The ASUS K501UW-AB78 is a competitive midrange gaming laptop that outclasses the competition in both performance and design. It combines forward-looking technology -including a dedicated graphics card.
PROS: Solid gaming performance. 512GB SSD. 1080p display. Backlit keyboard.
CONS: Would do with USB Type-C port.
The ASUS K501UW-AB78 is a gaming laptop that perfectly blends general use and gaming. This is one of those systems that are powerful enough to provide a smooth gaming experiences, but eschews the random lights and logos that otherwise shout “gamer”. It can be comfortably used at the office the same way you’d use any powerful desktop-replacement laptop to perform daily work and media tasks when you’re not playing. It features a sixth-generation (Skylake) Intel Core i7-6500U processor and NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960M gaming graphics card.
To that, it adds 8GB of memory, a 512 solid-state-drive (SSD), a 15.6-inch Full HD display, a backlit keyboard and ergonomic features that will make your gaming experience more pleasant. The fact that it packs so much power for both gaming and general use into an attractive design, gives it the oomph to jump to the top of the pack, and is therefore our latest Editors’ Top Pick for entry-level gaming laptops.
Design and Features
The ASUS K501UW-AB78 is fairly compact for a 15-incher, but it does compare well with my 15” MacBook Pro, while maintaining the same sturdy, sleek construction of a premium laptop. At 0.8 by 15.6 by 10 inches (HWD) and 4.4 pounds, the system is way thinner than the Dell Inspiron i7559-763BLK’s 0.98 by 15 by 10.4 inches (HWD) and 5.88 pounds. Out of the box, I wasn’t sure if it’s a gaming laptop as it drops glaring logos and flashy lights we usually see on gaming laptops. Instead, it goes for a reserved gray metallic construction just like its other gaming sibling the ASUS K501UX; that also didn’t adopt ASUS’ signature aluminum looks on the ZenBook Series.
The design isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but if you’re in the market for a flashy statement, the Dell Inspiron i7559-763BLK and ASUS ROG GL752VW-DH71 have the looks and performance to match. However, if you’re after a laptop that can be used in the office/college and used for gaming in the evening, the ASUS K501UW is a safe bet. If you need to carry it around, you can slide it into the Bonvince 18.4″ Laptop Backpack, which has nicely placed compartments for the power adapter, mouse and other peripherals.
The 15.6-inch display has a 1,920-by-1,080 resolution, and a full-size back-lit keyboard. The 1080p resolution is now basically a minimum for gaming systems, and matches that of the ASUS K501UX and Dell Inspiron i7559-763BLK gaming laptops. Although, we’re now seeing more expensive gaming laptops with 3K or higher displays, but for an entry-level gaming laptop, this resolution works well and is acceptable compared to a higher-resolution screen. The touchpad feels very smooth and sturdy. The speakers provide decent sound quality, which is a plus for ASUS systems even at maximum volume. For cooling, you have a dual-fan system which does a good job in directing hot air from the internal modules for the CPU and GPU out through the rear vents.
Inside, the storage is both speedy and spacious, thanks to a 512GB solid-state drive (SSD) which is better than the slower hard drives. There seem to be some upgradability on both the memory and storage, although it doesn’t seem to use the modern m2 slot. This is double the 256GB SSD in both the Dell Inspiron i7559-763BLK and ASUS K501UX. If the space appears limited, you have an easy solution to get more storage by putting your files in various online cloud services. The 15.6″ screen comes with all the bells and whistles: IPS display (superior to cheap TN panels in terms of colors and viewing angles) and 1920×1080 resolution. Touch is not supported, but for gaming purposes such a display should be very decent at least for now.
