ASUS as a manufacturer needs no introduction; a giant in the hardware space that makes tons of consumer hardware which includes laptops as well.
While i do sometimes rave about the good value proposition of their regular Zenbook line of laptops, their Pro line seems to be a different beast all together. Today we review one such laptop in its highest configuration, the Zenbook Pro UX580GE.
What is the ASUS Zenbook Pro 15?
The Zenbook Pro 15 is ASUS’ latest refresh of their Zenbook line of laptop featuring Intel’s 8th generation CPUs with a twist of adding a secondary 1080p screen that also doubles as the trackpad of the device. Some innovation in the laptop space is always nice to see, but in the high-end space it will take more than that to come out on top. Will this ASUS model triumph over the likes of the Dells XPS, Lenovo Extreme or the HP Spectre? We’ll let you be the judge of that.
Design & Build Quality.
Starting off with the package, our review unit came in neatly packed with box art on the packaging to boot. Opening it reveals your bog-standard issue of the things you paid for – namely the laptop itself and the charger. Nothing much to see here.
The laptop itself came with a sleek blue blushed aluminium finish with the ASUS font; a really clean and no-fuss presentation, I like it. Trying to open the device reveals that you can almost get the lid all the way up with one hand before tipping, suggesting a slightly unbalanced weight distribution. The keyboard deck and screen exhibit little flex when pushed and feels sturdy overall, it better be considering its premium price that you are paying.
The weight of the laptop is specified at 1.88Kg and with the 150W power adapter coming it at around the 220g mark the total carry weight is 2.11Kg which is excellent. This is good news as
ASUS has chosen to use a 10-keyless full-sized keyboard that exhibits low key travel, akin to using a Macbook in terms of typing quality. The clicking is gentle and as expected, doesn’t take much force before a key is actuated. Overall, the typing is solid and very pleasant to type on which is good to see on a productivity machine. It is also interesting that the extreme right side of the keyboard is reserved for the button and function keys(traditionally, other manufacturers place these on the left side) meaning that the arrow keys are shifted to the left to make space for it which takes some getting used to.
Since the multi-use screen and trackpad is a major feature of this device, we will cover that in a separate segment of the review.
Wi-fi, Connectivity and Storage.
Equipped with the best-in-class from Intel, this AC 9560 chipset scores excellently from our practical network testing. Connecting to a Asus AC68U router about 5 meters away from the laptop, the chipset was able to deliver an average of 9.8MB/s when we were trying to download a 40Gb game from Steam.
Despite being an Ultrabook, connectivity is not lacking as it sports quite a decent amount of ports for this class of laptops:
- 2 x Type-C™ USB 3.1 Gen 2 (Thunderbolt™ 3)
- 2 x Type-A USB 3.1 Gen 2
- 1 x HDMI
- 1 x Combo audio jack
- 1 x MicroSD card slot
To be honest, I find the inclusion of only a MicroSD card slot a little disappointing as most creative workflows such as Photography use full-sized SD card slots instead. This will bring it more in line with its other competitors as could still take advantage of using a MicroSD card through the use of an adapter rather than not being able to use full-sized SD cards at all.
Tested using a SanDisk Ultra 128Gb MicroSD card rated at UHS-1 speeds, the read and write speeds for this MicroSD card slot are excellent; indicating that they didn’t skimp out on the controller.
On the storage front, our unit comes with what is essentially an OEM version of the 960 EVO NVME SSD @ 1Tb and as such should be closely compared with that.
Pricing, Specs and Comparison.
At the MSRP of $3,998, it does indeed cost an arm, leg, left kidney and 5 hours of your time every Friday but it does offer top of the line components in almost every category so its got that going for them which is nice. As far as I am aware, ASUS is the only manufacturer crazy enough to offer the overclockable i9 8950HK chip in such a small form factor considering this is something you would mostly see in desktop replacements. While not a super in-line apples to apples comparison, its closest competitors are actually the Dell XPS 15 and Lenovo X1 Extreme series of laptop that retails for around the same price range. Below are the direct comparisons in regards to their specs as closely configured as possible:
Note: Warranty & pricing may vary in your country. The warranty & pricing coverage below is applicable to Singapore only
|Device||ASUS Zenbook |
|Lenovo X1 |
|Dell XPS 15|
|GTX 1050Ti |
|GTX 1050Ti |
|GTX 1050Ti |
|Display||UHD 4k IPS Touch||UHD 4k IPS Touch||UHD 4k IPS |
|Storage||1Tb NVMe||1Tb NVMe||512Gb|
|Wifi||Intel AC 9560||Intel AC 9560||Killer 1535|
|Battery||71 WHr||80WHr||97 WHr|
|Warranty||2 Years On-site/|
|1 Year Carry-in||3 Years On-Site|
|Price||$3,998||$ 3,883 – $3,733 |
As you can see, sporting the high end i9 CPU really makes this laptop the most expensive of the bunch. At the time of writing, perspective buyers should take note that the Lenovo X1 Extreme is slightly discounted and you can almost always find their products at a discount on their website.
