The 15-inch Asus ROG Zephyrus was one of the first Max-Q gaming laptops we reviewed, targeting the sweet spot between power and thinness using tuned-down versions of high-end Nvidia graphics processors (GPUs). Asus slimmed it more with the Zephyrus S, and it is now beefing up that package in two big ways. The Asus ROG Zephyrus S GX701 (starts at $ 2,699.99; $ 3,299.99 as tested) is both a 17-inch-screen take on that design and one of the first laptops we’ve reviewed with a new Nvidia RTX “Turing” GPU. This new level of power, paired with a bigger screen, is mouthwatering. It’s not flawless, though: The bottom is a bit flimsy, the 17-inch footprint by nature undermines portability, and the RTX performance is great, but not vastly better than previous equivalent “Pascal” GPUs. This is a high-quality, powerful big-screen gamer, but we give the edge to the MSI GS75 Stealth (review coming soon) among thin RTX laptops we’ve tested so far, while the Alienware 17 R5 remains our overall gaming Editors’ Choice.
Same Sleek Design, Bigger Package
If you’ve laid eyes on the 15-inch ROG Zephyrus before, you’ll find its larger sibling looks very familiar. The look and style are uniform across the two, here stretched across a bigger surface area.
The lid features the same split-pattern design, while the keyboard is pushed down to the near edge to make room for a perforated ventilation panel on the forward half of the deck. This also means the touchpad is shunted off to the right of the keyboard (and is, for certain, a bit narrower than you’re used to).
Both that and the keyboard positioning do take some getting used to, and I don’t think either is ideal. They’re workable, but the touchpad could be roomier, and there’s nothing to rest your wrists on for typing. They’re not the worst concessions to make for the requisite cooling, which is done in service of getting such powerful components into such a thin laptop. That’s in line with the Max-Q design philosophy, which is encompassing an ever-larger wedge of the market for premium gaming laptops.
And thin the Zephyrus S GX701 is. The larger screen doesn’t make it much thicker than the 15-inch model, but it is quite a bit bigger overall. It measures 0.73 by 15.7 by 10.7 inches (HWD), which is little thicker and deeper but noticeably wider. It’s also much more unwieldy: The 15-inch model makes use of its thinness and size to register at 4.6 pounds, while the slab-like GX701 is hefty at 5.9 pounds.
The chassis is thin for a 17-inch gaming laptop, no doubt (take the Alienware 17 R5 at 1.18 by 16.7 by 13.1 inches and 9.77 pounds, for instance), but it’s far from what I’d call portable. The width and weight make it unbalanced to hold and tricky to use on your lap or lying down, in the way you could with a smaller notebook. The MSI GS75 Stealth, also a 17-incher, is a full pound lighter and only very marginally thicker. To the Zephyrus’ credit, Gigabyte’s fellow RTX debutante, the Aero 15-Y9, is only a little smaller as a 15-inch laptop at 0.74 by 14 by 9.8 inches, though its 4.4-pound weight is a noticeable difference.
A Flimsy Flap, a Beautiful Screen
Adding to that is the bottom flap, a mainstay of the Zephyrus design. To deal with the heat produced by the powerful GPUs that have accompanied this thin laptop line since its inception, Asus engineered a bottom panel that extends and retracts as you open and close the screen clamshell. This allows more ventilation through the bottom and out the sides, as the laptop is too thin for beefy rear or side vent blocks. In the image below, it’s open.
The flap on the original Zephyrus was suspect—it was a bit too flimsy and bowed in whenever much pressure was applied, especially when you carried the laptop with the screen open and held it or supported it from the bottom. The thinner Zephyrus S featured a sturdier flap that started further up the chassis (meaning, less room to flex) and was better braced.
Unfortunately, the bottom flap on the Zephyrus S GX701 inspires the least confidence of the three. It’s designed in what feels like the same way as the original, but the added weight and size of the 17-inch model seems almost too much for the flap to sustain for long. It hasn’t broken on me, or looked like it was starting to, but I still cringe every time I pick up the laptop with the screen open and the flap gives under my fingers, or I rest it on my knees and feel it buckle. The plastic bends all the way to base of the laptop with ease, clicking against it audibly if pressed quickly. I’m sure it was designed for some flex, but the idea of this repetitive action over time makes me fear for the little hinges down below.
