There are two types of premium gaming laptops: hulking, powerful giants that offer raw power (see the Alienware Area-51m) and those that blend portability with gaming prowess. If you're more interested in the latter camp, then the Asus ROG Zephyrus M GU502 is worth a look. This thin gaming rig hits the right marks with its attractive and lightweight design, a comfortable keyboard and vivid 144Hz display.
But, like most thin gaming systems, there are some trade-offs to consider. The Zephyrus M GU502 doesn't have a webcam, it runs warm and performance, while good, lags behind some competitors. None of these are deal-breakers, which is why we still recommend the GU502 if you need to game on the go.
Asus ROG Zephyrus M (GU502GV) Pricing and Configurations
The ROG Zephyrus M comes in two different flavors.
Our GU502GV review unit costs $1,849 and is equipped with an Intel Core i7-9750H CPU, 16GB of RAM, a 1TB M.2 NVMe PCIe SSD and a GeForce RTX 2060 GPU. According to Asus' website, an optional 240Hz display and smaller storage options will also be offered on the GU502GV.
Asus also sells the Zephyrus M GU502GU; this $1,800 model has a 15.6-inch, 144Hz display; a Core i7-9750H CPU; 16GB of RAM; a 512GB PCIe SSD and a GTX 1660 Ti GPU.
The ROG Zephyrus looks like it was spawned in a top-secret lab by an evil-robot army. The laptop's various shades of black and stylish sharp lines give it a menacing yet elegant appearance.
When turned on, a piercing red Asus eye logo glows against the notebook's black, diagonally-cut brushed-metal lid, which has a barely noticeable two-tone finish. When closed, a notch on the bottom of the lid reveals a stippled deck with LED indicators for battery life, power and hard-drive status.
The first thing you'll notice when you open the lid is razor-thin bezels framing three sides of the laptop's 15-inch display. Just as noticeable is the thick bottom bezel, where Asus placed microphones and an ROG Zephyrus logo.
The Zephyrus M GU502's flat, rectangular base has a similar shape to the 15-inch MacBook Pro. However, the surface on the Asus has a gritty, sandblasted paint that provided a pleasant resistance against my palms when I typed on the keyboard. It's a welcome departure from the smooth, cold aluminum we often find on premium machines.
Above the keyboard is a stippled panel for more texture. Unfortunately, the tiny holes in the surface capture dirt and debris, making the laptop almost impossible to clean, even with a can of compressed air.
The ROG Zephyrus M's keyboard is in the center of the deck, not near the front edge like on other Zephyrus gaming notebooks. That leaves room for a palm rest and large touchpad under the keyboard.
Asus showed excellent restraint with the design, giving some subtle nods to gamers without going overboard. Along with the glowing Asus logo on the lid, a hexagonal power button with a small LED sits just above the keyboard and isolated shortcut keys for volume, mic and Asus' Armoury Crate software are easily accessible at the top of the keyboard.
The ROG Zephyrus M GU502 is lightweight, yet feels surprisingly sturdy thanks in part to the magnesium alloy material in the base. At 4.2 pounds and 0.7 inches thick, the GU502 is lighter and thinner than competing 15-inch laptops, including the Dell G7 15 (5.5 pounds, 0.8 inches), Lenovo Legion Y740 (5 pounds, 0.9 inches) and its predecessor, the Asus ROG GU501 (5.4 pounds, 0.7 inches).
The Zephyrus M has a good variety of ports. On the right side are a USB 3.1 Type-C port, two USB 3.1 Type-A ports and a lock slot. The left side houses an RJ45 Ethernet port, an HDMI 2.0 input, a third USB 3.1 Type-A port and separate headphone and mic jacks.
I wish Asus had included an SD card slot on the Zephyrus M for content creators who want the performance benefits of a gaming laptop. A Thunderbolt 3 port for super-fast transfer speeds would also have been welcome.
The ROG Zephyrus M GU502's 15.6-inch, 1080p is plenty vivid and has a 144Hz refresh rate for smoother video playback and gameplay, but the matte panel could be brighter.
I tested the display by watching a trailer for the action film Terminator: Dark Fate. The screen was so sharp that I could see scars running along Mackenzie Davis' arms during an intense fight scene, and I even made out individual strands of hair in Arnold Schwarzenegger's more-salt-than-pepper beard. While the flashing lights on top of a police car shined vibrant red and blue hues, they would have popped more if the panel were brighter.
The panel proved great for gaming. Sunlight beamed through the windows of an ancient library, flooding the room in a calming red aura while I played as young Lara Croft in Shadow of the Tomb Raider. Her movements were fluid and smooth on the 144Hz display as she moved around human-sized chess pieces to unlock the ivory White Queen from the Croft Manor.
