It was way back in 2011 that ASUS launched the Zenbook series. The original UX21E and UX31E were the first of the thin and light Ultrabooks from ASUS to bear the Zenbook brand, and featured an all-aluminum chassis. ASUS has kept the styling consistent over the years, and refined their Zenbook with each new model. The new UX305 is their thinnest and lightest incarnation to date and keeps the Zenbook aluminum frame, with the distinctive concentric-circle finish on the lid, and squeezes the laptop down to an incredible 12.3 mm thickness.

Part of that story is what is powering the UX305. Intel’s Core M processor is a 4.5 watt chip which has compressed the entire system on a chip into a much smaller package than the traditional Core processors that have powered the other Zenbooks. ASUS has created a system board with a ten-layer high-density PCB which is only 0.83 mm thick, and roughly the size of a six-inch smartphone. Core M, with its low Thermal Design Power (TDP), also enables fanless devices, and ASUS has done this to provide a laptop computing system with no moving parts at all, and therefore it is virtually silent.

The most amazing thing about the ASUS UX305 though is that the company has crafted an all-aluminum, thin, light, and capable Ultrabook for only $699. With this kind of price point, one would expect sacrifices to be made in the specifications, but that is not really the case at all. For the base starting price, the UX305 comes with the Core M-5Y10 processor which has a base clock of 800 Mhz and boost to 2 GHz, along with 8 GB of LPDDR3-1600, and a 256 GB Solid State Drive. The display is a 13.3 inch 1080p IPS panel, and in April a 3200x1800 model will be available which includes multi-touch.

ASUS Zenbook Ultrabook
  UX305FA- As Tested, Core M-5Y10, 8 GB RAM, 256 GB SSD, 1920x1080 IPS display, 802.11n Wi-FI
Processor Intel Core M-5Y10 (2C/4T, 0.8-2.0GHz, 4MB L3, 14nm, 4.5w)
Intel Core M-5Y71 (2C/4T, 1.2-2.9GHz, 4MB L3, 14nm, 4.5w)
Memory 4GB or 8GB LPDDR3-1600Mhz
8GB Standard in NA
Graphics Intel HD 5300 (24 EU, 100-800 MHz on 5Y10, 300-900 Mhz on 5Y71)
Display 13.3" 1920x1080 IPS matte
AUO212D

Optional 3200x1800 PLS
Optional Mult-touch
Storage 128GB or 256GB SSD
Sandisk model
256 GB standard in NA
Networking Intel Dual Band Wireless-N 7265 (802.11n, 2x2:2, 300Mpbs Max, 2.4 and 5GHz)
Optional
Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 7265 (802.11ac, 2x2:2, 866 Mbps Max, 2.4 and 5GHz)
Audio Conexant SmartAudio HD
Stereo Speakers (downfiring)
Battery 45 Wh Battery
45 Watt charger
Right Side Power Input
USB 3.0 Port
micro-HDMI Port
Headset Jack
Left Side 2 x USB 3.0 Ports
SD Card Reader
Dimensions 324 x 226 x 12.3mm (12.75 x 8.9 x 0.48 inches)
Weight 1.2 kg (2.6 lbs)
Extras 720p Webcam
Colors Obsidian Stone, Ceramic Alloy
Pricing $699-$999 USD

For the US market, the $699 5Y10, 8GB, 256 GB 1080p model will be the base, however they will offer other configurations in other markets. As far as specifications, there is very little to complain about. ASUS has still managed to fit a 45 Wh battery onboard, and it has all of the ports one would expect of a modern Ultrabook, with three USB 3.0 ports including one port with sleep charging, a micro-HDMI port, a headset jack, and a micro SD card slot. They have even fitted a 720p webcam. Really the only spec that that might be considered cutting corners is the 802.11n wireless, but some models will come with 802.11ac as well. ASUS has packed all of this into just 1.2 kg, so the UX305 is very light too.

One look at the UX305 and you can instantly tell that ASUS is going for those who are after a premium Ultrabook, but with a budget price. However that budget does not mean that it skimps on the necessities like storage or RAM. At CES, I was hopeful that the push to lower cost devices with solid state storage would be right around the corner, and clearly that is the case. Many of us who follow technology get asked for recommendations on devices to purchase, and it was difficult to find a quality device for a reasonable price that included solid state storage. ASUS has shattered that barrier with a 256 GB SSD at this price point.

They have also changed the perception about design and feel of a mid-priced notebook.

Design and Chassis
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  • Calista - Wednesday, March 25, 2015 - link

    Well, for a lot of people a Core 2 Duo is more than powerful enough. Using a M4400 with a Core 2 Duo T9600 from time to time rarely does it feel slow for "normal usage", i.e. browsing the web, working with Photoshop and whatnot.

