Asus Zenbook Pro Duo review: A productivity powerhouse

Photo: Asus India

Innovation is a beautiful thing. With laptops, it has taken us from big, bulky monsters to graceful-looking thin and light machines, exemplified in the Asus Zenbook series. However, in 2019, Asus has given their own lineup the thick treatment with the Pro Duo; a laptop tipped heavily towards productivity, with not one, but two displays.

Here's Deccan Herald's review of the Asus Zenbook Pro Duo:

Zenbook Pro Duo Technical Specifications:



  Zenbook Pro Duo UX581
CPU 6-core Intel Core i7-9750H or 8-core Intel Core i9-9980HK
GPU Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 w/ 6GB GDDR6 VRAM
Display

15.6" primary 4K OLED display and 14" 3840x1100 secondary display

RAM 8/16/32 GB DDR4 2666MHz
Storage 512GB/1TB PCIe NVMe SSD
OS Windows 10
Battery 71Wh 8-cell
Weight 2.5kg
Adapter 230 watt A/C power adapter

Zenbook Pro Duo Display:

The Pro Duo, at first glance, is a pretty behemoth. It sports a 15.6" primary 4K screen, with a secondary 14" screen that has a resolution of 3840x1100.

The two displays act as a dual-monitor setup, allowing users to move open programs from one screen to another. Handily, users can also pin open programs to certain sections of either screen for convenient reference whenever they feel like it.

The primary display is an OLED panel with a 133% sRGB color gamut and 100% DCI-P3 color gamut, allowing people who do any real work with it or use it for entertainment to enjoy the full spectrum of colours the screen can offer.

Both displays support a variety of resolutions, going down all the way to 800x600. They also run at a default of 60Hz regardless of resolution, which feels like a lost opportunity. It would've been nicer if users could choose a higher refresh rate of 90-120Hz at lower resolutions, say, Full HD. 60Hz isn't bad, but restricting the display to it regardless of resolution can leave good performance sitting on the table.


The touchscreen is very responsive and the character
reading is also generally accurate. ​Photo: DH/Varun HK


The ScreenPad allows pinning groups of programs to run at a click of a button.
Photo: DH/Varun HK

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The display also offers support for HDR, allowing compatible apps to display a more realistic brightness and contrast than SDR output. It works pretty well generally, but it's better to keep it disabled unless you're working with HDR-supported apps or watching HDR video.

Zenbook Pro Duo audio:

The laptop features bottom-firing speakers certified by Harman Kardon. The audio is crisp and loud, and thankfully is never drowned out by the fans whenever they ramp up. It's got good depth and bass, allowing music and movies to stand out, while games can really take advantage of the surround sound technology available when a headphone is inserted into the jack.

Zenbook Pro Duo keyboard, ergonomics and body:

The Pro Duo features a full-size keyboard - in a manner of speaking. The numberpad actually doubles as a trackpad, which has been moved to the right hand side to accommodate the lower keyboard height and the second screen, called the ScreenPad Plus.

The keyboard is, to say the least, highly impressive. The keys are spaced generously and have noticeable travel and feedback during typing. Though the possibility of it being a mechanical keyboard is low, it has the satisfying 'klick-klack' that just makes typing a more engaging experience.


The feedback on the keyboard is incredibly satisfying. ​Photo: DH/Varun HK

Ergonomically, the laptop does have a few setbacks. The ScreenPad Plus and the keyboard are so close together, using the function keys can, on occasion, end up triggering the secondary display, potentially causing whatever it is you're doing to get suspended.

The trackpad/numberpad combo also naturally lacks any feedback when typing in numberpad mode, but that's an unavoidable path given its nature. The buttons on the bottom of the trackpad do have a reasonable 'click', however. In some use cases, you would probably be better served using a dedicated keyboard.

Aside from that, the laptop gets a good score with the hinges and the body in general. The hinges are responsive but not too tight, making choosing the ideal angle of viewing easy. The body of the laptop is also pretty sturdy, with little barely any flex aside from the display.

Zenbook Pro Duo internals:

Though the laptop was not taken apart by us, we did get a look at its internals earlier this year. It features five copper heatpipes which have protrusions on the plates that make contact with the GPU to allow for more heat transfer.


If only the laptop had one more heatpipe for the CPU. ​Photo: DH/Varun HK

The heatpipes are arranged rather oddly: the GPU gets three heatpipes, two of which are shared with the CPU, which only gets one dedicated heatpipe, and there's one heatpipe sitting away from the entire set. The heatpipes are connected to two fans, which Asus says are a large improvement over previous designs.

