Analysts like to bemoan the PC industry's penchant for "racing to the bottom," but they always seem to forget the good too: Lower prices and better hardware.
Asus new ZenBook UX305F is proof that racing to the bottom doesn't always have to end in a duffle bag of compromises and tears. In fact, the ZenBook UX305F is one those laptops that defies conventional wisdom on build quality, specs and price.
I'll hit you with the big news up front: The ZenBook's decidedly budget price of $699. For an ultrabook, that's a big deal. That's because most "ultrabooks" at this price really aren't that ultra. They're clunky and chunky bricks that pack 10rpm hard drives that load Windows so slowly you can practically watch the pixels fill in one by one.
One look at the ZenBook tells you it's not a plus-sized laptop masquerading as an ultrabook either. Outside, there's no cheap plastic, it's an aluminum skin. Asus says the shell is constructed of .5mm thick aluminum, which makes it one of the thinner 13.3-laptops around. The Dell XPS 13 2015, for example, measures at 18mm. The original ultrabook, Apple's MacBook Air 11 is 16.8mm. The Asus? 13mm.
Inside you won't find a Celeron, Pentium or similar low-rent Bay Trail-based Atom SoC, Asus instead taps Intel's low-wattage Core M 5Y10 CPU. That's a Broadwell chip, but the Core M is locked down to consume a third of the power of a Core i5 or Core i7 Broadwell.
That lets Asus actually build the ZenBook as a true fanless laptop, so it's utterly silent. The company says the ZenBook features "IceCool" design, using chromium copper alloys to keep the CPU and internals of the laptop from cooking. That may be true for the insides, but I did find the outsides could get hot. After running an encoding test for an hour, I snapped thermal images of the back and front of the ZenBook and saw temps of 120 degrees and 118 degrees. A similar HP EliteBook that I'm reviewing, with its (admittedly slower) Core M chip, was almost 20 degrees cooler.
The ZenBook is the second Core M-equipped laptop I've seen. Ultraportable performance isn't as critical as it is for, say, a gaming desktop or workstation, but it's still worth measuring.
To do that I first looked at how well that Core M does against Dell's XPS 13 2015 and a Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon in PC Mark 8's test for work tasks. It's nothing to write home about and that's what I'd expect. The test is designed to measure office drone tasks, and we can all agree that it plateaus pretty quickly once you get to a certain performance level. The upshot is that you really don't need an overclocked 8-core Core i7 to run Microsoft Word or human-level Excel tasks.
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