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Asus ROG Zephyrus G15 review: Smart, powerful and light

15 Jun 2021
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
2,599
inc VAT

Smart, powerful, compact and light – the Asus ROG Zephyrus G15 is the perfect gaming laptop for grown-ups

Pros 
Strong performance
Light and compact
Good display and audio system
Cons 
Not cheap with top specification
No numeric keypad
No webcam or fingerprint scanner
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According to Asus, the new ROG Zephyrus G15-series laptops are pitched at two markets: the serious gamer and the content creator. That means they ought to be able to handle the toughest AAA games and have enough basic underlying quality to be usable as your everyday laptop as well.

There’s also an element of that difficult second album going on. When the Zephyrus G14 series was released last year, the press nearly wet themselves over it.

Some reviews bordered on the hagiographic. If the new G15 is seen as anything other than Asus ROG’s Nevermindwidely regarded as the best follow-up album in the history of popular music – it will be regarded as something of a failure.

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Asus ROG Zephyrus G15 review: What you need to know

The Zephyrus G15 tested for this review (officially the GA503QS-HQ003T) is the top-end machine, which comes with an AMD Ryzen 9 5900HS CPU, an Nvidia RTX 3080 GPU, 32GB of RAM, a 1TB SSD and a 165Hz display. This carries a price tag of £2,599, although that’s with 16GB of single-channel RAM rather than 32GB.

Asus’ ROG UK website gives prices for three other machines in the GA503-series, although none was showing as in stock at the time of writing.

For £1,599 you can get it with a Ryzen 7 5800HS processor, an RTX 3060 GPU and 16GB of dual-channel RAM. £1,899 gets you the same but with an RTX 3070 GPU, while £1,999 lands you the Ryzen 9 5900HS chip and the RTX 3070. Just looking at those prices I suspect the model with the Ryzen 9 5900HS with RTX 3070 may be the pick of the bunch in terms of value.

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Asus ROG Zephyrus G15 review: The competition

As for rivals, the Zephyrus’ ROG Strix Scar 15 stablemate costs the same as the Zephyrus G15 but it comes with a slightly faster Ryzen 9 5900HX processor and an RTX 3080 GPU with 16GB of video RAM and a super-fast SSD RAID0 array. It’s the more powerful of the two, but also bigger, heavier and more plasticky. The optical-mechanical keyboard is outstanding, but the Cylon sex toy looks won’t appeal to everyone.

The same sort of money as the Zephyrus will land you a Gigabyte Aero 15 with a truly stunning OLED display. Available with both 10th Gen Core i7 and i9 CPUs and the GeForce RTX3070 GPU, the Aero is as much a workstation as a gaming notebook but is undermined by poor battery life and a cramped keyboard.

If you fancy a larger display, the Razer Blade Pro 17 has a lot going for it. For £2,199 you get an Intel Core i7-10875H chip, a 17.3in 165Hz QHD display and an RTX 3060 GPU. Or, for £2,499, a 360Hz Full HD screen with an RTX 3070. Go the whole hog and £3,299 (gulp!) lands you an RTX 3080 GPU and a 120Hz 4K touch display. Take your pick.

If you like the looks but not the price of the Zephyrus, then Asus’ TUF Dash F15 is worth an inspection. The family resemblance is strong and there’s the option of a 240Hz Full HD display, although UK availability is sketchy. The 144Hz panel is not as good in several ways. The battery life and sound system are both excellent and, thanks to its RTX 3070 GPU, it’s a highly competent gaming machine. Better yet, you’ll get enough change from £1,500 to buy some quality games.

Asus ROG Zephyrus G15 Review: Design and key features

At 355 x 243 x 19.9mm and 1.9kg, the G15 is impressively compact and light for a 15.6in gaming notebook. This, of course, is the basis of the Zephyrus ethos: delivering gaming specifications but in a machine with quasi-Ultrabook dimensions.

And Ultrabook looks. My review machine arrived in the Moonlight White livery, and it looks very smart. The perforations that decorate the top half on the lid are a neat, if pointless, decorative touch, and the build quality matches the looks.

The lid and deck are constructed from magnesium-aluminium alloy and, while the lid flexes a little under stress, the body is absolutely solid and squeak-free.

The Asus Zephyrus G15 has one of those ErgoLift hinges that pushes the bottom of the lid out below the base as you open it out. This adds a few degrees to the angle of the keyboard deck but makes it uncomfortable to use on your lap because the lid digs into your thighs.

Take a tour of the edges and you’ll find two USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A and two USB 3.2 Gen2 Type-C ports as well as a microSD card reader, HDMI 2.0b port, 3.5mm audio jack and Gigabit Ethernet connector. That’s a good selection.

The DC-in jack is slap-bang in the middle on the left-hand side and is a rather large and brutal affair. I prefer putting the power jack around the back and out of the way. There's no support for Thunderbolt but with both Type-C ports offering DisplayPort 1.4 video-out, that’s not the end of the world.

Pop off the base of the Zephyrus and you’ll find a spare PCI-E 2280 SSD mount and an accessible SODIMM slot. The latter was occupied with a 16GB RAM module in my machine (the other 16GB of RAM is soldered in place).

