If you’re in the market for a gaming laptop, you have several options at your disposal. You could buy a no-holds-barred machine that’s bulky and ridiculously powerful. You could also take the other extreme and buy something thin and light that sacrifices performance for portability. Yet another option, could be something like the MSI GS65 Stealth, which makes full use of Nvidia’s Max-Q design to deliver a near perfect balance of power and portability. The ASUS ROG Zephyrus M GM501GS is yet another such design, but one that errs on the side of performance and build quality rather than portability, resulting in a design that’s, well, bulkier and better built.
Was that compromise worthwhile, however? Is the Zephyrus worth its Rs 2,36,666 price tag? After spending a month with the Zephyrus, I’ve come to the sad realisation that the answer to both those questions is a no.
I really liked the GM501, it’s a well-built device with a great display, unfortunately, it’s also an awkward design and I’d rather spend my money elsewhere.
What is Max-Q?
Max-Q design is an Nvidia technology that reigns in power-hungry graphics cards by modifying them for maximum efficiency rather than performance. Max-Q design chips are slower (by up to a third, when compared to their non-Max-Q brethren), but far more energy efficient, potentially resulting in gaming laptops that are slim, and yet powerful enough for proper gaming.
Build and Design: 8/10
I’ve always liked ASUS’ laptops for being very well built and designed. They feel sturdy, expensive and good to use. The Zephyrus M is no different. I will admit that I had my doubts at first — the previous Zephyrus was awfully designed, after all. ASUS seemed entirely focused on making the device slim rather than functional. It had a nifty little trapdoor mechanism at the bottom for improving airflow, but it was so flimsy that I was terrified of touching it. That laptop also had a weird keyboard with the Numpad doubling as a touchpad, and there was no palm rest. It was odd and uncomfortable to use. Acer fell into the same design trap when making the Triton 700. Thankfully, both Asus and Acer appear to have moved on from that design.
The Zephyrus M GM501GS fixes everything.
It still features that fancy trapdoor, but it’s much sturdier. The top case now features a standard keyboard and trackpad layout and the speaker is near the display.
The unusual lid design is also very nice. It seems to be brushed aluminium, but it’s brushed two ways and looks great. The glowing ASUS ROG emblem is also a cool touch. Add to this the red accents around the exhaust vents and you get a laptop that looks the part without being garish.
The main thing about this laptop is that it feels large. The massive bezels around the display only make this worse. If that turns you off, give the MSI GS65 a whirl.
Keyboard and Trackpad: 7.5/10
There’s only one type of keyboard I like and that’s a mechanical one. I’ve also been recently converted by Apple’s butterfly switch keyboard (dust sensitivity notwithstanding), and I generally find it hard to like regular laptop keyboards.
With that in mind, the Zephyrus features a very decent keyboard that’s RGB backlit. The keys will never be as precise as a mechanical keyboard, but they respond well and don’t wobble much. Key travel is also good and the keys are ever so slightly stiff, which I liked when gaming.
Dedicated volume control buttons (up, down, mute) and an ROG key are present. The ROG key launches the ASUS ROG Game Centre app.
The trackpad is rather small for such a large device, but it’s very good and responds smoothly to the touch. Windows gestures such as the two-finger scroll and three-finger swipes work well.
And anyway, this is a gaming laptop, are you really going to be using it with a touchpad?
Being an ASUS laptop, it goes without saying that the keyboard is RGB backlit. A program called ROG AURA Core manages the backlight and colour combinations and there are several effects to choose from. The lighting is managed in four zones, so it’s not as fully customisable as I would have liked.
The hardware combo on offer is compelling. You get a 6-core Intel i7 CPU (Core i7-8750H), 16 GB of DDR4 RAM clocked at 2,666 MHz, an NVIDIA Max-Q design GeForce GTX 1070 with 8 GB VRAM. This is not an unlocked CPU, as we’ve seen on some gaming laptops, but it’s plenty fast and will not hold you back in terms of performance.
The storage option is also great. You get a 512 GB PCIe main drive (blazing fast) and a 1 TB HDD for storing data and game files. The 15.6-inch FHD display also supports 144 Hz, ideal for gaming.
The options for connectivity are good. You get 1x USB 3.1 Gen 2 (Type C), 4x USB 3.1 Gen 2, 1x HDMI 2.0, 1x 3.5 mm combo jack and 1x Kensington lock. It’s nice to have a Type-C port, but sadly, it’s not rated for Thunderbolt 3.
I’ve always been a fan of the displays used by ASUS, and the one on the Zephyrus is no exception. It’s a lovely display and at 15.6-inches, is a very comfortable size for a gaming laptop. Support for a 144 Hz refresh is simply the icing on the cake.
A high refresh rate like 144 Hz means that visual tearing in games will be vastly reduced.
On subjecting the display to our Spyder 3 colourimeter, we discovered that the display has a maximum brightness of about 260 cd/m2. This is about average, and I never felt that the display was dull.
In terms of colour accuracy, the display is quite accurate, but only covers about 85 percent of the sRGB spectrum. An average consumer monitor should be able to manage between 90-100 percent. This is something you only need to worry about if you’re a professional whose work depends on colour accuracy, in which case you’d probably buy a MacBook anyway.
For gamers, 85 percent is enough and that refresh rate is more important.
The device performed admirably in all our benchmarks. A 6-core CPU and GTX 1070, even if it’s a Max-Q design one, is a very powerful combination and can’t be beaten by many gaming laptops.
As such, the laptop aced several of the benchmarks we threw at it and significantly outperformed the similarly-specced MSI GS65 Stealth in some benchmarks. Interestingly, the GS65 managed to hit back in GPU-heavy workloads and real-world gaming scenarios.
CPU-specific benchmarks such as video conversion and 3D rendering saw the Zephyrus M acing all the tests. This is a bit worrying because, clearly, the Zephyrus M’s cooling solution is geared more towards the CPU than the GPU.
In theory, the smaller chassis of the GS65 shouldn’t be as conducive to good airflow as on the Zephyrus M, which is not the case here. Kudos to MSI for tossing in such an effective cooling solution in such a small form factor.
While the MSI GS65 is better, the Zephyrus M isn’t bad at all. It’s perfectly capable of pushing games past that magical 60 fps mark and you’ll never have a complaint on the performance front.
Audio from the top firing speakers was loud enough for movies and tolerable for gaming, but I’d really recommend a nice headset.
Battery Life: 6/10
The biggest let-down is the battery life. For regular use, the laptop barely manages to survive a couple of hours. Our standardised battery test also indicated an expected battery life of 1 hr 40 min, which is abysmal even by gaming laptop standards. While gaming, the battery can survive 40 min or so, which is the average for this class of device.
By contrast, the MSI GS65 managed to last 4 hrs in our standard PCMark test and 90 minutes while gaming. The Zephyrus is just disappointing in comparison.
Verdict and Price in India
The Zephyrus M is an odd device. It’s powerful but not as powerful as its bulkier counterparts. It’s slim, but, you can get similar specs, and performance, in a slimmer form factor.
It’s a good device, but it doesn’t manage to walk that fine line between portability and performance. That crown, I think, still stays with the MSI GS65 Stealth.
If you can look past the poor battery life, and the size, it’s a sturdy machine that oozes quality. It’s also got a great display. The price is a touch on the higher side, but that, I think, is justified.