The first round of Ultrabooks were mostly underwhelming. It shouldn't be a surprise, but many of the efforts were just half hearted at best. Of the companies who shipped the first Ultrabooks however, it was ASUS who came the closest to perfection with the Zenbook.

ASUS' Zenbook embodied the form factor, portability and overall concept of an Ultrabook. Where it failed to deliver was with its keyboard, display and, at least initially, with its trackpad. The first Zenbook was an amazing effort given the short period of time that it was conceived and developed in, but it was too rough around the edges.

Despite only being introduced 7 months ago, the Zenbook is old news. This is the Zenbook Prime:

The Zenbook Prime is ASUS' second generation Ultrabook, built around Ivy Bridge silicon. Unlike most silicon updates to notebooks however, the Zenbook Prime takes an almost Apple-like approach to renovating the tangibles rather than just relying on a faster chip to do the heavy lifting.

I don't know that I've ever seen a faster turn around on implementing reviewer and user feedback into a product. The Zenbook Prime fixes nearly every issue I had with the original Zenbook. From keyboard to display, it's all significantly better with the Zenbook Prime.

The circumstances around today's launch are a bit peculiar. Intel has an embargo in place on the as of yet unreleased Ivy Bridge CPUs, this applies to both notebooks and desktops. One such line of CPUs, the dual-core ultra-low-voltage Ivy Bridge parts that will find their way into many Ultrabooks, is covered by the aforementioned embargo. That embargo lifts at some point in the not too distant future, but ASUS wanted to have its review-ready hardware out the door and getting coverage before then. Why the urgency? It could have something to do with Apple's expected launch of updated MacBook Air and MacBook Pro systems. Rather than for Apple to get all the glory for being first, ASUS set some guidelines: we're allowed to talk about everything to do with the new Zenbook Primes, we just can't get into specifics on the CPU just yet. That's right, you won't read any model numbers, clock speeds or cache sizes here. Given what's already public about the ULV Ivy Bridge lineup I suspect this information isn't too hard to figure out if you're really motivated.


Zenbook Prime (left) vs. Zenbook (right)

The rest of the Zenbook Prime has nothing to do with Ivy Bridge. The form factor of the Zenbook Prime remains unchanged from its predecessor. Just like before we'll see two distinct models, an 11-inch (UX21) and 13-inch (UX31) in for review. With the lid closed, these two look identical to their Prime-less (composite numbered?) counterparts. ASUS sent the 11-inch Zenbook Prime in for review:

ASUS Zenbook Prime Specs
  UX21A-DB5x UX21A-DB7x UX31A-DB51 UX31A-DB52 UX31A-DB71 UX31A-DB72
CPU ULV IVB ULV IVB ULV IVB ULV IVB ULV IVB ULV IVB
GPU HD 4000
Display 11.6-inch 1920 x 1080 IPS 13.3-inch 1920 x 1080 IPS
Memory 4GB DDR3-1600 (on-board)
Storage 128GB U100 SSD 128/256GB U100 SSD 128GB U100 SSD 256GB U100 SSD
Wireless Connectivity Intel Centrino N 6205, 802.11b/g/n 2.4/5GHz 2x2:2, Bluetooth 4.0
Battery 35Wh 50Wh
Camera 720p front facing
Audio Bang and Olufsen ICEpower
I/O 2 x USB 3, 1x audio/mic, 1x microHDMI, 1x miniVGA 2 x USB 3, 1 x audio/mic, 1 x microHDMI, 1 x miniVGA, 1 x SD Card reader
Dimensions 299mm x 168.5mm x 3-9mm 325mm x 223mm x 3-9mm
Weight 1.1kg 1.3kg
Price USD TBD TBD $1099 $1199 $1499 $1599

Pricing is still in the air as the Zenbook Prime won't be shipping until early June. I suspect much of how aggressive ASUS is on this front will depend on what Apple does in the coming weeks.