Wireless comms are taken care of by an Intel AX200 Wi-Fi 6 card, which also supports Bluetooth 5.1 and, for storage, you have an SK Hynix SSD component that returned solid read and write speeds of 2,913MB/sec and 1,693MB/sec in our tests.

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Asus Zephyrus G15 review: Keyboard and touchpad

The chiclet keyboard is solid and responsive with a decent 1.7mm of travel. It isn’t the biggest keyboard you’ll encounter on a 15.6in laptop because the space that could have been used for a numeric keypad has been pinched by the sound system. The trackpad is quite large at 130 x 86mm and has a pleasantly tactile finish.

The keyboard lighting is surprisingly conventional. The backlight is white-only and special effects are limited to two pulse styles: breathing and strobing, which are pretty much the same thing at different speeds. There isn’t even any special demarcation around the WASD keys.

The only nods to the gaming fraternity are the dedicated keys to adjust the volume, mute the microphone and launch the Armoury Crate control panel.

As is becoming increasingly common in gaming laptops, the Zephyrus lacks both a webcam and a fingerprint scanner. Call me picky but, for this money, I’d like both and the former to support facial recognition security.

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Asus ROG Zephyrus G15 Review: Display and audio

The Zephyrus’ display ticks all the technical boxes. With a resolution of 2,560 x 1,440, which gives you a pixel density of 188ppi, a refresh rate of 165Hz and a 3ms response time, the matte-finish IPS panel is a gamers’ delight.

All the other metrics stand up well, too. Brightness maxes out at 323cd/m² and it covers 88% of the DCI-P3 gamut, so colours look vibrant and rich. The average Delta E colour accuracy is a respectable 1.3 (versus DCI-P3) and the contrast ratio is a solid 987:1, too.

The audio system is even more impressive, thanks to a six-speaker setup comprising four 2W woofers and two 2W tweeters. The woofers are force-cancelling, which means that to eliminate unwanted vibrations, each set of two woofers fire in opposite directions and perfect unison. The new iMac uses the same setup. The end product is very satisfying indeed, with ample volume, a surprising amount of bass and plenty of detail.

AsusROG Zephyrus G15 Review: Performance

The Ryzen 9 5900HS in the G15 belongs to the upper class of the AMD Ryzen CPU family and boasts eight cores with a base frequency of 3.3GHz; this increases to 4.6GHz under load in Turbo mode. The Nvidia RTX 3080 GPU, meanwhile, comes with 8GB of dedicated RAM.

As you’d expect with that specification, this thing is quick. Our in-house 4K media benchmark scored 323 points, which is up with the very best, although it should be said that’s the same as the far cheaper £999 Acer Nitro 5 I reviewed recently.

The Hitman 2 benchmark returned an average frame rate of 64.7fps at 1,920 x 1,080 and 42fps at QHD, while Wolfenstein: Youngblood running with ray tracing on but DLSS off returned 108fps at 1,920 x 1,080 and 76fps at QHD.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider turned in 52fps at QHD with everything set to Ultra including ray tracing. Turning ray tracing off saw that figure jump to 81fps. Less demanding titles like 2013's Tomb Raider and Doom make no serious demands on the Zephyrus when running at QHD. The former benchmarked at 141fps, while the frame counter consistently hovered around 160fps in the latter.

What should you take away from that number salad? That the Zephyrus goes like the clappers at Full HD but also has the power to handle the latest AAA titles at QHD with ray tracing on. Not long ago, if you’d asked for a laptop with this level of performance, the salesman would have laughed at you.

Considering the specification, the G15 runs quite cool as well: 82 degrees was the highest core temperature I saw after two solid hours of Wolfenstein: Youngblood with the power cable attached and the cooling system running in Turbo mode.

Game with battery power and you’re limited to Performance mode, and that saw the temperature rise to 91 degrees. The double fans are quite loud when running at full speed, but you can manually adjust them via the Armory Crate control panel. There’s even the option to set them to Silent mode when you’re not pushing the hardware to the limit.

Thanks to a large 90Wh battery, the Zephyrus did pretty well in our battery rundown test, too, lasting 9hrs 41mins. Considering the hardware and QHD display, I’d rate that as very good.

Understandably, gaming kills the battery much faster, with the G15 lasting less than two hours of Doom running at QHD. If you don’t fancy carrying the 200W power brick around with you, the G15 also supports 100W Type-C charging.

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Asus ROG Zephyrus G15 Review: Verdict

It's hard to pick holes – serious or otherwise – in the Asus Zephyrus G15. The only improvements I would make would be the addition of a biometric webcam and a fingerprint scanner.

But neither of those comes even close to being a deal-breaker. I’m not sure the top-end version I tested is the best-value model in the range, but then quality always comes at a price. Everything else about the Zephrus G15 is spot on.

This isn’t just a great follow-up to the G14, it’s also a supremely versatile laptop that should satisfy the demanding gamer, the creative wonk, the media binger and the general home or business user. Load up on guns, bring your friends, just as Messrs Cobain, Grohl and Novoselic suggested.

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