The baseline for an efficient gaming laptop has gotten sky-high, with even under-$ 1,000 budget systems offering strong full-HD gaming performance. That’s leading laptop makers to experiment with form factors to push the category further. And no such experiment is as grand as the astronomically priced Asus ROG Mothership GZ700 ($ 6,499.99). This massive 17-inch desktop-replacement laptop is a surprise convertible in waiting, with a retractable kickstand and a detachable keyboard. Alas, its size and dual power bricks make it cumbersome, and its performance, while strong, doesn’t top much cheaper (though still pricey) heavyweight competitors. We see it as a nifty proof of concept, but we can’t recommend spending that much hard-earned money on it right now. The Alienware Area-51m and the Acer Predator Helios 700 remain our top picks for unique, max-power 17-inch gaming laptops.
A 17-Inch Convertible Monster
The form factor is the real focus of the Mothership, but first a note on its aesthetic. It syncs up with the looks of many other Asus Republic of Gamers (ROG) laptops, with bronze accents on the logo and vents, geometric patterns for decoration, and some RGB lighting. The lighting on the front panel beneath the display is very cool-looking, hidden the way it is behind a mesh of copper and plastic. When the lights change to give off the appearance of motion, it’s a neat effect. You won’t see it when the keyboard is attached to the laptop, though, as it will be hidden beneath the keyboard deck. There are more LEDs underneath the kickstand, and while you can’t see those directly, the lighting reflects nicely onto the desk or table in darker environments.
Whether closed in its clamshell form or fully open, it’s clear that the Mothership is a massive laptop. The 17.3-inch screen is framed by a hulking black metal frame, and the chassis measures 1.17 by 16.1 by 12.6 inches (HWD). That alone makes it daunting to tote, though most 17-inch laptops sacrifice portability for performance and screen size.
Even accounting for that context, though, the Mothership occupies a rare size tier with only a handful of other laptops. It weighs in at 10.5 pounds, and includes not one, but two power bricks that bump the total weight up to 14.5 pounds. Other ultra-heavyweight competitors like the Alienware Area-51m, the Aorus 17, and the MSI GT76 Titan DT also require two bricks, but few beyond this group do.
As we said when analyzing those laptops, two bricks are a pretty huge inconvenience. I wrote in the Aorus 17 review that dual bricks are a borderline disqualifying feature for a laptop, given how much it hampers mobility, and I’d say the same here. These are already big, heavy machines, and adding two bricks makes them portable in a technical, not practical, sense. You’d need a whole separate bag just to travel with this laptop and its chargers, and there’s a good chance that bag will be the heaviest thing you carry. Yes, it’s technically portable compared to a desktop, but I can’t imagine transporting this laptop with any sort of frequency. In a pinch, or if you’ll be away from home for a long time, it can be moved, but it’s really a hassle.
On that note, we come to the core conceit of the Mothership. This behemoth of a gaming laptop is technically a convertible, able to transform into a (massive) sort-of-tablet. It does this by way of a detachable keyboard, unique among gaming laptops. Like smaller detachable-hybrid machines, a rear kickstand (in this case, a huge one the width of the system) allows you to prop it up even after you pull the keyboard away.
How does this work, exactly? The keyboard is attached like many 2-in-1s, where both a magnetic latch and plastic tabs hold it in place on the chassis. The best, like the Microsoft Surface Pro 7, have just a reliable magnetic lock; lining up plastic tabs into their slots tends to be more finicky than necessary. On a keyboard this big, though, I understand the need to secure it more firmly. Pulling it off the laptop is easy—perhaps too easy, which I’ll get to in a moment—and placing the bottom of the laptop against the desk automatically extends the kickstand. A switch on the keyboard itself turns the power (and thus the wireless connection with home base) on and off. You can flip the back half of the keyboard beneath the section with the keys on it to make the keyboard footprint smaller. Leaning it up tent-like looks nice, but you can’t really use it in this way, as it will move or collapse with pressure.
