1. Introduction and specifications
Gone are the times when a high-performance gaming laptop was oversized and thick, and when its weight could be or exceed 5 kg, making it more of a ‘portable’ desktop PC than an ordinary laptop.
Although they were rarities at first, thin and small gaming laptops are already relatively common. Thanks to the latest releases of more efficient processors and graphics cards enhanced by specific low-consumption designs such as the NVIDIA Max-Q design, we have 1.79 cm thick laptops like this ASUS ROG Zephyrus, a device that can compete against desktop PCs without problems.
Naturally, the more you reduce the size, the less room you have for cooling, with temperatures usually rising at the same time that the thickness is being reduced, which is the main issue for the manufacturers that create this type of devices. In this case, ASUS has been able to deal with it in quite an original way, as we will see throughout this review.
External and internal designs
A detail on the design that I really like, and that we already saw in the AORUS X5, is that it seems that manufacturers are leaving behind those gaudy designs displayed on gamer-oriented devices to go for more elegant and sober designs. This allows us to use this laptop in any environment, from a LAN party to an office, without losing some special touches in details such as the gold edges or the silver ROG logo on the back in this case.
The first thing that catches our attention about the ASUS ROG Zephyrus, at least externally, is the trackpad and keyboard’s design and layout, as both are placed in the lower half, moving the trackpad to the right. The reason for this layout is very simple: despite of the Max-Q design, at the end you have a GTX 1080 with 8GB VRAM and a Core i7-7700HQ underneath along with all the heat that they generate. If you place the keyboard just above these two components, it is typical for this area to get hot, which can be annoying, as we saw with the AORUS X5.
ASUS’s solution for this was to move the keyboard down next to the trackpad, which in turn goes to the right in a somewhat weird layout that requires getting adapted to. In the place where the keyboard should go, there is a flat surface with tiny holes that also suck in the air.
For the rest, the ASUS ROG Zephyrus comes with a black/gray design with golden touches on the edges and on the lid, which is where the metallic logo is placed. The lid is decorated with two parts polished in two different directions, giving it a distinctive touch that is also a fingerprint magnet.
On one side, we have the HDMI and USB-A ports alongside the power and audio jacks.
On the other side, we have the USB-C 3.1 over Thunderbolt 3 and two more USB-A 3.0 ports.
The laptop’s rear shows two large cooling vents, which are joined by a third vent on one of the sides.
We cannot overlook the ‘trick’ that ASUS uses to help cool the laptop without increasing its thickness, at least not increasing it when carrying it around. Said trick is none other than a system integrated into the hinges that opens the bottom case cover when you open the lid, raising the laptop and leaving a gap between the table and the fans so that they can receive more air.
Evidently, the laptop’s thickness increases by doing this, but that does not matter when we have it on a table. As soon as we close the lid to move it around, the bottom case cover is folded and the laptop goes back to being 1.79 cm thick.
This certainly is a really smart idea that we might see more on this type of devices from now on.
This system’s downside is that dust and dirt can go right into the two fans. In order to deal with this, ASUS includes a screwdriver with which we can remove the 4 screws to open or take the lid off completely so we can easily clean the fans, which is something to be grateful for.
When we saw the screwdriver that ASUS included for the ROG Zephyrus, we thought that the company had decided to make it easier to get inside its new laptop, but we were soon brought back to reality.
The screwdriver is only useful for the 4 screws, letting us move or remove the bottom cover case that only gives us access to the two fans and nothing more. If we want to go deeper into the laptop’s interior to change the RAM, the SSD or any other component, ASUS decided to make it inexplicably much harder, which is a negative point.
The 4 Phillips screws that we could remove using the included screwdriver was just that starting point, as we get a good amount of small TORX screws. After taking all of them off, we have to try to carefully lift the laptop’s surface, along with the keyboard, which is something quite annoying given the short space that we have in the rear to push the top off.
Once we get inside the laptop, we have to be careful with the three ribbon cables, although you can easily remove them from the connectors.
Now that the laptop is open, we get its ‘guts’. We can only replace a single SO-DIMM module (curiously, ASUS used a 16 GB module while the remaining 8 GB are soldered to the motherboard in a non-symmetric dual-channel mode, so only 8 GB + 8 GB work in that mode).
We can also replace the M.2 NVMe SSD that it rocks out of the box and even the battery.
It is striking how well insulated the fans are, creating a sealed duct between the intake and exhaust air vents.
