Asus ZenBook Prime UX31A

The ZenBook Prime UX31A is everything the ZenBook UX31E should have been, and more. We have no hesitation in recommending this laptop if you truly want no-compromise performance in an ultrabook.


9.0
CNET Rating
6.0
User Rating

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CNET Editor

Craig was sucked into the endless vortex of tech at an early age, only to be spat back out babbling things like "phase-locked-loop crystal oscillators!". Mostly this receives a pat on the head from the listener, followed closely by a question about what laptop they should buy.


The ZenBook Prime is exactly what the first generation of ZenBooks should have been.

While it still inhabits a head turning, champagne coloured aluminium chassis, it's more than just an Ivy Bridge update. Asus' latest puts in a vastly improved, backlit keyboard and swaps out the Sentelic pad for an Elan, something that was done midway through production of the original ZenBook. The Elan experience is worlds better in tracking and reliability, and also enables the simultaneous-double-tap gesture, which is interpreted as a right click. The only issue we've found with the Elan pad so far is to do with old Windows help files (of .CHM format), where double finger scrolling for some reason also magnifies the page uncontrollably. It's an vanishingly niche problem, but nonetheless exists.

Other changes to the ZenBook include two USB 3.0 ports instead of one; and most importantly, an IPS 1920x1080 screen.

Connectivity

  • USB 3.0: 2
  • Optical: None
  • Video: Micro VGA (adapter included), micro HDMI
  • Ethernet: None
  • Wireless: Dual channel 802.11n, Bluetooth 4.0

It's about time that screens got decent, too. The superior viewing angles are immediately apparent, the gradation between colours significantly better. It identifies itself as being manufactured by CMN, which we can only assume is Chimei.

It has an obvious brown colour cast by default — white is definitely not white, grey is definitely not grey. Asus' Splendid tool comes in handy here; setting the screen to "My Profile" and the temperature to 6500K fixes the issue.

One thing that can't be fixed is the distinct points of light bleed along the bottom, very obvious when a dark screen is shown. While a certain amount of bleed from the bottom is common for laptops, it's disappointing from an IPS screen, considering it's meant to be premium.

By default, the screen is set at 125 per cent DPI, and it's likely most will want to keep it there, as text can seem a little tiny at 100 per cent. We can only imagine how squished the 11.6-inch version of the Prime will be, which also offers a Full HD screen. Just be aware that a huge amount of Windows apps don't properly scale with DPI settings, and so at 125 per cent, you may see some situations where text is overly huge and runs outside of element borders.

Inside is Intel's Core i7 3517U at 1.9GHz (which will turbo up to 2.4GHz), with 4GB RAM and a 256GB SanDisk U100 SSD. Despite all this, the cost is reasonable — AU$1799. Knock that down to a Core i5 3317U at 1.7GHz with a 128GB SSD, and suddenly you're at an even more affordable AU$1399. Both models contain Bluetooth 4.0 and 2.4GHz/5GHz wireless N.

Just like last time, Asus bundles in a laptop sleeve and USB to Ethernet adapter, which, to our disappointment, is still USB 2.0, greatly limiting the speed. While the chips exist, at the time of writing, there doesn't seem to be too many retail-ready USB 3.0 to Ethernet converters in the market. Given that there's no Thunderbolt port on the UX31A, one can't even take the Apple route. Within time this will likely be addressed, but it's disappointing Asus didn't take the lead on this one.

Asus also bundles a micro-VGA to VGA adapter, but don't expect the same treatment for the micro-HDMI port — that is up to you to fill the gap on.

Otherwise, there's a full-sized SD card reader and a headphone jack. It shares two MacBook Air weaknesses: there's no microphone jack, so you'll be using the inbuilt or USB mic, and when you run your hands over the lid surface during charging, a strange buzz runs down your fingers.

Application performance

Choose a benchmark: Handbrake | iTunes | Photoshop | Multimedia


Domination. The third generation Core i7 wipes the floor clean with the previous generation ultrabooks — while the Photoshop test does come out one second slower than the UX21E, we consider this within margin of error.

Battery life


It's worth noting Intel's addition of configurable TDP to Windows power profiles, thanks to Ivy Bridge. By default, things are set to 17W/2.4GHz on high power profiles, but clock to a low power profile and you'll drop to 13W, with an option of 1.9GHz or 1.0GHz as the ceiling. This could have the potential to lower battery times, but, overall, we saw worse performance than the original ZenBook. This is no surprise: it's powering a more dense, more colour accurate screen and a backlit keyboard.

Conclusion

The ZenBook Prime UX31A is everything the ZenBook UX31E should have been, and more. We have no hesitation in recommending this laptop if you truly want no-compromise performance in an ultrabook.

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AndrewB12 posted a comment   

the keyboard is a nightmare to use.

kireina
10
Rating
 

"Best laptop I've ever had, ever."

kireina posted a review   
Australia

The Good:Light, Thin, Fast, Beautiful Screen, Beautiful Keyboard

The Bad:Not a fan of Windows 8, but learning

Best Laptop I've ever had, ever. I can't see the light bleed myself but maybe that came with earlier versions of the stock. Keyboard is beautiful to use, incredibly thin and light. When setting the computer up I named it 'Thin Lizzie'. Just seemed appropriate :). Screen is stunning as well. Like that ASUS give you a rigid case to put it in as well.

