The Asus Zenbook UX303LN was one of the the few 13-inch ultraportables that could handle games well in the last year and while Asus has updated the series to Broadwell hardware, they also quietly launched a new model earlier in 2015: the Zenbook UX303LB, with Broadwell processors and newer Nvidia 940M graphics.
This series has been available in stores for a few weeks here in Europe and should make it to the US as well by the end of June, based on the scarce info available right now. This post gathers my overall impressions on the product and how I feel it compares to the UX303LN series.
There is one thing you should know from the beginning, the Zenbook UX303LB is only a minor update of the UX303LN. Thus if you have the previous model with the 4th gen Core i7 processor and Nvidia 840M graphics, there’s no point to upgrade, as neither the Broadwell processor nor the 900 series Nvidia chip offer any significant performance upgrades over their predecessors, while all the other aspects of the two machines are identical.
Update: There’s an updated version of the UX303LB, called the Zenbook UX303UB, which is pretty much the same device, but with Skylake hardware inside. Follow this link for more details.
The only changes hide inside
Let’s take a closer look at the CPUs. The UX303LN was powered by an Intel Core i7-4510U processor and later received an upgrade to the Intel Core i7-5500U Broadwell CPU, which is available on the UX303LB model as well. Both models were also sold with Core i5 CPUs in certain regions, but since most countries only got the i7 configurations, we’ll focus our analysis on these two.
|Asus Zenbook UX303LB|
|Screen||13.3 inch, FHD or QHD+ resolution, IPS, non-touch|
|Processor||Intel Haswell Core i5-5200U or Core i7-5500U CPU|
|Video||Integrated Intel 5500 HD + Nvidia GeForce GT 940M 2GB|
|Memory||Up to 12 GB DDR3|
|Storage||128-256 GB SSD (2.5″ inch bay)|
|Connectivity||Wireless AC, Bluetooth, Lan (with adapter)|
|Ports||3xUSB, SD card reader, HDMI, mini-DisplayPort, VGA and RJ45 (with adapters)|
|Operating system||Windows 8.1|
|Size||21 mm thin, including the feet (18 mm without)|
|Weight||~1.5 kg (3.3 pounds)|
|Extras||Backlit keyboard, Bang and Olufsen Speakers|
To put this short, the Core i7-5500U processor is about 5 to 10% faster than the Core i7-4500U/4510U CPUs in multi-threaded benchmarks. In practice though, the difference is going to be marginal and difficult to actually spot.
The Broadwell CPU is somewhat more efficient than the Haswell models under similar loads and does pack more competent integrated graphics, which means the Nvidia chip on the UX303LB will have to kick in less often in daily use. This increased efficiency will translate into superior battery life. While I haven’t personally reviewed the UX303LB, initial user reports claim between 30-60 minutes more run-time. Not a major improvement on the 5-hour battery life of its predecessor, but an improvement nonetheless.
The dedicated graphics are one of the main reasons people would buy these Zenbooks over other Ultrabooks in the first place, and here’s where the UX303LB might appear to have an advantage, as it bundles an Nvidia GT 940M chip instead of the Nvidia GT 840M in the UX303LN. In practice though, the 940M is only a slightly higher-clocked version of the 840M solution. Both are built on the GM108 Maxwell architecture with the same number of pipelines (384) and same vRAM (2GB DDR3 64-bit). The only difference is the clock speed, which is 1029 MHz for the 840M and 1072 MHz (with a boost to 1176 MHz) for the 940M chip, and that’s not going to make a big difference in practice.
However, from the few details we know so far from those who already bought the UX303LB in Germany, it runs cooler than the UX303LN models and that means the hardware can be overclocked.
This particular user on the forums pushed the Core Speed 135 MHz and the Memory Speed 200 MHz over default and ended up with a 3DMark 11 score of around P2867 points, with the CPUs running at 79 degrees and the GPU at 72. In comparison, the Nvidia GT840M bundled UX303LN only got a 3DMark 11 score of around P2400 points, while running at higher temperatures (nearly 90 Degrees on the CPU cores) in my tests.
