Awesome 1080p screen; Nvidia graphics lets you play latest games; Robust speakers; Comfortable keyboard and touchpad; Good port selection
Shorter battery life than UX31A; Runs hot in certain locations; Below-average overall performance
The ASUS Zenbook Prime UX32VD combines the best Ultrabook display with Nvidia graphics for extra gaming muscle.
You can't blame ASUS for wanting to diversify its Ultrabook lineup. Not when it has an awesome full HD screen that's even better than the MacBook Air's. For the UX32VD, ASUS added discrete Nvidia graphics to this glorious display. Yes, this a 3.2-pound laptop that can game. ASUS did trade the full-fledged SSD on the UX31A for a 500GB hard drive and 24GB SSD combo to keep the price reasonable. How reasonable? Try $1,299, which is only $100 more than the Air. Find out if this ambitious ultraportable has the oomph you need.
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The UX32VD features the same sleek spun-metal lid found on previous Zenbooks. The deck and bottom are also aluminum, but the internal frame structure is a plastic aluminum composite instead of the aluminum unibody design on the UX31A and MacBook Air. While that's a bit of a letdown, the design still felt sturdy in our hands. Plus, the UX32VD has flatter edges than its cousin, making it more comfortable to hold and carry.
This matte display also does games like "Batman: Arkham City" justice. We could easily make out individual whiskers on Hugo Strange's scraggly beard.
As for brightness, the UX32VD registered an average of 368 lux using our light meter. That's not quite as bright as the UX31A (423 lux) but it beats the MacBook Air (268 lux for the 2012 model).
Our only complaint is that the full HD resolution can result in very small text on screen when surfing the Web and using other apps. You'll have to zoom in.
AudioMacBook Air produced louder sound when we streamed Coldplay's "Paradise" from Google Play, but the UX32VD had a warmer, more robust sound. The Air sounded harsher and tinnier at full volume, while the ASUS did a better job balancing Chris Martin's vocals with the strings and keyboard.
Keyboard and Touchpad
We just wish ASUS would stop with the function key combos and just let users adjust the screen brightness and other settings with a single press. The keyboard backlight proved plenty bright while trying to bang out an email in the Lincoln Tunnel.
We can tell that ASUS is taking touchpad performance seriously because it includes a dedicated Smart Gesture suite that lets you toggle all sorts of settings, from tap to select and pinch-to-zoom to show desktop (three fingers down). More important, the clickpad on the UX32VD performed fairly well in our testing, thanks to a recent driver update.
The addition of a discrete GPU makes the UX32VD a notebook that runs hotter than the UX31A. After streaming a Hulu video for 15 minutes, the touchpad measured a relatively cool 84 degrees Fahrenheit, but between the G & H keys the temperature reached 99 degrees and the underside registered 97 degrees. We consider anything above 95 to be uncomfortable.
As you might expect, gaming resulted in higher temps. After playing "Batman: Arkham City" for 15 minutes, the UX32VD reached 102 degrees between the G & H keys and 100 on the bottom. The lower right corner on the bottom got as high as 105 degrees. While gaming, the fan did become loud, but not enough to distract us from fighting evil.
Ports and Webcam
The $1,299 Zenbook Prime UX32VD ships with a 1.9-GHz Core i7-3517U processor, the same chip that powered the higher-end $1,499 UX31A we reviewed. (The UX31 starts with a 1.7-GHz Core i5 CPU for $1,099.) You also get 4GB of memory, which is a little skimpy for this price. However, this model doesn't use all flash memory like the UX31A. Instead, ASUS pairs a 7,200-rpm 500GB hard drive with 24GB SSD to speed up boots and application load times. This gives gamers more space for storing the latest titles, but it impacts overall performance.
On PCMark 07, which measures overall performance, the UX32VD scored 2,277. That showing is well below the UX31A (4,989) and 13-inch Air (4,380), owing mostly to this Zenbook's lack of a full-fledged solid state drive.
The UX32VD was also slower to boot Windows than its UX31 cousin (44 seconds versus 23 seconds), but its time is on a par with the ultraportable average. Most Ultrabooks with full SSDs take less than 30 seconds. Fortunately, this machine woke from sleep in just 1 to 2 seconds upon opening the lid.
As expected, this Zenbook's file transfer rate also trailed competing Ultrabooks. It took the laptop 3 minutes and 44 seconds to duplicate a 4.97GB folder of multimedia files, which translates to 23 MBps. That's well below the 58 MBps ultraportable average, which mostly includes full-SSD models.