3. Keyboard and trackpad
As we saw in the previous section, the ASUS Zephyrus’ keyboard and trackpad have quite a ‘curious’ design. It really is not the first time that we see something like this. In fact, I remember that the first brand using such a layout was MSI with its Titan laptops, which are laptops that had to cool two graphics cards and on which the company took the opportunity to use a mechanical keyboard. But this ASUS ROG Zephyrus is a very different concept. In fact, a Titan is as thick as two Zephyrus put together, and we would still have some extra room.
The keyboard layout on the lower half of the surface means that there is no room for palm rests when writing. To solve it, ASUS includes a rubber palm rest that fits the laptop’s size to use it for long sessions.
The chiclet-style keys have a great and comfortable travel. The keyboard features RGB lighting in each key, but the intensity is unfortunately very low, so it is difficult to see that in bright environments.
The QWERASD keys have translucent borders, so it is easier to see the different lighting colors.
Getting used to the trackpad is a bit more difficult. By moving down the keyboard, the trackpad’s typical place is lost, so ASUS moved it to the right, where the numeric keypad is usually placed.
It takes a bit to get used to the trackpad’s layout, and our hands might go to the lower side on more than one occasion, but it is a way to have it there while preventing the keyboard from overheating.
Additionally, the trackpad has a bottom that turns it into a touch numeric keypad with dim and uneven backlit lines and numbers.
Moreover, ASUS also includes a Strix Impact optical mouse alongside the laptop, so the side trackpad will be left aside when gaming or using the computer extensively.
In this case, the Zephyrus model that we reviewed features a 15.6-inch display with a 1,920 x 1,080 pixels resolution and a 120 Hz refresh rate with G-SYNC technology. There is also a 60 Hz model available, but the rest of the specifications remain the same.
In terms of its resolution, we get the usual question when reviewing these devices: to go for a 4K display or not? The answer is not crystal clear. Many people will look for the maximum resolution available in high-end devices such as this one, while others will consider 1080p to be more than enough to play on a 15.6-inch display, both sides being quite right.
It is true that there are other gaming laptops with 4K resolution running on inferior hardware compared to this laptop, and that a GTX 1080 should be able to display that resolution without much trouble. However, a 1,920 x 1,080 pixels resolution means a larger lifespan for the laptop, at least when it comes to running the latest games on the market because they will not be as graphically demanding. Maybe the ideal solution would have been for ASUS to offer a 4K version and a Full HD version, but the only option available nowadays is 1080p.
The laptop’s panel is matte, which is something that we are grateful for when using it in places where reflections are likely to be produced. However, its maximum brightness is low, and it would not hurt to have a little bit more brightness in those well-lit environments.
When measuring what the display has to offer, we found out that the ROG Zephyrus’ panel offers a pretty modest maximum brightness of 286 cd/m². Its native contrast ratio is 607:1.
Now, let’s talk about the different tests that show us the display’s color and grayscale reproduction. We begin with the RGB graph for grayscale reproduction. We used the laptop’s out-of-the-box mode, which is the sRGB mode, although we also have the Cinema mode, the different gaming modes, and so on.
The results are not really good. The green color predominates at a 105%, while the red and blue colors go down to 87% in most cases. With this mode, the grays tend to show a greenish hue, as the color tests will corroborate later on.
The ASUS ROG Zephyrus does it surprisingly well when displaying the color temperature and its balance. Taking into account that the ‘true’ white stands at a temperature of 6500K, this laptop offers temperature values of around 6400K-6500K.
On the graph for sRGB coverage, we can see how the laptop’s panel covers a large part of the color gamut, although it fails to cover the blue and green colors completely.
Finally, we give you the color checker chart. As we always say, you will see the colors in one way or another depending on how your display is calibrated, so with this chart you can see the difference visually, as it compares the theoretical reproduction of a color with its real reproduction on the Zephyrus. The bigger the difference, the higher the value shown under each color, meaning that the precision while displaying colors will be worse.
You can now see how the results shown on the first graph are verified, with a greenish hue in the white color zone.
5. Battery life, performance and temperature
The relationship between gaming laptops and battery life is usually really complicated, as the gaming laptops’ battery life, size and thickness are generally put aside in favor of performance, which is what everybody looks for in a typical gaming laptop.
However, the ROG Zephyrus fall into a different category. It certainly is a high-performance gaming laptop that is also thin and lightweight, prompting us to take it with us and use it for work or for leisure, meaning that battery life is as important as it is on an ultrabook.
