Asus X553SA

Tech Advisor - - Contents -

£279 inc VAT • acer.co.uk

The X553SA is a cheap lap­top, with a good deal of en­try-level fea­tures across the board in a ‘proper’ lap­top frame. Asus would read­ily ad­mit that there are com­pro­mises at this point, but should they put you off buy­ing the X553SA? We put it through its paces.

De­sign

A lap­top built on a shoe­string bud­get, you’d hope that Asus wouldn’t make any silly de­sign moves, and it doesn’t. This is an av­er­age-look­ing lap­top with a plas­tic shell. In pure aes­thetic terms it’s pleas­antly sim­ple. While the lid is plas­tic, there’s a se­ries of con­cen­tric cir­cles fan­ning across it, mim­ick­ing the brushed metal style Asus uses in its higher-end ZenBook lap­tops.

We were sent the sober, all-black ver­sion, which is a good look for those who want a low-key com­puter. How­ever, it’s also avail­able in pink, white and pur­ple, each of which rad­i­cally al­ters the im­pres­sion they make while chang­ing noth­ing but the colour.

We weren’t im­pressed by the build qual­ity, though. Press down on the key­board and you’ll see flex­ing, a sign of a less-than-tough lap­top. Is­sues like this are all the more grat­ing now that tablets have made us ex­pect ex­pen­sive-feel­ing de­vices for sim­i­lar money.

The X553SA’s size and weight are those of the age­ing lap­top archetype, too. At 2.2kg and 26mm thick, it’s too heavy to carry around for hours at a time with­out your shoul­ders com­plain­ing, but will fit into most larger record bags for the oc­ca­sional trip out.

Con­nec­tions

Asus’s fea­tures strat­egy is to of­fer plenty of breadth, but not all that much depth. It’s prob­a­bly the right di­rec­tion for a cheap lap­top. The X553SA has both VGA and HDMI video con­nec­tions, which will please those who have old pre-HDMI mon­i­tors they are not ready to re­tire just yet. There are, how­ever, just two USB sock­ets – one is USB 3.0, while the other is USB 2.0. Other en­try-level lap­tops tend to of­fer three USB ports. The X553SA’s con­nec­tions are also all lo­cated on one side of the lap­top, which may make man­u­fac­tur­ing cheaper. There are also head­phone, eth­er­net and SD ports. On the con­nec­tion-free side is a DVD multi-writer and Kens­ing­ton lock port. Once you start adding up what the X553SA of­fers, it starts to sound like a pretty good deal.

Key­board and track­pad

The question is whether the deal will merit the sac­ri­fices re­quired. Its key­board is one of th­ese. At a glance, it does a lot right. It has a stan­dard lay­out, and even man­ages to fit in a num­ber­pad to the right. How­ever, the flex-happy cas­ing and en­try-level keys leave it feel­ing springy, with a less well-de­fined action than a more ex­pen­sive lap­top. There’s plenty of key travel, but it seems vague when com­pared with a taut chi­clet de­sign.

The track­pad is large, with a smooth-but-tex­tured plas­tic sur­face that tries to em­u­late the feel of a glass-topped track­pad on a bud­get, and doesn’t do too bad a job. How­ever, like a lot of Win­dows lap­top pads, it comes with frus­tra­tions. It uses evenly-spaced

At 2.2kg and 26mm thick, the X553SA is too heavy to carry around for hours at a time with­out your shoul­ders com­plain­ing

but­tons in­te­grated into the pad it­self, and as there’s a num­ber­pad, the left mouse but­ton area is ac­tu­ally to­wards the left of the lap­top. As such, the rest­ing po­si­tion of your left hand needs to be way over to the left, which may feel un­nat­u­ral. Over­all, the X553SA will work best when used with a mouse, much as there are some good parts to the pad.

Dis­play

You’re not go­ing to get a stel­lar screen in a sub-£300 stan­dard-de­sign lap­top. Asus has taken a few cues from the tablet school of dis­play de­sign, but this is ul­ti­mately an unin­spir­ing lap­top screen. Given the price though, that should not be a deal-breaker.

The X553SA has a 15.6in 1366x768-pixel LCD screen. It’s not ter­ri­bly sharp, this be­ing the same res­o­lu­tion and pixel den­sity that lap­tops of­fered 10 years ago. It isn’t an IPS dis­play ei­ther, mean­ing it only looks en­tirely ‘right’ seen front-on. Look at it from above or below and it ei­ther looks washed out or shad­owy, which is down to con­trast shift.

Asus’s stab at get­ting a mod­ern look con­sists of us­ing a glossy screen fin­ish rather than a matt one. On the pos­i­tive side, this makes the colours look punchy, even though ac­tual colour per­for­mance of the screen isn’t great. Us­ing our col­orime­ter, we found it hits 59.9 per­cent of sRGB, and 41.3- and 42.4 per­cent of Adobe RGB and DCI P3 re­spec­tively. Th­ese are the three most pop­u­lar colour stan­dards, and hit­ting just 60 per­cent of sRGB means the dis­play will look un­der­sat­u­rated. How­ever, for the price it’s a de­cent per­for­mance.

