After three years of using my trusty Vaio laptop, the time had finally come to replace it. The Vaio has been a great laptop for me, but it was starting to show its age. When I bought the Vaio, its intended use was to be a desktop replacement when I wasn’t at the office. Its large 17.3″ screen suited that purpose well. At the time I bought it we weren’t living in a place where we could setup a desktop computer at home, there simply wasn’t enough space. We’ve since moved and have the space for a desktop, so my laptop requirements have changed a bit.
I did a lot of research before I made my final decision. I had a several requirements:
- Intel Skylake i7 processor (the latest)
- At least 16GB of RAM, or capable of expanding to it
- NVME SSD capable
- Discreet NVIDIA graphics
- Good battery life
- Good keyboard
- AC WiFi
There are a lot of laptops out there that fit this criteria. I looked at several gaming laptops that easily fit the bill, but most of them were way too big and bulky. They were all larger than the Vaio, and I really wanted something a bit lighter and more easily portable. Something that I can take with me easily when meeting with clients, or sit on the couch and get a little bit of work done after the kids are in bed without having my legs crushed or scalded.
With that in mind, I started looking at a few netbooks. I looked at several that matched all of my criteria, except one, the discreet graphics. Most of the netbooks were also very small, 11″ or 13″ screens, and while they are very portable, they’re not quite big enough.
As I was looking, I kept coming across the ASUS ZenBook Pro UX501VW, and it ticked all of my boxes. I would like to have gone to either Fry’s or Best Buy to test the keyboard and look at it first, but no one carries these locally, and I wasn’t willing to settle for something “less”. So, after deliberating for a couple of days, I ordered one from Amazon. So far, I couldn’t be more pleased with my decision.
Specifications and Initial Impressions
This is a premium laptop. I don’t want to sound elitist or snobbish in any way, but there is a significant difference between a $499 laptop and a $1499 laptop. The typical laptop that goes on sale at Fry’s or Best Buy will be fine for most people that use them for day to day use. I develop software for a living, though, and I tend to push my computers to their limits. I tend to buy higher end laptops and systems because they make me more productive, and they last longer. If I only have to spend 30 seconds compiling rather than 60 seconds, then I spend a lot less time staring at a screen and more time writing code over the course of a day.
The ASUS ZenBook Pro UX501VW is a beautiful laptop. Is obvious they took several design queues from the MacBook Pro. It has a brushed aluminum clam-shell style case that looks nice that doesn’t really show fingerprints. The processor is a Skylake based Intel Core i7-6700HQ at 2.6GHz, with four cores and 8 total threads. The default display is driven by the Intel Integrated Graphics, but it also includes an NVIDIA GT960M with 2GB of VRAM. The display is a glossy 4K touch screen (more on that later). They keyboard has a pretty good feel to it for a laptop keyboard, and though its not the best I’ve felt, its quite comfortable. It has 16GB of memory, which is excellent for a laptop. It also includes a 512GB NVME PCI-E SSD, which outperforms SATA SSD’s by about a factor of 3. Finally, it includes Windows 10 64bit Home Edition as the operating system.
On paper, this laptop is nothing but premium parts and offers phenomenal performance. Not all the parts are the fastest or latest, but the combination of them is all very high end.
Windows starts up immediately and everything runs smoothly. I’m not a windows person, though, so I immediately installed Ubuntu on it. The experience there is not as good as I had hoped, and will detail out some of the problems and pitfalls I had with it.
I’ve used this laptop for a couple of weeks now, and the battery life is pretty good. Depending on what I’m doing, I get between 4 and 5 hours out of a full charge, which is about twice what my old Vaio was, but not nearly as good as a netbook. I expected this with the more power hungry components, though. I’m quite pleased with the 4-5 hours I get.
The keyboard is pretty comfortable. Asus claims the keyboard carries a 1.6mm actuating distance, and I can say thats probably accurate. It does take a bit of force to have the keyboard register a keystroke, much more than most laptop keyboards I’ve encountered. Its very usable, but I still prefer a traditional mechanical keyboard.
The display is absolutely gorgeous, but ahead of its time. High DPI panels are a pretty recent development, and PC operating systems don’t keep pace with mobile. So not everything looks great at 4K. A lot of programs just don’t scale well and are almost unusable on a 15.6″ 4K display. So, most of the time, I’ve been running in 1920×1080. Most applications are okay with this.
The touch screen works, but I just don’t find it that useful. Perhaps I will at some point, but not right now. The glossy display also makes it so I can see my fingers typing on the screen. I would have preferred a matte screen, and would have gladly sacrificed the touch screen for it. I understand why Asus included it though. This is largely something of a personal preference.
The touchpad is also easy to get used to. I turned off the tap to click since it is clickable. It doesn’t work out of the box with Ubuntu 14.04, but I’ll cover that in another post.
It also doesn’t get too hot under normal use. When you start working the CPUs, though, the area to the right of the touchpad where your right wrist will sit starts getting almost uncomfortably warm. I also wouldn’t want to have it on my lap if I were going to push the CPU’s for any length of time.
Wireless performance is pretty good. My access point, an ASUS RT-AC66U sits in a closet in the center of the house. About 40 feet away, and going through three walls, I only get about 144Mbs. If I’m sitting on the couch in the living room, which is only about 15 feet from the router and only through one wall, I get over 500Mbs.
If you’re looking for a business style laptop with a good mix of looks and performance, then this laptop fits the bill almost perfectly.
Its overkill for the average home user, and falls fairly short for a gamer, but hits that sweet spot in the middle for power users that may want to do a bit of casual gaming.