Asus Zenbook UM 431 review: Ryzen disrupts yet again

Asus Zenbook UM 431 review: Ryzen disrupts yet again

AMD, for the longest time, has been treated as a second-class citizen by laptop manufacturers, in part due to Intel's staggering performance monopoly and AMD's own generally inferior products.

However, with Intel facing 14nm supply issues and 10nm being MIA, and AMD's Zen architecture making a massive splash in the market, the time has come that manufacturers put more Team Red products on their stacks. Enter Asus Zenbook UM431.

Design, display and ergonomics:

The UM431 has a very impressive build, featuring an all-metal body with a soft finish. The colour of the build is light and easy on the eyes, and the laptop itself is compact, measuring under 682 sq cm in total area, which Asus says is even smaller than their 14" UX430.

Photo: DH/Varun HK

The display is a 14" Full HD panel running at 60 Hz. It's very bright and crisp, with 100% sRGB, a wide 178-degree viewing angle and is easily one of the best aspects of the device.

The speakers are, arguably, the best part of the device. Unlike other Asus laptops we've reviewed, the UM431 features top-firing speakers, sitting on each side of the keyboard. The audio is incredibly deep and loud, and can easily fill a moderate-sized room on its own at maximum output.

Connectivity is ample for a machine of its size, with one USB 3.1 Type-C, one USB 3.1 Type-A, one USB 2.0, an HDMI, an audio jack and an SD card reader, and although the WiFi is more than competent, the lack of an included LAN port or a LAN adapter is sadly unfortunate, however.

The keyboard, though, leaves a bit to desire. It's a tenkeyless design, which is understandable given its size constraints, with a backlight so you can type in the dark. The keys have decent travel and feedback and typing does feel responsive. However, the keys are placed fairly tightly to make space for the speakers and to account for the size.

Performance, thermals, battery and price:

The performance is where the UM431 shines. The Ryzen 5 3500U and Vega 8 graphics is a perfect combo for this machine.

We ran a number of synthetic and real-world benchmarks to test out the device, including Cinebench, PCMark, 7zip, Blender and Metro 2033 Redux (for the graphics and gaming performance test).

In Cinebench 15, the CPU showed a single-thread score of 139 points and a multi-thread score of 620 points. In Cinebench R20, we saw a single-thread score of 329 points and a multi-thread score of 1178 points, while on PCMark 10 (which isn't present in the graph below), which reflects 'average real-world use', we got a combined score of 2648 points. the CPU-Z benchmark tool showed a score closer in line to the Cinebench R20 single-thread at 385 points, but the multi-thread score was much higher at 2023 points.

Real-world benchmarks were also impressive. On 7zip, it took about 6 minutes to compress a 3 GB folder with an average of 52% compression. For the purposes of testing the CPU and RAM, we ran a series of tests using the 7zip LZMA benchmark across single and multiple threads, aiming at stressing both simultaneously. Note that 'artificial load' here refers to the maximum threads and memory allocation the benchmark can use, beyond the CPU's rated thread count.

The biggest improvement was seen in going from single-thread to dual-thread, where the performance more than doubled, at which point we saw diminishing returns, though it still had a fairly close-to-linear improvement in performance.

 On Blender's BMW test, we saw a render time of 12 minutes on the CPU, though strangely, the GPU took a minute longer to render the scene.

The thermals are practically unreal on this machine. Our tests across Cinebench, PCMark, Blender, gaming and stressing the CPU and GPU yielded impressive results.

During our Cinebench runs, the CPU peaked at 69 degrees celsius, and averaged at 60 degrees, while on PCMark, the CPU reached a warm 72 degrees peak. The highest temperature, was, interestingly, seen in Blender, where it peaked at 75 degrees and averaged at 61 degrees.

For gaming, which usually stresses CPU, GPU and RAM at the same time, we ran the prologue levels of Metro 2033 Redux. The entire session ran about 30-40 minutes over 3 test runs, during which we achieved an average of 35 frames per second. The thermals were also very impressive, sitting just short of Blender at 70 degrees peak on the CPU and 64 degrees peak on the GPU.

For the stress test, we ran Prime95 small FFTs for the CPU and FurMark for the GPU. Curiously, while we expected much higher temperatures from these tests, as they typically present the worst-case scenario for thermal output and power consumption, the temperatures were still just warm at 74 degree-peak on the CPU and 60-degree peak on the GPU. Neither component throttled under the stress, either, meaning no performance was lost to thermal limitations.

The battery, however, was disappointing. On a mixed-use involving streaming YouTube, accessing e-mail and compiling a chart, we saw average battery life of around 4-4.5 hours. Using Prime95 small FFTs, which is the worst-case scenario for CPU loads, we saw average battery life of just over 1.5 hours. There's significant room for improvement here.
The review unit we received is priced at Rs 71,000. It's not cheap, but it does get the job done.

Final thoughts:

The Ryzen-powered Zenbook UM 431 is the disruption that the mobile computing market needs. It ticks all the right boxes for a person who would be in the market for an alternative to Intel-powered machines, with CPU comparable performance and superior GPU performance relative to almost anything Intel has in this weight and power class.

The Ryzen CPU family has disrupted the desktop PC CPU market significantly since its introduction in 2016, and has since moved to Zen 2 on 7nm. While the Zen 2 core is a while away from reaching mobile devices, the 12 nm Zen+ core is more than competent with its modest performance improvement over Zen.

The UM 431, does, however, have a few shortcomings. The battery life needs much improvement, as does the keyboard. The price is also a possible off-putting aspect.

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