A little over a year ago, I wrote a blog post on a new laptop I had recently acquired to use for embedded development. At the time I was preparing to travel for work, and wanted a machine that would be able to handle my normal workload, even if it was a bit slower than my desktop(s). I’ve used it on and off since then, and decided to write up a quick follow-up post to detail some of my thoughts.
First off, if I were making the decision again, is this the machine I would buy? Yes and no. I would probably pick up a similar model from Asus, but I would definitely not go with 16GB of RAM. There was a 32GB option that in retrospect I should have gone with, but by the time I came to that realization I was already weeks into using this laptop.
Overall, the ZenBook 14 is a form factor that I really like, with a great screen size that works well for traveling, on a desk, and as a literal “laptop”, and I’ve quite enjoyed owning it. The trackpad is decent, though not as great as my MacBook (but that’s hard to beat). The keyboard is an entirely different story though. I really like the keyboard… it’s perhaps the most comfortable keyboard I’ve ever used on a laptop, and I love almost everything about it. My only real complaint with the overall design is the slightly cheap/plastic feeling of the overall laptop chassis. All of my other/recent laptops have been primarily metal bodies, and so having a laptop that flexes is a bit off-putting, though it’s not yet caused me an issue.
Now when it comes to the battery life, as someone who uses an M1 MacBook as a primary driver, I’m a little spoiled. However, I still recall what “normal” laptops were/are like, and the ZenBook holds it’s own relatively well. I’ve reliably gotten 4-5 hours per charge when doing light work, or around 3-4 with some heavier workloads (though normally I’m near a charger for those as well). It’s not amazing, but I can’t complain too much.
As far as the software goes, Arch Linux with the KDE desktop environment has been nearly flawless. I think I’ve had one or two noticeable glitches, mostly when shutting down the computer if at all, and the user experience as been fantastic (as expected). I’ve slowly installed a few of the tools I use on a daily basis to the install so that even when traveling, I don’t need two machines on at a given time to access important information, respond to emails, or update my task list(s). Normally the night before I know I’ll be using the ZenBook, I start it up, run updates to make sure I’m caught up, and then I’m good to go.
The primary place where this laptop has failed me has mostly been due to a lack of planning on my part. A few of the codebases I compile for work are relatively large C++ and/or Qt-based projects, and the 16GB of RAM really hampers the compile times. I can still compile the projects, but it’s more of a case of starting a build and taking a coffee break, whereas on my desktops or MacBook I normally just have time to respond to some Slack messages (ie, on the order of single-digit minutes, normally sub-5). On this laptop… I don’t recall the last build time, but it was nowhere nearly that fast. It has worked great for embedded projects and/or smaller codebases though, which are a majority of the things I build.
Oddly enough, I realized as I’m typing this up that I’ve ended up using the laptop more just for personal projects and fun than I’ve used it for work. Since last August, my workload has changed semi-drastically, and I do much less software authoring than I once did (largely by choice). I end up working a lot more in schematic-capture tools and in email, both of which I tend to do on my Mac or at one of my desktops. I also am in substantially more meetings than I was a year ago, which I normally take my MacBook to as well, due to its all-day battery life and ability to sleep/wake effectively instantaneously, as well as the ability to run whatever meeting software is needed at the time. Arguably I could get that all done on the ZenBook as well, but as I only want to carry one machine with me to and from work, I tend to grab my Mac.
And, that’s a wrap! At this point, I have no immediate plans to upgrade the ZenBook to something with better specs. It has more or less worked for all of the reasons I initially chose it, and I expect I’ll keep it (and keep using it) for the next year or two at a least.