Asus Zenbook Pro UX501VW Review

++ Main reason to consider:

High quality slim and lightweight multimedia/gaming laptop with 4K IPS display

-- Main reason to avoid:

Performance/price ratio is low for gamers + although a good laptop, it’s not a great one, with hard positioning compared to other laptops, especially the Dell XPS 9550 with the better display.

Availability

Current pricing is $1400-$1500, at least:

Pro : + Good 3840x2160 IPS display with very good color coverage and viewing angles
+ Very good keyboard with good feedback, response and resistance and very comfortable touchpad
+ Probably good service and drivers/bios/firmware updates from Asus
+ Relatively rigid chassis with strong hinges
+ Relatively quiet, even under high load
+ 96Wh batterym ensuring relatively long operation hours for one charge
+ Thunderbolt 3, HDMI 2.0 ports
+ 16GB DDR4 RAM
+ 512GB NVMe M.2 SSD
+ Good looks
Con : - 3D performance/price ratio is relatively low - much lower than many others and gamers should look elsewhere
- The 3840x2160 IPS display is not that excellent, showing relatively low contrast ratio and high black levels.
- Thermals aren't great. Will throttle under full load of Furmark + Prime95 (but not under Crysis 3)
- The higher capacity battery version is not really lightweight (almost 2.3kg)
- Maintenance is not that easy
- The 96Wh battery version has no 2.5 SATA option, you're stuck with the single M.2 SSD
- Sound quality is maybe a little above average - and not even sure about that
- Outer lid build quality is good, but not great, lower than the XPS 9550's.
- Some kind of electrical noise from the insides of the laptop. IT was noticeable
- High price tag

Introduction

Asus UX501VW

The Asus Zenbook Pro UX501VW is Asus’s latest ‘premium’ multimedia/gaming slim 15.6″ laptop. It sports neat stuff like a 3840×2160 resolution high quality touchscreen, Thunderbolt 3 USB-C, good keyboard and 512GB NVMe SSD. Moreover, build quality and high finish, keyboard and touchpad are probably good. I wonder if the service and driver/bios updates are good as well as I would expect they are. The weight of the UX501VW is relatively high at around 2.2-2.3kg, but this is for the configuration with the 96W battery which is preferred by most, probably.

The price is around $1500 for the configuration with 512GB SSD and 3840×2160 display and I paid less buying via Excaliberpc + got two game coupons, but I guess we’ll see lower prices anyway. The UX501VW plays at the same sandbox as the Dell XPS 9550 laptop (review here, here and here) which also goes for around the same price with a very good 3840×2160 display and 512GB NVMe SSD and is also a slimmer 15.6″ multimedia laptop with a GTX 960M 2GB GPU and an I5/I7.

I think about this segement of laptops as big premium ultrabooks with powerful GPUs and the XPS and UX501VW seem to be its stars in the USA. I wonder what is the place for this kind of laptop if eGPUs will be easy to work with and without real problems (and available ofcourse), but that’s true for mant laptops).

ComponentDescription
ModelAsus Zenbook Pro UX501VW-DS71T
PriceAs tested, $1400-$1500
CPUIntel Skylake I7-6700HQ, 4C/8T, 2.6-3.6GHZ, 6MB cache, CZ-A1
GPUNvidia Geforce GTX 960M 2GB GDDR5, GM107 (Maxwell I), 640 shaders, core@1097-1200MHZ, GDDR5@1252MHZ, 128-bit bus
Motherboard / ChipsetAsus N501VW / Intel HM170 (Skylake PCH-H)
2xPCI Express x1, 2xPCI Express x4, 1xPCI Express x16
RAMSamsung 2x8GB DDR4@2133MHZ M471A1G43DB0-CPB
StorageHDD : None
SSD: M.2 NVMe SAMSUNG MZVPV512 (300Q)
M.2 : M.2 SATA or PCIe/NVMe 2280 (one)
Display PanelIn review: LG Display LP156UD1-SPB1 IPS 3840x2160
Weight / Dimensions2.29kg (~5.05 Lbs.) + ~0.4kg 120W PSU
383 x 255 x 20.57-21.34 mm
15.07" x 10.04" x 0.81" - 0.84"
(w x d x h)
KeyboardWhite backlit (4 levels including off)
Connection PortsRight side: 2xUSB 3.0, SD Card Slot, audio out/microphone
Left: AC power, USB 3.0, HDMI 2.0, Thunderbolt 3 type-C
Rear/Front: None
CameraHD
WiFi / EthernetWiFi: Intel 7265ac WiFi
Ethernet: None
Speakers / Audio2.0 Bang & Olufsen Speakers
Realtek chip
Battery96Wh
Bios / EC version (test unit)N501VW.204 /
Extra features
more details

