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Asus Zenbook UX301

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What's Hot: Unusually fast Ultrabook with a higher powered CPU and Intel Iris graphics. Stunning looks, excellent fit and finish, very high resolution Sharp IGZO display. Good collection of ports for a 13" Ultrabook.

What's Not: Expensive. Glass top is vulnerable.

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Reviewed February 5, 2014 by , Editor in Chief (twitter: @lisagade)

Update: read our review of the Asus Zenbook UX303, the latest in the Zenbook line.

You'd think it's all about looks, but it's not. If you just want the Zenbook UX301's classy, glassy sapphire blue look, Asus offers the Zenbook UX302LA for nearly half the price. Sure the Asus Zenbook "Infinity" UX301 is a great looking laptop that's strikingly different. Despite the updated styling, it's still got that Zenbook look that says "I have a classy Ultrabook". But what's really important in a sea of also good-looking Ultrabooks is what's inside. There's the WQHD 13.3", 2560 x 1440 Sharp IGZO display in a world where full HD is considered pretty darned good. Then there's the processing power that's more akin to a sporty V6 engine in a field of small 4 cylinder engines. And then there's the price to match: $1,999 list, though you may find it closer to $1,900, which is still a lot of money. It's the Ultrabook for those who want and can afford the best. In terms of performance and resolution, the only laptop that can touch it right now is the higher end configuration of the 13" Retina MacBook Pro (another pricey piece). The Zenbook UX301 has the brains of that Retina 13" Mac, crammed into the body of a MacBook Air. Windows users, rejoice, if you can afford the high price of admission.

Asus Zenbook UX301

I review a lot of nice Ultrabooks, and largely they're not so different from each other. They all run on Intel ULV/ULT ultra low voltage CPUs, have 4 or sometimes 8 gigs of RAM and an SSD drive. They have 13.3" displays and generally thin good looks. Some capitalize on serious style and build quality like the Asus Zenbook UX31A Touch and Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus, while others go for super high resolution displays like the Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro and Toshiba Kirabook, while still others shoot for budget value. But most features are still the same. So Asus, who's really good at rocking the boat, comes up with the Asus Zenbook UX301LA, aka Zenbook Infinity that not only looks premium but has groundbreaking internals. On the outside it's a really pretty Ultrabook with a deep blue Gorilla Glass 3 lid and "ceramicized" Gorilla Glass 3 keyboard deck. Even more interesting, it's currently the only 13" Windows Ultrabook that runs on Intel's 28 watt Haswell Core i7 CPU with Intel Iris 5100 graphics. It's a lot faster than the usual Core i5 and i7 CPUs used in other Ultrabooks, so keep reading if you have a need for speed.

Design and Ergonomics

The shape is pure Zenbook, and it's safely in the MacBook Air school of design with curves that make it look even thinner than it is and a tapered design that's thinnest at the front. It's perfectly put together and it looks and feels premium. The metal bottom plate (affixed with tiny screws) is removable, but nothing is readily upgradable given the unique dual M.2 SSD RAID 0 SSD architecture and soldered-on memory (RAM). The wireless card is socketed and upgradable, but since this ships with the top of the line Intel WiFi 802.11ac dual band card, I doubt anyone will want to switch out the card.

Asus Zenbook UX301

The Gorilla Glass 3 lid has some flex, but no more than many laptops. Since metal-clad Zenbook lids have absolutely no flex, this might be off-putting to Zenbook fans. We're not too worried about the flex and it seems downright rigid compared to the very flexy carbon fiber clad Sony Vaio Pro 13. However, we found it impossible to not take extra care of the glass. Though it's extremely scratch resistant (sand is one of the few things harder than Gorilla Glass) and resists shattering, it's still glass. If you swing around with the laptop in hand and accidentally whack it into a table corner... well, it won't take a licking from direct blows the way the Dell XPS carbon fiber and aluminum lid will. This isn't a rugged machine. The all-glass wrist rest area, finished in a satiny texture that matches the glass trackpad worries us less since the inner faces of a laptop live a more sheltered life.

