CES 2019 ushered in the next generation of gaming laptops with NVIDIA’s Turing powered RTX graphics. The Asus Zephyrus S GX701 was among the first laptops announced that are built around the new ray tracing goodness.
The Asus Zephyrus S GX701 is one of the thinnest, lightest 17 inch gaming laptops money can buy.
I recently got to test one for a week and I was very impressed with the package. It’s got exceptional gaming performance and weighs less than many 15-inch laptops. So is the Asus Zephyrus S GX701 a God Roll?
Asus Zephyrus S GX701 Review
The Zephyrus S GX701 is a sequel to the Asus Zephyrus S line of last year. Their standout feature is a super slim chassis with the keyboard lowered way to the bottom of the chassis where most laptops would have their trackpad.
This design, while odd, serves a greater purpose of much better cooling of the innards by making room for more airflow. In practice, I’m not so sure if this works as well as advertised because the Zephyrus S GX701 still gets plenty hot under load.
In saying that, I never noticed the Zephyrus S GX701 slowing down when under load — more commonly referred to as throttling. And speaking of internals here’s what our test unit was packing;
- Processor: Intel Core i7-8750H
- Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 with Max-Q Design
- Memory: Up to 24GB of DDR4 2666MHz SDRAM
- Storage: M.2 NVMe PCIe 3.0 x4 1TB SSD
- Display: 17.3-inch Full HD (1920×1080) IPS-level panel, 144Hz, 3ms, 100% sRGB, Optimus, G-SYNC, Pantone® Validated
- Dimensions: 39.9(W) x 27.2(D) x 1.87(H) cm
- Weight: 2.7 kg
With the exception of the shiny new RTX 2080 Max-Q, most of the components are still last gen. This isn’t a bad thing though because performance from the Intel Core i7–8570H is still terrific.
Asus Zephyrus S GX701— Flawless 1080p Gaming
As usual, gaming performance is up first because who buys a machine like this to do spreadsheets, am I right? All testing was done in 1080p which is the max resolution of the Zephyrus S GX701’s 17.3-inch display. I’d have liked to see a 1440p or 4K panel at this size but at least we get that sweet 144Hz refresh rate with 3ms response time.
The NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 with Max-Q Design is the crown jewel here. With 8GB of DDR6 RAM and all new Turing architecture, you can expect excellent performance and the Zephyrus S GX701 delivers it in spades.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider was up first because we all want to know how the Zephyrus S GX701 handles that ray tracing everyone keeps yapping about. Unfortunately, at the time of my testing, the Ray Tracing patch hadn’t been released to the general public. However, the game run sublimely at its highest settings averaging 95FPS with a high of up to 105FPS. Woot!
The results as you can see in the graph below were similarly spectacular across Apex Legends, Destiny 2, Gears of War 4 and even Hitman 2 which is commonly the rarest to get high frame rates out of.
This performance is nothing short of spectacular. If you read our review of the impressive Alienware 15 R4, you will see that the Zephyrus S GX701 soundly wipes the floor with it. No game ever run below 50FPS which is outstanding. There is simply no game that this beast won’t chew through.
The Zephyrus S GX701 is the first laptop we’ve tested that can actually make use of that 144 Hz refresh rate. Apex Legends was so smooth I won’t bother playing it on my Xbox One X after this.
This impressive performance extends to productivity as well. Windows 10 and its various apps run exceptionally smoothly. There’s never a hint of stutter or lag. Again, the 144 Hz display makes scrolling and moving windows about a very smooth experience.
I will mention that the Zephyrus S GX701 does get very loud in spite of the fancy heat-dissipating design. My wife was quite alarmed by how loud it was while I worked in the living room. This isn’t going to be something you can use at work and not get noticed for playing a quick round of Fortnite.
Along with that noise is heat. While the Zephyrus S GX701 does an excellent job of keeping the heat away from your fingers, it still gets noticeably hot at the top of the chassis where the processors are. In practice, this means you will singe your thighs. Best to keep it on a desk when playing games.
Asus Zephyrus S GX701— Design and Build
All this impressive performance is housed in an extremely thin chassis, measuring 18.7mm at its thickest. For reference, the Razer Blade 15 Advanced is 17.9mm and the Apple MacBook Pro is 14.9mm. Of course, neither of those has a 17.3-inch display.
And what a display it is. With bezels only 6.9mm wide on the sides and top, and a screen to body ratio of 81%, the Zephyrus S GX701 has the footprint similar to a 15-inch laptop. This makes the Zephyrus S GX701 feels smaller than it is.
On top of that, the screen has some excellent colour reproduction, using Asus ProArt TruColor technology to deliver a Pantone Validated palette. This is great for gaming but also content creation. As a professional designer, I found the Zephyrus S GX701 display very pleasing both in entertainment and productivity.
Those tiny bezels did come at a cost though. Asus removed the webcam completely, opting to have it as a separate external module. The ROG GC21 camera module records at FullHD 60FPS and connects via USB.
Due to limited time, I wasn’t able to test this but Asus has clearly thought of Streamers when they designed this. The module is self-standing and can be adjusted to get the best views.
Of course, being a Zephyrus laptop means you get the same futuristic opening hinge that raises the base of the laptop to allow for more air flow. We saw this in our Zephyrus M G501 review and liked the design.
