While 15 inch ultrabooks are still a rare commodity these days, more and more potential buyers are interested in this class of portable machines, as they offer the power and the features required by most everyday activities, while losing the bulk.
The Asus Vivobook S551 is one of the latest 15 inch ultrabooks launched and it does offer plenty for the money, while starting at around $800 or even less. As a mainstream machine, it’s meant to be affordable, while bundling fast hardware, long battery life and a sleek body. And as a Vivobook, it sports a touchscreen as well.
Of course, the Vivibook S551 is not without flaws, but as you’ll find from this review, you can easily live with most of them. And that’s why I’m pretty sure this laptop is going to be fairly popular in the next couple of months.
But enough said, let’s get going. We have the most powerful version of the S551 here, the Asus Vivobook S551LB, and we’re going to talk about all of its important aspects below. In the US, the same laptop will be sold as the Asus Vivobook V551LB.
Asus Vivobook S551/V551 video review
But before we get to the detailed review, the video will tell you most of the things you should know about this Vivobook.
The specs sheet for the Asus Vivobook S551 / V551
|Asus Vivobook S551LB / V551LB|
|Screen||15.6 inch, 1366 x 768 px resolution, TFT TN panel, touchscreen|
|Processor||Intel Haswell Core i7-4500U CPU|
|Video||integrated Intel 4400 HD + dedicated Nvidia 740M 2GB|
|Memory||8 GB DDR3|
|Storage||1TB 5400 rpm HDD + 24 GB cache SSD|
|Connectivity||Wireless N, Gigabit Lan, Bluetooth 4.0|
|Ports||2xUSB 3.0, 1xUSb 2.0, card reader, HDMI, DVD-RW unit|
|Baterry||50 Wh 4470 mAh|
|Operating system||Windows 8 Pro 64bit|
|Size||380 x 258 x 20.4 mm (14.96″ x 10.15″ x 0.80″)|
|Weight||about 2.4 kg (5.3 pounds)|
Design and exterior
The S551 is a fairly large laptop, with a 15.6 inch screen. However, this one is an ultrabook, like I mentioned in the beginning, and that’s why it is quite sleek. In fact, it’s thinner than my Lenovo X220, as you can see here. On the other hand, this VivoBook is not the lightest lad on the market, as it is mostly meant to offer plenty for the money.
So you shouldn’t be surprised that it weighs about 5.5 pounds, which barely sets it apart from a regular laptop. But at least it’s fairly sturdy and definitely a looker in its class, I might say. The inner body is cast from a solid piece of metal, a nicely textured sheet of aluminum covers the hood and you’ll only find plastic on the underbelly.
Speaking of that, there are barely any cuts down here, except for a small cooling grill on the side and the speakers placed towards the front. The battery is encased and the components are not that easily accessible. Still, with a proper screwdriver, you can remove the 10 or so screws holding the entire plastic back in place and have a peek at the internals.
You’ll see how the hardware looks in the pics below. There are 4 GB of RAM soldered on the motherboard, and an extra DIMM , hidden behind the aluminum-foil cover next to the CPU (third picture below), so getting to it could be a bit complicated, but not impossible if you know what you’re doing. This post explains exactly what you need to do in order to upgrade the RAM on the V551.
Recent updates – see Andrew M’s comment below – indicate that an 8 GB module can go in this slot, for a total of 12 GB. However, you need to use a low-voltage 1.35V DDR3 DIMM. Adding a higher voltage 8 GB in this one won’t work, as some of our readers reported.
Andrew M’s comment (Thanks!): “ Hi Guys, I just purchased an 8Gb SODIMM and installed it under the silver cover – thanks for the tip as I couldn’t find where the alleged spare slot was! I can confirm that the 8Gb module I used works fine and Windows 8 reports my machine as having 12gb of RAM. You have to get low voltage ram – otherwise it won’t work. I purchased a Samsung 1.35v DDR3 1600 SO-DIMM module along with an 840 EVO 500Gb SSD which I’ll install when I get the chance. This particular 8Gb module works for sure… I used the crucial ram tool to find out which one I needed (just google it!). “
Anyway, with the laptop back in shape, let’s have a look around the sides. Most of the ports are lined on the left, while on the right there’s Optical unit, another USB port and a card-reader. And yes, there’s no VGA port on this laptop, if that’s something you care about. Besides these, you’ll find some status LEDs on the front lip, while a bunch of others are placed above the keyboard, near the Power button.
And now that we opened this laptop, you’ll actually like it even more. The silver aluminum body creates a nice contrast with the black keyboard and you’ll appreciate the wide and sturdy palm-rest or the slightly beveled edges, that won’t cut through your wrists when using this laptop for a while.
