Review: ASUS VivoBook S550CM
A good but expensive desktop replacement with a touchscreen interface.
Large responsive touchscreen; Ergonomic keyboard; NVIDIA discrete graphics.
Poor display quality; Heavy.
ASUS VivoBook S550CM
MRP: Rs 58,000
Windows 8 has given rise to an interesting breed of computing devices. We are seeing an increasing number of laptops with touchscreens cropping up and some of them are Ultrabooks with screens exceeding 15". The ASUS VivoBook S550CM is one such laptop with a large 15.6" display, powered by an Intel Core i5 CPU, with internal storage comprised of HDD and SSD for a combination of performance and capacity, and even a DVD writer. Let's see if this laptop is better than the rest.
Build And Design
The ASUS S550CM appears completely black in colour when closed, with the lid sporting a brushed metal finish. Most of the body is made of aluminium with only the base (underside) made of strong polymer. The casing is fairly resistant to scratches, does not gather fingerprints, but is quick to gather oily smudge marks. The lid opens smoothly up to around 150 degrees, exhibiting durability of the hinges that should last long. The overall build quality is very good.
In case you are picturing this to be a thin, portable, and light device, like I did, let me tell you that it is not the case. When closed, it measures 15" in width, 10.5" in depth, and 0.9" (2.3 cm) in thickness, making it more like a desktop replacement in dimensions. Its weight of 2.5 kg doesn't really make it too portable to be carried around either.
The LED-backlit display is a 15.6" (diagonal) LED backlit LCD screen with HD pixel dimensions of 1366x768. It features 10-point capacitive touch input capability. Where one would normally expect a Windows button in some form on a Windows 8 touch device, there is an ASUS logo at the centre of the bottom bezel. The size of the bezel is just right to make it easy to use the edge controls of Windows 8 UI. A webcam is present at the centre of the top bezel. While it is not Gorilla glass, it seems to be very resistant to scratches as we were not able to get a single scratch on the glass using metallic objects such as door keys.
The island type keyboard is spacious with a nice amount of space given to the shiny aluminium palm rest with a brushed metal finish. The keys are nicely spaced out and there is even a dedicated numeric keypad. While all the keys appear to be of the right size, the cursor keys could have been a little larger. The keyboard is not backlit. There are LED indicators on the front left to show the status of the various locks and other activities. The touchpad with a semi-matte finish is generously sized, measuring 4.1" across and 2.9" in height, giving enough space to comfortably manoeuvre the cursor. It is located intelligently towards the left of the user to avoid accidental touch inputs. Mouse buttons are present at the bottom of the touchpad. A power button with LED indicator is situated at the top left.
With the exception of the memory card slot that is present at the front, all the ports are situated on the left and right of the S550C, thus making them more accessible. Two USB 2.0 ports are present on the right of the device along with a tray-loading DVD writer, a Kensington lock, and a headphone/microphone combo port.
A SuperSpeed USB 3.0 port is present on the left to connect faster peripherals supporting this interface. A Gigabit Ethernet port is also present for wired network connectivity. HDMI port is there to let you connect the device to a HD display, while there is also a VGA port to connect to older display device or projectors supporting only this interface. Exhaust grill is present on this side to vent out the hot air from within the casing.
The underside has several ventilation grills to let out hot air that builds up inside the casing, allowing the laptop to run cool. Stereo speaker grills are present near the rear on either side. It has a replaceable 4-cell 2950 mAh Li-Ion battery at the rear. You can replace or upgrade RAM and storage. Four rubber feet near the four corners slightly elevate the device when placed on a flat surface to facilitate air intake for ventilation and help to keep this device grounded.
The ASUS S550CM runs Windows 8 Pro 64-bit and is powered by a dual-core Hyperthreaded Intel Core i5-3317U running at 1.7 GHz with 4 GB of RAM (upgradeable to 6 GB). A 750 GB 5400 RPM SATA hard drive takes care of internal storage. There is also a 24 GB SSD-cache that works with the HDD to form a hybrid drive that is supposed to perform faster than an HDD, but not be constrained by less storage space of an SSD. An NVIDIA GeForce GT 635M 2 GB discrete graphics card is present inside to take care of moderate gaming, while there is also the Intel HD Graphics 4000 that takes care of less demanding tasks, while conserving battery power. Thanks to Optimus Technology switchable graphics, user intervention is not required to switch between these graphics chipsets, although the user can still manually opt to choose the graphics processor to use.
In addition to the OS, there are a host of bundled software from ASUS. A trial version of MS Office 2013 is also provided, although you will eventually have to pay for the full version or opt for a free office suite. Trend Micro Titanium Internet Security is provided to take care of security.
