Asus has diversified its ROG Zephyrus line of super-slim gaming laptops to reach different price and market segments. While the Zephyrus S models are still designed to be as slim and powerful as possible, the Zephyrus M and Zephyrus G varieties are aimed at more mainstream and entry-level buyers respectively. They're still relatively slim, but not to a degree that drives the manufacturing complexity and therefore the cost up to stratospheric levels. They also don't get the very highest-end hardware, like the S series. Today, we're reviewing the Zephyrus M GU502GU, which strikes a balance of power, size, and cost that should appeal to quite a lot of gamers.
The latest Asus ROG gaming laptop lineup was unveiled in April this year, shortly after both Intel and Nvidia launched new CPUs and GPUs respectively. Many of those models have just been launched in India, and our Zephyrus M GU502GU unit features fresh components that make it very interesting. Priced at Rs. 1,49,990 and weighing just under 2kg, could this gaming laptop find a permanent place in your backpack? Read on to find out.
The ROG Zephyrus M has a relatively sedate look for a gaming laptop
Asus ROG Zephyrus M GU502GU design
The ROG Zephyrus M GU502GU is definitely light enough to be carried around every day, straddling the line between true ultraportables and powerful gaming laptops. Slimness is supposed to be the defining characteristic of this device, and at 18.9mm it is on the slender side for gaming laptops. It's also wide and deep enough to accommodate a 15.6-inch screen.
The lid is plain black metal with a diagonal brushed texture and a large, off-centre ROG logo that glows red when the unit is in use. The edges are bevelled but not shiny. We're a little surprised that there isn't more “gamer” flair here in the form of aggressive edges and brightly coloured accents.
There's a fairly large cutout between the two hinges at the back, which lets you see a bit of the dotted metal strip that sits above the keyboard on the lower half. At first we thought this looked neat on an otherwise very sober device, but we soon noticed that little bits of lint and dust tended to get trapped in the dots. The cutout makes the power, battery, and storage status LEDs visible when the lid is folded down. Unfortunately, it also makes holding the unit in one hand when closed a little awkward.
It's possible to raise the lid with just one finger, and once that's done you'll see the expansive 15.6-inch screen. The borders on the top and sides of the screen are extremely narrow, but the chin is very thick. We don't mind this too much since it raises the screen to a more comfortable height. The hinge doesn't let the screen tilt as far back as we would have liked, though.
Our main objection here is that Asus has ditched the webcam altogether. Other laptops have had awkward arrangements with the camera in the chin or even on the keyboard, but surely there are better solutions than just getting rid of it. If you want to video chat, stream while gaming, or just take a few casual shots for fun, you'll have to buy (and carry around) an external USB webcam.
Most of the ports are on the left
The keyboard is fairly large, although Asus hasn't taken advantage of all the space available. We do appreciate the dedicated volume and mic mute buttons. The arrow keys are a bit too small, but are at least not all crammed together. There are also are a few odd quirks. For some reason, Delete and Insert share a key, PrintScreen is in the bottom row, and there's a giant extra Fn button in the lower right corner.
There are shortcuts to change the RGB keyboard backlight pattern and brightness, and you can also disable the Windows key to prevent accidentally interrupting games. There's also a dedicated button that launches Asus' Armoury Crate utility, which we'll discuss in a while.
The trackpad is placed right at the front lip of the device which is a little hard on the wrists, and it's also centred to the chassis rather than the keyboard. It doesn't have separate buttons but is decently sized and has a nice texture. The area around the keyboard and trackpad is made of metal with a matte texture and very faintly speckled design, which we quite liked.
On the left, you have the DC power inlet, an Ethernet port, a full-sized HDMI output, a USB 3.1 Gen2 (10Gbps) Type-A port, and individual 3.5mm headphones and mic sockets. On the right, there are two USB 3.1 Gen1 (5Gbps) ports and one USB 3.1 Gen2 (10Gbps) Type-C port that can be used for DisplayPort video output as well as charging the laptop. Each side also has large vents for hot air.
The stereo speakers are on the bottom of the ROG Zephyrus M GU502GU. You can see two fans and the heatpipes running to the laptop's major components through air intake vents on the bottom. Sadly, there's no hatch or panel for easy access to upgradeable components.
Although the laptop itself seems very portable, the 230W power brick that comes in the box is enormous. You can, however, charge this laptop (slowly) using a certified 65W USB Power Delivery Type-C charger, or even a power bank.
The keyboard features per-key RGB backlighting
Asus ROG Zephyrus M GU502GU specifications and software
Asus has launched this portable gaming machine in India in a single configuration priced at Rs. 1,49,990. You get a 9th Gen Intel Core i7-9750H CPU which has six cores with Hyper-Threading, and runs at a base speed of 2.6GHz with a boost speed of 4.5GHz in a 45W TDP. The other main highlight is Nvidia's new GeForce GTX 1660 Ti discrete GPU, which is based on the same new Turing architecture as the GeForce RTX series, but without the dedicated ray tracing hardware.
There's 16GB of RAM and a 512GB PCIe SSD. The RAM is soldered down, but there's a free slot so you can add up to 16GB more. There's also a second free M.2 slot which can accept either a PCIe or SATA SSD. It's nice to have some scope for upgrades even in a slim laptop. Wi-Fi 802.11ac and Bluetooth 5 are built in but oddly, there's no SD card slot, which we would have liked.
The 15.6-inch screen has a standard resolution of 1920x1080 but there's a bonus in the form of a 144Hz refresh rate, which should get gamers excited. Unfortunately, Nvidia's G-Sync variable refresh rate standard is not supported. Asus also says that this panel is Pantone validated for colour reproduction accuracy, and it can cover 100 percent of the sRGB gamut.