You’ll also like the large screen hinge, able to firmly keep that 15 inch display in place, and that’s even more important as this is an Asus Vivobook we have here, thus it comes with a touchscreen that you’ll keep poking everyday.
A fairly good touchscreen by the way, one that responded snappy and accurate to my taps, gestures or swipes. However, except for that, the screen is overall… average, at best. Asus bundled a 15.6 inch TFT panel on their S551 with 1366 x 768 px resolution, so it’s not the sharpest on the market.
That aside, the viewing angles are pretty poor, as with most TFT displays and the reflective glass on top of the panel doesn’t help either. In fact, this laptop is going to be a complete pain to use in strong light, because of those reflections, but also because the panel is not very bright.
However, as long as you keep it indoors and away from direct light, you should find it good enough. The contrast is alright and the colors quite accurate and vibrant for this class.
Still, I was expecting better, but maybe my expectations are too high. After all, Asus used a similar display on the 14 inch S400 last year and that unit got quite popular. What do you think?
Keyboard and trackpad
Anyway, next to the screen, the keyboard and trackpad are extremely important for me on a laptop.
The ones on this Asus VivoBook are fairly good. The keys are large and properly spaced and the feedback is overall alright, although the travel is a bit too shallow and because of that you will miss strokes from time to time. But once you get used to the overall experience, I think you’re going to find this keyboard good enough.
It does include a NumPad area with full-size keys and you’ll notice that the arrow keys, while smaller than the other, are slightly separated from the entire block, something that I came to appreciate.
On the other hand, it’s worth mentioning that this is not a backlit keyboard and my unit had the European layout, which I for one am not a big fan of. Oh, and you’ll notice there’s a Blue key in the NumPad section. That one launches the Asus Console, a neat interface that grabs together several Asus bundled apps.
As for the trackpad, it’s large, smooth and nicely separated from the palm-rest. It’s a clickpad of course and it tends to be accurate and reliable most of the time, with occasional exceptions. It supports all sorts of gestures, those embedded within Windows 8 that require you to drag from the sides, or many others, with up to three fingers, configurable via the Smart Gesture software bundled by Asus. So overall this clickpad is OK, not perfect, but definitely usable,
Hardware and performances
Anyway, enough about that for now, let’s push that power button and see what this laptop can do.
I have the top Asus VivoBook S551LB configuration for this test, with an Intel Core i7-4500U processor (clocked at 1.8GHz, can go up to 3 GHz), 8 GB of RAM, hybrid storage (1 TB Hitachi Travelstar 5K1000 HDD + 24GB SanDisk U100 cache SSD) and hybrid graphics as well (Intel 4400HD + Nvidia 740M 2GB).
Yes, there’s an ULV platform pushing this laptop, but it is part of Intel’s Haswell family, just recently launched, and one of the fastest available right now in this class. That’s why this Vivobook is pretty snappy, although I did encounter some occasional stuttering that I blame on the slow hard-drive. So you will probably want to upgrade that and get both a more responsive machine, but also a quieter one.
Speaking about those upgrade possibilities, replacing the 2.5 inch storage unit is fairly simple. You could also replace the optical drive for a second storage drive, but that only if you can find a matching cradle. And that’s about it.
Anyway, this Asus S551 managed to deal fine with most of the things I threw at it, from basic tasks like text-editing and browsing, to more complex activities, like editing some videos and even running some recent games, as you will find from the clip below.
And here are the numbers (1366 x 768 px, with Medium details), if you’re interested in those:
- Metro Last Light – 55 fps;
- Grid 2 – 52 fps
- Skyrim – 60 fps;
- Starcraft 2 - 45 fps (4 v 4 map) – can drop below 30 fps in intense battles with hundreds of units.
- Bioshock Infinite – 34 fps
— gaming video will be added soon
And if you’re interested in benchmarks results, you’ll also find these useful:
- 3DMark 13: Ice Storm – 52133, Cloud Gate – 5138, Fire Strike – 928, Fire Strike Extreme – 460 ;
- 3DMark 11: Entry – E2941, Performance –P1863, Extreme – X527 ;
- PCMark 07: 2970;
- PCMark Vantage: 8341;
- Windows Rating: 5.9;
- CineBench 11.5: OpenGL 36.68 fps, CPU 2.87 pts.
The S551 can be a decent multimedia companion as well, being able to play smoothly all sorts of Full HD content. The overall screen quality does have a negative impact on the overall experience, but at least the speakers are pretty good, punchy and fairly clear, as you can hear from the video review.
