When Asus’s Zenbook UX31E debuted last year, it seemed to almost single-handedly put Ultrabooks on the map. Its intriguing mix of good looks, performance, and price convinced many a skeptic, us included, that PCs could compete with the likes of Apple’s vaunted MacBook Air—at a price that catered to common folk.
Now Asus is back with its second-generation Zenbooks, and the company hasn’t been slacking. Some of the specs have received a serious goosing, without a big hike in price. Indeed, the follow-up to the UX31E—the UX31A—is just $50 more than the original, at $1,100, despite boasting a new Ivy Bridge processor, which clock-for-clock offers approximately 10 percent more performance on the CPU side while improving graphics performance two-fold, as well as a superior IPS panel with an increased resolution of 1920x1080, and a backlit keyboard.
But we’re not actually here to talk about the UX31A. Rather, we turn our attention to the brand-new Zenbook UX32Vd—which boasts the same sleek form factor, same improvements to screen and keyboard, an even faster Ivy Bridge processor in the form of a 1.9GHz Intel Core i7-3517U, and discrete graphics. Yes, Asus has squeezed an Nvidia GeForce GT 620M GPU into this 13.3-inch slender wedge of brushed metal measuring just .70 inches at its thickest.
The UX32Vd comes with a protective sleeve, as well as a small pouch for carrying two connector dongles: one USB-to-Ethernet, one Mini-VGA-to-VGA.
In other words, the UX32Vd manages to still look and feel like an Ultrabook should, in our minds, as opposed to pushing the boundaries with a larger, thicker chassis, à la Acer’s 15.6-inch Timeline M3 gaming Ultrabook (reviewed July 2012). The question is whether you can have your sliver of portable-gaming cake and eat it too. Or, in less labored terms, does a discrete GPU make sense in such a svelte device?
The UX32Vd’s GT 620M has the same GPU clock, memory clock, and boost as the Acer M3’s GT 640M (625-, 900-, and 700MHz, respectively,) but just one-third the CUDA cores, or shaders (96 vs. 384). That made a big difference in our gaming benchmarks—by nearly 50 percent. In fact, under our standard testing conditions of 1680x1050 res, with 4x AA and 4x anisotropic filtering, Call of Duty 4 was just playable at 30.7fps—and that’s an old game! We wouldn’t even bother playing a modern title on the UX32Vd’s native 1920x1080 res.
The thing is, you can get all these neat features, as well as an SSD, in the new Zenbook UX31A, for $200 less, just by forgoing the discrete graphics. And frankly, we think that if portable gaming is what you’re after, you’re better served by a small powerhouse like Origin’s Eon11-S (reviewed last month), as opposed to a rig that tries to be both an Ultrabook and a gaming machine, where one or both facets are bound to be compromised.
Asus Zenbook UX32Vd
Sexy Zenbook looks; lovely screen; lots of amenities at a competitive price.
Wimpy GPU; despite Optimus, battery life isn’t exceptional; HDD rather than SSD.
Premiere Pro CS3 (sec)
Photoshop CS3 (sec)
Proshow Producer (sec)
Far Cry 2 (fps)
Call of Duty 4 (fps)
Battery Life (min)
Our zero-point notebook is an Acer Timeline M3 with a 1.7GHz Intel Core i7-2637M, 4GB of DDR3/1333, a 256GB SSD, a GeForce GT 640M, and Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit.
1.9GHz Intel Core i7-3517U
Nvidia GeForce GT 620M
13.3-inch, LED-backlit, 1920x1080 IPS panel
Hitachi 500GB HDD, SanDisk 32GB SSD
Ethernet, Mini VGA, VGA, HDMI, headphone/mic, 3x USB 3.0, 2MP webcam, 2‑in‑1 media reader, Bluetooth 4.0, 802.11a/b/g/n