Asus ROG Zephyrus GX501

Up until now, there have been two classes of : big and powerful or thin and portable. Never the twain shall meet and forget about either of them being quiet while you’re gaming.

Well, now we’re entering a new generation of Max-Q laptops that Nvidia promises will be three-times thinner and faster. The Asus ROG Zephyrus GX501 stands at the forefront of this new class of gaming machine that offers the power of a desktop replacement in an ultra-portable package a little thicker than your average .

As crazy as a concept that might sound, Asus pulled it off in spectacular fashion with the Asus ROG Zephyrus GX501. Save for battery life, this gaming laptop comes second to none with a sharp and innovative design, ample gaming performance, a color-rich display and amazing speakers.

We've now updated our review with a video that looks at some of the best features of the Asus ROG Zephyrus GX501, which you can view below.

Price and availability

The Asus ROG Zephyrus is expensive – really expensive. Priced at $2,699 or AU$3,659 (about £2,105), the configuration we’ve reviewed is highest-end version of the Zephyrus you can get.

It’s far more than we’ve ever conscionably considered spending on a 15-inch gaming laptop, especially considering increasingly more affordable models like the $1,399 (£1,499, AU$2,249) Gigabyte SabrePro 15 and $1,399 (about £1,100, AU$1,840) Acer Predator Helios 300 – though, these two options come with lesser Nvidia GTX 1060 graphics.

Of course, a big part of that price point comes down to the laptop rocking an Nvidia GTX 1080 and quad-core Intel Core i7 processor. In this regard, it’s a few hundred bucks cheaper than the equally capable $2,999 (£2,999, AU$4,029) .

Compared to far larger gaming laptops that were once required to achieve the same level of performance, the Zephyrus also proves itself to be a bargain over the $3,999 (£3,799, AU$5,899) and $2,899 or £2,599 (about AU$3,770) . That said, these monster machines still have their place in the computing world, if you want an overclockable CPU.

Later this August, Asus plans on releasing a lower-end Zephyrus with half as much storage and an Nvidia GTX 1070 for $2,299 or AU$3,119 (about £1,790). This model would more directly compete with the $2,074 (£1,999, AU$3,499) and Max-Q designed – the latter of which has yet to be priced.

Design

We never thought it would be possible, but the Asus ROG Zephyrus GX501 really stuffs an Nvidia GTX 1080 into a 1.79cm-thick (0.7-inch) laptop. That’s not only stunningly thin for a gaming notebook, it’s slimmer than most traditional laptops, including the compact Dell XPS 15.

To efficiently cool such a svelte package, Asus came up with an innovative design, which sees the bottom panel drop down like a ramp for better airflow. The mechanism engages automatically as you open the Zephyrus, creating a 6mm gap. 

That might not sound like a terribly great contribution to airflow, but Asus has engineered a high-air chamber to give this ultra-thin gaming laptop the cooling properties of a much thicker machine.

One downside to this expandable panel is it ends up feeling flimsy. The underside extension bends to the touch and there’s a slightly springy step to the laptop when your place it on a desk. That said, you won’t really notice the issue outside of carrying around the GX501 from beneath while the screen is open.

Gimmicks and accolades aside, the Zephyrus is a damn gorgeous piece of machinery. Asus has gone for a distinctly squared-off design for the metal chassis. Then, the all-black exterior with copper trim adds up to a sharp, futuristic aesthetic. The screen lid of the GX501 draws your eyes in with a uniquely geometric design coupled with a brushed aluminum finish that fans out in two directions.

Branding on gaming laptops is usually something we tend to just ignore, but the use of the prominent ROG logos over text on the exterior and interior of the laptop are nice touches, too.

Between the overall aesthetics of the laptop and its transforming design, the Zephyrus looks like a gaming laptop pulled from the future, and we love the way it looks.

Business in front, party in the back

As part of the Zephyrus design, Asus opted to move all the components and cooling system to the rear of the laptop while migrating all the inputs to the front. It’s an arrangement we’ve seen on the MSI GT83VR Titan and Razer Blade Pro, and like those previous systems, it works well enough but not without some compromises.

The keyboard feels roomy with large keys despite having to share space with the side-oriented trackpad. There’s a decent amount of travel when hitting the keys, and a soft, mechanical note to go with it. However, the Zephyrus lacks the mechanical bite we’ve experienced typing on the Acer Predator Triton 700.

Since there isn’t any room for a palm rest, Asus includes a rubber wrist rest that sits right up against the laptop’s front lip. Unfortunately, this extra accessory gets grimy very quickly – even after just a few minutes of usage.

The extra palm rest also doesn’t make it any more comfortable to type with the laptop on your lap. Due to how close the keyboard is to the end of the notebook, you’ll have orient your hands in a T-Rex-like fashion to type anything.

