A few weeks ago I published an article about the Asus Zenbook UX550VD, a much awaited addition to the premium 15-inch laptop segment and alternative to the Dell XPS 15 and Lenovo Yoga 720 15.
However, the UX550VE variant is that one that actually makes this Zenbook different than the competition, as it comes with an Nvidia GTX 1050 Ti graphics chip, while the UX550VD and the options from Dell and Lenovo only get GTX 1050 graphics.
We finally got to spend time with the VE variant as well and gathered the impressions below. We’re not going to reiterate on all the other aspects already covered in the UX550VD review, because the graphics chip is the only important difference between the VE and VD configurations. That’s why we’ll mostly cover below the performance of the VE model, which came with a Core i7-7700HQ processor, 16 GB of RAM and the Nvidia GTX 1050 Ti 4 GB graphics, in comparison to the lower end VD model we already posted about, with the Core i5-7300HQ processor, 8 GB of RAM and Nvidia GTX 1050 4 GB graphics.
We’ll still add a few words about the looks and the screen though, as we got the Royal Blue variant this time with a FHD IPS touchscreen, while the VD came in Matte Black with the FHD IPS matte screen.
Anyway, here’s what to expect from the top-end Zenbook UX550VE and how it compares to the base-level Zenbook UX550VD.
Specs as reviewed
|Asus Zenbook Pro UX550VE|
|Screen||15.6 inch, 1920 x 1080 px, IPS, glossy, touch|
|Processor||Intel Kaby Lake Core i7-7700HQ CPU|
|Video||Intel HD 620 + Nividia GTX 1050 Ti 4 GB GDDR5|
|Memory||16 GB DDR4 (soldered)|
|Storage||256 M.2 NVMe SSD (80 mm)|
|Connectivity||Wireless AC (tri-band Intel AC 8265), Bluetooth 4.2|
|Ports||2x USB 3.0 Type-A, 2x USB Type-C with Thunderbolt 3, HDMI, mic/headphone, microSD card reader|
|Battery||73 Wh, 120 Wh charger|
|Size||365 mm or 14.37” (w) x 251 mm or 9.88” (d) x 18.9 mm or 0.74” (h)|
|Weight||4.05 lbs (1.84 kg) + 1.19 lbs (.54 kg) for the charger|
|Extras||backlit keyboard, VGA camera, quad-speakers, available in Royal Blue and Matte Black|
Design and looks
To get this out of the way, you’ll find all my impressions about the laptop’s build quality and finishing over here. In very few words, it’s a compact, light and great looking computer, but the build could be sturdier, as there’s more flex than I’d want in the main chassis and lid cover.
The UX550VE we got here comes in Royal Blue, which looks really nice and is also unique, as no other manufacturer offers a similar laptop with this kind of color scheme. It doesn’t get the gold accents that Asus puts on their other Royal Blue Zenbooks (UX390, UX490 or UX370 Flip), which is actually a good thing for someone who hates bling, like I do. Still, the practical person in me would probably still pick the dark gray version we’ve illustrated on the UX550VD model, as smudges and fingerprints are somehow more obvious on this Blue variant. Probably, it’s a tough call, but at least both color schemes are nice, so there’s no wrong choice here.
I should also add a few more things about the Thunderbolt 3 implementation. While I don’t have an external eGPU to test this out, HWInfo shows that the Thunderbolt 3 port is hooked up to the motherboard through 4x PCIe lanes. However, there are two TB3 ports, and from what I understand there’s a single connection for the two, which means you can either use just one of the ports at 4x, or the lanes split between them when using both ports at the same time. I wish I’d have the right tools to properly test this, but unfortunately I don’t for now, so I’ll leave it at this. If Thunderbolt 3 is a decisive factor for you, and it might be given both the XPS 15 9560 and the Yoga 720 only get 2x PCIe TB3, I’d suggest to further look into the matter.
Asus offers the Zenbook UX550 series with a bunch of different touch and non-touch panel options.
