ASUS ZenBook Pro UX550VE review – ASUS’ answer to the MacBok Pro 15 and XPS 15
With the latest generation of CPUs and GPUs from Intel and NVIDIA on the mobile front, OEMs started a race – who will build the fastest, yet the thinnest and most portable notebook. We’ve seen some great design and performance from the latest generation of Apple’s MacBook Pro 15 and Dell’s XPS 15. But what if you get roughly the same specs and performance and put it on a much more affordable package? That’s exactly what ASUS has managed to achieve with its latest ZenBook Pro UX550VE – a successor to the well-received ZenBook Pro UX501 and a worthy competitor to the MacBook Pro 15 and XPS 15.
Costing around €300-350 less than its direct competitor, the XPS 15, you’d expect that there are some compromises along the way. But at first glance, there’s nothing wrong or fishy about the UX550VE – solid metal chassis, high-end hardware, thin-bezel IPS panel with good multimedia properties, long battery life and comfortable input devices. For some time now, ASUS has often been associated with excellently built ultrabooks while pricing them lower than the competition. And with the UX550VE, ASUS doesn’t disappoint – Intel Core i7-7700HQ, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 Ti, up to 16GB of DDR4-2400 memory, up to 1TB M.2 PCIe NVMe SSD and an optional 4K UHD IPS touch-enabled display. Where’s the catch? Find out in the thorough review below.
You can find the available configurations here: http://amzn.to/2wZR8k0
The notebook comes in a relatively big package with plenty of goods inside the box. Aside from the usual user manuals, AC adapter and power cord, the laptop is accompanied by a neat cable tie, a USB-A to RJ-45 for LAN connectivity, a cleaning cloth and a carrying bag.
Design and construction
Our unit shipped with that signature obsidian blue color (or Royal Blue as ASUS calls it) that looks not only elegant but different as well. As we said earlier, the notebook features an all-aluminum chassis – the lid is brushed while the rest of the body is anodized with chamfered edges. The metal chassis hasn’t reflected so much on the weight as the UX550VE weighs the impressive 1.8 kg and measures just 18.9 mm in height – that’s mighty impressive for a 15-inch laptop. However, the XPS 15 and the MacBook Pro 15 are still thinner than ASUS’ solution but it’s not really so apparent. All three weight approximately the same.
Starting with the lid, the ZenBook UX550VE carries the iconic concentric brushed aluminum plate on top with ASUS’ illuminated logo. You just can’t mistake it for another brand. The aluminum plate provides decent stability and bends ever so slightly, yet it’s still acceptable given the thickness of the device. It’s also fairly resistant to torsion probably thanks to the wide singe-hinge design. Speaking of which, it provides quite sturdy operation without using both hands to open the laptop but as you go towards the end, the hinge becomes pretty stiff. This will definitely suit the touch-enabled versions well. What’s more, the side bezels of the screen measure at just 7.3 mm while the upper one and the lower chin are slightly thicker. Of course, the XPS 15 still holds the crown in this regard but the compromise is the awkwardly placed webcam. The bottom of the chassis features anodized aluminum without any vents for cool air intake, only two out of four speakers are placed at the bottom.
Although thin enough to impress, the sides still maintain functionality. Measuring just below 19 mm and sporting chamfered edges, the UX550VE offers pretty much everything you’d need from a 15-inch laptop in terms of connectivity. On the left, you will find the DC charging port, full-sized HDMI and not one but two USB-C 3.1 supporting Thunderbolt 3. On the right, you can rely on the 3.5 mm audio jack, microSD card reader and two USB-A 3.0 ports.
Opening the lid reveals a familiar interior – fairly stable anodized aluminum sheet with glass covered touchpad and a comfortable keyboard, although, we were surprised to see that the Numpad block is missing since it’s a 15-inch device. Anyway, the chassis continues to give an impression of a stable design, although we found only one relatively weak spot – right in the center of the hinge, the sheet gives in under small amounts of pressure. Nothing worth considering in real-world conditions but we felt obligated to note that since it’s a high-end device. The rest of the interior appears to be rock-solid.
