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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  • ananduser - Tuesday, May 22, 2012 - link

    DPI scaling is only an issue with 3rd party programs. Windows featuring the best DPI scaling currently for desktop OSes.
  • Conficio - Wednesday, May 23, 2012 - link

    ... does the article not demonstrate that DPI scaling even in some popular MS programs does not work?

    is ti fair to conclude, that either it is an inherent problem with the Windows 7 OS or it is so complicated APi wise that even Microsofts in house programmers can't get it right?
  • piroroadkill - Tuesday, May 22, 2012 - link

    11.6 and 13.3" 1080p? Very nice. I'd rather it was an 8:5 ratio but still, very nice.
  • GeorgeH - Tuesday, May 22, 2012 - link

    That screen is a thing of beauty - Asus laptops just went from a personal overall 'meh' to 'hell yes'. Here's hoping Asus also starts adding high DPI models to their desktop display line.
  • MobiusStrip - Tuesday, May 22, 2012 - link

    Only if it's matte, which isn't specified in the chart. Otherwise it doesn't matter what kind of panel is in there; you'll be looking at yourself and the stuff behind you, and not the images generated by the computer.
  • mike8675309 - Thursday, May 24, 2012 - link

    I nearly had to spend some alone time when I read the resolution of this thing in an 11" panel. My goodness, I love it. That's higher resolution than what is standard (and even available in some) in many 17" laptop displays. Curious who makes that panel and for what other applications. Must be made of some rare stuff.
  • Cygni - Tuesday, May 22, 2012 - link

    This picture:

    Goddamn REALLY asus? You are really going to release a picture with razerback aliasing, oval mic ports, and spellcheck underlines to the press? You have to be kidding me.

    Also: lol mini-vga in 2012, jesus christ.
  • MobiusStrip - Tuesday, May 22, 2012 - link

    Ha ha ha! You're right; that's pitifully unprofessional.
  • Sunburn74 - Tuesday, May 22, 2012 - link

    Geez people,

    Try and remember what the purpose of the machine is when filing complaints.
  • Kegetys - Tuesday, May 22, 2012 - link

    Seems quite impressive, something I would have wished to see more detail on is the noise levels. My UL30VT with SSD keeps the fan completely off when its sitting idle on my desk and also on light desktop loads. Its awesome when it makes no noise at all*, that even a very slowly rotating fan inevitably does. I can leave it on during the night an sleep a meter away from it without being disturbed.

    * There's some slight electrical noises, but they arent audible from normal use distances.

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