Asus ZenBook 15 UX534F

The Asus is the sleekest laptop here, with a weight of just 1.55kg and a body that’s only 19mm thick. That makes this machine more manageable than its rivals. It’s also arguably the best-looking laptop here thanks to its navy-blue coating and gold logos. The screen has a conventional 1080p resolution but it uses a 16:9 aspect ratio, as opposed to the more conventional 4:3 displays employed by the other three laptops reviewed here. This change is a factor in helping the Asus become even more compact.

The screen offers reasonable quality. Its Delta E of 3.21 is good, and the contrast ratio of 1,156:1 is solid – enough to deliver good accuracy and detail throughout. The colour temperature of 7,902K is chilly, though, and the Asus only rendered 79.7% of the sRGB colour gamut. Overall this means that there’s enough quality here for casual and mainstream photo work, but nothing more.

The Asus is ergonomically interesting. The trackpad is actually a 5.65in touchscreen that Asus calls the ScreenPad, and it can be used as a secondary screen to display Windows apps in miniature. It’s neat, even if it’s only useful once you’ve attached a USB mouse. The keyboard, meanwhile, is fine.

The Asus is smart, but the design does mean component compromises. The processor is a Core i7-8565U – a low-power part. By comparison the rest of the machines here have full-fat mobile CPUs. The low-power designation means this chip has four cores, rather than six, and clock speeds of 1.8GHz and 4.6GHz. That latter figure is good, but it’s not often reached. Asus has also used low-power DDR3 memory here – so you get 16GB, but in essence this is not as capable as DDR4.

Graphical capability is cut back. The Asus has a GTX 1650, which uses Nvidia’s latest architecture – but the core here has modest 1,024 stream processors, only 4GB of memory and modest clock speeds. The result is benchmark performance that can’t match rivals.

Its Geekbench result of 14,167 is the poorest here, and it also faltered in Cinebench with a result of 782cb – a few hundred points behind the competition. Meanwhile the graphics core scored 2,999 in 3D Mark Time Spy, which is better than the weak Quadro inside the Dell but a long way behind the beefier chips inside the Chillblast and MSI machines.

The result will translate into lesser photoediting performance. The Asus’ CPU-based score of 194.12MPix/s is the poorest here, and its GPGPU result of 474.66MPix/s is half as quick as other laptops.

There are upsides, however. The SSD’s read and write speeds of 3,473MB/s and 2,394MB/s are excellent, and they keep the Asus feeling responsive. The low-power components mean good battery life: the Asus lasted for nearly eight hours – level with the Dell and better than the Chillblast or MSI.

The Asus doesn’t have the power to match rivals – so if you need a machine for tasks there are better options. They’re often not much more expensive either, despite their more powerful components. Instead, the Asus delivers stylish, slim computing with good battery life and a solid screen, and it still has enough power for day-to-day work and less demanding photo work.
/ www.asus.com/uk

Dell Precision 3530

Dell’s machine is the most hard-nosed business option in the group. The Precision range is designed for proper productivity, which means work-friendly components and good versatility. This is the only laptop here with an Intel Xeon processor. The E-2176M has six cores with Hyper-Threading – so it can address twelve concurrent tasks. It runs at 2.7GHz, and hits a boost peak of 4.4GHz. Xeon chips also support ECC memory, which means they have better longevity when faced with tough workloads.

That specification roughly matches the consumer CPU in the Chillblast and outpaces the MSI’s older chip. The processor is paired with 32GB of memory – which makes the Dell the only machine here with that much RAM. There’s also a 512GB SSD and the full gamut of wired and wireless connectivity.

Where the Dell does falter a little is with its GPU. The Quadro P600 comes from Nvidia’s professional range, but it’s rather an entry-level part that only has 384 stream processors and 2GB of memory. It has ISV certification and professional enhancements, but it’s underwhelming. Benchmarks illustrate the Dell’s strengths and weaknesses. On the plus side its Geekbench results of 5,119 and 22,487 are significantly ahead of the Asus and MSI, and a little quicker than the Chillblast. The Dell’s PC Mark 10 and Cinebench results fall a little behind the Chillblast, but the Precision still remains one of the speediest laptops in this test when it comes to CPU-intensive applications. Its SSD is good, too, with read and write speeds of 3,081MB/s and 1,404MB/s.

