Asus G550JK gaming notebook

It's designed for gamers, and it looks good, but even non-gaming power-seekers can consider this beast

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ASUS G550JK

Pros

  • Intel Core i7 CPU
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 850M graphics
  • Neat design and light weight

Cons

  • SSD size is too small
  • Touchpad could be better
  • Our test model wouldn't shut up

Bottom Line

The Asus G550JK offers plenty of CPU and graphics power under its hood, but it's not just gamers who should consider it. If you want a powerful laptop for doing work and being creative, and you want something that won't stand out too much, but also something that isn't boring to look at, then definitely give it a go. On the downside, our unit was loud, and we think the SSD offering is too small.

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The Asus G550JK isn’t as beefy looking as some of its stable mates in the Republic of Gamers range, and this makes it a more sensible choice if you’re a gamer looking for something easier to carry from here to there. The unit has a 15.6in form factor, and while it doesn’t have space for dual-GPUs and RAID 0 arrays, it does still possess plenty of grunt for running most games at an adequate level. We like to think of this notebook as a bit of an all-rounder, though, mainly because it could also be considered by anyone who just wants a powerful mobile computer for work and play.

A simple design

An overall weight of 2.3kg means that the G550JK isn’t as heavy as most mobile, hardcore gaming rigs, and its footprint isn’t too large either (382mm wide, 252mm deep, and 30mm thick), so it can be easily carried in most typical 15in backpacks. The power supply is quite large though (160mm long, 78mm wide, and 26mm thick), so you’ll have to make sure you leave enough room for it. It has a typical notebook shape, and if not for its black and red theme, you would hardly know from looking at it that it’s aimed at the gaming set (unless you’re in the gaming set and recognise the ROG logo, of course).

A red trim, a red-backlit keyboard, and a red Republic of Gamers (ROG) badge on the lid that lights up are the main indicators that there’s something more to this notebook than what is usual. We like the overall look that Asus has gone for; it has implemented a minimalist design for the most part, deciding not to go with extra keys for macros, and hasn’t used any extra marking for the WASD keys (they are not highlighted in any way). There is one shortcut button on the left side that can be customised to launch the app of your choice, and we think it could have easily been left out to further the overall minimalist theme.

Status lights aren’t blinding, and they aren’t in a prominent position. Asus has placed them on the front of the unit, rather than at the top (except for the power status light, of course), so they won’t distract you from your gaming. The red backlight of the keyboard is also soft on the eyes and offers a good ambience while gaming in a dark setting. The downside is that the keys can be hard to read in a dark-ish environment if the backlight isn’t switched on, but if you’re a touch-typist then that won’t be a problem.

Other things of note are the matte screen, the matte palm rest and screen bezel, and the brushed aluminium lid. The screen is very good. It has a Full HD resolution, wide viewing angles (it’s an IPS-based screen) a high brightness, and is just as capable on the gaming front as it is at displaying photos when it comes to contrast. While we like the finishes on the palm rest and lid, be aware that they do love holding on to your fingerprints and smudge marks. Almost immediately after cleaning the unit with a microfiber cloth, smudges re-emerged on the next use. This caused some annoyance, but it’s not a trait that’s exclusive to this ROG beast.

The brushed lid looks classy, and the lit-up ROG logo gives it a bit of ooh-aah.
The brushed lid looks classy, and the lit-up ROG logo gives it a bit of ooh-aah.

We like the overall minimalist look of this notebook, and its keyboard is comfortable for long sessions of typing.
We like the overall minimalist look of this notebook, and its keyboard is comfortable for long sessions of typing.

Specs and speed

Powering the G550J that we’re reviewing here is an Intel fourth-generation Core i7 4700HQ CPU, which has a standard clock speed of 2.4GHz, four cores, plus Hyper-Threading. It’s surrounded by 16GB of 1600MHz DDR3 SDRAM, an Nvidia GeForce GTX 850M graphics adapter with 4GB of RAM, and there is a 256GB SanDisk solid state drive (SSD). Asus partitioned this drive to offer system and data portions, with the system being limited to 95GB of space. Keep this in mind when installing games so that you use the data drive instead (it has 121GB).