The hinge that holds these connections can rotate, making lining up the slots with the chassis tricky. If you don’t do it from the right angle (I find directly from above to be the most reliable), it won’t snap into place, so it may take a few tries to reattach. The connection is solid while it’s in use, but whenever I picked up the Mothership to move it around the office, the keyboard ended up detaching in my hands. You can’t lift from the bottom, how you normally would pick up a laptop. This forced me to carry it awkwardly, in two parts, or fully close it to prevent that from happening.
The purpose of this whole design is to add a rare layer of convertibility to a fully powered gaming laptop. All of the laptop’s guts and cooling are thus in the display portion of the machine, so it can keep playing at full power with the keyboard attached, which is why it’s so thick. This engineering is also a major part why this system is so very, very expensive. It does run relatively cool (and somewhat quiet for its power, though it’s definitely audible). The ROG Intelligent Cooling manages the thermal output efficiently for when you need it, which prevents revving while idle and delivers power when gaming. The standing design, meanwhile, should improve performance via more open airflow, though as you’ll see in the test results, the effects were not in line with the giant price.
Does It Work? The Design Challenges
The burning question, then, is what are the advantages of this design? The short answer is that there are few, if any, that are apparent to me, and the need to justify the huge cost is always looming overhead.
For a longer answer, the concept is functional on a physical and technical level, but the more you think about potential realistic use cases, the faster the idea falls apart. The convertibility is not overtly useful, since you can’t use this laptop in a practical fashion in any of the places or situations a 2-in-1 would usually shine. (The screen is not a touch screen, in any event.)
The laptop is so big and heavy that taking it anywhere will be a rarity, which pulls the entire concept into question. It won’t work on your lap, nor find a good home on an airplane tray, most coffee-shop tables, or a classroom. It would be huge load to lug to any of these places in the first place, and you’d be the person getting stares and side-eye in seat 23E.
It’s comical to think of pulling this behemoth out in a coffee shop or even an airport, let alone having enough room to lean back with the keyboard or place both the keyboard and the laptop itself on a surface. In almost every travel scenario, I would rather have a slim but powerful gaming laptop. (Plenty exist!) The 2-in-1 form factor could be useful in smaller, more portable gaming laptops, but traditional clamshell designs already solve the problem of portable gaming better.
I don’t think Asus expects you to use it as you would a 2-in-1, but rather, set it up as a desktop when you arrive at your destination. It actually makes more sense if you think of it as a nominally portable gaming all-in-one desktop. But at home, you may as well have a less expensive and far-superior-value traditional desktop PC if you’re not going to move it from your desk. Or a gaming laptop with the same convertibility, but that isn’t extra thick, heavy, and too wide for most surfaces and your lap, would be a more legitimate way forward.
If the convertibility itself isn’t that useful, what about the advantages of the removable keyboard? It’s a neat feature, and, at the very least, you can see the base appeal of the idea easily. Being able to pull the keyboard free lets you lean back or sit at a distance while still controlling the system. It also allows you to play games with the keyboard at a sharp angle while keeping the display straight on, like many hardcore gamers do with desktop USB keyboards.
To that end, it does work, but again the use cases make me wonder how it’s better than an existing solution. You’ll rarely have enough room while traveling to use this in any practical way. I suppose you could prop it on a desk or table that has limited space, and then use the keyboard on your lap. But where do you use a mouse? What could you realistically use it for, that a normal laptop wouldn’t work as well or better? Using the Mothership with its kickstand and the keyboard removed works for media consumption, but not gaming, at which point any other device is more practical. As such, if you’re mostly using the Mothership at your desk (for the many reasons mentioned), you may as well use your preferred USB keyboard. (If you’re buying a $ 6,499 laptop, I’ll assume the price of a keyboard isn’t too big of a hurdle.)
The keys on the Mothership’s detachable keyboard are also nothing special, so it’s not hard to think users would favor a good USB gaming keyboard, anyway. The keys are not mechanical (the keyboard is pretty thin, so such switches wouldn’t be possible), and they offer a merely okay typing experience. The keys have a decent amount of travel, but no tactile feedback. They are individually backlit with customizable per-key lighting, which you can tweak in the included software. The narrow touchpad is on the far right side of the keyboard, as we’ve seen with some Asus ROG Zephyrus laptops. Also like those, a button can turn the touchpad into a touch-based number pad, with LED backlights turning it into a numbered grid. The touchpad location may throw you off the first few times you reach for it, but eventually you get used to it.
