In this article we’re going to talk about the Asus Zenbook UX301LA, or the so called Zenbook Infinity, Asus’s top of the line ultrabook available right now. It combines a sleek body made from glass and metal with a high-resolution touchscreen and a powerful Intel Haswell hardware platform.
In fact, the hardware is what really sets this laptop apart from the competition, as the top configuration bundles a 28 W Core i7 processor with Intel 5100 HD graphics, which is basically the fastest platform available for ultrabooks these days, at least in terms of RAW CPU performances.
An guess what, we have that top configuration for this review. But be warned: it is EXPENSIVE (but some discounts might be available via this link)!
However, if you’re looking for something more affordable, the Zenbook UX301 is going to start at about 1400 USD, which put it on par with most other premium ultrabooks available right now, like the Acer Aspire S7 or the Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus.
|Asus Zenbook UX301LA-DE002P
|Screen||13.3 inch, 2560 x 1440 px resolution, IPS, touchscreen|
|Processor||Intel Haswell Core i7-4558U CPU|
|Video||Intel 5100 HD Iris|
|Memory||8 GB DDR3|
|Storage||512 GB SSD RAID 0|
|Connectivity||Wireless AC, Bluetooth 4.0, Lan (with adapter)|
|Ports||2xUSB, SD card reader, micro HDMI, mini-DisplayPort|
|Baterry||6 cell 4560 mAh 50 Wh|
|Operating system||Windows 8|
|Size||about 18 mm think, including the rubber feet; 15.5 x 325 x 222 mm|
|Weight||about 1.43 kg (3.1 pounds)|
|Extras||backlit keyboard, USB to LAN and MiniDP to VGA adapters included|
With the Zenbook Infinity, Asus tries to get ahead of its competitors in a segment filled with beautiful and fast machines. For that, they changed the overall aspect from the previous Zenbooks, in order to make a better first impression with this new entry.
As a result, glass covers the lid, and that’s no ordinary glass, but Gorilla Glass 3, which should make the surface scratch proof. On the other hand, smudges and fingerprints are part of the menu with this finishing, especially on the Navy Blue version that we have here. These won’t show as easily on the white model.
Regardless, this Zenbook looks awesome in this dark Blue color, which is used not only for the lid, but for everything else, including the interior, the keyboard and the underbelly. Speaking about the interior, you should know that some sort of ceramic coated glass covers the palm rest and the area around the keys, while the frame, the sides and the bottom are made from solid pieces of metal. As a result, the lower body of this laptop feels very solid, while the lid still flexes to some extent when pressed. But overall, this is a fairly sturdy machine.
It’s well balanced too, as you can easily grab the screen with one hand and lift it, while the body stays mostly in place. In fact, the upper part of the laptop is milimetrically longer than the body below, so you can easily lift-up the screen.
The two-side hinge is identical to the one we’ve seen on the Zenbook UX302 and is redesigned from the older Zenbooks, but despite the narrow contact points, the hinge is actually sturdy and can hold the screen firmly in place, even when poking it.
When leaning the screen on the back, the entire laptop lifts on two small feet integrated within the rear part of the lid, leaving more space under the laptop, which translates in more air going towards the grills on the underbelly. Air is sucked through those grills and then blown out through the metallic mesh in the hinge, towards the user and towards the screen, which is not necessarily the best solution, as the lower part of the display gets quite hot and that might have a negative effect on the panel, long term.
And speaking of poor design choices, the laptop’s front lip is extremely sharp and it’s going to cut into your wrist when using it on a desk, despite the fairly large palm-rest. I’ve complained about that on the UX302 as well, but on the UX301 this front-edge is even sharper.
Moving on, the UX301 is not the lightest 13 inch ultrabook out there, tipping the scale at over 1.4 kilos, or about 3.1 pounds in our case. It’s not the slimmest either, although it stands less than 18 mm high in its thickest point, including the rubber feet (or about 15.5 – 16 without those). So there’s nothing major to complain about here.
When it comes to the ports around the sides, you’ll find only 2 USB 3.0 slots on the Zenbook UX301, the headphone jack, the micro HDMI and the Mini DisplayPort connectors. Also, the PSU is now placed on the left side of the laptop, something I for one appreciate, as it leaves more room on the right, where I usually have my mouse. And there’s a card-reader on the right-edge, which still can’t properly fit an SD card, as more than half is left sticking out of the slot. Last but not least, in order to boost the connectivity options even further, Asus does offer USB to Ethernet and mini DisplayPort to VGA adapters in the pack.
