The ASUS ROG Zephyrus GX501VI-XS74 utilizes Nvidia’s Max-Q approach, and the result is a cleverly designed package that sets a new bar for high-end, thin gaming laptops. The design is aesthetically exquisite, but bears the portability that makes the new approach worthwhile.
PROS: Incredibly thin GTX 1080 laptop. Innovative, quiet design. Aesthetics from the future. Excellent 120Hz G-Sync display.
CONS: Middling battery life. Only 1080p resolution. Oddly-placed touch pad.
Slim and lightweight, but incredibly powerful to rival most high-end gaming desktops. That’s the newest ASUS ROG Zephyrus GX501VI-XS74 for you –an ultra-thin gaming laptop that utilizes the latest technology to deliver class-leading gaming performance and portability. Up until now, we’ve gaming laptops trim down in weight and size, thanks to components like Nvidia’s Pascal graphics architecture that has seen insane power trickle down to trim systems, and now a new concept is moving the curb again.
The ROG Zephyrus is among the first laptops outfitted with the new generation of Max-Q design standard, that Nvidia promises to be a lot slimmer and a heck of a lot more powerful.
Where is the magic bullet, exactly? Well, Max-Q is a term drawn from aerospace engineering and refers to rockets designed for space launch. It now finds its way into gaming with focus on design, thermal and electrical solutions that pin-point towards slim gaming rigs that can fit high-end graphic cards like the GTX 1080 in ultra-thin packages, slightly thicker than your average ultrabook.
The 17-inch Razer Blade Pro and Alienware AW17R4-7352SLV-PUS are large enough to accommodate the card, but the 15-inch Zephyrus is only 0.66-inch, but now boasts the same GPU. With the new Max-Q laptops, you get powerful system that won’t break your back, making the new approach worthwhile.
Here we’re only interested in three things: The Zephyrus’ design and size vs. the raw power inside. For the first time, we’re seeing a laptop measuring 14.9 inches wide and 0.7 inches thick and weighs 4.9 pounds (like most notebooks) stuffed with a GTX 1080. The ASUS FX502VM-AS73 is a midrange 15-inch gaming laptop with GTX 1060, but weighs the same 4.9 pounds but is 14.9 inches thick and 0.9 inches wide, so it’s interesting to see a high-end GPU in an even thin laptop.
Components aside, Asus had to ensure that the svelte package gets efficient cooling. For that, they gave it an innovative design, whereby the bottom panel slopes down automatically as you open the system, making it possible for better airflow through a 6mm gap. It may not sound like much, but it does complement the well-though high-air chamber that delivers the same cooling properties as a much thicker gaming machine. On the flipside, the expandable panel may feel, rather, clumsy but it’s a fair sacrifice for portability.
Overall, the Zephyrus eschews the screamy profile, for a premium-looking design. The body is metallic black, accentuated with a brushed aluminum lid. The unobtrusive style looks and feels nice, and is a complete opposite of most ROG laptops. Notably, most machines housing GTX 1080 are relatively larger, even Razer who have a reputation of the thinnest laptops, would only fit the same GPU in a larger 17-incher laptop. A sleek design as the Zephyrus is evidence enough of well-thought engineering fete coupled with the efficiency of the new Max-Q approach flaunted by Nvidia.
Display, Keyboard and Touchpad
For the petite design, the Zephyrus comes with a 1080p display, which isn’t so sharp, but it adds 120Hz G-Sync capability. G-Sync serves to synchronize the screen’s refresh rate to meet the GPU’s visual rendering, meaning you don’t experience V-Sync latency. It gets matte finish on the screen, you no longer have to struggle with glare, though the picture comes out rather dull.
It is understandable to have a 1080p screen as it delivers better performance than QHD or 4K due to lower frame rates, but with such a powerful graphics card, we at least expected to see a QHD screen. Of course, GTX 1070 laptops with QHD screen suffer from low frame rates, but here we have enough power to display those resolutions. All said, it appears like Asus were trying a balancing act, by not including a demanding screen that would maybe compromised the Max-Q experience.