We tested the better IPS panel in a matte version on the UX550VD and we got the same panel, but with touch on top, on this VE. The matte finishing gets a slight amount of graininess, while the touch one does not. But the glass layer on top also adds glare in bright environments and actually takes a pretty big toll on the perceived brightness.
Despite the fact that the VD and VE got the same panel, our Spyder 4 Sensor measured lower maximum brightness for the touch variant, as you can see below.
- Panel HardwareID: Chi Mei CMN15E8 (N156HCE-EN1);
- Coverage: 97% sRGB, 71% NTSC, 75% AdobeRGB;
- Measured gamma: 2.3;
- Max brightness in the middle of the screen: 260 cd/m2 on power;
- Contrast at max brightness: 810:1;
- White point: 6900 K;
- Black on max brightness: 0.32 cd/m2.
The calibrated color profile is available here, if you want to use it.
Our sample also shows a fair amount of light bleeding in the lower half, with a significant brightness reduction as well, as you can see in the pictures above. This is a manufacturing issue, as the glass presses on the panel in the lower corners, but hopefully it’s isolated to this sample. Asus usually knows how to make proper touchscreens and hopefully the retail versions you’ll find in stores won’t suffer from this issue. Still, make sure to properly check this out on your laptop if you decide to go for this touch variant.
Hardware and performance
We’re not going to talk about the keyboard or trackpad, they’re covered in depth here, so we’ll jump right to the main topic: hardware and performance.
This is the highest end configuration you can get on a Zenbook UX550 right now, with the Core i7-7700HQ processor, Nvidia GTX 1050 Ti graphics with 4 GB of GDDR5 memory, 16 GB of RAM and a 1 TB NVMe SSD.
The CPU, GPU and RAM are all soldered on the motherboard, so the only thing that’s upgradeable inside is the M.2 80 mm SSD, in case you decide to opt for a smaller one and replace it yourself. Asus puts fairly good options on their units though and the i7s usually come paired with large capacity SSDs, so there’s a fair chance you’ll have (or opt) to buy the configuration you want out of the box. I did notice a performance drop on the included SSD with larger files, but I can’t tell for sure why. Could be due to overheating though.
As far as performance goes, everything runs perfectly smooth with everyday use and multitasking, with no glitches and no performance losses, as shown in the pictures below.
Still, people are going to want to put that quad-core processor and especially the Nvidia graphics to good work, and here’s where things get a little shady. From the beginning you should know that our test unit came from Asus and it’s still not a final retail version, so you should take all our findings with a grain of salt. Knowing that though, I’m not surprised it performs the way it does.
There’s very little to complain about as long as the dGPU is not in use. The i7 CPU is not able to maintain the maximum quad-core Turbo frequency of 3.4 GHz in continuous 100% loads and it clocks down a little bit once it reaches high temperatures of above 92 Celsius. That happens quite fast, after a few seconds of running Cinebench.
A 100% CPU load can be realistic in certain applications, but the good news is the behavior can be improved with undervolting (and probably even more with repasting as well). This guide explains how to undervolt, it’s simple and safe (yet we can’t be hold liable for any of your actions, so make sure you understand what it is and what it implies). I was able to undervolt my sample to -110mV, as it got unstable and crashed at -120mV, and here’s how the Cinebench run looks in this case: the CPU runs a little cooler and maintains the 3.4 GHz Turbo Speed for the entirety of the first two runs, but at the third run the speeds still drop a little, yet not as aggressively as with the standard voltage. Details below.
