Ultrabooks are sleek and snappy, but graphics performances are not exactly their strong point. However, if you were looking for a 13 inch ultrabook with dedicated graphics in the last years, Asus got you cover, with devices like the Zenbook UX32VD back in 2012, the
Zenbook UX302LG in 2013 or the more recently launched, but scarcely available Zenbook UX32LN. Their latest addition to this series is called the Asus Zenbook UX303LN and it’s going to be the most powerful 13 inch Zenbook for 2014 and early 2015. It pretty much builds on the same recipe as its predecessors: a slim and light metallic body, top features, fast hardware and more powerful graphics than were ever before squeezed on an ultrabook in this class. But is the end product any good? Well, spoiler alert… it definitely is, and you’ll find out what too expect from this Zenbook UX303 from this thorough review.
As a heads-up, you should know that I am reviewing an pre-production unit offered by Asus and I’ve used it as my main driver for the last 10 days. This model is nearly identical to the retail versions you will find in stores, but it has a few issues which hopefully will get fixed by the time you’ll be able to buy your own units. I’ll tell you more about those in the rows below.
Update: There are newer versions of this laptop available in stores, the Zenbook UX303LB (with Broadwell hardware and Nvidia 940M graphics) and the Zenbook UX303UB (with Skylake hardware and Nvidia 940M graphics). Asus Zenbook UX303LN video review The specs sheet for the Asus Zenbook UX303LN
Asus Zenbook UX 303 LN Screen 13.3 inch, 3200 x 1800 px resolution, IPS, touchscreen Processor Intel Haswell Core i7-4510U CPU Chipset Intel HM87 Video integrated Intel 4400 HD + Nvidia GeForce GT 840M 2GB Memory 12 GB DDR3 Storage 256 GB SSD Connectivity Wireless AC, Bluetooth, Lan (with adapter) Ports 3xUSB, SD card reader, HDMI, mini-DisplayPort, VGA and RJ45 (with adapters) Battery 50 Wh Operating system Windows 8.1 Size 21 mm think, including the feet (18 mm without) Weight about 1.5 kg (3.3 pounds) Extras backlit keyboard, Bang and Olufsen Speakers
A UX303LA version of this laptop, without the dedicated graphics but mostly identical otherwise, is also available, with price starting at around $700.
See this post that compares the UX303LA with the UX303LN for more details. Update: As of early 2015, there’s also a Broadwell version of the UX303LN which bundles the Core i7-5500U processor. However, given how the i7-5500U is not a lot faster than the i7-4510U CPU, as you can see from here, the two will be pretty much on par in most chores. Update2: As of late-2015 however Asus launched the Zenbook UX303UB, with the Core i7-6500U processor and Nvidia 940M graphics chip. You can read all about it in this post. It still retails for around $1300, but a 512 GB SSD is included for that kind of money, at least in the US. Follow this link for the latest configurations and potential deals. Design and exterior
Let’s take a step back and have a proper look at this Zenbook. The UX303LN is truly beautiful. The moment I got it out of the box I was like: Hmmm, this feels different. And it does, although it might not seem so from these pictures.
Asus Zenbook UX 303 LN – the same and yet more refined
Design wise, the Zenbook UX303 LN borrows most of its lines from the 2012 Asus lines and not from the redesigned 2013 models, with their new screen hinge and glass covered cases. And that’s a decision I salute, firstly, because I was never a fan of the fingerprint magnet Gorilla Glass coating, and second, because the cooling implementation is actually better on this approach, as you’ll find out a bit later.
The entire laptop is made out of aluminum, feels solid and somehow more carefully put together than before. There are no miss-aligned elements and there’s an attention to details you would actually expect from a premium device. The lid and the interior&sides are each carved from block of aluminum, while a sheet of metal covers the belly, which is now thicker and more rigid than on the older Zenbooks, so the laptop won’t squeak anymore when grabbed.
Keep in mind that this laptop will be available in what Asus calls “Smoky Brown”. That’s some sort of mix between Light Brown and Silver, but in my pictures the laptop might look a bit more grayish than it is in real-life. Update:
Aesthetically, the UX303LN looks pretty much like we’d expect from a Zenbook. The concentric circles pattern on the lid cover is still present on this one, but is more subtle, somewhat toned down (and easier to wipe clean of smudges), while the brushed aluminum that used to cover the palm-rest on the older Zenbooks was ditched for a smoother, softer finishing, with a barely visible and almost indistinguishable texture. All these tiny changes might not mean much on a first look, but imh just give this new Zenbook a more refined aspect.
