A Closer Look at the ASUS Zephyrus
A Closer Look at the ASUS Zephyrus
The goal behind ASUS’ Zephyrus was pretty straightforward from day one: the RoG designers wanted to create a showcase for NVIDIA’s MAX-Q design. When we first encountered this thing back at Computex it was indeed a stunner despite a slightly oddball design. At the time there were actually some folks who thought the Zephyrus and by extension MAX-Q was too good to be true. Their tune changed when the benchmarks started rolling out but if you actually take time to look at what ASUS has, it isn’t hard to imagine how claims of desktop-class performance would be initially doubted.
There’s no denying the Zephyrus is an oddball notebook but that’s mostly due to the fact that ASUS had to make some design and structural sacrifices. Shoehorning a desktop-class GPU into a thin and light gaming laptop isn’t an easy feat and as a result the entire keyboard had to be moved downwards towards the user. That means most of the mission-critical components are closer to the screen along with cooling intakes.
ASUS has also pushed the speakers onto the keyboard’s flanks and while they aren’t the best around (the slim chassis doesn’t allow for an integrated subwoofer) the sound profile is adequate if a bit tinny.
Unfortunately, even with more vertical space to work with the keyboard is a mixed bag. On one hand the baseline feel of this thing is almost perfect. The keys deliver excellent tactile feedback, their actuation points are well defined and the integrated RGB LED’s (which can be controlled from ASUS’ software) give consistently even illumination. But as a holistic typing or gaming experience, it just doesn’t work.
The problem here comes down to the keyboard’s location relative to the rest of the Zephyrus. While ASUS does include a handy wrist rest, the overly forwards positioning felt far too close to me. Finding a comfortable typing position meant pushing the notebook further away or my forearms would be hanging off the desk. Meanwhile, this also made it impossible to place the Zephyrus on my lap since the notebook would be partially hanging off my knees. It also doesn’t help that the keyboard’s stunted height makes the whole affair feel cramped.
While I may not be a fan of the keyboard, the trackpad is something else entirely. It’s well thought out, surprisingly functional and just flat out amazing. The amount of lateral space is a bit restrictive but the honest-to-goodness buttons are so much better than all the form over function integrated button designs that pollute the notebook market these days. Their responsiveness is spot-on and the trackpad’s inherent resistance insures its learning curve is gentle.
Due to its location next to the keyboard (where a mouse would normally be) I was actually able to use it for some casual gaming without completely destroying my Overwatch rank. The overall experience was so much better than the quasi-contortionist motions you have to normally perform when gaming on a notebook sans mouse.
With the touch of a button in the upper left corner, the trackpad turns into a handy numpad. Most folks likely won’t use this but if you have a mouse hooked up to the Zephyrus this makes the setup feel more like a traditional desktop keyboard.
The underside of ASUS’ Zephyrus is pretty interesting too since the entire bottom plate lifts itself slightly off the tabletop at an angle once the lid is opened. Called the Active Aerodynamic System (AAS) it opens up incoming air vents to create 20% more circulation and lower temperatures, allowing ASUS to incorporate a GTX 1080 into such a slim frame. There’s also an included screwdriver to remove that flexible bottom portion and service the fans. Unfortunately, no other components can be upgraded on this notebook since they’re locked tightly aware in areas you can’t access with that screwdriver.
The AAS is an excellent idea on paper but I feel like it could also cause longevity issues in the mid to long term. You see, the bottom portion that “flexes” open is made of plastic and feel quite flimsy. One wrong move and one of the unprotected edges could (in theory at least) break.
Connectivity options on this particular notebook aren’t exactly copious and there are actually a few noteworthy omissions too. On one side there’s a Kensington lock, two USB 3.1 Gen1 ports and a USB 3.1 Gen2 Type-C / Thunderbolt 3 connector. Missing is a native DisplayPort 1.2 connector with G-SYNC and instead expects users to buy a Thunderbolt to DisplayPort adapter.
While the addition of a G-SYNC capable output is certainly welcome news, you’ll need to sacrifice the only Type-C connector on this notebook to use it. That’s a pretty big deal when you consider there are no other connections with blazing fast Gen2 speeds and if your smartphone requires a Type-C plug, you’re SOL.
The other edge has a combo headphone / mic jack, two more USB 3.1 Gen1 connectors and a single HDMI 2.0 output. There’s no SD card reader or LAN port here but the latter being cut is understandable due to the razor-thin profile on display here. ASUS does have a USB 3.1 to RJ45 adapter bundled here though.
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