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
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
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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  • zappb - Sunday, May 27, 2012 - link

    11 inch 1080p = Asus = Awesome...

    That just takes some balls!

    Thanks Asus
  • stoked - Sunday, May 27, 2012 - link

    Can someone comment on the difference between the UX31A-DB51 and UX31A-DB52 for the $100 difference in price?
  • Rudyji - Wednesday, September 19, 2012 - link

    51 : i5 128gig SSD
    52 : i5 256gig SSD
    71 : i7 128gig SSD
    72 : i7 256gig SSD
  • Rudyji - Wednesday, September 19, 2012 - link

    or maybe its the isnt all that clear....
  • shriganesh - Monday, May 28, 2012 - link

    The high res screen rocks. There is another albeit unconventional one. We can reduce the resolution. In fact I am not too comfortable with 1080P resolution in my 23" monitor. So I use it with 720p resolution which has least artifacts due to more physical dots showing less number of pixels. There sure are artifacts and jagged lines which make the text and things less sharp. But it puts extremely low stress on eyes.
  • waqqashanafi - Monday, May 28, 2012 - link

    I can't wait to get my hands on one of these Zenbook Primes. The only issue I have with such a mobile laptop is the lack of the obvious: 4G LTE!

    A laptop like this NEEDS to have 4G LTE built-in, in this day when mobile data is cheap and available everywhere, and people are more and more mobile. I want to be able to just flip this bad boy open anywhere (offices, cafes, in the car, park, friend's house, etc.) without having to beg for other people's WiFi passwords - or have ugly fat 4G LTE dongles sticking out of my laptop or do some shaky tethering with my phone.
  • Filiprino - Monday, May 28, 2012 - link

    I've read on a lot of sites that the UX32VD has a mini displayport instead of a mini vga. The only ones that have a mini vga are the revisions of UX21E and UX31E, that is, the UX21A and UX31A.
  • igneshto1 - Sunday, June 3, 2012 - link
    This video(In russian, I know!) goto 3:08... i7-3517U @ 1,90Ghz up to 2,40Ghz... Just so you know...
  • jonyah - Tuesday, June 5, 2012 - link

    These ultrabooks are so close to being great, but they miss the mark. Limiting your machine to 4gb of memory, or putting in a hybrid drive where you should have an ssd really sucks. make it 8gb of memory at least (more would be better), keep the full hd screen and stick with just pure SSD and you have a winner. It may even compete with my Vaio Z enough for me to pick one up instead of a new Z next time. I want a U31A with 8gb of memory. How hard is that? Or the UX32VD with 8gb of memory and 256gb SSD.
  • smartypnt4 - Thursday, June 7, 2012 - link

    Get a UX32VD, pick your favorite 256gb drive, grab a 4gb stick of memory (or an 8gb stick if it supports it) and upgrade the thing yourself.

    The UX32-series all has one stick of user-replaceable RAM, and a user-replaceable HDD that's a standard 2.5" drive. Make sure it's a slim 7mm drive, though. All of Intel's drives are 7mm drives with spacers to make them 9.5mm, so they all fit. Not sure about others.

    If I get a new laptop any time soon, that's my plan anyway. It'll be around $1700, but if you're already looking at the Vaio Z, then that won't be too high a price point for you. With this, you get on-board discrete graphics too.

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