Despite the otherwise sturdy build, there’s some noticeable keyboard flex in normal use. It’s not quite under the keys themselves, but in the unsupported empty space between the edge of the keyboard and where it’s attached to the laptop, there’s some visible sagging when pressure is applied. Between the ho-hum typing experience and the flex, it’s underwhelming for the size and price of the laptop. All of these are more reasons to think users may prefer a USB keyboard at home, which, once again, undermines the whole concept.
Ports, Components…and That Price Tag
Last but not least on the exterior, we have the port selection. There are quite a few spread around the large chassis, starting with the left flank’s three USB 3.1 ports, a USB Type-C port with Thunderbolt 3 support, headset and mic jacks, and an Ethernet jack. On the right are one more USB 3.1 port, a USB-C port with DisplayPort 1.4 output enabled (but no Thunderbolt 3 support), an HDMI port, and an SD card slot.
Then we come to the internal components, which, like the form factor, somewhat (but not quite) justify the enormous price. This unit includes an Intel Core i9-9980HK, 64GB of memory, 1.5TB of SSD storage (in the form of three 512GB M.2 drives in RAID 0, so they’re usable as one drive), and an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 GPU. The GPU is not a tuned-down Max-Q version, but the full-powered mobile version. Normally, Max-Q down-tuning is required to fit high-end graphics into thin laptops, but since the Mothership has ample room for thermals and cooling, the full gorilla is on tap. As you’ll see, this leads to superior performance to most gaming laptops, one clear advantage of the system’s size.
The display on our model is a full HD (1080p) 144Hz IPS panel, though there is also a 60Hz 4K option. For gaming, the high-refresh version is preferable in my opinion, but at the same time it does feel like such a powerful and pricey laptop should have a screen with a higher native resolution than 1080p. A high-refresh 1440p display may be the sweet spot, as it is for some hardcore desktop gamers, but that is not an option.
These components are no doubt high-end, better than you’ll find in virtually any laptop, but it’s still clear you’re paying quite the premium for the form factor. The Aorus 17 features the same CPU and GPU, with a 240Hz display, but is priced at $ 3,699—far from cheap, but a “bargain” compared to the Mothership. The Alienware Area-51m features the same GPU and the full desktop i9-9900K chip for $ 4,410. The Mothership has fancy thermals and other features contributing to the cost, in addition to the convertibility, but this is not a good (or particularly fair) value by any stretch.
This also compelled me to see how much an equivalent (or even superior) desktop would run you. I’ll note that laptops usually come out looking worse compared to desktops because of the added costs of miniaturizing the parts for a laptop chassis, the thermal engineering, and the included display. Even so, the discrepancy here is huge.
I priced out a desktop on Newegg, not attempting to be particularly frugal and picking the nicer parts where I had plenty of options. For $ 2,877, I put together a build that’s easily superior to the Mothership for half the price. It includes a full-desktop GeForce RTX 2080 graphics card, a Core i9-9900K CPU (a better chip than the mobile-grade H-series Core i9 the Mothership), 64GB of memory, a 2TB SSD (500GB more than the Mothership), a closed-loop liquid CPU cooler, and a 1440p, 144Hz monitor that’s FreeSync and G-Sync compatible (better than the laptop’s screen in both resolution and features). That price also includes the cost of a nicer-than-average case, and the requisite power supply and motherboard for these parts.
Obviously, a desktop isn’t portable at all, so the Mothership has that advantage, and I am acknowledging that it’s expensive to build an all-metal convertible laptop. Even then, that’s an extremely nice desktop with a good gaming monitor for less than half the price. Asus never claimed to be making a value play here—I’m sure it doesn’t expect to sell many of these—and I understand its proof-of-concept nature. Still, it is an actual product you can spend money on, so it’s fair to assess what you’re getting.
