Editor's Note: The first review unit that Asus sent us had a faulty heating system, so we updated our Heat section with results from a new unit.
Asus' ROG Zephyrus S redefines what it means to be Max-Q, taking on the mantle of the world's slimmest gaming laptop (again). For $1,999, this sexy beast comes armed with a powerful 8th Gen Core i7 processor and a GTX 1070 Max-Q GPU. To top it all off, the Zephyrus S has a nearly bezel-less 15.6-inch, 1080p panel with a smooth 3-millisecond response time, as well as speakers that will make you forget you're not wearing headphones. It does hit a snag, however, concerning its awkwardly positioned keyboard.
This pure aluminum beast is all kinds of gorgeous. Starting with the lid, the Zephyrus S has a two-tone black design that splits diagonally, dividing an elegant matte and brushed-aluminum coating. The ROG logo sits on the brushed side and shines a glossy silver, but when the laptop boots up, it reveals comic-book-stylized dots that glow magenta. Below the lid is a sleek cutout for the hinge, which provides additional ports and LED indicators.
The Zephyrus S has copper accents streaking across each side, eventually leading to the hinge's neat Zephrus logo. When you open the lid of the laptop, the underside will actually lift up, initiating Asus' Active Aerodynamic System, which is accompanied by two RGB lights on each side.
The interior has its own little surprise, too, as the keyboard uses a forward-facing layout, which places the 2.3 x 2.9-inch touchpad just on the keyboard's right. The keyboard is RGB-backlit, and the touchpad turns into a digital number pad with a click of a button. The rest of the deck is home to an ROG logo and intake for the fans, while the speakers are located behind small vents on the hinge. And the bezels? Almost nonexistent.
At 4.6 pounds and 14.2 x 10.6 x 0.6 inches, the Zephyrus S is the world's thinnest gaming laptop, as well as one of the lightest. The MSI GS65 Stealth Thin (4.1 pounds, 0.7 inches) is even lighter, while the Razer Blade 15 isn't far behind, at 4.6 pounds and 0.7 inches. The Origin EVO15-S (5 pounds, 0.7 inches) and the Alienware 15 R4 (7.8 pounds, 1 inch) are both notably heavier.
In the Zephyrus S, Asus had to cut some ports to retain the line's thin chassis, but this model still has five USB connections.
On the left, there's the power jack, one USB Type-C port, two USB 2.0 ports and a headphone jack.
On the back of the laptop, there's an HDMI 2.0 port and a Kensington lock slot.
The right side features one USB 3.1 port and one USB Type-C/DisplayPort.
The Zephyrus S' 15.6-inch, 144-Hz, 1080p panel is remarkable, especially with its 3ms response time.
When I played Shadow of the Tomb Raider, sparkling embers and an ocean of vibrant, glowing candles surrounded me as I walked through Cozumel during the Dia de los Muertos festival. I turned to look at Lara's face, and I could see the sharp layers in her hair as it was blown ever so gently by the wind. When I came to a space without any candles, I could still spot the pink flowers off in the darkest corner of the cemetery.
I watched the trailer for Aladdin, and when the titular character walked into the Cave of Wonders, I noticed every coarse texture captured in the stone tiger's mouth. The inside of the cave sparkled with vivid gold, blue and red treasure surrounding a stalagmite on which a glistening genie lamp sat.
The Zephyrus S' panel hit a solid 113 percent of the sRGB color gamut, which narrowly passes the 111 percent average for mainstream gaming laptops. Asus' machine did beat the Razer Blade 15 and its 112 percent but didn't quite surpass the Alienware 15 (119 percent), EVO15-S (126 percent) or MSI Stealth Thin (150 percent).
While the Zephyrus S doesn't have the most colorful panel, it does have the brightest of its competitors, at 335 nits, which soars past the 294-nit category average. The EVO15-S (249 nits), Razer Blade 15 (260 nits) and MSI Stealth Thin (293 nits) fell under the average, while the Alienware 15 (311 nits) came relatively close to the Zephyrus.
Keyboard and Touchpad
As lovely as the Zephyrus S' keyboard looks with its forward-facing layout and slick digital number pad, I can't get over how uncomfortable it feels. On top of the low travel, the keys are awkwardly leveled to the nonexistent palm rests (aka, my desk), which caused my fingers to stumble while I attempted to type.
On the bright side, the RGB lighting is super-customizable thanks to the Aura tab in Armoury crate. My favorite preset is Music, which causes the keys to glow rapidly in a pattern when audio is playing on the laptop. But the lights just aren't bright enough, as if each one is a little candle about to burn out.