As a result, multi-core CPU benchmarks improve after undervolting, but only in those tests that put a constant high stress on the CPU and normally push it to reach its thermal limitations. I’ve also added the i5-7300HQ in the table, just to show that the i7 offers a significant improvement in multi-core performance.
|CPU Benchmarks||i7-7700HQ Default||Undervolted -110 mV||i5-7300HQ on UX550VD|
|3DMark – FireStrike Physics||9232||9461||6665|
|Cinebench R15 CPU||686 cb||737 cb||510 cb|
|Geekbench 4.0 – Multi Core||13816||14063||11587|
|x264 HD Benchmark 4.0 – Pass 2||42.70 fps||42.89 fps||34.31 fps|
A longer list of benchmark results (of the default configuration) is available below:
- 3DMark 11: P8567 (Graphics – 8609, Physics – 8666);
- 3DMark 13: Sky Driver – 17471, Fire Strike – 5997, Time Spy – 2159;
- 3DMark 13 Graphics: Sky Driver – 21133, Fire Strike – 6773, Time Spy – 2008;
- PCMark 08: Home Conventional – 3466;
- PCMark 10: 4378;
- GeekBench 3 32-bit: Single-Core: 3866, Multi-core: 13953;
- GeekBench 4 64-bit: Single-Core: 4589, Multi-core: 13816;
- CineBench 11.5: OpenGL – fps, CPU 7.60 pts, CPU Single Core 1.84 pts;
- CineBench R15: OpenGL – fps, CPU 686 cb, CPU Single Core 162 cb;
- x264 HD Benchmark 4.0 32-bit: Pass 1 – 168.96 fps, Pass 2 – 42.70 fps.
All in all, despite its thinness and poor cooling design (that we’ll talk about in the next section), this laptop performs very well in CPU loads and should be a solid pick for programming, engineering and even graphics software, albeit in this latter case the GPU kicks in as well and here’s where thing go South.
As I mentioned in the beginning, the Zenbook UX550VE gets an Nvidia GTX 1050 Ti dGPU, but the thermal design doesn’t allow it to squeeze what the chip is actually capable of from it. Below I’ve added some GPU benchmarks, and I’ll also explain the findings afterwards.
|CPU Benchmarks||GTX 1050 Ti – UX550VE||GTX 1050 Ti – Average||GTX 1050 – UX550VD||GTX 1050 – Average|
|3DMark – FireStrike Graphics||6773||7806||5484||6022|
|3DMark – TimeSpy Graphics||2008||2330||1538||1583|
|3DMark 11 – Graphics||8609||9768||7451||7697|
What the numbers above tell us is that the GTX 1050 Ti on this Zenbook UX550VE ran at roughly 80-85% of its standard potential. For the sake of comparison, the GTX 1050 on the Zenbook UX550VD ran at 90-95% of the chip’s average.
The reason is pretty simple: the GPU cannot maintain its designed clock speeds due to reaching thermal limitations.
Of course, as far as the VE vs VD results go, the former clearly wins in benchmarks, but unfortunately these gains do not translate in real-life performance as well. Here’s what we got in a few different games on our sample:
|UX550VE – FHD High||UX550VE – FHD Ultra||UX550VD – FHD High||UX550VD – FHD Ultra|
|Bioshock Infinite||94 fps||60 fps||86 fps||56 fps|
|FarCry 4||52 fps||36 fps||48 fps||35 fps|
|Grid: Autosport||103 fps||60 fps||117 fps||62 fps|
|Shadow of Mordor||55 fps||44 fps||56 fps||43 fps|
|Tomb Raider||89 fps||47 fps||89 fps||49 fps|
|Total War – Atilla||25 fps||17 fps||–||–|
The GTX 1050 Ti is designed to run at 1493 MHz, with Turbo up to 1620 MHz, yet our sample only averaged about 1200-1250 MHz in games, with the latest drivers available as of Mid September 2017. By analyzing the HWInfo logs below you’ll notice that the GPU quickly jumps to 80 degrees Celsius in games and once that happens, the frequency starts dropping.
The following scenario better illustrates this: I ran the standard graphics Benchmark in Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor for 10 times in a row and it returned the following results: 61, 57, 51, 48, 45, 44 fps and finally stabilizes around 44 fps. In other words, the performance decreases as the GPU’s frequency drops. The same results can be reiterated in other benchmarks, so while initially the UX550VE might get you quite good fps results, 15 minutes later things change, and as a result the fps numbers included in the table above are recorded after at least 15 minutes of running each game and is an average of 5-10 runs of each test.
