Pretty damn near perfect, with a few notable flaws

Pretty damn near perfect, with a few notable flaws

Detailed review Asus ROG Zephyrus S (GX531)

The Asus ROG Zephyrus S (GX531) is a 15-inch gaming laptop, which, according to Asus, is currently the thinnest 15-inch gaming machine. It’s less than an inch thick and measures 2.1 kilograms, which isn’t much when you think about it. It has that signature “Aero Active” hinge, with the bottom opening a few millimeters when the laptop is open, all to aid in better airflow. Seeing how the GX531 packs an Nvidia RTX 2070 with the Max-Q design, this machine will definitely need the extra cooling. We’ve had the laptop in our labs for a few days now and after going through some tests, we finally know whether to recommend the laptop or not. Short answer, it’s not easy. Read on for the long answer.

Specifications:


















ASUS ROG Zephyrus S (GX531) Specifications
Processor Intel Core i7-8750H 2.2GHz
Platform 300 series
RAM FSB 2666MHz
RAM Capacity: 16GB
Screen size 15.6-inch
Screen resolution 1920×1080
Refresh rate 144Hz
GPU Nvidia GeForce RTX 2070 Max Q
SSD 512GB NVMe
Ethernet No
Wi-Fi Intel 802.11ac (2×2) Gigabit Wi-Fi
Battery 4210mAh 66Whr @15.4v
AC adapter 230W
Weight 2.1kg

Build and design

The Asus ROG Zephyrus S is smooth and sleek of all kinds. With the lid closed, it is less than an inch thick, which is quite an achievement for a slot machine. It was the main reason for me to actually consider purchasing this laptop for personal use. When closed, it feels like an invincible tank.

Once the lid is open, another lid rises from the bottom, leaving an opening of only a few millimeters to allow the fans to draw in more air. The hinges, of both the display and the metal plate rising from the bottom, are extremely solid and well built. It won’t be the parts that left you, but instead it will be the metal plate itself. If you hold the laptop while it is open, you can see how thin and therefore “spongy” this plate is. With prolonged use it will be very easy to cause some bends on this plate. Likewise, the display panel itself is very “flexible” and exhibits prominent wobble when moved from only one edge. After using metal in the lid, it was extremely disappointing to see the display being so thin.

The screen cover is extremely flexible

The sturdiness of the GX531 comes from its base, which is machined from a single piece of aluminum and is incredibly solid and leaves no room for complaints. The all-black paint job with copper trim is quite an eye-catcher too, alongside all the RGB lighting on the keyboard and under the vents.

At first glance, the Asus ROG Zephyrus is absolutely gorgeous to look at. It’s tight, all black and menacing. But once it’s open, it starts to show all the weaknesses. The bottom panel is incredibly thin and we think it’s easy to damage. Also the screen shows extreme “flexibility”, something we are not very fond of. All in all, we’ve been led to believe that this power horse, when purchased, will require a bit of careful handling.

Display

The display of the Asus Zephyrus S (GX531) has a number of features worth bragging about. The fullHD panel has a refresh rate of 144 Hz with a response time of 3 ms. Plus, the screen is Pantone certified, meaning it needs to be color calibrated right out of the box. We used our Spyder colorimeter designed specifically for LCD screens and found Asus’ claims of “calibrated out of the box” to be valid.

Pantone validates FH IPS display with 144Hz refresh rate

With a peak brightness of 340 lux, the screen is bright enough to even play outside. The matte coating certainly helps suppress reflections and we’re glad Asus put a display of this caliber on the GX531. The extremely narrow bezels make it even more fun to play on.

The display on the GX531 is definitely very impressive. If anything was missing, we’d say it would be Nvidia’s G-sync, but honestly, after hours of gaming on this machine, we didn’t really miss the feature.

Keyboard, trackpad and I/O

The Asus ROG Zephyrus S (GX531) has a normal keyboard with a keystroke of 1.2 mm. Unlike the slightly curved keys, we found on the company’s Scar II (Review) laptop, the ones on the GX531 are completely flat. Oh, and you may notice that the keyboard is positioned towards the front of the body’s frame, a design choice that the Zephyrus line is rather famous for. This placement takes some getting used to, and some would say, you never really get used to it.

The Asus Zephyrus S continues the ‘unique’ ergonomics for keyboard and trackpad

Typing on them is a decent experience, as the keys offer shallow travel with somewhat sharpness. The keyboard island offers no flex, which is certainly a good thing, as it only adds to our earlier conclusion about build quality. Unfortunately, the keys don’t offer per-key RGB setting, instead offering 4-zone RGB control.