The keys travel at a measly 1 millimeter but require a solid 78 grams of force to actuate. We usually recommend travel of from 1.5 to 2.0mm and a minimum actuation force of 60 g. I was able to hit only 60 words per minute on the 10fastfingers.com typing test, which is below my 66-wpm average.
The 2.3 x 2.9-inch touchpad is smooth, its discrete clickers are satisfying, and its placement on the right side makes it easier to use than most touchpads. It's also responsive to Windows 10 gestures like two-finger scrolling and three-finger tab swiping.
The Zephyrus S has a pair of solid speakers packed into its small frame, which easily filled the space of my entire room with Blue October's "Into the Ocean." Justin Furstenfeld's soft opening vocals reverberated through my ears as the mellow guitar strumming in the background lulled me into a trance. The balance between treble and bass was great, but the sound lacked some depth. When the chorus came around, I didn't get the punch that's usually there in this song.
MORE: Best Bluetooth Speakers for Home or On-the-Go
When I played Shadow of the Tomb Raider, the sound of Lara running through bushes was so crisp that I almost forgot I wasn't wearing headphones. I stealthily emerged from the bush, and the sudden sound from my knife entering a guard's neck was so meaty and sharp that I kind of felt bad (not really). I was also impressed with the bass, especially when my bow snapped back like a whip as I shot my arrow and turned some guard into a cyclops. The speakers were even loud enough to overwhelm the fans on Turbo mode.
Gaming, Graphics and VR
The Zephyrus S is ready to dominate its foes with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 Max-Q GPU with 8GB of VRAM. I climbed all around the rocky mountains of Cozumel in Shadow of the Tomb Raider while occasionally falling to my death at a solid 44 frames per second on Highest settings at 1080p without so much as a stutter.
On the Rise of the Tomb Raider benchmark on Very High settings at 1080p, the Zephyrus S averaged 46 fps, which is smoother than the MSI Stealth Thin's 44 fps (GTX 1070 Max-Q) and the 34-fps average for mainstream gaming laptops. But the Alienware 15 (GTX 1070) and Razer Blade 15 (GTX 1070 Max-Q) one-upped the Asus, at 72 and 77 fps, respectively.
The Zephyrus S saw better results on the Hitman benchmark (Ultra 1080p), scoring 83 fps, which flies by the 66-fps category average and most of the competitors' results. The EVO15-S (GTX 1070) and Razer Blade 15 lost by a single frame, scoring 82 fps, while the MSI Stealth Thin landed further behind, at 79 fps. The Alienware 15 was the strongest of the bunch, at 92 fps.
On the Grand Theft Auto V benchmark (Very High 1080p), the Zephyrus S managed a solid 64 fps, knocking out the 45-fps category average. The MSI Stealth Thin (61 fps), EVO15-S (64 fps) and Razer Blade 15 (66 fps) landed in the same range. The Alienware 15 (74 fps) was the only one that broke out of the 60s.
MORE: The Best Gaming Laptops
The Zephyrus S is ready for virtual reality, turning in a strong 9.7 out of 11 on the SteamVR performance test. Asus' laptop ripped apart the 6.1 category average but couldn't match the Alienware 15's perfect 11. The Zephyrus narrowly defeated the EVO15-S (9.3) and the MSI Stealth Thin (9.5), while the Razer Blade 15 averaged a few decimals ahead, at an even 10.
Don't let this laptop's slim stature fool you. The Zephyrus S is armed with an Intel Core i7-8750H processor, 16GB of RAM and a 512GB NVMe SSD that tore through 40 Google Chrome tabs and a 1080p YouTube video, all while Shadow of the Tomb Raider ran in the background.
The Zephyrus S hit 21,711 on the Geekbench 4.1 overall performance test, which slips past the 20,283 average for mainstream gaming laptops. Even when armed with the same Intel Core i7-8750H processor, the Alienware 15 (17,109), MSI Stealth Thin (18,046), Razer Blade 15 (20,256) and EVO15-S (20,472) couldn't keep up with the Zephyrus.
On the HandBrake video-editing benchmark, the Zephyrus S transcoded a 4K video to 1080p in a speedy 10 minutes and 12 seconds, surpassing the 11:29 category average. The Zephyrus was once again faster than the EVO15-S (12:57), MSI Stealth Thin (12:01), Razer Blade 15 (11:46) and Alienware 15 (10:28).
