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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  • haukionkannel - Tuesday, May 22, 2012 - link

    It is very nice to see much better panels in these new laptops! And when you think how much power good display eats it is guite nice to see that powr usage has remained the same! We will get more clarity to this matter when ux32 will be released. It seems to have that normal pitifull low res TN panel like in most old laptops...
    We need more laptops like these! I would not mind to see a little bit bigger case with these panels at a little bit lover price!
    Reply
  • phoenix_rizzen - Tuesday, May 22, 2012 - link

    The high-end version of the UX32, with the discrete GPU, has the same 1920x1080 IPS panel. But the battery is slightly smaller (48 Whr vs 50 Whr). Reply
  • Conficio - Wednesday, May 23, 2012 - link

    I'd go for the UX32 if there would an option with a good screen that is not combined with a useless (to me) gamers GPU.

    Although I don't understand the pricing $200 buy me just a faster CPU? Really, that has to be a really big jump for that kind of premium

    Then the next $300 buy me a decent display (it's still 16:9 and should be 16:10 for people that actually work on their computers, as opposed to entertainment) and a GPU?

    Why can't we have a reasonable upgrade (<$75) for the display with the lower end CPUs. I'd think the $1,000 price point should actually include the nicer display.
    Reply
  • B3an - Tuesday, May 22, 2012 - link

    So nice to see a GOOD 1080p IPS display on this. And the rest of the package looks great too, might actually get one of these but would have liked atleast 6GB. Reply
  • tipoo - Tuesday, May 22, 2012 - link

    Does that lift before the shipping date? If so, when? Odd that they would be hush hush about that, maybe they are having thermal issues since apparently IB runs hotter than SB. Reply
  • Evil_Sheep - Tuesday, May 22, 2012 - link

    Oh wow this model is a dream come true. It's been years but has a PC vendor finally got what it takes to go head to head with Apple? Reply
  • Roland00Address - Tuesday, May 22, 2012 - link

    Nobody uses that port, and while it comes with a dongle you could have used mini displayport or thunderbolt and achieve the same vga effect with mini displayport to vga dongle.

    That said this is a beauty of a laptop.
    Reply
  • fic2 - Tuesday, May 22, 2012 - link

    I don't know, but I would assume they included it for projector systems. I think most of the conference rooms in the building I work in only have vga to the table. Reply
  • fic2 - Tuesday, May 22, 2012 - link

    My fail - didn't read the rest of your post about DP->vga dongle. Reply
  • ananduser - Tuesday, May 22, 2012 - link

    My dear Anand, you're so pretentious with displays in general but when it comes to gaming fluency you go below standard. 20fps is NOT playable and a subpar experience. I'd wish you'd be as pretentious with GPU performance as you are with hardware specs. Reply

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