The ASUS ZenBook 14 is a thin, light and portable laptop with some fair specs that look alright for light gaming, so let’s find what’s on offer in this detailed review and if it’s worth it. Starting with the specs my unit has an Intel i7-8565U quad core CPU, Nvidia MX150 graphics, 8GB of memory running in dual channel, a 14 inch 1080p screen and a 512GB M.
2 NVMe SSD for storage. It’s also available with the lower powered i5-8265 CPU and up to 16GB of memory if you need it. The memory is soldered to the motherboard and cannot be upgraded later, so make sure you pick the amount you need when buying.
For network connectivity it’s got 802.11ac WiFi and Bluetooth 5, no ethernet port though due to the thinness, so you’ll have to use a USB dongle if you need that. The top lid has a spun-metal finish, and is available in icicle silver which I’ve got here, or royal blue.
The interior on the other hand is a matte silver with a rose gold trim above the keyboard. There were no sharp corners or edges anywhere, and overall the build quality seemed pretty good. The weight of the laptop is listed at 1.
09kg with the anti-glare display which I think I have, or 1.19kg with the standard display, and mine seemed to be somewhere in between. With the small 65 watt power brick and cable for charging the total weight increases to under 1.
5kg, so a very portable machine. The dimensions of the laptop are 31.9cm in width, 19.9cm in depth, and under 1.6cm in height, on the smaller size for a 14 inch laptop. This small footprint allows for very thin bezels, ASUS list them at just 4mm on the sides, 3.
3mm on the bottom and 6.1mm on the top, giving it a 92% screen-to-body ratio, which I think looks great. The bottom is of course bigger than this, but it appears smaller as it gets hidden by the back of the laptop.
The 14 inch screen has a matte finish, however I think the standard display option is glossy, and the viewing angles looked fine. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to measure colour gamut or brightness with the Spyder 5, as none of the USB ports recognized the device, I don’t think this is an issue with the USB ports, it’s just picky.
However just eyeballing it, I think it looks pretty good, and ASUS are claiming 100% sRGB coverage. I’ve taken a long exposure photo in a dark room as a worst case backlight bleed test, and it was mostly good, just this patch up the top right corner that wasn’t great, though I never actually noticed this during normal use, however this will vary between laptops and panels.
There was some screen flex however it was on the lower side considering the thin lid, it felt quite rigid as it’s metal and the two hinges being towards the far corners further help with stability. When you open it up the back of the screen pushes the rear of the laptop up off of the surface, which should help improve airflow underneath.
This results in a 3 degree incline of the keyboard area, while the screen goes back up to 145 degrees. It could almost be opened up with one finger, however there seemed to be a bit more weight up the back, though it felt fine on my lap.
Despite the thin bezel the 720p camera is still up the top, and it has infrared for Windows Hello support, allowing you to unlock the laptop with your face. The camera is quite blurry, while the microphone sounds about average.
The keyboard worked quite well, and overall I liked typing on it. Here’s how it sounded to give you an idea of what to expect. It’s got 1.4mm of key travel as well as white backlighting. The colour can’t be changed, but you can adjust it between three levels of brightness or turn it off using the F7 key, and even all of the secondary key functions are lit.
The only issues I had were the small arrow keys, which made playing some games difficult, and that the backlighting didn’t seem to be even, some areas were brighter than others. There was some keyboard flex while pushing down hard, though overall I thought it was fine, this was never an issue for me during normal use, and may in part be due to the back rising the whole machine up.
The glass touchpad has precision drivers and it worked ok, it’s got the numpad built into it which you can swap over to by lightly touching the top right corner. The touchpad numbers light up white to indicate that it’s in numpad mode, and you can now press the buttons like a numpad, although you can still use the mouse by sliding around, it’s not a case of one or the other which is good.
It worked about as well as you’d expect, better than not having it at all but of course no where near as good as a dedicated numpad. You can feel the numbers printed on the touchpad while using it too, which I didn’t like as it takes away from the otherwise smooth touchpad.
Fingerprints and dirt are hard to see on the silver interior, and as a smooth surface they should be easy enough to clean. On the left there’s the power input, HDMI output, ASUS don’t list the version on their site but I think it’s 1.
4 as I could only run an external 4K monitor at 30Hz with it. There’s also a USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-A port, and USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C port, though no Thunderbolt here unfortunately. On the right there are a couple of status LEDs, 3.
5mm audio combo jack, USB 2.0 Type-A port, and a Micro SD card reader. On the back there are rubber feet on the left and right sides which come in contact with the surface you’re using it on when you open it up, which helps reduce sliding while in use.
On the silver aluminium lid there’s the ASUS logo in the center of the spun-metal pattern with a mirrored finish. Underneath there are only small vents for air flow on the left and right hand sides, but we’ll see if this is a problem for thermals soon.
The speakers are found on the left and right towards the front, and I thought they actually sounded quite good for a smaller machine, clear at higher volume with some bass present, and maximum volume with music playing was still quite loud.
