The computer market is moving in one specific direction - manufacturers are working hard on getting portable PCs smaller, lighter, and with better cooling solutions, but the manufacturers are also placing a higher price tag on the machines, as well as adding more head to the top plate. Everything has to be "ultra slim", that is, and have a thickness below 2cm with weight lower than a few kilos. As such, one can't do much but agree that a computer released in the past few years, possibly with a power supply coming in at over four kilos (we've tried laptops with power supplies coming in at over six), is not portable but rather "draggable", and doesn't really fit into the current-gen concept.
As more and more powerful hardware gets squeezed into smaller machines, heat quickly rises within the chassis, especially when the manufacturer doesn't use a Max-Q version of a graphics card but goes for a full-size GPU. It provides more horsepower, sure, but it also adds more heat and power consumption.
This machine, however - the Asus ROG Zephyrus S GX502 - is equipped with an i7-9750H processor, one of the most powerful Intel models available right now, and 32GB RAM as well as an impressive 76Wh battery, a G-Sync display, and an RTX2070 graphics card (that's a full size RTX2070, no Max-Q version). The machine is available in a 144Hz version, but later in the year a 240Hz Pantone calibrated display will become available as well.
Our test version had a 1TB NVMe in Raid 0, while the £1,999.99 price point had a 512GB drive. Remember that price point when we go through performance in this review, because it's incredibly low compared to other gaming laptops. However, we would have personally preferred that Asus saved on the RAM and got more hard disk space instead. Several configurations should be available in the foreseeable future though, but the pricing is still extremely excessive.
The hard drive is, unsurprisingly regarding the NVMe in Raid 0, ridiculously fast. It shouldn't be noticeable in everyday use, but it is.
The GX502 does offer the option of charging via USB-C, but unfortunately the port does not support Thunderbolt 3. It also lacks a display port of any kind to go with the three USB ports. On the other hand, you'll find it houses an HDMI 2.0b port and an Ethernet port, although the lack of a display port is a big downside. A gaming-oriented laptop without a display port is almost unheard of, and we don't understand the logic behind it. To remedy this (at least somewhat) the HDMI 2.0b fortunately also supports 144Hz playback, and many newer displays are HDMI 2.0 or above.
The machine itself is quite compact and equally as light. It's only 18.9mm and weighs in at just under two kilograms, being made out of a magnesium/aluminium alloy with internal reinforcements in plastic.
Incidentally, there's a 3D metal model with the Asus ROG logo within the chassis, which is a fun little detail. There's no webcam (which isn't exactly a big bummer), just like with the previous ROG models, so the manufacturer has had more control over the screen's upper edge and the customer gets more screen space.
We also have soft-touch coating around the mouse pad where the user will be resting their hands. It's not just for comfort, but also prevents the area from getting hot, even when used vigorously. It's the first time we haven't been able to sense the heat from a laptop when resting our hands on it, and we can say the same about the venting. Even at full pressure it never becomes more than warm. The back of the chassis is also beautiful, with an Asus ROG logo printed onto it.
For cooling, Asus has solved the heat issue by using their "active aerodynamic system" that we first encountered a few years ago, and it has the entire underside open up to increase the intake. It's simple (but most certainly hard to achieve), and definitely the best cooling system on the market. The bottom opens up 7mm, which isn't much, but enough (according to Asus) to create 22% more airflow.
We should add that the Asus Armory Crate software has three default power and performance settings - Silent, Balanced, and Turbo. The latter can't be switched on when running on battery, so all the benchmarks below were achieved when running with the laptop plugged into the wall with Turbo mode switched on. Additionally, the machine lets you set it up manually as well, and the software that comes with the laptop out of the box is actually really nice and informative in an effective way. It gives a lot of useful information regarding consumption, temperature, and clock frequencies, but all of this information may seem overwhelming for a new user.
The FPS, however, fluctuates a lot - in the worst case 25% - but you could switch the mode to Silent instead of Turbo. It should be noted that Asus in no way recommends Silent for game use though.
In Turbo mode, all dials are turned up to 11. The CPU goes in idle at 45 degrees and, despite the extremely efficient cooling system, still reaches 98 degrees - too high for prolonged use and should only be used if strictly necessary. The GPU goes in idle at 55 degrees (but often turns off due to the Optimus system, which switches settings to match power consumption with performance), and jumps up to 86 degrees. That temperature is also a bit on the hot side, but it's manageable.
Something rather impressive about the machine is how it works in Silent mode. Here, the CPU rests at 34 degrees when idle and at 78 degrees at maximum pressure. The GPU runs at 31 degrees when idle and 74 degrees at maximum pressure. Very impressive.
The noise doesn't really get louder with heavy use, but we actually had problems with the Silent mode, as it dives below 35dB when at full pressure, but we managed to get it up to 37dB after a while. Balanced mode was steady at 44dB and Turbo hung tight to 47dB. However, the sound of the laptop running is at a surprisingly low frequency. There's no howl or screeching from any fans, so whoever made the decisions on this during the design process should be well praised. Silent mode is actually so silent when on full pressure that the standing joke in the office right now is that it sounds less pressured in Turbo than most competing laptops do when idle (yes, we're looking at you, Razer). The cooling fans are very small - 0.1mm to be exact - and made of copper instead of aluminium.
Asus claims that, depending on the configurations, the laptop can offer up to eight hours of battery life. We never got over four, but it's a powerful gaming laptop that still doubles the battery life when comparing it to most of its competitors.
Assassin's Creed Odessey
Far Cry 5
Middle-earth: Shadow of War
Total War: Warhammer II
The Division 2
Time Spy: 7675
Time Spy Extreme: 3578
Port Royale: 4372
Fire Strike Ultra: 4731
Fire Extreme: 9031
Fire Strike: 17491
BMW total render time: 366.298s
The benchmark results are undoubtedly impressive. They surpass most gaming laptops we've tried since the new year, even those that had RTX2080 cards. The extra CPU power just has more impact with modern games than one might think. The one RTX2070 machine we've tried this year gets annihilated when comparing it to this one, despite the fact that it's way more expensive.
The headphone output is relatively powerful and equipped with output steps from the ESS, and we're delighted about it. Even our planar headphones worked.
The screen is very responsive and the colours are incredibly sensible and natural. A bit more brightness would have been optimal, but the colours it offers aren't bad. It's Pantone calibrated and an "IPS level" TN panel at 3ms / 144Hz with 100% sRGB coverage. We find that many TN panels on higher-end gaming laptops are really nice as they are out of the box, and we don't understand the IPS level marketing - this is a nice TN panel and Asus shouldn't be ashamed of that.
The keyboard is a chiclet with full RGB lighting, and although the chiclet type isn't our cup of tea personally and the keys, due to the format, are quite close together, we also have to recognise that it's really sensible to use for shooters. The keys are quite responsive and jump back extremely quickly to the home position once pressed.
So what's the conclusion? The design is really nice, super discreet and it doesn't weigh much. Yes, it lacks a display port, but the battery is great and the combination of a full-size RTX2070 and an i9 CPU makes a huge difference. It plays in the same league with computers that are of the same size but cost between 30 and 40% more. It's so well-made and we're huge fans of having laptops like this for under £2,000 instead of just under £3,000.
This is the kind of consumer-friendly pieces of tech we would like to see more of, and this is the best purchase you can make if you're looking for a serious gaming laptop; the best for many years.