|Introduction & Specifications|
|For all the performance being packed into today’s super-slim ultrabooks, gaming and multimedia are often the weakest links. Most ultrabooks have Intel integrated graphics that aren’t designed to take on graphics-intensive games. Storage space, graphics processing, and display quality can be key areas in many ultrabooks that leave heavy multimedia users wanting a little more. With the Zenbook Prime UX32VD, Asus is looking to deliver a bit more graphics punch.
Of course, you’ll have to pay for that. At about $1,300, the UX32VD’s price tag puts it at the higher end of the ultrabook price range. We’re seeing many ultrabooks at sub $1,000 and even sub-$800 price points. Obviously, a $1,300 machine has more power and features, and it’s the performance, bells and whistles that we’ll be checking out.
An Intel Core i7-3517U powers the Zenbook Prime UX32VD. The processor runs at 1.9GHz but bumps to 3GHz with Turbo Boost. The i7 is a good choice for an ultrabook, but what makes the UX32VD stand out is its discrete Nvidia GeForce GT 620M graphics. With CUDA and PhysX support, this GPU also adds gaming oomph that integrated graphics just don’t have. The notebook can also tap its integrated Intel HD 4000 graphics for more mundane tasks, saving power consumption and extending battery life with Nvidia's Optimus dynamic graphics switching technology.
Discrete graphics isn’t the only big deal for the UX32VD. The ultrabook also has some beefier storage options. Our review model UX32VD includes a 500GB hard drive at 5400 RPM, which is a little pokey these days but it's backed by 24GB SSD cache as well. Depending on what you plan to use the system for, this storage setup could be handy. If you work with video or plan to install a few game titles, you’ll need the space.
USB 3.0 ports, as well as an HDMI port and SDHC reader, but Asus opted not to include a full-size LAN port. Instead, the ultrabook includes a 10/100 LAN adapter that you can plug into one of the USB 3.0 ports. Wi-Fi (a/b/g/n) is built-in, of course, as is Bluetooth. Plus, Asus tosses in some noteworthy design features like a backlit keyboard, which we’ll get to on the next page.
|Design, Construction and Layout|
|The Zenbook Prime UX32VD is very slim: it is 0.22 inches thick at the back and tapers to only 0.7 inches thick at the front. But no one will mistake it for a MacBook, even with its mostly aluminum shell. For one thing, the back of the ultrabook's lid and the back of its body aren’t flush when the lid is closed, giving the system an unusual look. The screen also has a darker outer shell than the body of the system. The effect works, aesthetically. Another exterior feature worth mentioning is an unobtrusive grip at the front of the system (the top of the display). It makes opening the ultrabook easy, resolving complaints users had about opening its predecessor.
Asus offers two options for the display, which is 13.3 inches in both cases. One display has wide viewing angles, but a native resolution of 1366 x 768, while the other is an IPS FHD display at 1920 x 1080. The In-Plane Switching provides the best viewing angles and color, making it a must-have at this price point. We found viewing angles to be excellent. The display is bright, vibrant, and sharp, playing movies, games or editing text.
The keyboard keys are spaced out and the keystrokes are soft enough, though typing on the UX32VD’s keyboard didn’t feel quite as comfortable to us as some ultrabook designs we've tested. Key travel was a bit shallow. As is the case with many Ultrabooks, the UX32VD lacks a number pad. On the upside, the keyboard has a bright white backlight. It’s stylish and helpful – the characters are easy to see whether you’re in daylight or darkness.
We like the touchpad here as well. It has received mixed reactions from users, but in our experience, it was very responsive. Swiping was fluid – in fact, it was one of the best touchpads we’ve used and offered pinch and zoom functionality that nearly competes with MacBook designs. Another highlight is the Bang & Olufsen ICEpower speakers, which struck us as relatively powerful for an ultrabook though lacking satisfying bass as you'd expect.
|Software and User Experience|
The first thing we noticed when we powered on the Asus Zenbook Prime UX32VD was that the Desktop was clutter-free. A single column of icons for free Asus software lined the right side of the Desktop, and the rest of the screen was as empty as it should be. Not surprisingly, the Notification Area had a handful of icons, but it, too was noticeably free of trialware.
The included Webcam software is LifeFrame 3, which has a small, crowded interface by default. You can expand the window, but the bulk of the options remain clustered in the bottom left corner – you don’t get the feeling that the software is optimized for the larger window. There’s a bit of a learning curve, too: you’ll spend some time running the cursor over tiny icons to figure out which options are where. Layout gripes aside, LifeFrame gets the job done, and we shot decent photos and videos with the built-in 720p webcam.
The Asus folder on the Desktop looked promising, but the only utility in it that caught our attention is e-Driver, a handy update tool, and of course, LifeFrame. The rest of the Asus programs aren’t bad, as free software goes, but they seemed out of place on this system. For example, the Backup & Restore icon pointed us to AI Recovery, which is a disc-based backup utility (not much use here, as the ultrabook doesn’t have a burner) and the Multimedia icon leads to CyberLink Media Suite, which has a bunch of disc ripping and burning utilities (again – no burner). So, while Asus deserves some praise for keeping the UX32VD tidy, most of the added Asus software didn’t impress us much.
|SANDRA, PCMark 7 and Cinebench Performance|
|We kicked off benchmarking with SiSoftware SANDRA 2012, PCMark 7, and Cinebench, which provide a look at how the system’s individual components perform as well as how the ultrabook as a whole handles everyday work and multimedia tasks. We compared the Asus Zenbook Prime UX32VD’s scores to similar systems that we have recently tested, keeping in mind that each system is likely to have different software and low level hardware configurations from the next. We test each system we review in the condition it arrives in from the manufacturer, though we disable security software and sleep settings so they won’t affect the benchmarks.
