With its new Zenbook UX51Vz-XB71, ASUS continues to take aim at the MacBook Pro throne. This sleek 15-inch notebook now has a Retina-like 2880 x 1620-pixel display, delivering crisp and bright images. However, the UX51Vz is more than a pretty face, cramming a third-generation Intel Core i7 processor, Nvidia graphics and dual SSDs into its remarkably thin frame. But is the addition of a Retina-like display and high-powered specs enough to justify its $2,699 price?
The ASUS UX51Vz retains the comely looks of the previous iteration. The faint concentric circles radiating from the chrome ASUS logo on the aluminum lid are still subtly beautiful. Likewise, the silver brushed aluminum interior with its gentle vertical striations are just as elegant, and provide a nice contrast to the lid.
Although a rather large keyboard occupies the majority of the deck, the palm rest easily accommodated our wrists. But for all this largesse, the power button, located in the top right corner, is on the small side.
The Zenbook UX51Vz's 4.6-pound, 15 x 10 x 0.2~0.8-inch frame is lighter and slimmer than the Lenovo IdeaPad Y510p (6.4 pounds, 15.2 x 10.2 x 0.6~1.4 inches) and the Samsung ATIV Book 6 (5.4 pounds, 14.75 x 9.8 x 0.9 inches). However the 4.6-pound, MacBook Pro with Retina Display is thinner still, measuring 14.1 x 9.7 x 0.71 inches.
ASUS is the latest Windows notebook maker to jump on the high-resolution display bandwagon. This iteration of the Zenbook features a 15.6-inch 2880 x 1620 IPS display that is almost on a par, pixel-wise, with the 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display (2880 x 1800).
In a side-by-side comparison with a 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display, a 1080p image of an eagle in flight was more detailed on the MacBook. On the Mac, colors were more saturated, especially the bird's gold and brown plumage, which made it pop a bit more than on the ASUS.
However, the Zenbook redeemed itself on the 1080p "Lovelace" trailer. We saw the highlights in Amanda Seyfried's curly brown hair better on the UX51Vz; while colors were more saturated on the Mac, it rendered her hair a dark, black mass.
ASUS' Splendid Technology allows users to adjust the display's color temperature. During our testing, we found that the Vivid setting delivered the best results with rich, vibrant hues. Viewing angles are wide enough to comfortably accommodate three people.
The UX51Vz registered 267 lux on our light meter, brighter than the 200 lux mainstream average. It's also higher than the Retina MacBook Pro (223 lux) and the ATIV Book 6 (246 lux). However, the Y510p outshone the pack, measuring 321 lux.
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Aside from movies and images, though, much work needs to be done when it comes to apps and Windows 8 itself to take advantage of Retina-like displays. We perused a number of websites (GeekTyrant, Clutch Magazine, New York Times and Kotaku) and could barely read the print, forcing us to enlarge to at least 200 percent. In Desktop mode, menu items were microscopic.
Worse, there are no Retina-ready apps in the Windows Store. By comparison, the Apple Store has more than 250 Retina-optimized apps. Even Microsoft's own News app had text that was difficult to read.
Toward the front of the UX51Vz, ASUS stashed a couple of tiny speakers along the sides. Combined with Bang & Olufsen's ICEPower technology and the Waves Maxx Audio software, the speakers filled our medium-size test room with clear audio. Regina Belle's silky alto wafted across gentle piano chords and warm bass on her rendition of Sinatra's "Fly Me To The Moon."
The addition of the optional external ASUS SonicMaster subwoofer added a welcome level of depth to the track. It takes about a second for the audio to adjust after plugging in the woofer, but once settled, it fleshed out the lower register of the track and enhanced some of the background vocals. The ASUS SonicMaster subwoofer is available for $49.99; we wish it were included with the notebook itself.
The UX51Vz's island-style keyboard is plenty large. The lettering on the black flat keys is slightly raised, which should assist some touch typists. ASUS managed to cram in a full number pad; those keys are slim. But overall, the keys delivered deep, bouncy feedback and were a joy to type on. We scored 65 words per minute on the Ten Thumbs Typing Test, which is well above our normal 55 wpm average.