This machine also excelled with longevity, thanks to its upgrade 92Wh battery: it lasted for eight hours and 14 minutes in PC Mark 10’s battery test. That makes it the best result here.

However, the Quadro GPU is poor. Its 3D Mark Time Spy result of 1,312 is the slowest in the group by some distance. In the GPGPU image-editing benchmark, it scored 634MPix/s. That’s better than the Asus, with its low-power components, but it does put it behind the Chillblast and MSI.

The Full HD screen is mixed. Its Delta E of 3.25 is level with rivals, and its colour temperature of 7,611K is excellent. However, its solid 300cd/m2 brightness is undermined by a black point of 0.31cd/m2 – which means a contrast ratio of 968:1. That’s underwhelming, and means less punch than other screens. The Dell only rendered a middling 84.3% of the sRGB gamut.

On the outside the Dell is smart but plain, with too much give in its metal panels and ugly, wide screen bezels. We’d certainly use a protective sleeve if taking this on location.

It’s chunky, too, with a 2kg weight and 24mm thickness. You get a solid touchpad with discreet buttons, a separate touchpoint and a fingerprint reader. The keyboard is good, with a full number pad and snappy typing. And, to add to the practicality, Dell’s website is littered with customisation options – although the GPU can’t be changed.

The Dell’s GPU is its weak point – and this  machine is pricier than rivals. However, the Precision does serve up impressive CPU speeds, great battery life and a screen that’s good enough to handle day-to-day work and basic photo editing. If you’re after more graphical power or something slimmer and lighter then you’ll have to look elsewhere. But the Dell is a versatile, long-lasting option for serious mobile workers.
/ www.dell.com

Chillblast Photo OC Mobile

The British-made Chillblast undercuts the MSI and Dell machines at the checkout, and it still arrives with several technological advantages. It’s got a brand-new Intel Core i7-9750H processor, for instance, plus a six-core chip that supports twelve threads, and its base and boost speeds of 2.6GHz and 4.5GHz are virtually identical to the Xeon part in the pricier Dell – and better than the older CPU found in the MSI.

The CPU is paired with Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660 Ti graphics. It’s technically a desktop part, and it uses Nvidia’s newest architecture – which gives it an immediate advantage over the MSI and Dell machines. The GTX 1660 Ti has 1,536 stream processors and 6GB of memory and its base and boost speeds of 1,455MHz and 1,590MHz easily outpace the GTX 1070 featured in the MSI.

The Chillblast is also the only machine here to include both an SSD and a hard disk – so you get
250GB of rapid storage for Windows 10 Home and key applications, and a more spacious 1TB drive for files. Elsewhere, there’s a conventional 16GB of memory, dual-band 802.11ac wireless networking and Gigabit Ethernet.

This solid hardware translates to impressive pace. The Chillblast’s Geekbench scores of 5,010 and 22,094 are excellent – ahead of the MSI and barely different from the Dell. The Chillblast proved the fastest laptop in PC Mark 10 and Cinebench, which bodes well for productivity. In short, the SSD is incredibly quick. Graphics power is impressive, too: the Chillblast scored 5,812 in 3D Mark Time Spy, which is the group’s best result. Chillblast’s machine scored 326.68MPix/s in the CPU-based image editing test and 730.33MPix/s in the GPGPU-based image test. The former figure is the best here, and the latter is barely slower than the MSI. This rapid pace is paired with arguably the best screen on test. It’s the only 4K panel here, so it’s great if you need loads of detail, and it’s the only OLED screen in the group – so you get perfect black levels, incredible contrast and a huge brightness level of 560cd/m2.

The Chillblast rendered 100% of the sRGB colour gamut and a solid 94.2% of the Adobe gamut, and its colour temperature of 6,375K is excellent.

The screen’s Delta E of 4.98 is average, and the glossy finish doesn’t help. However, colours are still accurate enough to ensure photo editing work can continue, and the resolution, OLED hardware and gamut coverage make this an impressive display overall.

On the outside, the Chillblast is inconsistent. It has HDMI, mini-DisplayPort and Thunderbolt ports alongside three USB connections and the keyboard is excellent: fast and robust, with backlighting and a numberpad.