Performance & Synthetic Benchmarks – Taming the i9 beast
Note: All testing was conducted with Nvidia driver 419.35 which is the latest driver deemed stable from ASUS. Windows ver. 10.0.17134
Cooling seem to be the primary concern for this device. While unplugged, the fan profile is whisper quiet while idling or undergoing low to moderate use such as doing productivity tasks and listening to music. The fan starts to get audible when the selected application starts to require more from the processor. Take note that the fan curve is much more aggressive when plugged in and will spin up considerably quickly if the performance is required (such as during our network testing).
During our network testing in which we try to simulate a real word single-core workload scenario while plugged in, the 8950HK can be seen turbo boosting a single core to ~4.3Ghz before hitting the thermal limit of 94 degrees Celsius and throttling the processor back down to more reasonable levels.
Under the aforementioned practical scenario, the processor is only ever slightly faster in single core frequency than the 8750H processor one tier below (4.3Ghz compared to 4.1Ghz turbo).
As expected, ASUS was unable to break the laws of thermodynamics and adequately cool the processor in this form factor; this performance is a far cry from the 4.80Ghz maximum frequency stated in the specifications of the processor.
In our Cinebench R20 multi-core benchmark, we noted that, by all practical means, users can only expect up to 3.4Ghz all core turbo speeds when the processor is at 100% utilization due to thermal throttling.
Do note that we are unable to finish running the benchmark on PC Mark in our testing due to some technical error ( video_chromium warm error) that has the benchmark failing at video playback. Fortunately, this doesn’t seem to be an issue during actual audio/video playback.
Gaming Benchmarks – 1080p vs 1050ti Max-Q.
In our gaming benchmark tests, we’ll try out several old and new titles so that users can know generally what to expect when using the GTX 1050ti Max-Q. As the GPU is woefully inadequate at driving the screen at 4k, we’ve only noted down the results using the 1080p resolution.
As a rule of thumb, we will also be targeting a minimum of 30 fps during general gameplay or benchmarks to ensure a minimally smooth gameplay experience.
In our legacy title testing, old UE3 titles like Saints Row 3 should perform quite well as it maintained a steady high 50 fps maxed out during general gameplay. We noted some performance dips when traversing the city which is likely due to thermal throttling as we will see in various titles.
GTA V also performed well if the benchmark and if my own personal anecdote is anything to go by; maintaining just about 60 fps on average with high settings and advanced details off, providing a good experience during general gameplay and free roaming.
Moving on to newer titles, users can expect about 30-40 fps using the “high” quality preset in most games. Due to the nature of windows application scaling, some games we’ve tested in this category doesn’t seem to play nice with alt-tabbing or even degrades performance in the wrong application mode. We recommend “Full screen” for Hitman 2 and “Exclusive Fullscreen” for Shadow of the Tomb Raider to ensure maximum performance.
We’ve also noted that some titles like Shadow of the Tomb Raider can get severely hampered due to thermal throttling, reaching an unplayable 14 fps when it does reach that state.
Display & Sound.
Our review unit came with a 4k IPS touchscreen with a glossy finish manufactured by AUOptronics (model: B156ZAN03.1; a detailed spec sheet can be found here). The display is specified to run at 100% AdobeRGB which I appreciate for content creation. As the manufacturer opted for a glossy finish, the display naturally doesn’t fare well against sunlight or bright lights in general. While the display remains bright enough to not introduce any blooming or distortion of colours under such circumstances, you are still able to see the reflection off this display even if you turn the display all the way up to 100% brightness.
While we currently lack the equipment to fully verify these specifications, anecdotal evidence suggests that this panel looks great and doesn’t seem to suffer from the over-saturation of Red-Green hues that makes viewing content more inaccurate in terms of colour. It is perfectly adequate for consuming content and I don’t think that anyone would be disappointed by it.
The speakers on this device are surprisingly good in terms of clarity and loudness. It is loud enough to fill a room at maximum volume while remaining decently sounding without significant distortion. Although some small crackling can be heard when playing at max volume, it is still a good showing nonetheless.