The keyboard feels nice and delivers about 1.5 mm of travel but we felt like it’s a little bit less. To compensate for the shorter travel, the keys offer tactile and audible clicky feedback making the whole typing experience very pleasant. Also, each key has a small indentation for added comfort. The LED backlight is white and has several brightness levels each being pretty discreet and we didn’t notice any annoying light bleed. And as for the trackpad, it has silky smooth glass surface registering each gesture, swipe and drag accurately. Mouse clicks are light, clicky, deep and don’t get in the way of dragging and dropping.
All in all, the UX550VE is has an excellently built chassis with virtually no downsides. Even though it costs considerably less than the competition, the overall build quality is on par. Still, the carbon fiber on the XPS 15 kind of makes the whole user experience a bit elevated and Apple’s simplistic and impeccable design still comes on top of all. Nevertheless, the UX550VE is definitely a bang for the bucks, especially if you are willing to spend so much on a 15-incher.
Disassembly, maintenance and upgrade options
As before, the ZenBook UX550VE offers easy access to the internals but not thanks to dedicated service lids. The bottom plate comes off easily once you remove all the screws and pry it up.
Storage upgrades – 2.5-inch HDD/SSD, M.2 SSD
Unfortunately, storage is limited only to a single M.2 SSD, which in our case is a Samsung PM961 PCIe NVMe SSD with 512GB capacity. Probably due to design limitations, the laptop skips on the 2.5-inch drive bay in favor of a bigger battery.
|M.2 slot||512GB Samsung M.2 PCIe NVMe SSD (2280)||Upgrade options|
To our surpise, the notebook has no available RAM slot for upgrade and instead relies on soldered RAM chips (it can be found under the small metal plate). The configuration we’ve tested had just 8GB of DDR4-2400 memory. This is a considerable drawback especially for a 15-inch laptop.
Next to one of the cooling fans, you can find the Intel 8265NGW Wi-Fi adapter.
The battery is located under the wrist rest area and it’s rated at the whopping 73Wh.
The cooling system looks pretty solid – two big heat pipes connecting both fans and heat sinks. Speaking of which, the GPU heat sink is familiar in design – often found in high-end gaming laptops. Too bad that even this isn’t enough to keep the internals cool during heavy workload.
The display uses a Full HD (1920×1080) IPS panel with matte finish manufactured by Innolux with model number N156HCE-EN1. The 15.6-inch diagonal means 142 ppi pixel density and 0.18 x 0.18 mm pixel pitch. The screen can be considered as “Retina” when viewed from a distance equal or greater than 60 cm.
Viewing angles are excellent.
In the center of the screen, we’ve recorded a maximum brightness of 337 cd/m2 and 316 cd/m2 as average across the surface with a maximum deviation of 14%. The color temperature at maximum brightness on a white screen is 7260K, which means that colors will appear slightly colder than usual. As we go along the grayscale, the color temperature remains approximately 7200K. You can see how values change at 140 cd/m2 (56% brightness) below.
The maximum dE2000 color deviation at 56% brightness is 4.0, which isn’t really good if you consider doing color-sensitive work on this screen. Contrast ratio, however, is excellent – 1200:1 before calibration and 1000:1 after.
To make sure we are on the same page, we would like to give you a little introduction of the sRGB color gamut and the Adobe RGB. To start, there’s the CIE 1976 Uniform Chromaticity Diagram that represents the visible specter of colors by the human eye, giving you a better perception of the color gamut coverage and the color accuracy.
Inside the black triangle, you will see the standard color gamut (sRGB) that is being used by millions of people in HDTV and on the web. As for the Adobe RGB, this is used in professional cameras, monitors etc for printing. Basically, colors inside the black triangle are used by everyone and this is the essential part of the color quality and color accuracy of a mainstream notebook.
Still, we’ve included other color spaces like the famous DCI-P3 standard used by movie studios, as well as the digital UHD Rec.2020 standard. Rec.2020, however, is still a thing of the future and it’s difficult for today’s displays to cover that well. We’ve also included the so-called Michael Pointer gamut, or Pointer’s gamut, which represents the colors that naturally occur around us every day.
The panel covers 92% of the sRGB color space making it suitable for multimedia as well.
Below you will see practically the same image but with the color circles representing the reference colors and the white circles being the result. You can see main and additional colors with 25%, 50%, 75% and 100% saturation inside the sRGB gamut pre and post calibration.
The “Design and Gaming” profile is created at 140 cd/m2 brightness, D65 (6500K) white point and optimal gamma in sRGB mode.
