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Asus Zenbook UX31 Review

Highs

  • High-resolution display
  • Good sound quality
  • Great performance for an Ultrabook
  • Above-average battery life

Rating

Our Score 7.5
User Score 0

Lows

  • Disappointing design and build quality
  • Keyboard lacks quality feel
  • Runs warm
  • Expensive
For some buyers, the scales will tip in favor of this laptop: It is one of the quickest Ultrabooks, and its portability can’t be ignored. But the design issues keep it from obtaining a broader recommendation.

Seat warmer

At idle this laptop emits little in the way of fan noise. The metal construction feels cool at first, but it begins to warm up during extended use. We measured temperatures of up to 95 degrees on the right rear bottom of the laptop. Other, cooler portions of the laptop (such as the palmrests) usually sat at around 83 degrees.

Stress testing the processor raised the exterior temperatures along the bottom rear edge of the laptop to as high as 103 degrees, a toasty figure that’s sure to limit lap use. Even the forward sections measured as high as 93 degrees. The fan also ramped up, as you’d expect. It did not, however, become overly noisy or annoying.

Good endurance despite small battery

The UX31 measures about 0.7 inches thick and weighs in at about 2.8 pounds. That thickness measurement is at the thickest point, however — the edges of the this laptop taper significantly, resulting in an even slimmer feel than the specifications suggest.

The laptop is easy to travel with as a result. The power adapter is small, as well, further decreasing the overall weight and bulk you’ll need to pack on extended trips.

asus-zenbook-ux31-review-angle-lid-open-keyboard

Battery life comes courtesy of a small built-in battery that’s not serviceable without removing the entire bottom panel. We squeezed three hours and thirty five minutes of life from it using the Battery Eater’s Standard benchmark. The lighter Battery Eater’s Reader’s Test allowed for an impressive six hours and twelve minutes.

These results are far from the best we’ve squeezed out of a laptop, but they’re more than adequate and much better than the Acer Aspire S3, which lasted a tad less than five hours in the Reader’s Test. Most consumers will find the endurance of the UX31 to be excellent.

Easily ignored bloatware

A mish-mash of preinstalled software came on our review laptop, including such items as “Asus Secure Delete” and “AI Recovery Burner.” Some of it’s useful, some of it’s not — but it all more-or-less keeps out of your way if you’re interested. Delete the shortcuts from the desktop and you won’t be troubled again.

asus-zenbook-ux31-review-reverse-angleWhat may trouble you is the array of widgets installed on the desktop. One of them controls the Instant On feature, another lets you switch between High Performance and Battery Saving power schemes, and yet another tells you how much standby time you have left. It’s all useful information, but you’ll probably want to kick it the widgets to the curb unless you’re obsessive about standby power.

There’s also a Trend Micro anti-virus trial which, as usual, interrupts your experience with pop-ups suggesting you sign up and warning you of the consequences of running a computer without their software. And as usual, we recommend you uninstall the trial, install Microsoft Security Essentials, and get on with your life.

Almost as quick as normal

As mentioned, our review unit came powered by a Core i5-2557M processor backed up with 4GB of RAM and a 128GB solid state drive. This array of hardware is fairly typical for an ultrabook, though the Core i5-2557M processor is one of the quicker parts.

To see what this high-end, low-voltage part can do, we first threw it into SiSoft Sandra’s Processor Arithmetic. It returned a combined score of 32.76 GOPS. That’s much better than the score of 27.2 GOPS we extracted from the Acer Aspire S3 and surprisingly closer to what you receive from a normal Core i5 processor, which typically scores between 36 and 40 GOPS.

Similar findings resulted from 7-Zip, where the UX31 offered up a score of 6,726 MIPS. The Acer Aspire S3 only scored 5,623 MIPS in this same test, and your average Core i5 powered laptop will manage between 7,200 and 8,000. Again, the faster Core i5-2557M is paying off.

PCMark 7 returned a ridiculously good score of 3,382, which is better than anything we’ve tested besides the Sony Vaio Z. The reason is the solid state drive, which allows this laptop to score much higher in the system storage section than laptops with mechanical drives.

asus-zenbook-ux31-review-lid-open-rightGraphics performance was tested with 3DMark 06, as the Intel HD 3000 integrated graphics part included in this laptop doesn’t support DX11 and won’t run 3DMark 11 as a result. We were able to achieve a score of 4,193 which is, one again, strong for an Ultrabook. The Acer Aspire S3 scored only 3,316.

However, attempts to play Dawn of War 2: Retribution remained choppy despite the improved 3DMark 06 score. You’re going to have trouble running modern 3D games on this laptop even at low detail settings. So far, all Ultrabooks remain weak in this area. Gamers will have to buy something larger.

A freshman effort

Ultrabooks are still a new category of laptop, it appears there are some growing pains associated with them.

This laptop is a perfect example. In some ways, it is excellent. Battery life is good, the weight and size of the laptop leads to easy portability, the display is above average, and performance is within striking distance of larger laptops. Among the first run of production Ultrabooks the UX31 stands out. It’s more portable and quicker than the majority of the competition.

Yet the chassis isn’t able to properly support the laptop’s slim frame. There are too many creaks and groans, too many surfaces that feel flimsy. And then there’s the keyboard — a amateur effort that feels more like something you’d expect to encounter on a pre-production prototype.

These issues might be acceptable if this wasn’t a laptop that was priced over $1,000. The Acer Aspire S3 we reviewed late last year was not perfect in some of these areas, either. But it was and is priced to move, with some models now going for as little as $799. The UX31 is priced more like a laptop that wants to go toe-to-toe with the MacBook Air. And it simply can’t.

As a result, potential buyers of the UX31 will have to consider its technical achievements against the weight of its design baggage. For some buyers, the scales will tip in favor of this laptop: It is one of the quickest Ultrabooks, and its portability can’t be ignored. But the design issues keep it from obtaining a broader recommendation.

Highs:

  • High-resolution display
  • Good sound quality
  • Great performance for an Ultrabook
  • Above-average battery life

Lows:

  • Disappointing design and build quality
  • Keyboard lacks quality feel
  • Runs warm
  • Expensive

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