Asus’ ROG Zephyrus line, launched with this 2017 release, represents the company’s best thin-and-light gaming laptops. The family has grown to include 17-inch options, as well as higher-end and entry-level alternatives. The ROG Zephyrus M GU502GV ($ 1,849.99) is a midrange loadout with higher-end pricing and some appropriately advanced features: a 144Hz display, a 1TB SSD. Alas, the price is steep for the power a GeForce RTX 2060 GPU affords you, and the performance lags behind the less expensive MSI GS65 Stealth, our Editors’ Choice in the price range. It doesn’t have any major design flaws, and it can push gaming just fine at 1080p, but we’d recommend the GS65 Stealth or another alternative first.
Unassuming, and Surprisingly Portable
The ROG Zephyrus M is, by all reasonable standards, a handsome enough laptop. It avoids garish iconography and design flourishes, embracing the trend of more minimal designs in gaming laptops. The whole chassis is black, with a soft-touch plastic on the keyboard deck and a brushed-metal design on the lid. The only other textured area is forward of the keyboard, where you’ll find a perforated pattern for cooling. Overall, the design is clean and simple, unlikely to offend (in itself a win), but not especially head-turning.
The plain design is married to a build that’s somehow more compact and lighter than it appears. It’s visibly smaller than the traditionally chunky gaming laptops of years past, and only the slimmest and priciest gaming laptops are trimmer. The chassis measures 0.74 by 14.1 by 9.9 inches (HWD) and weighs just 4.25 pounds. Even the MSI GS65 Stealth, state of the art for portability, measures 0.69 by 15.1 by 10.2 inches and weighs 4.4 pounds. The Zephyrus M may not look as thin or light, but it’s right up there with the slimmest, and it’s super-portable. If you’re really into slim laptops, the top end of this line, the ROG Zephyrus S, comes in at just 0.62 inch thick.
Between the picture quality and the feature set, the screen on this laptop should be a real crowd-pleaser. The 15.6-inch full HD display includes a 144Hz refresh rate and a 3ms response time, a nice fit for gamers prioritizing a smooth look and feel. Matching this is the Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 GPU inside, which isn’t suited to the most demanding games at maximum settings, but rather is a good fit for more competitive titles at high frame rates. I’ll get into much more depth with the hardware and performance in the testing section below, but that’s the general target for this system. The screen quality on the Zephyrus laptops has generally been excellent, and the vibrant colors and deep blacks are also present here.
The Zephyrus M’s keyboard is also a highlight, in feel and features. Surprisingly long key travel and a somewhat tactile feel work to make the typing experience satisfying—certainly better than the norm for a gaming laptop. The keys are also individually backlit, allowing you to customize the backlight colors and effects through included software. The touchpad is on the smaller side, and is overall nothing to write home about, but it works just fine.
Our configuration of this laptop is a model exclusive to Best Buy. For $ 1,849.99, you get a 9th Generation Core i7-9750H processor, 16GB of memory, the RTX 2060 GPU, and a 1TB SSD for storage. Alternative component options at other retailers include a GeForce GTX 1660 Ti, a 240Hz version of the display, and a 512GB drive.
All of the port essentials are covered, with a bonus or two. The left side of the chassis hosts a USB 3.1 port, an HDMI output, mic and headset jacks, and an Ethernet jack fit for wired online gaming. On the right are two more USB 3.1 ports, as well as a USB Type-C port. The latter has mini DisplayPort support, but no Thunderbolt 3 support.
Performance Testing: Good for HD Gaming
For performance comparisons, I pulled together a list of the most comparable 15-inch gaming laptops PC Labs has tested of late. These are either competitively equipped or priced, while some are both. Below is a cheat sheet of their names and specs…
As the least-expensive system on the list and our midrange Editors’ Choice, the MSI GS65 Stealth serves as the best point of comparison, and the head-to-head between the RTX 2060 in the Zephyrus M and the GTX 1660 Ti in the MSI machine leads to some surprising results. In order of ascending price, the Lenovo Legion Y740, the Acer Predator Triton 500, and the 2019 Razer Blade 15 (our Editors’ Choice in the highest price tier) provide good context for what other GeForce RTX 20-Series GPUs are capable of in similarly slim packages. In addition, several of these use 8th Generation Intel processors, which can be used as contrasts to the Zephyrus M’s 9th Generation CPU.
