Every part of the new Asus ROG Zephyrus M16 is superb but the top-end model is very, very expensive
- Staggering gaming performance
- Lovely HDR-capable display
- Light and compact for its class
- Very expensive for the top-end spec
- Poor battery life
- Hot and loud under duress
It’s not often that the planets align and we get new silicon from both the dominant PC chip maker and the dominant GPU maker at the same time. This, however, is one such moment with both Intel and Nvidia both releasing their latest wares almost simultaneously. From the former, we have the 13th generation Raptor Lake CPUs while from the latter, we have new GPUs using the latest Ada Lovelace architecture.
The first machine with these new underpinnings to land here at Expert Reviews is the Asus ROG Zephyrus M16, a powerful gaming laptop for those who’d rather not have to deal with the rather over-exuberant styling of typical gaming laptops.
Asus ROG Zephyrus M16 review: What you need to know
The main focus of interest here is the new GeForce RTX 40-series of Nvidia GPUs. Not only is the hardware new but there’s also a new version of Nvidia’s upscaling technology, DLSS3, which is only supported by RTX 40 units. A new string to the DLSS bow is Frame Generation, which creates new frames to boost the frame rate without having an impact on quality or performance. This promises to make DLSS3 a significant advance over any previous upscaling technology.
The 2023 Asus ROG Zephyrus M16 also uses Intel’s latest Raptor Lake technology in potent Core i9 guise and Nvidia’s new RTX 40-series GPU in the form of the top-of-the-line RTX 4090 with 16GB of video RAM. The Zephyrus also sees the debut of Asus’ new Nebula HDR displays which use a multi-zone LED backlight to bring OLED levels of contrast and HDR quality to IPS displays.
It’s worth mentioning here that Asus has pushed the M16 into the market quickly with one or two rough edges on the software front. I needed to manually update the BIOS to get the Nebula HDR display’s local dimming to work and sometimes engaging the MUX switch caused the display brightness to become stuck at maximum, necessitating a restart. A new GPU driver is being rolled out by Nvidia to fix the latter and a BIOS update is being pushed out by Asus to rectify the former.
Asus ROG Zephyrus M16 review: Price and competition
Configuration tested: Intel Core i9-13900H CPU, Nvidia GeForce RTX 4090 150W GPU, 32GB RAM, 16GB vRAM, 2TB SSD, 16in 2,560 x 1,600 IPS non-touchscreen; Price: £4,099
The 2023 M16 is currently available in two models. One has a display with a mini LED backlight that has 1,024 areas of local dimming, a GeForce RTX 4090 GPU and 2TB of storage; the other, cheaper, model has the same basic panel but with a conventional, single-zone LED backlight, a GeForce RTX 4080 GPU and a 1TB SSD. The GeForce RTX 4090 machine will set you back £4,099 and the lesser model £3,299. In due course, a variant with a GeForce RTX 4070 GPU should also appear.
For much the same money, you can have Acer’s Helios 300 SpatialLabs Edition, a mighty 15.6in laptop with an innovative 3D 4K display and more than enough power to keep most gamers and other demanding users happy. It isn’t cheap at £3,700 but it’s very interesting, nonetheless.
If you don’t want to take the Intel or Nvidia path then the AMD Alienware m17 R5 AMD Advantage is worth a look. The 4K screen is a cracker and the all-AMD platform isn’t wanting for performance. The optional mechanical keyboard is a nice, and affordable, option and with all the extras you’ll be paying £3,380.
My current favourite gaming-cum-work laptop is the 16in Lenovo Legion Slim 7i which is powerful, light, slim and possesses very good battery life. The 16in 165Hz display is excellent, as is the keyboard, which comes with a full numeric keypad.
The UHD version of the Razer Blade 17 is a beautiful machine and even at £3,530, it’s still much cheaper than the new M16 despite the larger screen. Like the M16 the Blade is an understated design but its performance is excellent and the build quality is superb.
Asus ROG Zephyrus M16 review: Design and build quality
Asus’ ROG Zephyrus laptops are different from the ROG Strix SCAR machines mainly through the way they look, including the same sort of high-end gaming components but in a design that’s, well, a little less infantile. The 2023 model is no different and looks very much like the 2022 model.
Available only in black, and built from a combination of aluminium on the lid and magnesium alloy elsewhere, it’s a very nicely crafted laptop. Some may call the design rather dull but that’s deliberate. If you want something more flashy, wait until the new 2023 ROG Strix SCAR machines land.