The keyboard's radiant backlighting enabled us to use the notebook in some of the dimmer rooms around our office. The top row of the keyboard includes shortcut keys for adjusting the backlight, screen brightness volume and more, but you need to use an Fn combo. Why?
Because the UX51Vz lacks a touch screen, you'll need to navigate Windows 8 using the touchpad. Fortunately, the 4.2 x 2.8-inch pad provides plenty of real estate for your fingers. The surface accurately tracked our finger's movements, particularly on multitouch gestures such as pinch-zoom, two-finger scroll and three-finger swipe.
We experienced some difficulty performing two-finger rotate, but when we did get it to work, there was a nice animation to accompany it. We had an easier time calling up the Charms menu and switching between open apps on the touchpad. In case you want to disable a gesture or two, ASUS has included its Smart Gesture control panel that quickly lets you toggle gestures off and on.
The bottom corners of the touchpad delivered strong tactile feedback, complete with an audible click.
The UX51Vz can get a little hot under the vent. During our heat test, where we stream a full-screen Hulu video for 15 minutes, the space between the G and H keys and the bottom of the notebook measured 99 and 96 degrees Fahrenheit, respectively. That's slightly above our 95-degree comfort threshold. However, the area near the hinge blew a toasty 105 degrees. The touchpad was the only cool spot at 81 degrees.
The UX51Vz's 2.0 megapixel HD camera captures stills in 720p and video in 480p using ASUS' LifeFrame software. Test shots around the office were rife with visual noise that nullified any sharpness. At least the color was spot on, especially in the case of our neon green headphones.
The right side of the UX51Vz houses a USB 3.0 port, a 2-in-1 card reader, a mini-VGA port, a combination headphone/microphone jack and a jack for the external subwoofer. A pair of USB 3.0 ports sits on the left with HDMI, Gigabit Ethernet and the power jack.
For a notebook rocking a last-generation processor, the ASUS Zenbook UX51Vz packs quite a wallop. The laptop's 2.2-GHz Intel Core i7-3632QM CPU easily streamed an episode of "Batman: The Animated Series" while performing a system scan with 10 open tabs in Mozilla Firefox, Internet Explorer and Google Chrome.
The UX51Vz scored a respectable 8,672 on Geekbench, easily outpacing the 6,890 mainstream average. This mark was enough to top the Samsung ATIV Book 6's 8,511 (2.4-GHz Intel Core i7-3635QM CPU). However, neither was a match for the Lenovo IdeaPad Y510p (2.2-GHz Intel Core i7-4702MQ) or the Apple MacBook Pro (2.3-GHz Intel Core i7 quad-core), which notched 8,885 and 11,049, respectively.
Outfitted with dual 256GB SSDs in RAID 0 formation, the UX51Vz is built for serious speed. The laptop booted Windows 8 Professional in a blistering 9 seconds. The Y510p's 1TB 5,400-rpm hard drive and 24GB SSD loaded Windows 8 in 19 seconds, while the ATIV Book 6's 1TB 5,400-rpm hard drive clocked 36 seconds. The Pro and its 256GB Flash memory booted OS X in 15 seconds.
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During the File Transfer Test, the UX51Vz duplicated 4.97GB of multimedia files in 16 seconds for a transfer rate of 318 MBps -- leaps and bounds faster than the 46 MBps category average. The Pro was a distant second with 196 MBps, while the Y510p and the ATIV Book 6 posted speeds of 46.6 MBps and 25 MBps, respectively.
When we ran the OpenOffice Test, which matches 20,000 names and addresses, the UX51Vz finished in 4 minutes and 33 seconds. That time topped the 5:42 average, but it was not enough to beat the Y510p (4:15) and ATIV Book 6 (4:23).
Beneath the ASUS Zenbook UX51Vz's sleek exterior beats the heart of an entry-level gaming notebook. The UX51Vz's Nvidia GT650M GPU with 2GB of video memory is more than enough to polish off a few quests in "World of Warcraft" and explore a few ancient crypts in "Tomb Raider," just not at the highest settings.
