The ZenBook 13 leaves no more excuses for laptops without discrete graphics

Asus Zenbook Pro UX550VE review
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

The search for the thin, modern laptop that can also game on the side has been a long and arduous journey. We’ve always wanted the best of both worlds — and for the most part, it’s been a crapshoot.

Sure, you could opt for a gaming notebook that has terrible battery life, weighs a ton, and barely fits into your backpack — and don’t forget that hefty power brick! It’s the kind of thing you wouldn’t want to be caught dead with in a coffee shop or business meeting.

But now more than ever, PC makers are helping you avoid such an option, with a growing crop of notebooks that are light enough to easily tote around but pack in discrete GPUs for some real gaming chops. No recent notebook better epitomizes the movement than the new ZenBook 13 UX331UN.

The ZenBook 13 is such a great example of the “stealth” gaming laptop because it offers an Nvidia GeForce MX150 discrete GPU alongside an eighth-generation Intel Core i5-8250U CPU. That’s a potent combination in a notebook that’s only 0.55 inches thin and 2.47 pounds. The MX150 isn’t a hardcore gaming chip by any means, but it’s capable of running older titles quite well and newer titles at decent frame rates as long as you’re willing to turn down the resolution and detail.

For example, in our review testing, the ZenBook 13 was able to run Civilization VI at 33 frames per second (FPS) when set at 1080p resolution at medium graphics. That’s not barn-burning performance, but it’s good enough for some lightweight gaming on the road. Rocket League was also very playable at 48 FPS set at 1080p and extreme details. Those results promise good performance in esports titles like CS:GO, Dota 2, and World of Tanks.

asus zenbook 13  6
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

Of course, the industry isn’t stopping there. AMD has its own accelerated processing unit (APU) options like the Ryzen CPU and Vega graphics mashup, and those are also starting make their way into relatively thin and light notebooks. Then there’s the larger productivity notebooks that might have enjoyed low-end discrete graphics in the past, like HP’s Spectre x360 15 or the Dell XPS 15 2-in-1, which are getting a massive upgrade later this year. These machines will have Intel’s “Kaby Lake-G” series of CPUs that mate a fast eighth-generation Core processor with AMD’s Radeon Vega GL GPU, and its performance claims to be as good as a GeForce GTX 1050.

We haven’t arrived quite yet. The ZenBook 13 has its issues — and we still haven’t gotten to benchmark the G series laptops. But we think that the movement to squeeze reasonably fast GPUs into the thinnest and lightest notebooks is a pretty big deal. Combine a lightweight chassis with good battery life and solid game performance, and you’ve got a laptop that finally checks all the boxes.

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