My test model came with the optional AniMe Matrix lid, a white LED matrix that can be set to display various patterns – or a weird robotic cat “virtual pet” that also sits on the Windows desktop. It’s an interesting feature but a bit odd.
At 355 x 246 x 23mm, the size is essentially the same as the 2022 model but this laptop is a little heavier at 2.3kg versus 2kg. It’s still impressively light and compact for a 16in gamer with high-end components, though: for context, the Apple MacBook Pro 16 is 6mm fatter and 140g heavier. If weight is an issue try to get a model without the AniMe matrix lid: According to Asus, this adds 200g.
I’d say Ausus has got the port selection bang on. On the left, you’ll find an HDMI 2.1 video output, a 3.5mm audio jack, a single USB-A 3.2 Gen 2 port and a similar spec Type-C port that supports DisplayPort 1.4. On the other side is a second Type-A port along with a Thunderbolt 4 connector and a microSD card slot. All the ports are towards the front of the chassis for easy access while the DC power socket is located at the rear on the left side where it’s out of the way.
It’s even reasonably upgradeable. Whip off the base and you can easily access the two SODIMM memory slots and two SSD bays if you fancy upping things to the maximum of 64GB RAM and 4TB storage.
Wireless communications, meanwhile, are handled by an Intel AX211 Wi-Fi 6E card, which also supports Bluetooth 5.2 while the 2TB Samsung PM9A1 SSD in my review unit proved reasonably quick, recording sequential read and write speeds of 5,347MB/sec and 2,962MB/sec respectively.
Asus ROG Zephyrus M16 review: Keyboard, touchpad and webcam
Chiclet keyboards aren’t my go-to keyboard style for gaming but with 1.7mm of key travel and a solid base, the Asus ROG Zephyrus M16’s is as good as it gets for the type. The keys themselves have a smooth and well-damped action and the end-stop has just enough soft resistance to let you hammer away without numbing your fingers. The layout is good without being exceptional. There’s no numeric keypad and the four cursor keys, although well-positioned, are only half-height.
Above the main deck are four keys to adjust the volume, mute the mic and launch the Armoury Crate control panel. The keyboard backlight is a single-zone affair but you can set it to any colour you like and there are various effects for it. The 130 x 85mm touchpad is big, well-damped and perfectly smooth thanks to a glass surface.
The 1080p webcam is pretty decent, too. Images are bright and largely noise-free and it keeps its act together, even in low light. There is also support for Windows Hello IR facial recognition which is nice to see. Too many gaming laptops lack anything in the way of biometric security and this helps the M16 stand out.
Asus ROG Zephyrus M16 review: Display and audio
This M16’s ROG Nebula display fitted to the review machine sets a new standard for a gaming laptop. That’s thanks to the Mini LED backlight, which gives the panel 1,024 local dimming zones, and a VESA DisplayHDR 1000 certification. The panel also comes with Nvidia’s G-Sync tech, Dolby Vision support, Pantone Validation and a TÜV Rheinland eye-comfort certification, making it one of the most highly specified laptop displays I’ve ever encountered.
The basic spec is impressive enough but with the screen refreshing at a maximum of 240Hz and having a quoted response time of 3ms, it’s simply stunning, especially for gaming. Throughout my time with the M16, I experienced no issues with smearing, ghosting or tearing, so all that tech certainly seems to achieve what it sets out to.
The basic technical parameters are well covered. There’s colour aplenty with 97.2% coverage of the DCI-P3 colour gamut and you can switch between DCI-P3, Display P3, sRGB and Native colour profiles in the Armory Crate software. Tested against the sRGB, the average Delta E colour accuracy came in at exactly 1, while versus DCI-P3 it landed at 1.3, both of which are excellent scores (the lower the better) so the M16 can be used for colour-critical work out of the box.
With the multi-zone backlight turned off, maximum brightness registered at 550cd/m2 with a contrast ratio of 1,168:1. With multi-zone backlighting enabled, those figures jumped to 605cd/m2 and more than 15,000:1, such is the benefit of local area dimming, which renders black at a close-to-AMOLED level of just 0.04cd/m2. With HDR playback, displaying a 10% white window against a black background, my colorimeter recorded a maximum brightness figure of 968cd/m2, a little shy of the 1,000cd/m2 the DisplayHDR 1000 certification demands, but not by enough to cause concern.
The impressive thing about this M16’s display, however, is that you can leave HDR engaged permanently without making everything else – specifically the Windows desktop – look garish and over-lit, as it often does with single backlight IPS panels.
