New ASUS Zenbook Prime UX31A Raises the Bar for Ultrabooks
It’s no secret that Ultrabooks have become more and more prominent in recent years, slowly phasing out older, underperforming netbooks. It looks like ASUS has now fully embraced the Ultrabook category.
ASUS continues to impress with its Zenbook Prime series, updating the Zenbook UX31E series from last fall into a premier Ultrabook for 2012 with the UX31A series. The ASUS Zenbook Prime UX31A Series comes in four different models, the UX31A-DB51, UX31A-XB52, UX31A-DB71 and UX31A-XB72. All four models come with 13.3” IPS-panel displays, Ivy Bridge processors, solid state drives, updated keyboards, touchpads and more.
When you first see the Zenbook Prime UX31A notebooks, you’ll notice that they look very similar to the Zenbook UX31E line. Both the UX31A and UX31E have the signature spun-metal lids found on all Zenbooks, a precision-crafted aluminum chassis and an ultra-slim 0.3” profile. The Zenbook Prime UX31A definitely feels a bit sturdier than the UX31E in your hands, but it still manages to stay under 3 pounds. However, the notebook can tip if you push the lid back too far, so be sure to keep the screen open at a more acute angle. The all-metal body is susceptible to scratches, so be sure to keep this Ultrabook in a notebook sleeve or backpack with a dedicated padded pocket when traveling. Overall, the Zenbook Prime UX31A notebook feels solid, reliable and most of all, ultraportable.
Taking a tour of the Zenbook Prime UX31A Ultrabook, you’ll see that the left side houses a USB 3.0 port, a 3.5mm headphone/microphone combo jack and something that was missing from the smaller 11.6” Zenbook Prime UX21A Ultrabook counterparts—a Secure Digital (SD) media card slot. The right side has another USB 3.0 port, a mini-VGA port and a micro-HDMI port. The front and back sides of the Zenbook Prime UX31A Ultrabook are free of any ports, mainly because the front is too thin for ports, and the back is dominated by the lid hinge.
One major difference between the Zenbook Prime UX31A Ultrabooks and the Zenbook UX31E Ultrabooks is the keyboard; soft black chiclet keys have replaced the metal keys. While it’s nearly impossible to add a numeric keypad to a 13.3” notebook, ASUS managed to squeeze in four arrow keys at the bottom right of the keyboard. These keys work well if you want to quickly scroll or navigate a website without using the touchpad. ASUS also added keyboard backlighting, which is great for low-light situations, and can be turned on and off manually. The updated keyboard provides a much more rewarding typing experience with less flex and better responsiveness.
The touchpad has also been improved with more responsiveness, as there is always room for improvement. ASUS dedicated the bottom left and right corners of the touchpad to the left and right buttons of a mouse, respectively, but on the model we tested, it didn't always register when pressed. You might be better off double-tapping the middle of the touchpad if you want to select something. Navigating is serviceable as long as you don’t move too quickly. Scrolling works fairly well, but the multi-touch gestures require you to be precise in order for them to work. ASUS has been releasing a steady stream of touchpad drivers in order to improve the performance of the touchpad. With the drivers installed, the touchpad did work better.
There are several things that the Zenbook Prime UX31A Ultrabook is good at, but the most impressive, by far, is its display. Housing an IPS (in-plane switching) panel, ASUS managed to squeeze in a native resolution of 1920 x 1080. That’s native support for Full HD 1080p content… on a 13.3” display. The 16:9 display is also backlit with LED lamps, which helps conserve energy and increase the display’s life cycle. The screen also has a matte antiglare coating which helps reduce the glare often seen in glossy displays.
Everything looks sharp on the 13.3” IPS display. Granted, the text is a bit small due to the high resolution and pixel count, but the crisp and clear detail of the screen makes it easy to read. You can also zoom in or magnify text and icons through the display settings if necessary. Colors are vibrant and black levels are deep and consistent. We played a downloaded 1080p HD video and the quality was fantastic. Unfortunately, there’s no Blu-ray Disc player (or any optical drive for that matter) so you can’t take full advantage of the screen. However, downloadable HD content, like that available through Amazon Video or iTunes, plays smoothly and seamlessly on the 13.3” display. Streaming HD content can play great too, but the quality of the video is determined by your connection, not the display. The micro-HDMI port lets you output to an external display in Full HD 1080p so you can enjoy watching your favorite movies on a bigger HDTV.
