M. Willis Monroe

Zenbook Prime UX31A

I recently had to replace my laptop somewhat unexpectedly. I wasn’t entirely happy with the previous machine, it certainly had its problems, but for various reason I wanted to wait a bit longer to buy a new computer.  My previous laptop was a Sony VPCSA, I originally bought because it seemed pretty powerful, had good screen resolution, and was relatively slim. It had a quad-core processor and 4 gb of RAM, which seemed like it was going to be plenty for my needs. Before this my work computer was an old Dell netbook, which was not powerful by any stretch of the imagination.

However, with the Sony, I quickly realized that the battery life was not up to par. I would get one and a half to two hours max out of the machine. This, I soon realized was caused by a larger problem.  The fan on this machine is position right in the center of the back edge of the base. The hinge for the laptop lid is right above, when the lid is open the hinge partially obstructs the fan outlet. I hadn’t noticed this at first, but it soon became very apparent that this computer had major issues with heat. I did some research online and found many other owners who complained about fan noise and heat. One owner posted a small bit of advice that they found in the manual for the machine, explaining that the laptop should not be used for extended periods of time with the lid open! Near the end of this laptops life it was having a lot of trouble even doing simple tasks, lots of pausing and lag on input. I suspect the constant heat, and inefficient fans were slowly melting components and decreasing its overall speed.

So in looking for a new laptop I had some simple criteria, larger screen resolution, and long battery life. That’s pretty much it, most laptops today are powerful enough for word processing and there are plenty of small light laptops.  Looking through the options available however shows far too many computers stuck with 1360x768. There seemed to be a rush to that small resolution a few years ago, probably pushed by manufacturers marketing laptops as wide-screen movie watching devices, rather than work machines.  I was also keenly aware of the problem with the previous laptop, so I was looking for a company that has a bit of a better track record for engineering and design.

I ended up getting an ASUS Zenbook-prime UX31A. The screen resolution is: 1920x1080, which is as large as my desktops primary monitor. The battery seems to get at least 4-5 hours on a charge, if not more. And it’s incredibly light.  I found the choice particularly difficult because there was nothing that seemed to match my requirements perfectly. The incoming Haswell chips are going to greatly increase battery life, but the computer currently available with the chip are too expensive. There are a glut of computers with the aforementioned lousy resolution. The chromebooks look good, but only the pixel has decent resolution, and then its battery life is sub-par. Basically, there were many choices and none of them were right. I’m fully expecting a more perfect laptop to come out in the next couple months.

The first thing I did when I got the new laptop is stick Ubuntu on it. I flashed a bootable USB with the Ubuntu image and booted into the Ubuntu install before Windows 8 even had a chance to touch the silicon on the motherboard. It’s a pain paying for the inherent windows tax, but I think that’ll change in the near future.  One issue I was somewhat worried about was the UEFI BIOS and secure boot. For this computer I had to disable secure boot and fast boot, and enable “Load CSM”; then boot the usb drive with the UEFI option. I was a bit worried about wiping and installing, and not being able to boot. But by following the above steps it worked just fine.  The good news is everything just works on the UX31A, previous how-to’s and forum posts about this laptop and Ubuntu list a number of work arounds etc… needed to make everything work in Ubuntu, but these seem to have been included in the latest release.

However, I am having issues with Gnome 3.10. I’ve always liked Gnome, and when Gnome Shell came on to the scene with Gnome 3.0. I embraced the changed. I’ve actually gotten very familiar with it and find it very intuitive and efficient. I’m not sure if it’s just Ubuntu packaging gnome 3.10 in a haphazard way, or the most recent release, but there seem to be a number of problems with it. On my desktop, the secondary monitor resets its screen rotation on reboot. The extension Topicons, if enabled, de-activates all of your other extensions on reboot. On my laptop dragging folders or files makes them invisible. There is no graphical setting to control the keyboard layout anymore, specifically the compose key. These are all somewhat minor problems, but they show a lack of polish that is worrying. I know Gnome is trying to simplify and unify the desktop experience, but I feel like they’re leaving things behind as they do.