The screen, on the other hand, is a big winner. I loved the display on the 15-inch Zephyrus S, and Asus has essentially gone and it made it larger. This one measures 17.3 inches diagonally, an IPS panel with a full HD (1,920-by-1,080-pixel) native resolution. That resolution isn’t much to write home about, and you may even wish it were higher for the price. The display quality is great, though, and Asus has included a 144Hz refresh rate, support for Nvidia G-Sync, and a 3ms response time. As a package, it’s one of the spiffiest gaming-laptop displays out there, and it feels like it’s enhancing your games as you play. The MSI GS75 Stealth’s screen has a virtually identical feature set, lacking just G-Sync, but I think this one looks a tad better.
Configs and Connections
This laptop comes in two U.S. SKUs, with ours being the upper (“GX701GX”) version. This $ 3,299.99 model is packed with the Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Max-Q, Intel’s Core i7-8750H processor, 24GB of memory, and a 1TB M.2 NVMe SSD. (This unit will also be available with 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD.) A $ 2,699 GX701GW step-down includes a lesser CPU (an RTX 2070), but is otherwise the same.
The GX701 comes with a few extra bells and whistles. It features a tiny volume scroll wheel on the left-hand side, just above the keyboard, which is an unusual and welcome inclusion. Whenever I’m using a desktop keyboard with one of these, I miss it on any other keyboard I switch to. It’s ringed in LED glow, which you can customize. The keyboard can be changed in similar fashion through the included Asus Aura options bundled into the company’s Armoury Crate software, which integrates system performance monitoring and control options, as well.
By default, the keyboard performs a cool wave effect when you turn the laptop on, red lights dashing end to end horizontally across each key. The keys are individually backlit, allowing for this effect and more through the software. More LEDs are found on the customizable logo above the keyboard, and the touchpad transforms into an LED number pad with the press of a button. Also, there’s a dedicated Armoury Crate key above the touchpad, which makes it easy to bring up the software at any time.
Finally, the Zephyrus S GX701 includes a well-rounded port offering. The left flank holds a USB 3.1 port, a USB Type-C port, and an HDMI output, as well as power-adapter and headset jacks. On the right are two USB 3.1 ports and another USB Type-C port. That should be plenty of options for a mouse and drives, as well as video-out support. If you need DisplayPort, you have to go through a USB-C adapter.
Testing Turing: RTX Brings the Heat
I compiled a list of gaming laptops similar to the Zephyrus S GX701 to serve as points of comparison for the benchmark tests. Some of these share the same components and general size, while others fall in the same price range. And some do both. You can see their names and parts in the chart below as a quick reference…
The Alienware 17 R5 represents the best of the big-screen Pascal laptops, while the MSI GS75 Stealth is the other RTX-based machine we have on the bench. The MSI GT75 Titan is a hulking GTX 1080-based machine that can really push the Zephyrus S GX701, while the 15-inch, GTX-equipped version of the Zephyrus is an obvious comparison.
Productivity and Storage 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.
PCMark 8, meanwhile, has a specialized Storage test that we use to assess the speed of the PC’s storage subsystem. This score is also proprietary to the test.
It goes without saying that these luxe gaming laptops are all speedy enough for everyday tasks—if you can’t browse the web and do light office work easily, you won’t be playing high-fidelity 3D games smoothly. Only the massive GT75 Titan was faster on PCMark 10, and by a decent margin, but these results are clustered closely enough that you shouldn’t readily notice a difference in day-to-day use. The Zephryus S GX701’s drive is just barely the quickest, but with all of these having SSDs, load and boot times should be zippy across the board.
Media Processing and Creation Tests
Maxon’s CPU-crunching Cinebench R15 test 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.
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. The Photoshop test stresses CPU, storage subsystem, and RAM, but it can also take advantage of most GPUs to speed up the process of applying filters, so a powerful GPU may lend a boost.
As on the PCMark 10 test, only the GT75 Titan topped the GX701 on Cinebench. The Photoshop test was a bit different, as the GX701 was no faster than the 15-inch Zephryus S, and other systems were faster. It may not have topped these charts, but Asus’ new system handled these straining multithreaded CPU tests well. Its hexa-core processor is quick, and while it may not be workstation-level, it can certainly handle media projects like these on par with other gaming machines of its class.
Synthetic Graphics Tests
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 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, the deed is done in the company’s eponymous Unigine engine. This different 3D workload scenario offers a second opinion on the machine’s graphical prowess.
The Zephyrus S GX701 posted strong numbers here, but the conclusion is still a bit mixed. Objectively, yes, these are high scores and show great raw 3D power. You’re going to be able to play any modern game, most of them at maximum settings, so that’s a success off the bat. At the same time, you’d expect as much with the new GeForce RTX GPUs in a laptop at this price, and the last-generation Pascal cards like the Alienware’s GTX 1080 aren’t too far behind, while the GT75 Titan’s is even ahead on 3DMark. The MSI GS75 makes this system look a little worse as well: They draw about even here (the GS75 does better on the next tests), but the MSI doesn’t need the same vulnerable-feeling cooling system to accomplish it.