Playing The Scientist by Coldplay from a lossless source, the primarily low to mid tone vocals are clear and on point while it performs worse in the instrumental department when it comes to the guitar and piano duo(with the piano sounding the worse of the two) part of the song that sees both primary instruments blend together with the background instruments, lacking the more distinct tonality found in high end desktop speakers. As expected, the bass from the electric guitar is very lacking and have almost no punch at all but it still sounds decent. Despite this, this is still the best sounding speakers I have heard coming from an Ultrabook.
In comparison with the other 2 laptops mentioned, the UX580 has a relatively weak showing of having the least capacity when it comes to battery size. Users can expect about 4h 30Mins of use just surfing the web with the display at 30% brightness.
In another test simulating a real-world moderate use, we set the brightness and volume to 50% while playing music on YouTube using the balanced power plan pre-set; the UX580 comes in just shy of 3Hrs coming in at 2Hrs 58Mins from our testing. A slightly below average turnout but not surprising as extra power is required to drive the secondary display on the device.
The battery takes approximately 1Hrs 40Mins to charge from 0 to 100 which is again, a slightly below average performance considering its smaller capacity.
The touchpad seems to be the primary selling point of this device that makes it stands out from the others. The surface of the trackpad is slick to move your fingers on and feels quite smooth to use. Unfortunately, the trackpad does not slide as well if you ever have residue water on its surface (or if you have sweaty palm) probably due to the nature of the glass-like material ASUS has chosen to use for this touchpad.
An inconvenience with this trackpad was that I couldn’t ever figure out how to even access any of the apps. After scouring the internet high and low, it turns out that swiping the area immediately below the bar is required to bring down the slider that would reveal whatever apps you have installed.
My main gripe is that swiping down on the space where the toolbar should be does nothing and neither does swiping down on the indent that is marked on the screen. This makes for a really unintuitive experience for the user as gestures that would have worked for a smartphone does not seem to logically apply here as well.
The general usage could be improved as well as I noticed that some animations such as scrolling or opening the ‘settings’ menu to be really choppy and makes the experience feels unfinished rather than part of the experience of the device.
The good news is that even if you do not benefit from using it as an app display there is an option of turning it into a secondary display by pressing F6 and will work just like any other monitor in a multi-monitor setup.
Here in this
section I will sample a few Apps that are currently available from the
Microsoft store for this device:
An app that
plays music in your music folder. In my brief testing, I found that some
popular formats such as FLAC and mp4a are unplayable in this App which is
disappointing for some people like me may only have audio in a certain format.
It would be good to see ASUS supporting this App with more audio format
Screenpad for Youtube
Click on the extension to view YouTube videos, works as intended and quite useful for those that need it.
This app does exactly what you think it does. It
SHOOTS MONEY FROM THE LAPTOPS USB PORT is a simple calendar app that allows you to sync with your Microsoft account. My complaints about the animation above still stands with this App.
Turns the screen into a numeric keypad for the calculator.It would be more intuitive if bringing up the calculator in Windows automatically trigger this app to open or vice versa; this should also be an option that can be toggled by the user.
Screenpad for Microsoft Apps
Works as a way to access shortcut keys from whatever Microsoft productivity program you’re using. Works perfectly fine from my experience.
In conclusion, the screenpad is a novel idea that could prove useful for certain functions but the implementations definitely need more quality of life improvements to be a better experience for the end user. For me personally, the screenpad would ideally be used as a second screen instead.
Lets be honest, the inclusion of the i9 8950HK was an impractial idea from the onset. Testing has shown that thermal throttling is going to negate any kind of performance advantage it could have over the i7 8750H in real world cases bar a very slight edge in single core workloads.
Luckily, the Zenbook Pro is also available in a lower tiered $3,298 config that also sports the i7 8750H which would better suit the cooling of this device so i recommend getting that instead if you are still keen on buying this.
The inclusion of the screenpad might seem like a gimmick at first, but it truly is very handy as a secondary display for productivity; Although i do think that ASUS needs to improve on their screenpad software in order for users to not only consider a secondary screen as the only viable display option.
Its actually not a bad value for MSRP. A tad bit expensive to pay for the screenpad, but useful if you need a second screen to increase productivity. Recommend to get the i7 8750H version of this model as we ran into thermal issues with this particular model with only a very minor single core speed boost compared to its i7 counterpart.
|The Good.||The Bad.|
|+ Second screen touchpad||– Touchpad user experience|
|+ Sleek, well designed chassis||– Really little performance benefit using |
the i9 config
|+ Great speakers and display||– Higher cost relative to the competition|
|+ Lightweight even with charger|