The Zephyrus M GU502's display reproduces 152% of the sRGB color gamut, which means it offers wider color coverage than the G7 15 (114%), Legion Y740 (112%) and GU501 (115%). The mainstream gaming laptop category average is only 112%.
Maxing out at 280 nits of brightness, the display on the ROG Zephyrus M GU502 is brighter than that on the ROG GU501 (115 nits), the Legion Y740 (267 nits) and the category average (271 nits), but the G7 15 (303 nits) topped our 300-nit preference.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The Zephyrus M GU502's keyboard offers 1.3 millimeters of key travel, which is short of our 1.5-mm preference but better than most thin-and-light laptops. The island-style keys are generously sized and there's enough space so they won't feel cramped to people with large hands. However, a fairly high actuation force of 80 grams does make the keys feel slightly stiff. At the same time, that added resistance gives them a weighty tactile click.
An angled spacebar and sci-fi font add to the keyboard's gamer aesthetic, which is amplified when you turn on the gorgeous per-key RGB lighting. You can customize the lighting from Asus' Armoury Crate software. While the options are fairly basic options, I had fun clicking through the different effects, like Strobe and Rainbow.
The 4.1 x 2.8-inch touchpad's rough texture gave me more control over the cursor, although I still prefer a smooth glass surface due to how comfortable it feels against the skin. Regardless, the touchpad was very responsive and didn't have any problems keeping up with my Windows 10 gestures, like pinch-to-zoom and three-finger swipe to switch apps.
The bottom-firing speakers on the Zephyrus M GU502 are loud enough to fill a quiet, medium-sized room, but I had trouble listening to music over the window-AC unit in my Brooklyn apartment.
When I played Shadow of the Tomb Raider, the animal sound effects were so clear that I could close my eyes and imagine myself at a zoo. The sound of birds chirping was appropriately sharp while the buzzing of a fly made me want to swat at my ears. Voices were a bit deep in tone and not as easy to hear.
Unlike most laptops we test, the GU502 favors lower frequencies, so drums have a nice weight to them while bassy music digs deep. That works out better for some music genres than others. When I listened to City and Colour's "Strangers," the drums were nice and meaty, but the electric guitar sounded muted - as if the treble notes were smoothed out. Dallas Green's falsetto was also somewhat hollow because of this.
Gaming, Graphics and Virtual Reality
The engine powering the ROG Zephyrus M GU502 is an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 GPU with 6GB of VRAM. The machine easily handled Shadow of War at 1080p on very high graphics settings, maintaining between 35 frames-per-second and 55 fps as Lara Croft snuck up on an armed enemy and plunged a pickaxe into his back.
On our Rise of the Tomb Raider test (1080p on Very High), the Zephyrus M GU502 reached 45 fps, which is lower than what the G7 15 (61 fps, RTX 2060) and Legion Y740 (66 fps, RTX 2070 Max-Q) hit. The GU502 did, at least, outdo its predecessor, the GU501 (36 fps, GTX 1060) and matched the category average.
We saw similar results on the Hitman test (1080p on Ultra), in which the GU502 maintained 73 fps while the G7 15 (117 fps) and Legion Y740 (96 fps) played at a much smoother rate. Again, the GU502 topped the GU501 (66 fps), except this time it fell below the category average (79 fps).
That RTX 2060 GPU seems to be better optimized for some games because the Zephyrus M GU502 did a much better job on our Grand Theft Auto V benchmark, running the game at a swift 66 fps. That tops the category average (55 fps) and the GU501 (48 fps), matches the G7 15, and comes very close to the Legion Y740 (67 fps).
You won't have any problem playing your favorite virtual-reality (VR) games on the GU502, which scored an excellent 10.4 (out of 11) on the SteamVR benchmark. The G7 15 (11) and Legion Y740 (10.9) did a bit better than the Asus, while the GU501 (7) and the category average (8.3) trailed behind.
Armed with a Core i7-9750H CPU and 16GB of RAM, the Zephyrus M GU502 let me open15 Google Chrome apps while downloading Shadow of the Tomb Raider in Steam. Two of those browser tabs ran 1080p YouTube videos, while another pair streamed Ninja outlasting enemies in Fortnite.
I didn't notice any lag, even during this stress test, so I pushed the laptop even further by playing a semi-finals soccer match of the U21 European Championships between France and Spain. The GU502 stuttered only briefly when switching between tabs, even with all those videos playing in the background.