We tested the accuracy of the display with 24 commonly used colors like light and dark human skin, blue sky, green grass, orange etc. You can check out the results at factory condition and also, with the “Design and Gaming” profile.
The next figure shows how well the display is able to reproduce really dark parts of an image, which is essential when watching movies or playing games in low ambient light.
The left side of the image represents the display with stock settings, while the right one is with the “Gaming and Web Design” profile activated. On the horizontal axis, you will find the grayscale and on the vertical axis – the luminance of the display. On the two graphs below you can easily check for yourself how your display handles the darkest nuances but keep in mind that this also depends on the settings of your current display, the calibration, the viewing angle and the surrounding light conditions.
We test the reaction time of the pixels with the usual “black-to-white” and “white-to-black” method from 10% to 90% and reverse.
We recorded Fall Time + Rise Time = 21 ms.
PWM (Screen flickering)
Pulse-width modulation (PWM) is an easy way to control monitor brightness. When you lower the brightness, the light intensity of the backlight is not lowered, but instead turned off and on by the electronics with a frequency indistinguishable to the human eye. In these light impulses the light/no-light time ratio varies, while brightness remains unchanged, which is harmful to your eyes. You can read more about that in our dedicated article on PWM.
And here’s the one thing in common between the ZenBook UX360 panel and this one – both use PWM but only below 100 cd/m2 (30% brightness). This means that in the most common brightness range, your eyes won’t experience any issues with screen flickering. But keep in mind that we strongly recommend keeping the brightness level above 30% at any time since the frequency of the emitted light is extremely low and “aggressive”.
Although we’ve detected PWM from 0 to 29% brightness, we consider the display practically harmless in this regard because you will most probably end up using it way above 85 cd/m2. And even if you go below that point (if you are in a pitch black room, for example) the frequency of the emitted light is too high and may not affect everyone – only users with sensitive to PWM eyes.
Blue light emissions
Installing of our Health-Guard profile not only eliminates PWM but also reduces the harmful Blue Light emissions while keeping the colors of the screen perceptually accurate. If you’re not familiar with the Blue light, the TL;DR version is – emissions that negatively affect your eyes, skin and your whole body. You can find more information about that in our dedicated article on Blue Light.
You can see the levels of emitted blue light on the spectral power distribution (SPD) graph.
The presented IPS display is excellent for work, browsing, gaming and multimedia. It offers wide sRGB coverage, high contrast, high maximum brightness and has no PWM above 29% brightness. The only problems we’ve encountered were the slightly colder color temperature, deviating gamma curve and inaccurate color reproduction but all of this can be fixed with out custom profiles.
Buy our display profiles
Since our profiles are tailored for each individual display model, this article and its respective profile package is meant for ASUS ZenBook Pro UX550VE configurations with 15.6″ Innolux N156HCE-EN1 (FHD, 1920 × 1080) IPS screen and the laptop can be found at Amazon: http://amzn.to/2wmA9q7
*Should you have problems with downloading the purchased file, try using a different browser to open the link you’ll receive via e-mail. If the download target is a .php file instead of an archive, change the file extension to .zip or contact us at email@example.com.
Read more about the profiles HERE.
In addition to receiving efficient and health-friendly profiles, by buying LaptopMedia's products you also support the development of our labs, where we test devices in order to produce the most objective reviews possible.
Office Work should be used mostly by users who spend most of the time looking at pieces of text, tables or just surfing. This profile aims to deliver better distinctness and clarity by keeping a flat gamma curve (2.20), native color temperature and perceptually accurate colors.
Design and Gaming
This profile is aimed at designers who work with colors professionally, and for games and movies as well. Design and Gaming takes display panels to their limits, making them as accurate as possible in the sRGB IEC61966-2-1 standard for Web and HDTV, at white point D65.
Health-Guard eliminates the harmful Pulse-Width Modulation (PWM) and reduces the negative Blue Light which affects our eyes and body. Since it’s custom tailored for every panel, it manages to keep the colors perceptually accurate. Health-Guard simulates paper so the pressure on the eyes is greatly reduced.
Get all 3 profiles with 33% discount
The sound quality is good – there’s enough clarity in the low, mid and high frequencies.