The trackpad is fine. However, the Chillblast is hefty, at 30mm thick and a weight of 2.5kg. That makes it the largest machine here by some margin. It’s the ugliest, too: it’s all plain metal and exposed seams. If that doesn’t bother you, the Chillblast offers a huge amount of power and a stonking OLED screen for a great price. It’s also got a generous five-year warranty. It won’t be for everyone, but the Chillblast is an impressive,  effective workhorse.
/ www.chillblast.com

MSI P65 Creator 8RF

The MSI P65 Creator is a striking notebook: its chassis is augmented with angular air vents, and it has an eye-catching white finish. This special edition of the P65 doesn’t have the extravagant aesthetic: it adds a Thunderbolt port and loads up a better screen and graphics core. The Chillblast has Thunderbolt too, but the Asus and Dell both miss out.

MSI P65 Creator 8RF

This machine offers good build quality: there’s only a little give in the metal surfaces and the whole machine feels sturdy. We’d still wrap it in a sleeve for safety’s sake, but we have no real concerns. It’s not too big, either, with a 1.9kg weight and 18mm thickness.

Benchmarks illustrate solid performance. Single-core speed is important for many image editing tools and in Geekbench’s test the MSI scored 4,712 – better than the Asus but slightly behind the Chillblast and Dell. In the multi-core test the MSI scored 17,361. That outpaces Asus, but it’s around 20% slower than the Chillblast and Dell machines. The MSI’s graphics core performs similarly. Its 3D Mark Time Spy result of 4,821 can’t compete with the Chillblast’s result of 5,812,
but it beats its other rivals.

These figures converted to decent image editing scores. In the CPU-based image processing benchmark the MSI scored 270.21MPix/s – good, but behind Chillblast. In the GPGPU test the MSI scored 807.53 MPix/s, which is the best score here. There’s enough grunt to cope with most photo-editing tasks – especially if your favoured apps benefit from GPU acceleration. However,
Chillblast’s machine remains faster.

Battery life is mediocre. The MSI lasted for four hours and thirty-seven minutes – far behind the Dell and Asus machines.

The contrast level of 1,314:1 is impressive and high enough to deliver good punch and clarity. The black level of 0.21cd/m2 also beats the Dell and Asus machines, so darker areas will have more depth. And, finally, uniformity is good thanks to an extremely consistent backlight.

There’s a lot to like about the MSI. It’s slimmer, lighter and sleeker than the Dell and Chillblast machines and will handle most photo editing tasks – especially if you need GPU acceleration. The screen is solid, with good colour accuracy and excellent contrast.

The MSI doesn’t have a great battery, though, and the Chillblast offers more power. Nonetheless, the MSI is pretty affordable and it provides a well-rounded, high-quality experience. If the expensive Dell and the hefty Chillblast don’t suit, this would be an excellent choice.

/ www.overclockers.co.uk

Verdict

THE FOUR LAPTOPS in this group test are all impressive in their own ways, but they’re all very different beasts, meaning they’re suited for different situations.

Take the Asus ZenBook 15. It’s a sleek bit of kit: slimmer than anything else, and with great battery life and plenty of innovation thanks to that ScreenPad. That makes it both versatile and portable.

But the ZenBook’s svelte design means hardware limitations – it has a weaker processor and a middling graphics core. That means you’ll only get more basic photo-editing work on that machine.

At the other end of the scale is the Chillblast Fusion notebook. It’s got enormous power levels, which makes it suitable for tough photo-editing jobs when you’re away from the office. It also has an excellent 4K OLED screen. However, adding all of this hardware means this notebook is rather thick and heavy, which is no good for those working regularly on location.

The MSI P65 tries to straddle these scenarios. It’s slimmer and lighter than the Chillblast, and it still has a good level of power for handling most photo-editing tasks. However, it suffers when it comes to battery life, which is on the low side, and not everyone will warm to its white design.

There are cautionary tales to be found here, too. The pricey Dell machine has work-friendly CPU options, loads of versatility at the checkout and impressive battery life, but Dell’s reliance on an older, weaker GPU will impact on some photoediting situations – no good if you’re away from the office and you need processes to complete quickly.

There’s no easy answer, then. As ever, picking a portable depends on how you’re going to use a machine, and which tasks you need it to complete. What can be assured, though, is that the four laptops in this test are all high quality pieces of kit, and all have their advantages – and, crucially, that upgrading your laptop will improve your working life.

Words : Mike Jennings. Adapted for web by Dane Pestano

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