Asus Zenbook UX303LA review - a successful debut for Intel's Broadwell Core i7

16 Feb 2015

The first outing for Intel’s Broadwell chips hits the high notes, with great stamina, performance and a very reasonable price

Price when reviewed: 
700inc VAT (full modelmore
5

Asus’ Ultrabooks have been treading the same, rather formulaic, path for some time now, with its metal-skinned Zenbook range of laptops a familiar sight in the PC Pro labs. The 13in Zenbook UX303LA doesn’t break that particular mould, but the price is attractive enough, and it does forge ahead in one important area: it’s the first laptop we’ve seen to sport one of Intel’s new Broadwell 14nm Core i7 CPUs. See also: PC Pro's guide to the best laptops of 2015

In this case, it’s the Core i7-5500U, which runs at a nominal clock speed of 2.4GHz and Turbo Boosts up to a maximum of 3GHz. It’s backed up by 6GB of RAM, and since it’s the same basic core design as before, it doesn’t show a great performance boost over the previous generation of Haswell chips.

Asus Zenbook UX303LA - frontal view

In our Real World Benchmarks it performed well enough, with an Overall score of 0.75, but this is only 7% higher than the Haswell Core i5-based MacBook Air 13in we reviewed last year.

For graphics, the UX303LA boasts another upgrade, in the form of Intel’s integrated HD Graphics 5500 chipset, and this helped it achieve average frame rates of 46fps at Low quality with a resolution of 1,366 x 768, and 25fps at Medium quality and 1,440 x 900 in our Crysis tests. A respectable score for an ultraportable, but it still won’t please avid gamers.

Overall, though, the Core i7 delivers plenty of speed for most duties. The 128GB SanDisk SSD inside the Zenbook is no slouch either, delivering speeds of 496MB/sec and 329MB/sec for large file read and writes in ASSD.

Asus Zenbook UX303LA - rear three-quarter view

Asus Zenbook UX303LA review: battery life

The big change with Broadwell comes with a change in manufacturing process, from 22nm to 14nm, a development that promises significant power savings over Haswell. In fact, Intel’s own figures suggest overall power consumption reductions of up to 13%.

Further reading: Everything you need to know about Intel's new Broadwell CPUs

In our tests, the UX303LA delivered on this potential in spades. Tasked with the PC Pro light-use battery benchmark, which browses a series of locally stored web pages with the screen set to a brightness of 75cd/m2, the Zenbook lasted 13hrs 6mins before needing a recharge. Bearing in mind it’s running a Core i7, that’s seriously impressive; in the same test under Boot Camp, the Haswell Core i5-based Apple MacBook Air 13in kept going for only 10hrs 8mins.

The UX303LA is also a very quiet machine – there’s a fan inside, but you wouldn’t know it. Even when it’s running flat out, you have to put your ear directly to the vents on the rear to hear anything. It runs very cool, too, never becoming unpleasantly hot to the touch.

Asus Zenbook UX303LA - top down view

Asus Zenbook UX303LA review: design and ergonomics

Physically, the Asus Zenbook UX303LA is no groundbreaker, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We’ve always liked the Zenbook design, with its circular-patterned metal lid and matte-finish metal base. It feels solid and sturdy; capable of roughing it with the best of them.

And despite the rugged-feeling chassis, the UX303LA is light and slim, weighing 1.4kg (1.7kg with the charger) and measuring 21mm thick – it’s as portable as the 13in MacBook Air, if not quite as sleek. The keyboard puts in a good showing as well, providing a decent amount of travel and plenty of feedback, as well as adjustable backlighting behind the keys.

The touchpad is one of the few things we’ve never liked about Asus’ Zenbooks, and the UX303LA doesn’t change that opinion. Although the sensitivity is fine (once you’ve tweaked the settings), the integrated buttons feel heavy and the clicking action squidgy. It’s far from a pleasure to use.

Asus Zenbook UX303LA - front and rear closed

Asus Zenbook UX303LA review: screen

The Asus Zenbook UX303LA’s display is a real highlight. It’s a sensibly specified 1,920 x 1,080 panel with a semi-matte finish, and it uses IPS technology to deliver crisp, clear visuals and excellent viewing angles.

Measured with our X-Rite i1 Display Pro colorimeter, the stats stack up well, too. The screen reaches a maximum brightness of 377cd/m2 and a contrast ratio of 925:1. It covers 91% of the sRGB colour gamut and delivered an average Delta E of 2.45 and a maximum of 4.85 in our tests, indicating that colour accuracy is pretty good.

Asus Zenbook UX303LA - view from the front

If there’s one area where the UX303LA outperforms the current MacBook Air, it’s this. The Air’s TN display is neither as bright nor as colour-accurate as the UX303LA’s, and the resolution is lower as well. Still, with new MacBook Air models expected imminently, that picture could change very soon.

Asus Zenbook UX303LA review: connectivity and audio

Since this is an Ultrabook, there’s nothing special about the UX303LA’s external connectivity. You get three USB 3 sockets, HDMI and mini-DisplayPort video outputs, plus an SD card reader and a 3.5mm headset jack.

There’s no Ethernet port on the chassis of the laptop, but Asus supplies a 10/100 USB dongle in the box, while wireless comprises 2x2-stream 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.

Finally, to round things off, the UX303LA sports Asus’ usual Bang & Olufsen-branded speakers, which deliver a broad, detailed soundstage, but don’t pack much of a punch.

Asus Zenbook UX303LA - sides

Asus Zenbook UX303LA review: verdict

As expected, Intel’s new Broadwell Core i7 doesn’t rewrite the rulebook, certainly not in performance terms. However, its improved efficiency, coupled with Asus’ budget-conscious specification, means this first outing is far more positive than negative, and at £700 inc VAT, the Zenbook UX303LA represents superb value.

It costs £150 less than the current bottom-of-the-range MacBook Air 13in, and that gets you a Core i7-based machine with a 128GB SSD, 13-hour battery life and a top-quality display. It’s an awful lot of laptop for the money.

Asus Zenbook UX303LA spefications

Processor Dual-core, 2.4GHz Intel Core i7-5500U
RAM 6GB
Memory slots (free) 0
Size (WDH) 322 x 223 x 21mm
Weight 1.4kg (1.7kg with charger)
Sound Conexant SmartAudio HD
Pointing device Touchpad (integrated buttons)
Screen size 13.3in
Screen resolution 1,920 x 1,080
Touchscreen No
Graphics adaptor Intel HD Graphics 5500
Graphics outputs HDMI
Graphics memory Shared
Total storage 128GB SSD
Optical drive type None
USB ports 3x USB 3
Bluetooth Bluetooth 4
Networking 10/100 Ethernet, 802.11ac Wi-Fi
Memory card reader SD, MMC
Other ports Mini-DisplayPort
Operating system Windows 8.1 64-bit
Operating system restore option Restore partition
Buying information
Parts and labour warranty 1yr RTB
Price inc VAT £700 inc VAT
Details
Supplier www.scan.co.uk
Part number 90NB04Y1-M05000 (full model name: UX303LA-R4338H)