Productivity and Storage Tests
PCMark 10 and 8 are holistic performance suites developed by the PC benchmark specialists at UL (formerly Futuremark). The PCMark 10 test we run simulates different real-world productivity and content-creation workflows. We use it to assess overall system performance for office-centric tasks such as word processing, spreadsheet use, web browsing, and videoconferencing. PCMark 8, meanwhile, has a specialized storage test that we use to assess the speed of the PC’s drive subsystem.
The Zephyrus M was firmly middle of the pack on the PCMark 10 test, which is a fine place to be given the high baseline of performance here. These fairly pricey gaming laptops are all equipped to handle daily home and office tasks, so it’s more a matter of which fast machine is slightly quicker than the rest. That’s not the Zephyrus M, in this crowd, but it does outpace two other snappy systems. As for storage speed, the Intel Optane SSD is just about as quick as the others. This means snappy Windows boot times and in-game level loading.
Media Processing and Creation Tests
Next is Maxon’s CPU-crunching Cinebench R15 test, which is fully threaded to make use of all available processor cores and threads. Cinebench stresses the CPU rather than the GPU to render a complex image. The result is a proprietary score indicating a PC’s suitability for processor-intensive workloads.
We also run a custom Adobe Photoshop image-editing benchmark. Using an early 2018 release of the Creative Cloud version of Photoshop, we apply a series of 10 complex filters and effects to a standard JPEG test image. We time each operation and, at the end, add up the total execution time. This stresses CPU, storage subsystem, and RAM, but it can also take advantage of most GPUs to speed up the process of applying filters. (Systems with powerful graphics chips or cards may see a boost.)
On these more strenuous tests, the newer CPU had extra room to stretch its legs. The results aren’t dominant, but the Zephyrus M did post the highest Cinebench score, which counts for something. Photoshop was much more even, with no machine really pulling away. (The other 9th Generation chip was the fastest, though.) The Zephyrus M is perfectly capable of a modest media workload if you do such work as a hobby or need it in a professional pinch, but a dedicated desktop will always be better suited to the job.
Synthetic Graphics Tests
Next up: UL’s 3DMark suite. 3DMark measures relative graphics muscle by rendering sequences of highly detailed, gaming-style 3D graphics that emphasize particles and lighting. We run two different 3DMark subtests, Sky Diver and Fire Strike, which are suited to different types of systems. Both are DirectX 11 benchmarks, but Sky Diver is suited to laptops and midrange PCs, while Fire Strike is more demanding and made for high-end PCs to strut their stuff. The results are proprietary scores.
The following chart is another synthetic graphics test, this one from Unigine Corp. Like 3DMark, the Superposition test renders and pans through a detailed 3D scene and measures how the system copes. In this case, it’s done in the company’s eponymous Unigine engine, whose different 3D workload scenario presents a second opinion on the machine’s graphical prowess.
Several results are of note in the synthetic 3D tests, and they create a bit of a muddy picture. The Sky Diver results don’t quite match up to the GPU hierarchy, but generally on this low-end test, the better GPUs aren’t pushed to give their all, and CPU power can be a factor. Fire Strike, however, does push the hardware further, and the results there put them in the exact power order they should be. The MSI GS65 Stealth’s GeForce GTX 1660 Ti brings up the rear, the RTX 2060 is next, then up to the two RTX 2070 laptops, with the RTX 2080 on top. (We all like it when things stack up just how they should, don’t we?)
Unfortunately, 3DMark was the only place this shook out as it should. The Zephyrus M fell to the GeForce GTX 1660 Ti on the Superposition test at its Low preset, and only beat it by one frame on the High setting. For a GPU that should be superior, that’s a disappointing return, and the news doesn’t get better on the next tests…
Real-World Gaming Tests
The synthetic tests above are helpful for measuring general 3D aptitude, but it’s hard to beat full retail video games for judging gaming performance. Far Cry 5 and Rise of the Tomb Raider are both modern AAA titles with built-in benchmark schemes. These tests are run at 1080p on both the moderate and maximum graphics-quality presets (Normal and Ultra for Far Cry 5; Medium and Very High for Rise of the Tomb Raider) to judge performance for a given laptop. Far Cry 5 is DirectX 11-based, while Rise of the Tomb Raider can be flipped to DX12, which we do for that benchmark.