Build quality, Case, design and looks

Build quality of the chassis is good, but its not as rigid as the XPS and feels like a strong plastic (I don’t mind the plastic). The outer lid is pretty rigid, but will yield under high pressure. The screen’s bezel is firm and the screen’s hinges are good too.

I’d say that build quality is good, but not on the same level as the XPS 9550.

Looks

The UX501VW finish is rather high and it looks good. Colors are silver-white and darker silver.

 

Maintenance and inner parts

Maintenance is not easy. The backplate is not easily removed and you have to pull out two of the bottom pads just to unscrew the screws beneath them and I couldn’t even do that and still make sure I’m not destroying the pads. But, it seems that it’s probably me, because these instructions show it’s pretty easy. I did take a look via the opening that I could make, and there is no place for a 2.5″ HDD, unless you go with the 60W battery. The 96W battery takes all the place, plus, it could be that 96W version doesn’t have 2.5″ SATA connection at all. Please check this picture of the motherboard from Ultrabookreview:

UX501VW motherboard (notebookcheck)

Both CPU and GPU are soldered. Two fans cool the system, but as we’ll see later, the cooling system with these specs isn’t amazing.

Keyboard and touchpad

Keyboard. The keyboard quality is high. I’ll start with the bad part – I feel like the keys are a little stiff when clicked, like I have to pressure them a little “too much” compared to what I’d like it to be. But that’s really not that bad and it might even more comfortable for some (maybe even for me, with time), and otherwise, the typing experience is pretty good : keys are well spaced, feedback and travel depth are good, the keyboard is rather quiet too.

Touchpad. The touchpad could be a little smoother. The integrated buttons are comfortable.

Sound & Speakers

Where is the bass. Two speakers, branded with Bang & Olufsen, located at the bottom from sides. Mids are somewhat ok, but the speakers don’t do much in terms of bass/low tones and same goes the clarity and balance between different sound types aren’t great. Also, max volume is rather low and I had sometimes some problem hearing some youtube music, if it was a bit quiet. But, it works, and, if it helps, it is better than the 7559 but not as ok as the XPS 9550’s speakers (which aren’t great).

Saying that, I must say that it did sound rather ok for some types of music. For example, playing some of Dave Van Ronk stuff (like this and this), maybe because there is some strength in the mids, at least when the music loaded with different sounds.

General subjective performance experience

Common performance is very goodas could be expected from an I7 + 500GB NVMe SSD

Added CPU-Z and GPU-Z screenshots.

 

Gaming Performance

Test Methods & Drivers

OS : Windows 10, fully updated

Drivers: Nvidia Geforce 361.75

Synthetic 3D benchmarks

3DMark performance – link to source:

Asus Zenbook Pro UX501VW Review : 3DMark benchmark

Summarized gaming performance

Crysis 3

Asus Zenbook Pro UX501VW Review : GPU and CPU clocks under Crysis 3Asus Zenbook Pro UX501VW Review : Crysis 3 GTX 960M 1080p benchmark

Thief

Thief sees some advantage using Mantle API over the DX11. Heavily Vulkan/DX12 optimized games/game engines should see much higher improvements.

Asus Zenbook Pro UX501VW Review : Thief GTX 960M 1080p benchmark

Bioshock Infinite

Asus Zenbook Pro UX501VW Review : Bioshock Infinite GTX 960M benchmark

Civilization : Beyond Earth

Couldn’t make it work :

Asus Zenbook Pro UX501VW Review : Civilization Beyond Earth GTX 960M 1080p benchmark

Metro : Last Light

No matter what I’ve tried, performance in Metro Last Light remained problematic, it’s like the GPU stopped working even now and then