The laptop has two USB ports, one on each side. We prefer that layout since bulky USB peripherals and connectors won't fight with each other for space. As with other Zenbook models, Asus includes a USB Ethernet adapter and a micro HDMI to VGA adapter in the box, along with a color matched slipcase. The Ultrabook has a micro HDMI port, 3.5mm combo audio, an SDXC card slot (cards protrude a few millimeters) and a mini DisplayPort that can drive higher than full HD resolution monitors. Asus once again partners with Bang & Olufsen for their ICEpower stereo speakers that sound fairly full by Ultrabook standards and are loud enough to fill a small room. The speakers fire from the sides, and are tucked underneath at the curves where the bottom meets the sides.

At 3 lbs. 2 ounces the Zenbook is easy on the back when carried in a bag, and Asus includes their usual compact, square charger. This is a slim Ultrabook at 15.5mm (0.6") at its thickest point, and Asus says using Gorilla Glass 3 allowed them to make a thinner and lighter machine. That's interesting since the HP Envy 14 Spectre, the first Gorilla Glass machine was actually thicker and heavier thanks to the glass lid. Chalk it up to a few years of learning and generational improvements in Corning's glass.

 

Deals and Shopping:

 

Asus Zenbook UX301 Video Review

 

Asus Zenbook UX301 vs. Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus Comparison Smackdown

 

Asus Zenbook UX301 Gaming Demo: BioShock Infinite, Civ V and Skyrim

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Display

Gorgeous, with reservations. That's the Sharp IGZO gloss touch panel in the Zenbook UX301. The Sharp display was one of the first higher than full HD panels to hit the market in Windows laptops, and it's admirable for its low power consumption and high brightness. Generally, higher pixel density displays require more backlighting because that very density prevents light from reaching you. In the case of the IGZO panel, Sharp found a way to emit more light without using more power. Color gamut is as good as it gets in high end laptops with 98% sRGB coverage and 79% of Adobe RGB. Contrast is high and brightness is very impressive at 380 nits. It's a great looking glossy touch screen with 2560 x 1440 resolution and 276 ppi. Our only concern was the absolutely abysmal color calibration from the factory (we tried all of Asus' color profiles and they all stunk). Once we calibrated the display, colors were superb and the blue-green factory color cast that reduced apparent contrast was gone. But what we did notice is some red fringing on black text displayed on a white page only when we scrolled that text. That made us wonder if Asus was intentionally shipping the machine with a weird color calibration to hide a weak point of the panel's design. With the factory calibration, there is no text color shift during scrolling. It's not the end of the world, but it is a bit disconcerting when you're paying for a best of the best display. Light bleed, common on older Zenbook models and IPS displays isn't an issue on the IGZO panel.

Asus Zenbook UX301

Asus Zenbook UX301

Horsepower and Performance

As mentioned, the 13.3" Zenbook UX301LA we look at here runs on a different class of CPU, the 28 watt Intel Core i7-4558U clocked at 2.8GHz with Turbo Boost to 3.3Ghz. It's mated with Intel Iris 5100 graphics for a noticeable boost over the usual Intel HD 4400 graphics used in other Haswell Ultrabooks. The usual Core 1.6GHz i5-4200U and 1.8GHz Core i7-4500U used in other Ultrabooks are 15 watt platforms with considerably less headroom for performance. So the UX301 nets you approximately 20% more performance. In a 3 lb., 0.6" thin Zenbook, that's an impressive achievement.