There are still some design decisions that I don’t agree with, like the cooling grid hidden behind the screen’s hinge, which pushes hot air towards the display, and indirectly towards the user, the Power button integrated within the keyboard, as the top-right button, or the tall and sharp front-lip which aggressively cuts into my wrist when using the trackpad or the arrow keys. But I can learn to live with these.
On a more practical aspect, I do like the solid selection of ports on the UX303LN sides, with 3 USB 3.0 slots, full size HDMI, mini-DisplayPort, a card-reader (which still can’t entirely fit an SD card) and some adapters in the pack (USB to LAN and mini-DP to VGA). I also appreciate this laptop’s balance, as the screen can be easily lift up with a single hand, while the body will remain flat on the desk.
And I do like the sturdy hinge which keeps the screen in place exactly how you put it, even when pocking and touching it (and you will, since it is a touchscreen after all). If only it would allow the display to lean flat on the back…
Update: Many buyers report that the hinge is not reliable and it will break in about 6 months of use and when that’s going to happen, you won’t be able to open or close the lid anymore. This is covered by warranty, but it’s an annoying hassle you need to be aware of. See these user reviews here for more details. Keyboard and trackpad
Anyway, while the UX303LN has denounced the design lines of its predecessor, the UX302LG, it inherits its keyboard and touchpad. A fairly good keyboard I should say, with some flex in the middle, but nice feeling and proper sized square keys. They don’t offer a lot of travel, so you’ll need some time to get used to this keyboard, but are stiff enough to register commands even when pressed on the sides.
On top of that, I do like the classic layout, with the exception of the Power Button placed in the top-right corner, which you will end up hitting a lot when looking for Delete. And while it is stiffer than the other keys, thus harder to activate, it still turns OFF the laptop, no question asked, when pressed by mistake.
A fairly good keyboard
The keyboard is of course backlit, and you can manually adjust the brightness (3 different levels, plus OFF) by hitting the FN + F3/F4 keys.
The TouchPad is large and nicely separated from the palm-rest by its beveled edges. Its glass surface doesn’t offer a lot of friction, but it is precise and responsive, both when performing casual taps or gestures. The entire pad is clickable, but clicks are a bit stiff and noisy, so you’ll probably end up taping it more often than actually performing physical clicks.
As a side not, the older Zenbooks were crippled by some jumpy and erratic touchpads, but this one of the UX303LN is nothing of that sort. In fact, i’d call it docile and accurate.
All in all, there’s not a lot to complaint about the keyboard and touchpad. You’ll find better on some devices, but these are definitely not bad either.
The new Zenbook sports the same 13.3 inch 3200 x 1800 px IPS touchscreen we’ve seen on the
Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro (hardware ID SDC424A), a controversial panel. It’s sharp and given Windows 8.1’s scaling improvements, most elements are going to look great on it, but you’ll still encounter a fair share of rogue third party software that will display tiny fonts and buttons. I’ve been keeping this at native resolution with fonts scaled to 200%, so in other words, as a glorified 1600 x 900 px screen, which is actually a pleasure to use, as long as the software keeps up to pace. setting it up to any lower resolution will result in fuzzy and unusable fonts though.
a 13 inch High resolution screen, with plenty of positives, and one big, hopefully fixable, flaw: the colors
The panel is also fairly bright, has wide viewing angles and very little light bleeding around the edges, even on dark backgrounds.
But the colors are way OFF, especially yellows (but not just), which have a Mustard like-tint. You can see the picture below for more details, where I had this laptop side by side with the iPad Air. Blue is the only fairly accurate color, and as a result, everything looks highly over-saturated. However, there’s clearly a calibration problem on this particular unit, one that Asus will hopefully fix on the final retail units. Lenovo and Samsung had similar issues with their Yoga 2 Pro and
ATIV Book 9 Plus ultrabooks and managed to partially address them with BIOS updates, so hopefully Asus will do the same.
CMYK and RGB colors – iPad Air (left) vs Zenbook UX 303LN (right)
As a side note though, I simply cannot understand the logic behind this high resolution panel on a gaming laptop. Scaling issues alone, this is clearly an overkill. It’s not like the hardware allows you to run games at 1800p anyway. On top of that, some games offer pixel per pixel mapping, which means that they’ll run in small windows in the middle of the screen if you lower the resolution in-game only, and not in Windows. That’s annoying.
Long story short, I do hope Asus will offer the UX303LN with a standard Full HD IPS panel as well. That should solve the scaling and colors issues, with potential positive effects on both the battery life and the final retail price. On top of that, they really have to fix the calibration issues of the QWHD panel, which will be for sure part of the top configurations.