It was expected that the RTX 2070 and RTX 2080 laptops would beat the Zephyrus M on this test. It’s surprising, however, that the GS65 Stealth and its GTX 1660 Ti performed markedly better. On both games, the MSI scored at least 12 frames per second (fps) higher on the maximum settings tests, both at 1080p. The Zephyrus M does pass the 60fps target with some cushion, but higher is still better, of course. When the in-game action heats up, frame rates can drop, and the more cushion you have, the less likely those dips will be noticeable enough to bug you.
It’s also worth noting that even 86fps, the highest frame rate the Zephyrus M averaged on any of these in-game tests (at medium settings in Rise of the Tomb Raider) is hardly pushing the limit of the 144Hz display. Again, games that are not cutting-edge AAA titles will be less straining, but getting battle royale titles to 100fps or more isn’t that easy, either.
The performance is simply a bit disappointing on a head-to-head basis, especially when the RTX 2060 should be superior and the MSI costs less. My best guess is the thermal constraints of a laptop (especially one this thin) make a difference. The more complex hardware of the ray-tracing-capable GeForce RTX 2060 requires better thermals to accomodate, and it seems its performance is capped here.
Outside of how it stacks up to the MSI GS65 Stealth, the Zephyrus M did still largely accomplish the goal of 60fps HD gaming. If that’s all you are concerned with, and/or prefer its design and storage capacity, the Zephyrus M can do it. It also seems there’s a bit of a premium on GeForce RTX GPUs in general, given the cutting-edge technology, so that’s not Asus’ fault, exactly.
Battery Rundown Test
Finally, the battery-life testing. After fully recharging the laptop, we set up the machine in power-save mode (as opposed to balanced or high-performance mode) and make a few other battery-conserving tweaks in preparation for our unplugged video-rundown test. (We also turn Wi-Fi off, putting the laptop in Airplane mode.) In this test, we loop a video—a locally stored 720p file of the Blender Foundation short film Tears of Steel—with screen brightness set at 50 percent and volume at 100 percent until the system conks out.
This is often where gaming laptops fall short, but the Zephyrus M does moderately well. Five and a half hours isn’t a new bar, but it’s better than the average battery-life expectation for a gaming laptop. As you can see, two other relatively new machines couldn’t even hit three hours, so approaching six is much better. The MSI tops the chart here, and the Razer Blade is another longer-lasting option, but all three provide a usable amount of time off the charger.
A Solid All-Rounder, But Not the Best Value
The Zephyrus M is a solid enough system, but it’s not very easy to recommend at this price. Dollar-for-performance-wise, it’s costly for the power level it presents (especially since the GeForce RTX 2060’s output was disappointing as implemented here), though you have to consider the other factors. The laptop is thin and light, the display boasts a high refresh rate, and a 1TB SSD costs a nice chunk of change.
Again, looking at other laptops in the same market space, there is a universal higher price tag for entry into the GeForce RTX versus the GTX. But the returns are questionable, in this case, with an RTX 2060. If you’re someone looking to play mostly AAA titles now and in the future at the highest settings, you may want more juice, and you can get better bang for your buck. If you have your eye chiefly on battle royales or MOBAs at high frame rates, this laptop is a fine bet—especially if you’re likely to travel with it.
Even so, the MSI GS65 Stealth is clearly a better bet, at $ 150 less in the configuration we tested. It includes less storage, but the design has more wow factor, and the battery lasts longer. Most important, the performance is markedly better, even if on paper the two GPUs in question shouldn’t shake out that way. Even the Lenovo Legion Y740 is a better value at $ 1,919.99 as we tested it, since you get a much more powerful RTX 2070 and G-Sync support for the extra bucks.
Overall, the Zephyrus M is a fine laptop—well built, with a decent battery, and packing advanced features—but the Editors’ Choice MSI GS65 Stealth and a few other alternatives are stronger buys at its tested price.