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Asus ZenBook UX305 vs. Dell XPS 13: Thin, light and powerful

Brian Nadel | March 18, 2015
If Apple's new 12-in. Retina MacBook is any indication, the laptop is no longer considered an endangered species -- as long as it's slim and lightweight. However, while the new MacBook is extraordinarily portable and comes with an impressive display, it's garnered a bit of criticism because of its single USB port (which does double duty as a power port) and lack of SD card slots. On the other hand, two new Windows 8.1 systems have recently shipped that not only push the thin-and-light envelope, but offer enough features to make them suitable for both personal and business use.

The 13.3-in. 1920 x 1080 HD screen is a gem, with brilliant and vibrant color. (Later this year, Asus promises a version with a Quad HD+ 3200 x 1800 touch display for about $1,000). In tests, the display measured 277 candelas per square meter of brightness, compared to the Dell's 222 candelas per square meter. The system comes with an excellent program for adjusting the screen's color balance called Splendid Utility, which has presets for Normal, Theater (warmer but a little dull) and Vivid (brighter but bluer) as well as a color-adjustment slider.

The ZenBook's screen is powered by Intel's HD Graphics 5300 chip, which runs slightly slower than the HD Graphics 5500 used on the Dell. Like the Dell, it has no dedicated video memory; instead, the ZenBook can call on up to 3.8GB from the system's 8GB of RAM.

In addition to the generous 256GB of solid state storage, the package includes 16GB of online storage space for one year.

As for the keyboard: The system's 19.2mm keys have a comfortable depth of 2.0mm, and I didn't feel at all cramped using the 4.9-in. touchpad. However, insomniacs take note: The Zenbook's keyboard isn't backlit. This can also be a disadvantage on those interminable red-eye flights where they turn the lights off.

Instead of a separate on-off button, the ZenBook has a dedicated key in the upper right corner of the keyboard; there's a blue LED that shows the system is on. While using the system, I found that it was all too easy to mistake the power button for the nearby delete key and turn the whole thing off.

Although it boasts a pair of Bang & Olufsen's ICEPower speakers, they are unfortunately placed on the bottom of the system. You can tune the output with Conexant's SmartAudio control panel, but its sound is often muffled.

The low-power Intel Core M-5Y10 processor runs at a sedate 800MHz, but can sprint to 2GHz. As with the new MacBook, the Core M processor means that the system doesn't need a cooling fan, which cuts down on weight and battery drain. However, the review unit had an annoying hot spot at the top center of the keyboard between the F7 and F8 keys. I measured it at 104 degrees Fahrenheit, 9 degrees warmer than the Dell's peak temperature.

The ZenBook offers a good assortment of ports: three USB 3.0 (one more than the XPS), one mini-HDMI and one audio. It also comes with a USB-to-Ethernet adapter for office-bound types. For wireless connections, the ZenBook comes with Bluetooth 4.0 and 802.11n Wi-Fi.

Performance testing

The ZenBook UX305 pulled in a PassMark PerformanceTest score of 1,629.4, somewhat lower than the Dell's score of 1,823.3. Its CineBench 15 scores were 210 (for the CPU section) and 24.06 frames per second (for the Open GL testing), between 15% and 20% slower than the Dell. The bottom line? The ZenBook is fine for most work, but can't compare with the Dell XPS 13 for all-out performance.


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