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Is the Asus Zenbook S 13 OLED laptop the best programming laptop so far?

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Is the Asus Zenbook S 13 OLED laptop the best programming laptop so far?
Source: ThatSoftwareDude

I recently picked up the Asus Zenbook S 13 OLED laptop to replace a Lenovo ThinkPad (which I am still a huge fan) that was pretty much tapped out on its soldered on RAM. Unlike with MacBooks, 8GB's just isn't enough for day to day operations on a Windows machine.

asus zenbook s 13 oled
ASUS

And while looking for a replacement, I stumbled onto the Zenbook world. Zenbook's are noted for their portability, mid-to-high tier performance and cost effectiveness, depending on the configuration. After some research and deliberation I decided to pull the trigger on this particular model, the Zenbook S 13 OLED, and make the purchase.

It's been a few months now since I started using it for much of my day to day work as a software developer and all I can say is that so far, it has not disappointed one bit and it has made me a fan of this product line.

But how does it keep up with a full-stack programmer's day to day workload? Read on to find out.

Overview

asus zenbook s 13 oled specs

Let's start with a brief description of just what the Zenbook S 13 OLED laptop is, because it's something quite different than the typical laptops on the market. First off, the Asus Zenbook line has traditionally been noted for boasting much of the following:

Premium Design: Zenbooks are known for their premium build quality and elegant aesthetics. They often feature slim and lightweight designs, aluminum or magnesium alloy chassis, and a signature spun-metal finish on some models.

High-Resolution Displays: Many Zenbook models come with high-resolution displays, including Full HD (1920x1080), 2K, 4K UHD (3840x2160), or even OLED panels. These displays are typically equipped with wide color gamuts and excellent color accuracy for an enhanced visual experience. 

Powerful Performance: Zenbooks are available in various configurations, with options ranging from Intel Core processors to AMD Ryzen processors. They often include ample RAM and fast storage options such as SSDs, ensuring smooth multitasking and fast application loading times.

Portability: Zenbooks are designed to be highly portable, making them ideal for users on the go. They are typically lightweight and have compact form factors, making them easy to carry in a backpack or bag.

Innovative features: Many Zenbook models come equipped features that you are not likely to find on any other laptops, such as digital number pads built into the mouse trackpad, physical dials and their ErgoLift designs which elevate the keyboards as you open the display.

In general, relatively powerful laptops with great displays and that are super portable.

Specifications

The full specs for this particular model are as follows:

Display 13.3'' OLED 2.8K
Processor Intel Core i7-1355U
RAM 32GB
Storage 1TB SSD
GPU Intel Iris X
WiFi WiFi 6E (802.11ax)
Weight 2.2lb
Battery 63Wh
OS Windows 11 Pro

Performance

asus zenbook s 13 oled performance

If you're a developer, then no doubt you probably have a dozen or so applications that are running around the clock, not limited to:

- IDE's
- Database servers
- Database managers
- Graphic design tools
- 100+ browser tabs
- Slack, Discord, other communication apps

The Asus Zenbook S 13 comes equipped with a 13th-gen i7 CPU with 10 cores and 12 threads. It has 2 performance cores and 8 efficiency cores and on most benchmarks found online, such as this one, it does pretty well on average, though don't expect it to be a gaming machine.

It can handle light-gaming pretty well overall though, it just might not be able to keep up with the latest and greatest high-resource load games.

The CPU on this laptop is also an Intel Evo chip, meaning that you get the added benefit of the following features:

  • Improved battery life
  • Fast charging
  • Faster wake up time
  • Faster internet and image/video editing

The standard base model comes packed with 32GB of DDR5 RAM, which should be more than enough for any regular person out there, developer or otherwise.

This is the primary reason why I decided to opt for the Zenbook S 13 as most other laptops at this price point only offered 16GB at best.

And after running 3-5 instances of VS Code, plus a Visual Studio Community project, plus dozens of browser tabs I can safely say that I still have more RAM left over, than the whole of my other laptops.

Note that you can not update the RAM on this machine as it is soldered on. So if you need 64GB for your personal workloads, you will need to look elsewhere.

From a programmer's perspective, it's powerful enough to churn through builds and compilations in a very decent time. It isn't instant by any means but for reference, one of my projects traditionally took around 30-40 seconds to compile a production build. This laptop brought that time down to around 8-10 seconds. Not instant, but noticeably fast.

Storage

Not much to say here really about storage. Asus knocked it out of the park by configuring their default base model with 1TB right from the factory. Since I mainly just use my laptops for software/web development work and not really for any video editing or gaming, I have more storage than I will probably ever get through.

