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ASUS Zenbook Prime UX31A Review

By on June 11, 2012
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Sets new standards for Ultrabooks.

Good: Incredible display, beautiful design, nice performance
Bad: Fan noise can be distracting, mousepad scrolling isn't that great
Price: AED 6299
* The price is the Suggested Retail Price at the time of review. Please call a retailer to confirm the latest price for this product.

The original wave of Ultrabooks started appearing towards the second half of last year and although this “new” category of laptops looked really slick, there honestly wasn’t much else to differentiate them from the already-existing thin and light laptops.

One of the Ultrabooks that stood out- at least in terms of design was ASUS’ Zenbook UX21 and UX31. Today, we look at the follow to one of those model- dubbed as ASUS Zenbook Prime. Featuring an updated CPU and graphics engine as well as a full-HD IPS panel, does the UX31A have what it takes to really define a new category of notebooks? Lets find out.

Packaging

Packaged in nice box with minimal design, the Zenbook Prime UX31A comes equipped with a power charger, a USB to LAN cable, a DSUB adapter and a carrying case besides the usual warranty information and a manual.

The power charger, like certain models of Macs has a light on it that is orange when charging and turns green when fully charged.

Design & Build Quality

The Zenbook Prime UX31A looks very much like it’s predecessor which in turn took its inspiration from the MacBook Air. That is not a bad thing at all as the unibody design is simple, functional and solid. In fact, I like it more than any other Ultrabook on the PC side of things. With dimensions of 13.3 x 8.9 x 0.44-0.66 inches and weighing less than 3lbs, the UX31 is reasonably light-weight as far as 13” notebooks are concerned. Some might find the edges quite sharp but that is a matter pf personal choice- I actually like that razer thin design very much.

On the left side you have a USB 3.0 port along with an SD card reader and a 3.5mm audio jack while the right features another USB 3.0 port, the power port and mini ports for connecting HDMI and DSUB cables. Available in silver, gold and pink, we received the silver version which looks really slick.

Specs & Benchmarks

The review unit we received for the UX31A was the top-of-the-line model based on the new 22nm based Ivy Brdige family of Core CPUs. Our particualr unit came equipped with the Core i7 3517U  CPU running at 1.9Ghz with the capability of going up all the way to 2.4GHz. Intel has also updated the integrated graphics core with Ivy Bridge CPUs and is calling it Intel HD Graphics 4000 series. Other than that, the UX31A came with  4GB RAM and a 240GB SSD.

The following table compares the performance of with the older model of the ASUS Zenbook  to the newer one..

ASUS ZenBook Prime UX31A ASUS ZenBook UX31
PassMark CPU 4139 3471
PassMark GPU (3D) 422 283
PassMark Memory 1216 1075
PassMark HD 1142 1147
Geekbench 6276 5343
7-zip 8670 7399
WinRAR 2554 2222
PCMark 7 5239 3078
3D Mark06 2974 3397

As you can see, there is a pretty noticable improvment in CPU and GPU scores in PassMark although for some strange reason 3D Mark resulted in a lower score.

Screen, Mouse & Keyboard Usage

Undoubtedly, the defining feature of the UX31A is it’s screen- the 13.3” display is based on an IPS panel and offers a full-HD 1920×1080 matte display. I don’t think I have seen a better display on any notebook and the only one that comes close is the one found on the Sony Z series.

Now do keep in mind that the display on the UX31A is not for one with weak eyes as, at times, objects and text on screen can appear quite a bit on the smaller size but I don’t think that will be much of an issue as the target market for this laptop is the enthusiast that is well aware of that. The text appears razer crisp on screen and the rounded edges of windows or the Start Orb look like they’ve been carved out of a very fine knife.

Brightness levels are also excellent and so is the viewing angle. While most laptops have a good horizontal viewing angle, they fail miserably in vertical viewing angles but that is not the case with the Prime- it looks insanely beautiful from every angle. White levels are brilliant at anything above half the brightness and blacks look so good that sometime the line between the bezel and the screen starts to disappear.

