Almost twenty years ago, I bought my first gaming laptop; an HP Envy 17.
It was a big, beautiful, powerful machine with a 17-inch screen and one of the first laptops with a subwoofer. It also used to overheat and unceremoniously shut down during sessions of Mass Effect 2. And its battery life was woeful but I loved it.
Modern laptops are significantly better with faster processors, desktop-grade graphics, storage and much better cooling. But for the most part, gaming laptops are still hulking contraptions that belong more on a desk with a power outlet than on a commute.
The Asus Zephyrus M GM501 is one of the new breeds of ultra-slim gaming laptops that aim to change that. And, it’s really good.
Asus Zephyrus M GM501 Review
The Asus Zephyrus M sits in the top-tier of the Republic of Gamers(ROG) line of laptops. It’s a powerful, 15.6-inch machine with top-notch specs and solid build.
The Asus Zephyrus M is a handsome machine.
Here’s what’s inside:
- Intel Core i7-8750H Six core processor
- Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 with 8GB GDDR5 VRAM
- 32GB DDR4 2666MHz SDRAM
- 512GB PCIe NVMe M.2 SSD system drive
- 1TB FireCuda SSHD storage drive
- 15.6-inch Full HD(1920×1080) IPS-level AHVA Panel with 144Hz refresh, 3ms response time.
- 1 x USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C
- 4 x USB 3.1 Gen 2
- 1 x HDMI 2.0(4K/ 2K at 60Hz)
- 1 x 3.5mm headphone and microphone combo jack
- 802.11ac 2×2 Wave 2 WLAN WiFi
The Zephyrus performs exactly as you’d expect given those specs but let’s get into the nitty-gritty.
Asus Zephyrus M GM501 – Build & Design
When you first pull the Zephyrus out its box, you realize you are dealing with quality. Despite its ultra-slim profile, it is surprisingly heavy. Weighing 2.45kg, the Zephyrus is significantly heavier than its cousin the ZenBook Pro 15.
The slim chassis measures 38.4cm wide, 26.2cm deep and 1.75cm thick or rather, thin. The chassis is solid with a little bit of flex in the top middle but nothing to worry about at all.
The brushed metal lid with glowing logo looks very smart
The brushed, aluminium chassis is impervious to fingerprints and scratches. The lid of the Zephyrus has a svelte brushed metal finish and a glowing red ROG logo.
Opening up the Zephyrus reveals one its coolest tricks — a cooling vent that raises the chassis by almost 9mm. This allows the Zephyrus to expel unwanted hot air and keep its beefy internals running smoothly.
Called the Active Aerodynamic System(AAS), this allows the Zephyrus up to 32% more airflow and reduces internal temperatures by an extra 20%. And it does so while looking extremely cool with red lighting on both sides that make it look like a Decepticon from Transformers.
A self-cleaning, anti-dust filtering system prevents any dust or dirt from getting into the laptop.
Asus Zephyrus M GM501 – Ports and Connectivity
Modern slim laptops are eschewing most ports in favour of USB Type-C Thunderbolts forcing most buyers into the dreaded dongle life. The Zephyrus thankfully doesn’t follow that trend and has a generous selection of connection ports.
On the righthand side, you have a USB 3.1 Type-A and a USB Type-C Thunderbolt port; great for connecting to external monitors or eGPU’s.
The lefthand side has 3 more USB 3.1 ports and an HDMI 2.0 port capable of outputting 4K at 60Hz. Also, a 3.5mm audio combo jack and a DC power port which the alarmingly large power brick connects to.
The Zephyrus has no lack of ports
Asus Zephyrus M GM501 – Multimedia
And speaking of audio, the speakers on the Zephyrus are quite simply, outstanding. Not only are they plenty loud but rich in their dynamic range.
And what’s really surprising is that the speakers are bottom-firing — hidden underneath the laptop! Their smart-amplifier technology monitors the audio and adjusts accordingly and I have to say, it works great!
I could hear the bass beats in Ludwig Goranssons “Killmonger” them from Black Panther. The crescendos of angelic voices from Mike Salvatori’s “Keep of Voices” in Destiny 2 moved me.
Watching videos is a pleasure on this device. Voices are clear and full while background music and sound is warm and pleasing. Mind you, all this was never at a volume over 20/100 which was far more than sufficient.
If multimedia is your desire, the Zephyrus has you covered.
Asus Zephyrus M GM501 — Keyboard & Mouse
The Zephryus has a decent sized touchpad that is responsive and has a light touch. Windows Precision Drivers are at work here so gestures and multitouch worked flawlessly.
I haven’t any complaints here. You will want to use an external mouse for gaming though, as touchpads aren’t that great for first or third person games.
Above that touchpad sits a full-size keyboard which includes a number keypad. This is uncommon on laptops smaller than 17-inches and I’m uncertain it will be useful to most users but it’s there if you need it.
I did find it mildly irritating to shift my hands more to the left of the keyboard to type accurately. Ignoring that, actually typing on the keyboard is great. The keys have a longer travel than I’m used to on the MacBook Pro but they feel quite nice in their response. It’s a much better keyboard than the Asus ZenBook Pro.
The Zephyrus has a great keyboard with customisable RGB lighting. The Rainbow cascade was a favourite
The keys are backlit with zones that you can control through Asus Aura Sync software. You can customize up to 16.8 million colours in different combinations. I particularly enjoyed the rainbow setting which gently cascades a shower of colours from left to right of the keyboard.