The ASUS S550CM boots in just under 10 seconds, which is almost as fast as booting off an SSD. The performance is good and the laptop continues to perform well even when multiple applications are opened simultaneously with the antivirus running in the background.
The keyboard has good ergonomics due to the comfortable 3.5 mm spacing between keys and it is not tiresome to type for long durations. The keystroke of 1 mm provides good tactile feedback too. The touchpad is likewise fun to use due to its large size, making precise cursor control very easy to achieve.
The screen's touch response is quite good and there is no noticeable lag at any point. There is some trailing however, which somewhat spoils the experience. The glossy finish of the screen makes it very reflective and difficult to use with light shining from behind the user. The display dimensions of 1366x768 seem to be low as individual pixels can be easily seen and it would have been better to incorporate a higher resolution panel instead, if not Full HD. Being a TN panel, the viewing angles suffer badly, both vertically as well as horizontally, thus you can see deterioration in colouration even at angles as narrow as 30 degrees in any direction. This becomes more evident when watching dark visuals as black colour quickly changes to grey when viewed from a wider angle. The colours appear a little washed out.
The speakers are quite loud, and the clarity is good enough to be used to watch movies. Despite the fact that they are placed under the laptop and at the rear, they sound much better than those on the Acer M3 Touch, which were Dolby certified. Of course, there is always the option to plug in headphones, but it is sometimes better and more convenient if you don't need to plug in wires.
The NVIDIA GeForce GT 635M is a moderately powerful graphics processor and the results show while gaming. This laptop could easily play Battlefield 3 with details set to Medium and the gameplay appears smooth at its default 1366x768 display resolution. The 3DMark 11 result puts it behind the Acer M3 Touch with a more powerful graphics card.
The laptop does get uncomfortably hot when stressed, such as during gaming for more than half an hour, especially on the side where there is the heat vent. However, the heat is manageable, and should not pose much of an issue as long as you place it on a desk while using.
We conducted a few synthetic benchmarks to find out how the ASUS S550CM Touch performs.
Windows Experience Index
PCMark 7 score
3DMark 11 score
We have also included the latest 3DMark this time and will be using it in addition to the other older version from now on.
The benchmark results indicate a good performance from the S550C. It is easy to deduce that the device is perfectly capable of handling office tasks as well as multimedia, and casual gaming. However, excessive multitasking such as opening multiple programs and several tabs in browsers must be avoided as it slows down the system. We found that it actually scores less than the Acer M3 Touch, which has a Core i3 CPU as against the Core i5 here. A look at the Windows Performance Index shows that while the CPU is performing as well as it should, the graphics is holding back the performance for some reason. We suspect that the Optimus Technology is probably not kicking in when it should and the integrated graphics is being used more often.
We measured the battery life by Battery Eater Pro and by actually using the laptop with the Balanced power scheme of Windows 8. The two tests run in Battery Eater Pro utility are the Reader's test which simulates real-world reading scenario, while the Classic test uses OpenGL rendering to simulate heavy usage such as gaming. Please note that the battery backup times logged in this way are the least that are possible in the two tests due to the maximised power consumption. You can always expect better backup times in real world usage.
A battery backup time of 1 hour 40 minutes was registered in the Classic test, while the Reader's test result yielded 3 hours 30 minutes. In normal usage that involves using office applications, surfing the internet, occasional music and video, and watching some YouTube clips, the battery lasted for over 4.5 hours. For a 2950 mAh battery, this is a good battery backup for a Windows 8 Ultrabook that contains power hungry components such as a Core i5 CPU, discrete graphics card, and a large touchscreen.
The ASUS S550CM is a good performer in both office applications as well as gaming. Its display quality is nothing to write home about, but it is nevertheless as responsive as you would expect of a Windows 8 capacitive multi-touch screen. The large 15.6"screen size makes it ideal as a desktop replacement, rather than an Ultrabook that can be carried around, as it is a little heavy. ASUS provides a nice carry bag along in an attempt to take care of this issue. One of the interesting things to note about this laptop is its switchable graphics that can switch between discrete NVIDIA and onboard Intel graphics according to application load, and thus help get a better battery backup. It doesn't just look good, but also sports excellent build quality. The battery backup time is also noteworthy for a laptop with discrete graphics. It is priced at Rs 58,000, which is Rs 5000 less than the Acer Aspire M3 Touch, but we would rather recommend the latter for it holds the edge as far as overall performance and battery backup is concerned.
Build And Design: 4/5
Value For Money: 3/5
Overall Rating: 3.5/5