Sleek, handsome design. Attractive 1080p screen. Moderate price.
No Thunderbolt 3 port. Two USB 2.0 ports. Shallow keyboard. Subpar webcam.
- Bottom Line
Asus' VivoBook S510 is both lightweight (3.7 pounds) and light on your wallet ($799). It doesn't blow away more costly desktop-replacement laptops, but it'll serve cash-strapped buyers well.
It's no secret we're fans of the Dell XPS 15 Touch (2017), having named it our favorite high-end desktop-replacement laptop. But the build we tested will set you back almost $2,000. What if you have less than half that much to spend? Well, Dell's $999.99 XPS 15 starter configuration has a humble Core i3 CPU, 32GB solid-state drive, and 500GB hard drive. The Asus VivoBook S510 (starts at $549; $799 as tested) has a similar narrow-bezel (Dell calls it InfinityEdge, Asus calls it NanoEdge) design that squeezes a 15.6-inch screen into almost a 14-inch form factor, but comes with a Core i7-7500U processor, 128GB SSD, and 1TB hard drive. Even acknowledging some shortcomings—the VivoBook has no Thunderbolt 3 port—bargain hunters will find the Asus an attractive, champagne-gold candidate.
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Lighter Than the Average Slab
Our VivoBook (model number S510UA-DB71) is the top-most configuration available, above two hard-drive-only units that Asus says are limited to regional retailers, one with a Core i5 and 8 GB of RAM for $699 and one with a Core i3 and 6GB of RAM for $549.
All measure 0.7 by 14.2 by 9.6 inches, in the same ballpark as the Dell's 0.66 by 14.1 by 9.3 inches and noticeably trimmer than most 15.6-inch laptops: Our Editors' Choice budget desktop-replacement, the Acer Aspire E 15 (E5-575-33BM), for example, is 1.2 by 15 by 10.2 inches. The VivoBook weighs just 3.7 pounds, sneaking under the non-touch-screen XPS 15 at 4 pounds and the HP Notebook 15 (ba009dx) at 4.7 pounds.
The S510 has a handsome brushed-aluminum lid with a chrome Asus logo in the middle; the plastic keyboard deck, sides, and bottom are the same pale gold hue. The system feels a little less solid than heavier notebooks, with some flex if you grasp the screen corners or press in the middle of the keyboard, but not flimsy. It's easy to carry in one hand, though it takes two hands to open.
We're not sure why Asus hasn't traded them for USB 3.0 ports, but there are two USB 2.0 ports on the laptop's left side, next to an SD card slot. You'll find one USB 3.0 port on the right edge, along with a USB-C (USB 3.1 Gen 1) port, an HDMI video output, an audio jack, and the connector for the small power plug. As we said, a Thunderbolt 3 port would make the VivoBook more versatile, but may be a casualty of the system's aggressive pricing.
The S510's bottom-mounted speakers (one under each wrist) produce above-average if not terribly loud sound. Cranking the volume to 100 percent was sufficient to fill a small room without distortion, whether we were crooning along with Rachel Platten or snarling along with Joan Jett; instrumentals sounded full and clear. By contrast, images from the Asus' built-in webcam were anything but clear: Even in bright sunlight, our 640-by-480 shots were so grainy, smudgy, and pixelated that we looked like Kim Jong-Un.
The backlit keyboard is another letdown, though a lesser one—it has a shallow, flat typing feel, with stiff, plastic feedback as the keys bottom out. This detracts from a generally nice layout, with welcome inverted-T cursor arrows and dedicated Home, End, Page Up, and Page Down keys, although imprecise typists will find the power button dangerously close to the Delete key and spreadsheet jockeys will, as on the XPS 15, bemoan the lack of a numeric keypad. Still, an hour's practice will get you up to speed.
The buttonless touchpad taps and glides smoothly enough, though we prefer simply tapping the pad's surface to left-click rather than pressing the tighter lower left corner. A fingerprint reader in the upper right corner works with Windows Hello to personalize sign-ins.
Free of reflections and blessed with broad IPS viewing angles, the VivoBook's full HD (1,920-by-1,080) non-touch screen is one of its best features. Brightness is ample and contrast is spot on; colors aren't saturated to the popping point but look full and rich, especially if you tinker with the supplied Splendid utility which lets you choose normal, vivid, blue-light reduction, or manual color temperature modes. Details are sharp at Windows' out-of-the-box 125-percent zoom.
More Than Enough Horsepower
The Core i7-7500U is a 2.7GHz (3.5GHz turbo) dual-core CPU with Hyper-Threading and Intel HD 620 integrated graphics. Teamed with 8GB of memory, a 128GB solid-state drive, and a 1TB hard drive, it gives the Asus sprightly performance, with quick system startup and app launches and hiccup-free multitasking. Our office work, Web browsing, and 1080p video viewing didn't cause the system to break a sweat.
For a more strenuous test, we matched the VivoBook against a variety of 15.6-inch portables, from the quad-core Dell XPS 15 Touch to the convertible Samsung Notebook 9 Pro, as well as our favorite business laptop, the 14-inch Lenovo ThinkPad T470. The Asus finished a close second behind the Samsung (3,241 points to 3,317) in our PCMark 8 general productivity benchmark and was the fastest dual-core machine, albeit a full minute behind the Dell, in the CPU-intensive Handbrake video-editing workload.
It finished in the middle of the pack in our Adobe Photoshop image-editing test, but the S510 was missing in action in our 3DMark graphics test and Heaven and Valley gaming simulations—contests where the XPS 15 with its Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 graphics creamed the competition, excepting the gaming tests at native resolution where it was hampered by its 4K screen. In our battery life test, the VivoBook showed up for an eight-hour workday but refused to do any overtime, outlasting only the Dell and that power-hungry display.
A Bargain Desktop-Replacement Worth a Look
While it may have racked up a mixed score in our benchmarks, don't forget that the VivoBook was the second least expensive contender. It may not unseat either the much less costly Aspire E 15 or the much costlier XPS 15 and the ThinkPad T470 in our rankings, but it ably fills its price/performance niche as a lighter, more stylish, less expensive alternative to a swath of 15.6-inch systems.
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By Eric Grevstad Contributing Editor
Formerly editor-in-chief of Home Office Computing, Eric Grevstad is a contributing editor for PCMag and Computer Shopper, where he earlier served as lead laptop analyst and executive editor, respectively. A tech journalist since the TRS-80 and Apple II days, Grevstad specializes in lightweight laptops, all-in-one desktops, and productivity software, all of which he uses when commuting and telecommuting between PC Labs and a cat-filled home office in Old Greenwich, CT. Email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @EricGrevstad…. More »
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