Not long ago I had the chance to take a look at the Asus ROG Zephyrus gaming laptop, which features a pretty unique design. Instead of putting the touchpad below the keyboard it was moved to the right side, shifting the keyboard to the bottom of the laptop to make room for a unique cooling system between the keyboard and the screen.
Though this is a creative way to keep the laptop cool, it was awkward to use and made a USB mouse mandatory. Asus has thus taken the machine back to the drawing board and released a redesigned model dubbed the Zephyrus M (See it on Amazon) with some new parts. Most notably, the touchpad is back to where people expect it to be, and it still has the company’s fancy Active Aerodynamic System (AAS) cooling mechanism whereby the bottom of the laptop opens up when the lid is swung open, allowing air to flow into the chassis. It’s a clever design, so I’m glad they stuck with it. The main upgrade to the hardware is Intel’s new “Coffee Lake” six-core CPU, and other than that it’s still packed with a laundry list of high-end components. Let’s take a closer look.
Here are the specifications of the ROG Zephyrus M I am evaluating:
- Model: GM501G-XS74
- Display: 15.6-inch FHD (1920×1080) 144Hz IPS
- Processor: Intel Core i7-8750H at 2.2GHz (9M Cache, up to 4.10 GHz)
- Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce 1070 (8GB GDDR5)
- Memory: 16GB DDR4
- OS: Windows 10 Pro
- OS Drive: 256GB NVMe SSD
- Storage: 1TB FireCuda SSHD
- Webcam: 720p
- Ports: 1 x 3.5 mm audio jack, 4 x USB 3.1 port, 1 x HDMI, 1 x USB Type C with Thunderbolt
- Connectivity: 802.11ac 2×2 WiFi, Bluetooth 5.0
- Dimensions: 15.1 x 10.3 x 0.8-inches (WxDxH)
- Weight: 5.51 pounds
- Price: $2,199
ASUS ROG Zephyrus M – Design and Features
The Zephyrus M is all black with a brushed metal chassis. A “Plasma Copper” band runs around the perimeter, but it looks more rose gold or light gold to my eyes, depending on the light in the room.
When opening the lid, the two hinges provide a substantial amount of resistance and keep the screen in place very securely. As I previously touched on, when the top is open the bottom of the laptop separates to create a gap for air to flow into, helping to keep the CPU and GPU cool. In addition to better airflow, it lifts the keyboard up into a more ergonomically satisfying position.
The Zephyrus M packs a full-size RGB keyboard with four lighting zones, with four shortcut keys just above it the left. The four extra keys provide volume control, a mute button for the mic, and a button to launch the ROG Gaming Center program (more on that in a bit). The WASD keys have a white border, adding a subtle effect when combined with the RBG lighting. A relatively small touchpad is below the keyboard.
Measuring 15.1 x 10.3 x 0.8 inches and weighing just over 5.5 pounds, the Zephyrus M isn’t the most portable gaming laptop I’ve tested, but it’s not overbearing and is quite thin considering its payload. Tucked inside the 0.8-inch housing is an 8th-generation Intel Core i7 CPU, a beefy Nvidia GTX 1070 GPU (standard, not Max-Q), 16GB of memory, a 256GB SSD, and a 1TB FireCuda SSHD. If that’s not enough, you can remove a few screws on the bottom and add another 16GB of RAM. Since this is a gaming laptop, the 15.6″ 1920 x1080 IPS panel has a blazing-fast 144Hz refresh rate.
One drawback to a lot of gaming laptops is the lack of enough ports to connect accessories and peripherals; with the Zephyrus M, that’s not the case. In total, this laptop has seven expansion ports: four USB 3.1 ports, a single USB-C port with Thunderbolt 3 support for adding an external monitor or connecting a hard drive, an HDMI port, and 3.5mm audio jack. Most of the ports are on the left side of the housing, with only the USB-C port and a single USB 3.1 port on the right side.
Asus ROG Zephyrus M – Software
When you think of bloatware on a Windows PC, I think of McAfee or Norton antivirus. And when it comes to the Zephyrus M, not only is McAfee present, but it’s overbearing to the point of frustration (see the next section).