But let’s go ahead and power on this laptop. It boots from cold in a little over 10 seconds and then resumes from sleep in about 2 and the first thing you’ll notice when this one logs into Windows is the screen.
Asus put a 13.3 inch IPS panel on the Zenbook UX301, with a 2560 x 1440 px resolution and that makes it one of the sharpest screens available on ultrabooks in this class right now. However, high density panels are not a rarity these days, so luckily for Asus, this screen scores high results when it comes to brightness, contrast and color reproduction as well.
In fact, this IGZO panel made by Sharp is so bright that it can be used outdoors as well, despite the glossy glass coating, a given with touchscreens. Oh, and one more thing, there’s no light bleeding with this panel, while all the Zenbooks I’ve ever tried in the pat suffered from this flaw, to some extent.
Anyway, long story short, you’ll really like this display. Too bad you’ll have to deal with those pesky font-scaling issues associated with Windows 8, as not all the applications and interface elements scale up properly, which results in tiny texts and buttons that you’ll have to deal with. Hopefully, that’s going to be addressed with Windows 8.1, but I wouldn’t hold my breath on it.
For now, let me tell you a few things about the keyboard on this laptop. I have to admit that I was never a sucker for the keyboards Asus put on their Zenbooks, but this one is a long awaited upgrade. Yes, they keys travel is still fairly shallow, but that aside, the feedback is good and the keys are firm enough to register commands even when pressed on the sides or corners. The keyboard is of course backlit and sturdy, with very little flex, even in the middle.
The layout is fairly good as well, although the arrow keys are small and the Power Button is integrated within the keyboard in the Top Right corner, so you’ll end up hitting it by mistake more often than you’d want, in which case the laptop goes to Sleep, without any warning message. That’s annoying.
But there’s something that bothers me even more. The space key makes a squeaking sound when pressed, something I’ve also encountered with the Zenbook UX302 as well but let it slide, as I considered it an accidental flaw. Looks like it’s not though and this might not sound like such a big deal, but it really drove me crazy. Hear it for yourselves in the video review.
That aside, it’s worth mentioning that there’s a good trackpad on this laptop as well, with a smooth glass surface. The entire clickpad is nicely separated from the palm-rest and is accurate and most of the time reliable. Support for gestures is included too, as expected.
Alright, with those out of the way, let me tell you a couple of things about the goodies inside this ultrabook, which really set it apart from its competitors. We have the top UX301LA configuration here, with an Intel Core i7-4558U processor, 8 GB of RAM, Intel Iris 5100 graphics and a 512 GB SSD.
The Core i7 processor is more powerful than the Core i7-4500U Haswell CPU we’ve seen on ultrabooks in the last months. With a higher 28 W TDP, this CPU runs at 2.8 GHz by default and can go up to 3.3 GHz on a single process. And the speed gains are visible both in benchmarks and while performing everyday tasks, like archiving some files or exporting a video file.
The fast SSD has its role in this as well, as Asus put two 256 GB SSDs in RAID 0 on this laptop. As for the memory, unfortunately it is soldered on the motherboard and non-upgradeable, so you can only get 8 GB of RAM on this Zenbook. But choose carefully between the 4 or the 8 GB options, as you’re going to be stuck with what you’re getting from starters.
In fact, this Zenbook is not upgrade friendly. You can remove the bottom cover with the right screw-driver (Torx 5 screws, with two of them behind the back rubber feet), to have a peek at the internals. You’ll see the two fans, smaller than the ones on the UX302, the soldered memory, the removable Wireless module and the two SSDs, as this laptop bundles a RAID 0 solution.
You can remove those if you want to, although I don’t see exactly why. Still, it looks like Asus is using two Sandisk X110 SSDs, which are NGFF compliant, or in other words, support the standard many other producers adhered to lately and can be replaced, if needed.
Those aside, I did run a couple of benchmarks on this laptop, and the results can be found below:
And I did run a couple of basic tests that I’m going to use as future reference for all my reviews:
* a 2.30 minutes 1080 MOV imported in Movie maker, with the Edge Detection visual effect applied and then exported as “For High resolution displays”
** 220 MB worth of pictures archived using Windows 8 Send to Compressed Folder optio
Anyway, you should know that the UX301 Zenbook can easily handle everything you’re going to throw at it, from browsing to multimedia content and games. Speaking of those, you get Intel Iris 5100 graphics on this laptop and while this is still an embedded chip, it is 20 to 40% faster than the regular Intel HD 4400 chip we’ve seen on many other Haswell ultrabooks, visible both in benchmarks and while gaming. The results are below and in the included video.
|1366 x 768 px low details
|Dirt 3||48 fps|
|Grid 2||48 fps|
|NFS Most Wanted||28 fps|
|Bioshock Infinite||28 fps|
|Metro Last Light*||17 fps|
|Crysis 3||19 fps|
* MetroLLBenchmark, scene D6
Ok, we’ve established so far that the Zenbook UX301 is one of the most powerful 13 inch ultrabooks available these days. But what happens when you put fast hardware in a sleek body? Well, as expected, this laptop does get hot when pushed.