This Zenbook Prime took 5 minutes and 26 seconds to complete the LAPTOP Spreadsheet Macro Test, which uses OpenOffice Calc to match 20,000 names with their addresses. This showing soundly beat the Ultraportable category average (8:22) and 13-inch Air (6:47) and didn't trail the UX31A by too much (4:59).
The UX32VD can also transcode video in a hurry. It took the notebook only 17 seconds to convert a 5-minute 1080p video to an iPhone-friendly format using Cyberlink MediaEspresso. That's faster than the UX31A (30 seconds) and Dell XPS 13 (29 seconds).
Graphics and Gaming
If you want to get your game on, the UX32VD will be happy to oblige--so long as you keep your expectations in check. The GPU inside this Ultrabook is Nvidia's entry-level GeForce GT620M with Optimus technology, which switches between Intel's HD 4000 graphics and the discrete chip automatically to save on battery life.
How good is the gaming performance? At its native full HD resolution, the UX32VD reached 62 frames per second on "World of Warcraft" with the settings on auto. That's nearly double what the UX31A achieved with its integrated GPU (36 fps). The action was a still-smooth 40 fps when we bumped up all the settings on the UX32VD.
The UX32VD also excelled on synthetic graphics benchmarks. It scored 1,123 on 3DMark 11, compared to just 594 on the UX31A and 800 for the category average. The 13-inch Air scored 624 on this test in Boot Camp mode.
One of the other corners ASUS cut in order to cram a discrete GPU into this Ultrabook is endurance. The UX32VD features a 48 watt-hour battery, compared with the larger 50 watt-hour battery inside the UX31A. As a result, this notebook lasted 5 hours and 16 seconds on the LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi at 40 percent brightness.) The UX31A lasted more than an hour longer (6:28), and the average ultraportable lasts 6:44.
We're not a fan of the pop-ups that the Zenbook Prime hits you with out of the box. McAfee Internet Security was particularly annoying, so you'll want to either activate it right away or uninstall it. The UX32VD also kept reminding us to register our system. Just do it and get it over with.
Support and Warranty
ASUS covers the Zenbook Prime with a one-year warranty that includes parts, labor and one instance of accidental coverage as well as 24/7 support. See how ASUS fared in our Tech Support Showdown and Best & Worst Brands repots.
The $1,299 UX32VD-DB71 comes in one configuration, which includes a 1.9-GHz Core i7 CPU, 4GB of RAM and a 500GB 7,200-prm hard drive augmented with a 24GB SSD. Shoppers looking to spend less can opt for the $1,099 UX31A, which is thinner and lighter and features Intel's Core i5 CPU, a 128GB SSD and integrated graphics. Or you can step up to the $1,499 model of the UX31A, which offers the same 1.9-GHz CPU as the UX32VD but sports a larger 256GB SSD.
The $1,299 ASUS Zenbook Prime UX32VD is sort of a niche Ultrabook for those not satisfied with Intel's graphics performance, and on that basis it succeeds. You get the same sweet 1080p IPS screen and rich Bang & Olufsen speakers as the UX31A, and Nvidia's GeForce GT 620M GPU provides enough muscle to play some of the most demanding games (albeit at lower resolutions). There's a reason why the UX32VD was out of stock at multiple online retailers as we wrote this.
However, this Zenbook Prime's graphics upgrade comes at the expense of battery life, additional heat and a thicker and heavier design. We would be more willing to live with these trade-offs if ASUS equipped this version of its Ultrabook with a full SSD instead of just an SSD cache. And we suspect that a lot of people would be willing to pay extra for it. For now, though, the UX32VD will surely satisfy as long as you know what you're giving up.
|CPU||1.9-GHz Core i7-3517U|
|Operating System||MS Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)|
|RAM Upgradable to||4GB|
|Hard Drive Size||500GB + 24GB SSD|
|Hard Drive Speed||7,200rpm|
|Hard Drive Type||SATA Hard Drive + mSATA SSD|
|Optical Drive Speed||n/a|
|Graphics Card||Nvidia GeForce GT620M/ Intel HD 4000 graphics|
|Touchpad Size||4.1 x 2.75|
|Ports (excluding USB)||USB 3.0|
|Ports (excluding USB)||Mini DisplayPort|
|Ports (excluding USB)||Headphone|
|Ports (excluding USB)||HDMI|
|Card Slots||2-1 card reader|
|Size||12.8 x 8.8 x 0.21-0.7 inches|