Aside from the annoying McAfee software, Asus’s ROG Gaming Center takes center stage thanks to a dedicated button just above the keyboard. With a press of the ROG button, the Gaming Center app provides device information, allows for the creation of gaming profiles that are triggered when you launch a specific game, fan control, and a shortcut to the Aura program for customizing the RGB keyboard and setting up effects.
The Aura module notwithstanding, I could do without the ROG Gaming Center. Sure, it’s handy to have your system’s vitals available for a quick check, but the app is so cluttered that it is just not fun to use.
ASUS ROG Zephyrus M – Performance and Gaming
This year’s flood of gaming laptops all boast six-core processors, up from the four cores found in the previous generations. So far the Zephyrus M is the third system we’ve tested with this new CPU, so for testing I’m only comparing it to the others; the Razer Blade 15 and the MSI GS65 Stealth Thin. As you would expect, laptops with similar specs perform similarly. That said, the ROG Zephyrus M did take the top spot in five out of eight benchmarks, but the margins are quite slim. The main advantage this system has over the other two similarly spec’d laptops is that due to its unique cooling system it’s allowed to have a full GTX 1070 instead of a Max-Q version, which run at lower clock speeds.
As far as actual gaming is concerned, in both PUBG and Far Cry 5 I regularly experienced frame rates over 100 frames per second (FPS) at high or ultra settings. Rapid movement is smooth, with no frame drops or stuttering. Scenery in the new PUBG map Sanhook was impressively sharp and, at times, felt eerily lifelike. I found myself staring at a tree on the map at one point, admiring the texture of its bark.
The display looks superb, and colors look great. Thanks to the 144Hz refresh rate, scrolling or quickly looking around was impressively smooth at all times. I found the color saturation to be just right, without blowing out colors or requiring brightness adjustments in each game.
Thanks to the 144Hz refresh rate, scrolling or quickly looking around was impressively smooth at all times.
The keys on the keyboard feel soft, and though I didn’t like them at first I came to appreciate them over time. I wouldn’t call the keys mushy, but the amount of play required some adjustment during the first few gaming sessions to get the hang of just how much pressure is required to activate a key. I enjoy typing on keyboards like the one on the Zephyrus M overall, but I’m used to keys with a more tactile feeling. Also, the keyboard is placed at an ever-so-slight angle thanks to the cooling system, and the tilted design felt more comfortable on my wrists than with a more traditional flat orientation.
As far as the speakers go, they’re great for music and movies and there’s little to fault with the overall volume and sound quality — that is until the fans kick in. The fans aren’t the loudest I’ve experienced, but they are just loud enough to drown out background noises such as footsteps of approaching players in Fortnite. This is pretty common with super-thin-and-powerful laptops, so a headset is always recommended for gaming.
But as I mentioned earlier, easily the most annoying aspect of gaming on and generally using this laptop was the constant notifications from the bundled McAfee software. Multiple times during a PUBG match or an intense battle to take over a cult outpost in Far Cry 5, a McAfee popup would claim focus over the game without showing the popup at all. I would lose control of my character, hear a few chimes as Windows tried to alert me I was clicking on something that wasn’t clickable. To remedy this I had to alt-tab out of the game to close the pop-up, and when I returned I was usually dead. Thankfully, uninstalling McAfee is easy and it should be right at the top of any gamer’s to-do list if they acquire this laptop.
ASUS ROG Zephyrus M – Battery life
As laptops get thinner, concessions must be made. Since manufacturers of gaming laptops don’t want to skimp on power, they usually trim down the battery size, knowing that most people rarely unplug these beasts. Therefore, the real engineering challenge is to make a laptop that’s both powerful and long-lasting on its battery. In that category, Razer’s all-new Blade wins out in a big way: it has high-end parts and was still able to squeeze over six hours out of its 80Wh battery in my tests, while the Zephyrus M’s smaller 55Wh battery managed just under half of that.
Still, the battery life on the Zephyrus M is decent, as it was about the same as what I got from the MSI GS65. Running through our video rundown benchmark, the battery powered through 177 minutes. That’s good enough for a movie and then some on a cross country flight, and better than the two hours or so we’re used to seeing with high-powered gaming laptops.
The Asus ROG Zephyrus M (GM501) has an MSRP of $2,199 and that’s the same price you’ll find it for on Amazon: