Attractive brushed aluminum design; Comfortable keyboard and touchpad; Excellent audio; Full HD display with wide viewing angles; Good graphics performance; Long battery life
Expensive; Gets hot when playing games
The ASUS Zenbook UX51Vz delivers strong graphics performance and a full HD screen in a sleek design, making it an excellent 15-inch Windows 8 Ultrabook.
When ASUS released the original Zenbook -- followed by the much-improved Zenbook Prime -- the company hoped to challenge the MacBook Air's dominance of the ultraportable market. Now, the Taiwanese manufacturer has set its sights on the MacBook Pro. The 15-inch Zenbook UX51Vz boasts the same sleek design as previous iterations of the Zenbook series, but crams in a Core i7 CPU, dual SSDs and Nvidia graphics. Is the $1,949 UX51V worth its Apple-esque price?
DesignZenbook Prime, the lid features a subtle circular pattern that radiates from an embossed ASUS logo. A vertically striped pattern adorns the inside and the bottom of the notebook.
At 15.0 x 10.0 x 0.99-1.20 inches and 4.6 pounds, the 15-inch UX51V is noticeably thicker and heavier than the 13-inch Zenbook Prime (0.66 inches thick, 3.0 pounds), as well as the $2,199 15-inch Apple MacBook Pro with Retina Display (0.71 inches thick, 4.46 pounds). The $2,499 Razer Blade (0.88 inches thick, 6.6 pounds) is also thinner than the UX51V, although it has the advantage of distributing its components throughout a 17-inch frame. Nevertheless, the UX51V is light and compact enough for travel.
The UX51V features two small speakers on each side of the notebook next to the deck. The clickpad rests slightly off-center below the G and H keys, and the spacious deck provides plenty of room on which to rest your wrists.
MORE: ASUS Brand Rating
Keyboard and Touchpad
The 4.1 x 2.75-inch clickpad proved equally reliable. The cursor accurately tracked the movement of our finger across the pad, and multitouch gestures such as pinch-to-zoom, two-finger scrolling and edge swiping for Windows 8 gestures all worked consistently.
ASUS also handily includes a vertical line at the bottom of the clickpad to delineate the left and right mouse buttons. Given the frequency with which we accidentally press the wrong button on other clickpads, we appreciated its inclusion.
Colors looked rich when we watched a 1080p trailer for "The Hobbit." The pastoral vistas of the Shire popped off the screen. If you prefer a softer color palette, you can change the display settings using ASUS' Splendid Utility.
The lack of a touch screen will bother some, especially since you can get a touch-enabled Windows 8 notebook for $699. With its tile-based Start Screen and multiple touch-optimized apps, Windows 8 is best experienced using a touch screen. However, adding a touch panel would have increased the weight of this machine and decreased the battery life.
ASUS includes the Waves MaxxAudio sound enhancement software, which allows users to make fine adjustments to individual audio settings such as bass, treble and dialogue. Another feature, MaxxLeveler, automatically adjusts the speakers to deliver the highest fidelity sound at maximum volume.
Although the UX51V remains fairly cool during everyday use, it generates quite a bit of heat when playing graphically intensive games such as "Batman: Arkham City." After playing for 15 minutes, the touchpad registered 83 degrees Fahrenheit, the underside an average of 93 degrees, and the G and H keys 104 degrees. The middle of the bottom near the rear vent reached a troubling 107 degrees. We consider anything above 95 degrees to be uncomfortable.
Ports and Webcam
For many, the UX51V will mark their first encounter with Windows 8. Although Microsoft's new operating system is faster than its predecessor, Windows 8 neophytes may be bewildered by the many changes to the traditional Windows experience.
You can cycle through open apps by swiping your finger from the left side of the clickpad toward the center. Performing the same action, while keeping your finger on the app, allows you to open two apps simultaneously in split-screen mode.
Swiping your finger from the right side of the clickpad toward the center launches the Charms menu, from which you can return to the Start Screen, search for programs and files, share content, connect to devices and adjust settings. The settings sub-menu contains options to manage wireless settings, adjust volume, hide notifications, switch keyboard mode and turn off or restart the PC. But you'll need to use the control panel in desktop mode to access more settings.
ASUS also includes a few Modern style apps, including its own calculator app and an application called ASUS Converter, which can convert units of measurement to and from the metric system.
Microsoft-branded applications include SkyDrive, Skype and Maps, as well as a variety of games. Fresh Paint, for instance, lets you create images using various brushes and colors, while "Wordament" is an online game in which you compete against others in a race to find words in a jumble of letters.
PerformanceDell XPS 15 (same Core i7 CPU, 8GB RAM, a 750GB 7,200-rpm hard drive plus 32GB mSATA SSD, Nvidia GeForce GT 640M GPU) scored a slightly lower 9,394.