While there’s no dedicated graphics card, the integrated Intel HD Graphics 4000 is more than capable of handling everyday tasks, such as viewing high-quality photos or surfing the Web. You won’t be able to play any demanding PC games, but this Ultrabook is geared more toward everyday tasks and multimedia use anyway.
The Zenbook Prime UX31A Ultrabook comes with built-in stereo speakers, but like other laptop speakers, they are not designed to reproduce impressive audio. Even though they’re powered by SonicMaster technology, which was co-developed and approved by world famous Bang & Olufsen ICEpower, there is just not enough volume to make music or a movie soundtrack robust. Plug a good pair of headphones into the 3.5mm combo audio jack and you’ll have a more rewarding audio. The Zenbook Prime UX31A Ultrabook plays audio through the combo audio jack with much more clarity, volume and articulated bass and treble.
Ivy Bridge Intel Core Processors
Remember we mentioned in the beginning of this review that there are four Zenbook Prime UX31A models? This is where they go their separate ways. A vast improvement over the Zenbook UX31E Ultrabooks, which run Sandy Bridge Intel Core processors, is the Ivy Bridge Intel Core processors. Ivy Bridge processors use a 22nm architecture as opposed to the Sandy Bridge 32nm architecture, allowing for more efficient operation.
The Zenbook Prime UX31A-DB51 Ultrabook uses an Ivy Bridge Intel Core i5-3317U processor. Its dual cores can reach a stock speed of 1.7 GHz, and the processor can be overclocked up to 2.6 GHz thanks to Intel Turbo Boost 2.0 technology. The processor has a 3MB L3 cache.
The Zenbook Prime UX31A-DB71 Ultrabook uses an Ivy Bridge Intel Core i7-3517UE processor. Its dual cores can reach a stock speed of 1.7 GHz, and the processor can be overclocked up to 2.8 GHz, again thanks to Intel Turbo Boost 2.0 technology. The processor has a 4MB L3 cache.
The Zenbook Prime UX31A-XB52 has the same Ivy Bridge Intel Core i5-3317U processor as the UX31A-DB51. The Zenbook Prime UX31A-XB72 Ultrabook has the same Ivy Bridge Intel Core i7-3517UE processor as the UX31A-DB71.
RAM and Solid State Drive
All three Zenbook Prime UX31A models have 4GB of DDR3 RAM. However, the UX31A-DB51 and UX31A-XB52 both have a 128GB SATA 6Gb/s solid-state drive while the UX31A-DB71 and the UX31A-XB72 both have 256GB SATAQ 6Gb/s solid-state drives. While both 128GB and 256GB don’t seem like a lot of storage space, solid-state drives allow faster boot up than a traditional hard disk drives, and since solid-state drives do not have any moving parts, they last longer and are less susceptible to the damaging vibrations that plague traditional, mechanical hard disk drives. The ASUS Instant On feature allows the Zenbook Prime UX31A Ultrabook to boot up in less than 2 seconds.
Trusted Platform Module
The Zenbook Prime UX31A-XB52 and UX31A-XB72 both have a built-in trusted platform module (TPM) chip for embedded security. A trusted platform module provides hard disk encryption and password protection for added security. The TPM chip keeps your important documents and files safe and secure. The UX31A-DB51 and the UX31A-DB71 do not have a TPM chip.
The Zenbook Prime UX31A-DB51 and UX31A-DB71 Ultrabooks both run the Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit OS. The Zenbook Prime UX31A-XB52 and UX31A-XB72 both run the Microsoft Windows 7 Professional 64-bit operating system. If it comes with Windows 7 Home Premium, it can be upgraded for free to the Windows 7 Professional 64-bit OS. The Zenbook Prime UX31A Ultrabooks also come with pre-loaded software.
All three Zenbook Prime UX31A Ultrabook models support 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and a USB-to-LAN adapter if you prefer a wired Ethernet connection. They also feature approximately seven hours of battery life on a single charge, and a one-year limited ASUS warranty that includes coverage of accidental damage and 24/7 technical phone support.
So, what are our thoughts on the ASUS Zenbook Prime UX31A Ultrabooks? They’re good, really good. They’re definitely comparable in their price range. With their 13.3” IPS display with a Full HD 1920 x 1080 native resolution, Ivy Bridge processors and solid state drives, the Zenbook Prime UX31A Ultrabooks are contenders against other established ultraportables, such as the MacBook Air.
Have you purchased an ASUS Zenbook Prime UX31A Ultrabook? We would love to know your thoughts! Please leave us a comment, below, with your impressions.
If you would like more information on how Ultrabooks are classified, click here.