Hardware, performances and upgrade options
Hardware wise, I do have probably the beefiest configuration that’s going to be available for the Zenbook UX303LN here, with the updated Intel Haswell Core i7-4510U processor, 12 GB of RAM and a 256 GB SSD, plus the dedicated Nvidia 840M graphics. So no wonder the UX303LN flies in anything you might throw at it, from basic tasks to games and multimedia content.
A beefy configuration
This laptop is partially upgradeable as well. The back plate is hold in place by a handful of Torx screws (T5) and with the right tools, is fairly easy to take apart. There are two P20 screws behind the rear rubber feet and you’ll need to peel those OFF to get to them. A flat screwdriver will come in handy, just be careful not to scratch the metal.
Underneath, there are 4 GB of RAM soldered on the motherboard, plus a free memory slot that can take an up to 8 GB module, for a total of 12 (like we have on this unit).
There’s also a 2.5 inch 7 mm storage drive, but in this case, it is occupied by a SanDisk SD6SP1M-256G-1102 SSD in a special adapter, which is actually an NGFF M.2 pen-drive, identical to those used
on the Zenbook UX301LA. Asus probably went with this approach to save costs, but I believe the UX303LN will also be available with HDD’s that you could then replace with your own 2.5″ 7mm SSDs. To back up this theory, we have an mSATA connector in the right side of the laptop (not an M.2 connector, an mSATA one, from the looks of the pins – Thanks Yep for pointing this out in the comments), which is unoccupied on this particular unit and should take the caching SSD for HDD equipped versions. You should also be able to connect a half-size mSATA SSD on this free slot and use it as a boot drive, if you want to. Update: Be advised, if you’re buying this in the US and Canada, replacing the main storage solution yourself will void warranty, according to this tweet from Asus North America. That’s…. unfortunate, to put it mildly. They probably put a sticker on one of the screws to prevent you from accessing the drive, which shouldn’t be that easy to peel of careful and then reapply, but DO IT ON YOUR OWN RISK!
The rest of the pics show you the internals in all their glory, with the heat-pipes, the cooling fans, the speakers, the Wi-Fi Module and the battery, which is hold in place by a couple of screws and should be fairly easily serviced, if needed.
Internals – plenty of room for upgrades
Anyway, I ran a couple of games on this laptop and you can find the results below. As a side note, all those numbers are recorded with FRAPS, so without running this piece of software, you should expect 1-3 fps extra in each case.
13 x 7 low details 13 x 7 high details 19 x 10 low details Dirt 3 97 fps 77 60 fps Grid 2 96 fps 56 67 fps Skyrim 60 fps 41 42 fps NFS Most Wanted 48 fps 30 30 fps Bioshock Infinite 57 fps 37 35 fps Metro Last Light 35 fps 25 22 fps
Judge the results by yourself and let me know what you think in the comments section at the end of the post.
I also ran a couple of synthetic benchmarks, and you can find the numbers below. If you want to see how these stack against last year’s Zenbook UX302LG, compare them to the
numbers in here. 3DMark 11: P2409, X718; 3DMark 13: Cloud Gate – 5443, Fire Strike – 1287, Fire Strike Extreme – 644 ; PCMark 07: 5158; PCMark 08: Home Conventional – 2174, Home Accelerated – , Creative Conventional – 2589, Work Conventional – 2499; CineBench 11.5: OpenGL 43.04 fps, CPU 2.82 pts; CineBench R15: OpenGL 56.58 fps, CPU 256 cb.
Keep in mind that all these numbers were recorded with the Nvidia 332.50 drivers, as these were the only one I was able to install on the tested unit. More recent drivers that should, in theory, support the Nvidia 840M chip, failed to install on this Zenbook. So in time, with better performing drivers, those numbers should actually get better.
All in all, the UX303LN is fast. The Core i7-4510U is just a higher clocked version of the Core i7-4500U, so you’ll hardly feel the bump in everyday use or in benchmarks. But the Nvidia 840M graphics chip is clearly faster than the Nvidia 730M found on last year’s UX302, while it requires pretty much the same amount of power.
The entire laptop does seem to run somewhat hotter under load though. In fact, when running games, the CPU gets close and even passes past 90 Centigrades, which is quite high. There’s no throttling, and that’s the good news, but the high temperatures might have unpleasant long-term effects on the silicone. So if you do decide to buy this laptop,
make sure you get extended warranty for it. Better safe than sorry.
Some of you suggested trying to overclock the 840M chip, but given how this laptop already runs very hot under load, I’m not going to do it on a pre-release unit. And if you do overclock your unit, make sure you know what you’re doing and keep a close eye on those temperatures.
