Whether you're a future architect working on the next Fallingwater or a budding director trying to cut the next Citizen Kane, sometimes you just need more PC than what the traditional mainstream laptop has to offer. But that doesn't mean you need to shell out in excess of $2,000 to get one. Asus' ZenBook Pro UX501VW offers an Intel Core i7 CPU, 16GB of RAM, 512GB SSD and Nvidia 960M discrete graphics, all for just $1499, more than $500 less than an equivalent MacBook Pro or Dell XPS 15. It even has a high-res UHD touch screen, which makes this an ideal machine for editing photos or videos. The ZenBook Pro is so good it feels like there should be a catch or secret hidden beneath its sturdy aluminum unibody frame, but aside from a few minor nitpicks, Asus' 15-inch multimedia machine is almost flawless.
On the 15-inch ZenBook Pro, Asus takes a simple, almost stately approach to design. The machine features an all-aluminum chassis topped by the company's signature concentric ring finish on the metallic gray lid, with subtle, polished edges on the sides. When you pry open the lid, there are more concentric rings set near the rear of the keyboard, and an ample, brushed metal deck where you can rest your palms.
|Asus ZenBook Pro UX501VW Size|
|Dimensions||15.1 x 10.0 x 0.80 inches|
While the ZenBook Pro's lid and palm rest have a little more flex than you get from other aluminum-bodied systems, like the 15-inch MacBook Pro, it's not enough to cause concern, and overall the UX501VW feels quite solid.
Weighing 5 pounds, Asus' ZenBook Pro (15.1 x 10 x 0.8 inches) is about half a pound heavier and slightly larger and thicker than other 15-inch multimedia machines. That includes the 2015 MacBook Pro (14. x 9.7 x 0.71 inches and 4.49 pounds), the Samsung Ativ Book 9 Pro (14. x 9.8 x 0.70 and 4.45 pounds) especially Dell's sleek XPS 15 (14.01 x 9.23 x 0.45-0.66-inches and 4.4 pounds).
Keyboard and Touchpad
With a travel distance of 2.1 millimeters, the ZenBook Pro's keyboard features a long stroke, which, when combined with the keyboard's 62 grams of required actuation force, makes for a comfy typing experience. However, if you're used to boards with short key travel, like I am, it can take a little while to adjust to pressing down all the way in order for keys to register. I hit 76 words per minute on 10fastfingers.com's typing test, which is was on the slow side of my typical 75-80 wpm range, but not annoyingly so.
The one trade-off Asus makes on the keyboard is a half-size Right Shift key in return for a set of full-size arrow keys. While this can make typing a little slower at first, it's a sacrifice that really benefits video pros, who often use those keys to navigate to different frames of while editing.
The ZenBook Pro' s ample, 4 x 2.75-inch touchpad features a smooth, silver-matte finish that blends in with the metal deck. As expected, the touchpad responded quickly and accurately to both clicking and multitouch gestures, such as two-finger scrolling and pinch-to-zoom.
With its 15.6-inch 3840 x 2160 UHD touch screen, the ZenBook Pro's display is ideal for photo and video editors who aren't wedded to Apple. Aside from a very subtle blue tint, both videos and pictures looked almost exactly the same on the ZenBook Pro's display as they did on my professionally calibrated NEC desktop monitor. I just wish the coating were less shiny, as I spent a little too much time staring back at myself.
When I watched the Warcraft movie trailer at 4K, I loved the supersharp detail on the humans' swords, which made them look like they might cut right through the screen. However, I did notice that the icy Blizzard logo at the beginning of the clip had a faintly deeper blue hue than I saw on other displays.
|Asus ZenBook pro UX501VW Display: Test Results|
|Benchmark||Score||How it Compares|
|Color Gamut (sRGB)||111 percent||Very Srrong|
|Color Accuracy (Delta e)||4.37||Below Average|
At 289 nits of brightness, the ZenBook Pro's screen was about as bright as the display on Dell's XPS 15 (285 nits), slightly dimmer than the one on Apple's 2015 MacBook Pro (303 nits) and a good deal behind the screen on Samsung's Ativ Book 9 Pro (405 nits).
The ZenBook Pro's screen can reproduce 110 percent of the sRGB color gamut. Anything above 100 percent is great, and the Asus bested the MacBook Pro by quite a bit (86 percent). However, this notebook's panel lost out to the super-rich displays on the XPS 15 (191 percent) and the Ativ Book 9 Pro (130 percent), although its colors looked more true to life.
Color accuracy also lagged a little behind similar systems, as the ZenBook Pro earned a Delta-E rating of 4.37. (Numbers closer to zero are better.) Dell's XPS 15 (0.7) and Apple's MacBook Pro (2.1) both scored better, while Samsung's Ativ Book 9 Pro was a fair bit away, at 9.5.
At first glance, the ZenBook Pro looks like it's hiding its speakers behind the circular patterns on its deck, but in fact, sound comes from a set of Bang & Olufsens located on opposite sides of the laptop's bottom. When listening to Ratatat's "Neckbrace," I liked the system's clear highs and its reproduction of the wailing guitars, although I found its low-end thump lacking as I missed the headbanging bass I was really looking for.
Discrete graphics often make it difficult for a system to keep its heat properly bottled up. But the ZenBook Pro didn't suffer from this problem. After we streamed a video for 15 minutes, the hottest spot on the system (the underside, in between the two middle fans) measured just 91 degrees Fahrenheit, safely below our 95-degree comfort threshold.
The space between the G and H keys was even cooler, at 88 degrees, and the touchpad didn't register much above room temperature, at 80 degrees.