You don't need this kind of performance to use MS Word, edit 15 meg JPEG photos in Photoshop or browse the web. You will enjoy it if you process full HD videos, compute thousands of rows in Excel, work with development environments on projects with many thousands of lines of code and if you play 3D games. We put the Asus Zenbook UX301LA to the test with a few current 3D games that leave everyday Ultrabooks panting with their fans whining and the FPS dragging. We test out BioShock Infinite, Skyrim and Civ V. Now Civ V runs decently on many current Ultrabooks, though touch response sometimes seems a bit slow or balky (it's one of the few touch-enabled modern 3D Windows desktop games). The other two? You've got to run at low resolutions and settings to manage 30 fps. Watch our gaming demo to see how it does (hint, pretty well though it's no gaming laptop). Keep resolutions and settings low in more demanding games like BioShock Infinite, and you'll have a very playable experience with less fan noise than on a Core i7-4500U with HD 4400 graphics. Asus' dual internal fan design is both efficient and quiet; their engineers know a thing or two about designed cooling systems for gaming rigs, after all.

Benchmarks

PCMark 7: 5828

3DMark 11: P1357

wPrime: 16.26 sec.

Cinebench R15: 314 (CPU)

Geekbench 3 (single/multi-core): 3292/6858

PCMark 7 Benchmark Comparison Table

Asus Zenbook UX301 5828
Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus 5050
HP Spectre 13 (Core i5) 4826
Acer Aspire S7 (Core i7-4500U) 5075
Sony Vaio Pro 13 (Core i5 Haswell) 4549
Sony Vaio Flip 13 (Core i5 Haswell) 4434
Sony Vaio Duo 13 (Haswell Core i7) 4800
Asus Transformer Book TX300 4495
Acer Aspire R7 3981
Samsung Series 7 Ultra 4469
Asus Zenbook Prime UX31A Touch (Core i5) 4670
Dell XPS 12 (Core i5, Haswell) 4889
Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro 4737
Microsoft Surface Pro 2 4905

CrystalDiskMark SSD Scores

crystaldiskmark results

 

RAM, RAID 0 SSD Drives and Model Variants, Including the Zenbook UX302

The UX301LA-DH71T model we cover here has 8 gigs of DDR3L RAM soldered to the motherboard (like most Ultrabooks, it's not upgradable). It has a 256 gig SSD that's actually comprised of two very fast 128 gig SSDs in a RAID 0 configuration to boost speed. For some reason, Asus partitions this as a C and D drive. Asus uses SanDisk X110 M.2 form factor drives, and these are fast drives (forget the issue of slow SanDisk SSDs in the old Zenbook UX31E, these are different animals altogether). If you buy the most expensive UX301LA-XH72T configuration, you'll get a 512 gig SSD (again, 2 SanDisk X110 drives in a RAID 0 configuration). The base model UX301LA-DH51T lists for $1,699 and runs on a standard 15 watt 1.6GHz Core i5-4200U Ultrabook CPU with 8 gigs of RAM and the same 256 gig RAID 0 SSD.

If you simply want a standard Ultrabook with a unique look, the Zenbook UX302 is an excellent option. It has the same blue glass lid, and when closed it looks almost identical to the UX301. The UX302LA has a 1920 x 1080 IPS display and a metal keyboard deck rather than the textured matte glass deck on the UX301. It has a standard 2.5mm SATA drive bay with a conventional spinning hard drive and a single RAM slot. It's available with only 15 watt Intel Core i5 and i7 CPUs. The Zenbook UX302LG (not yet available in the US as of this writing) adds NVIDIA GT 730M dedicated graphics, and is the successor to the Zenbook UX32VD. All models have a gloss touch screen.

Battery Life and Wireless Performance

In the good old days, we didn't have to focus on WiFi performance since it was generally good. As notebooks use increasingly lower power, their wireless adapters get less power to work with, and that affects wireless performance. And now we have several different WiFi standards to worry about: B, G, N and AC. Not to mention there are two bands, 2.4GHz and 5GHz, a few different operating systems... lots of different routers running old, new or something in between firmware. Yikes. The good news is that Asus went with the best here: Intel's WiFi AC 7260 WiFi 802.11ac adapter. It's a dual antenna and dual band card, so the Zenbook has the potential to reach the best possible speeds with less interference (if you use the 5GHz band and have a dual band wireless AC router). In our tests, once our machine received Windows updates for the wireless drivers, connection speed was top notch on our dual band 802.11n network and range was good with the machine maintaining the same connection and download speeds up to 30 feet from our AirPort Extreme wireless access point. We did have once per day connection drops with "limited connection" errors that we fixed with a quick toggle of airplane mode, but we've seen this on every Windows 8 laptop we've reviewed (here's looking at you, Microsoft).