Connectivity comes in way of two USB 2.0 ports, two USB 3.0 ports, and an HDMI-out port for connecting to an external monitor or HDTV and an SD card reader. The DVD/CD drive is missing, but that is not surprising as most manufacturers are shelving it perhaps on the wake of operating systems being downloadable directly. If you really need one, maybe for your older games and programs, then you better off with options such as the LG Electronics 8X Ultra-Slim external DVD drive. To the Internet you have an RJ-45 port or you can opt for the 802.11 A/C WiFi as well as Bluetooth 4.0, while chatting away with gaming buddies on the VGA camera, albeit at low quality.
Outfitted in the ASUS K501UW-AB78 is a sixth-generation Intel Core i7-6500U 2.5GHz (Turbo up to 3.1GHz) processor and NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960M gaming graphics card. Combined with 8GB of memory, this system is well-suited for most work/college tasks and gaming needs. The Skylake processors averages 4340 points on CPU Mark, which is excellent for a system of its caliber. Since it’s a dual core processor, the machine can pretty much deliver on anything thrown its way, and if you have some bottlenecks, it won’t be the processor for sure. During our tests, the system remained surprisingly cool and quiet even after hours of use. The system was able to complete media projects in record time and I was even able to edit some HD videos and process some spreadsheets concurrently without the machine stuttering. This is quite something the office user or student who once in a while indulges in MS Office projects, but later jumps into gaming.
On the gaming front, the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960M with 2GB isn’t the best in its class, but it isn’t the worst either for an entry-gaming laptop. The Dell Inspiron i7559-763BLK gaming laptop use the same graphic card but with 4GB DDR5; and we’ve seen system with potent GPUs in recent months. For instance, the MSI GE72 Apache Pro-001 sports the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970M (with 3GB GDDR5 video memory) while the 17-inch ASUS ROG G751JY-WH71(WX) features the equally potent NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980M graphics card. Both of these are mid-range gaming rigs, but for an entry-level gaming laptop, the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960M is still acceptable.
The system was able to produce playable frame rates of 50 frames per second (FPS) on popular games like GTA-V at the default 1920-by-1080 resolution. Other games such as cities and Skylines, but on heavyweight titles the eye-candy began to stutter, thus we had to tone down the settings to Medium-quality (1,366 by 768 resolution).
The gaming performance isn’t lackluster when compared with competitors that boast the more powerful Nvidia GeForce GTX 970M GPU like the Alienware AW15R2-6161SLV, which offers better frame rates than what the ASUS K501UW produced. Combine this with the discrepancy between the GTX 960M card that is a step behind the GTX 970M/980M, and the ASUS K501UW isn’t the best alternative for a hardcore gamer, but still good enough for a budding gamer.
Battery life usually isn’t a strong point for most gaming laptops, and it’s particularly true in this case. In our tests, the ASUS K501UW-AB78 managed 5 hours 17 minutes, which is acceptable for a gaming laptop. Put side-by-side with its competitors, the Acer Aspire V15 Nitro ran over 3 hours 31 minutes, and the champ was the Alienware AW15R2-6161SLV, which finally gave up after 5:29. Yes, the large 15.6-inch screen used a lot of energy, but the system also has a lot of space for battery packs. Keep the power adapter handy.
The ASUS K501UW-AB78 offers excellent value for anyone in the market for good gaming and productivity performance, at a reasonable price. In productivity, it scores close to more-expensive system while at the same time scoring well in the gaming front. It doesn’t look much of a gaming laptop, but if you need one with the whistles of gaming laptop, then the Dell Inspiron i7559-763BLK $734.00 at Amazon is a safe bet. That said, the ASUS K501UW sports a sleek and attractive chassis, a full HD display, decent port options and a backlit keyboard. Both the Dell Inspiron i7559-763BLK (reviewed here) and ASUS K501UX (reviewed here), are gaming laptops in the same category and are strong contenders worth a long look as you shop around. Still, the ASUS K501UW-AB78 offers a perfect mix of form and performance, and for its earns our Editors’ Choice award for entry-level gaming laptops.
UPDATE: Here is our review of the mid-2017 iteration of the ASUS K501UW-AB78 – the ASUS M580VD-EB76.