I was looking at getting a tablet originally, but still needed something that had MS Office, iTunes etc. so I could do stuff rather than just 'consume'. Still getting used to Windows 8,but the Desktop is still there so can work around it.

I'm not a hardcore gamer, just needed something I could do work off (Office Suite mainly), iTunes, and photos. This is leagues above any work laptop I've been issued (latest one a DELL and the worst I've ever had).

My needs were fast, light, and I can do stuff rather than just 'consume'. For the people that were looking for an appropriate price, I picked mine up from MWave Australia for just under $1500. I have the i5 as opposed to i7 for reference.

 

brisbanevalley posted a comment   
Australia

Not a review but an issue with Cnet’s review. They clearly state the price ranges from $1399 to $1799. But ASUS (and Harvey Norman) state the price range is $1699 to $2199. A big difference. Can anyone assist with a better price in the SE Qld area?

darrylkuhn
9
Rating
 

"A huge upgrade from the previous Zenbook"

darrylkuhn posted a review   
United States

The Good:Overall display is excellent, powerful enough to serve as a desktop replacement

The Bad:Light bleed will irk you when watching dark movies and the battery life leaves a bit to be desired.

At the time of this writing the user rating is 3.7 which I don't understand at all. I've been using the Zenbook Prime UX31a for about a week now and honestly it's fantastic. I tried the original Zenbook when it debuted last year but sadly the build quality of the keyboard was enough that I simply couldn't use it. I was all set to pick up a 15" Samsung S9 when the Prime came out.

I'm pleased to say that the keyboard has been totally addressed in this model and I'd be hard pressed to say I prefer any other ultra portable keyboard (including the MacBook Air). The track pad too is really quite usable (I've been using it a lot to pinch zoom and two finger scroll). It's not a MacBook experience but on that I think as much fault lies with the OS as with the hardware.

On the cons side the light bleed is noticeable at start up (when the screen is dark. During "normal use" (e.g. daytime web browsing) it's not noticeable. In the week I've had it it hasn't once bothered me, however I'm certain that watching a movie in a dark room and a dark scene you'd see it.

The battery is enough for a domestic flight but not much more. In my own informal tests I got:

5:44 doing nothing, display at 80%
4:42 light consistent usage (10% cpu and disk), display at 100%
2:55 streaming a hulu movie w/speakers playing, display at 100%

Not great but sufficient.

Boot and wake times are fantastic (approx 23 sec and 2 seconds respectively). I've used it to do a bit of Photoshop work with no problems. The only market this won't serve is the gamer. Trying to run Deus Ex Human Revolution (even at lowest quality) is choppy at best.

So if gaming is important to you this is not you machine. Otherwise I highly recommend the UX31A.

 

IvanL posted a comment   

Can the ram be upgraded into 8GB?

 

darrylkuhn posted a reply   
United States

I don't believe so - from what I understand it's soldered on.

EileenF Facebook
9
Rating
 

"Trackpad can be a little too sensitive. Don't seem to have the light bleeding issue. Cover scratches easily. Blows out any other ultrabook and even the Mac Air. Sorry, Mac lovers. This one outdoes the MAC."

EileenF posted a review   

The Good:Fast, light, great keyboard, fantastic screen

The Bad:Trackpad can be alittle too sensitive. Case scratches easily.

Waited and waited for release of this beauty. It actually lives up to the hype. The best out there by far.

 

EffieR posted a comment   
Israel

Did someone try this with win8?

nihilscire
1
Rating
 

"Recurent problems across three different units shows poor QC"

nihilscire posted a review   

The Good:Design

The Bad:Touchpad, CPU Fan

I've had misfortune to "test" three out of box units. The first and the second had a major issue with the touchpad rendering it useless. The touchpad had a mind of its own, not responding to the the finger actions and behaving erratically. Updating BIOS and drivers did not help. In addition, the display driver kept crushing.

The third unit showed the same touchpad problem.

The second unit had issues with the CPU fan. It kept cycling between 3500 and 5500 rpms regardless of the CPU load and the temperature. At 5500 rpms it makes quite a noticeable noise.

Such a shame. Three faulty units clearly indicate an appallingly inadequate QC system at ASUS.

TESAtekj
1
Rating
 

TESAtekj posted a review   
Australia

Very disappointed! Bad QC. The entire Zenbook leaks electric, I haven't used it yet but need to send to repair.

 

jwp118 posted a comment   
Australia

Can anyone confirm if the VGA and HDMI ports can be used at the same time? i.e. for dual external monitors?

I'm certain the chipset is up to it, but what about their proximity to one another?

 

TianL posted a reply   

did you ever get an answer to this?


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User Reviews / Comments  Asus ZenBook Prime UX31A

  • AndrewB12

    AndrewB12

    "the keyboard is a nightmare to use."

  • kireina

    kireina

    Rating10

    "Best Laptop I've ever had, ever. I can't see the light bleed myself but maybe that came with earlier versions of the stock. Keyboard is beautiful to use, incredibly thin and light. When setting the..."

  • brisbanevalley

    brisbanevalley

    "Not a review but an issue with Cnet’s review. They clearly state the price ranges from $1399 to $1799. But ASUS (and Harvey Norman) state the price range is $1699 to $2199. A big difference. Can an..."

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