Asus VivoBook Max X541SA

Tech Advisor - - Contents - An­drew Wil­liams

The VivoBook Max X541SA is a low-cost 15.6in sys­tem that’s de­signed for those who want to spend as lit­tle as pos­si­ble while still get­ting some­thing that looks and feels like a proper lap­top.

De­sign

From arm’s length, the sil­ver model ap­pears to be made from metal. The lid and key­board sur­round have been de­signed to mimic brushed alu­minium, and the lid has a sil­ver-blue gra­di­ent. Un­sur­pris­ingly though, given its price, the X541SA is made from plas­tic. Like most bud­get lap­tops, the un­der­side is also black, rather than match­ing the finish of the rest. (An all-white ver­sion is also avail­able.) Sim­i­larly, the lid flexes un­der fin­ger pres­sure. You will, how­ever, have to ac­cept a few build com­pro­mises like this if your bud­get only stretches to £300.

A per­haps more im­por­tant area is the key­board. There is some slight flex­ing, though not un­der the pres­sure of nor­mal typ­ing.

One cru­cial as­pect to take on board is that the Asus is a lap­top for home or work use, not one for tak­ing on your trav­els. It weighs 2kg and is 27mm thick, which we’d con­sider too chunky to carry around all day.

Con­nec­tiv­ity

Un­like slim­mer lap­tops, the X541SA has an op­ti­cal drive on its right side. It has a DVD multi-writer. There’s a de­cent spread of con­nec­tions too: USB 2.0, USB 3.0 and USB-C sock­ets, VGA and HDMI video out­puts and an Eth­er­net port. A full-size SD mem­ory card slot also sits on un­der­neath the front of the Asus. Al­most no pre­mium lap­tops of­fer VGA ports these days, but one may be es­sen­tial if you have an old mon­i­tor you need to hook up.

Key­board and track­pad

As a larger 15.6in lap­top, the Asus has room for a num­ber­pad along­side the key­board. There’s plenty of space to go around, and no keys have been made too small as a re­sult. The feel is a lit­tle un­usual though, par­tic­u­larly now we’re ac­cus­tomed to slim chi­clet key­boards. There’s a lot of travel to the keys, but they are also springy.

In a more ex­pen­sive lap­top this would be a ma­jor is­sue, but like the all-plas­tic build, a slightly patchy key­board is to be ex­pected at this price. There’s also no back­light to help when work­ing in a darker room, though at this price we’d have been sur­prised if Asus had in­cluded one.

The track­pad is solid, but again has some el­e­ments that seem rather ba­sic. Pos­i­tives include that it’s smooth, is a good size and doesn’t suf­fer from any an­noy­ing driver is­sues that make it ap­pear to wil­fully mis­be­have with Win­dows 10. On the down­side, its clicker is stiff and a lit­tle harder to press than is nec­es­sary, and loud. This only be­comes ob­vi­ous when you try to dou­ble-click, though.

Dis­play

Like al­most every bud­get lap­top, the Asus has a TN screen rather than the IPS kind more pop­u­lar these days. These tend to have fast response times, but al­most uni­ver­sally look worse than their IPS cousins be­cause of the rel­a­tively nar­row view­ing an­gles.

This doesn’t just affect look­ing at the screen from an ex­treme an­gle, as the char­ac­ter of the dis­play al­ters from just a few de­grees of tilt. Look­ing at the lap­top dead on, the con­trast ap­pears dif­fer­ent at the bot­tom of the screen than the top.

It’s 15.6 inches across, which gives you plenty of space to work

The VivoBook Max X541SA’s lid and key­board sur­round have been de­signed to mimic brushed alu­minium, and the lid has a sil­ver-blue gra­di­ent

on, but as the res­o­lu­tion is rel­a­tively low at 1366x768 there aren’t enough pix­els to make cram­ming in loads of win­dows a good idea.

Ce­ment­ing its po­si­tion as a home lap­top rather than one to use on your trav­els, the max­i­mum bright­ness is un­re­mark­able at 210cd/m2 and a glossy screen finish means reflections are an is­sue if you’re not care­ful about how the lap­top is an­gled.

Colour per­for­mance is limited too, al­though that’s no sur­prise given it’s a TN panel. The X541SA cov­ers 59 per­cent of the sRGB colour stan­dard, 41 per­cent of Adobe RGB and 42.2 per­cent of DCI P3. While not a bad re­sult for this type of panel, it’s not suit­able for edit­ing photos. In per­son, though, colour is one of the screen’s stronger suits. It’s per­fectly good for gen­eral use, even if the punch of its tones is re­duced by the poor 344:1 con­trast.

Per­for­mance

One other big sub-£300 lap­top sac­ri­fice is per­for­mance. The Asus uses an In­tel Pen­tium N3710 CPU rather than the Core i-se­ries pro­ces­sors we’d rec­om­mend to any­one us­ing Win­dows 10 every day.

