Asus Zenbook Pro UX550VE review

Need a laptop that does it all? The Asus ZenBook Pro UX550VE might fit the bill

The Asus ZenBook Pro UX550VE enjoys some high-powered components and sports an elegant chassis.
The Asus ZenBook Pro UX550VE enjoys some high-powered components and sports an elegant chassis.
The Asus ZenBook Pro UX550VE enjoys some high-powered components and sports an elegant chassis.

Highs

  • Solid combination of productivity and gaming performance
  • Excellent build quality and attractive design
  • Superior and surprising audio
  • Comfortable keyboard and touchpad
  • Great thermal design

Lows

  • Chassis is a bit larger than some of the competition
  • No 4K UHD option is a disappointment
  • Moderate battery life

Thin and light 2-in-1 notebooks sometimes seem like they’re taking over the market. However, there are still plenty of people looking for larger, more powerful machines, particularly ones that can double as high-end productivity notebooks and entry-level systems for budding gamers. In our Asus ZenBook Pro UX550VE review, we look at just such a machine that packs some serious power into a traditional notebook frame.

Our review unit came with a seventh-generation Intel Core i7-7700HQ processor (which still offers more pure power than the latest generation CPUs), an Nvidia GTX 1050 Ti GPU, 16GB of DDR4-2400MHz RAM, a 512GB PCIe solid-state disk (SSD), and a 15.6-inch Full HD (1,920 x 1,080 or 141 PPI) resolution display. This is the only configuration, and it retails for $1,700. That’s not exactly cheap, and in fact it’s $150 more than a comparably equipped Dell XPS 15.

Asus has put together a nicely-configured mainstream notebook. Does it warrant its price point compared to some stiff competition?

A robust, elegant, and attractive design that keeps the heat in check

Asus has adopted a very consistent design with its most recent ZenBooks, and the ZenBook Pro UX550VE is very clearly a member of that family. It has the same kind of all-aluminum chassis and shares the now-iconic Asus concentric circle swirl adorning the lid, but it’s a sleek black compared to the navy blue of some other ZenBook models.

Overall, it’s an elegant and attractive look that sets the notebook apart from more conservative alternatives like the Dell XPS 15 and the Lenovo Yoga 720 15. The lighted Asus logo on the lid adds some additional panache that contributes to the ZenBook’s premium aesthetic.

At the same time, it’s also very solidly built with tight tolerances. Other than the expansive lid that gives just a tiny bit under pressure (but never enough that the LCD is affected), the ZenBook Pro UX550VE shares the same rigidity as its smaller siblings like the ZenBook 3 Deluxe. Close the lid and the ZenBook Pro feels like a huge slab of metal — open it and you won’t find the slightest bit of flex in the keyboard deck or anywhere else. Speaking of the lid, it’s held firmly in place by a hinge that spans most of the notebook’s width, but we found it a bit too stiff and it required both hands to swing the display open.

There’s some extra room on each side of the keyboard for a pair of very effective speakers.

In terms of its overall dimensions, the ZenBook Pro UX550VE is a little wider and deeper than its competition. For example, it comes in at 14.37 x 9.88 x 0.75 inches, which compares to the Dell XPS 15 at 14 x 9.27 x 0.66 inches and the Apple MacBook Pro 15 with Touch Bar at 13.75 x 9.48 x 0.61 inches. The ZenBook Pro’s added width and depth compared to the Dell (the MacBook’s display is a slightly smaller 15.4-inches) is due to slightly thicker display bezels (7.3mm on the sides versus the Dell’s 5.7mm). But, the Asus also benefits from having its webcam located on top of the display where it belongs, unlike the XPS 15, and there’s some extra room on each side of the keyboard for a pair of very effective speakers.

Even though it’s a bit thicker, the ZenBook Pro is nevertheless lighter than the XPS 15 at 3.97 pounds (with 73 watt-hours of battery) versus 4.6 pounds (with the Dell’s hefty 97 watt-hour battery installed). That’s also slightly lighter than the MacBook Pro’s 4.02 pounds.

In a nod to comfort, Asus located all the ZenBook Pro UX550VE’s venting underneath and inside of the display and pointing up. That means that the notebook can sit comfortably on a lap without blocking airflow or blowing hot air onto the skin, and thanks to a dual-fan cooling system, we never noticed the bottom to get uncomfortably hot. You’ll want to put it on a different surface if you’re gaming or rendering video, just to be safe, but otherwise it’s thermally designed quite well to act as a true laptop.

Solid connectivity that’s in touch with both the past and the future

You would expect a 15.6-inch notebook that’s not razor-thin to house a decent assembly of ports, and the ZenBook Pro UX550VE doesn’t disappoint. It comes with a proprietary power connector, full-size HDMI port, and two USB-C 2 ports with Thunderbolt 3 support along the left-hand side. On the right-hand side are two USB-A 3.1 ports, a mini-SD card reader, and a 3.5mm audio jack.

