Shop the virtual or actual laptop aisles, and you’ll see more specialized laptops available than ever before, filling needs at various sizes, specs, and price points. Plenty of shoppers, though, just want a straightforward 15-inch notebook that can perform the role of an entry-level desktop at home and on the go. Ideally, it doesn’t break the bank, lasts long off the charger, and has the ports they need. The Asus VivoBook S15 ($699.99) checks those boxes and then some, delivering a nifty, slim design, a good selection of ports, long battery life, and reasonably speedy performance. It does all of this at a low price and without any major downsides, earning it our Editors’ Choice for budget-friendly desktop-replacement laptops.
A Pop of Color: Designing for a New Generation
The first thing you’ll notice about our review unit is its striking green color, officially called Gaia Green. It’s joined by Dreamy White, Indie Black, and Resolute Red as the color options, but no matter which you prefer, it’s clear the fun palette is part of this laptop’s identity. Asus is aiming the S15 squarely at younger users (the marketing specifically mentions Gen Z multiple times), matching the color options with what the company sees as a creative, expressive generation.
Continuing this theme, the Enter key (shown below) is outlined in yellow, which is meant to represent, and I quote, “overthrowing the old system and creating substantial change.” Asus: Welcome to the resistance. However Asus marketing wants to flavor this look, the point is that this laptop is decidedly peppier-looking than the average general-use system. Whether or not the target market responds to this approach remains to be seen, but that aside, I like the green color we received for review, while the black and white variants blend in a bit more, if that’s what you’re after.
Asus offers only a single U.S. configuration of this laptop, with the color choice as the only option to specify when ordering. That means every VivoBook S15 model will be priced at $699.99 and includes the same components as ours: a 10th Generation Intel Core i5-10210U processor, 8GB of memory, integrated Intel UHD Graphics, and a 512GB M.2 solid-state drive.
The design isn’t all flash, either, with a nice aluminum alloy making up the chassis. This is a quality material for the price, adding a more luxe feel than entry-level laptops made of cheap plastic. Despite the sturdier material, the VivoBook maintains a reasonably portable weight for a 15-incher, at 3.97 pounds. (In practice, it feels a tad heavier than that, but the scale doesn’t lie.)
The notebook measures 0.63 by 14.1 by 9.2 inches, a thin and fairly compact footprint for slipping into your bag for a trip or daily commute. Between the color scheme and construction, it’s a pleasant laptop to hold and use, even if a 15-inch system is bulkier than the more portable options available today. (Worth noting: If the S15 appeals to you but you’d prefer a smaller size, there’s also a new 14-inch VivoBook S14.)
Display, Ports, and the Rest
Of course, the larger 15.6-inch display you get with the bigger model could make the size worthwhile. The display offers full HD (1,920 by 1,080) resolution and features thin bezels, which raises the screen-to-body ratio to 88 percent and is more pleasant to look at than the usual thick plastic borders you get on most budget laptops.
There isn’t anything fancy going on with this panel beyond those specs and the thin bezels, which is fair enough at the price point. The screen size is roomy enough for real multi-window work, especially if you find 13.3-inch displays too cramped. Those who want a touch screen will have to look elsewhere, as one’s not offered on the VivoBook.
Aside from its yellow Enter key, the keyboard is pretty standard. The keys have 1.4mm of travel, resulting in a pretty comfortable typing experience overall, and the keyboard includes a full number pad. The touchpad is a bit more pedestrian, with a plasticky feel and audible click. Still, it pans smoothly and the full press is responsive, which is all you need. One bonus is a built-in fingerprint reader in the top right corner of the pad, which allows for fast and secure sign-in once you set up Windows Hello.
Rounding out the rest of the build is a healthy port selection. On the right side, you’ll find two USB 2.0 ports and a microSD card reader, while on the left there is one USB 3.0 port, a USB-C port, and an HDMI connection. There’s no Thunderbolt 3 port on this laptop, but you can only complain so much on a budget build.
Performance Testing: A Competent Everyday Laptop
For the sake of performance comparisons, I gathered a batch of competitive laptops. Some of these are other 15-inch machines, while others are similarly priced or equipped 13- and 14-inch models, to show you what you can get for around the same price. The table below contains their names and core specs.
It’s worth noting some price discrepancies here. For example, the 15-inch version of the Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 is worth including, but the particular unit we reviewed was a pricey $1,699. As such, it will perform better here, but you can get a configuration that costs hundreds less.
Outside of that, these laptops fall within the same price range, demonstrating a variety of prices and sizes. The Dell Inspiron 14 7000 (7490) is our current top pick among ultraportables, down slightly in size from the VivoBook S15 but a powerful competitor nonetheless. The Dell Inspiron 13 5000 (5391) is even smaller, but since it’s priced right in line with Asus’ machine, it’s useful to see what you can get for the same amount of money. Finally, the Lenovo Yoga C740 (15-Inch) gives us a look at a competing 15-inch convertible. Aside from the Inspiron 13, these machines are all more expensive than the VivoBook, which may end up making the Asus look even better.