Unfortunately, what might be considered as ‘ultrabook’ about this laptop is only its reduced weight and thickness, as the battery that ASUS features on this device is really modest: a 50 Wh one with a battery life that barely last 1 hour and 20 minutes according to the PCMark battery life tests.
Although it is true that these are tests where the device is constantly running word processing apps, videos, games, multimedia, web browsers, etc., the laptop’s battery barely lasts 3 hours under normal usage.
We already know a lot of the ASUS ROG Zephirus’ components: its Core i7-7700HQ is a processor usually found in high-performance devices and its NVMe SSD offers some outstanding performance values typical on this type of devices. However, what makes the ROG Zephyrus special is, without a doubt, the GTX 1080 with Max-Q Design.
The GTX 1080 with Max-Q Design is a special variant of the GTX 1080 for NVIDIA laptops on which the brand has considerably reduced the former’s operating frequency compared to the standard model to try to reduce its power consumption and temperature. Its drivers also modify its behavior in order to prioritize efficiency over performance and reduce its power consumption as well.
As we can see in the performance tests, the GTX 1080 with Max-Q Design is closer to a GTX 1070 than to a GTX 1080. In fact, the AORUS X5’s overclocked GTX 1070 gets better results in many cases. However, the temperature of the GTX 1080 with Max-Q stands at about 7° below that of the AORUS’ GTX 1070, and we did not notice any throttling. (We do not know if it was due to the cooling system that ASUS uses, to the Max-Q design itself, or maybe to the combination of both elements).
All of this makes us wonder if it really makes sense for this graphics card to exist other than to be used for the manufacturers’ marketing strategies to say that their devices feature a GTX 1080 or that they have the ‘the world’s thinnest laptop featuring a GTX 1080’.
Even so, let’s not fool ourselves. The ASUS ROG Zephyrus offers an amazing performance for such a thin design, and it is quite incredible for its components to be working inside a 1.79 cm thick body.
We just told you that the GTX 1080 with Max-Q Design offered a lower temperature than that of the ‘standard’ GTX 1070, which we reviewed alongside the AORUS X5, a laptop that also stood out, although not quite so much, for its reduced thickness.
Actually, the ROG Zephyrus’ graphics card never went over 81° even after long game sessions, which certainly confirms that the MAX-Q technology together with ASUS’ cooling system and the bottom lid that opens to let in more air do their job perfectly in that sense.
We cannot say the same about the processor, as it reached a critical temperature when playing games such as DOOM, with some of the cores reaching around 98°, which is a temperature very close to the maximum 100° that activate the CPU protection.
By moving the keyboard to the lower side of the surface, the zone where the graphics card and the processor generate heat, which reaches 56°, stays away from our hands and the keyboard. Its temperature does not bother us when using it, as it ranges from 33.8 to 38.9°.
6. Review and conclusion
With this ROG Zephyrus, ASUS has done an amazing engineering job. As we have seen, it is true that the GTX 1080 with Max-Q Design feels more like a GTX 1070 than a GTX 1080, but thicker laptops with a GTX 1070 fail to keep the graphics card cool.
We are talking about a laptop that is 1.79 cm thick at its thickest point. We can consider the laptop as an ultrabook due to that thickness, which is capable of containing the same power found in devices that are twice and even thrice as thick.
With the detail of the bottom lid’s gap, the cooling system is really smart, allowing to improve the device’s cooling capabilities without making it thicker when closed. Although it is true that it cools the graphics card seamlessly, the processor can reach a temperature near 100°, prompting it to reduce its frequency, although there is no drop in performance, at least not when gaming.
It is also true that we are talking about €3,500, a price that might be way out of our budgets, but I do not think ASUS’ idea is for this laptop to go ‘mainstream’. I think it is more to showcase its strength and an engineering job that may prompt the development of less powerful but more affordable devices with similar thicknesses and weights, giving the words ‘gaming laptop’ a whole new meaning.
- Lightweight, thin and compact, practically an ultrabook
- Outstanding performance
- Clever cooling system
- G-SYNC and 120 Hz
- Mouse, palms rest and screwdriver included
- Very efficient GTX 1080 with Max-Q Design
- PCIe x4 NVMe SSD
- Sober and elegant design, not flashy
- Dim display and poor out-of-the-box calibration
- The processor achieves high temperatures (98 ºC)
- Not so easy to get inside the laptop
- Fingerprint magnet.