The VivoBook notebooks are Asus’ general-purpose range for the everyday user, ranging in screen size from 11in to 15in. The V550CA is the latest 15in model, although it takes many of its cues from the Ultrabook format that has risen to prominence in the last few years. It's not exactly thin and light, but it is much more svelte than a mainstream budget 15in notebook, and better looking than a lot of them, too.
There are three processor options with the VivoBook V550CA, one each from the Intel Core i3, i5 and i7 ranges. Our sample came with the top option, the Intel Core i7 3537U, but it's also possible to specify the Core i5 3317U or Core i3 3217U. The 3537U is nominally a 2GHz processor, and is an ultra-low voltage model drawing up to 17 Watts at this frequency. However, Turbo Boost means it can run a single core at 3.1GHz, and both cores at 2.9GHz with an increase in power consumption to 25 Watts.
This gives the processor a good balance of low power consumption on the move with more performance available when you need it. Hyper-Threading is also on hand to enhance the machine’s abilities when running multiple applications or parallel processing tasks. The Core i7 is partnered with a reasonable 6GB of 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM, which can be upgraded to the maximum of 8GB via a user-removable panel, although this means swapping out the existing 2GB DIMM.
Some of the memory will be used by the graphics. The processor is from Intel's Ivy Bridge generation, so integrates HD 4000 graphics, with no discrete chipset included. The decent performance of HD 4000 has been superseded by the next generation of Intel's graphics delivered with the new Haswell processor, but HD 4000 is still a capable performer, with about twice the ability of its HD 3000 predecessor, and it’s perfectly adequate unless you're an avid gamer.
The storage provision shows this laptop’s relatively budget conscious orientation, with no solid state drive options other than 3GB or 24GB cache drives on some models, although not the one we had for review. There are separate partitions for the operating systems and data, but both come from the same 1TB Hitachi Travelstar 5K1000 5,400rpm hard disk. This is a generously large drive, particularly for a highly portable notebook. There is a slot on the chassis for an optical drive, too, but our model didn't come with this included – so the SD card slot is your only built-in option for removable memory.
The biggest indication that this is more of an affordable portable than a premium 15in Ultrabook comes when you look at the overall design. Compared to, for example, the Samsung Series 9 NP900X4C, it's decidedly portly, weighing 2.6kg and measuring 30mm wider and deeper than the Samsung notebook. Its 22mm height isn't particularly large, however, and takes this notebook out of the desktop replacement category. So this is a relatively heavy notebook, but slim enough to slip into a bag.
The blend of black plastic base with brushed metal keyboard surround and black lid is reasonably attractive, although the glossy lid does pick up greasy fingerprints quite easily. The slimness of the chassis makes the VivoBook feel just that bit more classy than its £700 price would suggest.
The chiclet-style keyboard has a pleasantly tactile action, with a noticeable click when a key has been pressed, making it very comfortable for typing. There is sufficient room on the chassis for a numeric keypad on the right, too. The large, single-piece trackpad has been positioned to the left to reduce the chance of accidental activation, although strangely it isn't directly below the spacebar as you might expect. It boasts a good level of accuracy, with smooth multi-touch gestures, and there is clear distinction between the left and right button zones at the bottom.
Despite the large chassis, the VivoBook isn't brimming with connectivity options. The left side is home to VGA, full-sized HDMI and Gigabit LAN ports, along with a single USB 3.0 port, with the cooling vent and power socket behind. The right-hand side only houses the combined headphone and microphone minijack, plus two USB 2.0 ports. The rest of the space is taken by the bay where an optical drive could be, which as we mentioned before was vacant in our sample. We would have liked to see at least an extra USB 3.0 port.
Unfortunately, the 15.6in display has only been allotted 1,366 x 768 pixels of resolution, too, which is rather miserly for a screen this big. Viewing angles are acceptable, although the glossy anti-glare surface is quite reflective, which could be a problem in bright conditions. However, it does follow the current Windows 8 trend and offer touch operation, making the Metro interface that little bit more bearable.
As we predicted, the Intel Core i7 processor provides performance that is a little beyond the average Ultrabook, although not in the same league as a desktop replacement 15in notebooks such as Toshiba's Satellite S50t-A-118. The result of 2.9 in the Maxon Cinebench R11.5 render test is beyond most notebooks with ultra-low voltage processors, although graphics performance is much more pedestrian. The Cinebench OpenGL score of 15.55 is slightly above the average for integrated HD 4000 graphics, but not by much. Similarly, the result of 669 in Futuremark 3DMark11 is about ten per cent ahead of most HD 4000-based systems, but this is not going to be very noticeable in everyday usage.
Battery life is merely adequate. The VivoBook lasted 130 minutes in our strenuous Battery Eater run-down test, which works the processor and graphics at full pelt until the battery is depleted. This is a worst-case scenario, and with lighter use you can expect at least four hours, and probably approaching five hours, which is adequate for a relatively sizeable notebook, if not outstanding. The battery is also removable, so you could invest in a second one if you do need to spend an extensive period of time away from the power socket.
The Asus VivoBook V550CA is a slightly curious beast. It's reasonably slim, but heavy. It also offers decent performance for such a slim device, and is quite a bit cheaper than really skinny 15in options. This is neither a powerful desktop replacement nor a svelte 15in Ultrabook. Instead, it's a little bit of both, and cheaper than either too, which is no bad thing.
Manufacturer and Model
Asus VivoBook V550CA
2GHz Intel Core i7 3537U
6GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM
Intel HD 4000
1TB Hitachi Travelstar 5K1000 5,400rpm hard disk
15.6in LED backlit anti-glare TFT with 1,366 x 768 pixels
802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0
USB 3.0, 2 x USB 2.0, SD card reader, combo headphone/microphone, mini VGA, HDMI, LAN
Width x Depth x Height
380 x 266 x 22mm
2 years limited international