The Imaginatively Named ‘Asus X551MA’: Was I Robbed?

I have been among the blessed who managed to keep his job during this pandemic. After all, my job can be surmised as writing nonsense on the internet for nobody to read, which is, of course, in high demand. With the job comes money, and as I am quite frugal, I ended up with small savings built up.

Being the prodigious forward thinker and uber-nerd that I am (one who totally loves mindlessly playing online slots), I decided that I should invest the money into a newer laptop. After all, I’m studying engineering- I’m going to need a machine that can run CAD software and other hardware-intensive programs (ignore the fact that it also has an RGB keyboard, an RTX-3000 series graphics card, and an HD display).

This also means that I’m going to be giving up my old laptop, an Asus X551MA, a model so popular Elon Musk named his firstborn son after it. I’ve had this hardware since the gold ol’ year of 2014. So after seven years of continuous use, did I get my money’s worth?

Hardware

So being from the ancient, bygone era of 2014 and being a budget laptop, you probably think that the Asus X551MA is a potato, right?

Well, you’re not wrong, per se.

The Asus X551MA comes with 4 gigabytes of RAM, a 2.13 GHz processor, 500 gigabytes of memory, and a 15.6-inch display. The maximum resolution comes out to an awkward 1366 x 786 pixels, with Intel Integrated graphics.

In other words, the Asus X551MA (and yes, I’m going to keep referring to it as such) packs more than enough horsepower to sort of run Minecraft… on the lowest settings.

Meanwhile, the laptop itself is quite chunky. Personally, that’s not a bad thing. The trend for laptops at the moment are these “ultra-slim” designs that look like they’re one-corner-smash away from shattering into pieces, like an iPhone. So personally, I like laptops that have a bit of heft.

I do know that this is not everyone’s preference, however. Heck, even the fifteen-inch screen is pushing it for a lot of people, even if the laptop didn’t weigh five pounds. As someone who’s now commuting a lot more than middle-school me ever did, I’m starting to understanding the appeal of slimmer, lighter Chromebooks.

I don’t want one, but I understand the appeal.

With a big laptop comes a big keyboard, and I really like this keyboard. Heck, I’m using it to write this right now. The keys are big, legible, and responsive. I dislike tiny buttons where it’s too easy to pretty an unwanted key. It’s basically a full-sized keyboard, like one for a desktop, with all the functionality I could want from a keyboard.

It also has a Numpad, which is something a lot of slimmer laptops are giving up to save on space. I like having and using a Numpad, and it’s something I actively looked for in the new laptop I ordered. While the lack of mechanical keys is always sad, these plastic keys do make satisfying tappity-tap noises while I type. Overall, the keyboard has to be one of the Asus X551MA’s greatest strengths, especially if you like large keys, big keyboards, with a Numpad, and tappity-tap noises.

The case is made out of some kind of plastic. It’s smooth where it needs to be and rough(er) on the exterior. The margin around the screen is about an inch thick, which may sound huge for you slim laptop enthusiasts, but it’s probably saved me having to get a new screen more times than I could count.

Plastic isn’t exactly the strongest material, and it shows in the cracks and chips around the edge of the frame. However, despite being bashed around a used extensively, I’ve never had to replace the screen, which is still completely functional.

The same can’t be said about the battery, however, which is showing its age perhaps more than anything else. While the Asus X551MA never had huge battery life and averaged around a couple to several hours at most, it has significantly dropped since then.

I can’t make it through an hour-long zoom class without plugging it in, even off of a full charge. It’s even less if the brightness is turned up or any additional windows are open. That being said, after seven years, none of this is all that surprising, and the battery could probably be easily replaced.

Software

On the software end of things, I don’t have all that much to say. I’m not knowledgeable enough about things like BIOS and what-not to give any kind of opinion on that kind of stuff one way or the other.