    Once we have reached a certain threshold more performance just doesn't seem so important any more. I would say most folks reached that threshold with the release of the later C2D CPU:s.
    Reply
  • FlushedBubblyJock - Wednesday, March 25, 2015 - link

    I know many of these people, and replacing the spindle drive with a small SSD (and my usual optimizations in 5 mins) settles it entirely for them.
    It's faster than the new regulars at the stores.
    Reply
  • TheWrongChristian - Thursday, March 26, 2015 - link

    I just "upgraded" from my Core Duo T2400 based laptop (which kept up with modern software) to a $60 second hand thinkpad t61, with Core 2 T7100 CPU (which easily keeps up with modern software.)

    I only upgraded because the screen backlight on the old laptop was a bit flaky, and only upgraded to the thinkpad because it has a fantastic keyboard and I already had the ultrabay HDD adaptor from a previous work laptop, as well as using the same PSU as my old laptop (also a Lenovo.)

    Modern machines are let down by their crappy keyboards and screens. That's where the race to the bottom has hit.

    TL;DR

    I concur. With the push of software down to tablet and smartphones, people have learned to somewhat optimize again, and CPUs performance from ~7-8 years ago is perfactly adequate.
    Reply
  • akdj - Saturday, March 28, 2015 - link

    Except I'd argue your two biggest concerns (keyboard and screen) are ..at least ½ of the equation ... Of MUCH higher quality, legibility, brightness, contrast, and their corresponding technologies behind them; AMOLED or LCS have come leaps and bounds in the last half to full decade. I'm also intrigued by the new keyboard and trackpad Apple has implemented
    If anything, it does seem more Window's OEMs are getting trackpads correct. I can't speak to their keyboards but I've been using solely OS X laptops during that time period you're talking about. Though, during that period Apple's keyboards, again, have only gotten 'Better'. Just MHO, but not a lot of laptops are upgradable either, some 32bit even limited to 3-3.5GB of RAM & nearly impossible to get an SSD inside. That, the SSD today is the ONE differentiator and bottle neck eliminator we've seen. Not the CPU, the RAM, the display or the keyboard. GPU in some cases, sure. But going solid state and fanless without the need for AC all day...for the layman, those are HUGE wins
    Reply
  • BrokenCrayons - Thursday, March 26, 2015 - link

    I completely agree with the C2D being adequate. For me, "adequate performance" was an upgraded Dell Latitude D620 with a T2300 (1.6 GHz 32-bit dual core), 4 GB of RAM which wasn't fully utilized due to the 32-bit OS and a thing about the 945 chipset that didn't recognize more than like 3.2 GB and a 320 GB non-SSD. It was and still is just fine but the battery was bad, the screen was getting kinda flickery and one of the USB ports was damaged so I bought a used Latitude E6320 with some kind of i5 Sandy Bridge in it and it's far more than I need. While I like the fanless aspects of modern laptops, I hate the short key travel and other sacrifices made in the name of making something thin. It seems pointless and faddish to do that because the laptop still needs just as much space in a handbag or whatever since the other two dimensions aren't different. I'm sure that some people will want something like this, but I can't find a reason to care that much about the thickness. I didn't care when I had a 90 MHz Pentium laptop (which was fanless...Texas Instruments Travelmate 5130..there was a heatsink and this huge heat spreader bar under the keyboard) and I don't worry about it now. Reply
  • 074geodude - Wednesday, March 25, 2015 - link

    CPU performance wise, no you will not be upgrading.

    But everything else - screen quality, resolution, thickness, weight, 8 GB RAM, 256 GB SSD, battery life (11+hours, try getting that out of a Core 2 Duo).

    It's time to upgrade.
    Reply
  • beehofer - Thursday, March 26, 2015 - link

    The Core M might not stand much a of chance against the the U but they seem to have a purpose. I would very much like a review of the new more powerful Asus UX303LA which is sporting the 5200U. I got it from the microsoft store for 1300$ after adding a 1TB EVO 850 SSD. the screen is higher ppi than the newest 13 inch macbook pro retina with 8GB of Ram. You can't beat the bang for the buck. Battery life is the only disappointment so far. Reply
  • sonicmerlin - Monday, March 30, 2015 - link

    Even the iPad Air 2 has a faster GPU than Core M. Reply
  • FwFred - Monday, June 15, 2015 - link

    I'd say the GPUs trade blows, but the Core M has faster CPU, and the Asus has far more storage for an equivalent price. Reply
  • Novacius - Wednesday, March 25, 2015 - link

    It's a shame that it hasn't keyboard backlighting and such a poor display calibration. Maybe they'll do better in future iterations. I'm very interested in a Skylake model. Reply

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