The current specs sheet refers to this particular model – configurations may differ depending on your region.
|Processor||Intel Core i7-7700HQ (4-core, 2.80 – 3.80 GHz, 6MB cache)|
|RAM||8GB (1x 8192MB) – DDR4, 2400MHz|
|Graphics card||NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 Ti (4GB GDDR5)|
|HDD/SSD||512GB M.2 PCIe NVMe SSD|
|Display||15.6-inch Full HD (1920×1080) IPS, matte|
|Connectivity||Wi-Fi 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.1|
|Thickness||18.9 mm (0.74″)|
|Weight||1.84 kg (4.05 lbs)|
We used the pre-installed Windows 10 Pro (64-bit) for the writing of this review so if you wish to perform a clean install of the OS without the bloatware, we suggest downloading all of the latest drivers from ASUS’ official website.
Although considerably cheaper, the ASUS ZenBook UX550VE beats both of its competitors (the MacBook Pro 15 and XPS 15) when it comes to battery life. We were really impressed by the battery runtimes as the laptop pulled off almost a record-breaking web browsing result falling short only to the Dell Inspiron 15 7567 in the 15-inch class. It’s really funny how this 15-inch ultrabook with Core i7-7700HQ and a Full HD IPS panel was able to run for such long periods of time thanks to its surprisingly big 73Wh battery.
All tests were performed with the usual settings – Wi-Fi always running, screen brightness set to 120 cd/m2 and Windows power saving feature turned on.
In order to simulate real-life conditions, we used our own script for automatic web browsing through over 70 websites.
Outstanding battery score on this test – 715 minutes (11 hours and 55 minutes).
For every test like this, we use the same video in HD.
Sensibly lower but still an excellent score – 532 minutes (8 hours and 52 minutes).
We recently started using F1 2015’s built-in benchmark on loop in order to simulate real-life gaming.
Of course, the laptop isn’t made for gaming but it’s good to know that it can run for more than three hours under heavy workload – 215 minutes (3 hours and 45 minutes).
CPU – Intel Core i7-7700HQ
The Core i7-7700HQ is Kaby Lake’s top-shelf direct successor of the Skylake Core i7-6700HQ offering slightly higher clock speeds on the almost identical architecture and TDP. While Intel markets Kaby Lake’s architecture as “14nm+”, the Core i7-7700HQ is still on the same 14nm node with the only significant update being in the iGPU department. That’s why the slightly altered clock speeds (2.8 – 3.8 GHz vs 2.6 – 3.5 GHz) bring not more than 10% increase in performance compared to the Core i7-6700HQ. We still have the supported Hyper-Threading technology with 4/8 – core/thread design, the same 45W TDP and 6MB cache.
However, the Kaby Lake generation boasts an updated video engine for the iGPU, although, its performance is just about the same. Branded as Intel HD Graphics 630, the GPU offers slightly higher clock speeds (350 – 1100 MHz vs 350 – 1050 MHz) compared to the Intel HD Graphics 530 and support for H265/HEVC Main10 profile at 10-bit color depth and the VP9 codec for full hardware acceleration. In addition, the HDCP 2.2 is also supported allowing Netflix’s 4K video streaming.
You can browse through our top CPUs ranking: http://laptopmedia.com/top-laptop-cpu-ranking/
Here you will find other useful information and every notebook we’ve tested with this processor: http://laptopmedia.com/processor/intel-core-i7-7700hq/
Fritz is a chess benchmark that tests the computing capabilities of the CPU with various chess moves. The Intel Core i7-7700HQ managed to get 13.335 million moves per second. For comparison, one of the most powerful PCs, Deep(er) Blue, was able to squeeze out 200 million moves per second. In 1997 Deep(er) Blue even beat the famous Garry Kasparov with 3.5 to 2.5.
GPU – NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 Ti (4GB GDDR5)
NVIDIA’s GTX 1050 Ti for notebooks is almost identical to its desktop counterpart but offers different clock rates. What’s more, the Ti variant uses more CUDA cores than the standard GTX 1050 version – 768 vs 640 but both GPUs use the same GP107 chip, which differs from the other NVIDIA high-end solutions. The GP107 chip is manufactured by Samsung, not TSMC, and it’s built on the 14nm node on contrary to the 16nm from TSMC.