Battery life is rated at up to 8 hours, but Asus has not specified the actual battery capacity. One thing worth mentioning is that the RGB keyboard backlighting is configurable per key, and there are three selectable brightness levels.
You get Windows 10 Home, along with preloaded Asus apps. A lot of functionality has been centralised into the Armoury Crate utility, which is now standard across Asus ROG laptops and components. You can tweak fan profiles, create and manage the RGB LED effects, and check for updates. There's also a 30-day McAfee LiveSave trial that occasionally threw up enormous popups covering most of the screen.
There are large air vents on either side
Asus ROG Zephyrus M GU502GU performance
As far as general-purpose usage goes, we had hardly any trouble with the Asus ROG Zephyrus M GU502GU. This laptop is fully capable of functioning as an everyday machine for productivity, especially if you need something with a big screen that isn't too difficult to carry around. It has more than enough power for basic usage as well as multitasking, and it can handle some heavy image or video editing work too.
We always appreciate an anti-reflective laptop screen, and the one on this laptop is great for indoor use. Colours are vivid without being oversaturated, and viewing angles are decent. The high 144Hz refresh rate does make a difference even outside of games but you can only use it when the Zephyrus M GU502GU is running off mains power. On battery power, you'll fall back to 60Hz. and The screen goes black and there's a 2-5 second delay each time it switches modes when you plug the charger in or unplug it.
The keyboard is relatively comfortable, apart from the compressed arrow keys. Your right palm will rest on the trackpad while typing, which feels weird, but at least palm touch rejection is good. The trackpad is also smooth, and multi-finger gestures work very well. Unfortunately the speakers sounded harsh and tinny – they might be good enough for simple effects in games, but dialogue and music did not come out sounding good.
We started testing the performance of the ROG Zephyrus M GU502GU with some synthetic benchmarks. PCMark 10 gave us an overall score of 4,572 in its standard test, and the Extended run produced a score of 5,792. CineBench R20 put up scores of 435 for a single CPU core and 2,452 for all cores. POVRay ran its render benchmark in 1 minute, 58 seconds.
CrystalDiskMark 6 gave us pretty good SSD performance scores, with sequential reads and writes coming in at 1813.2MBps and 970.5MBps respectively, and random reads and writes of 339.8MBps and 415.8MBps respectively. In our real-world file compression test, it took 4 minutes, 8 seconds to compress a 3.24GB folder of assorted files with 7zip. Transcoding a 1.3GB AVI file to H.265 using Handbrake took 1 minute, 1 second.
We then turned our attention to the GPU with 3DMark. The Time Spy test returned a score of 5,348, while Fire Strike Extreme gave us 6,287 points. Unigine Valley failed to run, crashing on startup each time we tried.
We began our game tests with Far Cry 5, running at the native 1920x1080 resolution at the Ultra preset. With the refresh rate set to 144Hz, we saw an average frame rate of 63fps, and at 60Hz, that only went up to 66Hz. We could tell that the higher setting pretty much eliminated tearing and wobbling that we saw at 60Hz when the average dipped below 60fps.
Moving on to Shadow of the Tomb Raider, we got an average of 61fps using the High graphics preset with TAA enabled at 144Hz. Reducing that to 60Hz brought that figure up to 65fps. Metro: Last Light Redux's benchmark doesn't offer refresh rate controls, but it ran at an average of 98.47fps using the Very High preset with SSAA off, and 58.49fps with it enabled.
Playing through Doom (2016) manually, we saw frame rates of between 90 and 100fps even during intense fights.
The Zephyrus M GU502GU does not have a flap on the bottom that opens out to improve airflow, like its predecessor the Zephyrus M GM501GS. We found that this laptop didn't get warm at all with casual use, but as soon as we fired up some games, benchmarks, or content creation tools, the fans would spin up and get very noisy.
The entire metal keyboard deck got way too hot, too soon. The wrist rest became uncomfortable after about 30 minutes of gaming. Even the plastic keys in the centre of the keyboard got very toasty, although the WASD keys were okay.
The intensity of the fans was enough to drown out ambient game sounds, and there were sudden whooshes and dips in speed that we found distracting. Also, when playing games with an external mouse, you'll want to keep your hand at least six inches away from either side of this laptop because of the hot air that gets forced out.
That brings us to battery life. We don't usually expect much from a gaming laptop, but the Zephyrus M GU502GU still managed a decent six hours or so of casual non-gaming use on a single charge. That isn't enough to get through a full workday but it shows that this machine was not designed to just sit on a desk while plugged in its entire life. The intense Battery Eater Pro benchmark ran for 2 hours, 57 minutes which is on the higher side as well.
The Asus ROG Zephyrus M weighs just under 2kg
As we can see, a gaming laptop this slim does have its downsides. The thermal design is somewhat inadequate and you might want to stick to lower settings or less intense games just to be more comfortable. You'll also want to invest in a headset to hear your games over the roar of the fans, and you can forget about not disturbing anyone else around you. Asus has made some odd decisions in terms of design too – the missing webcam and off-centre trackpad being the most egregious of them.
The price of this laptop is reasonable considering its modern hardware, 144Hz screen, and portability. You could get a more capable gaming laptop, or a lighter ultraportable for the same amount of money, but what you get here is a compromise that gives you most of the benefits of both.
Aside from gaming, the Asus ROG Zephyrus M GU502GU could be a decent portable laptop for those who need power, or who just like its style and can afford the indulgence.