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ASUS ZenBook Pro UX501VW

Windows Laptop

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The Best Windows Recording Laptop

ASUS ZenBook Pro UX501VW


After 40-plus hours of research, user feedback, and hands-on testing we were blown away by the ASUS Zenbook Pro. In addition to three regular USB 3.0 ports, the ZenBook Pro now features a superfast USB-C connection with support for Thunderbolt 3.


The ASUS ZenBook Pro UX501VW is a great laptop for recording and mixing audio. It’s all aluminum body definitely takes cues from the MacBook Pro, at a fraction of the cost. It’s only peer in the field of Windows-based laptops is the Dell XPS 15 Touch (9550), but those are about $500 more.

While we have some minor quibbles about a couple things on the ZenBook Pro, they are hardly deal breakers.

What’s great about it

You get one of the fastest processors currently available Intel Quad-Core i7-6700HQ CPU), three regular USB 3.0 ports, a super fast USB-C connection with support for Thunderbolt 3.  Also included: the requisite combo microphone/headphone jack, as well as HDMI 2.0 (to plug in an additional display) and an SD card reader.

The Zenbook Pro ships with 16GB RAM – which is double the minimum recommendations for most DAWs, including Pro Tools (8GB minimum recommended).

A 512 GB Solid State Drive (SSD) with no pre-installed partitions is also included. This gives you near-instantaneous read-write speed of the whole 512GB drive.

The SSD drive also generates much less heat, since there are no moving parts. This also means less fan noise. In fact, this machine is almost silent.

You get all this for around 1500 bucks.

Minor Quibbles

Many users have said the screen is too reflective, which makes it difficult to use in areas of high daylight. So if you are mixing your next album on the sidewalk in front of a Starbucks, you may have issues. In our hands-on testing of the ZenBook Pro, we did notice it was more reflective than each of our respective laptops. Something to keep in mind. If it is a real problem for your particular environment, a great second screen for your laptop works wonders.

Also, there is only one SSD bay, so you can’t put in a second. This doesn’t bother me, personally. Right now there are a lot of unrealistic expectations regarding laptop thinness and lightness, and if you want a laptop this thin, and this powerful, there are going to be some concessions. This can be remedied with a great external hard drive.

Reviews

Reviewer Sam Rutherford at Laptop Mag noted:

“The ZenBook Pro is so good it feels like there should be a catch or secret hidden beneath its sturdy aluminum unibody frame, but aside from a few minor nitpicks, Asus’ 15-inch multimedia machine is almost flawless … I’m still trying to find the source of Asus’ black magic that permitted the creation of a $1,499 machine that rivals the best from Dell and Apple but at a fraction of the cost and with nearly zero compromises.”

User Reviews

On Amazon, it maintains a very respectable 4-star rating, with over 130 reviews. (May 2016)

One Amazon reviewer noted:

“This laptop is by far the best performing laptop that I ever owned. First laptop with SSD, and it is really fast, boot time of under 10 seconds. Windows 10 seems fairly good and stable on this laptop. 512 GB of space is more than sufficient. I had a laptop with 750 GB of magnetic hard drive, and I hardly filled it half way through. Your mileage may vary. The fact that it is a single partition is an added bonus!”

Another said:

“Best laptop I’ve ever had. Spec for this laptop is amazing, yet the profile of the case is so slim. No cooling issues so far, laptop running cool and quiet. Never had window signature edition but love it…..no bloatware everything on the laptop is clean. Overall this laptop looks amazing, construction is like a phone than a laptop. Moving from a plastic casing laptop this thing feels like it is a big high end phone. Screen is awesome too, clear and sharp.”

Who Should Buy This?

Musicians, songwriters, and producers shopping for a dedicated laptop to record that won’t stutter, pause or crash from a large audio workload should use this. If that is you, the ASUS UX501VW is the one to get.

 

What Makes A Great Recording Laptop?

A good laptop for recording will be powerful enough to run the latest version of any digital audio workstation. The three biggest things you should keep in mind are processor, RAM, and hard drive disk speed. It should also be quiet. Loud fan motors or line noise from a cheap power adapter can cause a lot of problems when trying to record audio.

You have probably seen or heard people say “SSD is a must”, or “get as much RAM as possible”. While you do want a fast hard drive, and a lot of RAM to handle plugins and such, those things are all fairly easily replaceable and upgrade-able.