MUST READ: You should take these findings with a grain of salt, as our sample is not a retail version. Doug has a very similar configuration of a final unit and told me that it scores about 6600 points in 3DMark and the GPU speeds only drop to around 1400 MHz in demanding games. However, his is unit is tweaked with CLU on the CPU and IC Diamond on the GPU, which is pretty much a best case scenario you could get repasting the components on a normal unit. In fact, it’s actually more than you could get, as CLU-ing a CPU is not something the average user can do, so I’m inclined to consider the results we got on our sample closer to what you should expect from the final versions. Regardless, don’t jump to any conclusions yet and make sure to read other opinions and reviews of this laptop. There’s no in-depth review of the UX550VE that I can link to right now, but I’d reckon Doug will have his on Notebookcheck at some point, and I’d also keep an eye on Reddit and the forums over on Notebookreview.com .
BTW, I didn’t run any stress tests on this laptop. I really don’t see the point of those with real-life use and I’ll probably stop running them from now on, unless someone can explain why they matter and why I should keep doing them.
Noise and Heat
I’ve explained in the Zenbook UX550VD review why I think the cooling solution on this laptop is poorly designed, but I’m going to reiterate it here. In very few words, the intake and output grills are very limited and the internal design is weird, with two heatpipes that cover both the CPU and GPU, as well as two radiators/fans. However, only one of the heatpipes actually hooks to both radiators, while the other only hooks into one and I can’t understand why. Perhaps there’s a reason and I’m missing it?
In fact I actually find it mind bugling that Asus’s engineers weren’t able to design a better cooling for this laptop. The Dell XPS 15 has been around for nearly two years now and its heat-caused performance issues are well known and documented. Knowing that, many months later Asus actually decided to put a higher TDP graphics chip in a similarly thin chassis, but with a poorer heatpipe/radiator design and with pretty much no space for the air to get in and out. It sounds like a joke, but unfortunately it’s the harsh reality of this Zenbook UX550 line…
Even if the final retail versions end up peforming better than our test unit here, I still consider the cooling to be one of the laptop’s most important culprits.
Anyway, here’s what to expect in terms of temperatures from the i7 / GTX 1050 Ti model:
*Daily Use – 1080p Youtube clip in EDGE for 30 minutes
*Load – playing Far Cry 4 for 30 minutes
It runs a few degrees hotter under load than the i5 / GTX 1050 model.
The fans are active all the time, even when watching a movie or editing a document. They’re not loud though and you’ll probably not even hear them in a normal environment, as they’re barely audible in a quiet room. This time around I didn’t notice the same coil whining and electrical noise that I encountered on the UX550VD , but that’s no guarantee you won’t run into it on your unit. In fact, undervolting the CPU actually caused some very annoying and loud electrical noise in demanding loads, as a side effect.
Speaking of demanding loads, the fans get averagely loud with games, topping at about 45 dB at head-level (measured both with iPhone app and dB meter), which is not bad for this kind of hardware and construction. Doug says his unit runs quieter and this review also mentions lower noise levels of only 40 dB (for the UX550VD variant), so you’d better further look into this matter as again the final retail units might do a little different than my sample.
As far as the speakers, connectivity and webcam go, you can read all about them in the UX550VD article.
Before we wrap this up I’ll also mention a few words about battery life on this higher-tier configuration. The laptop gets a fairly hefty 73 Wh battery and with the screen set at about 120 nits (40% brightness), here’s what you should expect:
- 12.2 W (~6 h of use) – text editing in Google Drive, Balanced Mode, screen at 40%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 8.9 W (~8 h of use) – 1080p fullscreen video on Youtube in Internet Explorer, Balanced Mode, screen at 40%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 7.2 W (~10 h of use) – 1080p fullscreen .mkv video in the Movie app, Balanced Mode, screen at40%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 8.4 W (~8 h 30 min of use) – 4K fullscreen .mkv video in the Movie app, Balanced Mode, screen at 40%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 15.2 W (~4 h 45 min of use) – browsing in Edge, Balanced Mode, screen at 40%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 54 W (~1 h 20 min of use) – gaming on battery, High Performance Mode, screen at 40%, Wi-Fi ON.
