn't have the same premium feel as the Spectre though as it's not topped with glass. The plastic doesn't give a lot of flex so it still feels pretty sturdy.
The whole machine looks attractive. I couldn't decide though if it's more smart or stylish. I eventually concluded that it's both, and it would be equally at home in your fancy, minimalist living room as sat on your desk at work. If you plan on taking it into a meeting with your boss though, that shiny top is a total fingerprint magnet and greasy prints aren't going to get you that raise, no matter how much overtime you've been putting in.
It's a 15-inch machine with a width of 379mm, making it slightly more portable than laptop giants like the Toshiba Qosmio X770 or Asus' own gargantuan NX90JQ. At 37mm thick, it's not exactly what you'd call slim -- especially when compared to Asus' Zenbook UX31 -- but it should fit into a decent-sized bag without too much pushing and shoving.
It weighs a not inconsiderable 2.7kg, which might limit your travelling to only a few small staggered steps. I'd personally much rather leave it at home as a media machine on my desk, rather than cart it around town.
On the side you'll find a Blu-ray drive -- a pleasing addition, and one that helps this laptop become a potentially decent media specialist. There's two USB 3.0 ports, two USB 2.0 slots, HDMI-out, VGA-out and microphone and headphone jacks.
A smaller jack is placed on the right for you to plug in the included external subwoofer. It's not a big speaker (about the size of a small mug), but it adds some extra low-end to your tunes. It does the job rather well, with bass notes being much more noticeable. Your dedicated speaker set is not about to be made redundant, but if the built-in speakers don't quite do your gaming headshots justice, it'll be a handy addition.
Keyboard and trackpad
Under the lid you'll find more black plastic surrounding the keyboard, but this has been given a rubberised feel that eschews fingerprints much better than the lid. Above the keyboard is a silver speaker grille that runs across the whole width. It's quite an unusual design but it's rather cool.
The keyboard is silver too, contrasting nicely with the surrounding black. Sadly, the keys have been placed very close together, which can sometimes make it awkward to differentiate between them when typing at speed. It seems that Asus has squashed the keyboard in in order to make room for the numeric keypad on the right-hand side.
On the left side of the keyboard you'll find a few dedicated buttons for controlling the volume. On the one hand, it's handy having keys specifically for that function, rather than holding 'Fn' and jabbing at one of the F buttons. On the other hand, I found it very awkward having them right next to the keyboard -- I often pressed the mute button instead of the 'Ctrl' button. You might get used to it, given enough time, but it remained uncomfortable throughout my testing period.
The trackpad is made from the same rubberised material as the surround and you only know it's there because of two grooves on each side. The coating results in your finger-sliding being a little sticky at times, which can be awkward if you're hurriedly navigating around web pages. It's responsive though, so you can at least be accurate with your strokes.
The screen is a 15.6-inch affair with a resolution of 1,600x900 pixels. The more eagle-eyed among you will have noticed the slight problem here -- it's not Full HD, which means that it won't properly display Blu-ray movies. That does slightly diminish its usefulness as a media machine, especially when there are other laptops available that offer full 1080p resolution.
Still, it's not a long way off, so you'll be able to enjoy movies without missing out on too much. It's bright too, and handles colours fairly well so your videos and YouTube clips will look pretty good. It's been given a matte coating, meaning that reflections are cut down to an absolute minimum. As such, it's much easier to use in varied lighting conditions, especially under harsh office lighting or in bright sunlight.
Under the lid is an Intel Core i7-2670QM processor clocked at 2.2GHz, backed up by 6GB of RAM. That's enough juice to power through most tasks so I was keen to take it deep into the CNET UK dungeons to see what it's capable of.
I fired up the PCMark05 benchmark test and was given the admirable score of 9,600. I was really pleased with that, especially considering its relatively affordable price tag. By comparison, Asus' own N53SN achieved 8,200 in the same test, as did the Acer Aspire 5750G -- both of which went on sale for a decent chunk more money.
In general use, I found the N55SF to be very responsive. Programs and windows opened without hesitation and multi-tasking was handled very well, thanks to the 6GB of RAM. Even when I had numerous web browser windows open, as well as other programs running in the background, I didn't notice any kind of slowdown.
It's also packing a dedicated graphics card in the form of the Nvidia GeForce GT 555M, which offers 2GB of VRAM that should happily chew through the gaming polygons. I ran the 3DMark06 graphics test and was given an excellent score of 12,672. By comparison, a dedicated gaming laptop, the MSI GT680, achieved nearly 14,000 on the same test. It's somewhat bigger and more expensive than the N55SF, so it's great to see such good performance in a more affordable and smart-looking machine.
To see how it really handled the games, I booted up the recent title Batman: Arkham City and set about beating up some criminals. The N55SF averaged rates of around 42 frames per second, which made gameplay very smooth. Even in the most intense sequences, the frame rate only dropped to around 19fps, but it achieved a maximum of around 60fps, which was excellent to see on such a recent title.
If you're a hardcore gamer who wants to play the most intense games on ultra settings and want a sky-high frame-rate, it probably won't do the job. But if -- like me -- you're happy idling away a few hours on titles like Dirt 3, Half Life 2, Battlefield 3 and Skyrim and aren't too fussed about having the settings on max, you'll be perfectly satisfied with the performance.
The N55SF isn't the most portable thing you could buy, so you shouldn't expect it to offer the best battery life. Still, it's always handy if you can at least get some work done if you're travelling the country by train.
I ran my battery test and the N55SF kept going for 1 hour 15 minutes -- that's about enough time to get me from London Euston to Stoke-on-Trent by train, in which time I could happily watch a couple of episodes of Red Dwarf. It's a really intense test though, so if you used it wisely, you could easily double that time. Assuming you only plan to do a spot of word processing and won't be connecting to wireless networks, you shouldn't need to worry too much about being near a plug.
The Asus N55SF provides a great serving of power for general computing tasks and for gaming, while still remaining smart enough to take into the office. Its Blu-ray player and decent screen also make it a top choice as a media machine, although you might want to invest in a separate keyboard if you plan on typing for long periods.