On that note, let’s find out what its objectively power-packed components can do.
Testing: Fast, But Not the Fastest UFO
For the sake of performance testing comparisons, I gathered the most similar competitor laptops I could find. At this power and price tier, that’s a small group, but we at PCMag review enough niche machines that this was possible. Below is a cheat sheet with their names and specs…
I’ve mentioned most of these through the review, as they’re as similar to the Mothership as you’ll get. What you see is what you get, for the most part—all big, powerful machines with high-end parts. There are no Max-Q GPUs in the field here, such is the size of these laptops, but there is a nice mix of processors. The biggest form-factor innovator here apart from the Mothership’s convertibility is the Predator Helios 700’s sliding keyboard, which offers a more desktop-like experience and advanced cooling. This is all about the performance, though, so let’s see how they stack up.
Productivity, Storage, and Media Tests
PCMark 10 and 8 are holistic performance suites developed by the PC benchmark specialists at UL (formerly Futuremark). The PCMark 10 test we run simulates different real-world productivity and content-creation workflows. We use it to assess overall system performance for office-centric tasks such as word processing, spreadsheet jockeying, web browsing, and videoconferencing. The test generates a proprietary numeric score; higher numbers are better. PCMark 8, meanwhile has a Storage subtest that we use to assess the speed of the boot drive(s). This score is also a proprietary numeric score; again, higher numbers are better.
It should go without saying that all of these laptops have a very high baseline score on PCMark 10, more than capable of everyday home and office tasks. The Mothership isn’t exactly leading the pack here, but it’s still plenty efficient. This test tends to show diminishing returns on very high-end chips compared to the more strenuous media tests that follow, but the desktop-grade Core i9-9900K still proved best. Its storage is fast, but the results are very closely bunched together. Any PCI Express SSD will give you snappy load and boot times, as is the case here, and PCMark 8 does not distinguish much among these fast SSDs, or even RAID-striped SSDs, as the Mothership has.
Next is Maxon’s CPU-crunching Cinebench R15 test, which is fully threaded to make use of all available processor cores and threads. Cinebench stresses the CPU rather than the GPU to render a complex image. The result is a proprietary score indicating a PC’s suitability for processor-intensive workloads.
Cinebench is often a good predictor of our Handbrake video-editing trial, another tough, threaded workout that’s highly CPU-dependent and scales well with cores and threads. In it, we put a stopwatch on test systems as they transcode a standard 12-minute clip of 4K video (the open source Blender demo movie Tears of Steel) to a 1080p MP4 file. It’s a timed test, and lower results are better.
We also run a custom Adobe Photoshop image-editing benchmark. Using an early 2018 release of the Creative Cloud version of Photoshop, we apply a series of 10 complex filters and effects to a standard JPEG test image. We time each operation and, at the end, add up the total execution time. As with Handbrake, lower times are better here.
If you’re feeling underwhelmed given the cost of this laptop, I don’t blame you. Clearly this is a gaming-first machine, so don’t judge it mainly on these more content-creation-focused benchmarks. The results are good, as you’d hope, but not the best. It’s tied for the slowest Handbrake time, posted the third-best Cinebench result, and tied for the third-best Photoshop time. There’s only so much a given manufacturer can push each processor in a laptop chassis, so these results were in large part decided when the chip was chosen. In the case of the laptops with full desktop Intel Core i9 chips (Alienware, MSI), their victories were assured. The Mothership is not a particularly good dollar-for-performance value on this front.
3DMark measures relative graphics muscle by rendering sequences of highly detailed, gaming-style 3D graphics that emphasize particles and lighting. We run two different 3DMark subtests, Sky Diver and Fire Strike, which are suited to different types of systems. Both are DirectX 11 benchmarks, but Sky Diver is more suited to laptops and midrange PCs, while Fire Strike is more demanding and made for high-end PCs to strut their stuff. The results are proprietary scores.
