The first RTX laptop has landed.
The time has come: I finally have a gaming laptop equipped with Nvidia’s RTX 2080 GPU sitting on my desk. To be clear, the Asus ROG Zephyrus S (See it on Amazon) I have houses the Max-Q version of Nvidia’s flagship mobile GPU, so it’s not quite as powerful as the RTX 2080, but for a laptop, it screams.
I’ve only had a handful of days for testing, but the impression I’m left with is that the ROG Zephyrus S and the RTX 2080 are quite a combination. Currently, you can pre-order the GX701GX from the likes of Amazon, with the price ranging from $2,699 to $3,299, depending on the configuration. Asus sent me the most expensive configuration to test because of course they did.
Here are the specifications of the Asus ROG Zephyrus S (GX701GX) I am evaluating:
- Model: GX701GX
- Display: 17.3-inch 144Hz Full HD (1920×1080) IPS
- Processor: Intel Core i7-8750H at 2.2GHz (9M Cache, up to 4.10 GHz)
- Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 with Max-Q (8GB GDDR6)
- Memory: 24GB DDR4 (8GB soldered)
- OS: Windows 10 Pro
- Storage: 1TB NVMe PCIe SSD
- Webcam: External 1080p camera included
- Ports: 1 x USB-C/Thunderbolt combo, 1 x USB-C, 1 x USB 3.1 Gen2, 2 x USB 3.1 Gen1, 1 x HDMI, 1 x 3.5mm headphone jack
- Connectivity: 802.11ac 2×2, Bluetooth 5.0
- Dimensions: 15.7 x 10.7 x 0.74-inches (WxDxH)
- Weight: 5.96 pounds
- Price: $3,299
ASUS ROG Zephyrus S – Design and Features
Tucked inside the slim chassis is a six-core Intel Core i7-8750H CPU, a total of 24GB of DDR4 memory (8GB is soldered with one additional 16GB stick included), a 1TB PCIe SSD, and, of course, the 8GB Nvidia RTX 2080 with Max-Q. Suffice to say, this baby is loaded.
Nvidia’s new 20-series GPUs promise performance boosts thanks to the company’s new Turing architecture and real-time ray tracing, the latter of which requires support from the respective game.
The GX701GX looks nearly identical to the Asus GX501VS I reviewed in late 2017, but with a bigger display and footprint. The GX701GX measures 15.7 x 10.7 x 0.74-inches and weighs just shy of six-pounds, despite housing a 17.3-inch Full HD display. Speaking of the display, the 144Hz panel boasts a 3ms response time and thin bezels. In fact, the bezels are so thin that Asus opted not to build a webcam into the housing, choosing instead to include an external 1080p webcam in the box.
What makes the GX701GX stand out is its unique keyboard layout. The keyboard and trackpad are near the front of the laptop, with a large, empty area between the keyboard and the display houses the cooling apparatus. It also has the Asus ROG Active Aerodynamic System (AAS), which creates space between the bottom of the laptop and your lap or table whenever the lid is opened, allowing the fans to move more air and keep the system cool.
There are two RGB lights, one on each side, that give the gap along the bottom of the laptop some flair when the lid is opened and the cooling system is activated. The otherwise black housing is broken up only by gold highlights around the edge. I really liked the look of the previous model, the GX501VS, awkward keyboard placement and all, and that hasn’t changed with the GX701GX.
On the left side you’ll find the charging port, an HDMI port, a USB 3.1 (Gen2) port, a USB-C/Thunderbolt with Power Delivery port, and a 3.5mm audio jack. The USB-C port on this side can be used to connect an external display, hard drive, or charge the laptop with a Power Delivery (PD) compatible wall adapter of up to 65W.
The benefit of PD charging is that you can leave the brick power adapter at home and use something like RavPower’s 45W USB-C PD charger to free up space in your backpack. Although, gaming when charging via USB-C isn’t “recommended” according to an alert that pops up when USB-C charging is connected. Another USB-C port, for connecting devices, and two USB 3.1 ports make up the right side of the laptop.
The keyboard has individually lit RGB keys and the volume control along with the ROG logo both light up as well. The volume control is handled by a wheel above the keyboard on the left side that rotates up and down, adjusting the volume in the respective direction, or you can press it to mute the sound. It’s an admittedly small feature, but one that I absolutely love. I wish every gaming laptop had a dedicated volume control that was this easy to adjust mid-game.
The trackpad doubles as a number pad with a quick press of a button just above it (see the beginning of this review). It’s still awkward to use a trackpad that’s slimmed down and tucked to the right of the keyboard. Thankfully, most owners of this laptop will have a dedicated gaming mouse.
ASUS ROG Zephyrus S – Software
There are a few different Asus branded apps that come preinstalled. The program I found myself using the most was the Armory Crate. This is where you can do things like view system stats, create gaming profiles, and customize the Aura lighting on the keyboard and ROG logo. It’s an intuitive app once you figure out that you can scroll to the right on most pages and panels, and can be launched with the press of the dedicated ROG Armory Crate button just above the trackpad.