If you haven’t bumped into an oddly placed keyboard, take a quick glance. The keyboard here has been pushed right to the bottom-edge of the deck, while the space above the keyboard is being used for cooling, housing both the air holes with fans and ventilation. It will take days before you get used to the new design, but the keys themselves are well-placed, responsive with RGB backlighting, and comfortable to type on. The touchpad does get the same compromise, as it now rests on the right-edge of the keyboard, the same spot you get the Number pad on a full keyboard. It is equally responsive, with two dedicated left and right click buttons. It lacks a physical number pad, but there is a button you press and an LED number pad appears on the touch surface.
Even with a slim profile, connectivity is excellent. On the left, there are two USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI port and a headset jack. On the right, you have a USB-C port (with Thunderbolt 3), and two more USB 3.0 ports, quite decent for a thin machine. Wireless connectivity comes via 802.11ac and Bluetooth 4.2, but lack Ethernet. For storage, it gets a single 512GB NVMe PCIe SSD. It isn’t much, but it is a fast drive, double the 256GB you’ll find on most ultrabooks, though some fuse an SSD with a mechanical hard drive. It comes with Windows 10 Pro.
Having a Max-Q GTX 1080 on an ultraportable isn’t easy feat, but let it not blind you of what else lies on the inside. The Zephyrus gets a speedy 2.8GHz Intel Core i7-7700HQ processor and 16GB system memory. Memory is split into an 8GB module soldered on the motherboard, and an 8GB DIMM on one of the system’s slots. Considering its size, these components pin-point towards a top-of-the class performance system that will deliver on, anything thrown its way.
3D and gaming performance are the main consideration in any system with high-end components. For the first time, we’re seeing a 15-incher dominate the big hitters in the high-end gaming category, at unimaginable margins. The Asus ROG Zephyrus does trounce the 17-inch Razer Blade Pro in every angle, with crisp frame rates in benchmark tests and modern games, and it extends its domination to other well-configured gaming rigs.
On benchmark tests, it does score impressively (3DMark: Fire Strike Extreme: 8,524), which is slightly behind both the MSI GT73VR (10, 476) and the Razer Blade Pro (8,791), both equipped with true GTX 1080. From the benchmark results, it’s clear that GeForce GTX 1080 Max-Q is slightly strained as compared to the GeForce GTX 1080 outfitted in systems such as the Blade Pro.
A sacrifice Asus made to deliver a fast, slim and quiet system over its peers. Even with the restriction in performance to a given degree, you’re benefiting from insane power from an impressively smaller body. If you look at it broadly, the GTX 1080 in the Zephyrus leans more towards GTX 1070 in the gaming front –GTA V: (1080, Ultra) 67 fps; Mankind Divided (1080p, Ultra) 18fps, but Max-Q is making it possible to get much better performance in this tiny profile.
If there’s one area where the Zephyrus fails to impress is battery life. How do I even describe it? A well-designed, powerful gaming laptop equipped with a blah battery. Only 2 hours…maybe, maybe, with some luck a few minutes on top. It doesn’t matter the kind of applications you’d be running, or even turning off the keyboard backlight, you aren’t getting much. Anyway, gaming away from an outlet isn’t always too common, and the Zephyrus isn’t alone with a middling battery, especially with two high-end mobile components that squeeze life out of every cell. If you plan to use it for long stretches without an outlet, all I wish you is the best of luck.
A Powerful Laptop for Mobile Gamers
The ASUS ROG Zephyrus GX501VI-XS74 is an engineering feat that utilizes the new Max-Q design in creating a svelte, powerful, and incredibly quiet system. The result is an aesthetically exquisite laptop, that packs massive power than any other 15-incher available in the market today. In the portable package, you’ll be able to play games on maximum settings comfortably above 60fps, just like a high-end gaming rig.
We’ve had a chance to sample the early entrants in the Max-Q line, but we’re yearning to see the extremes manufacturers can stretch the new approach, as more machines get released into the market. So far, the Zephyrus seems like a perfection of both design and performance that makes lots of sense for anyone looking for a portable, yet powerful desktop replacement.