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Hands On: The 2019 Asus Zephyrus S, the Smallest 17-Inch Gaming Laptop Yet?

Asus’ familiar slim clamshell gains some screen inches, not much in size, and a ray-tracing GeForce RTX 2080 in Max-Q. We got our mitts on it in advance of CES ’19.
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Hands On: The 2019 Asus Zephyrus S, the Smallest 17-Inch Gaming Laptop Yet?

Late in ’18, we put the Asus Zephyrus S through our testing wringer. This “Pascal”-based sexy-slim machine was well worth itinerant gamers drooling over, even if the battery life was minimal. But all the while, a nagging thought was roiling in the backs of our heads: Should anyone drop major money on an edgy gaming laptop with Nvidia’s GeForce RTX desktop GPUs out there in the wild, and mobile ones inevitably not far behind? That question gets answered with today’s mobile GeForce RTX launch and the rollout of the 2019 Zephyrus S (GX701). And so does another one that hadn’t occurred us before: Would Nvidia’s Max-Q still be a thing with mobile RTX? (Answer: Yes.)

  • Meet the RTX-Enhanced, Bigger-Screen Zephyrus S

    A few first impressions, before we get to the RTX goodness inside: thin bezels, an RGB keyboard, and that mystery roller on the keyboard deck. (We’ll get to the last one later.) The screen on this machine is a potpourri of gaming-panel good stuff: G-Sync support (with the option to ramp down to power-saving Optimus mode), a lofty 144Hz refresh rate for esports hounds, and Pantone validation for media pros. High refresh will be handy for competitive gamers, because the RTX 2080 should have frames to burn in competitive online games, given that the screen is 1080p (1,920 by 1,080 pixels), not 4K or 1440p. And the lack of bezels means this new 17-inch screen fits into a 15.6-inch-class chassis. (The earlier Zephyrus models had 15.6-inch panels, so this is a big deal.)
  • A Look at the Keyboard

    RGB madness! This is a per-key-programmable RGB board with the familiar light-up virtual number pad hiding within the right-mounted touchpad. You can adjust the per key intensity as well as the hues, and have the audio volume sync with the brightness level. You also can coordinate the lighting with Asus Aura Sync-compatible peripherals like certain headsets and gaming mice if you’re a color-coordinatin’ fiend.
  • Roller Over, Beethoven

    This may be our favorite addition to the Zephyrus S, never mind the high-refresh panel and raw RTX power: a copper-colored roller embedded in the keyboard. That’s your volume control, along the lines of the cylinder rollers we’ve seen in desktop keyboards from the likes of Corsair and others. We love these and want them in every piece of hardware that can host them. Asus gets a big high-five from us just for this.
  • What's Under This Lid?

    So, as for the innards: The GeForce RTX 2080 Max-Q is a slightly ticked-down version of the GPU, with 8GB of GDDR6. It has the RTX line’s expected specialized RT cores for ray-tracing functions and tensor cores for AI processing. We haven’t had the chance to bench this chip yet in a mobile environment, but assuming a slight tick-down from the desktop RTX 2080, you’ll be golden for high-refresh gaming. In our tests of the desktop RTX 2080, we saw frame rates in a host of current AAA games, at 1080p and top detail settings, in excess of 100 frames per second. You may not hit the screen’s 144Hz refresh ceiling, but you’ll be pushing close in most games.
  • On the Bottom

    Like the previous Zephyrus-es, the bottom panel opens up a smidge for ventilation when the lid of the laptop is opened. The sheer, thin-metal underside is more rugged than in the earlier Zephyrus, and allows for wide thermal dissipation. You’ll need it; the six-core/12-thread Core i7-8750H is a standard CPU among high-end gaming laptops, but it’s hard to get one in a machine this thin.
  • Power Shifter

    An interesting detail of the new Zephyrus is its two-mode power delivery. You can run basic productivity tasks with the laptop plugged into a 65-watt USB Type-C adapter, reserving the bigger, higher-wattage adapter for times when you need to get gaming with the RTX. That lets you travel relatively light with this machine if you won’t be gaming on the road. (The body weighs just shy of 6 pounds, impressive for a power-packed 17-inch gamer.)
  • A Slim Profile

    Here you can see the bottom panel lifted a smidge for the thermal reasons we mentioned earlier. When closed, the machine measures just 18.7mm thick, well less than an inch. It’s the smallest 17-inch gaming laptop you can get, according to Asus.
  • Ports on the Zephyrus' Left…

    The edges of the new Zephyrus afford quite a bit of wired connectivity. You get five USB ports (three Type-A, two Type-C), as well as a full-size HDMI video-out and a combo headphone/mic jack. As you can see, there’s also extra real estate devoted to ventilation.
  • …and on the Zephyrus' Right

    Here you can see the rest. The high-powered AC adapter that you’ll have to plug in for demanding use is a 230-watt beast.
  • Coming in Q1

    Asus wasn’t more specific than “Q1 2019” regarding availability for the 17-inch Zephyrus. Pricing is forthcoming. This one looks like a delight for fans of big-screen gaming that also plan to use their laptop as an everyday traveler or content-creation engine. It should be able to do it all.

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