Latencymon seemed to suggest it was alright. It can be removed by taking out 9 screws with a T5 Torx screwdriver, and then there are two more phillips head screws found underneath the rear rubber feet.
These ones were hard to get to, as the feet can be difficult to remove. Once the screws are out though it was fairly easy to open up. Once inside from left to right we’ve got the single cooling fan with single thick heatpipe that cools both the processor and graphics, battery down the bottom, and single M.
2 slot towards the front on the right there. No memory slots here either as it’s soldered to the motherboard, so that can’t be upgraded, the WiFi card is also integrated and can’t be changed either, fortunately it reports as Intel 9560 which should be decent.
Powering the laptop is a 3 cell 50 Watt hour battery. I’ve tested it with the screen brightness at 50%, background apps disabled, and keyboard lighting off. While just watching YouTube videos it lasted for 6 hours and 26 minutes, much better compared to the gaming laptops I usually review, and it was using the Intel integrated graphics in this test with Nvidia Optimus.
While playing Overwatch at 720p with high settings the frame rate was jumping around and not capped to 30 FPS as GeForce experience couldn’t be installed. In this test it was able to last for an hour and 43 minutes, but despite this as we’ll see soon this wasn’t a great gaming experience.
The small 65 watt power brick was adequate though, I never saw any battery drain during any of my testing, though this may be due to the power limitations in place, more on that in a bit. Let’s move onto the thermal testing, again the bottom of the laptop doesn’t appear to have many vents for airflow, and on the inside there’s just a single fan and heatpipe for keeping everything cool.
Thermal testing was completed with an ambient room temperature of 22 degrees Celsius, so expect different results in different environments. I wasn’t able to find a way to customize fan speed, and I also wasn’t able to install Intel XTU as it complained about it being an unsupported platform, so undervolting was unfortunately not tested either.
Basically I’ve only been able to test the laptop at stock without any modifications, though to be fair this sort of machine isn’t targeted towards enthusiasts who will be making these sorts of tweaks anyway.
The combined Stress tests were done by running the Aida64 CPU stress test and Heaven graphical benchmark at the same time to fully load the system as a worst case scenario. In terms of temperatures, we’re looking fine across the board, however that’s not actually the case.
The graphics were intermittently thermal throttling in both tests around the 66 degree average point. Although the idle CPU temperature average was warm, it would vary quite a bit at idle, anywhere from 40 to 80 while not doing anything.
These are the average clock speeds for the same tests just shown. I noticed that the more stress we put on the GPU, the more the CPU would throttle back, which is why the average clock speed of all 4 cores of the i7-8565U CPU was quite low.
This was causing noticeable performance issues in all games, which I’ll demonstrate later when we cover the gaming performance. These are the clock speeds I got while just running CPU only stress tests without any GPU load.
Without the graphics also loading up the system the clock speeds are much nicer compared to what we just saw under the combined loads, so if you’re not using the graphics at the same time the CPU speeds can be alright, or at least much better, even under sustained multi core loads.
In terms of temperatures they’re not much different to what was seen in the combined stress tests. To demonstrate how this translates into performance I’ve got some Cinebench CPU benchmarks here. The results weren’t excellent, but mirror the lower clock speeds we’ve been seeing here.
I’ve only tested the 8565U CPU in one other ultrabook, the Razer Blade Stealth, which I’ve shown at the top just for comparison to give you an idea of what this CPU can do with less constraints, granted it does cost $500 USD more too.
Here’s what we’re looking at in terms of average CPU TDP while these tests were running, the PL1 and PL2 limits were changing dynamically based on the load. We can see while under combined CPU and GPU load the CPU throttles the power limit right back, presumably to prevent it either getting hot, or to prevent the battery draining if it needs more power than the small 65 watt brick can provide.
Whatever the reason, we’re losing some performance due to the caps that have been put in place. These is the GPU clock speed while under a graphical only stress test, and the results weren’t much different when compared against the combined CPU and GPU testing earlier.
There was still intermittent thermal throttling around the 66 degree point, it seems like they’ve set the limits low to compensate for the small cooling solution inside, or it could just be this is how the MX150 graphics work.
I’ve only tested them one other time in the Razer Blade Stealth, where they didn’t pass 64 degrees, so the MX150 may just not have much thermal headroom. As for the external temperatures where you’ll actually be putting your hands, at idle it was still in the low 40s 30 minutes after I completed the stress tests, as the fan basically stops when not under load it may take longer for the exterior to cool down.
While gaming or under combined stress test, the center of the keyboard rose to the high 40s, though lower towards the right hand side, it was warm to the touch but I wouldn’t describe it as hot. The bottom of the laptop didn’t get too hot, just a little warm to the touch while gaming, probably due to being propped up a little.
As for the fan noise produced by the laptop, I’ll let you have a listen to some of these tests. At idle it was completely silent, I couldn’t hear the fan at all. While gaming it was just slightly quieter than with the stress tests going, but compared to the gaming laptops I’m usually dealing with which reach 50 to 55 decibels easily, the ZenBook is running very quiet even worst case.