Anyway, the GTX 1050 Ti also offers significantly higher clock rates than the normal GTX 1050 versions well 1493 – 1620 MHz vs 1364 – 1493 MHz. This contributes to a significant performance boost over the standard version but the rest of the specs remain the same. The GPU offers 4GB of GDDR5 memory connected via 128-bit interface and transfer rates as high as 112 GB/s.
You can browse through our top GPUs ranking: http://laptopmedia.com/top-laptop-graphics-ranking/
Here you will find other useful information and every notebook with this GPU that we’ve tested: http://laptopmedia.com/video-card/nvidia-geforce-gtx-1050-ti-4gb-gddr5/
Results are from the 3DMark: Fire Strike (Graphics) benchmark (higher the score, the better)
Results are from the Unigine Heaven 3.0 benchmark (higher the score, the better)
Results are from the Unigine Heaven 4.0 benchmark (higher the score, the better)
Results are from the Unigine Superposition benchmark (higher the score, the better)
|Grand Theft Auto V (GTA 5)||Full HD, Low (Check settings)||Full HD, Medium (Check settings)||Full HD, Max (Check settings)|
|Average FPS||103 fps||73 fps||40 fps|
|Rise of the Tomb Raider (2016)||Full HD, Low (Check settings)||Full HD, Medium (Check settings)||Full HD, Max (Check settings)|
|Average FPS||74 fps||50 fps||27 fps|
The stress tests that we perform can’t be taken as a good representation of real-life use of the machine since even normal gaming session can’t put 100% CPU and GPU load at the same time for such long periods of time but it’s still the best way of assessing the overall stability and effectiveness of the cooling system in the long run.
We started off with 100% CPU stress test for an hour. The results show that the Core i7-7700HQ ran a bit too warm but was able to sustain its maximum operating frequency for four active cores – 3.2 GHz. Usually, configurations with this processor tend to keep temperatures around 80 degrees or less.
When we turned on the GPU torture test as well, the CPU and the GPU started throttling. The Core i7-7700HQ’s frequency dropped down to 1.8 GHz, which is way below its base frequency while the GTX 1050 Ti didn’t go anywhere it’s minimum frequency either – 1177 MHz. Often when cooling designs have trouble keeping up with the powerful hardware clock down the CPU or GPU but not both at the same time. In this case, the ASUS ZenBook Pro UX550VE’s cooling system proved to be quite insufficient for the given hardware. Also, the GTX 1050 Ti ran a little bit too hot.
The inner temperatures have affected the temperatures on the surface as you can see from the heat map below. Still, the palm rest area remained cool. Also, we noticed that the cooling fans keep running even when the notebook is idle or during normal office work.
The ASUS ZenBook UX550VE is a no-brainer if you are looking for an affordable Dell XPS 15 or Apple MacBook Pro 15 alternative but obviously, you will have to deal with some setbacks along the way like insufficient cooling capabilities, always running cooling fans and a bit flexible interior. In addition, you are stuck with only one M.2 SSD and no RAM chip slots – you have to deal only with the soldered memory. This is also true for the MacBook Pro 15 but we expected more from ASUS, come on…
Anyway, if we put aside these inconsistencies, we are mostly impressed by the premium feel of the machine, excellent input devices, great IPS display (with practically no PWM) and outstanding battery life. The all-aluminum chassis with chamfered edges and brushed surface give the ZenBook Pro UX550VE a distinct look and feel while the long battery life will let you enjoy your favorite movies and almost get you through a full workday on a single charge. However, we strongly recommend that you consider our custom profiles as they improve color accuracy, gamma and color temperature.
So at the end of the day, if you are willing to spend a little bit more on such laptop, the XPS 15 or the MacBook Pro 15 are better choices but if you are not so pretentious and can overlook some of the issues (especially if you are not going to play demanding games or use it for continues heavy workload), the ZenBook Pro UX550VE is actually the smarter choice.
You can find the available configurations here: http://amzn.to/2wZR8k0
- Generally good build quality
- Light and portable for a 15-inch device
- Good input devices
- Excellent IPS display
- No PWM above 85 cd/m2 (29%) brightness
- Outstanding battery life
- Two Thunderbolt 3 connectors
- Relatively affordable compared to some of its rivals
- Poor cooling solution
- Cooling fans run even when the laptop is idle and during normal office work
- No availble RAM slots (only soldered memory)
- There’s a noticeable flex on the interior
- There are no configurations with 2.5-inch HDD/SSD slots