ASUS ROG Zephyrus GX501 Review. We’re going to check out the insanely thin and powerful ASUS ROG Zephyrus gaming laptop and find out how well it performs in games and various benchmarks. Inside the box we’ve got the laptop itself, warranty information and manual, power adapter, wrist rest, screw driver, usb to ethernet adapter, and an ROG Strix Impact Mouse.
Let’s start with the basic specs of the laptop, in my configuration there’s an Intel 7700HQ quad core Kabylake CPU which runs at 2.8GHz and can turbo up to 3.8GHz. There’s 24GB of DDR4 RAM running at 2,400MHz, and for storage there’s a 1TB Samsung M.2 PCIe SSD which runs Windows 10 Pro. Now this is where things get interesting, for the graphics there’s an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 with Max-Q design and 8GB of GDDR5 memory.
This is a great match for the 15.6 inch 120Hz 1080p IPS display, as we’ll see later in the benchmarks. For network connectivity there’s WiFi which supports 802.11AC and Bluetooth 4.1. As the laptop is so thin there’s no RJ45 ethernet port built in, however it does come with a USB to ethernet adapter. The laptop has a black metallic look to it with a copper coloured trim that runs around the outside edge. This is easily the thinnest and most powerful laptop I’ve ever reviewed. The physical dimensions of the laptop are 37.9cm in width, 26.2cm in depth, but most impressively just 1.69cm in height.
The maximum height actually increases by another 10mm when you open the lid, as the base towards the back lowers out to rise the laptop up off of the surface it’s on, which helps improve airflow while allowing the overall build to remain so thin. The total weight of the laptop is 2.26KG, and with the power brick and power cable this increases to 3.1KG.
Considering the high specs of the hardware this is very impressive, it’s definitely very portable, I’ve tested much heavier laptops that didn’t have specs close to this. As mentioned the screen is a 1080p panel, which I personally prefer at the 15 inch size. It’s also got a 120Hz refresh rate, which is perfect as we can take advantage of the serious graphics horsepower inside. As mentioned we’ve got an Nvidia 1080 here, but it’s the newer Max-Q version which performs in between a 1070 and normal 1080. As a result of the Max-Q design we use less power, which lets us use a smaller power brick.
Less power means that the laptop needs less cooling space to maintain good temps which in turn results in quieter fans, and this is how they’re able to get it so thin. We’ve also got Nvidia’s G-Sync here which keeps everything looking extremely smooth. I’ve performed my usual backlight bleed test on the display, which involves having the laptop show a completely black screen in a dark room to help emphasize any bleeding around the edges.
I then take a long exposure photo with my camera to help display any bleed, so basically this is a worst case scenario test. We can see that there does appear to be a bit of bleed around the top and towards the right, and while this will greatly vary between each laptop I must admit I thought there would be less from such a high end laptop. With that said it was minor enough that I didn’t actually notice it while playing games in a normally lit room.
The brightness of the screen can be adjusted quite a bit, and the viewing angles are fairly good thanks to the IPS panel, though the image started to change a little after moving more than 45 degrees to the left or right, up and down angles looked fine. The screen also has a matte finish to it, which I personally prefer as you can more easily see what you’re doing despite your lighting situation, as reflections are harder to see.
While moving the display I did find a little bit of flex, but nothing too bad considering the overall thinness of the laptop. Above the display is a HD camera, so it’s only capable of 720p video, it looks ok but not great. The microphone sounds fairly average, perhaps a little muffled, but I’ll let you judge for yourself.
The keyboard has taken some getting used to, as you may have noticed it’s right at the front of the laptop. This is because the majority of the hardware is all up the back. The laptop does come with a wrist rest which helps a bit, but if I was travelling with the laptop often it would be a bit of a hassle to bring everywhere, and personally I didn’t actually notice any difference with or without the wrist rest, but that’s probably just due to the way I type. While pushing down on the keyboard there was a little bit of flex, but I had no issues with this under normal use.
The keys themselves felt a little mushy to press, but I had no problems typing on it for an extended period. The keyboard also has RGB lighting which can be controlled with the ROG Aura Core software, however only a couple of effects are available. You can also only change the colours of all keys together or the WASD or QWER groups of keys, no further customization was possible, although perhaps this could change in a future software update. As a result of the keyboard placement, the touchpad is also right up the front over towards the right where the numpad would traditionally be. Don’t worry, with the touch of a button you can swap the touchpad over to a numpad which I found to work very well.
The numpad lights up red and I wasn’t able to customize this colour. This layout did take quite a bit of getting used to, while using the laptop I did find myself moving my hand to the middle of the keyboard where I expected the touchpad to be. Once you’re used to it though I found that it worked alright despite the shape, but I definitely prefered using the included ROG Strix Impact mouse. There’s a couple of built-in stereo speakers on either side of the keyboard, they actually sound pretty good as far as laptop speakers are concerned and have a decent amount of bass.
Now let’s check out the available I/O. On the left there’s the power input, HDMI 2.0 port, two USB 3.0 type A ports, and a 3.5mm audio jack. On the right there’s a USB 3.1 gen 2 Type-C over Thunderbolt port which can be used to send displayport output to an external G-Sync monitor, two more USB 3.0 type A ports, and Kensington lock. The front has nothing except some subtle ASUS branding, while the back only has some air exhaust vents with more of that copper coloured theme. There’s also some red lighting which comes out from the rear vents that appear when you open the laptop, I wasn’t able to customize the colours though. On the top of the lid there’s a nice brushed metal effect with the ROG logo which also lights up red when the laptop is on, and again I wasn’t able to customize the colour there.