Let’s take a look at some gaming benchmarks, while this is by no means a gaming laptop it does have Nvidia’s MX150 graphics which should be better than nothing, so let’s see how some light weight games run at 720p.
I’ve run these older Nvidia drivers as they are the latest provided by ASUS, manually trying the latest version from Nvidia failed to install. Dota 2 was tested playing in the middle lane with an average amount of action going on.
While the average frame rates actually look alright, the game was difficult to play, even at 720p, due to stuttering that is shown by the poor 1% low performance. This seemed to be due to the throttling mentioned earlier, which happens frequently.
CS:GO was tested with the Ulletical FPS benchmark, and again the average frame rates look ok, but the 1% low performance was poor, and visual stuttering was observed once more. I also tried Overwatch, and while it played alright at the start, within a minute or two the throttling would set in making it very stuttery, to the point where I was getting extremely inconsistent results while benchmarking, one run would be 70 FPS then the next would be 30, so I didn’t even bother trying to get results to make up a graph.
Overall the gaming performance was pretty weak, even for the MX150 graphics. As mentioned in the thermal testing, the issue seems to be that the CPU throttles back a fair bit in combined CPU and GPU workloads such as gaming, either to keep things cool, or to reduce total system power draw.
Sometimes games like Overwatch and Dota are running perfectly fine with good frame rate, even at 1080p, then after a minute or two the stuttering and low frame rates begin. If you’re planning on light gaming I’d probably look elsewhere as it gets annoying while trying to play.
It was able to run lightweight games, though poorly once the throttling hits. Unless you need the GPU acceleration the MX150 can offer for other applications, it may be worth saving money and getting the model without it.
I’ve used Crystal Disk Mark to test the storage, and the 512GB M.2 NVMe SSD that was installed was performing alright for reads and writes. As this laptop only has the one M.2 slot for storage your only option for upgrading is to replace the existing operating system drive.
Unfortunately I couldn’t test the Micro SD card slot, as I don’t have any cards that size. For updated pricing check the links in the description, as prices will change over time. At the time of recording I wasn’t able to find these exact specs in the US, but we’re looking at around $1100 USD for the i7 model with 512GB SSD and 16GB of memory, or $100 less for the i5 model with half the storage and memory.
Personally I’d probably just go the extra 10% cost and get the higher specced model, better CPU, double storage and memory seems worth it for that price. I don’t think you’re missing out on much even if you don’t get an MX150 model, given the performance I saw earlier in gaming.
For some light acceleration in applications like Adobe Premiere though it may be better compared to not having it. Here in Australia we’re looking at $1700 AUD for the i5 CPU with 8GB of memory and MX150 graphics, $100 more for the i7 CPU, double memory, but no Nvidia graphics, then $100 more again for the highest option with the MX150 graphics.
So what do you guys think about the newest version of the ASUS ZenBook 14 laptop? Overall it’s quite a thin and light machine, making it very portable with some decent hardware inside. While I have found the i7-8565U CPU to be quite decent in the past, in this case it does throttle back significantly when there’s combined CPU and GPU load, though CPU only load seemed alright in comparison, but still not as great as other laptops I’ve used with the same specs.
Despite the MX150 graphics I still found some issues during light gaming at 720p, even with lower settings, as discussed. I assume that it does this to prevent it getting too hot, as the cooling system inside isn’t excellent, but that’s always going to be a trade off of having a smaller and thinner machine like this, and besides it’s clearly not a gaming laptop, though at the same time it does have the MX150 graphics, granted you can also buy it without that for less money.
There isn’t much in the way of upgradeability, pretty much all you can change is the single M.2 drive as the memory and WiFi are soldered to the motherboard, so make sure you pick the size you need when ordering as it can’t be changed later.
No Thunderbolt also means external graphics is out of the question. The battery life was decent considering the smaller size of the battery, at least when compared to the more powerful gaming laptops that I usually review.
The screen looked good to my eyes, especially with the very thin bezels, I just wish I was able to properly test it, but unfortunately my tool was not recognized. The combined touchpad and numpad is good for those that need a numpad in a smaller device, I don’t personally use the numpad so would have preferred having a completely smooth touchpad, but it’s not that bad and while not perfect is better than not having it, a fair compromise for a smaller machine.
I haven’t used too many other laptops in this form factor with similar specs yet, so don’t have too much to compare it to. The closest would be the Razer Blade Stealth which had the same CPU and graphics, and while I think that was overall a nicer machine it’s also around $500 USD more expensive.
Given that is almost 50% of the total cost of the ZenBook, even with the issues mentioned comparatively to that at least I think it’s looking alright for what you get, hopefully I can get more ultrabook machines to cover in future, let me know which models you want to see.
Let me know what you guys thought about the ASUS ZenBook 14 laptop with down in the comments, and if you’re new here get subscribed for future laptop reviews like this one.