As for the speaker system, I’d rate that as good rather than great. There’s a reasonable amount of volume – the maximum output from a pink noise source measured at 1m distance was 74.9dB(A) – although even that struggles to overcome the racket the fans make when running at full chat in Turbo mode.
There’s a solid amount of bass and a generally impressive sense of space and detail but I still came away slightly disappointed due to a general lack of pep during music playback. Perhaps I’d be more positive had I not read the spec sheet first: with four 1W woofers and a pair of 1W tweeters, I expected something a bit more out of the ordinary.
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Asus ROG Zephyrus M16 review: Performance and battery life
The Nvidia GeForce RTX 4090 GPU heralds the arrival of a new architecture called Ada Lovelace to replace the Ampere architecture used in the GeForce RTX 30-series GPUs. I’m not going to get sidetracked with the issue of Nvidia using the same name for its top laptop and desktop GPUs when the latter is massively more powerful and, frankly, a different beast altogether. However, in the mobile space, the new GeForce RTX 4090 is an appreciable step forward from the previous range-topping GeForce RTX 3080 Ti.
When it comes to gaming performance what we have here is a piston engine to jet engine step-up. Case in point: the Hitman 2 benchmark ran at 109fps at 1080p and 59fps at 1600p, whereas the 2022 Asus ROG Zephyrus M16 ran the same test at 64fps and 40fps, albeit with an RTX 3070 on board.
The absolute lowest frame rate I got from the Wolfenstein: Youngblood benchmark was 109fps, which was at 1600p at the highest video settings and without DLSS. The Metro: Exodus test ran at 65fps in the same circumstances.
To round things off, I ran A Plague Tale: Requiem, a game infamous for bringing GPUs to their knees but one that supports Nvidia’s latest (and RTX40-series only) DLSS 3 upscaling technology. Without DLSS it ran at a steady 65fps but with DLSS 3 and Frame Generation engaged that jumped to 120fps, which is highly impressive.
Productivity graphics tests told a similar story: the SPECviewperf 3dsmax 3D modelling test ran at 195fps at 1080p, more than 50fps better than any laptop we’ve ever tested. The GeekBench 5 OpenCL score, meanwhile, was off-the-chart high at 203,298.
Intel’s new 13th gen Raptor Lake mobile processors are, perhaps, not as much of an advance on their Alder Lake predecessors as those were on the 11th-generation Tiger Lake, but there is still an appreciable difference. The GeekBench 5 CPU test returned 1,907 on the single-core test and 14,356 in the multi-core component, which is the best we’ve seen from an Intel chip and very close to the impressive scores from the latest M2 MacBook Pro.
And the 2023 M16 scored 492 in the Expert Reviews 4K multimedia benchmark, too. That’s shy of the best ever – the i9-12900H-powered 2022 ROG Strix SCAR 17 still holds the record at 508 – but still a mighty impressive result that makes the Zephyrus one of the most powerful laptops on the market today.
Before we leave performance, it’s worth saying again that, in Turbo mode, the fans do make a considerable racket and the laptop generates a fair amount of heat – the area above the keyboard deck and the bottom of the screen, in particular, can get very hot after any sort of prolonged, and demanding activity. However, the good news is that there is no indication of any thermal throttling.
Battery life is not all that impressive, either. The 90Wh battery in the M16 kept the lights on for 5hrs 13mins in our standard video rundown test. That’s a pretty poor show for a machine that’s likely to be used unplugged more often than a dedicated gaming laptop and is significantly worse than the 2022 model. As you’d expect, the 280W power brick that comes with the M16 is a big and heavy lump but you can run the laptop off a 100W USB-C PD charger if you are travelling light.
Asus ROG Zephyrus M16 review: Verdict
That’s the only part of the Zephyrus M16 that’s a letdown but the rest of the package is highly impressive and the most important part – gaming performance – is staggeringly good thanks to the advances inherent in the Nvidia GeForce RTX 4090 GPU and its DLSS 3 upscaling technology.
Having said that, the top-end model I tested is insanely expensive for a laptop, no matter how good, so unless you absolutely must have the latest and greatest in graphics and display technology, I’d opt for the lesser GeForce RTX 4080 model and forgo the mini-LED display. In fact, I’d probably hold off until the RTX 4070 model lands in the UK because, I suspect, that may offer all the gaming capabilities the vast majority of people want but at a much lower price.