Our review unit of the UX501JW features the Intel Core i7-4720HQ quad-core processor. This CPU is based on Intel’s older Haswell architecture but is still a high-end performer with a base clock speed of 2.6GHz that ramps up to 3.6GHz with Intel’s Turbo Boost. As with other 15-inch high-performance notebooks we’ve reviewed this year, the standard 47-watt TDP of this processor is a double-edged sword; you get enough power for speedy calculations but the power consumption from flexing that computational muscle means your notebook’s battery will die faster than it would with a slower processor that has lower power needs.
As nice as the processor is, most of the UX501JW’s speed comes from the 512 GB PCIe x4 solid state drive (SSD). The benchmark numbers are good but don’t stand out since the results are in the same neighborhood as other notebooks with similar hardware. However, it’s important to put that performance in perspective for casual users. If you’ve only used budget laptops with traditional cheap hard drives then you’ve essentially been driving a Ford Fiesta. If you upgrade to a budget SATA SSD that’s like driving a professional race car but a good PCIe x4 SSD like the one in this notebook (and other premium notebooks from this year) is the equivalent of jumping on a rocket as it launches into space.
The Nvidia GeForce GTX 960M GPU in our review unit comes with 4GB of dedicated GDDR5 VRAM and is perfectly capable of dramatically speeding up the process of editing 1080p and 4K video. We likewise found the gaming performance of this GPU to be good enough to handle anything we threw at it when the display was set to 1080p resolution. Testing a few of the latest games at the native 4K resolution resulted in unplayable frame rates. Still, the GTX 960M proved it was mighty enough to handle The Witcher 3 at 1920 x 1080 resolution and “high” detail settings and still deliver a frame rate of around 27 fps (30 fps or better is the performance goal for most gamers).
The key thing to remember here is that this notebook has more than enough power and speed for anything most users will throw at it … and even hardcore gamers playing the newest and most demanding games will be impressed if they keep the screen resolution at no more than 1080p and don’t push game detail settings too high.
PCMark8 Home (Accelerated) measures overall system performance in Windows 8 for general activities from web browsing and video streaming to typing documents and playing games (higher scores mean better performance):
Heat and Noise
The dual fans and dual copper heat pipes inside the ASUS UX501 do an excellent job keeping the external temperatures within a comfortable range for “laptop” use. We stressed the ZenBook Pro with more than two hours of gaming and measured the chassis temperatures with an IR thermometer ranging from 86 degrees Fahrenheit (32 C) to 108 degrees Fahrenheit (42 C).
The UX501 likewise does a commendable job keeping the fan noise in check. The average noise level that we measured when the system ran idle was around 30 decibels (barely noticeable over the background “white noise” in a room) while the maximum noise output from the fans came in at 46 decibels (enough to disturb someone sitting close to you in a quiet office or classroom if they are sensitive to noise).
Battery Life and Power Adapter
The included 120W power adapter is larger and heavier than what comes with a typical budget-priced 15-inch consumer laptop because the AC adapter has to supply power to the more power-hungry components inside this premium notebook. The power adapter adds an extra 1.2 lbs (544 g) to the travel weight of the ZenBook Pro, but ASUS was kind enough to include a messenger-style laptop bag inside the box to help you carry the laptop, the power adapter, the USB adapters for Ethernet and VGA, and any other small items you want to bring along.
Although we previously mentioned that the 4K touchscreen and high-powered processor in this notebook aren’t ideal for battery life, ASUS rescued the UX501 by squeezing a juicy 96 Wh Lithium-Polymer battery inside the chassis. Granted, the power consumption from the 15.6-inch 4K touchscreen and the quad-core Intel Core i7-4720HQ is still too much to allow this ZenBook Pro to deliver “all day battery life” … but the high-capacity battery carries enough charge to keep you running for a while.
The fully-charged battery inside the UX501JW lasted for almost 4 hours and 39 minutes of continuous Wi-Fi usage (mostly web browsing and streaming YouTube videos). When we ran Futuremark’s demanding Powermark battery life benchmark (continuously running a combination of automated activities including word processing, web browsing, 3D gaming, and video playback) the UX501JW died after just 3 hours and 29 minutes. Whether or not our tests accurately translate into real-life battery run times depends on how you use the notebook.