The main is­sue with us­ing a glossy dis­play is that it’s prone to reflection. Take it out­side and the X553SA will be vir­tu­ally use­less. The screen goes up to a rea­son­able 283cd/m2, but dur­ing test­ing we found re­flec­tions were so se­vere that see­ing what was on the screen be­came a trial.

Per­for­mance

Most of the lap­tops we re­view come with In­tel Core se­ries pro­ces­sors, which of­fer day-to-day per­for­mance that’s largely free of com­pro­mise. The X553SA has a lower-end In­tel Celeron N3050 CPU. It’s a dual-core chipset clocked at 1.6- to 2.16GHz and its per­for­mance is dis­mal. In our tests it recorded 1143 in PCMark 8, which is less than half of what a good In­tel Core i5 might score, and 1558 points in Geek­bench 3. That is the sort of score we would ex­pect from a £150 en­try-level phone.

Lim­ited power is not of­ten an is­sue when you take a lap­top from the ab­stract world of bench­marks and into the real world. How­ever, here the low power is ob­vi­ous. Ba­sic parts of Win­dows 10, such as the Start menu apps dis­play, took a lit­tle while to load, and even brows­ing the in­ter­net felt slug­gish a lot of the time.

This In­tel Celeron pro­ces­sor has a higher TDP (ther­mal de­sign power) – which tells you how much heat they can gen­er­ate, or how hard they can rev – than the lat­est In­tel Atom CPUs, but ac­tual per­for­mance is worse in some cases.

It’s not all down to the CPU, though. The X553SA also has a slow 5400rpm hard drive. Down­load over an ul­tra-fast op­ti­cal con­nec­tion (100Mbit Vir­gin Me­dia was our test con­nec­tion) and there’s a fur­ther knock to per­for­mance, and the sys­tem be­comes dif­fi­cult to use if it is in­stalling a pro­gram at the time.

On the plus side, you do get a 1TB hard drive – just buy­ing a 1TB SSD would cost you al­most the whole price of this lap­top.

We’ve seen an aw­ful lot of good de­vel­op­ments take place in lap­top hard­ware over re­cent years, but the X553SA suf­fers from per­for­mance traits that would have been a prob­lem in lap­tops 10 years ago. The is­sue is that both the CPU and the hard drive are po­ten­tial per­for­mance bot­tle­necks, and their choke point is within arm’s reach at all times.

It will still make a fine ma­chine for ba­sic of­fice tasks, such as web brows­ing, but you’ll have to ac­cept that some of th­ese may feel slower than they do on your phone or tablet. Bar­gain hun­ters out there should con­sider look­ing for an older Core i3 ma­chine, some of which are avail­able at a sim­i­lar price.

Un­sur­pris­ingly, gam­ing per­for­mance is ter­ri­ble. Even with vi­su­als pared right back and the res­o­lu­tion dropped down to 720p, Thief was un­playable, with an av­er­age frame rate of 5.8fps, drop­ping as far down as 2.6fps. Just for masochist sat­is­fac­tion we also tried it at the na­tive screen res­o­lu­tion (1366x768 rather than our usual 1080p) and it av­er­aged 2.9fps, drop­ping down to 0.4fps at points.

The less de­mand­ing Alien: Iso­la­tion was un­playable too, av­er­ag­ing just 9.3fps with set­tings min­imised and res­o­lu­tion at 720p. Theme Hos­pi­tal (1997) should run fine, but don’t ex­pect re­cent games.

Bat­tery life

Bat­tery life is another area that the Asus dis­ap­points. In our tests, play­ing a 720p video on loop lasted just four hours 35 min­utes. Even though the In­tel Celeron CPU feels weak and slow, it does not ap­pear to of­fer par­tic­u­larly good ef­fi­ciency.

Verdict

The X553SA is a les­son in the sac­ri­fices you need to ac­cept when buy­ing a bot­tom-rung lap­top. Parts of the build are ba­sic, the screen has some is­sues and per­for­mance is dis­ap­point­ingly slow. Cheap phones and tablets of­ten feel al­most as fast as their ex­pen­sive rel­a­tives, but the Asus is un­mis­tak­ably slower than a Core-se­ries lap­top. Those who don’t need to buy on the high street would do bet­ter by search­ing on­line for a Core i3-pow­ered lap­top from an ear­lier gen­er­a­tion. Haswell and Broad­well i3 lap­tops can of­ten be found on­line at sim­i­lar prices, and will get you much less com­pro­mised per­for­mance. At this price, buy­ing ‘old’ is of­ten bet­ter than buy­ing new. Of course, much of this is not Asus’s fault. Con­sid­ered among its peers, the X553SA is a ser­vice­able lap­top whose de­sign cov­ers most low-end use bases, and its look swerves be­tween se­ri­ous and fun, de­pend­ing on which colour you go for.

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