Unlike most other laptops, ASUS pushed the Zephyrus’s keyboard and trackpad all the way to its front edge. That allowed the company to place all of its high-powered hardware towards the back of the case — in particularly, the CPU and GPU — so it could all be cooled at once. It took me a while to get used to the Zephyrus’s strange keyboard orientation, and even longer to adjust to its trackpad, which sits to the right of the keys instead of below it.
The keyboard is comfortable to type on, even though the keys have a very short travel distance. Not surprisingly, it was better suited to gaming than typing. Moving around first person shooters using the WASD keys felt just as responsive as my desktop keyboard. There’s also an array of LEDs behind every key, which you can customize using an app. ASUS bundles a comfortable wrist-rest in the box, which is useful if you’re worried about repetitive stress injuries.
While the trackpad placement is a bit strange, we’ve seen similar laptops like the Razer Blade Pro place it on the right side as well. When it comes to games, I actually found it more useful than a typical trackpad, since it almost mimics the feeling of using a mouse. It’s surprisingly smooth and responsive — in many ways it felt more accurate than a standard trackpad. Obviously, it’s not something you’d use for an FPS, but it gives you a way to play slower paced games in areas where you can’t fit a gaming mouse.
You can also transform the trackpad into a virtual numberpad by hitting the key right above it, which some gamers might appreciate for hitting hotkeys. It wasn’t as accurate as having a physical numberpad, but it felt more convenient than just relying on the standard top number row.
Display and sound
The Zephryus’s 15.6-inch, 1080p screen doesn’t seem particularly impressive at first, especially when other gaming laptops include 4K displays these days. But its 120Hz refresh rate and support for NVIDIA’s G-Sync technology should be appealing to gamers, since it allows for smooth play no matter what framerate you’re getting. The screen shined when playing colorful, fast-paced games like Overwatch and Doom. There wasn’t any tearing at all — it’s an experience more reminiscent of a high-end gaming monitor, than a standard laptop screen.
It’s clear that ASUS wanted to focus on speed instead of pixel count, but it would have been nice to see a slightly higher resolution to take advantage of the laptop’s bountiful horsepower. 4K would have been nice, especially since the Zephyrus can actually play games at such a high resolution, but even 1,440p would have been a decent compromise. A 1080p screen feels dated, and it’ll seem even more limiting over the next few years.
While the Zephyrus’s display was bright enough for indoor gameplay, it didn’t fair as well outdoors. I appreciated its matte finish, which minimized reflections, but just don’t expect to be fragging your friends while sitting in the park.
The laptop’s speakers, which are towards the front near the keyboard, are loud, yet tinny. You wouldn’t want to use them for any serious music or movie sessions. That doesn’t matter much for games, since most people will just plug in an elaborate pair of headphones, but it’s a disappointment nonetheless.
Performance and battery life
Under the hood, our Zephyrus review unit featured an Intel Core i7-7700HQ processor running at 2.8GHz, along with 16GB of RAM. But of course, the star of the show is NVIDIA’s GTX 1080 GPU. Just a year ago, the idea of cramming that GPU into a laptop was impressive. Now, we can do it in gaming notebooks that are slimmer than we’ve ever seen before. This isn’t a stripped down version of the GTX 1080 either, it’s still clocked at 1.5-1.7GHz and packs in 8GB of GDDR5X RAM.
But instead of focusing on getting as much performance from the video card as possible, NVIDIA’s Max-Q philosophy emphasizes peak efficiency — basically, the point where you can get the most bang for your GPU buck. Our unit also featured a 512GB M.2 SSD, which is significantly faster than the older SATA variety.
Your first impressions of the Zephyrus will depend on the type of computer you’re most used to. If you mainly dabble in ultraportables, you’ll likely be intimidated by how large it seems. But if you’re familiar with gaming laptops, it’ll seem remarkably slim. As soon as I was done marveling at what an engineering feat it is, I installed several games to test out its capabilities — and the results were impressive.
I saw around 100-110 frames per second in Overwatch with all of the graphics settings at maximum. That was particularly notable since I set the render scale to 140 percent, which made the computer process the game at a higher resolution than 1080p for a sharper image. Doom, meanwhile, hit its 200FPS cap with everything maxed at 1080p, and Hitman’s benchmark achieved a solid 100FPS.