Asus X540LA-SI30205P Review

This is a reposting of my review left at bestbuy.com. I’ve always had good luck with Asus, so I went with them when I needed a new one.

So the short and simple of it all is that this laptop is built to a price point, and they absolutely nailed it.

You get above average (for the price) specs, but the screen, battery, keyboard, touchpad, and enclosure are where the sacrifices are made. These are usually very important things, so you should reconsider if those things are more important to you than performance. For me, the sacrifice is well worth it. Overall I would recommend this to anyone needing mobile compute power on a very tight budget. 4 stars instead of 5 because UEFI lockdown and there is no documentation for the rebranded AMI BIOS. All testing was done with Linux, Windows was never booted. If I were a normal user it would be 5/5 easily. In this review I’ll mostly touch on things that aren’t easily found by searching the model number.

First and foremost, the first one I received had a faulty fan. I had zero problems getting a replacement device the next day. Best Buy’s customer service shined as usual with a hassle-free replacement. It made a slow ticking sound, had low air flow, and overheated during the initial setup. At this price point, QA will suffer, so be sure to fully evaluate it within the 15 day return policy otherwise you’ll have to deal with Asus warranty (which is likewise good, just much slower than a simple return).

The CPU is an Intel Core i3 5020U (5th gen). It has TWO physical cores, and has hyperthreading, which is where the advertising gets it’s “four” cores from. This is a bit misleading, but only if you actually care. It is a great CPU for the price (a common theme with this device). This is a well documented CPU so you can find reviews elsewhere. Important to me is that it has the Intel virtualization extensions, which is unheard of at this price point.

The GPU is an Intel HD 5500. It will play most any modern game on the lowest settings, and has hardware video decode. This is important for battery life. My experience with the GPU has been far better than prior Intel integrated chipsets. Like all integrated GPUs, it shares memory with the system, so you will only have ~3.5GB available to applications. Again, it is very good for the price.

The battery gives me just over 3 hours of heavy pedal-to-the-metal use and reduced screen brightness. I’d say you would be lucky to get a full 4 hours of normal use out of it. This is to be expected at this price, and not a detractor.

The hard drive is a Toshiba 1TB drive. Nothing special here, Toshiba makes good drives, but I would never specifically buy one as I trust other manufacturers more. It has a SD card reader along the front left edge which sits flush and out of the way. The headphone jack is a combined jack that will work with cell phone headphones/mics or with a very cheap adapter. Normal headphones work just fine. There is no line input. It has HDMI and VGA out, which is a bit strange to me. The Ethernet port is right next to the VGA port, and it gets blocked when the VGA port is in use. All of the I/O including power is on the left side of the device, with only the DVD drive on the right side. Nothing on the back (yay!). It has one USB2, one USB3, and one USB3 type C port. The power adapter is not grounded, and a bit on the short side.

The networking is gigE, not 10/100 only as advertised (it’s proper gigabit), and the wifi is 2.4GHz only, no 5GHz support. Realtek and Aetheros/Qualcomm respectively.

The touchpad is an Elantech “clickpad”. It has one actual button and depending on where your finger is when you click depends on whether it is a left or right click. I am unable to get a middle click event out of it. The biggest problem with this, in fact it is infuriating, is that when you click the cursor WILL move. It is possible to set “deadzones” so the cursor won’t move, but it is fiddly. This is absolutely the worst part about this laptop.

The screen is 1366×768, and the color depth is 6 bit (yikes, how low can you go). Model number is B156XTN04.5. The viewing angle is abysmal — you won’t be sharing a movie with a friend. It is glossy, and there’s very little light leakage around the edges. Again, this is by far how Asus was able to put such a good CPU/GPU at this price. This is typical of budget laptops, and you won’t see good screens until you’re paying at least double this price. As of this writing the cheapest laptop with a good screen at Best Buy is around $800.

Lastly we have the physical qualities of the laptop as a whole. The case provides no access to the HD, memory, or miniPCI slot. THE BATTERY IS NOT USER REPLACEABLE. I haven’t taken it apart yet to see just how bad it is. The keyboard is flimsy all over, not enough to be annoying and cause typos, but enough to notice and need to adjust to. All of the keys are where you would expect them on the keyboard, the function keys are function keys and don’t require you to push a button first. As mentioned before the touchpad is awful, so definitely beware of the learning curve unless you’re used to “clickpad” style mice. The plastic enclosure itself is very flimsy and thin (TOO thin). I doubt this would survive a drop from the couch on to carpet. I doubt it would survive a full year of commuting, but I’m about to find out. The plastic has a bit of a texture to it and does not show fingerprints easily. Stuff like this is how they are able to sell such a good CPU/GPU combo for such a cheap price.

Purchase price for me was $329.99, and I wouldn’t pay a single dime more. You get what you pay for. In this case the sacrifices are worth it for me. It will Youtube, Factorio, and homework just fine. It will compile and develop just fine. It’s a fantastic deal.

Some pro tips for you fellow nerds: Hit escape to get the boot menu & BIOS, turn off secure boot & “fast boot”, and enable “CSM” to allow booting from USB/DVD. The signing keys are a part of grub’s shims so you can turn secure boot back on if you want or need to. This is also the only way to get access to Window’s F8 boot options — normal UEFI stuff. Out of the box Ubuntu’s kernel will have all the hardware working perfectly, just add the open source Intel HD drivers if you want to game or want hardware video decode. Totally painless. The touchpad masquerades as a proper Synaptics touchpad, which causes driver problems. The ArchOS wiki has details on working around this. I haven’t gotten around to ricing the kernel and still having a working touchpad, though.