To provide some defense of this laptop compared to the Pascal ones, this is the tuned-down Max-Q version of the RTX 2080, there is less thermal headroom in this system versus one like the hulky Alienware 17 R5, and it does still beat that Alienware’s performance, if just barely. On the whole, the numbers are strong, just not paradigm-shifting, and you are also unlocking access to the new ray-tracing technology in games. Speaking of gaming…
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. These are run on the maximum graphics-quality presets (Ultra for Far Cry 5, Very High for Rise of the Tomb Raider) at 1080p, 1440p, and 4K resolutions to determine the sweet spot of visuals and smooth performance for a given system. Far Cry 5 is DirectX 11-based, while Rise of the Tomb Raider can be flipped to DX12, which we do for this benchmark.
Our current testing procedures are still relatively new, so we haven’t collected enough data just yet for comparison charts. Running them on the Zephyrus S GX701, though, showed plenty of promise. On Far Cry 5 and Rise of the Tomb Raider at 1080p and maximum settings, it averaged 95fps and 104fps, respectively. Those numbers are comfortably over 60fps, and shouldn’t lead to any irritating dips while you play since there’s enough headroom. It’s not quite enough to take full advantage of the 144Hz display, but you will at least be able to display well more than 60fps even if it’s not hitting the refresh ceiling, while less-demanding games than these will likely shoot up that high.
As I mentioned above, the MSI GS75 Stealth performed better on these real game tests. The difference in Far Cry 5 wasn’t as pronounced (it averaged 98fps), but it performed much better on Rise of the Tomb Raider (118fps). Our MSI test unit is more expensive, but it does avoid the bottom-panel cooling needed by the Zephyrus. The Zephyrus also includes a turbo mode in the Armoury Crate software, but it makes the fans sound like a jet is about to take off. (On normal mode, the fans are just somewhat loud.) Engaging it boosted the frame rates only by single digits, so it’s generally not necessary.
The 15-inch Zephyrus S’s Max-Q GTX 1070 is also an illustrative comparison. It makes the Max-Q RTX 2080 look good: The GTX-bearing Zephyrus S averaged 79fps and 88fps on these tests. That’s pretty far off this system’s numbers, even though they’re still comfortably over 60fps and can be attributed to the jump in both tiers and generations. In the new Zephyrus, you’re paying for a leap in power like that, and you’re getting it. If the Superposition numbers are any indication, though, it won’t be as pronounced versus a GTX 1080.
Battery Rundown Test
Finally, we come to the battery life. 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 1080p file of the Blender Foundation short Tears of Steel—with screen brightness set at 50 percent and volume at 100 percent until the system conks out.
While the Zephryus S GX701’s battery life is not exceptional in a larger sense, it’s among the best in this batch, and a surprise given the laptop’s size and power. Five hours is a legitimately useful amount of running time. The 15-inch version had me constantly grabbing my charger, so it’s nice to have some breathing room should you take it into the living room or use it while traveling.
Again though, the MSI GS75 Stealth one-upped the GX701, with a battery that lasted 6 hours and 18 minutes. Since it’s lighter, it’s also more appealing to carry around and use off the charger.
Power Isn’t Always Perfect
The Zephyrus S GX701 is a complicated one. The display looks great, it has plenty of storage, and it isn’t prohibitively heavy if you do want to tote it now and then. Taken as a whole, while I really like the 15-inch version of the Zephyrus S, I’m less convinced about the form factor and related concessions at this screen size.
On one hand, it’s thin and sleek-looking, well more so than most 17-inchers. But on the other, its size and weight undermine the portability. You can take it with you, but you may not want to (or have the room for it) very often. Similarly, it’s undoubtedly powerful enough for greater-than-60fps gaming, but it doesn’t blow away the previous-generation Pascal cards. If you have a late-model GTX 1070 or GTX 1080 machine, you can probably keep your lust for the latest in check.
It is a bump up in power, though, and if you’re going to buy a high-end gaming laptop in 2019, you ought to go for the newest technology, which means, in part, GeForce RTX. The Zephyrus S GX701 has its place, and it feels high-quality apart from the bottom panel, but the customizable Alienware 17 R5 remains our top pick for high-end gaming laptops, while the MSI GS75 Stealth is a superior GeForce RTX-based system. If you’re looking more portable, the Razer Blade 15 or the 15-inch version of the Zephyrus S are our favorites.