LaptopFilter: is this ASUS ultrabook the machine I want?
February 12, 2013 12:00 PM   Subscribe

I'm getting a new laptop. A new variant of the ASUS UX32VD Zenbook (model: UX32VD-R4010P) seems to tick all my boxes. But I'm good at talking myself into things, so please help me sanity-check my choice. Many details inside.

My employer is buying me a new laptop. It has to be available from this supplier. They carry an extensive range covering pretty much every major manufacturer, but it does mean that I can't precisely tailor a configuration from a manufacturer's website. Main requirements, in roughly decreasing order:

* Must run Ubuntu reliably. This is the only real non-negotiable. I don't mind if it has, say, an unsupported fingerprint reader, but all the day-to-day stuff (external monitors, WiFi, audio, graphics acceleration, etc.) has to be solid.

* 13-14" screen. Weight below ~2kg / 4½lb.

* At least ~380GB storage, even if that means a spinning-platter HDD. In a pinch I could offload some stuff to an external drive, but I really really want to avoid this if possible.

* Screen resolution: more than 1366x768. 1600x900 would be enough, 1920x1080 would be great.

* No optical drive (more bulk, weight, and points of failure) -- I'll get a USB unit for the occasional times I need one.

* Preferably, upgradeable RAM and hard drive, though this isn't essential if it's well-specced to start with.

* Performance doesn't need to be blinding, but does need to be future-proof for a few years.

The main problem I've found is that "lightweight" and "big HDD" seldom go together: if it's light, it's usually an ultrabook with a 256GB SSD. If it's got a big HDD, it's also got an optical drive, a big screen, and about 1kg more weight than I want to lug around. Ideally I'd wait a year until 512GB SSDs are more common, but I have to get this machine soon.

The best I've found is this new iteration of the ASUS Zenbook UX32VD ultrabook, which appears to have two 256GB SSDs. (In fact, even the previous version with 500GB spinning disk + 24GB SSD cache would have been acceptable.) It seems that this 256+256GB version (UX32VD-R4010P) is pretty new and not (yet) released in any English-speaking markets, and I haven't found any reviews or even official announcements about it.

Checklist: small/light enough, enough storage, 1920x1080 IPS display, Good Ubuntu compatibility, and apparently very repairable and upgradeable for an Ultrabook. So, problem solved, probably! But before making an expensive and hard-to-reverse decision, I would like to hear what the Hive Mind thinks of this choice -- in particular:

* Any information at all about this particular model of the UX32VD, beyond what's on the merchant's website.

* Any reasons why I shouldn't get this machine.

* Any alternatives I should consider. Please treat the wall-o'-text above as a general guide rather than a cast-iron constraint -- I'd rather have a lot of suggestions to consider than no suggestions at all because it's too much work for people to tick all my boxes. I can check Ubuntu compatibility and availability through the supplier myself.
posted by pont to Technology (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: people I support that have this ultrabook like it but have problems with the trackpad.

It will probably be addressed in a firmware update, but if you haven't used one "hands on" you should. It can e a little laggy, and / or not responsive. With a mouse, everything is fine. This is noted in several of the reviews as well.
posted by bobdow at 12:15 PM on February 12, 2013

If you leave Windows on it, first thing you do is to uninstall "ASUS Live Update". About ten minutes after you boot it will try to run, and crash the machine.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 12:33 PM on February 12, 2013

Macbook Air seems to run Ubuntu well. No trackpad problems. No “computer crashes the first time you take it out of the box and turn it on.”
posted by oceanjesse at 5:18 PM on February 12, 2013

I don't know this particular model, but my SO and I have bought 4 Asus computers over the last 5 years (two netbooks, two full laptops) and we've been very happy with all of the hardware. We've also had no software problems.
posted by jb at 6:32 PM on February 12, 2013

Best answer: Keep in mind that this laptop has an Nvidia "Optimus" setup which means that it uses a discrete Nvidia video card and Intel graphics and is not supported by Nvidia for linux. Luckily, there is an opensource driver for Optimus called Bumblebee which appears to work... sometimes... but will require some advanced futzing.
posted by at 7:18 PM on February 12, 2013

I'm on my third ASUS laptop, all from the "G" line. The first one had an nVidia chip with known problems and by the time it self destructed it was too late to get a new mother board.