The results were much tighter on the Excel test, as the Zephyrus S took 41 seconds to match 65,000 names and addresses, beating the 0:49 category average. The Razer Blade 15 performed this task a second faster, at 0:40, but the EVO15-S, Alienware 15 and MSI Stealth Thin were still behind, at 0:43, 0:50 and 0:54, respectively.
The Zephyrus' 512GB SSD copied 4.97GB of data in 12 seconds, for a rate of 424 megabytes per second, and it destroyed the 267-MBps category average and the results of a couple of its competitors. It sailed past the MSI Stealth Thin (193 MBps) and the Alienware 15 (221 MBps), but matched the Razer Blade 15 (424 MBps) and was trounced by the EVO15-S (462 MBps).
The Zephyrus S' battery life isn't bad for a gaming laptop, but its competitors last longer. After continuously surfing the web over Wi-Fi at 150 nits of brightness, the Zephyrus' battery lasted 3 hours and 33 minutes, which falls slightly below the 4:06 category average. However, the Alienware 15 (5:15), Stealth Thin (5:40) and Razer Blade 15 (5:54) all lasted from 5 to 6 hours.
It's a plus that the Zephyrus S' webcam is actually on the top bezel considering how slim it is, but that doesn't save the camera from taking grainy images. To be fair, the color is relatively on point, as the blue on my shirt matched what was on screen. Because of the somewhat-balanced contrast, the ceiling lights blew out only the small area they were lighting, not the entire the ceiling. However, the webcam picked up only half of the bevy of stripes on my shirt.
Asus' specially designed heating system (Active Aerodynamics System, or AAS) keeps the Zephyrus S relatively cool for a laptop with a full aluminum chassis. The AAS is designed to open up a 0.2-inch gap at the bottom of the laptop that will blow air out while the fans take in air from the deck of the chassis above the keyboard.
I played Shadow of the Tomb Raider for 15 minutes and the underside of the laptop hit 116 degrees, which is notably higher than our 95-degree comfort threshold, but not a deal breaker. The center of the keyboard registered 96 degrees and the touchpad hit 90 degrees.
After playing a 15-minute HD video, the Zephyrus S' underside measured 98 degrees, the center of the keyboard hit 90 degrees and the touchpad reached 87 degrees.
However, we didn't get those temperatures with the first unit that Asus sent us.
On the gaming test, the laptop's underside climbed up to 132 degrees Fahrenheit, and the surface actually burned my hand when I touched it. The center of the keyboard and touchpad hit 99 and 93 degrees, respectively. Even when I cranked the fans up to Turbo, the underside still hit 128 degrees. It didn't burn my hands as much, but I had to suffer through an obnoxiously loud whistle.
On the video test, the underside reached 100 degrees, the center of the keyboard measured 95 degrees, and the touchpad got 91 degrees. According to Asus, our first review unit was a faulty one, so you shouldn't expect these high temperatures on the retail version.
Software and Warranty
Asus includes a few cool gaming utilities in the Zephyrus S, like the Armoury Crate and GameVisual. The Armoury Crate's home tab monitors the CPU, GPU, RAM and fans, while also providing customizable profiles to change the settings for each option. The System tab lets you stop apps to free up RAM, and the Aura tab customizes the RGB lighting, as mentioned earlier. There's also an option to connect your mobile device to the app. Meanwhile, the GameVisual app provides color options for scenarios like Racing, FPS and RPG.
The usual Windows 10 bloatware also makes an appearance, with apps like Candy Crush Saga, Royal Revolt 2: Tower Defense (the epic sequel) and Dolby Access.
The Asus ROG Zephyrus S that I tested costs $1,999 and comes with an Intel Core i7-8750H CPU, 16GB of RAM, a 512GB NVMe SSD and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 with 8GB of VRAM.
The only other configuration costs $1,899 and downgrades you to a GTX 1060 with 6GB of VRAM.
The Asus ROG Zephyrus S once again offers a ridiculously slim chassis without sacrificing performance. It also packs a vivid 144-Hz, 1080p panel and a pair of solid speakers that instantly roped me into whatever game I played. Despite that, I'm still not the biggest fan of the forward keyboard layout.
If you don't mind a heavier laptop, the Alienware 15 R4 (starting at $1,399) makes a good choice, offering even-better gaming performance and longer battery life than the Zephyrus S.
But if you're looking for the slimmest gaming laptop out there, the Zephyrus S can't be beat, with its incredibly innovative Max-Q design and strong overall performance.
Credit: Laptop Mag