Design and Ergonomics
The 3.2 pound UX32VD Zenbook Prime looks almost identical to the Zenbook Prime UX31A, and that's a good thing since that machine is simply stunning looking and well made. The casing is metal and rigid, though the keyboard deck is softer and we noted some trampolining in the center that will drive serious typists a little mad. The lid and bottom panel as well as the keyboard deck are very firm in contrast. The UX32VD is just a little thicker than the 0.67" UX31A, but it's still very slim at 0.7".
The combo of a dark metal swirl lid and a brushed stainless steel hinge barrel and bottom look great. The laptop looks and feels like a high quality piece of tech that holds its own against the MacBook Air. Like the Air, it tapers and is 5.5 mm thin at the front and 9mm at the rear. Looks are subjective, but I think the Zenbook Primes are some of the most attractive Ultrabooks on the market. The metal edges are well machined so there's no roughness or sharpness, but the front tapers to a fine point that might bother some folks' wrists.
The keyboard is much improved from Asus' first generation Ultrabooks, the UX31E and UX21E. The Chiclet style backlit keyboard has good tactile feel and travel by skinny Ultrabook standards. My only complaint is the mushy give in the center and right-of-center keyboard area. It's not a deal breaker, but it's not as good as the UX31A keyboard.
The Elan trackpad is the same as that of the UX31A, and it's much, much better than the UX31E trackpad. However, Asus' drivers are the weakest part of the equation and I found the trackpad behaved better once I removed Asus' trackpad software and stuck with Elan's. Asus has issued a few driver updates for the trackpad, and it's now usable though not better than Elan's software.
The 13.3" matte 1920 x 1080 panel is simply gorgeous: very bright with lovely balanced colors and high contrast. Text is very sharp and black levels are excellent. Asus didn't skimp here. The panel is brighter than most notebooks on the market except the UX31A. The display will likely set the Zenbook Prime series ahead of the competition for some time. Since this is an IPS panel, viewing angles are very wide, and there's no need to angle the display forward and back to find the sweet spot as with TN panels. Whites are wonderfully neutral and the display looks as good as the Retina MacBook Pro. Color accuracy is much better than average for a notebook panel and it should please photo pros.
It wouldn't be an Asus product if we didn't have some light bleed, and though light bleed in IPS displays isn't uncommon, Asus seems to have more than their share. What is light bleed? The display may have lighter spots near the edges when viewing black backgrounds like the black bars in letterboxed widescreen movies. Our unit, which came from a local retailer, has a small amount of light bleed along the bottom edge, but it's nothing we'd call bad (watch our video review to see the display showing a pure black image in the dark).
The Zenbook Prime has Intel WiFi and Intel graphics: the happy couple that's required for Intel WiDi wireless display, which is pre-installed. With WiDi and a receiver box that plugs into your home theater setup via HDMI like the Netgear Push2TV, you can stream your display's contents to your HD TV, or use your TV as a second monitor sans wires. For those who prefer wires, there's a micro HDMI 1.4 port on the right side and a 3.5mm combo headphone/mic jack. For those who use projectors and older monitors, there's a mini VGA port and Asus includes a dongle adapter that converts it to a full size VGA port.
Performance and Horsepower
The UX32VD runs on Intel third generation Ivy Bridge ULV CPUs--no surprise there. But the Intel HD 4000 graphics plus switchable Nvidia GeForce GT620M graphics with 1 gig VRAM is news for Ultrabooks. Before you get excited, the GeForce GT620M is based on the older Fermi architecture rather than the just released Kepler architecture. What does that mean? It's not as power frugal as Kepler. And the 40nm, 64 bit GT620M used in the Asus is a low end GPU that outperforms the admittedly decent Intel HD 4000 GPU, but doesn't outperform it by a huge margin. This is an entry level dedicated GPU that will gain you 5-15 fps in 3D games but won't allow you to play the most recent 3D games like Battlefield 3 at native resolution and high settings. The machine can play current games like Diablo 3 and Skyrim at low settings and 1366 x 768 resolution with frame rates in the mid-30's to mid-40's.
The machine uses Nvidia Optimus graphics switching technology to automatically switch between integrated and dedicated graphics based on demand and the application being run, and it generally does a good job. Should you wish to override this, you can right click on an app and select the GPU you wish to use when running that app.
Unlike most Ultrabooks whose RAM is soldered to the motherboard and thus isn't upgradable, the UX32VD has 2 gigs soldered to the motherboard and a standard SODIMM RAM slot. It ships with a 2gig DDR3 1600Mhz DIMM for a total of 4 gigs of RAM. Should you wish to remove the 11 or so Torx T5 screws that affix the bottom plate (it's not hard at all), then you can replace the DIMM and upgrade to 6 or 10 gigs of RAM using a 4 or 8 gig RAM module.
While the UX31E and UX31A use solid state drives, the Zenbook Prime UX32VD has a conventional 500 gig, 5400 RPM spinning hard drive with either a 24 or 32 gig SanDisk U100 iSSD drive soldered to the motherboard that acts as an Express Cache to speed up Windows and boot and resume times. Our model has a 32 gig SSD, but Asus lists 24 gigs as standard and some users say they've gotten the 24 gig SSD. The SSD doesn't appear under Windows disk manager or the file manager since it's used expressly as a caching drive and you can't access it directly so we're not terribly concerned about the capacity variance.
PCMark Memories 5080
TV and Movies 3881
3DMark Vantage 4240
CPU 9117, GPU 3600
Windows Experience Index:
Graphics (for Aero): 6.3
Gaming Graphics: 6.3
Benchmark Comparison Table
Like most Ultrabooks, the Lithium Ion polymer battery is sealed inside. The Zenbook Prime UX32VD has a beefy 48 Wh battery but the demands of a spinning hard drive and dedicated graphics take their toll. With normal productivity use (MS Office, web, email, social networking and some streaming video), the notebook lasted 4 hours and 40 minutes on a charge, which is significantly lower than the 5.7 hours we got with the Zenbook Prime UX31A.
The Asus Zenbook Prime UX32VD is one of the first Ultrabooks in the brave new frontier that marries typical Ultrabook specs with upgradable parts and dedicated graphics. Our advice? Wait for the second or third generation where dedicated graphics performance improves along with battery life. The NVidia GT620M doesn't offer enough graphics prowess to offset the drop in battery life and the UX32VD isn't a serious gaming machine. It's a "half way" machine that doesn't offer the power of a larger notebook nor the battery life and SSD durability of an Ultrabook. That said, if you love the look and feel of Ultrabooks and wish for a bit more graphics power and upgradable parts, the Zenbook Prime UX32VD offers that in a slim and attractive package. And the display? It's wonderful.
Asus Zenbook Prime UX31A Review
Price: $1,299 with Core i7, 4 gigs RAM and 500 gig HDD