One of the initial complains about the original Zenbook was the keyboard and how it offered very little throw- or the amount of depth you feel when pressing a key. ASUS has definitely sorted that out as I was pouding away on the UX31A’s keyboard without any issues whatsoever. The keys offer enough tactile to not miss out a letter while typing and being backlit, I was easily able use it in the dark.

What could use a bit of help is the trackpad. ASUS has chosen to equip the ZenBook Prime with a huge trackpad- ala MacBook Air style, however, Windows is generally operated with two mouse buttons instead of one of the Mac so often times I found myself clicking the right button when I wanted to click the left one. You’ll probably find yourself reaching out for the left button more often that just feeling natural about it.

One more thing worth noting is that I have yet to come across any Windows based laptop that offers as good of a scrolling experience as the Mac. The ZenBook Prime is no different and the two finger scrolling is clunky, slow not dependable. I don’t know if this is a Windows issue or not but this definiteyl spoils the experience of seamlessly flying through documents and web pages.

Battery life, Heat and Noise Levels

My second compalain about the ASUS ZenBook Ultra is the presence of a fan that can generally be heard loud and clear as soon as the machine is pushed into the slightest bit of load. This is sad as one of the features of an Ultrabook is how quiet it is. The only good thing I can say about the fan is that it works- the heat levels on the UX31A were on the lower side with the only time the machine feeling hot was when running graphics benchmarks.

Coming to the battery life, we’ve started using a new benchmark from Futuremark called Powermark that measures the battery life by looping four tests- web browsing, word processing, gaming and video processing. The test reported a battery life of 4:59 minutes.Keep in mind that battery life will differ based on your usage- if you tend to stay more on the browsing and word processing side then you should get a higher battery life but if you like to game or process videos then you will have a shorter battery life.

Conclusion

Priced at AED 6299, the ASUS Prime is definitely the Ultrabook that an enthusiast will be looking at. With it’s full-HD 1080p IPS panel, it offers a display unlike any other Ultrabook and combine that with the speedy  Core i7 CPU and a decent battery life and you pretty much have a clear winner in the higher-end of Ultrabooks. The fan noise is a bit of a shame but that doesn’t stop me from awarding the UX31A with our Editor’s Choice award. If I was getting an Ultrabook- this would be it.


About

Abbas Jaffar Ali is the founder of tbreak.com and a blogger, geek and self-declared tech pundit who can't stop talking about technology. Find him on twitter as @ajaffarali

Comments
  • http://kratomguide.net/ Janetta

    ASUS Zenbook Prime. Featuring an updated CPU and graphics engine as well
    as a full-HD IPS panel, does the UX31A have what it takes to really
    define a new category of notebooks? Lets find out.

  • George

    Hello, thank you for the review, do you please know if it is possible to connect 30″ display (2560x1600px) with the microHDMI port (with DVI-D adapter)?

    • Doug Binks

      HDMI can’t do above 1080p, so I don’t think that’s possible. Displayport or mini displayport is the best low profile solution, but it seems few Ultrabooks have this so far.

      • Deathalo

        You’re wrong, HDMI can do well over 1080p, if it’s 1.4 (which it should be) it can do  3840 × 2160p

        • Doug Binks

          Apologies – Deathalo is correct. Later HDMI specs can do higher resolutions.

          • Ivy

            Regarding to the Intel series 7 PCH specification, HDMI is limited to 1920×1200 with ivy bridge graphics :(. Only a dsiplay port connector would offer the full 2560×1600 resolution, but the ux31a only has a micro VGA port.

  • Roy

    Great review but i wanna ask if the zenbook prime is already available in the uae market? I haven’t found one yet!!

    • http://tbreak.com/tech t-break media

      Should be available by the end of the month at all power retailers such a Jumbo.

  • jammin858

    The biggest drawback for the Prime is the 4GB limit. ASUS needs to provide an option for 8GB…heck i’d take 6GB. I have an HP laptop today and it performance is bottlenecked by the 4GB of memory that I have installed in it..hate to see an i7 processor go to waste because of memory limitations. I can’t buy it with this limitation. My reality is that I have 3 or more tabs open in IE and usually three or more apps open at any given time. Combine that with standard add-ons (search bars, etc.) and anti-virus/malware and you start running out of memory. Otherwise it looks like a great solution.