Noise, Heat, Connectivity and others
The UX303LN runs cool and quiet in daily use. In fact, you’ll hardly hear the fans in this case, although there is an annoying high-pitch metallic buzz coming from one of the fans that I found distracting. Hopefully final retail units won’t have this issue.
Under load, the fans are still fairly quiet. I’ve measured a 40 db noise level at 50 cm in front of the laptop (where a user would normally seat) while running games, which is quite low. The laptop’s body tends to get warm overall, as heat easily dissipates through aluminum, but the palm rest or the keyboard never get more then merely warm. The area on top of the keyboard, around the cooling grill, and of course the rear part of the underbelly, do get hot however.
Speaking of the cooling solution, this laptop blows hot air from behind the screen’s hinge, towards the screen and indirectly towards the user. That can be unpleasant and also causes the screen to heat up, which might have a negative impact on the panel. However, on this implementation, the hinge actually sits between the cooling grills and the display, so the panel doesn’t get that hot and shouldn’t suffer any long-term side effects. The implementation Asus used for the UX302 was actually more problematic, as the cooling mesh and the screen where a lot closer. So while this approach is still not perfect, it’s better than last year’s.
Hot air is pushed towards the screen and the user from the grills behind the hinge
That aside, this Zenbook houses some powerful speakers, mounted on the sides, facing down, like on all the other Zenbooks before. They are loud. In fact, and this might sound weird, they are too loud. Not on high volume, but actually at the lowest volume. I’ve found myself having to adjust in-game sound in some situations or the sound in the Youtube player, as actually tuning down the volume in Windows to only 2% was still too loud.
On top of this, the audio quality is not impressive (although definitely not bad either, for an ultrabook), despite that Bang&Olufsen Technology logo on the case. The sound coming out of these speakers is rather metallic and tiny and if you’ll pump up the volume, you’ll hear the distortions and feel the vibrations ramping through the laptop’s body.
Very loud speakers, but rather tiny
There’s not a lot to say about the webcam at the top of the screen, other that it does its job. However, Asus moved the microphones. They are no longer on the bezel, flanking the camera, but beneath the laptop, towards the front, which is a bit of an odd placement, if you ask me.
The microphones have been repositioned on the bottom of the laptop
Connectivity wise, this unit comes with Wi-Fi AC, Bluetooth and Gigabit Ethernet via the included adapter, and the Intel Wi-Fi module (Intel Dual Band AC 7260) proved to be reliable and consistent. Getting a bit further away from the router will lead to poorer signal strength then on my ThinkPad X220, but that’s a given with metal laptops and it’s not something you should be greatly concerned about. Besides that, I have nothing to complain here.
The Zenbook UX303LN packs a 50 Wh battery and for me, that translates in roughly about 5 hours of daily use. However, this is highly subjective and will greatly vary from user to user, based on how and what you’ll do on your machine.
My usage scenario keeps the laptop on Balanced mode, with Wi-Fi ON, screen at 50% (I turn OFF the auto-brightness adjustment in Windows 8.1) and the keyboard’s brightness at level 1, while performing various daily tasks: browsing, chatting, watching movies on Youtube, some light photo editing in Photoshop, listening to some music. You can squeeze more than 6 hours if you’ll use the laptop lightly and dim the screen more, and at the same time, you’ll get under 2 hours when running games or other heavy tasks.
If we’re to look at Battery Bar readings, the laptop discharges with about 6 mW per hour when idle (with the above mentioned settings) and about 10-11 while running a Full HD video on Youtube. That translates to up to 8 hours of idle runtime and under 5 for watching Youtube clips.
You should expect around 5-6 hours of daily use battery life from the Zenbook UX303LN
PCMark 8 bechmark
I also ran the PC Mark 08 Home Conventional Battery Test, which resulted in a score of 1942 points and the battery depleting from 100% to 20% in a little under 2 hours and 30 minutes. The test simulates “common home computing tests”, but in my real-life scenario, this Zenbook actually lasted a lot more.
Long story short, the tested Zenbook UX303LN does not offer impressive runtimes. But given the specs, I’d say it’s not that bad either. And the immature drivers might actually have a negative effect as well, which means that final retail units could last longer. But I wouldn’t hold my breath for it.
The UX303LN does come with a Macbook-like charger, with the power plug integrated withing the brick and a long cable. The charging tip is a bit loose though and there’s a light charging buzz that you will feel when keeping your hands on the palm-rest while the laptop charges. It’s a bit annoying at start, but I got used to it in the end.
