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Grow Your Business Technology

Asus ZenBook Pro UX501VW Review: Is It Good for Business?

Asus ZenBook Pro UX501VW, business laptops The ZenBook Pro UX501VW sports a super sharp 15.6-inch display. / Credit: Jeremy Lips

The Asus ZenBook Pro UX501VW is a terrific value for workers with graphically intensive workloads. The 15-inch workhorse laptop offers all the perks of a MacBook Pro — including a premium metal design, powerful performance and a super-high-res display — for about $1,000 less than Apple's machine, at least if you won’t comparable specs. No, that's not a typo — starting at just $1,499, Asus' system really is that affordable. That makes it a nearly unbeatable deal for anyone whose job involves 3D software or photo/video editing.

[For more information on how we test mobile devices, visit our testing methodology page.]

The ZenBook Pro looks and feels every bit as premium as the MacBook Pro. I especially love the look of the aluminum lid, which sports a handsome brushed-metal effect. The all-metal system feels really sturdy, without a hint of flex in the lid or keyboard deck.

But you'll make one big sacrifice by opting for the ZenBook Pro over rival laptops: portability. At 5 lbs., the ZenBook is about a half pound heavier than the MacBook Pro (4.49 lbs.), the Samsung Ativ Book 9 Pro (4.45 lbs.) and the Dell XPS 15 (4.4 lbs.). Asus' system is also slightly thicker and larger overall than competing notebooks. It's not a huge difference, but it's something to consider if you need to lug your laptop back and forth between home and the office.

The ZenBook Pro's gorgeous 15.6-inch, 4K touch display is great for graphical tasks like editing videos and photos. The screen's large screen size makes split-screen multitasking really comfortable.

With a supersharp resolution of 3840 x 2160 pixels, the ZenBook Pro's screen is beautiful to behold, even if it's probably overkill for most workers. Images are vivid and colorful, and text looks crisp. Viewing angles are also very wide.

The 4K panel is also brighter than the screens on rival notebooks. Topping out at 258 nits of brightness, it outshines the average notebook display (254 nits), as well as the screens on the Dell Inspiron 15 (180 nits) and the Acer Aspire V15 (212 nits.) The MacBook Pro has the brightest display of all, though, at 303 nits. A bright display is easier to view outdoors or in direct sunlight, but all of these notebooks are fine for indoor use.  

Touch functionality worked fine during my testing. The system responded reliably to my tabs and swipes. Business users aren't likely to find much use for a touch display on a standard laptop like this, but it's a nice perk nonetheless.

The ZenBook Pro's keyboard is pretty good, even if the keys feel a bit stiff. On the bright side, the keyboard offers deep key travel — about 2.1 millimeters, which is well above the 1.5-mm average — and you get plenty of feedback on each keystroke. The result is a comfortable overall typing experience. Business users will also like the full-size arrow keys and 10-key number pad, which is handy for number crunching.

While the touchpad felt accurate and responsive for controlling the on-screen cursor, I'm not thrilled with its placement. Instead of being centered under the spacebar, the touchpad is shifted about an inch to the left. That meant I had to stretch my left thumb to reach it, and occasionally caused the mouse to jump as my right palm brushed it. Thankfully, the notebook's palm-rejection software made that a rare occurrence.

On the bright side, the ZenBook Pro lasts longer on a charge than most 15-inch notebooks. It ran for a really impressive 8 hours on our battery test, which simulates continuous Web browsing over Wi-Fi. That handily beats the Dell XPS 15 (6:36) and the Samsung Ativ Book 9 Pro (5:31). The MacBook Pro is still the battery life king, though, running for 9 hours and 8 minutes on the same test.

The ZenBook Pro offers a decent selection of ports for a 15-inch notebook, with a couple of key omissions. The left edge includes an HDMI port and a USB 3.0 port, in addition to a superfast USB Type-C port with support for Thunderbolt 3.

The right edge offers two additional USB 3.0 ports and an SD card reader. You won't find an Ethernet or VGA video-out port here; if you want to connect to a secure work network or use an older projector, you'll need to pick up an adapter.

I never noticed even a hint of slowdown while I worked on the ZenBook Pro, even during heavy multitasking. Thanks to the machine's speedy 6th-generation Intel Core i7-6700HQ processor and 16GB of RAM, I was able to swiftly edit a large spreadsheet while streaming HD video, all with about a dozen tabs open in the background in my Firefox Web browser.

The machine racked up a solid score of 11,427 on the Geekbench 3 test, which measures overall performance. That's pretty good, even if it slightly trails the numbers put up by rival notebooks, including the Dell XPS 15 (13,502), the Ativ Book 9 Pro (12,334) and the MacBook Pro (14,423). Keep in mind that all of those machines are significantly more expensive than the ZenBook Pro.

The ZenBook Pro performed very well on the 3DMark Fire Strike graphics test, cranking out a score of 4,308, which edges out the Dell XPS 15 (3,949) and the Samsung Ativ Book 9 Pro (3,236). That makes it a very good pick for anyone whose job involves editing video or working in 3D software.

You won't have to fret over which hardware to choose with the ZenBook Pro UX501VW; it comes in just a single $1,499 configuration. For that price, you get an Intel Core i7-6700HQ processor with 16GB of RAM; 512GB of solid-state drive (SSD) storage; and a 15.6-inch, 4K touch display. It also includes an Nvidia GeForce GTX 960M graphics card with 2GB of video memory.

Anyone who works with video or 3D applications on a daily basis will love the impressive graphical horsepower of the ZenBook Pro UX501VW's ultra-high-res display. I was also pleasantly surprised by the machine's longevity on our battery test, which makes it a better travel companion than many of its rivals. 

But the most impressive thing about the ZenBook Pro is that it goes toe-to-toe with the $2,500 15-inch MacBook Pro — which has a lower-res display and no touch screen — for about $1,000 less than Apple's system. 

The ZenBook Pro does have some drawbacks, though: Its touchpad is awkwardly placed, and it's heavier than its rivals. And the MacBook Pro does offer better battery life. But because Asus managed to cram such high performance into such an attractive and affordable laptop, it's hard to recommend another machine over this one.

[For more information on how we test mobile devices, visit our testing methodology page.]

Brett Nuckles

A former Ohio newspaper man, Brett Nuckles fled the Midwest in 2013. He now lives in Seattle, where he spends his days tinkering with smartphones, tablets and computers. He loves to think about the intersection of technology and productivity, and how to get the most out of new gadgets and apps. He's also a big fan of vegetarian food and digital painting. In his off hours he spends most of his time drawing and painting sci-fi/fantasy scenes on his PC with his trusty Wacom stylus in hand.