At first glance, it's difficult to get a handle on exactly what type of laptop the Asus N55SF is.
The powerful Core i7-2570QM processor, huge keyboard with numeric keypad and slab of speaker atop the keyboard suggest that it may be intended as a desktop replacement. But the weight and general lack of bulk suggest otherwise.
When all's said and done, this is a out-and-out powerhouse of an entertainment laptop. There's Bang and Olufsen ICEPower audio, 6GB of memory and a Blu-ray drive hidden inside that hefty case.
Indeed, this is a high performance family laptop with a gaming bent – the high end Nvidia GeForce GT 555M has a whopping 2GB of memory on board just for graphics, providing some of the best 3D performance you'll find in a laptop.
While the chassis is big, it's not as bulky as you'd think and is easily to move around the living room. Sadly the power brick isn't so portable and is a bit of a lump. The chassis is a little plasticky, but is topped off by a lovely curved, glossy piano black lid with a smart looking chrome finish around the edge.
Unfortunately the lid does pick up fingerprints quickly, but that's an issue with all such glossy laptop lids – particularly when they're being used by kids. As a whole, the laptop looks very classy and we certainly wouldn't be ashamed to leave it on the coffee table – the aluminium panel below the screen adds to this.
The chassis has been put together well and is strong – you can't push down on the palm rest, although there is a little flex in the base of the keyboard and the main laptop chassis itself. There is more flex in the screen, but it's nothing out of the ordinary.
We're unsure about the keyboard though. It looks horrid compared to those of many comparable laptops, for a start. The letter keys seem a little compressed for such a large machine, and although they have a lovely spring to them when you're typing, it's easy to accidentally hit the wrong key.
This problem is exacerbated by the location of the volume control keys on the left-hand side. It's very easy to hit one of them when going for Tab or holding down shift – largely because we're so used to these keys being at the edge of the keyboard. A bad usability flaw there; suddenly you see a volume control graphic pop up in front of you as you type.
Sound, which has traditionally been a weakness for laptops, certainly isn't neglected here. The B&O audio is nothing short of astounding. It was too loud for our living room, so we really gave it a challenge by bringing it into the office. Even on the other side of our large open plan office we could clearly make out the music. It's great for watching Blu-ray movies as a result, and HDMI means you can output your display to a larger screen.
If you prefer to use the laptop's built-in display, images are clear and crisp, and there's an anti-glare coating to reduce reflections when you're watching video or working. The screen has great contrast and colours are also reproduced well.
Photo, video and music addicts will be pleased with the 640GB of storage, and USB 3.0 connectivity means that, even if you decide to add external storage, transfer speeds would be extremely snappy with a USB 3.0 drive. Ports are plentiful, while there's a SD card slot underneath the front lip.
The trackpad is responsive, but we found the mouse buttons tended to click too easily and it can be difficult when doing more precise tasks such as highlighting text or files in a folder.
The N55SF put in a really strong performance in our benchmarks – the gaming graphics put it right up alongside entertainment-orientated notebooks like the Toshiba Qosmio X770, as well as high-end gaming laptops such as the Alienware M14X and M18X. With the quad-core processor, advanced graphics and 6GB of memory, you'll have no trouble running most games or performing demanding tasks like video editing.
The laptop uses Nvidia's Optimus graphics switching technology, so you get great graphics performance when it's plugged into the mains and decent battery life when it's not. This is reflected in our battery benchmark score, which is great compared to many of its peers – the Toshiba's Qosmio X770 only lasted 44 minutes by contrast.
Battery Eater '05: 132 minutes
3DMark 2009: 12,711
As with some other recent Asus laptops like the UX31 Zenbook, we found some of the software annoying. A reminder to register our details constantly popped up, and an update wizard kept appearing. Such add-on software seems to be a way of life now, but it detracts from the out-of-box experience.
That said, for extra unwanted software, the N55SF is better than most, with only the Bing toolbar really grating. And the benefit of the super-fast processor is that such additions don't slow Windows 7 down.
The N55SF is a superb home entertainment laptop with only a couple of weak points in the odd keyboard, mouse controls and some irritating software alerts. Performance is excellent and the spec sheet as a whole is impressive.
Of course, all this doesn't come cheap, but this machine compares extremely favourably to more stylised and costly entertainment laptops from the likes of Toshiba and Alienware. We'd definitely recommend it – if you can put up with the strange keyboard.
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