Intel’s new Core 7 Ultra delivers great graphics performance and a promising bump up in efficiency – oh, and the laptop is quite nice, too
- Graphics are great for an iGPU
- Lovely build, slim and sleek
- Fantastic display
- Battery life not as good as it could have been
- Fans a little noisy
Intel is feeling the heat. Apple has now reached the third generation of its Apple Silicon and it doesn’t look like things are letting up – so Intel has taken dramatic steps. Not only has it overhauled the architecture and performance of its laptop CPUs for the second time in three years but it has now changed the naming structure of its new chips, dropping the long-standing i lettering from the name.
The Asus Zenbook 14 OLED is the first laptop we’ve had the chance to test with one of the new CPUs inside and it certainly represents a promising step forward. Only time will tell, however, if Intel’s new approach will help it catch up with Apple, whose chips, most significantly, have helped it set itself apart, specifically in the realm of battery life and overall efficiency.
Asus Zenbook 14 OLED (UX4305) review: What you need to know
The most interesting feature of the Asus Zenbook 14 OLED is that it’s the first laptop to carry one of Intel’s new mobile CPUs: the 16-core Intel Core 7 Ultra 155H, which runs at a maximum turbo clock of 3.8GHz and is here backed up by 32GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD.
The new “Meteor Lake” chip is built on Intel’s 7nm manufacturing process, promising increased efficiency and performance per watt versus the old 13th Gen component, but the most notable aspect of the new chips doesn’t come from the way they’re made. Instead, it’s the new architecture that’s interesting here.
The Meteor Lake chips are built using modules that Intel is calling tiles. The Core Ultra H-series chips, such as the Core 7 Ultra in this Asus Zenbook 14 OLED, have four tiles: Compute, SoC, GPU and IO. The GPU tile in this case is an Intel Arc GPU, which delivers much faster GPU graphics performance than the old Iris Xe iGPU on the 13th Gen CPUs.
The SoC, meanwhile, adds extra AI capabilities via a neural processing unit, as well as some new low-power efficiency-cores – presumably in an attempt to rival Apple’s MacBook battery life supremacy. As we’ll see, the Asus Zenbook 14 OLED doesn’t move the needle that much on battery life; it still isn’t as good as a MacBook, but it does, at least, deliver a better performance-to-battery life ratio than equivalent Windows machines.
Otherwise, Asus has supplied a very similar machine to last year with the Zenbook 14 OLED. It’s a little skinnier and a little more lightweight, but it looks largely the same. The dead-flat lid is adorned with a geometric design, it has a slim wedge-shaped profile and its chiselled looks and “Ponder Blue” colour scheme makes this one of the more attractive Windows laptops around. The underside is a different matter, but at least you can easily remove the base to access the internals.
Elsewhere, there’s a 14in 3K OLED display with a refresh rate of 120Hz, plenty of ports and new “super-linear” speaker technology, that supposedly increase the volume a given driver is capable of by up to 2.25 times.
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Asus Zenbook 14 OLED (UX3405MA, 2023) review: Performance
Usually, we leave performance until later in a laptop review but since it’s the main talking point with this machine, I’m going to skip straight to it. The CPU inside the new Asus Zenbook 14 OLED is an Intel Core 7 Ultra 155H and it’s backed up by 32GB of RAM in this particular laptop.
This is a CPU with 16-cores that support up to 22-threads (two threads per performance core), and those cores are spread across a range of functions, with six on performance and ten for efficiency. The base clock speed is 3.8GHz, the maximum Turbo clock frequency is 4.8GHz and this CPU comes with integrated Intel Arc graphics.
Judging by the nomenclature, as well as the fact that this is an H-series chip, it looks as though the Core 7 Ultra is the successor to the Core i7-13700H and performance in the benchmarks seems to place it pretty much exactly on a level. Results in our in-house media benchmarks are a little slower but this tends to be due to thermal performance. It might perform better in another laptop.
The flip side to this is that CPU performance is level with that of Apple’s M3 chip here and also that graphics performance from the Intel Arc chip is stellar – far better than we’ve seen from laptops with Iris Xe. It also beats the Nvidia GeForce RTX 2050 chip inside the Acer Aspire 7 by some margin, while matching the Core i5-12450H in terms of CPU performance.
Moreover, battery life appears to be closer to that of Intel’s 13th Gen, low-power U-series chips than it is to machines with the workstation-focused H-series chips inside. In fact, of all the Intel laptops I’ve selected for comparison here, the Asus Zenbook 14 OLED is the longest-lasting.
That’s encouraging, and it certainly suggests Intel is making up ground on Apple. However, the 10hrs 52mins result in our battery life test still lags nearly five hours behind the M3 Apple MacBook Pro 14in (and those of the M2-based 15in MacBook Air) so it’s perhaps too early to get really excited just yet.
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Asus Zenbook 14 OLED (UX3405MA, 2023) review: Design, screen and everything else
Of course, a laptop is more than just its CPU and GPU and the Asus Zenbook 14 OLED has plenty more to offer. Design-wise it’s slim, light and well-made. It weighs a mere 1.2kg – that’s great for a 14in machine – and is 14.9mm thin when closed. There’s also enough stiffness in the lid and the chassis to give you confidence it’ll last being slung in a bag every day.
Ergonomically, the laptop is on point, with a sensibly laid keyboard and keys that offer plenty of comfortable travel. The touchpad is one of the better ones you’ll come across on a Windows machine as well. Hold your finger in the top corner of this and a touch-based numeric keypad appears on its surface, but I’m not sure exactly how useful this really is or how often I’d use it. If, like me, you prefer a physical number pad, you’re still better off with a larger 15in laptop.
There’s also a good selection of ports and sockets – one USB-A on the left and an HDMI 2.1 port on the right, alongside two Thunderbolt – and the webcam and microphone are both decent. Those new “super linear” speakers kick out one helluva racket, too, but there isn’t much warmth or body to the music they output. Certainly, here the MacBook speakers have it well and truly beat.
Lastly, the display, which is a 3K OLED 120Hz touchscreen job, is very nice indeed. It won’t go as bright as one the Mini-LED screens on Apple’s MacBook Pro machines, but a peak of 370cd/m2 in normal use is perfectly respectable. Throw on some proper HDR material via YouTube and it looks glorious, thanks in no small part to the superb colour performance. There’s even a stylus included in the box, although scribbling on a laptop screen that only folds back 180-degrees isn’t the most comfortable of propositions.
The display produces up to 119% of the P3 colour space in its Native colour mode and, versus DCI-P3, I recorded an average Delta E of 0.45, which means it’s superbly colour accurate. If you want to work in the sRGB colour space, or Display P3, you can switch to these using the MyAsus settings app but there’s no factory calibration for AdobeRGB.
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Asus Zenbook 14 OLED (UX3405MA, 2023) review: Verdict
Overall, the ZenBook 14 OLED is a cracking laptop, then. Performance is solid, battery life is good, it has a great screen and ergonomics and build quality is top notch. With prices starting at £1,099, it’s strong competition for the likes of the 13.6in and 15in MacBook Air.
As a showcase for Intel’s latest CPU, however, I’d have to say the jury’s out right now. Battery life is good for a Windows machine in this class but it still lags behind the likes of Apple’s M3 MacBook Pro and there isn’t much, if any, of a performance bump over the previous generation of Intel processors.