The notebook does run Windows 8, so you do get the Touch Friendly interface and the apps within Microsoft’s Windows Store, next to the classic Desktop mode and standard legacy software. Asus bundles some extras as well, things like Smart Audio, Cloud Storage, Splendid and several others, but while some of them could be useful, none are actually something you can’t live without.
Noise, Heat, Connectivity and others
Alright, so we know by now that the S551 can plow through plenty of chores, and you’ll be glad to find out that it does that while running cool and almost completely silent.
Even when heavily pushing this ultrabook and even when running stress tests, the body did not get more than warm and software like HWInfo showed the CPU reaching temperatures of around 80 degrees Celsius, which is actually great. The cooling system is never too loud, not even in these conditions mentioned before.
Air is sucked in from the small cut on the bottom and blown out through the hinge, upwards, towards the screen. And that does make the lower part of the display quite hot when running games and I’m a afraid that might have a negative impact on the screen’s long-term quality. Definitely something Asus should have done better.
Anyway, there are some other things that you will enjoy about this laptop. For instance, I could mention the decent webcam you’ll find above the screen, with dual-microphones, alright for quick-chats. Or I could praise the fast and reliable Wireless module (Qualcomm Atheros AR9485WB-EB), although you should know that this unit does not offer support for the latest 802.11AC wireless standard. The S551 does offer Bluetooth and Gigabit Lan as well.
Those aside, don’t forget that the S551 is an ultrabook so it needs to be portable, if required. And it is.
The 50 Wh battery inside this unit, combined with the Haswell platform and the dual-graphics solution, can push this machine for many hours on a charge. Here’s what I got:
- 6+ hours of HD video playing (720p clip) – screen at 50%, Energy Saving Mode, Wi-Fi OFF;
- about 100 minutes of gaming on High Performance Mode, screen at 70%, Wi-Fi OFF;
- between 4 to 5 hours of everyday use – Balanced Mode, screen at 50%, Wi-Fi ON;
- almost 7 hours when used lightly, for editing documents, with a text editor and 3-4 tabs opened in the browser, screen at 30%, Wi-Fi ON, Energy Saving Mode.
The battery charges completely in a little over 2 hours and Asus does include a compact powerbrick with a long cable, that should do just fine in most situations.
Prices and availability
Anyway, enough said, let’s talk prices for a little bit. The S551LV / V551LB will be available in stores by the beginning of August and based on what I know right now, it will sell for between 750 and 1100 USD. More details below:
- Intel Core i3-4010U, 500 GB HDD + 24 GB SSD, 4GB RAM, Intel HD 4400 – between $749 and $799;
- Intel Core i5-4200U, 750 GB HDD + 24 GB SSD, 6GB RAM, Intel HD 4400 – $899;
- Intel Core i7-4500U, 1 TB HDD + 24 GB SSD, 8GB RAM, Intel HD 4400 – $999;
- Intel Core i3-4010U, 500 GB HDD + 24 GB SSD, 4GB RAM, Nvidia 740M – between $849 and $899;
- Intel Core i5-4200U, 750 GB HDD + 24 GB SSD, 6GB RAM, Nvidia 740M – $999;
- Intel Core i7-4500U, 1 TB HDD + 24 GB SSD, 8GB RAM, Nvidia 740M – $1099;
Anyway, you’ll find most of these versions discounted if you’ll follow this link.
Bottom point, there are plenty of things to like about the Asus VivoBook S551, or the Asus Vivobook V551 as it will be called on some markets. And while it is not the kind of laptop I would be interested in, I’m pretty sure many of you will. If you want a decently fast, thin and good looking 15 inch laptop that can run for several hours on a charge without getting hot or noisy, this one should be on your list. Other good 15 inch ultrabooks can be found in this article.
However, I do find the S551 a bit too expensive, based on what we know right now. Think about the Asus N550 for instance, that offers a full-voltage processor, more powerful graphics, a backlit keyboard and an IPS touchscreen for about 100 to 150 dollars extra, without being a lot larger or heavier. To be frank, I’d pick that one over this S551 in a second.
That’s why I’m pretty sure the S551 is going to be cheaper at launch than announced or quickly get 100 to 200 dollars price cuts soon after. And that based on how much the current Vivobook S550 sells for these days.
And when that happens, this VivoBook is going to become an option you have to consider in its class, despite the things Asus should have done better. And yes, I’m mostly talking about that screen here.
Anyway, that’s about it for now. Let me know what do you think about this laptop and if you have any questions, post them below and I’ll do my best to reply. Besides that, if you did find this post useful, hopefully you could share it on forums, Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, etc, that would help me a lot and would allow me to carry on with my reviews in the future. Thanks.