SANDRA Processor Arithmetic and Multimedia Performance
SANDRA Memory Bandwidth PerformanceThanks in large part to the Core i7-3517U processor, the UX32VD scored well in SANDRA. It landed the highest Whetstone score of its competitors in the Arithmetic test and its memory bandwidth tests were strong, if not groundbreaking. Even so, it topped the 15.78GB/s score of the recently-tested Dell Latitude E6530, which runs a 2.9GHz Intel Core i7-3520M CPU in our tests.
The UX32VD's PCMark 7 score wasn't as high as one might expect, and we suspect that its storage setup comes into play here. There’s no doubt that people with heavy storage needs will appreciate the hard drive/ SSD combo, but if you’re looking for performance, the other straight-up SSD configs in our test group, would be the way to go.
The UX32VD handled both the CPU and GPU tests with ease, but we really saw the discrete graphics come into play in the OpenGL (GPU) test, posting a frame rate of 26.95fps. Nvidia claims the GeForce GT 620M can improve graphics performance of a notebook by 3x (assuming that ultrabook has built-in Intel HD 4000 graphics). Comparing this system to some that we have recently reviewed (and keeping in mind that it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison), we can see that the GeForce GT 620M offers an enormous boost.
|3DMark 11 and Gaming|
|The Asus Zenbook Prime UX32VD switches from the integrated Intel HD 4000 to the discrete Nvidia GeForce GT 620M when faced with graphics-intensive tasks like gaming. Nvidia's Optimus technology gives the UX32VD a major leg up over your typical ultrabook, though of course it won’t put your ultrabook in the same league as a true gaming notebook. We ran a synthetic benchmark and two popular games to see what the UX32XD can do with its 620M.
Futuremark’s gaming 3DMark 11 benchmark is a grueling test that makes use of DirectX 11 and several highly-detailed demos to put your graphics card through its paces. We opt for the Performance setting in the benchmark when we test notebooks and ultrabooks, so keep that in mind if you compare the scores to a system that ran the Entry or Extreme version.
The UX32VD scored very well in 3DMark 11 and took the top spot in our pool of systems. Note that it's up against laptops, as most ultrabooks haven't enabled gaming the way the Zenbook UX32VD does. The discrete graphics really makes a difference in this test – the Nvidia GeForce GT 620M is clearly (and not surprisingly) beating out the integrated Intel HD 4000 graphics, as well as older GeForce GTs.
The Geforce GT 620M blew past the competition, as expected. They're not the frame rates you'll get with a gaming notebook, but they're solid for an ultrabook.
Next, we ran Left 4 Dead 2, which isn’t as graphically-intensive as Far Cry 2. We ran this test at several resolutions, as we have for previous systems.
Again, the UX32VD pummeled the competition with its discrete graphics. We were a little surprised to see that the system's frame rate at 1366x768 lagged so far behind the other two scores; a memory bandwidth limitation of the platform combination no doubt. Otherwise, the ultrabook convinced us of its gaming chops. It's not a serious gamer, of course, but light-duty gaming is well within this ultrabook's capabilities.
|Battery Life Testing|
|Battery life is important for ultrabooks, which are meant to go wherever you do. We run two battery tests to give you an idea of how long the ultrabook is likely to last. As always, keep in mind that the way you use the ultrabook will play a big role in its battery life. Watching videos, downloading files, or putting the ultrabook in sleep mode while you take a break will all impact the time your system can run on a single charge. In both tests, we turn the screen brightness to 50% and disabled all screen savers and sleep settings.
The UX32VD struggled in our battery life tests, at least in terms of the worst-case test condition with Battery Eater. In our light-duty Web Browsing test, the system ran for 286 minutes (4 hours, 46 minutes). That’s one of the shorter runs we’ve seen in this test, though we have fewer system to compare it to than we do for the Battery Eater test. As for Battery Eater, the stress test also presented a challenge. It clocked in at 108 minutes, making for one of the shortest runs among system we’ve recently tested.
|Performance Summary and Rating|
|Performance Summary: The Asus Zenbook Prime UX32VD is, as ultrabooks go, a strong multimedia system. Thanks to the discrete Nvidia graphics with Optimus, the UX32VD puts standard ultrabooks and their integrated graphics to shame the moment you fire up your favorite video game or other multimedia intensive workload. This machine also has storage capacity that will satisfy video enthusiasts and those who in general deal with content creation.
Overall, we like the Asus Zenbook Prime UX32VD. Our small gripes aside, it's a strong performer with real graphics punch. The system looks great and its brushed metal chassis is classy. The backlit keyboard looks positively great in dark or low-light settings. We didn't have any trouble with heat while the system was on flat surfaces, and it didn't get uncomfortably warm during lap duty. Importantly, the UX32VD feels sturdy, despite being a very thin ultrabook. Whether you agree with our take will depend a lot on whether you value strong gaming and multimedia features or a high-end display in your ultrabook of choice.