The 15.6-inch Asus N550JK is one of the best Asus laptops for people who want a powerful computer capable of a playing some recent games without them looking like a slideshow, but don't want to pay the Earth for it. It starts at £799 (around US$1285, AU$1465), the version reviewed, jumping up to £899 (around US$1445, AU$1650) if you go for the thoroughly worthwhile IPS 1080p screen upgrade.
There aren't a great deal of capable machines at this price that can really handle all that much gaming, making this a pretty interesting laptop. The MSI GX60, HP Envy 15 and Lenovo G710 are the key alternatives at the price. All offer dedicated graphics cards for about £800 (around US$1285, AU$1465) – but the nice, clean look and slightly higher-end GPU of the Asus N550JK will be a draw for many.
Power over portability
The Asus N550JK sits in a bit of an awkward middle ground that doesn't generally get much attention anymore. Starting at £800 (around US$1285, AU$1465), it's not truly top-end, and it's far too large to be considered particularly portable or Ultrabook-like. This is a solid, practical laptop that's best suited to life on a desk.
It's not a laptop to try and show off in a coffee shop – the 2.7kg weight would quickly earn you shoulder ache anyway. We did try lugging it around for a day but the experience wasn't too pleasant. However, the design is good, particularly considering that mid-range laptops often miss the mark on looks.
The Asus N550JK's lid is lightly brushed dark blue/grey aluminium. Treated metal is one of Asus' standard design calling cards, but the texture is much less pronounced and showy than it is in the Asus Zenbook Ultrabooks.
Aluminium is used once again inside. The entire keyboard top-plate is aluminium, with an anodised-style finish and a neat looking pattern of concentric circles of dots up top. Initially it appears these are cut into the keyboard surround, but they're actually raised.
Could we do without them? Absolutely, but it's just Asus' attempt to stop the N550JK from plunging into real design anonymity. They also help highlight the laptop's Bang & Olufsen speakers, not that the drivers are anywhere near this pattern. Instead, the dots surround the power button and an Asus-specific button that brings up an Asus console app when in use. It gives access to a few basic system settings.
Impressive build quality
As with most laptops that care as much about the bottom line as looks, the underside of the Asus N550JK is plastic rather than metal. But then a metal underside rarely does a laptop any favours in terms of heat transferral. Hot legs, anyone?
Build quality is very good. There's only a slight flex to the hand-rest part of the keyboard surround, and while we're sure the aluminium shell isn't all that thick, it's enough to give the laptop a higher-end feel.
Asus hasn't tried too hard to slim down the N550JK, though. While the sides taper smoothy – bar a rough edge where metal meets plastic – it's still 28mm thick. Add that to the considerable 2.7kg weight and you have a fairly chunky laptop.
In return, the N550JK is pretty powerful, but it is still an entry-level performance/gaming laptop. And as such it's no surprise that you have no easy access to the laptop's insides. There are no removable panels to give you easy access to the RAM slots, and the battery is non-removable. So this is a purchase for those who simply want to buy a laptop and largely make do with it.