Asus Zenbook Pro UX501VW Review : Metro Last Light GTX 960M 1080p benchmark

Battlefield 4 Campaign

BF4 campaign benchmark

Asus Zenbook Pro UX501VW Review : Battlefield 4 GTX 960M 1080p benchmark

World of Tanks

Asus Zenbook Pro UX501VW Review : World of Tanks GTX 960M 1080p benchmark

Shadow Of Mordor

Asus Zenbook Pro UX501VW Review : Shadow of Mordor GTX 960M 1080p benchmark

Dragon Age : Inquisition

Asus Zenbook Pro UX501VW Review : Dragon Age Inquisition GTX 960M 1080p benchmark

Anno 2205

Asus Zenbook Pro UX501VW Review : Anno 2205 GTX 960M 1080p benchmark

Fallout 4

The new Fallout 4 is rather demanding, but the benefits of the high graphics presets are not clear to me.

Asus Zenbook Pro UX501VW Review : Fallout 4 GTX 960M 1080p benchmark

The Talos Principle

Asus Zenbook Pro UX501VW Review : The Talos Principle GTX 960M 1080p benchmark

Rise of the Tomb Raider

Asus Zenbook Pro UX501VW Review : Rise of The Tomb Raider GTX 960M 1080p benchmark

Thermals, Throttling & Noise handling

As described before, the CPU and GPU share two heatpipes, both leading to two fans. Cool air is sucked from below and thrown up in disgust to the rear.

Four tests:

1. Idle, power saver mode

2. Gaming : Crysis 3 gameplay. “very high” settings with SMAAx2 For Crysis 3, “High performance” power mode.

3. Prime95 torture test. “High performance” power mode.

4. Prime95 + Furmark on 1366×768 test, AAx2. “High performance” power mode.

 Asus Zenbook Pro UX501VW Review : CPU & GPU temperaturesWell, that’s part of the picture. Indeed, the UX501VW can keep the temperature in the reasonable area, but we’ll soon see that it does so by throttling.

Heat

The UX501VW chassis’ upper part temperatures remain pretty moderate even highest load of Prime95 + Furmark. The areas that get hotter are around the Fs keys at the top of the keyboard. However, the bottom gets hotter considerably and more widely, including all the area beneath the keyboard’s center, the hinges, and a lot more towards the side edges. I’d say that under high load it could be a problem actually placing the laptop on your laps.

Throttling

Under Prime95 + Furmark, the UX501VW’s CPU is throttled as well as the GPU core clock that goes down to 400MHZ! Even the FZ50VW and GL552VW, both Asus laptops, do a lot better. Also, my tests with the Dell 9550 (I5, 960M 2GB) showed a lot better stats, but then again, it was an I5 and not an I7.

 

Tried ThrottleStop and disabled Turbo altogether, and it didn’t help. The CPU went down to 2.1-2.2GHZ after a short time. I must say, though, that the UX501VW noise is relatively low, even at high load.
However, you can see that running Crysis 3, at least for a short while, does not result in any serious throttling.

Noise

  1. Under high load, the fans are audible, but the noise is not high at all. I think they could give it another 10% in speed to keep temps lower, but probably a little better cooling system would be a lot more efficient in keeping CPU/GPU cooler.
  2. Under light/moderate, the UX501VW is pretty quiet and I could barely hear it, except when setting power mode to “high performance” and load the CPU a bit.
  3. There was always some kind of noticeable electrical noise, even with “power saver” mode and doing nothing

Screen & Screen quality

The Asus UX501VW uses the LG Display LP156UD1-SPB1 IPS 3840×2160 display. Subjectively, colors do look good, maximal brightness is high enough and contrast seemed to be ok. Viewing angles are very good in my opinion. The distorted colors in the images below are probably because of taking pictures with the camera – they are actually good in real. However, the display is glossy, which shows, especially when there the lighting conditions are not that good.

The UX501VW either not using PWM for brightness control or the frequency is very high, according to my simple tests. The issues from previous UX501 version – having a  RGBW-Pentile display, are not the case here.

The contrast, according to other reviews, is better than what my readings showed, but I’ve tested with two different devices few times, so I think that probably there is some truth to that.

I’m adding the xRite i1Profiler contrast and brightness readings:

Contrast White Luminence Black Luminence Screen Brightness
378.6259541985 248 0.655 100.00%
380.3921568627 97 0.255 50.00%
387.0967741935 48 0.124 20.00%
ContrastBrightnessBlack levels
490 286 0.59
sRGBadobeRGBNTSC
99 78 71

Battery Performance

The UX501VW can hold its liqueur, mostly thanks to its high capacity battery, but the efficiency is not that good and power consumption is relatively high, even compared to some high performance laptops. Remember it has a 96Wh battery.

