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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  • Rasti1964 - Wednesday, June 06, 2012 - link

    The lack of a gigabit LAN port is a killer for me too. A gigabit to USB 3.0 adapter would be the solution but: Where to find such thing?

    I´ve searched the web for some hours now without success.

    Could you please tell us how to get this adapter?
    Reply
  • Saareem - Thursday, May 24, 2012 - link

    "Just like last time, the UX21A comes with a sleeve case, VGA dongle and USB to 10/100 Ethernet adapter."

    I'm quite surprised how many actually fails to read that sentence. There is usb-to-ethernet connecter available for the Zenbook Prime and not-Prime in Zenbook accessories buy a small price and it come's with those ultrabooks for free. Perhaps you could find a usb-to-gigabit ethernet adapter somewhere, but routers having a gigabit-ethernet are still a little bit uncommon, so I don't see much point there.

    Definately not a killer, at least.
    Reply
  • Finraziel - Friday, May 25, 2012 - link

    Ehm, I don't know if maybe you're in a different part of the world where gigabit routers are uncommon, but I've had gigabit routers for years and actually only bought one myself when they got cheap. Friends of mine had gigabit routers for years before that already. I'd think someone with the money to buy a zenbook prime can afford the 15 euro or so that I see gigabit routers for.
    Looking in our local pricewatch though (which is very complete usually), I find one usb 2.0 to gigabit connector, no usb 3.0 yet, and it's 30 euros.

    I had to transfer quite a bit of media for a friend who went to work abroad for a few months and would have very limited internet access last weekend, so I put a lot of movies and stuff on his laptop, but hadn't realised in time that it didn't have a gigabit port. Unfortunately that meant I couldn't put all that much on it in the time we had... when you're used to gigabit, not having it is severely limiting. I expect this would also be something that would annoy me, even if it would probably be one of the only things that would annoy me on this great machine.
    Reply
  • Freddo - Tuesday, May 22, 2012 - link

    I wish ASUS released an Intel Atom Zenbook. High quality form factor with an energy efficient CPU that allow for a 100% fanless computer. I don't really need that much performance from a portable computer anyway. Reply
  • phoenix_rizzen - Wednesday, May 23, 2012 - link

    There's no ION chipsets for Atom anymore, and the IGP in Atom sucks balls worse than even SNB IGPs, so there's no way it would push a 1920x1080 display with any smoothness.

    Atom is dead, and should be buried.
    Reply
  • jpk - Saturday, May 26, 2012 - link

    Amen to that. Reply
  • Freddo - Sunday, May 27, 2012 - link

    The Cedarview Atoms are perfectly capable of 1080p video playback, which is probably the most advanced thing I would use them for anyway. I'm not exactly looking into playing Crysis here, it's a small portable chat/surf computer, nothing more. Reply
  • vegemeister - Friday, June 08, 2012 - link

    The Atom GPU is a PowerVR thing with really crappy proprietary drivers. Do not want. Reply
  • mooninite - Tuesday, May 22, 2012 - link

    I wish the Zenbook came with 6GB or 8GB of RAM. 4GB is actually limiting these days. I need to be able to run a Virtual Machine (VirtualBox) on my laptop at times. Plus games will demand more than 4GB.

    ASUS, people do more than web surf and face book on their laptops. RAM is cheap enough that it should barely creep into your bottom line if you offered a Zenbook with more RAM.
    Reply
  • phoenix_rizzen - Tuesday, May 22, 2012 - link

    The UX32 has a SO-DIMM slot and supports 6 GB of RAM (2GB onboard + 4 GB DIMM). And it has a discrete GPU to boot. :) Reply

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