Similarly, the chassis is made of the same magnesium alloy and it feels sturdy and rigid while being very lite at only 2.7kg. The signature diamond brushed-metal finish on the lid with the large glowing ROG logo return and still look good. The additional gold lining is subtle but classy.
The large cooling space above the keyboard is a soft dimpled plastic that looks and feels good. A nicely designed volume dial stands out on the left-hand side and is an unexpected pleasure. It’s very tactile and I love the sense of style it adds to the overall package.
On the right are another glowing logo and power button. For an otherwise empty space, Asus has done very well in making it look good.
Asus Zephyrus S GX701— Keyboard down low
The biggest differentiator for the Zephyrus S GX701 from other laptops is the unique placement of its keyboard. It sits lower on the chassis to enable greater cooling up top. This gives the Zephyrus S GX701 its unique look and also its biggest drawback.
Being so low makes it really awkward to use. I could only use the keyboard by pushing the Zephyrus S GX701 at an arm’s length away from me to give my arms the necessary support. It’s a carpal tunnel nightmare especially if you try to use it on your lap.
On top of that, I had to shift my hands a little to the left so I wouldn’t keep accidentally typing on the trackpad which sits on the right of the keyboard. A fundamental rule of good design is to never change the patterns people are used to in everyday life. The Zephyrus S GX701 breaks this rule and it doesn’t work.
Which is a shame because the keyboard is actually quite good. The 1.4mm of key travel is just right; responsive and pleasant to type on. The keys are also well spaced and individually backlit. You can customise the lighting with the bundled Aura software.
The Zephyrus S GX701 trackpad is also problematic. Although it’s very responsive and feels good to the touch, it’s also poorly placed and shaped. Because it was moved to the side, it’s much narrower than any trackpad I’ve ever used.
I couldn’t get used to how narrow it is leading to a lot of strain. I eventually resorted to using an external mouse. On the flip side, Asus has designed it to work as a numeric keypad as well. You can activate it at the touch of a button.
But none of this seems to be a worthy tradeoff for greater cooling. This keyboard/ trackpad configuration doesn’t work well and it’s a big disappointment in what’s otherwise a tremendous machine.
Asus Zephyrus S GX701— You get a port, everyone gets a port
A saving grace to that disappointing keyboard/ trackpad configuration is that you can use external peripherals easily. Asus has given the Zephyrus S GX701 a wealth of ports and connectivity options.
On the left-hand side, you have DC Power port, HDMI 2.0, USB 3.0 Gen 2 Type A, 3.5mm audio jack and a multipurpose USB 3.1 Type—C which is Power Delivery and DisplayPort 1.4 enabled. On the right, you have two USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A and a USB 3.1 Type—C.
The HDMI 2.0 and DisplayPort means you can easily have a triple monitor set up or connect to a 4K 60Hz TV. Bluetooth 5.0 is also available, offering greater range and more simultaneous device connections.
The only thing missing here is an Ethernet Port for those who want uncompromising LAN connections. But my experience with the 802.11ac 2×2 WLAN WiFi connection was rock solid at all times.
Asus Zephyrus S GX701— Battery and RGB
I keep hoping to be surprised by battery life in a gaming laptop but sadly, there’s nothing good to report here. Asus conservatively states the Zephyrus S GX701 will last up to 4h 42m but my experience was half that at best.
The battery would nominally drain on average after about 2h -2h 30min. This was with light use, writing, web browsing, Spotify, Battlenet and Steam doing downloads in the background.
As with all gaming laptops, forget about gaming on the battery for more than an hour with more compromised performance settings. The Asus Aura software does a decent job in helping you set performance profiles for the Zephyrus S GX701.
The Aura software also gives you access to the plentiful Aura RGB customisations for the Zephyrus S GX701. You can change the keyboard, trackpad, logos and vent lighting. You have 8 different lighting presets as well as the ability to customise your own.
Additionally, the Zephyrus S GX701 is Aura Sync compatible which means you can synchronise Aura RGB on your other compatible Asus peripherals for that perfect desk set up.
Asus Zephyrus S GX701— Should you buy?
At an RRP of AUD $4999, the Zephyrus S GX701 is far from cheap and in fact, is worth more than more powerful desktop rigs. But it easily trounces any other gaming laptop we’ve reviewed so far. It’s sleek, lightweight, great build, beautiful display and very powerful.
The RTX 2080 Max-Q kicks all sorts of ass and runs every game at max settings way above the coveted 60FPS. It’s the first laptop I’ve used that is capable of maxing out the 144Hz refresh.
Unfortunately, the keyboard/ trackpad is simply unusable for the majority of people and isn’t a worthwhile tradeoff for the added cooling. Add to that a negligible battery life and the premise of ultimate portable gaming and productivity workhorse is defeated by the constant need of a close power source.
I can not recommend the odd keyboard configuration, but I suggest you try it in a store for yourself before deciding. The Asus Zephyrus S GX701 seems more like a proof of concept than a realistic, everyday laptop.
The Asus Zephyrus S GX701 was provided by Asus Australia for the purpose of this review.
Product Name: Asus Zephyrus S GX701
Product Description: Slim and light 17-inch gaming laptop
Offer price: $4999
Bleeding edge gaming performance leaves every other laptop in the dust
Beautiful design, solid build and lightweight
Keyboard and Trackpad configuration is really poor
Battery is exactly what you'd expect in a gaming laptop
Gorgeous 17.3-inch 1080p display and 144Hz refresh rate that is actually used