On the other hand, the Razer Blade (2.2-GHz quad-core Core i7-3632QM CPU, 8GB of RAM and 500GB 7,200-rpm HDD with 64GB SSD) and the 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display (2.3-GHz quad-core Core i7 CPU, 8GB of RAM and 256GB SSD) both scored higher than the UX51V, turning in 10,644 and 11,049, respectively.
Nevertheless, the UX51V's dual 128GB SSDs proved the speediest of the lot. On the LAPTOP File Transfer Test, the notebook copied 4.97GB of mixed media files in just 21 seconds, good for a jaw-dropping rate of 237.8 MBps. This is exactly 200 MBps faster than the category average, and almost 150 MBps faster than the Razer Blade's 500GB 7,200-rpm hard drive. The MacBook Pro, which also boasts a 256GB SSD, came closest to matching the UX51V with a transfer rate of 196 MBps. The XPS 15's hard drive (37 MBps) isn't in the same league.
Thanks to the one-two combination of its fast SSDs and Windows 8's built-in efficiency, the UX51V booted into Windows in a mere 13 seconds. The Windows 7-powered Razer Blade, by contrast, took 28 seconds to load the OS, while the mainstream notebook average -- which includes Windows 7 notebooks -- is a whopping 51 seconds.
On the LAPTOP Spreadsheet Macro test, the UX51V matched 20,000 names and addresses in 4 minutes and 59 seconds. Although this beats the category average by nearly a minute, it falls just 25 seconds shy of the Razer Blade. The Dell XPS 15 turned in a comparable 4:54.
When we ran 3DMark Vantage, which measures gaming performance, the UX51V trounced the category average (6,407) with its score of 10,848. The MacBook Pro achieved a respectable 8,903, but still couldn't match the UX51V. Again, the Dell XPS 15 fell behind with a score of 8,072.
When we played "Batman: Arkham City" on Low Settings with the resolution at 1920 x 1080, the UX51V averaged a playable 32 frames per second. The Dell XPS 15 (28 fps) couldn't quite keep up. The beefier GPU inside the Razer Blade paced that gaming Ultrabook to a score of 38 fps. That's the same frame rate of the average 15-inch notebook, but many of those systems don't have full HD screens.
When we cranked the graphics up to Very High on the UX51, the frame rate dropped to an unplayable 20 fps. Although this beats the category average by 3 frames per second, it falls just shy of the Razer Blade (24 fps). Lowering the resolution to 1366 x 768 increased performance slightly on the UX51V, to 40 fps on Low settings and 28 fps on Very High.
The UX51V can easily handle mainstream games. When we ran "World of Warcraft" on Good settings with the resolution set to 1920 x 1080, the notebook averaged 103 frames per second, beating the average mainstream notebook by almost 40 fps. The Razer Blade achieved a comparable rate of 104 fps. The game remained playable even we turned the graphics up to Ultra, with an average of 43 frames per second. Once again, this beats the category average (35 fps).
MORE: Top 25 Windows 8 Apps
Configurations and Warranty
In addition to the $1,949 configuration we tested, the UX51V comes in a higher-end XH71 configuration that features Windows 8 Professional, dual 256GB SSDs and a choice of more powerful Core i7 processors. The pricing ranges from $2,299 to $2,499.
The UX51V comes with a standard one-year parts and labor warranty, including 24/7 tech support, as well as a 30-day zero bright dot panel warranty. See how ASUS fared in our annual Tech Support Showdown and Best and Worst Brands Report.
Ultimately, the UX51V's most direct competitor is the 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display. Apple's machine sports a sharper and brighter screen and much longer battery life in a slightly lighter design, but it also costs $250 more. Plus, the game selection for Mac, while improving, trails Windows. Bottom line: The ASUS UX51V isn't just a great MacBook Pro alternative; it's one of the best premium 15-inch Ultrabooks yet.
|CPU||Intel Core i7-3612QM|
|Operating System||Windows 8|
|RAM Upgradable to|
|Hard Drive Size||256GB|
|Hard Drive Speed|
|Hard Drive Type||SSD Drive|
|Optical Drive Speed|
|Graphics Card||Nvidia GeForce GT650M|
|Wi-Fi Model||Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6235|
|Touchpad Size||4.1 x 2.75 inches|
|Ports (excluding USB)||mini-VGA|
|Ports (excluding USB)||Mini DisplayPort|
|Ports (excluding USB)||HDMI|
|Ports (excluding USB)||Combo Headphone/Mic Jack|
|Ports (excluding USB)||USB 3.0|
|Ports (excluding USB)||RJ-45|
|Card Slots||SDHC/MMC Card Reader|
|Warranty/Support||1-year parts and labor|
|Size||15.0 x 10.0 x 0.99-1.20 inches|