Gaming laptops are more popular than ever. This is explained by the fact that today you can get a laptop that offers a desktop-like experience in a highly portable form factor.
Gone are the days of ridiculously bulky laptops. Consumers never loved them, but it was a necessary compromise on many occasions. We're not yet set to an ultra-portable level of comfort for a high-performance gaming device, but we're getting closer now that GTX 1060 laptops like the Razer Blade are immediately available.
This makes Max-Q one of Nvidia's most interesting initiatives this year and creates a hardware platform that reduces even high-end components and their respective cooling solutions to the size of current GTX 1060 systems.
If you're looking for Max-Q, Nvidia will tell you how to optimize power components, coolers, drivers, etc. to integrate powerful GPUs into slim laptops. It's technically interesting, but for people who actually want to buy a Max-Q laptop, here is the basic information you need to know.
Max-Q brings the GeForce GTX 1080 and GTX 1070 GPUs into an 18 mm thick case with a cooler noise target of no more than 40 dBA. In other words, laptops that previously could only contain a GTX 1060 can now be equipped with a cooler up to a GTX 1080 that won't blow your eardrum up.
The Asus ROG Zephyrus is the flagship for Max-Q. It comes with a full GTX 1080 with 8 GB GDDR5 as well as an Intel Core i7-7700HQ and 16 GB RAM in a 17.8 mm thick and 2.3 kg heavy case. This makes the Zephyrus by far the slimmest GTX 1080 laptop on the market.
With this type of hardware and form factor, it's no surprise that the Zephyrus in its standard configuration costs $ 2,700. My test device, which increases the RAM to 24 GB and the SSD from 512 GB to 1 TB, drives the price even higher.
After extending the practical time with the device, it's time to dive into the unique Zephyrus design. The most obvious aspect at the moment is the position of the keyboard, which is located at the bottom of the base to make room for a large number of components at the top. We have already seen this design on laptops with deep mechanical keyboards, but here it only serves to maximize the space for the slim cooler button to meet Nvidia's Max-Q requirements.
The cooling solution has another unique component. This base divides when the lid is open to ensure maximum airflow when sitting on a desk. From a functional point of view, this is a great idea as it keeps the laptop slim and the fan inlets are not blocked. From a visual standpoint, the way the base splits up and the thin plastic construction up to the expanded section makes the zephyrus look broken, even if it doesn't.
This part of the Zephyrus design stands in stark contrast to the others, which are very solid and of high quality in terms of both appearance and feel. Most of the base is made from a single piece of metal with a matte finish. Fortunately, there are no crazy player elements or unnecessary angles that Asus normally incorporates into its ROG designs. The Zephyrus looks quite elegant and reserved for a very powerful laptop.
Of course, there are some areas where Asus simply couldn't resist beautifying them. There are red LEDs that illuminate the underside of the laptop, and a red ROG logo on the otherwise beautiful brushed metal lid.
Because the cooler is on the back and left side of the laptop, most of the ports are on the front of each side. The power connector, HDMI 2.0 and two USB 3.0 ports and a 3.5 mm audio jack are on the left. On the right side there are two additional USB 3.0 ports and a Thunderbolt 3 port. The Zephyrus is too thin to hold Ethernet, even though Asus has a USB to Ethernet dongle in the box.
One of the biggest problems I had with the Zephyrus design is the position of the keyboard. Laptops that I had previously used with mechanical keyboards on the front were not particularly pleasant to type due to the above-average position of the keys and the lack of a palm rest.
Asus solved both problems with this laptop. First, the Zephyrus is a slim machine, so the keys are at an appropriate height from the desk. Second, they include a rubber wrist rest in the box that can be attached to the bottom edge of the laptop for added convenience. The rest is not attached to the laptop in any way, but only positioning under the keyboard can make a difference.
The keyboard itself is quite similar to most other ultra-portable keyboards because the range is not fantastic, although the keys have a good tactile response given the limited space available. Some of the modifier keys are shorter than usual to fit in the slightly above-average speakers on the sides of the laptop, although this didn't seem to affect the keyboard's usability. The spacebar is certainly very generous.
The trackpad is another point of contention due to its unusual position on the right side of the keyboard. Personally, I don't mind the trackpad at this location, I find it fairly easy to use and the tracking performance is good, although of course it's not for everyone. It's good to see Asus recognize this and even include a wired mouse in the game box. The trackpad can also be used as a number pad, and this functionality works much better than a similar implementation that I used recently on an MSI laptop.
The display you get with the Zephyrus is pretty decent and fits in well with the hardware inside. It is a 15.6-inch 1920 x 1080 LCD panel from AU Optronics with a refresh rate of 120 Hz and support for G-Sync. The display uses IPS technology, so the viewing angle and contrast ratio are better than that of a TN equivalent, while the pixel response times are fine.
If you subject the display to our usual tests, you will get a maximum brightness of 310 nits, which is appropriate, together with a contrast ratio of 1225: 1. The display is a bit too cold due to a color temperature of 7126 K for precise work, although a grayscale average from 2.69 dE2000 is not terrible. The Saturation and ColorChecker dE2000 average values of 3.36 and 3.92 are not suitable for color-accurate work, although both are not particularly terrible for a gaming laptop.