Ports and Webcam
That means the port can be used to hook up an external display, or for making blazing-fast data transfers at up to 40 Gbps. You also get a combo microphone/headphone jack, HDMI 2.0 and an SD card reader.
The HD webcam is less impressive, though. The picture I snapped in our well-lit office came out too dark, grainy and soft for me to really appreciate it.
The ZenBook Pro comes out of the box ready to tackle all of your productivity and multimedia needs, featuring an Intel Core i7-6700HQ CPU, 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD. That's a good thing, because right now, this is the only config you can buy.
|Asus ZenBook Pro UX501VW (Core i7 / 16GB / 512GB): Performance Tests|
|Benchmark||Score||How it Compares|
|Geekbench 3||11,472||Below Average|
|Spreadsheet Macro Test||3:41||Strong|
|File Transfer Test||462.66 MBps||Strong|
In everyday use, the ZenBook Pro flies through tasks such as sorting through spreadsheets or simply running a bunch of browser tabs. Even with 15 tabs open in Edge, the UX501VW had no trouble streaming multiple 1080p videos from YouTube.
When we ran Geekbench 3 to measure overall system performance, the ZenBook Pro scored 11,472. That's slightly behind numbers from the $2,130 Dell XPS 15 (13,502), $1,599 Samsung Ativ Book 9 Pro (12,334) and $2,500 Apple MacBook Pro (14,423), despite those systems featuring the same, or older versions of the ZenBook Pro's Core i7 CPU.
The UX501VW's PCIe 512GB SSD was pretty speedy, registering a transfer rate of 462.66 MBps, which was significantly faster than showings by the Ativ Book 9 Pro's 256GB SSD (133.9 MBps) and the Dell XPS 15's 512GB SSD (254 MBps), but not quite as fast as the time for the MacBook Pro's 512 solid state drive (636 MBps).
Lastly, on our productivity test, the ZenBook Pro matched 20,000 names and addresses in OpenOffice in just 3 minutes and 41 seconds. Dell's XPS 15 and Samsung's Ativ Book 9 Pro were both in the same range, at 3:36 each, while the MacBook Pro was a little more lethargic, with a time of 4:14.
Featuring an Nvidia 960M GPU with 2GB of vRAM, the ZenBook Pro expectedly kept pace with the graphics power of the Dell XPS 15 (which features the same Nvidia 960M GPU) and outdid the Samsung Ativ Book 9 Pro (which features an older and less potent Nvidia 950M GPU).
On 3DMark's Fire Strike graphics test, the ZenBook Pro scored 4,308, versus 3,949 for the XPS 15 and 3,236 for the Ativ Book 9 Pro. The ZenBook Pro also held a slight edge in gaming, as it pushed 38 fps in Rainbow Six Siege at 1920 x 1080 and high settings. The XPS 15 trailed slightly behind, at 32 fps, and the Ativ Book 9 Pro brought up the rear, at an unplayable 8 fps under the same settings.
Kudos to Asus for addressing one of the few issues we had with last year's ZenBook Pro. The UX501VW lasted a solid 8 hours on the Laptop Mag Battery Test (continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi) versus the pitiful 4:25 we got from this machine's predecessor.
That's more than 2 hours longer than the typical mainstream laptop (5:37), and it beats Dell's XPS 15 (6:36) and Samsung ATIV Book 9 Pro (5:31). Only the MacBook Pro (9:08) lasted longer in this class of notebook.
|Asus ZenBook Pro UX501VW||8:00|
Currently, both Asus and third-party retailers offer only the single $1,500 model, which has an Intel Core i7-6700HQ CPU, 16GB of RAM, 512GB SSD and an Nvidia 960m GPU. However, in the future, I wouldn't mind seeing a model with a more-powerful Nvidia 970M, or a less-expensive model with a 1920 x 1080 screen.
|Asus ZenBook Pro UX501VW Config and Cost|
|Screen||CPU / GPU||RAM / Storage||Price|
|3840 x 2160||Core i7-6700HQ / Nvidia 960m||16GB / 512GB||$1,500|
Software and Warranty
The ZenBook Pro comes with Windows 10 Home and a handful of media-editing programs, such as Cyberlink's PhotoDirector and PowerDirector. But these apps seem like superfluous additions, since the laptop's target audience of Windows-based creative professionals tends to opt for Adobe's more-powerful editing apps. For those who don't already have access to something like Premiere or Photoshop, Asus conveniently provides a gift box featuring a 20 percent off coupon for Adobe Creative Cloud among other software deals.
You also get helpful utilities such as Nvidia's GeForce Experience, along with Asus Live Update, which helps optimize and update your laptop to keep it running smoothly. The Zen Book Pro comes with an Asus' standard one-year warranty as well.
I'm still trying to find the source of Asus' black magic that permitted the creation of a $1,499 machine that rivals the best from Dell and Apple but at a fraction of the cost and with nearly zero compromises. A similarly equipped XPS 15 runs $2,130 and has battery life that's an hour and a half shorter, while the closest MacBook Pro config costs a whopping $2,500 and features a lower-res display and no touch screen or Thunderbolt 3. And despite those other systems sky-high price tags, neither offers much of an advantage, if any, in performance.
The UX501VW's supershiny screen, somewhat-stiff keyboard and slightly greater heft are minor quibbles when you consider this laptop's solid 8-hour battery life, colorful UHD touch screen and beautiful aluminum unibody chassis. The ZenBook Pro is so good, it feels like theft, stealing wind and dollars out of Dell's and Apple's sails while saving you money at the same time.