PCMark 10 and 8 are holistic performance suites developed by the PC benchmark specialists at UL (formerly Futuremark). The PCMark 10 test we run simulates different real-world productivity and content creation workflows. We use it to assess overall system performance for office-centric tasks such as word processing, spreadsheet jockeying, web browsing, and videoconferencing. PCMark 8, meanwhile, has a storage subtest that we use to assess the speed of the system’s boot drive. Both tests yield a proprietary numeric score; higher numbers are better.
The VivoBook S15 includes a shiny new 10th Generation Intel processor, though it’s a modest power-sipping member of the new family. Still, its four cores and eight threads get the job done, and seemingly were not pushed to their full extent in these tests. It landed at the back of the pack, but hung close enough to the others, proving its worth for everyday tasks. As for the storage test, its SSD is just as snappy as the others, resulting in fast boot and load times.
Next is Maxon’s CPU-crunching Cinebench R15 test, which is fully threaded to make use of all available processor cores and threads. Cinebench stresses the CPU rather than the GPU to render a complex image. The result is a proprietary score indicating a PC’s suitability for processor-intensive workloads.
Cinebench is often a good predictor of our Handbrake video editing trial, another tough, threaded workout that’s highly CPU-dependent and scales well with cores and threads. In it, we put a stopwatch on test systems as they transcode a standard 12-minute clip of 4K video (the open-source Blender demo movie Tears of Steel) to a 1080p MP4 file. It’s a timed test, and lower results are better.
We also run a custom Adobe Photoshop image editing benchmark. Using an early 2018 release of the Creative Cloud version of Photoshop, we apply a series of 10 complex filters and effects to a standard JPEG test image. We time each operation and add up the total. As with Handbrake, lower times are better here.
With more room to stretch its muscles, the Core i5-10210U proved one of the better performers across these media tests. The VivoBook S15 posted the fastest Handbrake result, and was the third best in the other two tests. This is a very good showing for its price, and frankly, it’s not as if it’s lacking in storage or other features that make the higher costs of the other machines easy to justify in comparison. Of course, despite the small differences in performance here, none of these laptops is especially equipped for demanding media tasks. As tempting as the big screen and low price are, you’ll want to consider a more powerful category of laptop if you’re a professional media editor. Still, the VivoBook S15 is at least as good as the others here, particularly showing up the much more expensive Surface Laptop 3 (while offering double the storage, to boot).
3DMark measures relative graphics muscle by rendering sequences of highly detailed, gaming-style 3D graphics that emphasize particles and lighting. We run two different 3DMark subtests, Sky Diver and Fire Strike, which are suited to different types of systems. Both are DirectX 11 benchmarks, but Sky Diver is more suited to midrange PCs while Fire Strike is more demanding and made for high-end PCs to strut their stuff. The results are proprietary scores.
Next up is another synthetic graphics test, this time from Unigine Corp. Like 3DMark, the Superposition test renders and pans through a detailed 3D scene and measures how the system copes. In this case, it’s rendered in the eponymous Unigine engine, offering a different 3D workload scenario for a second opinion on each laptop’s graphical prowess.
The integrated graphics in most of these laptops are not up to the task for 3D programs, as shown here. The VivoBook S15 is no better or worse than the other Intel systems, while the AMD system is about twice as good. Even it, though, won’t be a big factor in application GPU acceleration, and will struggle with demanding gaming at 1080p with modern titles at high settings. As with the CPU, you should look elsewhere if your work is graphics-based, or if you are looking for a gaming laptop.
Battery Rundown Test
After fully recharging the laptop, we set up the machine in power-save mode (as opposed to balanced or high-performance mode) where available and make a few other battery-conserving tweaks in preparation for our unplugged video rundown test. (We also turn Wi-Fi off, putting the laptop in airplane mode.) In this test, we loop a video—a locally stored 720p file of the same Tears of Steel short we use in our Handbrake test—with screen brightness set at 50 percent and volume at 100 percent until the system quits.
As shown here, battery life was definitely a plus for the affordable VivoBook. It was the longest-lasting machine in the group, allowing you to work off the charger for much of your day. It’s larger than some of these laptops, so it can fit a bigger battery, but it’s still a pretty portable machine.
An Excellent Laptop at a Great Price
On the whole, the Asus VivoBook S15 is a very strong value. There is little to criticize in general, let alone when you consider how low the price is. The build quality stands far above most at this price range, and the laptop remains plenty portable despite a 15.6-inch screen.
It’s not a productivity powerhouse, but it isn’t meant to be, and performs plenty close to (or better than) machines that are much more expensive. If you’re just after a daily driver that functions in place of a desktop, is travel-friendly, and won’t break the bank, the VivoBook S15 is easily the best we’ve seen so far in 2020.