ASUS ROG Zephyrus S GX531GS-AH76 Review
Aside from a few exceptions, gaming laptops have always been powerful behemoths that focus or raw power without a hoot on design. Along the way came another breed of thin and portable laptops that would easily fit into your backpack, and deliver enough power for 1080p gaming. Then the ROG Zephyrus GX501 happened, a hallmark of Nvidia Max-Q laptops with technology that allows them to be up to three times thinner and faster, and things keep changing. Enter the ASUS ROG Zephyrus S GX531GS-AH76, that’s sets out to be the smallest, thinnest and quietest Nvidia Max-Q system ever created.
Thanks to newer design fusions like a trimmer body, slimmer screen bezels and thinner chassis and improved build quality, this gaming laptop easily succeeds the original Asus ROG Zephyrus GX501 from last year. And, it does so in a way that it fixes many things we didn’t like about its predecessor.
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We loved the original Asus ROG Zephyrus for its thin and light profile, yet packs enough raw power for gaming and productivity, with almost no compromise on performance. Now, the Zephyrus S looks like it offers even more to impress us. In the new iteration, Asus has chipped away at the screen bezels, toned down on thickness, resulting in a 15-inch laptop that perfectly fits in a 14-inch body. For an incredibly trim system with pinpointed performance, it easily joins a rare category where the Dell XPS 15 and Gigabyte Aero 15 X exist.
The new Zephyrus S is a smidge thinner than its predecessor, measuring 0.62 x 14.17 x 10.6 inches (HWD), while the original Zephyrus was wider and thicker at 0.7 x 14.9 x 10.3 inches (HWD). Asus has also shed off some weight on the GX531GS-AH76, down from 4.85 pounds to 4.63 pounds in the new version. Apart from being a smaller version over last year’s model, the laptop has undergone some noticeable designs milestones.
For instance, it gets a silhouetted hinge-forward design whereby this 15-inch notebook gets a bit of a rear lip once you open the screen – something similar to what you’d find on the Alienware 15. Still on that, there is a pair of little arms joining the screen to the main chassis sporting a cabinet-style hideaway hinge, similar to the HP Spectre 13’s hinge design.
All said, the Asus ROG Zephyrus S takes honors as the most sophisticated-looking gaming laptop, with a futuristic styling and the signature copper trimmed black body. Just like its predecessor, it features an Active Aerodynamic System, that simply opens up and lowers part of the machine’s base to increase airflow.
The mechanism engages by default once you open the screen lid as was on the original Zephyrus, only that it is now a little smaller. The bottom panel has been reinforced and you now don’t have a flimsy AAS panel, which is something we didn’t like in the previous iteration. And, instead f using plastic for the bottom panel, Asus opted for a sturdier magnesium alloy in its newest gaming laptop.
Outside of the Max-Q design, the Zephyrus S includes a host of other nice features. It gets thinner screen bezel that have been cut by almost half: 7.7mm bezels in the Zephyrus S against the original Zephyrus’ 15.7mm bezels. Even with the great improvements in thin bezels and overall weight, the machine still uses the same 15.6-inch 1,920 x 1,080 Full HD panel like its predecessor, but it now runs at 144Hz against last year’s model that features a 120HZ G-Sync display. Its 1080p display isn’t particularly sharp or vibrant, but we’re impressed by the super-fast 3ms response time.
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 compromise the Max-Q experience.
Even with a slim profile, the Zephyrus does get a share of useful I/O options. However, I still have issue with the decision to drop the Ethernet port and Thunderbolt 3. While every system has a few sacrifices that one has to make in getting a thin laptop, at least Thunderbolt 3 should have remained somehow. You get two USB 3.1 Type-C ports (Gen 2), one USB 3.1 Type C port (Gen 1), two USB 2.0 ports, an HDMI port and a 3.5mm audio jack.
Wireless connectivity comes via 802.11ac and Bluetooth 5.0, 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.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The Zephyrus S’ AURA Sync 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. However, it lacks the husky bite we’ve experience typing on the Acer Predator Triton 700.