    • TylerHampton

      Holy crap, does Windows and its applications really use up that much memory? Three applications isn’t that much.

      • jammin858

        Actually I said 3 or more…typically it’s more plus all the add-ons (as noted over time) that accumulate over time and browser sessions…while I could uninstall many of these I really don’t want to manage my PC that closely. 

        • Tanjin76

          I don’t believe you. My computer has 8GB of RAM and I have yet to go above 4GB (I have only once just to test it by opening EVERYTHING). I usually have about 10-20 tabs open in chrome across multiple desktops (dexpot), photoshop, matlab, adobe reader, MS word, and some other programs that aren’t as heavy as the ones I’ve mentioned that are active every now and then. 4GB is more than enough for PORTABLE computing. Remember, this is an ultrabook with a DUAL core processor. If you want something with crazy performance, then go for something bigger. End of that.

          • Jet

            Thanks for the information…your choice as to whether you want to believe me or not…all I can tell you is right now I only have IE running 4 tabs but I have 116 processes running that in total are consuming 76% of my 4GB of RAM. I reconfirmed that I have 4G of RAM. As I start opening up more apps I get closer and closer to the 4GB limit. As I do that my system nearly crawls to a halt. The CPU is sitting at maybe 20% and memory consumption is in the 80%s or 90%s….Clearly the system is memory constrained….believe it or not.  

          • Hiada

             Sure you’re not running Vista? 

            I’m on Win7 64, 4gb, intel e8500 core duo.

            I have 79 process running.  Watching Live TV, have skype on, 2 firefox windows open with 4 tabs in each.

            Using about  2.4gb ram. | 21% cpu usage.

            The thing with Windows is, if you have a lot of RAM available, it’s going to use it. 

          • Jet

            Ah…I think you found the culprit…yes…unfortunately I’m using VISTA…that must be the reason for my RAM consumption. Anyone know if there is anyone still offering free upgrades from Vista to Win7? I missed the free upgrade that was offered in 2009 and ended in 2010. :-( 

          • Michael Kronvold

            I want more ram.  I need more ram.  I’m not buying a $1000+ ultrabook because it looks cool.  I’m buying it because it’s very portable which is important when going from one job location to another.  When I get there, and when I’m on the way, I want to be able to do everything.  Not be limited in what I can do based on what some email and light browsing user might want.  

            It’s called an ultrabook.  Not a justbarelyenoughbook.

          • inferno

            impossible unless you are using vista. Another explanation is either you pc is infected with virus & useless background apps or you just dont know how to maintain your pc well. 

            i can ensure you its impossible for windows itself to use up 4gb of ram even opening 50tabs at once. The only reason why i have 8gb of ram installed is because battlefield 3 is the only game that uses more than 4gb of ram. Even crysis dosent use up to 4gb of ram so your argument is invalid.
            nuff said.

          • jammin858

            rude

  • http://twitter.com/8ice Patrick

    Nice review, I just wanted to know how many icons can you have @ vertical in 1920×1080 ? I count on your screenshot 8 but I don’t know if you are on 1920×1080 or not..
    Because it’s strange if you are on 1920×1080 res. you should have 12 icons :
    Please, if you can answer, it will help me to know how much lines I can have on my IDE :D

    • ajaffarali

      All pictures were at the native 1920×1080 resolution however, I think by default, ASUS has set the font and icon sizes to large which is why you see a lesser number of them.

      • http://twitter.com/8ice Patrick

        Ah ok, thanks ! :) hope you are right

  • Alessandro Crismani

    Hi there,

    Thanks a lot for the review. I’d like to know more about the fan noise you mention to be annoying. Could you upload a video somewhere recording the noise when the laptop is under stress? It will be very much appreciated :)

    Cheers,
    Alessandro

  • Gerald Hopf

    This is a pretty stupid review that doesn’t even mention what SSD was in the system… WTF

    • fdsadfsa

      test

  • Leon

    I’ll just wait for the UX32 ver.

  • http://twitter.com/piyushcb Piyush Chaterbhoj

    Hi Abbas, does this have a Sandisk i100 SSD or a ADATA Sandforce based SSD ?

  • Gouthaman

    where can i buy this in uae?

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