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Hands-on with the ASUS ROG Zephyrus: A new breed of slim and very, very powerful notebooks
By Koh Wanzi - 8 Jul 2017,11:52am

Hands-on with the ASUS ROG Zephyrus: A new breed of slim and very, very powerful notebooks

ASUS ROG Zephyrus

As it turns out, you can have your cake and eat it too. When you have something as thin as ASUS’ ROG Zephyrus GX501, and still have it pack an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080, you start to wonder how you ever put up with thick and bulky gaming notebooks of the past.

The ranks of slim and powerful notebooks have been swelling – we’ve seen new models from Aftershock, Acer, and Gigabyte – but those have packed just a modest GeForce GTX 1060. The latter serves up gaming performance in spades, but the fact that these sub-20mm notebooks never featured even a GeForce GTX 1070 meant that the trade-off between form and performance was still there, albeit to a lesser extent.

Up until now that is.

Earlier today, NVIDIA announced its Max-Q technology, which could relegate the days of thick and powerful notebooks to the past. In a nutshell, Max-Q has NVIDIA take the reins in things like laptop design, software drivers, and of course the physical GPU.

ASUS ROG Zephyrus

This ground-up approach has allowed NVIDIA and its hardware partners to make some under-the-hood refinements that enable far greater efficiency. So while the Pascal GPUs in Max-Q laptops are technically the same parts as older iterations, they will now work in far slimmer designs.

The ROG Zephyrus may be one of the first notebooks to benefit from Max-Q (the MSI GS63VR Stealth Pro now fits a GeForce GTX 1070), but it matters more as a hopeful example of the things to come than as a standalone product.

That’s not to say it isn’t exciting. It pairs its NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 card with a 120Hz FHD G-Sync display, so you get to enjoy blistering and butter-smooth performance.

To recap, here’s a look at its very impressive specifications:

  • 15.6-inch 1,920 x 1,080-pixel 120Hz G-Sync matte display
  • Intel Core i7-7700HQ (2.8GHz, 6MB L3 cache)
  • Up to 24GB of DDR4 2,400MHz RAM
  • NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080
  • Up to a 1TB PCIe M.2 SSD
  • 379 x 262 x 17.9-16.9mm
  • 2.2kg

  

It features a tapering design, so it actually measures just 16.9mm at its thinnest point.

ASUS ROG Zephyrus

In the flesh, the ROG Zephyrus is as stunning as it promises to be on paper. It is all straight, angular lines, which make for a pleasing utilitarian look that belies the performance it is capable of serving up.

In a way, it feels like a fresh start. This is the first of a new line of petite notebooks, and it’s only right that it looks different from the ROG notebooks that came before it.

The lid sports a brushed metal finish and is bifurcated diagonally by an asymmetrical line that helps break the monotony that afflicts the overdone brushed metal look. The devil’s in the details as well, and if you look closely, you’ll see that the “grain” of the metal runs in different directions once you cross the line.

ASUS ROG Zephyrus

The most striking thing about the Zephyrus is probably the front-mounted keyboard. The main reason for this is cooling – a far larger and more efficient thermal apparatus is needed to cool the GeForce GTX 1080 in such a slim chassis, and the only way to do that was to move the keyboard to the front in order to make space toward the rear.

The cooling system occupies almost half of the notebook, and it comprises heat pipes and dual fans with ultra-thin 0.3mm blades made from the same liquid crystal polymer found in ASUS’ ZenBooks.

The upper-half of the notebook’s base is also perforated, and serves as an added intake vent for cool air. Cool air is drawn through the back and bottom of the notebook as well. On top of that, the bottom panel even drops down slightly like the drawbridge to a spaceship when the hinge is raised, further boosting air flow.

ASUS ROG Zephyrus

In turn, hot air is expelled from dual vents at the rear and left of the laptop.

The cooling system also differs from more traditional designs in terms of the path that cool air takes when it enters the machine. In a regular notebook, cold air would have to pass through certain components first, so it’d actually be quite a bit warmer when it came to cooling the CPU and GPU.

On the other hand, the design of the Zephyrus means that cool air goes straight to where it is needed right away, and it’s able to dispel heat more efficiently.

The keyboard also feels surprisingly good, and there was decent travel and a nice bounce to the keys. The trackpad is more narrow than most folks will be used to, and its placement at the right of the keyboard will definitely need some getting used to.

ASUS ROG Zephyrus

However, this is actually something that more manufacturers are daring to implement, as seen with the Razer Blade Pro and Acer Triton 700. If you’re going to use the laptop as intended – that is, for gaming – chances are that you’re not going to mind the trackpad placement.

In fact, you may even prefer it as the keyboard now mimics the feel of regular standalone keyboards as your palm now hangs off the edge instead of resting on a palm rest that could get hot. You’ll also definitely be using a mouse to navigate, so the trackpad becomes a non-issue.

Another nice touch is the trackpad’s ability to double up as a number pad. Hitting a toggle button calls up outlines of the numpad keys, and you can go to town on your Excel sheets if you really need to.

ASUS ROG Zephyrus

Finally, there’s a good selection of ports and connectors, with a total of four USB 3.1 (Gen 1) Type-A ports, one Thunderbolt 3 port, a full-sized HDMI 2.0 connector, and a headphone and microphone combo jack.

ASUS ROG Zephyrus

ASUS ROG Zephyrus

However, the Zephyrus isn’t quite a utopian fantasy yet. There’s been scant mention of battery life, both on ASUS’ and NVIDIA’s end. The Zephyrus packs a 50Wh battery, which seems painfully small, so we’ll really have to test it out to see how good (or bad) it is.

There’s also no mention of price, but you can bet that the notebook and its ilk will not be cheap.

Note: This article was first published on 31st May 2017.

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