The trackpad is placed to the right of the keyboard in portrait orientation. This is another design choice from Zephyrus. I feel like this placement actually makes the trackpad usable while gaming or using the lasso tool in Photoshop. The individual and plush left and right click keys only add to its usability. Don’t get me wrong, this is a good placement for the trackpad, making it very usable, but it’s not sensitive enough for fps gaming. In addition, the trackpad also doubles as a numpad by pressing a key. Once enabled, red numbers will appear on the trackpad, turning it into a numpad. It’s usable, but given the lack of feedback, it can be a little disconcerting to use at times. I found myself double checking my track entries after using the trackpad due to the lack of feedback.

Probably my biggest point of contention with the GX531 is the I/O selection. You get a Type-C USB 3.1 Gen 2 port with display port and power supply. This is located on the right side of the machine, along with a USB3.1 Gen2 Type A port. On the left, you get a Type-C USB 3.1 Gen 1 port, along with 2 USB 2.0 ports. With only 3 Type A ports, there’s absolutely no question that two of them are USB2.0, especially when you see how Asus is marketing this to creative professionals as well. For a laptop costing as much as the GX531, USB 2.0 ports are just unacceptable.

USB 2.0 in 2019? On a machine that expensive?

Performance

Finally, on to the good stuff. Inside this 16mm thin machine is an Intel Core i7-8750H combined with an Nvidia RTX 2070 Max-Q. There’s a 512GB NVMe drive that uses x4 PCIe lanes, which is pretty much the only upgradeable thing in this laptop. The board supports up to 16GB of RAM, which the machines come pre-installed with, so there’s no point in opening this up. Unfortunately, for those who get this machine, there is no opportunity for a performance boost in the future.

In terms of price and specs, the biggest competitor to the GX531 we tested is the Alienware m15. So for all the performance metrics, that’s our equation.

Alienware m15 leads the way in most synthetic benchmarks

While gaming, we had the machine set to Turbo mode with the Armory Crate software. We’ve rotated our usual favorites and clocked in the numbers below.

What was very disappointing was the issue of frame drops every few minutes of the game. We would go from 70+fps in Shadow of the Tomb Raider to barely 11fps for a few seconds and then back to 70+fps. We noticed this behavior in all our games and concluded that there was some kind of limitation going on. You can see the frame rates for some games in the charts below.

Gaming on the Asus Zephyrus S with 1080p, Ultra graphics

Gaming on the Asus Zephyrus S with 1080p, high graphics

Given the powerful components in the GX531, we expected the machine to deliver a hitch-free performance. Unfortunately, for some reason, it falters in every game played on it. We’ve reached out to Asus to verify if there was an issue with the review unit we received and will update this review with new information as it comes to light.

Another interesting aspect of benchmarking the GX531 was the internal drive. The laptop comes with an Intel 512GB NVMe drive that uses x4 PCIe lanes, but read/write performance was on the low side. Read speeds peaked at 1709 MB per second with a maximum write speed of about 984 MB per second.

thermals

Perhaps the most mind-boggling part of reviewing the Asus Zephyrus S (GX531) was its thermal performance and how it would compare to CPU-GPU throughput. Under full load, the heat blown out was only 56 degrees. Idle, the system clocked in at a temperature of just 32 degrees. Notably, the system isn’t very loud when idle, or even under moderate load, but put it in turbo mode with the dual 12V fans running at full speed, and we clocked in at nearly 70 decibels of loudness. Either way, the system is not getting hot enough for the heat to be the reason for throttling.

The bottom lifts up when the laptop is opened, allowing more air to be drawn in

The bottom of the laptop also gets uncomfortably warm, so you certainly don’t put this machine on your lap for extended periods of use.

bottom line

The Asus Zephyrus S (GX531) manages to get a few things very well. It contains a very powerful set of components in a slim chassis, ideal for those who like to carry their gaming or editing machines with them. The Pantone-validated 144Hz display is great right out of the box. the keyboard will take some getting used to, but the trackpad is definitely a strong point. What is definitely disappointing are the two USB 2.0 ports (should have been USB 3.0) and the flex on the display panel. The metal plate that holds the Aero Active cooler could have been better too. If you buy the Zephyrus S you won’t find any complaints about its performance, but we do recommend that you handle this machine with care.

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