You know about the MacBook Air. You’ve probably also heard about the Asus Zenbook. It has sometimes (or often, depending on who you ask) been described as the better Wintel ultrabook alternative to the MacBook Air. It’s 2012 now, and the Ivy Bridge updates are out from both Apple and Asus. So how do their ultra-thins and ultra-lights stack up against each other?
Before we go on, let me be up-front that what I’m setting out to do here is to show to people comparing both notebooks that the Zenbook is not better than the MacBook Air. I’m not saying the MacBook Air is better than the Zenbook, just saying that the Zenbook is not a runaway winner. If you’re a Zenbook fan, no need to get excited here.
First, let’s look at the some prices for baseline comparison. Zenbook prices are pulled from Amazon, and the MacBook Air prices from the Apple Online Store.
|MacBook Air 13″ 128GB||MacBook Air 13″ 256GB (CTO)||Zenbook UX31A-DB51||Zenbook UX31A-DB72|
|CPU||1.8 GHz Core i5||2.0 GHz Core i7||1.7 GHz Core i5||1.9 GHz Core i7|
Unfortunately, it is not possible to do a simple comparison based on identical specifications. First of all, although both Apple and Asus offer Core i5 and Core i7 models, they all run at different speeds. The MacBook is not available in a Core i7 configuration with just 128 GB flash storage. The two different display resolutions of the Zenbook models are both higher than the MacBook Air’s. The ZenBook wins in some specs, the MacBook Air wins in other specs.
At first glance, it looks like the MacBook Air is priced quite close to the Zenbook. The lower-end MacBook Air cost US$50 more, has a slightly faster Core i5 but slightly worse display resolution than the lower-end Zenbook. The higher-end MacBook Air is practically at the same price, has a much faster Core i7 processor, double the flash storage, but falls short in display resolution when compared to the higher-end Zenbook.
I think it is quite fair to say that the Zenbook does not have a significant price advantage over the MacBook Air.
Next, let’s look at some performance benchmarks. Note that I’m comparing a better Asus Zenbook UX31A, this one with a Core i7 processor clocked at 1.9 GHz, than the ones in the price table above. The MacBook Air is the base 1.8 GHz Core i5 processor.
|MacBook Air 13″||Asus Zenbook UX31A|
|Processor||1.8 GHz Core i5||1.9 GHz Core i7|
|Geekbench||6757 (everymac)||6276 (tbreak)|
|3DMark 06||4223||2974 (tbreak)|
|3DMark 11||624||594 (laptopmag)|
|PCMark Vantage||13469||13128 (theverge)|
|WoW (fps)||30 @1440×900||22 @1366×768 (laptopmag)|
|File Copy (MBps)||159||51 (laptopmag)|
|Battery Life||8:10||6:28 (laptopmag)|
I think it is also quite fair to say that the Zenbook does not present a significant performance advantage over the MacBook Air. This is more telling considering that the Zenbook model here has a somewhat more powerful processor. Particularly notable are the World of Warcraft (WoW) frame rate, where the MacBook Air outperformed by a good margin the Zenbook even when the latter ran at a lower display configuration, as well as the MacBook Air’s significant lead in file copy speed.
(I know there are other performance benchmarks that will show the Zenbook being better. But remember, my goal is to show that the Zenbook is not better, although not necessarily that the MacBook Air is better. If you are looking for fair benchmark comparisons, you should do your own research.)
Moving on, let’s compare a couple other features:
- Ultra-thinness: The MacBook Air wins at 3 mm to 17 mm in thinness, whereas the Zenbook UX31A stands at 3 mm to 18 mm. Just that little bit.
- Ultra-light: The Zenbook UX31A takes the lead at 1.3 kg, versys the MacBook Air’s 1.35 kg. Yes, just that little bit again. The Zenbook UX31A also has a smaller footprint.
- Display resolution: The Zenbook UX31A’s full-HD 1920×1080 is clearly ahead of the MacBook Air’s 1440×900. If full-HD resolution is that important to you, I suppose the MacBook Air just won’t cut it. However from a more practical point of view, 1920×1080 in a 13.3″ display might be just too dense.
- Thunderbolt: The MacBook Air has, the Zenbook UX31A has not. You decide if future-proof is important. The Zenbook UX31A has both HDMI and Mini-VGA ports though.
The Zenbook is a fine ultrabook. If you need Mac OS X, there’s not much to think about. If you’re completely uninterested in using Mac OS X, I think there’s no need to consider the MacBook Air.
Where it gets interesting is if you are considering making the switch to Mac OS X, but are concerned if you get good value for money on the hardware. I hope this post has been helpful. Many people brush aside Macs on the basis that they are overpriced. I suppose it’s true to some extend that there is some price premium, but you are also getting a premium product with a premium experience. Give it some consideration and look beyond just dollar comparisons.