The Asus X551MA originally came loaded with Windows 7, although the Amazon listing I found for it (I’m surprised it’s still even being sold) says that it comes with Windows 8. That’s a bummer because not only is Windows 8 unilaterally disliked among Windows connoisseurs, I upgraded my laptop to Windows 10 for free (thereby skipping 8 entirely) when the new OS first launched.

I admit that I’m a pretty big Windows fan. I love how intuitive the operating system is, how easy it is to customize and dig around in the settings, and how 99% of PC software caters to me… hehe. I’ve found Mac and Linux to be far too much hassle for their worth, and Apple is especially bad when it comes time to repair any damaged components (there are lawsuits and new regulations being introduced internationally because of the kind of crap that Apple pulls- look up The Right to Repair if you want to learn more).

That being said, I freely admit that Windows isn’t perfect. It comes with a lot of unnecessary bloatware that takes up space on your machine, and it’s just a pain in the arse to get rid of. Windows also keeps pushing updates that do who-knows-what to the machine and have been slowly trying to remove most of what makes PC OS’ great in comparison to mobile.

Instead of the nice, clean Start Menu from Windows 7, Windows 10 has a bloated mess of a menu with ads, a search bar that searches everywhere except within the documents of the computer itself, a Cortana- a knock-off Siri named after a character from the Halo franchise that nobody uses.

Bugs and Quirks

Not everything about the Asus X551MA is up to scratch, though (not that anything I’ve mentioned so far has been). There are a few, shall we say, quirks that I’ve gotten used to over the years that definitely would tick off anyone else who tried to use it for the first time.

First of all, the volume. Sometimes it creeps up, like, 10% for no reason, until you manually adjust the volume and the audio noticeably jumps back down to where it’s supposed to be. It’s weird. It’s annoying. I’ve never bothered to find a permanent solution.

Second, the mousepad. In general, it’s very acceptable. It accepts taps as clicks and moves the mouse across the screen when I slide my finger across it. That’s all well and good until the mouse suddenly decides to snap to the other side of the screen for no reason. If I’m not careful, there’s a frustrating tendency for this bug to snap the mouse near the X button in whatever window or browser I have open just as I’m about to try and click on something else. It’s weird. It’s annoying. It doesn’t happen often enough to make me search for a permanent solution.

A far more infuriating bug, however, is the fact that this laptop sometimes just… decides not to connect to the internet every so often. Like, it will detect that there’s a Network with full bars in the proximity (sometimes more than one), but I’ll click “connect”, and it’ll say “Can’t connect to network”. I’ve run the troubleshooter (as if that was going to get me anywhere), I’ve Googled it, what-have-you.

The only workable solution I’ve found is to turn the laptop on and off again. If that doesn’t work, turn it on and off again, and then it’s fixed. It’s been infuriating during the zoom era of school, where a constant internet connection for hours on end isn’t just a luxury but a necessity. I’ve also checked other machines on the network, and they don’t experience the same thing.

So it’s not my internet. It’s this laptop specifically. I also speculate that the issue has to be hardware-related rather than software since this issue has only started manifesting in the last year or two.

Final Thoughts

All in all, I am genuinely surprised how well the Asus X551MA has held up after seven years of use. I can’t game on it- but I never could game on it, and that’s not really what I’ve used it for. I browse the internet, google my homework, and write on it more than anything else.

The writing experience has been phenomenal, and the Asus X551MA serves me competently for everything else. It’s not a powerhouse, but that’s what you expect from a budget laptop like this one (under $300 budget, not like a $600 “budget” cell phone).

The fact that it has held up, both physically and computationally, for seven years without any significant hiccups is a testament to Asus’s build quality. I’ve had this laptop since I was in middle school, and it’s incredible that this laptop has survived that with only some minor nicks and scratches is nuts.

Asus has absolutely earned its money for what was spent on this machine, and I’m very pleased that I managed to find another Asus laptop with the specs I want to replace this one. If you’re ever in need of a budget laptop at this price point, I highly recommend the Asus X551MA (or, more likely, a newer Asus laptop with similar specs).

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