The second one went through two different cooling fans. When the second one died I decided it wasn't worth trying to repair it, because the first time the computer shop had to special order the fan from Singapore, and probably a replacement wouldn't be available any more.

The third one arrived last Thursday, and black-screen crashed four times in three days. That's the "ASUS Live Update" problem I mentioned above. With that resolved I hope it'll be fine.

Obviously if I'm a repeat customer it can't have been too bad; I got about 3.5 years out of each of the other two. But if this one goes sour, I won't be buying from them again.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:15 PM on February 12, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks for the responses so far!

bobdow: thanks for the heads-up. Recent reviews (like this one) seem to indicate that ASUS have now fixed this.

Chocolate Pickle on "Live Update": yuck, thanks for the warning. I'll be using Ubuntu 99-100% of the time, but it's nice to have Windows not crashing on the very rare occasions that I need it.

oceanjesse: The Air does indeed have a lot going for it, except for the maximum 256GB hard drive. A 13" Retina Macbook Pro would fit my bill pretty well, expect that through the mandated supplier I can't bump the drive capacity to 512GB, nor do they carry the OWC 480GB aftermarket upgrade.

jb, Chocolate Pickle: thanks for the reliability data-points. that's... worrying, even though Google Earth is about the limit of my video requirements. While I have the geek chops for advanced futzing, I'd be a bit annoyed about fiddly workarounds on the most expensive thing I have ever owned.

I've come across another problem in my own continuing researches: no DisplayPort, only HDMI and VGA -- which, as far as I can tell, means it probably can't drive a 2560x1440 monitor.

By relaxing my "no optical drive" requirement (which was mainly a size/weight proxy) I've found the Lenovo T430s ThinkPad, which is starting to look really good. Only a 240GB SSD, but it's very easily user-upgradeable. The 1600x900 non-IPS screen is a little disappointing; 1.8kg is a bit heavy but well within my parameters; it's about as modular, repairable, and upgradeable as they come; and Ubuntu compatibility appears to be excellent. With the addition of a 512GB SSD it will come in at close to twice the price of the ASUS but apparently the Powers That Be are OK with this.
posted by pont at 5:57 AM on February 13, 2013

Best answer: So, acquisition took a bit longer than expected due to the marvels of Italian bureaucracy, but I've had the machine a week now so I thought I'd add an evaluation for any future readers who stumble upon this question.

In short, the T430s is a dream. 1.8kg is a little on the heavy side, though I could drop the weight a bit by replacing the optical drive with a blanking plate. The display is adequate rather than stunning, but 1600x900 at 130dpi is good enough for me (and still better than many machines on the market). It mainly suffers by comparison with the Zenbook I was initially considering.

The build feels extremely solid and the keyboard is great: zero flex, excellent tactile feedback, backlight and top-light. Apparently spill-resistant, complete with drainage holes in bottom of computer, but I won't be putting that to the test. Not deliberately anyway. Touchpad is fine too, and of course there is a Pointing Stick.

It's as modular as a Lego kit and pretty much everything can be swapped out with minimal effort. The hard drive and memory upgrades were no trouble at all. There are instructions for replacing the keyboard in the user guide... not the repair manual, the user guide!

What else? With Ubuntu 12.04, practically everything seems to work out of the box: external video via both VGA and DisplayPort, audio output, microphone, webcam, bluetooth, wired and wireless networking. Things that don't work out of the box: mic mute button and fingerprint reader. The internet tells me they can be made to work but I haven't bothered since I don't need them. I haven't tried the integrated mobile broadband yet. Sleep works fine, haven't tried hibernate yet. I also got a docking station with it, and it's given no problems in operation. Intel 4000 graphics is entirely adequate for my needs, and 2560x1440 via DisplayPort doesn't seem to tax it. The DisplayPort on the computer is actually a Thunderbolt socket, but I don't have any Thunderbolt devices to try it out with.

Oh, and... of course, it looks like a ThinkPad rather than an Ultrabook. I don't think it will turn many heads. This doesn't bother me a great deal, though :-)
posted by pont at 8:52 AM on May 7, 2013

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