August 18, 2012, 7:25 AM — The new Asux Zenbook UX31A looks like the old UX31E, with a brushed, bronze-tinted, solid aluminum shell that looks slightly dangerous and angular. The weight remains the same, at 3 pounds and an ounce. But our test model arrived with a gorgeous, 1080p IPS (in-plane switching) display and an Ivy Bridge processor, boosting both performance and display quality. Price (as of 08/09/2012) is about $1449.
Points of Improvement
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In addition to updating its UX31 Zenbook line with Ivy Bridge CPUs, Asus is trying to bring consistency to its touchpad pointing experience. PCWorlds review of the earlier Zenbook UX31E was mostly favorable, but the review said that the touchpad wasnt optimal. One issue that the company itself noted was that it sourced touchpads from two different vendors, and it was a crapshoot as to which one youd get when you bought a Zenbook.
The UX31A rectifies that, using the same brand and model of touchpad in all systems. Drivers have been tuned a bit as well, and the overall touchpad experience is better. Palm detection has improved, though the cursor still has a slight tendency to overshoot when you use your finger to move it. Multitouch gestures and tap-to-click no longer have excessive lag, either.
You can still get the Zenbook with a 1600 by 900 pixel display, but its worth spending a few dollars more for the 1920 by 1080 pixel display, based on IPS technology. The one downside: all those pixels crammed into a 13.3-inch display may make you want to adjust the display's scaling for fonts to improve readability. The 1080p display includes an antiglare filter, a welcome standout in a sea of glossy, too-reflective panels.
Sound quality through the built-in speakers, codeveloped by Bang & Olufsen, is mostly accurate, though some acoustic classical material sounded a touch bright. As with most systems with tiny speakers, the Zenbook lacks any real bass contentyoull want external speakers or headphones if youre looking for more boom in your audio.
Our Zenbook review unit included the speedy Core i7-3517u CPU, supporting four software threads with two cores, and 4MB of L3 cache. As with most Ultrabooks, the system includes 4GB of RAM, some of which needs to be allocated to the integrated Intel HD 4000 graphics processor.
Overall performance is on a par with the similar Acer Aspire S5, posting an 82 on PCWorlds combined assessment.
The Acer still ekes out a higher Worldbench 7 score, posting a startlingly high 195, compared with the Zenbooks 150.
The Asus takes 20.1 seconds to start up from a cold boot, slightly slower than the average of 16.3 seconds for recently reviewed Ultrabooks, despite the built-in, 256GB solid-state drive. However, overall storage performance is excellent, outpacing all competitors.
As you might expect, gaming performance is limited, since the Zenbook relies on Intels HD 4000 integrated GPU. Its an improvement over past Intel graphics efforts, but no replacement for a discrete graphics chip. With demanding games, youll need to dial down the graphics settings for playable frame rates.
In the end, Asus essentially maintains performance parity with the similarly priced Acer Aspire S5, but includes a better display.
Battery life is an excellent 6 hours, 24 minutes, falling just short of Toshibas larger U845W and outpacing the rest of the pack of recent Ultrabooks.