ASUS Zenbook UX51VZ: Great Laptop, High Priceby Jarred Walton on April 30, 2013 1:00 AM EST
Closing Thoughts and Other Items
I really like the UX51VZ, but there have been a few flies in the ointment. One is that WiFi connectivity is intermittent—there’s a workaround that involves disabling Bluetooth support, but while I can live with that it’s not ideal for many people. Pricing is a second concern, and even at the now-reduced pricing I still feel the UX51VZ is priced a couple hundred dollars too high for most. It’s a premium product at a premium price, sure, but ASUS is not Apple, and Apple is notorious for their high profit margins.
Battery life is also somewhat middling, considering the 72Wh battery—I was expecting to see more like seven or eight hours of useful battery life, but perhaps the IPS display draws a bit more power than TN displays. And speaking of the display, while it's better than any TN in my opinion (thanks to the viewing angles), color accuracy and color gamut aren't particularly noteworthy, with out-of-the-box colors that are too red and too blue.
The final concern is thermal throttling. While there are two fans in the UX51VZ, the CPU, chipset, and GPU are connected to both fans via heatpipes. That’s good for instances when the CPU is loaded and the GPU isn’t, or vice versa, but when you put a full load on both the CPU and GPU at the same time, the cooling system shares the heat between all the parts. That can lead in some cases to a bit of throttling. I didn’t see this with pure gaming workloads, but if I put a heavy load on the CPU (e.g. run x264 HD on three of the cores) and then run a game, GPU usage in some cases does appear to drop down in order to control temperatures. On the other hand, without the extra CPU load I was able to run the GPU at 970MHz/5GHz core/RAM (that’s the full GPU Boost clock and a 25% bump in memory clock) for an extra 10-15% performance without any noticeable problems. Depending on the climate you’re in, your performance may vary.
With the concerns above, let me end again by reiterating the good. ASUS provides a good IPS display that I’d like to see become the minimum standard for a quality laptop in 2013. The build quality and industrial design are both good, performance ranges from acceptable to great depending on what you’re doing, and the only way to get a substantially faster laptop is to abandon the thin and light/Ultrabook market entirely and grab something that’s at least 50% thicker and 25% heavier than the UX51VZ. Yes, you can get similar and even slightly better performance from ASUS' own G55VW for $1156 (don't forget to add an SSD!), but I'm not sure anyone would argue the G55VW looks better than the UX51VZ.
If you can wait a bit longer, there will always be something newer and better. I don’t expect Haswell to offer substantially better performance in most cases, but if nothing else I expect better battery life than Ivy Bridge on laptops. More importantly, I expect ASUS will have a revised UX51VZ that will address the WiFi issues and perhaps improve in other ways as well. If you can wait, there’s almost never harm in doing so—we’re not talking about a stock where prices might jump up 50% or more if you fail to act! If you want a good “large Ultrabook” right now, though, there really aren’t any others that I can immediately recommend. Next month, I might be singing a different tune; in the meantime, welcome to Mobile Bench 2013.