Now, I am comparing results from two different sources here, so do take them with a grain of salt. But if these numbers are correct, the Zenbook UX303LB has the potential to be a faster and more efficient performer than the UX303LN. Out of the box the two are indeed really close, but since the newer model will run cooler, you could overclock it to boost performance and even play games like GTA V or Witcher 3 on this thing, as shown in the following clips.
Everything else is the same
CPU and GPU aside, the UX303LN and the LB models are identical. Same design, same ports, same keyboard and trackpad, same batteries and same screens, as you can see from the quick unboxing below.
But there are two aspects I want to mention here: the displays and the hinge mechanisms.
Just like the UX303LN before, the UX303LB will be offered with either a 1920 x 1080 px or a 3200 x 1800 px IPS panel, both matte and without touch. The latter is a Pentile Samsung panel though and has serious problems with color accuracy, especially with yellows, which it paints in a mustardy, greenish tint. This is a well documented problem on the UX303LN and other devices with similar screens (like the Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro or the Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus), but Asus never released any BIOS update that could at least improve the issue, unlike Lenovo or Samsung. Things might have changed here, but I wouldn’t take the chance in assuming that they did, so beware.
You’ll say that means you should pick the models with a 1080p display, after all, the 1920 x 1080 px resolution is far better suited for gaming on such a hardware configuration‒ and you’d be entirely correct. But there’s a catch: the 1080p models won’t be available worldwide. Right now, the models sold in Germany and other European countries do ship with this particular display, but the models that will be available in the US and Canada for instance will only be paired with the 3200 x 1800 px screen, just like the UX303LN series. That means you won’t be able to get the 1080p display in the US. You could import a model from Europe, but you’ll be stuck with a different keyboard layout (QWERTZ for Germany, for instance) and a different wall-adapter.
That out of the way, there’s also the hinge to mention, as a fair amount of UX303LN buyers complained about it breaking easily for no apparent reason. It just shatters in time. Asus will fix it under warranty, but if you plan to keep this for a few years (and I reckon you do, since you’ll pay a hefty amount for it), once it runs out of warranty you’ll have to pay for the replacement. There’s no way to tell for sure if this particular issue has been addressed or not on the UX303LB, but since the two laptops are built on the exact same chassis, I’m inclined to think it was not.
Wrapping up this quick post up, we can conclude the Asus Zenbook UX303LB is just a hardware update of last year’s popular model, the UX303LN. That means that all the aspects discussed in my detailed review of the UX303LN and the comparison with the UX303LA still stand and are worth a read.
Even so, if the UX303LB is available in your country and you’re happy with the existing configurations, it is the option I’d recommend over the two. The performance gain is minimal indeed, but the newer version is more efficient and will run cooler, which makes it either an overall more pleasant machine to use, as well as opens up the option of overclocking the hardware and gain a smoother gaming performance.
Yet, the decision between the two isn’t simple. Think of it like this. The UX303LB sells for around $1300 in the US (1300 EUR in Europe), with the Core i7-5500U processor, 12 GB of RAM, 256 or 512 GB SSD and the Nvidia 940M graphics. Follow this link for more details and potential discounts.
The older Zenbook UX303LN (with the Core i7-4510U CPU and Nvidia 840M) already sells for around $1200 at the moment (more details via this link), and I expect the price gap between the two models to widen in the next months, if you will still find it in stock anywhere.
You’ll have to ask yourself whether it’s worth paying premium for the UX303LB and gain little, or rather pay less for the UX303LN versions. If you’ll go the overclocking route, the UX303LB will still be worth your money. Otherwise though, not so much.
Something else to keep in mind is that if you don’t plan to buy such a computer in the Q2 or Q3 of 2015, you should just wait for the Skylake release (that’s the Zenbook UX303UB and you can find more about it from this post, or scan for potential deals by following this one).
Anyway, we’ll wrap this up here. Let me know what you think about the Asus Zenbook UX303LB in the comments section below and feel free to get in touch if you have any questions or anything to add to this post.
Douglas Black contributed to this report.