Introducing the UX32, Starting at $799

There's also a new member of the Zenbook Prime lineup, the 13-inch UX32. Featuring a thicker chassis, the UX32 will be offered as low as $799 with a 1366 x 768 TN panel, hard drive + SSD cache and as high as $1299 with a discrete NVIDIA GeForce GT 620M GPU:

ASUS Zenbook Prime UX32 Specs
  UX32A-DB31 UX32A-DB51 UX32VD-DB71
CPU ULV IVB ULV IVB ULV IVB
GPU HD 4000 NVIDIA 620M + HD 4000
Display 13.3-inch 1366 x 768 TN 13.3-inch 1920 x 1080 IPS
Memory 2GB DDR3-1600 (on-board) + 2GB or 4GB SO-DIMM
Storage 7mm 320GB HDD + 24GB SSD (cache) 7mm 500GB HDD + 24GB SSD (cache) 7mm 500GB HDD + 24GB SSD (cache)
Wireless Connectivity Intel Centrino N 6205, 802.11b/g/n 2.4/5GHz 2x2:2, Bluetooth 4.0
Battery 48Wh
Camera 720p front facing
Audio Bang and Olufsen ICEpower
I/O 3 x USB 3, 1 x audio/mic, 1 x HDMI, 1 x miniVGA, 1 x SD card reader
Dimensions 325mm x 223mm x 5.5 - ~9mm
Weight 1.44kg
Price USD $799 $999 $1299

Depending on how well the SSD cache works, and how good the 1366 x 768 panel is, the $799 UX32A could be a very compelling system.

The Zenbook Prime: What's New
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  • sonelone - Tuesday, May 22, 2012 - link

    I really wish more manufacturers would do something similar to Sony's Vaio Z series, having a slim ultrabook but also giving it the capability of a dedicated GPU when plugged in. The UX31 would be the perfect laptop for me if it had that. Reply
  • Impulses - Tuesday, May 22, 2012 - link

    Are you gonna be reviewing the larger model as well? Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, May 23, 2012 - link

    Yes, both of them is the plan. Stay tuned.... Reply
  • nortexoid - Tuesday, May 22, 2012 - link

    They should seriously consider a Trinity option. Nobody will be doing heavy CPU lifting on an 11 inch ultra book so Trinity will be more than adequate in the CPU department. Imagine how awesome it would be to play games with decent frame rates on this thing. Reply
  • piroroadkill - Tuesday, May 22, 2012 - link

    Have you checked HD 4000 performance? It's not stunning, but it's way better than I imagine you think.. Reply
  • bleh0 - Tuesday, May 22, 2012 - link

    I've seen them and while they are close Trinity could be put in with lower costs, similar battery life, and in some cases better gaming performance.

    Since the models don't ship with Thunderbolt you aren't losing any ports either.
    Reply
  • ananduser - Wednesday, May 23, 2012 - link

    HD4000 barely offers playable rates. And when it does the experience as a whole is choppy. So, if you're willing to spend top dollar on an ultrabook, you better not care about light gaming. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, May 23, 2012 - link

    Define "light" gaming. For me, it means 1366x768 and low to medium detail levels, and for that the HD 4000 is certainly adequate. Now if you're wanting medium to high detail settings and a higher resolution -- never mind native 1080p! -- than no, HD 4000 isn't going to be remotely close. Reply
  • chrnochime - Tuesday, May 22, 2012 - link

    Now that the display is finally not the cause of the whiner's reason for whining, I wonder how many are actually going to put the money where their mouth is and buy this laptop. Reply
  • Sunburn74 - Tuesday, May 22, 2012 - link

    Nah they'll just find things to complain about like how 4gb of ram isn't enough and how it doesn't make them coffee in the morning and take the dog out for a walk. Its really sad actually, how when anyone who's not apple makes a marvelous machine that is darn close to perfect, the PC community (with its schizophrenic mindset) just criticizes it and eventually ignores it to death. Hopefully that won't happen here. Reply

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