Hardware: a laptop that covers all the bases
The N55SF adopts the same design as the larger model, which you may remember we weren’t particularly impressed with. Apart from the purely subjective criteria of taste and colours, some of the choices Asus has made don’t seem particularly judicious to us. Finger marks are for example likely to show up on the glossy black hood. Also, the plastic grey keyboard is in stark contrast to the rest of the machine - something for Asus to improve on in future generations perhaps?
The keyboard and the number pad use the chiclet (separated keys) design. The keys are rather cheap looking with confusing shortcuts on the right hand side making for errors both when keying and in games (confusion between Ctrl and the shortcut for cutting the sound).
We were more impressed with the touchpad. It’s multitouch, wide and has a nice glide, making it a real pleasure to use.
We also liked the webcam. The level of detail is good both in the dark and light zones. Movements are also well rendered.
The connectivity covers all the bases. On the right, you'll find the headphones and mic sockets, two USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI out, a card reader, a VGA out, an Ethernet (RJ45) out and a mini-jack designed to link up to an external subwoofer that comes with the laptop. On the left are two USB 2.0 ports and the Blu-ray player (which also serves as a DVD rewriter).
The N55SF runs quietly, even when we pushed it hard with various benchmarks. The same goes for the heat management. Even with the graphics card running full steam ahead, both the chassis and the air coming out of the machine – unfortunately it’s directed towards your knees – remain at a relatively low temperature considering the components used.
The N55SF’s temperature readings when you push the components hard
Readings taken using a Fluke Ti25 (Distrame) camera
Bang & Olufsen audio
Power supply, VGA out, RJ45, HDMI out, USB 3.0 port (x2)
Headphones socket / SPDIF, mic socket, USB 2.0 port (X 2), Blu-ray player / DVD rewriter and subwoofer
Processor power: it can do the lot
To make this model a real all-rounder, Asus has gone for an Intel Core i7-2630QM processor, the same as in the N75SF. Each of its four physical cores can launch two processes in parallel. When running optimised applications, it will, on average, be twice as efficient as a processor such as the Core i5-2410M. It handles office work, file decompression, HD video encoding, 3D modelling and so on. It does it all and it does it fast. This may seem obvious as it does after all have a Blu-ray player, but we should say that it is perfectly able to decode HD videos.
Note however, some versions of this model will have different processors. The N55SF can for example come with an Intel Core i5-2450M, which is less powerful but still capable of giving good processing times. You’ll have to make sure you carefully check the components of the model you’re buying before handing over the money.
Windows 7 Family Premium edition (64-bit) takes 40 seconds to boot. You then have to wait another 15 to 30 seconds for the various pieces of software to launch and connection to a wi-fi network to kick in. It takes just under 15 seconds to switch off, which could have been cut down a bit if a faster hard drive (5400 rpm) had been chosen.
Gaming: decent performance
The GT 555M graphics card allows you to do all your gaming at native screen definition. Note however, on demanding titles such as Crysis 2 or Metro 2033, you won’t be able to push your options above medium if you want to be able to play under decent conditions.
Audio: high quality but saturatesThe audio system suffers from the same issues as the 17.3-inch model: the sound is relatively high but the chipset sends too much power to the built-in speakers and the external subwoofer. The result is that the speakers tend to saturate even at low volume, which is a shame.
The ins and outs are however of very good quality, both when it comes to the audio quality and power and shouldn't cause any hiss or suffer from interference.