The Zephyrus M GU502 did a decent job in our synthetic benchmarks, but couldn't keep up with similarly priced gaming systems. For example, the GU502 scored a 19,428 on the Geekbench 4 overall performance test, which is short of the category average (20,122) and considerably lower than the results from the G7 15 (Core i7-9750H, 23,863) and the Legion Y740 (Core i7-8750H, 22,429). Last year's GU501 notched an even lower score of 18,893.
We haven't been able to pinpoint why the GU502 scored so low, but it could be the laptop's single-channel RAM, which is generally slower than dual-channel memory.
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The Zephyrus M GU502 also couldn't keep pace on our Handbrake video-editing test, needing 10 minutes and 59 seconds to convert a 4K video into 1080p resolution. It's never good when a laptop loses out to its predecessor, in this case, the GU501 (10:22), and its main rivals, including the G7 15 (8:05) and Legion Y740 (9:23). The category average (10:31) is slightly faster than the GU502.
The GU502 rebounded on our File Transfer test, duplicating 4.97GB of mixed-media files in 13 seconds for a rate of 391.5 megabytes per second. The laptop's 1TB M.2 PCIe 3.0 SSD is faster than the storage in the G7 15 (256GB M.2 PCIe NVMe SSD + 1TB HDD, 127 MBps), ROG GU501 (128GB PCIe m.2 SSD +1TB HDD, 231 MBps) and the average mainstream laptop (382.5 MBps). But the Legion Y740 (566 MBps), once again, topped the leaderboard.
I can't say I didn't see this coming. Because it packs so much power into such a thin chassis, the Zephyrus M GU502 lasted only 3 hours and 7 minutes on our Laptop Mag battery test, which involves continuous web-surfing over Wi-Fi at 150 nits of brightness.
That's nearly the same runtime as the G7 15 (3:12), and shorter than last year's ROG GU501 (4:43) and the category average (4:03). If it's any consolation, the Legion Y740 (2:16) shut down long before the Asus did.
The ROG Zephyrus M GU502 was scalding-hot after my short gaming session with Shadow of the Tomb Raider.
We saw mixed results on our video heat test, which involved playing a 15-minute, full-screen video in 1080p resolution. The Zephyrus M GU502's touchpad stayed a temperate 77 degrees Fahrenheit, but the bottom panel near the hinge warmed to a toasty 103.5 degrees.
After spending 15 minutes solving a puzzle as young Lara Croft, I clocked a concerning 120 degrees on the GU502's keyboard, 104 degrees on the bottom panel and a maximum of 135 degrees near the hinge. The touchpad, at 84 degrees, was one of the few areas on the laptop that didn't breach our 95-degree comfort threshold.
The ROG Zephyrus M GU502 doesn't have a built-in webcam, nor does it come with an external solution in the box.
Worse still, the external webcam Asus includes with the ROG Zephyrus S GX701 isn't sold separately at the time of this review, which means you'll have to buy from a third-party to video chat or stream Let's Play videos.
Abandoning the webcam without giving people an alternative is inexcusable, so let's hope Asus, at the very least, makes its own webcam available to all ROG owners. Until then, check out our roundup of the best external webcams for your laptop.
Software and Warranty
I appreciate how little bloatware is on the GU502. The few pre-installed Asus apps include Armoury Crate, a one-stop shop for monitoring system performance, customizing keyboard lighting, and freeing up system processes. The app's interface is clean and easy to use, but some tabs are slow to load and certain customization options are basic.
Asus also includes Gamefirst V, a program that lets you tinker with your network settings so you can optimize bandwidth for certain tasks, like streaming video or gaming. There's also Sonic Studio III for adjusting audio controls, and MyAsus, a diagnostic tool that gives you access to customer support, tutorials and warranty details.
You also get your standard fare of Windows 10 Home apps, including the Candy Crush games, Groove Music and the Xbox Game Bar.
The ROG Zephyrus M GU502 is a great laptop, but some of its potential feels wasted. Yes, the GU502 has a svelte design, a vivid 144Hz display and a comfortable keyboard for gaming or writing reports. But the laptop's slim chassis is marred by insufficient cooling and surfaces that trap dirt, and the matte screen could be brighter.
And while the Core i7 CPU and RTX 2060 GPU in our review unit will satisfy most users, other slim gaming laptops, like the Dell G7 15 and Lenovo Legion Y740, perform better. I also can't overlook the GU502's missing webcam, especially since Asus' external solution isn't sold separately.
While these faults are certainly annoying, the Zephyrus M GU502 does the important things well and is one of the best thin-and-light gaming laptops around.
Credit: Laptop Mag