Editor’s note: After conducting additional performance and battery testing, we’re updating our initial hands-on of the Asus Zephyrus to a full review.
Getting the best graphics hardware in a gaming laptop usually means trading up to a bigger, bulkier system, especially if you want Nvidia’s top-of-the-line GeForce GTX 1080. And while slimmer gaming laptops do exist, but they’re often restricted to lower-end GPUs. Gamers have historically been forced to choose between power (especially the power to drive high-end virtual reality games) and portability, with compromises required no matter what.
Helping reduce the number of compromises required is a new concept from Nvidia, called Max-Q, which combines more energy-efficient versions of GeForce 10-series graphics chips with thinner laptop bodies. It was announced at the 2017 Computex trade show, where several prototype designs from different PC makers were showcased.
The first real-world example of Max-Q we’ve tested is the new Asus Zephyrus laptop. It’s a 15-inch system from the Asus Republic of Gamers (aka ROG) line, which covers a wide range of laptops and desktops. If you’re curious about the name, Zephyrus was the Greek god of the west wind.
The laptop version of Zephyrus is a 15-inch gaming laptop that’s incredibly slim despite its Intel Core i7 and Nvidia GeForce 1080 GPU, which is really the combo you want for high-end PC gaming. It’s just 17.9mm thick and a hair under 5 pounds. A typical laptop with a similar set of parts can weigh 8 pounds or more, and be much, much thicker.
But, while impressive, the Zephyrus isn’t the end of gaming laptop compromises. It’s still expensive; some of its design decisions, including a misplaced touchpad, are head-scratchers; and the battery life won’t get you far.
The main configuration, with an Intel Core i7-7700HQ CPU, Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 GPU, 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD, costs $2,700 (note that our early test model had 24GB of RAM). Asus says prices for other configurations and regions will be announced “in the coming months,” but the flagship price works out to around £2,100 or AU$3,600.
A cooling lift
Part of the secret to getting an Nvidia 1080 card in a laptop so thin is a hidden vent under the system. Keep the lid closed, and it looks like any slim midsize laptop. Open it up, and the entire bottom panel lifts away, creating a 6mm-high air chamber to help keep the system cool.
When you flip open the laptop lid while holding the Zephyrus in your hands, it looks like the entire bottom surface is lifting away, and the opened panel feels flimsy, flexing easily when touched. On a flat tabletop, it feels much more stable, and unless you’re craning your neck looking for it, the effect is very subtle, just lifting the rear of the system ever so slightly.
Because the front panel doesn’t taper down like many gaming (and nongaming) laptops do, Asus also includes a rubber wrist rest that fits right up against the front lip.