Some further customization would have been nice, as there are a few different areas that are always going to be lit up red which may not match the colour you’ve set for the keyboard, not the end of the world but worth noting. Underneath I was a little surprised to find a complete lack of air intake vents, basically they’re not needed as the base of the laptop sits against the desk and when in use will create it’s own space for airflow. There’s also some rubber feet which do a good job of stopping the laptop from moving around while in use.
So as you can hopefully see, the laptop specs are pretty impressive, so let’s take a look at some benchmarks. We’ll first cover some real world gaming benchmarks followed by tests with various benchmarking tools, all benchmarks were run at a 1080p resolution. In Battlefield 1 with the Ultra preset and Direct X 11 we averaged 117 FPS. In GTA 5 with max settings and vsync disabled we got to 69 FPS. In The Witcher 3 with the Ultra preset, VSync and Hairworks disabled the laptop averaged 83 FPS. In Watchdogs 2 with the Ultra preset 60 FPS was all we were able to get.
Shadow of Mordor with ultra settings scored the highest with 154 FPS. Rise of the Tomb raider with the very high preset and Direct X 11 got 94 FPS while Direct X 12 pushed this up to 105 FPS. Ghost Recon with the ultra preset was only able to run at 50 FPS. While DOOM with the Ultra preset and OpenGL ran smoothly at 113 FPS. We can see that most games are achieving really high frame rates, even at maximum settings which really takes advantage of the 120Hz display.
Other games which became CPU bottlenecked still managed to hover around the respectable 60 FPS mark though, and let’s not forget we can turn the settings down a little to increase frame rates further if desired. Now onto the benchmarking tools, while a useful indicator note that these results are less practical compared to the real world gaming results previously shown. In Heaven benchmark with the quality set to ultra, tessellation set to extreme, and anti-aliasing set to x8, we were able to hit 93 FPS.
Valley benchmark was a little lower, with the quality set to ultra and anti-aliasing on x8 we received a score of 87 FPS. I ran both the 3DMark Fire Strike and Time Spy benchmarks and got scores of 14,013 and 5,528 respectively. Disk speeds from the Samsung PCIe SSD were also impressive, with over 3.3GB/s in sequential reads and 1.8GB/s in sequential writes. This was very noticeable while loading different games, they opened up much faster compared to the typical SATA 3 based SSD speeds that I’m used to using. As you’d expect in a laptop with limited cooling space the temperatures do get a little warm.
During idle with an ambient room temperature of 18 degrees celsius the CPU idled at 25 degrees celsius, while the GPU idled at 39 degrees celsius. While running stress tests for over an hour, both the CPU and GPU peaked at 80 degrees celsius. The laptop felt fine around the keyboard and touchpad area as the hardware is all at the back, this does however make the surface towards to back very warm, which isn’t really an issue as you won’t be resting your hands there anyway.
The bottom of the case also gets pretty warm, I wouldn’t want to use it on my lap while gaming, but that would probably be a little awkward to do with the keyboard right up the front anyway. I did actually see the GPU core clock boost to 1771MHz while under load, even once the temperature had stabilised at maximum it was still sitting above 1700MHz, so even with the Max-Q design it’s still performing quite well, and only seems to throttle back a little bit at max temperatures, and no CPU throttling was observed, but keep in mind it’s only 18 degrees celsius inside here as it’s currently winter, so this could change in a warmer environment.
Now with a laptop of this size and those temperatures you’d expect the fans to have to be working pretty hard to keep it cool as there’s not much room for heat sinks, however considering the overall form factor I think it did a pretty good job at staying quiet. At idle the laptop sat around the 27 decibel mark and I could barely hear it. While running the stress tests it went up to peak at 47 decibels, so it’s even quieter than larger laptops that don’t even have as powerful hardware that I’ve previously tested which was pretty impressive.
Now let’s talk about the major downside of the laptop, the battery life. The battery is a 4 cell 50 Watt hour battery, and with a full charge and doing basic tasks such as browsing the Internet and watching YouTube with the screen on minimum brightness, keyboard lighting off, and background apps disabled, I was only able to use it for 2 hours and 6 minutes.
While playing the Witcher 3 with medium settings the battery lasted just 45 minutes while being capped to 30 FPS with Nvidia’s BatteryBoost. To be honest this is to be expected when you consider the high end specs of the laptop and just how thin and lightweight it is compared to much larger and heavier alternatives. If you’re after a powerful laptop with large battery you’re going to want to look elsewhere at something bigger, there’s always going to be a compromise between battery life, specs, size and weight. With that said I think this does fill a great niche for users that want a laptop as a desktop replacement that’s still protable, just keep in mind that you’ll probably want to take the power brick with you wherever you go.
Another downside is the price, but hopefully by this point you’re expecting that. Powerful hardware isn’t cheap, especially when in such a small form factor. At the time of recording, the laptop appears to start at around $2700 USD, so around $3400 AUD for my Aussie viewers, but this will change depending on RAM and hard drive sizes. Overall I think that the Zephyrus is very impressive, ASUS has managed to fit some seriously powerful hardware into a small laptop which still runs fairly quiet and performs well. This does of course come at the expense of both battery life and cost, this laptop is definitely not for everyone, but if you’re after a powerful yet portable desktop replacement then this could be what you’re looking for, just be prepared to stay close to a power outlet!