But the CPU is not. In pretty much all instances, your CPU fits in a specific slot on a specific motherboard which is a huge pain in the ass – if not impossible – to change on a laptop for the average person.

Your strategy should be to find the machine with the fastest clock speed you can afford, and simply make sure you have a reliable solid state drive and enough RAM to do the job.

But, of course, if you can afford to also get the most RAM and the largest SSD, then more power to you! Do it!

The audio card doesn’t really matter, as you will be using the sound drivers that come with your audio interface.

Choosing Which Laptops To Test

As you can imagine, the list of contenders for best windows-based recording laptop could end up being pretty long. So we narrowed down the field using the following criteria:

  • CPU
    • 6th Generation (Skylake) Intel i7 Dual or Quad core processor.
  • RAM
    • 8GB minimum. 16GB or more preferred.
  • Hard drive
    • Must be SSD (Solid State Drive). Preferably 512GB or more.
  • Connectors
    • At least one Thunderbolt 3 connector (USB-C), with the ability to add an external monitor.
    • Two or more USB 3.0 connectors.
  • No common noise issues
    • Should be very little to no fan noise.
    • No line noise from the AC Adapter.
  • Availability
    • Our pick should be generally available from major retailers. What’s the point of recommending a laptop for audio production if you can’t buy it?

How Did We Choose?

One of the first places we stopped was DAW companies. We wanted to make sure the models we review have some manufacturer support.

Avid, the maker of Pro Tools has a list of recommended laptops from May 2016, which are compatible with the new Pro Tools 12. Problem is, they’re almost all generally unavailable. But we think those specs are a good place to start, as Pro Tools – especially version 12 – is one of the most resource intensive DAWs on the market.

Next, I hit the online forums for recommendations and tales of real world experience. There are numerous music gear forums and groups online, and even more dedicated solely to professional and home recording. While there are plenty of recommendations, there is a often plenty of contradictory information and anecdotal evidence. This can make getting definitive answers a bit challenging.

After that, I gathered various reviews from CNET, Engadget, Gizmodo, Laptop Magazine, and most importantly, some of the premiere recording forums like HomeRecording.com and Recording Review. Then I looked at the major DAW manufacturers to see if there were any known incompatibilities with our finalists. Finally I looked at general availability, and found plenty in stock at Amazon and Best Buy.

Future models: What to expect

Solid state drives are rapidly growing in capacity while shrinking in price, to the point that we can expect SSDs in every high end (and soon the low end) Windows laptop for audio production. Thanks to reasonably priced disc cloning tools, you can easily upgrade this laptop to a 750GB or 1TB drive in the near future.

Conclusion

We like gear that gives you more than your money’s worth. The ZenBook Pro is everything you need to make music right now, with specs that match or exceed it’s nearest competition at a fraction of the price. If I needed to get a new music production laptop running Windows, it’s what I would get.

The Intel Skylake i7 quad-core processor will provide plenty of power, the 16GB RAM  and 512 GB SSD and Thunderbolt connection will give you the speed and flexibility to throw anything at your next great song.

There are a few others which make great choices, but we didn’t want to just turn this Guide into a big long list of links.

If you would like to see other laptops which match our criteria, and may have a feature unique to your needs, here is a customized Amazon search based on processor speed, RAM, HDD/SSD, and 4 or 5 star reviews.


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The Best Windows Recording Laptop

ASUS ZenBook Pro UX501VW

The Best Windows Recording Laptop

Important Specs

Processor Intel Skylake Core i7­-6700HQ 2.6 GHz Quad­core
Display 15.6" Touch IPS 4K Ultra­-HD display, 3840 x 2160 resolution
SSD 512GB
RAM 16GB DDR4
Thunderbolt 1x (via USB Type­C)
USB 3.1 Type­C 1x (2nd generation)
USB 3.0 Ports 3x
HDMI Port 1x
Bluetooth 4.0 Yes
Dimensions 10 x 0.8 x 15.1 inches
more specs

Synopsis:

The ZenBook Pro has the fastest processor currently available (i7 Skylake), Thunderbolt, USB, HDMI for external monitors, 4K display, 512GB SSD, and an all-aluminum chassis 0.8 inches thin, for around 1500 bucks. You won't find any other music laptop this powerful for this price.

Dell XPS 15 (9550)

Another Windows Thunderbolt Option

Dell XPS 15 (9550)

This would have been our main pick, but it costs $500 more. Build quality is fantastic, and there are some Adobe color calibration tools which make it a great buy if you also do any graphic design. Thunderbolt 3.0 on board, as well.