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

Wireless connectivity includes 2×2 MU-MIMO 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.2, and there’s a fingerprint reader located in the upper-right-hand corner of the touchpad that provides fast and reliable Windows 10 Hello password-less login support. Overall, connectivity is very good and it bests the XPS 15 by providing twice as many USB-C ports.

A very good keyboard and excellent touchpad lead the class

The ZenBook Pro UX550VE offers an expansive keyboard deck upon which to mount a spacious keyboard, and Asus takes good advantage of it. As we mentioned earlier, the deck is solid with zero flex, and the key mechanism is good with 1.5mm of travel (although it felt like slightly less than that in our testing) and a snappy bottoming action. There’s no 10-key numeric keypad as you’ll find on some larger notebooks, but a row of home keys lines the right side.

The keyboard provides a precise action that for quick typing.

Overall, we found the keyboard to provide a precise action that allowed us to get up to speed quickly enough. It offers somewhat more travel and a snappier feel than the XPS 15’s keyboard, and it’s in an entirely different class than the MacBook Pro’s extremely low-travel version. Finally, the ZenBook Pro’s keyboard is nicely backlit, with three intensity levels that allowed us to set just the right brightness for our environment.

The touchpad is large and its glass surface is comfortable for swiping and gesturing. We found the buttons to be responsive and clicky without being too loud, and as a Windows Precision touchpad all the usual Windows 10 multitouch gestures worked perfectly. The fingerprint reader is in the upper right quarter of the touchpad, but it didn’t get in our way. Our only complaint is that the palm rejection wasn’t perfect and on occasion the cursor would jump as your hand brushed the touchpad.

The ZenBook Pro UX550VE has a multitouch display that we found helpful for scrolling and hitting buttons. And, in a fashion similar to Microsoft’s Surface Laptop, it supports the Asus active pen for drawing and handwriting. Our review unit didn’t come with a pen, however, and so we couldn’t test how well it works, but we’ll note that the display is held stiffly enough in place that we could imagine writing on it.

An average display is more than good enough

Asus equipped the ZenBook Pro UX550VE with a Full HD display, which is right on the border of being high enough resolution for a 15.6-inch display. Unfortunately, there’s no 4K UHD (3,840 x 2,160 or 282 PPI) option, which is unfortunate. Pixel peepers will be disappointed.

According to our colorimeter, Asus picked an average display panel for the ZenBook Pro, which means it’s actually quite good compared to displays of just a few years ago. Maximum brightness was just a little low at 281 nits, less than the 300 nits we like to see to ensure the ability to overpower bright ambient lighting. Contrast was solid at 820:1, however, which is in line with all of the competition except the Surface Book 2 with it’s ultra-high contrast of 1400:1.

It’s actually quite good compared to displays of just a few years ago.

Color support was also average at 71 percent of AdobeRGB and 95 percent of sRGB, which fell behind only the surprisingly good display on the VivoBook Pro N580 and the 4K UHD professional-quality display on the XPS 15. That one covered 99 percent of AdobeRGB and 100 percent of sRGB. The ZenBook Pro had a good average color error at 1.68 (1.0 or less is excellent), which also fell behind the XPS 15’s very good 1.23.

In real-life use, we found the ZenBook Pro’s display to be very enjoyable to use, with enough contrast that black text on white backgrounds was clear and legible (albeit a little pixelated thanks to the Full HD resolution). Video was a bit darker than we would have liked thanks to a gamma of 2.4 (2.2 is what’s needed to show images and video in their proper lighting), but otherwise colors were bright and relatively accurate.

Superior audio could be a little louder but still sounds great

Asus made great use of the ZenBook Pro UX550VE’s substantial frame by packing in some serious audio components. Two speakers flank the keyboard on each side, and two subwoofers are placed on the bottom-front of the notebook. Combined with Asus’ SonicMaster Premium technology, the 2×2 speaker configuration results in stunning sound for a notebook. Watching a movie, we immediately noticed real stereo separation that immersed us in the action, and music is surprisingly rich with excellent highs and midrange performance and an unusual touch of bass.

Although it’s not terribly loud, you can crank it up to the max without distortion. You can use your headphones if you want, but you might find that the speakers provide more than a good enough experience.

The excellent quad-core performance we’ve come to expect

The ZenBook Pro UX550VE is equipped with the seventh-generation Intel Core i7-7700HQ, a 45-watt quad-core CPU that offers more pure power than Intel’s mainstream eighth-generation quad-core processors. It’s also a very popular chip for 15.6-inch notebooks that are meant to tackle high-end productivity and creative tasks, as well as act as dedicated gaming machines.   Until Intel releases eighth-generation 45-watt processors for mobile devices, the Core i7-7700HQ is likely to remain a common component for machines intended to provide pure power.