Aside from that, you can see the PCIe SSD and a mammoth 8-cell 71Wh battery. The laptop has no space or support for traditional 2.5" drives, choosing to use the space it would otherwise take for the battery and the ScreenPad Plus.

Connectivity:

Aside from the Wi-fi 6 support and the Thunderbolt 3, the Pro Duo is substantially mediocre when it comes to connectivity. It features just 2 full-size USB 3.1 ports and one HDMI, along with a single DC-in for power and a 3.5 mm headphone jack, but the real point of contention here is the lack of a LAN port, or even the inclusion of a USB-LAN adapter, which even the UX534 had.

Zenbook Pro Duo performance:

As promised by Asus, the Pro Duo is a powerhouse for productivity. It is powered by an Intel Core i9-9980HK, which has 8 cores and 16 threads, running at a base clock of 2.4GHz and a maximum boost of 5GHz, paired with a full-fat mobile Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 with 6 GB of VRAM and support for real-time ray-tracing.

It also comes with a slightly more conservative Intel Core i7-9750H with 6 cores and 12 threads, which has a higher base clock of 2.6GHz, along with support for 8, 16 or 32 GB of DDR4 RAM running at 2666MHz.

The laptop did not break a sweat in any of the tests we ran, giving a highly respectable performance in 7Zip and Blender, while in gaming, it was not too shabby, hitting playable framerates in nearly every game.

Interestingly, the Pro Duo appears to have attained a problem opposite to the one from the UX534, in that while the UX534 faced a CPU bottleneck when it came to 7Zip benchmarking, the Pro Duo faces a memory bottleneck: Even at 32GB of available RAM, it is simply not enough to let the i9 really spread its legs.

Meanwhile, the Blender benchmarks really show the difference between the CPU and GPU when it comes to rendering times. The most drastic difference was in the Classroom test, where the GPU took a mere 5 minutes and 25 seconds, finishing the render 8 minutes faster than the CPU, which took 13 minutes and 26 seconds.

On average, games like Just Cause 3 ran at 90-120 FPS at Full HD and 40-60 FPS at 4K on maximum settings, while games like Deus Ex: Mankind Divided ran at an average of 60-80 FPS on Full HD and 30-45 FPS on 4K.

 

 

 

Running RTX games is possible on the Pro Duo, but not necessarily recommended. On Quake II RTX, the laptop returned a measly 20 FPS average at 4K and 45 FPS average at Full HD on medium settings. As it stands, the ray-tracing hardware Nvidia has needs to be amped up before mainstream RTX graphics cards can run games at respectable framerates.

Zenbook Pro Duo thermals, battery and pricing:

The Pro Duo's thermals paint a very odd picture. While idling, HWiNFO64 returned an average of 40-45 degrees celsius on the CPU and 30-40 degrees Celsius on the GPU.

However, once the system saw a significant load in productivity, the CPU began throttling across multiple cores, with temperatures reaching 99 degrees in some tests. Curiously, the throttling was not as pronounced in gaming, with one or two cores throttling at the most. The GPU, however, saw no thermal throttling whatsoever.

It's possible that the throttling was a result of the fewer heatpipes the CPU is afforded compared with the GPU, but the throttling indicates a lot of potential performance is being left on the table. Perhaps replacing the provided thermal compound with a liquid metal, like Thermal Grizzly Conductonaut could alleviate the issue.

The battery life of the laptop showed a lot of run-to-run variation, sometimes clocking out at 3 hours and sometimes hitting 6 hours. It's recommended that you disable the ScreenPad if you're not using it as it sucks up battery, alongside HDR whenever you're not doing something that takes advantage of the feature.

On average, the battery lasted about 4-4.5 hours, making it not a machine that you'd wanna lug around somewhere without a power socket. This is not helped by its hefty 2.5-kilo weight. While it's not necessarily a negative, as there are people who like laptops that have some bulk to them, and it certainly is justified with the kind of power it packs, people who are more used to thin-and-light laptops can look to the UX534 instead. The power supply is also a pretty big brick with the 230-watt output.

The laptop is not cheap, either, with a starting price of Rs 2,09,990 and the review unit we got cost nearly Rs 2.3 lakhs.

Zenbook Pro Duo verdict:

The Asus Zenbook Pro Duo is an excellent productivity laptop, with maybe a few hitches at the thermals and price department, and while the price certainly is on the higher side of things, people who regularly depend on video editors or PhotoShop will find it handy to have a built-in secondary display to offload some elements to it so they can focus on their work.



Pros: Cons:
Strong performance Pricey
Top-class display Weak battery life
Second screen has a lot of potential

Not many native HDR apps to make full use of HDR

Good audio

RAM not user-upgradable

Excellent keyboard

Thermals are inconsistent

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