The Zenbook UX301's 6 cell, 50.6 Wh battery is sealed inside, as is the case with nearly all Ultrabooks. If you remove the bottom cover, you can access the battery should you need to replace it a few years down the road, but it's not a "slide the latch and pop it out" design. That's a decently large capacity battery for a 13", 3 pound Ultrabook and it matches the also beefy Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus (another upscale Ultrabook with a very high resolution display and elegant design). We worried that the very high resolution display and 28 watt platform would kill battery life, but we found the laptop lasted a livable 6 to 6.5 hours for productivity tasks that include MS Office work, web browsing, social networking and streaming 30 minutes of YouTube HD video with brightness set to a very adequate 40%.

Conclusion

The Asus Zenbook Infinity UX301 is one of the finest Ultrabooks money can buy. It has a higher resolution display than most and a faster CPU and integrated graphics than all except the 13" Retina MacBook Pro (which technically isn't an Ultrabook and is equally as fast if you buy the similarly configured 2.8GHz i7 model). Of course, this comes at a price, and few will pay the $2,000 price of admission. But if you want one of the fastest, best-equipped Ultrabooks on the market that also happens to look exquisite, it's the Asus Zenbook UX301. Of course, a glass top isn't for everyone, and if you do travel frequently and don't need the super-charged Ultrabook CPU, you might want to look at the equally lovely looking and also perfectly put together Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus with a 3200 x 1800 resolution display. And of course, for you switch hitters who are OS agnostic, the 13" Retina MacBook Pro is also an excellent ultraportable.

Website: www.asus.com

List Price: $1,699- $1,999 ($1,999 as reviewed)

 

Related Reviews:

Asus Zenbook UX301 vs. Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus Comparison Article

Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus Review

HP Spectre 13 Review

2013 13" MacBook Pro with Retina Display Review

Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro Review

Dell XPS 12 Review

Sony Vaio Flip 13 Review

 

Asus Zenbook UX301

 

Asus Zenbook UX301

 

Asus Zenbook UX301

 

Asus Zenbook UX301

 

Asus Zenbook UX301

 

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Specs:

Display: 13.3" Sharp IGZO touchscreen glossy display,WQHD 2560 x 1440 resolution, 276 PPI. Intel Iris 5100 integrated graphics. Micro HDMI and Mini DisplayPort. VGA via included mini DisplayPort to VGA adapter.

Battery: 6 cell, 50.6 Wh Lithium Ion rechargeable, sealed inside.

Performance: 2.8GHz Intel 4th generation Haswell Core i7-4558U dual core CPU. 8 gigs DDR3 RAM (soldered on board). 256 gig SSD (M.2 format, SATA3 interface, two drives configured in RAID 0).

Size: 12.8 x 8.6 x 0.6 inches. Weight: 3.08 pounds.

Camera: HD webcam.

Audio: Built-in stereo speakers, 2.0 watts each. Bang and Olufsen ICEpower audio. Dual array mic and 3.5mm standard stereo combo audio jack.

Networking: Integrated Intel Wireless AC-7260 dual band WiFi 802.11b/g/n/ac and Bluetooth 4.0. Ethernet via included USB adapter.

Software: Windows 8 64 bit.

Expansion and Ports: Two USB 3.0 ports (supports USB charging), micro HDMI, mini DisplayPort, VGA via included adapter, USB Ethernet with included dongle adapter to RJ45, 3.5mm audio and SDXC card slot.

In the Box: laptop, charger, slip case, USB Ethernet adapter and mini DisplayPort to VGA adapter.

 

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