For a lit­tle more con­text, all Core i-se­ries CPUs can be con­sid­ered ‘pre­mium’ chipsets, even the Core i3. In­tel’s Pen­tium, Celeron and Atom mod­els are used in lower-cost ma­chines. For a lap­top like the X541SA, the Pen­tium range is the best of the three. It uses more en­ergy than an Atom, but tends to of­fer more power than ei­ther an Atom or Celeron chipset.

The Pen­tium N3710 is a quad­core CPU with a clock speed of 1.6GHz and a 2.56GHz burst mode. It of­fers ac­cept­able per­for­mance with Win­dows 10, but we wouldn’t say much more than that. Apps take a lit­tle while to load, and the sys­tem feels less re­spon­sive than a lap­top with a Core i3. It’s an im­por­tant dis­tinc­tion as mod­els like the HP 250 G5 of­fer Core i3 power for £350. That’s more money, of course, but if you use your lap­top for sev­eral hours a day, we’d ar­gue the per­for­mance boost is worth pay­ing the ex­tra. Core i pro­ces­sors run Win­dows 10 as Mi­crosoft in­tended, while Pen­tiums feel com­pro­mised.

Do­ing much more than ba­sic tasks such as web brows­ing or writ­ing doc­u­ments makes the X541SA feel dis­tinctly slug­gish. And even the ba­sics of Win­dows run slower than they would in a slightly more ex­pen­sive ma­chine.

Aside from the CPU, the X541SA has 4GB DDR3 RAM and a 1TB hard drive. There’s plenty of stor­age, but this is a slow 5400rpm drive, which will con­trib­ute to the slightly slow feel of the op­er­at­ing sys­tem.

The Pen­tium N3710 also has a much worse GPU than the Core i3 fam­ily. It’s the In­tel HD 405, mak­ing all but the most ba­sic of gam­ing in­ad­vis­able. As the lap­top has a 1366x768-pixel screen we couldn’t run our usual 1080p gam­ing tests, but even at 720p the re­sults were ter­ri­ble. With set­tings min­imised, Thief ran at 5.9fps and Alien Iso­la­tion at 8.25fps. Nei­ther was re­motely playable, and those games slow down to 2.5fps (Thief) and 7.5fps (Alien) at na­tive res­o­lu­tion with vis­ual ef­fects in­creased. If you want to play some ba­sic ti­tles, then the Asus should han­dle them just fine, but for more con­sole-like games you’ll need to look for ones at least a decade old.

It’s also worth not­ing that this is a loud PC, with fans that seem to turn on reg­u­larly even when you’re do­ing some­thing un­de­mand­ing such as watch­ing a video. They are not high-pitch, but have a dis­tinct al­most husky tone that is no­tice­able in a quiet room.

Au­dio

The speak­ers are a pleas­ant sur­prise af­ter all that. For a cheap lap­top, they’re rather good. They live be­hind the cir­cu­lar grilles above the key­board and have a much fuller tone, and louder out­put, than we ex­pected given the sac­ri­fices else­where. At max­i­mum vol­ume you will hear some dis­tor­tion with cer­tain con­tent, but there’s real mid-range bulk here and an ap­prox­i­ma­tion of bass. We’d hap­pily watch a film on this lap­top.

Bat­tery life

We wouldn’t rely on the Asus for use away from the mains for ex­tended pe­ri­ods though, as the bat­tery life is not good enough. It lasted just three hours 57 min­utes play­ing a 720p video on loop at stan­dard 120cd/m2 bright­ness (the sort of level you might use in­doors).

Such pedes­trian bat­tery life is dis­ap­point­ing when the Pen­tium N3710 is still a low-power CPU with a 14nm ar­chi­tec­ture.

Ver­dict

The Asus VivoBook Max X541SA is a lap­top that’s de­signed for those who want a solid, cheap com­puter. It has some neat ex­tras such as a large hard drive, a fake brushed metal finish and speak­ers that sound much bet­ter than most at the price. How­ever, if you are look­ing for a com­puter that you’ll use ex­ten­sively most days we’d strongly ad­vise get­ting one with an In­tel Core i3 CPU rather than the In­tel Pen­tium used here. While it’s the ‘next best’ op­tion, it is no­tice­ably slower, re­gard­less of what you’re do­ing. If £300, or even £400, is your max­i­mum bud­get you also have to ac­cept that you won’t get a great-look­ing screen. The VivoBook’s dated dis­play tech­nol­ogy en­sures image qual­ity is, at best, pass­able.

At max­i­mum vol­ume you will hear some dis­tor­tion with cer­tain con­tent, but there’s real mid-range bulk here and an ap­prox­i­ma­tion of bass

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