We weren’t surprised to find that the ZenBook Pro UX550VE was a good performer. In the Geekbench 4 synthetic benchmark, the machine was right in line with other similarly equipped systems with its single-core score of 4308 and its multi-core score of 14,391. Those numbers are comparable to the Dell XPS 15 and the Lenovo Yoga 720 15. The ZenBook Pro is also competitive with machines using the eighth-generation Intel Core processors, and it’s faster than the MacBook Pro 15 with its old sixth-generation CPU.

It’s much faster than systems using Intel’s eighth-generation Core processors.

In our more robust Handbrake test where we encode a 420MB vide to H.265, the ZenBook Pro actually fell somewhat behind its Core i7-7700HQ competition at 531 seconds, getting beat handily by the Dell XPS 15 at 418 seconds and the Asus VivoBook Pro N580 at 485 seconds. Nevertheless, it’s much faster than systems using Intel’s eighth-generation Core processors, with the Lenovo Yoga 920 coming closes at 613 seconds.

In real-world use, the ZenBook Pro UX550VE was unsurprisingly sprightly, churning through every task we threw at it and making for a pleasantly smooth productivity powerhouse. Heat was kept in check as well, with the fans hitting their peak noise only during the most intensive sessions and never getting too loud at that. Simply put, you’d have to step up to a mobile workstation to get a better-performing machine for getting work done.

Speedy SSD storage is more than fast enough

Asus picked the popular Samsung PM961 PCIe SSD to keep the ZenBook Pro running smoothly. We’ve never seen that particular SSD hold a system back, and so we had high hopes that the Asus would keep up.

The ZenBook Pro’s implementation of the drive was just average, meaning it scored well on the CrystalDiskMark benchmark at 1,216 megabytes per second (MB/s) on the read test and 1,120 MB/s on the write test. That’s in line with other machines using the same drive, except for the Microsoft Surface Book 2 with its stratospheric 2877 MB/s read test results and the Yoga 720 15’s 1,826 MB/s. Of course, the VivoBook Pro N580 showed off its budget side with significantly lower scores thanks to its much slower SATA SSD.

While the ZenBook Pro UX550VE wasn’t the fastest performer in our comparison group, it’s nevertheless speedy enough at reading and writing data that you’re unlikely to notice. The machine can save and access data as fast as the vast majority of users will ever need, and then some, and in our testing it never slowed down.

A solid 1080p gaming machine in a pinch

Asus packed in an Nvidia GTX 1050 Ti GPU, a more powerful graphics chip than you’ll find in some other notebooks that try to straddle the line between providing solid productivity performance but also able to tackle modern titles at 1080P resolution and medium to high graphics settings.

Judging by the 3DMark synthetic gaming benchmark, the ZenBook Pro UX550VE performs right where you’d expect. Its score of 6630 is in line with a true gaming system, the Origin EON-15 that scored 6874. The ZenBook Pro is faster than the Lenovo Yoga 720 15 with its GTX 1050 and slower than systems with GTX 1060 GPUs.

In actual gaming, the ZenBook Pro mostly held its own. It manage 46 frames per second (FPS) in Civilization VI at 1080p and medium graphics detail and 41 FPS in ultra detail. That’s in line with our comparison group. In Battlefield 1, again at 1080p and medium detail, the ZenBook Pro could only hit 60 FPS, which is a very playable score but less than the Origin EON15-S could manage with the same GPU. The Asus redeemed itself in ultra detail, hitting 53 FPS. Finally, in Deus Ex: Mankind Divided at 1080p and high detail, the ZenBook Pro ran at a just-playable 35 FPS, which dropped to 24 FPS in ultra detail.

We also run For Honor as a real-life gaming test, but the ZenBook Pro simply refused to run the title. We tried reinstalling the game and made sure all of the relevant drivers were up to date, but unfortunately we just couldn’t get the benchmark to complete.

Nevertheless, the ZenBook Pro UX550VE proved that it’s more than capable of playing modern titles at 1080p and at least medium graphical detail. Pick an older game and you can probably crank the quality settings up to the max. That makes this productivity powerhouse a more than passable entry-level gaming system for when you really need a break from work.

A full-size notebook that’s a bit lighter and longer-lasting than usual

Asus packed 70 watt-hours of battery capacity into the ZenBook Pro UX550VE. That’s not world-beating, especially compared to the Dell XPS 15’s 97 watt-hour battery. However, it’s enough that, combined with the Full HD display that sucks less power than a 4K UHD panel, had us hoping for at least decent battery life.

