There’s an ongoing battle in the gaming laptop space to create the thinnest, most impressive and aesthetically pleasing devices. A series of Ultrabook-style laptops have appeared from the likes of MSI, Razer and more.
The Asus ROG Zephyrus S GX531 is the company’s contender in this battle, which Asus claims is the world’s thinnest gaming laptop. It’s also packing some of the latest tech under the hood.
We’ve had this gaming laptop in the office for over two weeks to put it through the ringer with everyday work, gaming and benchmarking to bring your our thoughts.
High spec gaming in a slim package
- All-metal chassis with “military-grade” durability standards
- Active Aerodynamic System for cooling
- Intel Core i7-8750H CPU
- 16GB DDR4 2666MHz RAM (up to 24GB)
- NVMe storage options
- 802.11ac Wave 2 Wi-Fi
The ROG, as you can tell from the outline specs above, is a premium gaming product designed to deliver excellent gaming performance. There are different configurations available with a choice of GPU, storage and memory options – depending on your preference.
But it’s much more than that too: this laptop has Ultrabook-style and wouldn’t look out of place in the office or on the train, yet will still allow you to crush your enemies in the evening with a good gaming session.
The chassis of this laptop is CNC milled in a process that takes over an hour for each laptop alone. This device isn’t made from a slab of metal that’s pressed by a machine, instead it’s lovingly crafted to be much more lightweight and robust. The machine is put through military-grade durability testing to ensure it can stand up to the everyday hustle and bustle.
At a mere 14.95mm thick (that’s thin for a gaming laptop), with a 14.2-inch chassis, this new laptop weighs just 2.1kg – so it’s easy to throw in a bag and take with you anywhere you need to go.
The body is smartly designed. Several design features include a nod towards the exquisite without being too overboard. A subtle ROG logo here and there, funky looking scratch marks on top of the air intakes, a brushed aluminium style finish on the body. The hinged door offers silky smooth opening and closing which oozes quality craftsmanship too.
The Asus ROG Zephyrus S GX531 boasts some other pretty clever design features. One example is the Active Aerodynamic System: this air venting works when you open the screen to avoid any area of the laptop’s underside getting too hot when it’s sat on your lap or desk. It’s not a flawless system though: sometimes gaming on your lap seems to block the venting system and leads to the laptop getting toasty and equally noisy.
Display visuals and settings
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 Max-P 6GB GPU/NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070 Max-Q GPU
- 15.6-inch 1080p IPS panel with a 144Hz refresh rate and 3ms response time
- 3DMark benchmark scores: Sky Diver, Fire Strike, Time Spy
With ultra-thin bezels, Asus has managed to cram a 15.6-inch Full HD IPS panel into a compact chassis. The thin bezels manage to give the impression of a larger screen, but on a smaller laptop.
This screen also boasts a 144Hz refresh rate and 3ms response time, so it’s more than capable for its gaming-focused task with that higher refresh rate. The screen has excellent viewing angles and an equally impressive colour range.
We do wonder whether a 4K panel would be more worthy at this price though.
We’ve enjoyed being able to switch between visuals depending on what we were doing too – eyecare mode is easy on the eye for dealing with emails, spreadsheets and day-to-day writing; while the various gaming modes make the screen pop appropriately for whatever sort of game you’re playing.
The machine tested here includes the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070 Max-Q graphics processing unit. Running it through its paces we found it to be capable in a variety of different games including Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Cusine Royale and Rainbow Six Siege.
As a real-world show of what you’ll be getting out of this machine: Shadow of the Tomb Raider on ultra settings results in an average 48fps. Nothing mindblowing, but at 144Hz, it’s nothing to be sniffed at.
Max-Q GPUs allow for powerful graphics processing with a slim form factor – which is how Asus has managed to cram all that power into the thin frame of this laptop.
The tradeoff is the graphics drivers need to be supplied via the manufacturer and cannot be acquired directly from Nvidia. Meaning it’s not possible to have the latest drivers at any one time. This presents issues if you’re trying to run the latest games with game-ready drivers.
Compatibility and outputs
- 1x USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C port
- 1x USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-C port
- 2x USB 2.0 Type-A ports
- Full-size HDMI out
- 2x 2W speakers
As well as an impressive screen, the Zephyrus S features dual front-facing speakers with smart-amplifier technology and virtual surround-sound capabilities. If you’re not one for blasting your tunes or gaming sounds out loud then there’s a 3.5mm headphone jack and a multitude of USB ports for your favourite gaming headset.
We found the laptop’s speakers to be mighty impressive. The sound level they’re capable of outputting is not only delightful but easy on the ear too. They work well whatever you’re doing – whether for a good gaming session, watching YouTube videos, streaming Netflix or listening to your favourite tunes on Spotify.