In addition to Armory Crate, Sonic Studio 3 can be used to adjust the audio to your liking. GameFirst V provides a tool to prioritize the laptop’s bandwidth for specific tasks, such as games or live streaming.
Outside of Asus’ apps, McAfee Security also comes preinstalled, and it’s annoying. I’ve said it many times before, paying $3,000 for a laptop should mean that users don’t have to put up with passive aggressive prompts warning users that if they don’t pay for McAfee, their laptop is at risk. What really gets me is the only way to clear the notification is to click on a button that states something along the lines of “I’m OK with my information being insecure.”
ASUS ROG Zephyrus S – Performance and Gaming
Let’s get the benchmarks out of the way. Since this is the first RTX-anything I have tested, I can only compare it to the previous generation of laptops with GTX hardware. I put it up against a laptop with a GTX 1080 with Max-Q and one with a GTX 1070, just so you can get an idea of what to expect if you’re debating if an RTX GPU is right for you.
As expected, the RTX 2080 had a nearly perfect sweep, save for the CPU-related PCMark 8 test, where the EVO17-S outperformed the GX701GX. The boost over the GTX 1080 and 1070 ranged from 20 to 40 percent, which is impressive given it’s a leap from one generation to the next without a major die shrink involved. None of the games in that benchmark chart even involve the GPU’s RTX features, but even without them the RTX series is a decent step up from the GTX series, based on my tests.
Aside from the benchmark tests, I saw modest improvements in the myriad of titles I typically play when reviewing a gaming laptop. With Fortnite and Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, I experienced similar frame rates to what I experienced on the GTX 1070 equipped Origin EVO17-S.
With Fortnite set to Epic across the board the GX701GX stayed between 110 and 120 FPS
With Fortnite set to Epic across the board the GX701GX stayed between 110 and 120 FPS, with the frame rate in Black Ops 4 hovering between 90 and 100 FPS, which is, again, the same range I experienced with a GTX 1070-equipped laptop. One explanation for the similar performance could be that each vendor is able to tune the Max-Q version of the RTX GPUs to their own specifications. The tuning is done to maximize performance based on the system’s design, and can potentially throttle the Max-Q version of the 2080 by up to 50%. Ouch.
That said, Asus tuned this GPU to a boost speed of 1230MHz, out of a potential maximum of 1,590Mhz for the Max-Q model. Using GPU-Z, I found that ASUS has a base clock speed of 990MHz, but it was able to boost to 1,500MHz under load, which isn’t too shabby. Compare that to the base clock speed of 1,515MHz for the full desktop RTX 2080, and the fact that the desktop card can boost to over 1,900MHz, and it becomes clearer there’s still quite a gap between desktop and mobile parts. More importantly, the company you purchase your RTX-equipped laptop from actually matters with RTX parts since the clock speeds can and will vary from one company to the next.
But between the 144hz display and the beefed up GPU, nearly every game I played while testing looked better than with the last gen to my eyes. It’s entirely possible it’s just a placebo effect and unintentional bias comes into the equation, but the water in Leaky Lakes in Fortnite looked more realistic than I have ever seen it.
Finally, I’d been holding out on buying Battlefield V because I wasn’t entirely sold on it, but since it supports the RTX’s ray-tracing, I figured it was time to give it a shot. I’m happy to report that with DXR set to ultra, I was able to get 95 to 115 FPS at 1080p, which is quite amazing for a laptop doing real-time ray traced reflections.
With DXR set to ultra, I got 95 to 115 FPS at 1080p
As far as the cooling goes, Asus offers several speed settings for the cooling system. There’s silent, balanced, and turbo. For the most part, I stayed in balanced mode and didn’t find the fans to be overly loud or annoying. I was well aware they were running, but at no time did they get loud enough that I couldn’t hear the game I was playing.
It’s possible the speakers simply overpowered the fans, though, because the speakers on the GX701GX are loud. I never really had to go much further than about 60% of max volume and I could hear every footstep or gunshot over the fans without issue.
As for the keyboard, the keys provide little travel and are quick to respond. I would like to have the feedback of the keys be a bit firmer, but that’s just me being picky.
ASUS ROG Zephyrus S – Battery Life
When looping a 4K video on the GX701GX, the battery lasted 102 minutes before the laptop powered down. That battery life is better than any of the GTX 1080 laptops I’ve tested, outlasting the Acer Triton’s 87 minutes. Also, when comparing it to GTX 1070 laptops, the GX701GX is no slouch either. The Origin EVO17-S I just reviewed lasted 98 minutes with the same test.
The ASUS ROG Zephyrus S GX701 has a February 20 release date and you can preorder the version with 16GB of RAM now, with the 24GB version coming at some point in the future.