Decent battery life is exactly what the machine provided. For example, in our most demanding test that runs a notebook through the Basemark web benchmark test until its battery gives out, the ZenBook Pro lasted just over three and a half hours. That’s a solid score that’s beat out soundly by the extremely long-lasting Surface Book 2 but handily bests the Yoga 920 with its Core i7-8550U and our two comparison machines with the Core i7-7700HQ.

In the less aggressive and more real-world web browsing test that loops through popular web sites, the ZenBook Pro managed six hours and 47 minutes, which is slightly behind the Yoga 720 15 but ahead of the Dell XPS 15. The VivoBook Pro N580 once again showed its budget nature with a much weaker result.

Decent battery life is exactly what the machine provided.

Finally, the ZenBook Pro managed to run our test Avengers trailer for nine hours and 24 minutes. That’s a good score that trounces the XPS 15 at just around seven and a half hours and falls only 18 minutes short of the Yoga 720 15.   The smaller and more budget-oriented Asus ZenBook UX330UA lasted for just over 11 hours and of course the Surface Book 2 cranked along for over 20 hours.

In short, the ZenBook Pro UX550VE manages to provide most of a working day’s battery life if you’re doing standard productivity tasks. It’s under four pounds, and so while its dimensions make for a slightly tight fit inside the typical backpack, you’ll feel its weight slightly less than some competitive full-size machines. We do have to note that the power brick is fairly massive, and so it’s a bit of a burden to carry around.

Software

Asus loads up the ZenBook Pro UX550VE with a handful of utilities, including the Splendid Display Technology app that lets users adjust the display for color temperature and gamut, and the AudioWizard utility for adjusting audio for movies, music, and gaming. Otherwise, the company keeps the machine free of extraneous software. There are no extra trials installed, leaving the ZenBook Pro with the standard Windows 10 installation and the usual Microsoft first-party apps.

Warranty information

Asus provides the typical one year of standard warranty support, which is unfortunately common even fore premium systems. The company does toss in its usual year of accidental damage protection to help recover from droppage and water damage, and that’s a real plus that should be factored into the overall price.

Our Take

The Asus ZenBook Pro UX550VE is a great looking and robustly built full-size notebook that looks good in a coffee shop but won’t stand out in a corporate conference room. It’s reasonably portable with solid battery life, while it crushes even demanding productivity and creative tasks when it’s stationary and plugged in. It can even play some modern games at 1080p and moderate graphics settings. What’s not to like?

Is there a better alternative?

If you’re looking to save some money, then you could consider Asus’ own VivoBook Pro 15 N580VD. It offers the same Core i7-7700HQ CPU, 16GB of RAM, a 512GB SATA SSD, and a GTX 1050 GPU with 15.6-inch Full HD display for $1,300. It doesn’t offer the same kind of battery life, but if you’re going to be working from one place more often than not you can save some cash and not give up too much performance.

Another strong competitor, if you’re interested in a convertible 2-in-1 that can serve as a nice machine for watching movies and even at as a (very chunky) tablet on occasion, is the Lenovo Yoga 720 15. It, too, sports a Core i7-7700HQ CPU and a GTX 1050 GPU, and so like the XPS 15 it’s a step behind in performance. The Lenovo is also less expensive, at $1,650 for 16GB of RAM, a 1TB SSD, and a 4K UHD display.

Next, we can’t leave out the current king of all notebooks, the Microsoft Surface Book 2 15-inch, which ups the gaming to another level with its Nvidia GTX 1060. It uses the eighth-generation Intel Core i7-8650U, which performs almost as well as the higher-power processor in the ZenBook UX550VE but also provides significantly better efficiency. If you want to pop off the display and use it as a surprisingly lightweight tablet, and get even better gaming performance, then the Surface Book 2 is an attractive alternative. Just know that you’ll pay a hefty $2,900 for the same 16GB of RAM and 512GB SSD.

Finally, if you’re willing to consider MacOS, then the 15-inch Apple MacBook Pro with Touch Display is another option. Like the Surface Book 2, it’s pricey at $2,600 for a similar configuration, and it’s still running sixth-generation Intel CPUs. But it’s a well-built machine that many creative professionals swear by for running very specific software like Apple’s own Final Cut Pro.

How long will it last?

Although it’s equipped with a seventh-generation CPU, it’s nevertheless fast enough to stay relevant for years. The GPU should also keep up with modern titles for a while, although eventually you’ll need to turn down detail enough that you might want to upgrade. The inclusion of two USB-C ports with Thunderbolt 3 means the ZenBook is well-prepared for future connectivity.

Should you buy it?

Yes. The Asus ZenBook UX550VE is a very well-built notebook that offers great performance in an elegant chassis. It’ll churn through your high-end productivity tasks with ease, as well as provide for some decent Full HD gaming when you need some downtime. The machine’s only real negative is the lack of a higher resolution 4K display option.