Samsung ATIV Book 9 Pro

Also Great

Samsung ATIV Book 9 Pro

Samsung made a great machine to compete with the Dell XPS and Zenbook Pro. The graphics card isn't as great. The battery life - around 6 hours - isn't either. But this makes it cost a bit less than either of our picks. Other than that the reviews are pretty stellar. While the Samsung has a USB-C connector, it does not have Thunderbolt 3.

ASUS K501UW-AB78

If you don't need Thunderbolt

ASUS K501UW-AB78

This ASUS doesn't have Thunderbolt, but it has the latest Skylake processor from Intel. It also ships with 8GB RAM and a 512GB Solid State Drive. It's 0.8 inches thick and has stellar reviews from critics and users alike. If you don't need Thunderbolt, but want a strong machine, get the ASUS K501-UW.

- M

Sources

  1. Matt Smith, Digital Trends, 20160223
    Asus ZenBook Pro UX501VW Review
    “There’s a lot to like about the Asus Zenbook UX501VW-DS71T. The laptop is a real bruiser, meeting the competition toe-to-toe and coming out the winner as often as not, despite a price tag that’s hundreds less than similar competitors from Apple and Dell.”
Originally published: August 21st, 2014
  • ChrisPorro

    what about having a firewire port, or thunderbolt? how would this connect to people’s interfaces?

    • mscgr

      Initially there were a lot of driver issues with Windows 8 when it first launched. But, as time has passed, those issues have largely dissipated. We run multiple audio interfaces, and midi controllers on a Windows 8 machine (HP) with no issues.

      If you have Firewire or Thunderbird devices then, of course, you’ll need to figure that into the final model you settle upon.

      Regarding Thunderbird specifically – the Thunderbird Windows laptops are still alarmingly expensive, and the reviews have generally been mediocre. At that price point ($2-3k) I’d just as soon go with a MacBook. Although, we are looking at bringing in the Dell M3800 for testing soon. If I had to pick one just based on expert and user reviews alone, I’d go with the Dell. More info: http://amzn.to/1Exu5az

      Reviews:
      http://www.engadget.com/products/dell/precision/m3800/
      http://www.digitaltrends.com/laptop-reviews/dell-precision-m3800-review/
      http://www.techradar.com/us/reviews/pc-mac/laptops-portable-pcs/laptops-and-netbooks/dell-precision-m3800-1227026/review

      We’re actually working on a rewrite of this Guide, so stay tuned. Thanks for checking in. If you have any suggestions about models we should also take a look at, please let us know!

      • ChrisPorro

        i’m checking out an HP EliteBook offlease. they are cheap, built like a tank supposedly, and workstations. all good in my book.

        • mscgr

          Those are great! Highly recommended.

  • What do you think of the updated version named ASUS ROG GL552VW-DH74 15-Inch Gaming Laptop, Discrete GPU GeForce GTX 960M 4GB VRAM, 16GB DDR4, 1TB, 128GB SSD (ROG Metallic). Is this one as good or better than the Rog G551?

    • Don Makoviney

      Hey Steven, I assume you’re talking about this one?

      http://amzn.to/1UqDUB9

      If so, that seems to be a great machine. From the user reviews, it seems great. Some professional reviews, like this one, suggest the build quality left them with mixed feelings. Maybe check one out in store, or be willing to return it if it doesn’t meet your specifications.

      On the other hand, I use an external monitor, keyboard, and mouse, so if it’s primarily a recording/production machine, then certain aspects of build quality – like trackpad, keyboard, and ergonomics – often aren’t as big a deal to me as it is to others who use the onboard stuff. But, of course, your mileage may vary.

      The specs on the machine are great for the price. If you do get it, please come back and let us know what you think. We’ll add it to the list of laptops to review for the next round. We try to update this guide at least every 2-3 months since laptops change so fast!

      Thanks for the heads up. 🙂

Important Specs

Processor Intel Skylake Core i7­-6700HQ 2.6 GHz Quad­core
Display 15.6" Touch IPS 4K Ultra­-HD display, 3840 x 2160 resolution
SSD 512GB
RAM 16GB DDR4
Thunderbolt 1x (via USB Type­C)
USB 3.1 Type­C 1x (2nd generation)
USB 3.0 Ports 3x
HDMI Port 1x
Bluetooth 4.0 Yes
Dimensions 10 x 0.8 x 15.1 inches
more specs



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