As we took the 2.7-pound, $699.99-MSRP ZenBook UX305CA from its box, we experienced two sensations: one, that it was exceptionally thin, light, and balanced; and, two, that we had seen this 13.3-inch-screened laptop before. Our first observation we’ll discuss over the course of this review. The second, that we had seen this laptop before, is trueâ€”the identically priced ZenBook UX305FA we reviewed back in July 2015 was, in many ways (but especially appearance) much alike.
Apart from the version of Windows (Win 10 here, versus 8.1 on the UX305FA) and a different generation of Intel Core M processor, these laptops differ little. The ZenBook UX305CA’s processor is a second-generation version of the Core M. (We tested a 900MHz dual-core Intel Core m3-6Y30 in today’s review unit; the Core M-5Y10 in the earlier ZenBook was a 800MHz dual-core.)
Unlike the first round of Core M chips, which were classed simply as “Core M” and seen in only two variants, this next generation comes in the familiar “3”, “5,” and “7” stepping that Intel uses with its higher-end Core processors. (It’s a parallel scheme; instead of Core i3, i5, and i7, Intel has stacked the new Core M chips into Core m3, m5, and m7 classes.) Core M is all about power efficiency and keeping heat in check in small spaces, and by providing finer slices of its Core M silicon than before, Intel has enabled makers of laptops and 2-in-1s more flexibility in these thin, thermally challenging designs. Just as entry-level and mainstream portables typically run on Core i3 and i5 CPUs, and models meant for resource-intensive games and media editing/processing are home to more powerful i7 processors, we should see similar stratification with these new CPUs.
Of course, with Core M designed for work in tighter confines than Core i, we can’t help but wonder whether even Core m7 chips, without cooling fans, will be powerful enough to act as media crunchers for high-res photos in Photoshop or as effective mobile video workhorses. [Jury’s still out on that, as we we’ve tested just one example; see our review of the Core m7-based HP Spectre x2 2-in-1 detachable for more. â€”Ed.]
We’ll see as more Core M comes to market, but if clock speed is any indication, Core M will be more about base productivity work than CPU-heavy load crunching. Early on, it looks like the primary differences within this new-gen Core M line circle around clock speed. The Core m3 CPU in our ZenBook review unit, for example, runs at 900MHz, while the two Core m5 processors in the wild when we wrote this in mid-January 2016 (the Core m5-6Y54 and Core m5-6Y57) run at 1.1GHz, and the Core m7-6Y75 in the Spectre x2 runs at 1.2GHz. All of the other base specs in the new line are the same.
While the Core M CPUs emphasize low wattage and other power-sipping options, one of their more attractive features is that they’re designed to be “fanless,” allowing laptop and tablet manufacturers to build near-noiseless laptops and convertibles. (Noise, then, becomes a factor of the storage drive, but for the thin portables that Core M makes sense for, the drive is almost always a silent solid-state model.) It’s also the reason that this ZenBook and its predecessor are so thin. Although the marketing moniker “ultrabook” is falling into lesser use, if not disuse, these days, plenty of laptops still fit the profile, and being thin and light has always been one of the primary attributes. Whatever these machines end up being called, Core M CPUs should help keep them that way.
Which brings us back to our review unit. Like with its ZenBook UX305FA predecessor, given the UX305CA’s $699 list price, you get a respectable set of components. The top-line ones: That Core m3 processor, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB solid state drive (SSD), and an attractive 1080p HD display panel. On the whole, this is a respectable midrange ultrabook with an excellent mix of components that skillfully balances the perception of just-enough speed for productivity work without ever spilling into overkill. And like with the ZenBook UX305FA, we found very little to quibble with on this ultrabook’s design, assuming the level of performance matches the way you work.
Read the entire review at Computer Shopper