There is no  SD card reader to be found on the device though, so you won't be able to upgrade storage that way.

But you can swap the SSD if you find that you just need to have more storage space.

Display

The standout feature no doubt is the OLED display.

The Asus Zenbook S 13 features a 13.3 inch OLED display with a 2880 by 1800 resolution (2K) and up to 550 nits of peak brightness.

It has a .2ms response time and 100% DCI-P3 color gamut and looks phenomenal.

All to say that it looks fantastic, particularly on a smaller 13.3 inch screen. And because I'm a programmer, and this review is from a programmer's perspective, I will add that VS Code looks fantastic on this display.

I particularly run my IDE's in dark mode most of the time, and on this laptop the background just pops and makes the code that much more readable, particularly in a darker environment.

Having said that, it is a glossy display. So if you are working in a brightly lit environment or outdoors (for some reason), you will need to push that brightness up.

But lucky for you, this thing has a giant battery to power through all of that.

Battery life

You would normally think that with such a small chassis, high quality screen and relatively powerful CPU, battery life would be the first thing to go.

But somehow Asus managed to fit a 63Wh battery into the small 2.2lb frame.

The actual battery life of course will vary by individual and workloads. But just for reference, when I'm just working on writing articles and researching the web I typically get well over 8 hours of battery life.

And for me, that's huge. I know these aren't Macbook numbers, but on a Windows machine typically getting more than 4 solid hours can be a challenge.

On heavier workload days though, where I might have VS Code opened multiple times building multiple projects, I will probably get around 5-6 hours. Which again, to me is still fantastic.

I'm typically not away from a power outlet when I'm writing code, but on the off chance that I am and I need to, I feel safe knowing that this laptop will still be on for some time.

Form-Factor

asus zenbook s 13 oled ceramic coating

As a developer who often times has to either travel or take meetings on the go, I need something lightweight that I can toss into my backpack at a moments notice and not have to think twice about.

The Zenbook S 13 comes in at just .46 inches and weighs a noticeably light 2.2lb. It's lighter and smaller than most of the books on my shelf.

It features an ErgoLift hinge that elevates the keyboard as the screen panel is opened, providing a better typing experience and overall better ventilation.

This Zenbook has a special plasma ceramic aluminum lid that makes it more water resistant, offers corrosion protection and better thermal management. And truthfully, I think it makes it look pretty good.

And after months of use, I can safely say that fingerprints are pretty minimal on this thing. Not zero by any means. But definitely noticeably less.

Ports

They did not skimp out on ports when designing this laptop, which once again is shocking when seeing just how thin it is. I have personally used Ultrabook's in the past, or tablet hybrids, that came equipped with a single port. Typically 1 USB C port that you had to share with your peripherals.

asus zenbook s 13 oled ports

Not only is this laptop smaller and lighter than those other machines, but it pretty much covers the full gamut of ports.

- 2 USB-C Thunderbolt 4 ports
- 1 HDMI 2.1 port
- 1 USB 3.2 Gen 2 port
- Audio combo jack

No card reader unfortunately, but we'll make due for now.

Price

The Asus Zenbook S 13 OLED comes in at around $1399 in its base default configuration. When compared to other laptops on the market with similar specs, I personally think it's a huge bargain.

Not only are you getting a very healthy 32GB of RAM and a 1TB storage drive, but you're getting it along with an OLED display, a 13th Gen i7 CPU and a noticeably large capacity battery.

You can currently still find it in stock over on Amazon.

Cons

Not a ton of problems to list here, but there might be some nitpicking on my part.

- No touchscreen
- No SD card reader
- Can run loud on heavier tasks
- Screen can be pretty glossy at times

Definitely not the most perfect machine by any means, but these are small enough issues that I can pretty much overlook all of them. 

Overall

This is so far in my top 3 list of laptops that I've used professionally as a software developer to date. My build times are as fast ever and multi-tasking on multiple apps at once is finally doable, without running out of memory.

The top-tier display is just icing on the cake and definitely nice to have as the Zenbook now doubles as my entertainment machine as well.

But for me personally the biggest feature is in the entire package as a whole. Incredible portability with a respectable battery size and more storage than I know what to do with are the biggest wins in my opinion.

Highly recommend it to anyone out there looking to upgrade their current rig.

Walter Guevara is a software engineer, startup founder and currently teaches programming for a coding bootcamp. He is currently building things that don't yet exist.

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