Bulky, multimedia desktop replacement laptops are almost always incapable of carrying themselves with a sense of style, but the 15.6in Asus N551JK is a welcome exception to this rule. The swooping curves on the left and right vents make this chunky 2.6kg machine look much more elegant and thin than it actually is, which is a hard thing to do with a laptop that’s over 3cm thick.
Amongst the design flourishes is a selection of ports including mini DisplayPort, HDMI, Gigabit Ethernet, a 3.5mm headset port, three USB3 ports and a DVD drive. Inside, 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are also present.
This excellent design continues to the keyboard, which has some of the chunkiest feeling laptop keys we’ve ever used. The Chiclet-style keys have a huge amount of travel to them and are also pleasingly quiet, making them very satisfying to use. The touchpad isn’t quite as strong, with the built-in mouse buttons feeling a little cheap and harsh to press. The touchpad also has slightly too much friction to it, but once we were familiar with its feel, we had few issues navigating Windows, dragging items and using multi-fingered gestures.
With such a bulky design, you’d expect the N551JK to have a high-capacity battery to match. However, with such powerful components inside the laptop used up its six-cell battery after just 4h 10m in our light usage test. It’s probably not the sort of laptop you’re going to be spending a great deal of time using while on the move, so this shouldn’t be too big a problem, and gives you some flexibility to use it around your home without having the laptop plugged in.
Overt audio branding rarely adds up to impressive audio performance, and the Bang & Olufsen-stickered internal speakers in the N551JK are average at best. They’re loud, but that’s about all they have going for them: there’s no bass presence and no stereo separation, making for an underwhelming overall experience. Asus also provides a subwoofer in the box with the laptop, which plugs into the tiny 2.5mm audio jack on the left side of the device. It’s a small woofer, but it makes a huge difference to the depth of the sound. You’ll only ever be able to use it when stationed at a desk, as there’s nowhere to place it on the laptop itself.
The 2.8GHz Intel Core i5-4200H processor is paired with 8GB of RAM. In our multimedia benchmarking tests the laptop managed an overall score of 68, performing particularly well in the single-core focussed photo conversion test, in which it managed 82. In real terms, you’ll be able to perform multimedia tasks at a decent speed, although render times will be longer than on a similarly-priced desktop PC.
You also get the added bonus of a capable graphics card: the Nvidia GeForce GTX 850M is a mid-tier chip capable of handling some more recent games at medium settings at the laptop’s native Full HD resolution. In our standard Dirt Showdown test at 1,280×720 resolution and High graphics settings the N551JK produced an average frame rate of 78.7fps. Upping the resolution to the laptop’s native 1,920×1,080 pixels yielded 41.7fps, which is still easily playable.
Very challenging games with advanced graphics effects will be more of a challenge for this chip, though. Our representative test is the ageing but still graphically advanced Crysis 3. A quick run through the game’s Swamp level on High settings resulted in a very jerky 19fps. However, dropping the graphics to more reasonable 1x anti-aliasing and Low texture settings saw the average fps rise to 37.9, which we’d call playable, if not pretty. You’ll have plenty of room to store all your games and other files thanks to the 1TB hard disk. There’s no SSD or SSD cache for speedier storage performance, but at this price we wouldn’t expect it.
The N551JK’s screen has a quality Full HD (1,920×1.080) panel, giving you plenty of room to put windows side-by-side and have more room to breathe when browsing the web and editing photos. Colour performance was extremely impressive, with the screen capable of displaying 94% of the sRGB colour gamut, according to our measurements. This is a major step up when compared to similarly priced laptops, with vibrant colours displaying accurately on screen. Contrast levels of 754:1 and black levels of 0.48cd/m2 lead to a nicely balanced image with plenty of detail visible even in more subtly shaded images. Make sure you turn off Adaptive Brightness in Windows, as it is extremely irritating on the Asus N551JK, constantly flickering between light and darker settings.
The Asus N551JK is a supremely impressive laptop at an almost unbelievably low price, with a good processor, dedicated graphics and a superb screen. At this price, it’s the best desktop replacement laptop you can buy.
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