Next up is another synthetic graphics test, this time from Unigine Corp. Like 3DMark, the Superposition test renders and pans through a detailed 3D scene and measures how the system copes. In this case, it’s rendered in the company’s eponymous Unigine engine, offering a different 3D workload scenario than 3DMark, for a second opinion on the machine’s graphical prowess.
On these benchmarks, the Mothership draws about even with the other top dogs. (I’ll spare repeating myself about the expectations given the cost.) The graphics card is obviously good enough for 3D work by any objective measure, so if you do graphics-based work or enjoy editing media or animation as a hobby, this can do the job. If you’re a serious professional that frequently uses graphics-accelerated programs, a workstation GPU is the better bet.
Real-World Gaming Tests
The synthetic tests above are helpful for measuring general 3D aptitude, but it’s hard to beat full retail video games for judging gaming performance. Far Cry 5 and Rise of the Tomb Raider are both modern, high-fidelity titles with built-in benchmarks that illustrate how a system handles real-world video games at various settings.
This is where the Mothership should really justify itself the most, but it’s the same story as the synthetic tests. The performance is fantastic for a laptop, as is the case for the competitors. (The Helios 700 and its RTX 2070 do understandably lag behind here.) By most measures, this is upper-limits performance from a mobile machine, and can justify the existence of the high-refresh-rate screen. This is even more compelling for less-demanding games than these AAA titles, including your favorite battle royales and MOBAs. On Rainbow Six: Siege, the Mothership averaged 236fps at maximum settings and 1080p.
All of this is to say, the frame rates this laptop offers are extremely good, but the competition simply delivers the same performance across the board for far less money. You really have to want the Mothership form factor, and have scant concern for value-for-money, to pick this as your gaming laptop of choice. The Alienware Area-51m is simply a superior performer, nearly across the board.
For all of the promotional material about the advantages of the form factor for better cooling and performance, it did not show big dividends here versus the competition. I imagine the advanced cooling prevents throttling, and is necessary given that all the hot stuff is behind the screen. If you set the machine to turbo in the software, the frames do tick up, but you’ll certainly hear the machine much more, to the point that the fan noise can be irritating.
Battery Rundown Test
After fully recharging the laptop, we set up the machine in power-save mode (as opposed to balanced or high-performance mode) and make a few other battery-conserving tweaks in preparation for our unplugged video rundown test. (We also turn Wi-Fi off, putting the laptop in Airplane mode.) In this test, we loop a video—a locally stored 720p file of the same Blender Foundation short Tears of Steel we use in our Handbrake test—with screen brightness set at 50 percent and volume at 100 percent until the system conks out.
The Mothership lasted longer than I expected for a power-hungry beast. It’s not all-day battery life, but for a laptop like this, it’s useful enough for some time off the charger. All of my misgivings about the actual portability of the Mothership still apply, so your mileage may vary on how much you’ll actually make use of the battery. I have to imagine in almost all places you’d use the Mothership, a plug can’t be far away.
Beam Up This Mothership
Considering the Mothership’s price and experimental nature, I understand Asus doesn’t expect to sell many. And the company gets credit for trying to do something new, and some of the Mothership’s core concepts will likely show up in other laptops down the line.
As it stands, it’s a powerful gaming PC, but the size means it’s virtually immobile, and the execution of the convertibility makes the idea only lukewarm-compelling. The keyboard is an essential part but ho-hum, and the screen is not touch-capable. In the end, it feels more like a small all-in-one PC than a new gaming-laptop form factor.
And for what it is, it is really, really expensive. The price isn’t remotely justifiable from a parts-and-power standpoint, so the added cost of the chassis and the form factor is very high. If the concept worked well, I could see my way to a stronger recommendation, but it’s just too cumbersome and impractical to justify the giant premium.
The three-star Editors’ Rating stands mostly on the back of Asus’ noble-try innovations here. But unless you’re a flush, obsessed PC gamer, don’t spend the cost of a decent used car or several months of rent on the Mothership. If you want a desktop-grade laptop and have a big budget, the Alienware Area-51m and Acer Predator Helios 700 are our top picks, while the Alienware and the MSI Titan referenced earlier will get you a desktop-grade CPU for much less money.