The results are fairly similar to those of the i5 / GXT 1050 configuration, but browsing takes a slightly higher toll on the Core i7 CPU and of course gaming is more demanding too, given the higher TDP hardware.
The UX500VE comes with a fairly chunky and heavy 120 Wh power brick, that weighs .54 kg with the included cables (European version). The charger is able to quickly charge 60% of the battery in 50 minutes, and as a result a full charge takes about 1 h and 45 minutes.
Price and availability
The Zenbook UX550VE is still not widely available as of Mid September 2017, but should be from early October.
Around $1700 will get you in the US a configuration that comes very close to the one we tested here, with a Core i7-7700HQ processor, Nvidia GTX 1050 Ti graphics, 16 GB of RAM, a 512 GB NVMe SSD and the FHD IPS touchscreen. The same configuration, but with the matte screen, sells for around 1800 EUR in Europe.
Follow this link for updated configurations and prices at the time you’re reading the article.
I talked about the Dell XPS 15 9560 and the Lenovo Yoga 720 15-inch as the two main alternatives for the Zenbook UX550VD in here, but let’s have another go.
If you’re living in the US, $1700 will get you the Dell XPS 15 with the i7 CPU, 16 GB of RAM, 512 GB SSD and a FHD matte screen. It’s better built than the Zenbook, gets a brighter IPS panel and a larger 97 Wh battery, but on the other hand Dell only offers it with GTX 1050 graphics, and it’s not like you’re going to get flawless performance from it either, at least not without some tweaks that are explained in here or in here. The Zenbook has the interesting color schemes on its side, the Thunderbolt 4x connectivity and the speakers, and I’d expect it will also drop in price by the end of the year and sell for at least $100 less than a similarly specked XPS. The Zenbook is also already significantly cheaper than the XPS outside the US.
The main selling point remains the GTX 1050 Ti chip inside, but we’ll have to wait and see exactly how those final retail versions perform. Our sample didn’t do well, and although I expect final models to perform somewhat better, I’m pretty sure they won’t match the performance of a full-size 1050 Ti laptop with a proper cooling implementation. I’d blame that on physics, but the truth is I mostly blame it on the engineers who designed the cooling for the UX550 series.
As far as the Yoga 720 goes, it’s an option if you want the convertible form-factor and don’t care much about the graphics performance, as it’s only bundled with a GTX 1050 with 2 GB of memory. It’s $200 cheaper than the Zenbook UX550VE and the Dell XPS 15 though, with a configuration similar to the ones mentioned above selling for around $1500 at this point.
All in all this article this article might sound a little too harsh, and that’s because I was actually hoping Asus would make a product that could outmatch the XPS 15 across the board if they took such a long time to finally update the Zenbook Pro line. That’s not the case though, the Zenbook UX550 has its fair share of culprits and its fair share of merely average traits, but it can still be a solid pick in its niche IF the final retail versions do better in games.
That’s why I’d say potential buyers should ask what do they want from the laptop? If it’s not primarily gaming and if the XPS 15 is not a lot more expensive in your region, go for the XPS, it’s a nicer and better balanced product with fewer flaws. If it’s still not primarily gaming, but the XPS 15 sells for a lot more where you live (pretty much everywhere except the US), then go for the Zenbook, but preferably for an i7 + GTX 1050 configuration if available, that way you’re not going to pay extra for something that you won’t use. If it’s gaming though, then the Zenbook could be for you, as the only 15-inch premium thin-and-light with a 1050 Ti inside, but you’ll have to accept its performance limitations. In fact, if you truly are into gaming, I’d advise you to consider sacrificing a bit on size, construction and weight and go with something like the Gigabyte Aero 15 or some of the other thin and lights with GTX 1060 graphics inside.
Anyway, that’s how we’ll wrap this review of the Asus Zenbook UX550VE up, but the comments section is open for your feedback, opinions and questions, and we’re around to help out if we can.