Above the keyboard are four dedicated gaming keys. These control your volume, microphone mute and quick access to Aura Core software — where several performance settings can be easily adjusted.
Asus Zephyrus M GM501 – Display
The Zephyrus comes standard with a 15.6 inch, FullHD 1920×1080 IPS-level panel that is pleasing to look at. For all your regular tasks, you won’t have any issues with this display.
Colours and viewing angles are pretty good with minimal colour shift when viewed off-axis.
But what’s most interesting about this screen is its 144Hz refresh with a 3ms response time. Most monitors cap out at 60Hz. The AHVA panel can redraw 144 frames every second which, in theory, means a much smoother picture.
The geek-gasmic Active Aerodynamic System raises the Zephyrus by 9mm to allow for cooling its internals.
And it is. Even moving around the Windows 10 interface, things were that bit smoother. Scrolling through content like longform webpages highlights the effect clearly.
It’s even more impressive in gaming. Everything is noticeably smoother. In Destiny 2, aiming down sights was more responsive and smooth. It was so much easier to cherry-pick those Fallen noggins.
Playing D2 on my Xbox One X now feels, slower, clunkier and harder to respond when compared to the Zephyrus. The hype is real.
Asus Zephyrus M GM501 – Performance and Gaming
However, you need a pretty good graphics card to truly experience and enjoy that 144 Hz display. Thankfully, the Nvidia Geforce GTX 1070 is up to the task.
This paired with an Intel Core i7-8570H, 32GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD guarantee top performance. 3D Mark TimeSpy benchmark resulted in a 3915 score which is twice what the ZenBook Pro 15 managed.
So far, so good. But how about some real games and not a benchmark?
I tried a few demanding titles; Destiny 2, Shadow of the Tomb Raider and Hitman 2. Should be a cakewalk given that I was able to get fairly decent scores on the GTX 1050 powered ZenBook 15.
The initial results were, puzzling. All the games ran at a consistent 40 frames per second no matter what settings I chose. Some investigation revealed that Nvidia’s Whisper mode — which priorities battery efficiency and cooling — was the culprit.
Disabling it brought immediate and massive improvement.
Hitman 2 saw an immediate jump to an average of 100fps with occasional dips to 87fps. Shadow of the Tomb Raider, with its gorgeous and demanding dense jungles and atmospheric lighting, ran at a consistent 60fps.
Lastly, Destiny 2 ran at an impressive, 100–130 fps at the highest settings. Gameplay as previously stated was so much better than I’d ever experienced.
All that performance will make the Zephyrus run hot. The top panel above the keyboard gets hot to the touch and the fans will roar to keep things cool.
Despite the noise, they do an exceptional job keeping the system running with zero throttling. Everything keeps ticking along without any crashes or stuttering. Unlike my old HP Envy, I never had any overheating shutdowns.
What’s more, the Aura Core software allows you to choose from three fan modes; silent, balanced and overboost. Except for the most demanding scenarios, you can use the silent running mode most of the time.
All in all, if you want to play games, the Zephyrus is a beast that delivers and I was happy with its performance. FullHD isn’t nearly as crisp as 4K but at highest settings, games look quite stunning.
Asus Zephyrus M GM501 –Battery
Let’s be honest, you didn’t expect to game on the battery life of an ultra-thin gaming laptop, did you? The battery life on the Zephyrus is exactly what I expected.
Asus states an official run time of 5.5 hours but in my use I found that to be much closer to 2-2.5 hours.
My typical usage was Chrome browser, Microsoft mail, some Spotify, Steam, Battlenet and the screen set to about 20% brightness. Nothing special.
The culprit is the Nvidia Optimus not working by default. Optimus automatically switches between the GTX 1070 and the lower power Intel GPU for fewer graphics intensive purposes thus saving battery.
Strangely, you have to activate it via an obscure setting in Aura Core software. It’s an odd thing that isn’t well communicated which I would have expected to be an automatic setting.
Gaming on the battery is still a pipe dream and I wouldn’t even bother. I’m not surprised by these numbers and I found that I kept the Zephyrus plugged in most of the time.
Asus Zephyrus M GM501 –Verdict
I really like the Asus Zephyrus M. It’s understated but the distinct design makes it stand out without being typical gamer-garish. Its performance in and out of games is beyond reproach and that 144Hz panel makes a world of difference.
The keyboard is great to use and the sound that comes out of its speakers is outstanding.
If I could complain it would be little things.
The bezels around the display are ridiculously big in 2018’s and the fact that you can’t change or disable the ROG Logo and vent lighting is a bummer. And while I don’t expect 10-hour battery life, a minimum of 5 hours would be acceptable for a gaming laptop.
Again, little niggles that aren’t in any way deal breakers.
Overall, the Asus Zephyrus M GM501 is an excellent gaming and productivity laptop. The Ultraslim gaming laptop space isn’t crowded with only the Razer Blade 15, Alienware 15 M, MSI GS65 Stealth and Gigabyte Aero 15 being real competitors.
You can’t go wrong with the Zephyrus and I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone
Our review unit of the Asus Zephyrus M GM501 was provided by Asus Australia.
Asus Zephyrus M G501 Review
Product Name: Asus Zephyrus M G501
Design & Build Quality
Sound, Multimedia & Connectivity