The right-side touchpad also takes a little bit of getting used to. We still catch ourselves accidentally stumbling over the keyboard instead of the pointing device we intended to use. The touchpad itself is also a little too small for our liking and requires multiple swipes to move the cursor across the screen.

It’s good news, then, that Asus went with a glass-lined Microsoft Precision Touchpad that tracks perfectly and handles multi-touch gestures well despite accommodating no more than  three fingers.

We also much prefer this to the Acer Predator Triton 700’s touchpad, which is planted directly in the center and behind the keyboard. The pointing device on the Zephyrus also comes with the handy feature of converting into a digital number pad with the press of a button.

You might be thinking that there’s no way this lightweight gaming laptop could slug it out with the big hitters – but this plucky 15-inch machine actually trounces the most powerful systems we’ve ever tested.

The Asus ROG Zephyrus wholly dominates the Razer Blade Pro in every test with scores hundreds of points ahead in both processor and graphics benchmarks. Conversely, though, the significantly larger and thicker MSI GT73VR Titan pulls ahead of the GX501 with higher 3DMark scores, but we also see in actual games it hits an average frame rate that’s a few ticks lower.

Although all the systems we’ve compared have an Nvidia GTX 1080 with 8GB of GDDR5X video memory, the Zephyrus’ Max-Q designed GPU differs slightly in that it’s runs at a lower wattage and clock speed. A traditional Nvidia GTX 1080 delivers 150W of graphics power with a base block speed of 1,556MHz, meanwhile, the Max-Q variant runs between 90-110W with clock speeds between 1,101MHz and 1,290MHz.

On paper, the Max-Q designed Zephyrus should theoretically perform worse than a traditional gaming laptop, but Asus has managed to tune its thinnest 15-inch gaming laptop run just as well, if not better.

What’s even more impressive is how much more quietly GX501 runs than most gaming laptops this potent. Instead of sounding like a jet, the Zephyrus only gets as loud as a light breeze, quieter than the fan or AC vent cooling your room right now. With simpler tasks, like web browsing and streaming media, this 15-inch gaming laptop is also practically silent.

Loud and clear

With such a quietly running gaming laptop, you can fully appreciate the solid speakers Asus has incorporated into the Zephyrus. Two speakers sit on the sides of the keyboard, delivering loud and balanced sound great for listening to anything from music and movies to explosions in games.

The screen deserves plenty of notice, too. Although it’s only Full HD, you’ll be able to make full usage of all of the Zephyrus’ overwhelming power to run games at a doubly smooth frame rate of 120fps. Both in games and out, we love the vibrant colors and rich contrast the GX501’s display renders.

Battery life

The only thing that’s not impressive about the Asus ROG Zephyrus is its maximum battery life of 2 hours. Regardless of however few applications we ran at the same time, or turning off the keyboard backlight, we weren’t able to squeeze any more battery life out of the GX501. Best of luck with getting more than an hour while gaming, holding a video call or doing anything strenuous while the laptop is unplugged.

Just two hours of battery life is terribly short for any type of laptop, but honestly, it doesn’t come as much of a surprise. The laptop features two of the highest-end, most power-demanding mobile components you can fit into a 15-inch chassis. With everything pushed into the rear chamber, that means the only room for batteries at all is just beneath the keyboard and trackpad, only further limited by the thinness of the notebook.

We liked

The Asus ROG Zephyrus is a stunning engineering feat, unequivocally powerful, dramatically quieter and a gorgeous gaming laptop. Thanks to its innovative design, Asus has managed to make an ultra-thin machine that operates better than machines twice to even three times its size. Then, to back up its performance, the GX501 features an excellent screen and speakers.

It is, in a word, the ‘pinnacle’ of Asus' already impressive line of ROG gaming laptops and clearly the culmination of years of design and hardware innovation.

We disliked

As much as we love the Zephyrus, Asus also made a few unforgivable concessions, with a keyboard that practically requires you to carry around a wrist pad that is unusable on your lap. Then, the short battery life also means this extremely portable gaming laptop needs almost constant power connection.

Final verdict

The Asus ROG Zephyrus sets a high bar for what a Max-Q designed gaming laptop should and could be. Our expectations of a 15-inch gaming notebook have been dramatically widened by the performance, beauty and sound profile of the GX501.

Still, $2,699 or AU$3,659 (about £2,105) is unquestionably a ton of money to drop on a gaming laptop, but if you’re looking for this much performance in a portable package, you should be ready to spend this much anyway. For this reason, the Asus ROG Zephyrus shouldn’t be expected to be your only computer for both work and gaming that can be used anywhere.

Naturally, the Zephyrus makes a lot of sense for those looking for a desktop replacement, since it’s just as capable while being dramatically lighter, smaller and thinner.

Kevin Lee
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