Gaming laptops are specifically designed to excel at one key task: offering the best possible mobile PC gaming experience. And as we’ve learned over the years, that requires some compromises. PC gaming needs power and lots of it. That means a gaming laptop will be equipped with a high end CPU, lots of RAM and above all, a discrete video card. Add those components to a gaming-quality display and other features like a specialized keyboard and you are faced with three of the key gaming laptop compromises: they are big, they are heavy and they have very limited battery life.
But what if that didn’t have to be the case? What if you could have an ultra powerful gaming laptop that was actually thin and sleek? That’s the premise behind the latest gaming laptop to land on my test bench, the ASUS ROG Zephyrus.
Defying the requirement that gaming laptops be huge
This is a gaming laptop that’s more powerful than most, with a 15.6-inch display, yet it’s somehow packed into a sleek enclosure that measures just 17.9 mm at its thickest point. And it weighs just 2.2 kg. That’s crazy thin and not much heavier than an everyday laptop. How did ASUS pull this off?
The Zephyrus uses clever engineering and some help from Nvidia. On the graphics front, it’s one of the first gaming laptops to use Nvidia’s new Max-Q technology. Max-Q is a process used by Nvidia to optimize the design of its video cards for laptop use, fitting them into a smaller form factor. In the case of the ASUS ROG Zephyrus, despite that 17.9 mm thickness, there’s an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 video card inside, with 8 GB of DDR5 video RAM. That far exceeds even the high demands of virtual reality and supports 4K gaming at high settings.
ASUS engineering is the other half of the equation. Gaming hardware generates a lot of heat, which requires space to prevent meltdowns. The Zephyrus uses AAS (Active Aerodynamic System) cooling. The keyboard is pushed to the very front edge of the laptop, leaving half of the bottom deck open with venting for powerful (but quiet) fans to push hot air out. In addition, when the laptop is opened, a panel automatically deploys from the bottom that creates an additional 20% boost in open space to aid air circulation. The net result is an ultra-thin, high performance laptop that cools so effectively you don’t have to worry about temperature-based throttling, even after long gaming sessions.
It’s also very quiet. The only time I ever really noticed the fans cranking up was during a system update.
Also helping to keep things thin is the ditching altogether of hard disk storage in favour of going all solid state. The Zephyrus has a 512GB SSD, which saves space, cuts down on noise and makes everything faster, including game load times (read here to see why updating any gaming laptop to SSD storage pays off).
ASUS ROG Zephyrus Key Specs
ASUS ROG Zephyrus initial impressions: Wow …
It’s one thing to read about the clever engineering and advanced technology that went into the ASUS ROG Zephyrus. It’s another to unbox the laptop and pick it up. This is a gaming laptop with a 15.6-inch display that can be easily picked up in one hand. The case is black aluminum with copper accents and the ROG logo on the lid, with minimal sculpting. The edges are slightly rounded, but the overall effect is a thin, minimalist slab. It looks fantastic, although the case does pick up fingerprints. And you would never guess this is a gaming laptop.
The only real clues are that logo and the generous supply of ports — not many thin laptops these days offer both USB-C and four full-sized USB 3.0 ports. There’s no Ethernet port, but ASUS includes a dongle that supports 10/100/1000 Ethernet via one of those USB 3.0 ports.
Open the lid and the situation becomes much more clear. The keyboard is in an unusual position at the very front edge of the laptop case. You’ll want to use a palm rest (I believe one is included) and the trackpad is on the right instead of being centred. But that keyboard has the QWERASD keys highlighted, a familiar sight to gamers.
Games like a dream
The ROG Zephyrus is a PC gaming dream machine. The Full HD display has a fast 120Hz refresh rate and Nvidia G-Sync support, so graphics are always crystal clear. I found the antireflective treatment worked very well and it also had exceptional viewing angles.
The Core i7 CPU, 16GB of fast RAM and SSD made for incredibly snappy system performance. And with the Nvidia Geforce GTX 1080 video card, I was playing Starcraft 2 with all the settings at ultra and seeing frame rates that ranged between 98 and 137 fps.
The keyboard is also gamer-friendly, with 30 key rollover and ASUS’ Aura RGB backlighting system. One feature I thought was very cool is the ability to transform the trackpad into a full numeric keypad (via LED lighting) at the touch of a button.
One thing they didn’t solve: battery life
All the engineering that went into this laptop was unable to solve that stubborn, third compromise of gaming laptops. Battery life is not very good. Like an hour and half to two hours of use, less if you’re actually gaming. There’s just no way you can include a battery that will power these components for an extended time in a case this thin. Technology has a little catching up to do … So keep that power adapter handy.
Do you need the ROG Zephyrus
The ASUS ROG Zephyrus is a very good gaming laptop. It’s also a premium version and priced accordingly. Do you need its combination of power and sleek design? Probably not. But I’m willing to bet that once you see it in person, you’ll want it.
Looking to up your PC gaming capabilities? Check out the ASUS ROG Zephyrus plus all the other other top gaming laptops from the brands you know and trust, at Best Buy.