ASUS is a company that doesn’t shy away from the latest technology, and with the new ZenBook 3 UX490UA, they’ve updated one of their thinnest and lightest machines to include the latest Intel 8th Generation processors. It’s likely no surprise to any of our readers what this means, but for those who are just now dipping their toes into Intel's newest processors, this is Kaby Lake Refresh, which features the first ever quad-core ultramobile Core processor from Intel. ASUS in turn has packed Intel's latest processor into a small, lightweight chassis, with all of the features expected in a modern Ultrabook.

With the ASUS ZenBook 3, the company currently offers two models. The original ZenBook 3, which ASUS continues to offer, features a Core i7-7500U CPU, a dual-core hyperthreading-enabled CPU with a base of 2.7 GHz and boost of 3.5 GHz. Joining the family with the launch of Kaby Lake Refresh is a new model based around a Core i7-8550U CPU, which is the new quad-core with hyperthreading, running at a base frequency of 1.8 GHz and boosting up to 4.0 GHz. Relative to the 7500U model, the 8550U model's base frequency is a bit lower to accommodate the extra cores, but for workloads without as many threads, the 4.0 GHz top boost speed is a big jump over the 3.5 GHz top speed of the previous generation chip.

Today we're taking a look at the newer 8550U-based model. Given that it's a minor refresh of the existing ZenBook 3 design, a lot of the focus is going to be on the new CPU, and for good reason. While Intel's 8th generation Core lineup is unfortunately a bit of a mess (more on that in a bit), but it's a significant update at almost every level of Intel's product stack, thin & light ultrabooks included. Whereas all Intel 15 Watt CPUs before now have been dual-core designs, Kaby Lake Refresh bumps that up to a quad-core, which as we'll see makes for some rather potent performance boosts in even moderately threaded scenarios. This in turn is a rather significant development for Ultrabooks: the thin & light laptops have always been about tradeoffs – giving up performance and some ports for portability – however the release of a quad-core CPU suitable for these laptops means that Ultrabooks can now reach into performance tiers previously restricted to larger laptops.

Not that the ZenBook 3 is all about its CPU, of course. As mentioned previously, ASUS has not shied away from packing in all the latest tech either. The ZenBook 3 UX490UA features a 14-inch 1920x1080 IPS panel, with thin display bezels, allowing the laptop to be much more compact that older 14-inch models would be. They’ve outfitted the laptop with 16 GB of LPDDR3 memory, and 256 GB of SATA SSD, or 512 GB of PCIe 3.0 x 4 NVMe storage.

ASUS ZenBook 3 UX490UA
  Model Tested: Core i7-8550U, 512GB SSD, $1699
Processor Intel Core i7-7500U (2C/4T, 2.7-3.5 GHz 15W)

Intel Core i7-8550U (4C/8T, 1.8-4.0GHz, 15W)
Memory 16 GB Dual-Channel LPDDR3-2133
Graphics 7500U: Intel HD 620 (24 EUs, 300MHz-1.05GHz)
8550U: Intel UHD 620 (24 EUs, 300MHz-1.15GHz)
Display 14" 1920x1080 16:9 IPS
Corning Gorilla Glass 5 Non-Touch
100% sRGB color
Storage 256GB SATA / 512GB NVMe
Networking 802.11ac, 2x2:2, 866Mbps Max, 2.4 and 5GHz
Bluetooth 4.1
Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 8265
Audio Quad-speakers
Harman Kardon Certified
Battery 46 Wh, 65 W AC Adapter USB-C Charging
Right Side USB-C w/Thunderbolt 3
USB-C 3.1 Gen 1 (5Gbps) with Display and Power Delivery
Left Side 3.5mm Headset Jack
USB-C w/Thunderbolt 3
Dimensions 329 x 210 x 12.9 mm (12.95 x 8.279 x 0.51 inches)
Weight 1.1 kg / 2.42 lbs
Cameras VGA Web Cam
Pricing Core i7-7500U $1579 USD
Core i7-8550U $1699 USD

Some laptops are still debating whether to offer USB-C, but ASUS has gone all-in with two Thunderbolt 3-equipped USB-C ports and a further standard USB 3.1 Gen 1 (5 Gbps) port. All three USB-C ports offer upstream charging, while the Thunderbolt ports add TB3 data speeds, dual 4K display output, and USB 3.1 Gen 2 (10 Gbps) data transfer capabilities to the mix. Wireless connectivity is provided by an Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 8265 adapter. This is one of the most reliable ones available, and offers excellent 2x2:2 performance, but also MU-MIMO and Bluetooth 4.1.

ASUS has even found room for a fingerprint reader, which allows Windows Hello login.

Although ASUS lists a 256 GB model, it doesn't appear to be for sale anywhere at the moment.

ASUS packs all of this into a laptop that’s only 1.1 kg / 2.42 lbs, and 12.9 mm / 0.51 inches thick. It’s available in both a striking Royal Blue, or a Quartz Gray finish on the “aerospace-grade aluminum alloy” which ASUS says is 50% stronger than the standard aluminum alloy.

Let’s dig into the design and see how they did.

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  • mkaibear - Wednesday, November 22, 2017 - link

    Er, the Envy x360 is nearly twice the size and twice the weight of this Zenbook. You're not exactly comparing apples with apples there.

    Thin and light is always expensive.
  • IGTrading - Thursday, November 23, 2017 - link

    Perfectly true.

    We don't actually need it to be that small.

    What I'd prefer is to have a thin 17-incher with 2 M2 SSDs and a HDD, FHD touchscreen and a flippable display (to go into tablet mode)

    The fact that the ENVY is 15" helps with our productivity.
  • mkaibear - Thursday, November 23, 2017 - link

    *you* don't need it to be that small, that's fine. Buy a different one!

    My mum, for example, *does* need a thin and light laptop because of her osteoarthritis, so this would be infinitely better for her than the Envy.

    (although she's going for a Mac anyway *rollseyes*)

    Anyway, my point is that there are use cases for thin and light, even if it doesn't fit with what you'd want to do.
  • peevee - Wednesday, November 22, 2017 - link

    Yes, slightly thicker with a bigger battery and replaceable everything would be nice.
    Is battery on this one user-replaceable? If not, it is a 2-year device, and as such is too expensive.
  • HStewart - Wednesday, November 22, 2017 - link

    Ethernet port can be handle by Thunderbolt 3 - of course requiring a dongle or docking station / hub

    Upgradeable RAM in light notebooks in side of the times in keeping things small. it best to go for max ram as you can get at the time.
  • poohbear - Wednesday, November 22, 2017 - link

    do you really need more than 8gb in a laptop for an ultrabook? I have 16gb on my desktop and it never goes beyond 8gb without gaming. I don't game on ultrabooks, they're purely for work.
  • 0iron - Thursday, November 23, 2017 - link

    Do you use Chrome with more than 20 tabs? With multiple Excel files, Outlook & occasional Firefox running 8GB RAM will reach its limit easily.
  • anactoraaron - Wednesday, November 22, 2017 - link

    I'd rather buy a surface book 2 at this price. Yes it would be a tradeoff with no tb3, but I would gain a 1050 and more battery.
  • kepstin - Wednesday, November 22, 2017 - link

    I'm just gonna say, this quote: "On the bright side, it can get fairly dim," is the funniest thing I've read all day.
  • Ryan Smith - Wednesday, November 22, 2017 - link

    We aim to please.

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