When we ran 3DMark11, the UX51Vz notched 2,139, and while that's comfortably higher than the 1,382 mainstream average, it fell short of competing systems. The Samsung ATIV Book 6 (AMD Radeon HD 8770M GPU with 1GB of VRAM) scored slightly higher with 2,199. The MacBook Pro (Nvidia GT650M/Intel HD Graphics 4000 GPU with 1GB of VRAM) gave us 2,275. The Lenovo IdeaPad Y510p and its pair of Nvidia GeForce GT 750M GPUs with 2GB of VRAM blew the competition away with a searing 5,092.
During the "World of Warcraft" benchmark, the UX51Vz notched 47 fps on autodetect at 2880 x 1620. That's good, but the MacBook Pro delivered 84 fps at 2880 x 1800. The Y510p and ATIV Book 6, both of which have 1080p displays, notched 176 fps 55 fps, respectively.
When we switched to maximum settings, the UX51Vz dropped to 26 fps, below the 38 fps average. The ATIV Book 6 scored 33 fps, while the MacBook Pro reached 41 fps. The Y510p came out on top with an impressive 81 fps.
The UX51Vz held its own on during "Bioshock Infinite" testing, scoring 53 fps on low at 1600 x 900. That's enough to top the 46 fps category average and the ATIV Book 6's 34 fps frame rate. However, after cranking the settings to Ultra, the UX51Vz's frame rate dropped to an unplayable 17 fps.
Outfitted with Nvidia's Optimus technology, the ASUS Zenbook UX51Vz switches automatically from its discrete GPU to integrated Intel HD 4000 Graphics to conserve battery life. Despite this, the Zenbook lasted just 4 hours and 38 minutes on the Laptop Battery Test (continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi). That's nearly an hour short of the 5:32 mainstream average, but more than enough to top the Lenovo IdeaPad Y510p's time of 3:08. The Samsung ATIV Book 6 fared better with 5:26, but the MacBook Pro lasted an excellent 8:02.
Software and Warranty
ASUS offers a bunch of its own apps and utilities for the Zenbook UX51V. Aside from the color-adjusting Splendid technology, ASUS On Screen display lets you adjust color while gaming. The Power 4 Hybrid utility enables users to create custom power settings according to whether the notebook is plugged in or running off the battery.
Those looking to safeguard their photos and videos should appreciate the 32GB of cloud storage courtesy of ASUS WebStorage. The notebook also comes with a desktop version of the MyBitCast app that allows users to interact with their notes on a larger display.
ASUS also included its Instant Connect software that lets you tether either an ASUS (PadFone, ME171) or Samsung (Note, Nexus, Galaxy SII and Galaxy SIII) smartphone via USB. We attempted to use Instant Connect with a Galaxy III, but the software failed to detect our device. An Installation Wizard keeps the notebook up to date with the latest versions of ASUS-branded software.
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Other preloaded apps include Adobe Reader X, Skype, Microsoft Office and Fresh Paint.
The ASUS Zenbook UX51Vz-XB71 comes with a one-year International warranty with one year of accidental damage and 30-Day Zero Bright Dot protection. There's also 24/7 tech support.
Our $2,699 configuration of the ASUS Zenbook UX51Vz-XB71 features a 2.2-GHz third-generation Intel Core i7-3632QM processor with 8GB of RAM, dual 256GB SSDs in RAID 0 configuration, Intel HD 4000 Graphics and Nvidia GT650M with 2GB of VRAM, and a 2880 x 1620 display.
The $1,999 version (UX51Vz-DH71) has a 2.1-GHz Intel Core i7-3612QM CPU, 8GB of RAM, a pair of 128GB SSD in RAID 0, Nvidia GT650M/Intel HD 4000 GPU with 2GB of VRAM, and a 1920 x 1080 screen.
You've got to hand it to ASUS. Its Zenbook UX51Vz delivers both beauty and power, and the addition of a high-resolution display really makes photos and games pop. However, the $2,699 price tag is fairly steep, and Windows 8 is simply not yet optimized to take advantage of Retina-like displays. We also wish this Zenbook ran a bit cooler.
Ultimately, the MacBook Pro with Retina Display sports a sharper, more colorful display and longer battery life for $500 less than the Zenbook. Plus, there are a number of apps that can take advantage of its high-res screen. But thanks to its Core i7 CPU, lightning-fast SSDs and powerful Nvidia GPU, the ASUS Zenbook UX51Vz-XB71 is a very good Windows alternative.