The area on top of the keyboard and the underbelly, around the air-sucking fans, plus the area just under the screen, reach quite high temperatures, but the palm rest or the keyboard stay merely warm. As for interior temperatures, HW Monitor shows the CPU passing 90 degrees Celsius while running games. Luckily though, these high temperatures don’t lead to throttling and have no direct impact over performances, although HW Info does suggest throttling when running games for a longer period of time, but the CPUs frequency only drops marginally to about 2.2 GHz, so that’s not something to complain about.
In everyday use, HW Monitor shows CPU temperatures of around 70 degrees, but at the same time the fans are most of the time inactive, so these numbers are not bad for a passive cooled device.
As for the noise, well, the two fans inside this unit will spin fast and fairly loud, once again, when pushing the laptop. My non-professional iPhone app measures about 44-45 db under load (running Cinebench 11.5) at 30 cm away from the laptop. When using it lightly though, they’ll turn completely OFF, which makes the UX301 ultra-silent.
All those being said, there are only a few things left to talk about before drawing the line here. For instance, I should mention the good connectivity options, as the UX301 does support Wireless AC and Bluetooth 4.0 (Plus LAN, with the included adapter).
The Intel 7260 wireless module is a reliable performer, although the wireless range on this laptop is only average and could have been better.
Besides that, you should know that there’s a webcam with dual-array microphones on this ultrabook, decent for quick hangouts and video calls.
And you do get a good sound system as well, as the two speakers carved on the sides of the laptop deliver punchy and high-quality audio, but only if you take some time to tweak the output with the included Audio Wizard application.
Back to more important aspects, let’s take a few second and talk about the battery life you’ll be getting with this Zenbook. There’s a 6 Cell 50 Wh battery on this laptop and with average use, that includes browsing, editing documents, listening some music, watching some clips, with the screen at 50% and Wi-Fi ON, that’s enough to keep it running for about 6 to 7 hours.
If you’ll use it lightly and dim the screen even more, you could easily get 8+ hours of life on a charge, but on the other hand, while running games, the UX301 will run out of juice much quicker (I’d reckon you’ll get up to 90 minutes of gaming).
There will be a couple of different configurations available for the Asus Zenbook UX301LA, starting at around $1400 dollars and going as high as $2200. Here are the options that I know of right now:
Our test unit is exactly the last one in the list above, the most powerful configuration available for this laptop.
Just a quick note, these prices are estimations based on how much these configs are going to cost in my country. They may vary from region to region.
Some versions of this laptop have started to emerge in some parts of the world. In the US, I still haven’t found the base version, but the UX301LA-DH51T mid-version, with the Intel Core i5 processor, 8 GB of RAM and a 256 GB SSD is available for about $1800. However, you might find this version discounted over here, and some of the others that should hit the stores as well. Just a quick note, if you appreciate this post and all the others here on the site, buying from my links (like that one above) is a nice way to say thanks. You won’t be paying extra, but I’ll get a small commission from the sellers.
OK, so wrapping up this review, there are for sure many things you will like about this ultrabook, like the sleek body, the awesome screen, the good keyboard and trackpad. However, you do get most of these, slightly better or worse, on other good ultrabooks available these days, like the Acer Aspire S7, the Sony Vaio Pro, the Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro or the Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus.
On the Zenbook UX301 there’s the higher power hardware option, available on this top configuration. Is it worth paying around $2200 or over 2000 euros for it? Well, that’s up to you to decide.
On the other hand, the cheapest Asus UX301 starts at about 1300 euros over here, with a Full HD screen, a Core i5 processor, 4 GB of RAM and the 128 GB SSD, which is not cheap, but is more or less on par with the prices Acer, Samsung, or the others are asking for their similar ultrabooks.
But the Sony Vaio Pro on the Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro are cheaper with a similar configuration.
Those being said, if you’re after performances (photo or video editing, programming), the UX301 with the Core i7-4558U should definitely be on your short-list. However, if you’re looking at a cheaper ultrabook, the UX301 is just one of the good options out there.
Is it better than the others? Well, you’ll find the answer to that question in the many comparisons that will be posted here on the site in the next days and weeks, so make sure to check them out in our Comparisons category.