Performance was expectedly good on the processing side of things, with Blender 3D taking 19sec to complete our rendering workload, while in 3DMark, the Fire Strike test ended up with 2872 marks, the Sky Diver test with 10348, and the Cloud Gate test with 13960. In Battlefield 3, the Nvidia graphics adapter put up 38 frames per second (fps) when we used 1920x1080 and ‘high’ quality settings, and dropped to 27fps when we bumped that up to ‘ultra’ quality.

We didn’t experience any undue warmth while running games and benchmarks, and it sounds like there are a couple of capable cooling fans installed within the confines of the chassis. In fact, it sounds like it all the time. We couldn’t get the system to run quietly at all throughout our test period, even when the power scheme in use was changed to Balanced or Power Saving, and we made sure the built-in GPU overclocking was off.

Incidentally, the laptop has a habit of changing power scheme every time you boot up. It changes to one of the Asus-specific Power4Gear schemes — power saving if you’re unplugged, and high performance if you’re tapped into a wall outlet — rather than staying with what you may have previously selected.

The SSD comes in very handy during the boot-up process. We clocked a typical cold boot at only 4sec from the time we pressed the power button to the time the Windows 8.1 login screen emerged. In CrystalDiskMark, the sequential read speed was 475.1 megabytes per second (MBps), and the write speed 385.2MBps. Both are healthy results, but nowhere near as fast as the triple SSD array in Aorus’ latest slim X7 v2 gaming beast. (We just thought we’d bring that up again, even though that notebook is in another class).

Battery life isn’t much to speak of on this notebook, with our rundown test lasting only 2hr 44min. For this test, we disable power management (that is, put it on high performance), enable Wi-Fi, maximise brightness, and loop an HD video file.

What else is there?

We like the overall usability of the system, and especially its keyboard, which has large keys, and also keys that are soft and equipped with adequate travel and responsiveness. It was a pleasure to type on this thing. We’re not too keen on the number pad, which has smaller keys and which blends into the arrow keys.

The touchpad is large and decent overall, though its Asus SmartGesture driver didn’t want three-finger swipes to work in Firefox (they worked in other windows and browsers). You don’t get a touchscreen with this laptop, which we’re fine with, and you can use the touchpad’s gestures to engage with Windows 8.1’s Modern UI features. We found the swipe-in from the right edge for the Charms bar to be a little too sensitive, though; we were always bringing it up accidentally.

Speakers on this laptop are bolstered by a little sub-woofer that plugs into the right side, but if you need serious sound, then just use some good headphones or make a Bluetooth connection to an external speaker or stereo.

Around the edges, you get three USB 3.0 ports, Gigabit Ethernet, an HDMI port, a Mini DisplayPort, a headset port, a Blu-ray drive, and an SD card reader. We’re happy with all that, with the exception that the SD card slot can’t accommodate a card wholly within the slot; half of your SD card will stick out, and we think this is quite annoying. You also get dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi (through an Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 7260 module), and there is a built-in webcam and microphone array.

One other thing we’ll mention before concluding is the pre-installed software. There is a lot of Asus-specific software on this, as there is on most Asus laptops, and some of it, such as the WebStorage stuff, can be an obstacle to overcome. Pop-ups informing you of updates or registrations mean you will need to sit down and uninstall what you don’t want to use (which will probably be most of it).

Conclusion

While it’s a system designed for gamers and enthusiasts, the G550JK should appeal to just about anyone who wants a powerful notebook, thanks mainly to a design that’s classy and functional, and also quite light considering all the built-in features.

We love the feel of the keyboard and the red ambience of its backlight, the screen is of high quality, and, of course, there is plenty of power inside for playing many of the latest games, or for being productive.

The SSD offering is a paltry one, though, with 256GB being the maximum that we saw on the supplied spec sheet, and we think that larger capacities should be options, especially since the unit isn’t all that easy to get into and upgrade yourself (it has tiny Torx screws holding the bottom cover).

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