Price and availability
I do know that this laptop should be available in stores here in Europe at the
beginning of July, hopefully sooner. The initial dates I was given proved wrong and this laptop has been delayed. As of Mid-August, a few configurations are available for pre-order in some countries, scheduled to ship at the beginning of September. : Update You can check out the latest prices and potential discounts . via this link
There are a couple of different configurations available for this unit. Below you’ll find the ones available in Europe, they might somewhat differ in the US and other regions.
Intel Core i5-4210U, Nvidia 840M, 1TB 2.5 5400R SATA+16G MSSD, 6 GB RAM, 1920 x 1080 px IPS Anti-glare non-touch display, Windows 8.1 – roughly 800 euro (should translate in $800-$900 in the US); Intel Core i7-4510U, Nvidia 840M, 256 GB SSD, 8 GB RAM, 1920 x 1080 px IPS Anti-glare non-touch display, Windows 8.1 – roughly 1100 euros (should translate in $1100 – $1200 in the US); Intel Core i7-4510U, Nvidia 840M, 256 GB SSD, 12 GB RAM, 3200 x 1800 px IPS glare touchscreen, Windows 8.1 Pro – roughly 1250 euros (should translate in $1300-$1400 in the US).
Too bad there’s no i7 + HDD + FHD IPS panel combo, that would have been a great buy with room for potential upgrades. Even so, these prices are really solid. That mid configuration certainly offers a lot for the money and packs a non-glare non-touch screen, which I find well suited for a potential gaming laptop like this one. The top configuration does not sound that appealing to me, but if you do want a touchscreen, more RAM out of the box and a high-resolution panel, it might be worth those extra 150 euros for some of you.
Configurations available in North America right now: UX303LN-DB71T – starts at $1269 (preorder, scheduled to ship on September 3rd) – quad-HD touchscreen, Intel Core i7-4510U CPU, 12 GB of RAM, 256 GB SSD, Nvidia 840M graphics, Wi-Fi AC, Windows 8.1; UX303LA-DB71T – starts at $899 (shipping) – FHD touchscreen, Intel Core i5-4210U CPU, 8 GB of RAM, 128 GB SSD, NO dedicated graphics, Wi-Fi AC, Windows 8.1. Update: As of early 2015, there’s also a Broadwell version of the UX303LN which bundles the Core i7-5500U processor. However, given how the i7-5500U is not a lot faster than the i7-4510U CPU, as you can see from here, the two will be pretty much on par in most chores. Update2: As of late-2015 however Asus launched the Zenbook UX303UB, with the Core i7-6500U processor and Nvidia 940M graphics chip. You can read all about it in this post. It still retails for around $1300, but a 512 GB SSD is included for that kind of money, at least in the US. Follow this link for the latest configurations and potential deals. Wrap-up
If you’re in the market for a 13 inch ultrabook that
weighs around 3 pounds and can actually cope well with most modern games, you won’t find anything better than this Asus Zenbook UX303LN right now.
Asus squeezed powerful hardware in its sleek aluminum body, and that allows it to fly in most activities. But at the same time, the laptop tends to get hot under load and pales in comparison to
other Haswell ultrabooks when it comes to battery life. So you loose some on these fronts, in order to get the graphics performance. If you don’t need those though, you can check out the Zenbook UX303LA, mostly identical to the LN version, but without the dedicated graphics chip.
However, if you want a truly powerful gaming ultraportable, this Zenbook UX303LN might not suffice, as there are still plenty of titles that can put it to its knees on 19 x 10 resolutions with High+ details. In this case, you might want to look at some of the
beefier gaming ultrabooks listed in this article, which are somewhat larger and heavier, but also faster.
Asus Zenbook UX303LN – the best 13 inch gaming ultrabook of the moment
At the end of the day, the Asus Zenbook UX303LN is not for everyone. But if you want a light and compact ultrabook that can handle more than occasional gaming, this should definitely be on your list.
The price and the availability will however make it or break it. Hopefully Asus will manage to have it shipped worldwide, unlike what happened with their previous Zenbook UX302LG, and for a correct price. If this happens, I’m confident the UX303LN will become more popular than its grandfather was, the Zenbook UX32VD, back in 2012. We’ll see.
With prices ranging between roughly $800 and $1300 , the UX303LN sure offers a lot for the money. Hopefully Asus will have it available worldwide and in great numbers, as I’m pretty sure quite a lot of you will want to grab their hands on one of these.
That pretty much wraps up this review. Thanks for sticking by and if you have any questions or things do add about the Asus Zenbook UX303 LN, leave them below in the comments sections, I’ll be around to reply.
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