Asus Zenbook Pro UX501VW Review : battery performance

Issues

  • I don’t know why, but sometimes memory usage is very high for no apparent voluntary reason. I could see 10GB used, while any of my applications are closed. It happened more than once and each after a reset.

Competing gaming laptops / Alternatives

    • Positioned at the same box, the Dell XPS 15 9550 4K version (here)
    • Slim and lightweight – MSI GS60, Gigabyte P35Wv5 (Newegg, Amazon) and there are more. Not the same service/build/updates quality, but these are slim and lightweight gaming laptops. 4K gaming with a 960M is anyway not that very possible with 3D heavy games.
    • Other laptops with 960M which are not a lot more heavy and big than the UX501VW and XPS 9550, like the Dell 7559, Acer VN7-592G which is pretty close in weight and others. Add an SSD yourself and you are good to go. Need high quality 4K display for work? buy one and replace. This version is not even more lightweight than the VN7-592G.

Conclusion

Well, the UX501VW is a good laptop – it has good features, relatively good 3840×2160 resolution IPS touchscreen, it’s lightweight and slim, has Thunderbolt 3 and a ~500GB NVMe SSD. The build quality is relatively good and keyboard is satisfying, overall.

Between the two, Asus UX501VW and the Dell XPS 15 9550 (4K version), the XPS 9550 has a better 4K display which is more suitable for video/photo editor and other multimedia uses, for around the same price (w/ coupons), but equipped with 1TB SSHD and 8GB RAM only. So:

  • If you don’t really need the display quality and given there are other slim laptops with such 3D power or higher (like the GS40/GS60/P35W) , you only left with the supposed build quality and service. Is that worth $1400-$1500
  • If you do want the higher quality 4K display, then either get the cheap basic XPS 9550 and install one yourself for a much lower price, OR, get the Dell XPS 9550 fully equipped. It also has known high level of service/updates quality.

So, indeed, the UX501VW does surprise with good loads of goodies – the 500GB NVMe SSD, the 4K display, the overall good quality, but it’s not like it’s a perfect premium laptop, and bottom line, like we said – why would you want this one specifically? Only if you want specifically a laptop like the UX501VW, with no clear advantages, only a specific combination. I’m pretty sure the M.2 NVMe SSDs will be available for considerably lower price soon enough (like $100-$150 for 500GB, at most), so that’s not a big deal. The Acer VN7-592G, though not having the same quality, is as lightweight (compared to the 96Wh battery version), as fast for gaming, has good keyboard, Thunderbolt 3 port, NVMe M.2 slot and even better speakers. Just an example.

Bottom line, consider carefully why exactly you are looking at this specific laptop and think carefully if it satisfies your needs and wishes, because it has hard positioning. For $1100-$1250, it could be a very good option, but for $1400-$1500, I’m not so sure what are its advantages over the competitors.

.

  • disqus_nNoyFOzCD2

    Still uses RG/BW Pentile to cheat the ability to advertise 4K without actually providing the full detail of the resolution, just a different brand panel that looks subjectively different.

  • Leo

    Hi gaminglaptopsjunky, would you mind uploading the calibration file for this 4k panel on this laptop please? I have the exact same panel and I think that the yellow color on this screen is not really accurate and am struggling in calibrating the screen.
    Thank you so much!

    • Hi!

      Well, I have to check – not sure I have it. I stopped keeping the profiles after a while, because the automatic calibration was often not accurate + there are variations in the panels themselves (for the same model). I’ll check though

      Did you try the manual calibration?

  • newegg

    Dell XPS 15 9550 would cost $500-700 more in the states with 4k display, 512 GB SSD and 86 w-hr battery. The comparison to the Dell XPS is not really valid, since that difference in cost is significant. The Zenbook also comes with a superior SSD with read / write speeds of 1400 MBPS. The Dell XPS only gets a read of 1000 MBPS and a write of 500 MBPS. I run programs that are very read/write intensive. In that category, the Zenbook will be far superior. Overall, the Zenbook is am much better value than the Dell. Its hard for me to say that, since my last 10 notebook/desktop computers have all been from Dell.