This is fortunate as they aren’t the only thing that’s loud on this laptop. Under load, the cooling fans can get a tad noisy – which is problematic unless you’re using a noise-cancelling headset or have the speakers turned up loud enough to drown out the sound.
Of course, you can switch between cooling modes – including Balanced, Silent and Turbo – on-the-fly, but doing so obviously depends on what you’re tasking the machine with doing. Keeping the system cool is obviously important for performance, but you don’t want your gaming sessions ruined by excessive white noise.
The laptop’s built-in microphone picks up a lot of the fan noise and broadcasts over recorded or streamed videos or over Discord when you’re playing with friends. So any serious gamer will need a decent headset and mic to not annoy their chums.
The Zephyrus S GX531 is capable of powering other screens too. An HDMI 2.0 port located to the rear of the laptop is capable of outputting 4K 60Hz visuals to another display. Using this output we found the laptop was able to comfortably handle the duplicating or extending of the display to another monitor.
As well as the HDMI output there are USB-C ports on both left and right sides. We’ve been able to run an Oculus Rift on this laptop during testing. The USB-C ports are DVI capable too, meaning you can hook up an external screen that way as well.
Wi-Fi capabilities are strong too. With 802.11ac Wave 2 Wi-Fi and two antennae, the Zephyrus S manages to supply a strong signal. There is the lack of Ethernet though – so it’s Wi-Fi or nothing, which we found a bit surprising on a serious gaming laptop. No doubt another necessary evil of the ultra-thin design.
Keyboard-forward layout and a hot-switch numpad
- Backlit Chiclet Keyboard
- Keyboard-forward layout with Overstroke technology
- 1.2mm of travel, N-key rollover with durable switches for up to 20 million key presses
- Four RGB lighting zones with Aura Sync capabilities
The keyboard-forward layout of the Zephyrus S is interesting and surprisingly comfortable. The intake fans on the top of the laptop necessitate this design and it actually works really well. The keys are comfortable to type on and respond accurately during gameplay too. They’re obviously not mechanical and they don’t need to be.
RGB backlighting on the keys can be turned on/off and adjusted (even by section) using function keys built into the directional buttons. When the laptop is open, there’s some subtle RGB light bleed from the rear where the air flow zone opens up. All this lighting is Aura Sync capable – meaning it can be paired with other Asus peripherals too. Of course, you can turn this off too if you’re in the office and worry about what your coworkers will think.
You’ll also note that the trackpad isn’t in the usual place either, but instead sits on the right-hand edge. This is actually a design feature we like a lot as its placement makes it more like a normal mouse position and it gets in the way less when you’re typing.
The trackpad also doubles as a touchscreen numpad. A simple button press backlights this part of the keyboard and allows you to punch in numbers when you need to. Another feature that we feel is pretty handy, especially when switching from gaming mode to everyday office use.
Of course, it’s still a trackpad and is fairly narrow, so it’s not up to much in terms of gaming capabilities and there’s no DPI switching to improve it either. You really need a good gaming mouse as an additional peripheral.
Software and battery life
- ROG Armoury software for customisation and tweaking
- Compatible smartphone app for remote control
All the customisable action happens in the ROG Armoury software, which is the command centre used to tweak the device to your pleasure. Everything from keyboard illumination to fan speed, screen visuals (fps, eye care, RTS, default), screen overdrive for 144hz and more. You can setup profiles to switch between depending on what you’re doing, the type of game you’re playing or just your preferred performance mode.
As if that wasn’t enough, there’s also an accompanying smartphone app for Android and iPhone devices that allows you to control the laptop from your phone. Fast switching between settings from your phone means you don’t have to leave your game to adjust settings within different Windows, which is a nice touch.
Battery life is another matter. Obviously, this is a high-end gaming device with a lot cooking under the hood, thus we found it wasn’t up to much in terms of battery-powered use. We could get around an two hours of use out of it under standard Windows-based working, or up to four hours with settings dialled down.
For gaming, however, it’s under the one hour mark if you’re running on battery. Thus it’s basically essential that it’s plugged in. Not necessarily a problem, unless you were hoping to use it to play games on the train during your daily commute.
We’ve received two samples of this laptop to verify that the battery performance wasn’t a one-off in a dud machine.
The Zephyrus S GX531 is the pinnacle of the Asus ROG laptop line-up, which shows in its balance of features, specs and design aesthetics.
It’s not the best gaming laptop ever though. Some compromises will have been made to claim the title of “thinnest”, with battery life taking a notable hit – if you want to game on the go then don’t expect to do so for hours on end.
When plugged in – whether that’s at your mate’s house, in a hotel room or wherever you can’t transport a desktop machine – it’s powerful enough to run modern games on ultra settings at a decent frame rate and even work with VR devices.
This premium design does come at a cost though, with prices starting at a penny shy of £2K, then increasing depending on your spec choices. Sad as we are to let it go back to its maker, that’s a lot of cash to fork out.