The touchpad is also side-oriented, 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. The touchpad is regrettably small for my liking and requires a few swipes begore the cursor pops on the screen.
The Asus ROG Zephyrus S GX531GS-AH76 is equipped with a Coffee Lake Intel Core i7-8750H CPU, Nvidia GTX 1070 Max-Q GPU and 16GB RAM, which is the same specification you find on the Razer Blade, MSI GS65 Stealth Thin and many other thin-and-light gaming laptops. That’s top-notch hardware for any system, and its even more impressive when you remember this one’s size. On general productivity and multimedia projects, the Zephyrus S will definitely score well, and the diminutive size makes it a carry-along laptop for even work or college.
As configured, it’s clearly one of the fastest laptops outside of workstations for multitasking, crunching data, encoding videos and other tasks. Unfortunately, in the spirit of making the Zephyrus S thinned than its rivals, it can no longer support the high-end Nvidia GTX 1080 Max-Q graphics card as a configurable option. This leaves us with the Acer Predator Triton 700 and Alienware 15 as our only option that support Nvidia’s most powerful and thinnest mobile GPU.
It shouldn’t surprise you that the newest Zephyrus S is a beast when it comes to both computing prowess and graphics performance. To be honest, we expect that much for a machine that costs this much, the same way we expect for rival like the Razer Blade 15 and MSI GS65 Stealth Thin, both with the same CPU and GPU options. The Zephyrus will definitely maintain parity in performance, and even outpace some buy a few frames per second (fps) on modern titles like Total War: Warhammer II (63fps) and ME: Shadow of War (74fps), both at 1080p-Ultra settings.
However, for all of Asus’s impressive efforts to better cool its flagship thinner and lighter laptop, we are yet to see an ultraportable that doesn’t get hot at high RPMs. This time round, Asus developed a new class of low-profile blades and fans cut from special liquid-crystal polymer that don’t flex at high RPMs. The company claims that each blade measures 0.22mm at the thickest point and they increased the number from 71 to 83. Maybe they are succeeding in cooling the system better, but it remains to be seen how quiet the fans can get at their maximum setting in such a small laptop.
Asus uses a 4-cell 50WHr battery, and the prospects here are damn alarming. This is the same battery we saw on the original Zephyrus, and it only managed to crack a maximum of two hours at its best. It is a black mark for such an awesome system, and we expected it to get better. Frankly, gaming laptops are notorious for short life off the charger, but the trend has been reversing, affecting both ultraportables and power-hungry behemoths. Thus, gaming off the switch is possible but it doesn’t seem to be an option in the Zephyrus and its ilk. A big shame that contradicts its portability.
The Bottom Line
The Asus ROG Zephyrus S sets outs to be a better, futuristic laptop with significant improvements over its predecessor from last year, including a smaller overall profile, a more responsive screen and sturdier build quality. We do love the design changes, and the inclusion of Intel’s Coffee Lake H-Series brings it up to speed with other thin-and-light gaming laptops.
While we are fans of everything this laptop has to offer, we’re still not sure about some of the decisions Asus made here, especially limiting this laptop to Nvidia GTX 1070 Max-Q as its pinnacle graphics option. And, we’re once again worried that the battery will most likely peak at two hours, which is an issue carried over from the original Zephyrus and other competing thin-and-light gaming laptops. Simply put, it is raining everywhere when it comes to battery life, the Dell Alienware 15 or MSI GS65 Stealth Thin aren’t any better either.
That said, it’s a bit early to predict whether the newly released Asus ROG Zephyrus S will rise to the top of gaming laptops, but we’re certain that it is certainly one of the best thin-and-light gaming laptops to represent what’s possible with the Max-Q design.
Even if there are a few caveats (which I can personally overlook), the new Asus ROG Zephyrus S GX531GS-AH76 is aesthetically tasteful, packs a significant chunk of power, and sets a gold standard for what a Max-Q designed 15-inch gaming laptop should and could be. If you’re in the market for a powerful desktop replacement laptop, that’s capable both as a gaming machine and productivity system, this one is just worth it.