    • Hi newegg!

      1. It doesn’t cost $500-$700 more? can you link to the version?
      2. Plus, it’s not that hard to change the SSD. The XPS 9550 SSD is slow, not the XPS.. if you’re changing it, then you’ll get higher speeds. I would go for the lower end XPS 9550 (available even refurbished for less $1000, with full warranty) and install an SSD of my choice.
      3. The XPS’s 4K display is better.

  • Antek Lucas

    Thx aka_charos & ken blawk

    I tested as requested and yes i see another line so it has PWM see https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/f64674e47481c37218031ba9b09240ef3277d57c1c70254f4591b447046216d9.jpg attached –
    Shot at 1/125 @ f2

    Anything else let me know. Im still happy with the laptop tho 🙂

    • Great stuff Antek, many thanks!

      • Antek Lucas

        No Prob Glad to help

  • Antek Lucas

    I Live in Poland also and bought the UX501VW with the FHD Screen model number UX501VW – FY01DT. which came with : 256Gb m.2 sata SSD, 960m with 4Gb DDR5 and 96WH Battery. Now I have to agree with you that the 4k Screen is amazing but have to say the 1080p display on this one seems great so far and looks like it uses a samsung panel. I have also been able to work 10hours @ 50% Brightness on battery working via google docs, with some light photoshop work running off the Intel HD graphics, so to me this is fantastic.
    The audio was not as good as you would expect for the price, but i think partly this is due to Asus, If you go though the ICE Audio settings this does improve the sound output a little including bass. hope this is helps anyone. thx

    • Hi Antek!! Thanks for sharing!!

      I actually didn’t say that the 4K is amazing – it’s not that great, not like the XPS 9550’s 4K display
      Can you please check the 1080p model ? you can use HWInfo freeware

      • Antek Lucas

        this is the display info via HWInfo:

        Monitor ——————————————————————-

        SAMSUNG [Unknown Model: SDC324C] ——————————————

        [General information]

        Monitor Name: SAMSUNG [Unknown Model: SDC324C]

        Monitor Name (Manuf): SAMSUNG 156HL01-104

        Date Of Manufacture: Week: 0, Year: 2013

        Monitor Hardware ID: MonitorSDC324C

        Max. Vertical Size: 19 cm

        Max. Horizontal Size: 34 cm

        [Advanced parameters]

        Input Signal: Digital

        Color Bit Depth: 6 Bits per Primary Color

        Digital Video Interface Standard Supported: DisplayPort

        Display Type: RGB color

        Gamma Factor: 2.20

        [DPMS Modes]

        Standby: Not Supported

        Suspend: Not Supported

        Active Off: Not Supported

        Standard Colour Space: Not Supported

        Preferred Timing Mode: Supported

        Default GTF Supported: Not Supported

        DFP 1.x Compatible: Yes

        [Supported Video Modes]

        1920 x 1080 344 x 194 mm, Pixel Clock 143.00 MHz

        • It’s the same one as in the G501VW I’m testing now

          • aka_charos

            That’s interesting. That means that UX501VW HD panel is different than the one in G501VW ?
            Junky, from your review and from other sites l’ve read that indeed the non UHD panel on G501VW has major issues with pwm.
            But then Antek Lucas suggests that the non UHD panel of UX501VW does not have pwm . I thought those models shared the same panels.

            • According to HWInfo, the G501VW I currently have, has the same model name – SAMSUNG 156HL01-104, SDC324C, yes

        • Do you see any flickering in low light? I’m trying to figure out if it’s using PWM

  • Paul Ryasnoy

    Thanks for your review )

    • Thanks for thanking!

  • Motofan

    In Poland only option is FullHD model with 4GB of DDR5 on 960m and smaller battery (60Wh). I wonder how this will influence battery times and what quality this FullHD screen has..

    • I think power consumption should be lower. Also, for gaming the 1080p is great. Do you know what is the exact panel model?

      • Motofan

        Unfortunatelly not :(, I was looking for that info but all reviews contain only UHD versions. I wonder if this is not a panel from ROG series..
        BTW: Great review as always, regards from Poland.

        • Thanks!

          Well, get the FHD version, especially if it’s cheap. Afterwards, you can simply buy a different display panel