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ASUS Zephyrus G15 review: way better than last year!

The ASUS Zephyrus G15 has been completely redesigned for 2021, and it’s offering some of the best CPU performance from a Ryzen gaming laptop that I’ve ever seen. I’ve got the highest specced config here, including the 8 core Ryzen 9 5900HS processor, Nvidia RTX 3080 graphics, and 32 gigs of dual-channel memory for the main components. I’ll tell you what this new model has on offer and help you decide if it’s a laptop worth considering.

Design, Size & Weight

The design aesthetic reminds me of the smaller G14, and in my opinion, it looks and feels way better than the older 2020 version of the G15. It’s available with either black or white finishes, and I’ve got the white version here. The lid has some shallow holes with a rainbow film behind it so it looks different based on the angle and light.

The laptop alone weighs about 2kg or 4.4lb, or 2.6kg or 5.7lb with the 200-watt brick and cables. The dimensions are fairly typical for a modern 15” gaming laptop, though on the thinner side considering the specs inside.

1440p Screen

My G15 has a 15.6” 1440p 165Hz screen. It’s got an excellent color gamut and FreeSync. Unfortunately, there’s no way of disabling Optimus for a speed boost. It gets bright enough too, easily surpassing 300 nits at 100% with a 1028:1 contrast ratio.

The ASUS software has panel overdrive enabled by default, which affects screen response time. Basically, with overdrive enabled, we’re looking at a 4.25ms average grey-to-grey response time, however, there was some overshoot and undershoot in some transitions, but this is typical with overdrive modes.

Here’s how response time looks if we instead manually turn overdrive mode off, it lowers to 7.23ms, but there’s no overshoot or undershoot now. The overdrive-enabled result is one of the best I’ve recorded ever, but also the best I’ve seen from these new 1440p 165Hz panels so far. Backlight bleed was minor with a patch up the top, but this will vary between laptops.

Keyboard & Touchpad

The keyboard has white backlighting and can be adjusted between three levels. All keys and secondary functions are illuminated, but it seemed a bit patchy, some keys were brighter than others. I only found it useful in the dark, in a well-lit room there’s not enough contrast with the white keys and the white lighting to see them properly, this shouldn’t be an issue with the black model. It’s got an N-key rollover and a 1.7mm travel distance.

I liked typing on the keyboard but didn’t like the small arrow keys or the lack of a dedicated print screen key. There are some extra buttons above the keyboard on the left, including volume adjust, microphone mute, and a shortcut to open the ASUS armory crate software, the control panel for the G15.

The power button is separate from the keyboard and above it on the right. It doubles as a fingerprint scanner, and when you power it on, it will cache the fingerprint and automatically log you in. I found it to work quickly and accurately.

The precision touchpad clicks down anywhere and is huge. It’s making the most of the available space and I really liked using it. Fingerprints don’t show on the white finish, but it’ll probably be a different story on the black model. I didn’t have dirt show up on mine, but presumably, over time it would show easier on the white version.

I/O Ports

On the left from the back, there’s an air exhaust vent, power input, HDMI 2.0b output, gigabit ethernet port facing the preferred way, USB 3.2 Gen2 Type-A port, two USB 3.2 Gen2 Type-C ports with DisplayPort 1.4, and a 3.5mm audio combo jack right at the front.

The right has a second USB 3.2 Gen2 Type-A port, microSD card slot, another air exhaust, and Kensington lock up the back. There’s no Thunderbolt, but the Type-C ports can both be used to charge the laptop with up to 100 watts, so not enough for full performance but enough for most tasks, and this does mean you could use a portable power pack.

Both Type-C ports connect directly to the Nvidia graphics, bypassing Optimus, however, the HDMI port goes via the Integrated Radeon graphics. Most of the I/O being on the left is generally going to be better for right-hand mouse users, but if you’re a left-hander it’ll probably be annoying.

Build Quality

The back has some air exhaust vents towards the corners, however, with the lid open the vents are blowing on the screen rather than out the back. This is because when you open the lid the back of the laptop raises a little. This means air can better get underneath to improve cooling and there’s a slight angle to assist with typing.

The front has a subtle groove around the whole lid to assist with opening the lid. It’s easy to open up with one finger, and the screen goes the full 180 degrees back for sharing. There’s some flex to the screen if you go looking, and some keyboard flex, probably because the back raises with the lid open meaning there are fewer contact points with the desk underneath. Speaking of underneath, there are air vents above the intake fans on the left and right.

Getting Inside + Internals

Getting inside was easy. There are 13 Phillips head screws, and the ones down the front are shorter than the rest so keep track of that when putting them back in. There are three screws in the middle which are hidden below these rubber covers, I pried them out with a screwdriver. The front right screw doesn’t remove from the bottom panel, it instead lifts it to help you open it.

Inside we’ve got the battery down the front, two M.2 storage slots just above, the WiFi 6 card on the far left, and a single memory slot towards the middle. My G15 came with 16 gigs soldered to the motherboard, so as long as we’ve got a stick also installed in the single slot it will run in dual channel. There are also options with 8 gig soldered to the board though, so you’ll have to pick with this in mind as you can’t change it later.

Speaker issues

The G15 has 6 speakers, including subwoofers underneath and two front-facing tweeters on either side of the keyboard. I thought the speakers sounded amazing for a gaming laptop, easily one of the best I’ve ever heard. They’re clear and there’s some bass, though they started to get a little tinny sounding when maxed out, the latencymon results looked good.

Quite a few people on Reddit are complaining about speaker pops during bass, and I experienced this too with music playing. It sounds like some people were able to fix this with driver updates or EQ settings, but I had no luck.

Battery

The G15 has a 4-Cell 90Wh battery inside. I’ve tested it with keyboard lighting off, background apps disabled and screen set to 50% brightness. The ASUS Armoury crate software gives you the option of enabling iGPU only mode. This will disable the Nvidia discrete graphics to help improve battery life. You can manually enable it through the software, or also choose for it to enable automatically when you unplug.

Likewise, the software will also lower the refresh rate of the screen down to 60Hz when you unplug to help save the battery. This results in the screen flashing black briefly while it changes.

In my YouTube playback test, I found the iGPU only mode to give us around an hour and a half of extra battery life. With iGPU mode off, the integrated Radeon graphics are still mostly used, but from time to time software or operating system calls will go to the discrete graphics, drawing more power.

Basically, the only way to completely avoid this is to disable them, so this is a cool option that ASUS has added this generation. When compared against other gaming laptops the G15 is stacking up extremely well, especially for a machine with higher tier Nvidia graphics, which again is due to the ability to be able to disable it.

Thermals & Performance

Let’s check out thermals next. The G15 comes with thermal grizzly liquid metal applied to the processor by default. The ASUS Armoury Crate software lets you change between different performance profiles, which from lowest to highest are silent, performance, turbo, and manual.

Manual applies an overclock to the GPU by default, but you can modify it here, and it also lets you modify fan speed. I’ve set mine to max speed when testing manual mode, and I’ve also set the power limit sliders in manual mode to the maximum for best results, though as you’ll see soon these can actually hurt performance in some workloads.

The idle results down the bottom were on the warmer side in my 21 degree Celsius room. Stress tests were done with the Aida64 CPU stress test with stress CPU only checked and the Heaven GPU benchmark run at the same time, while gaming was tested playing Watch Dogs 2. There wasn’t any GPU thermal throttling taking place, even if there is an arbitrary 90-degree cap, personally, I prefer this to just letting it run wild.

Manual mode lowered the GPU temp in both tests as the fans go to the maximum here, but the cooling pad made the biggest improvement to temperatures. The GPU speeds were the lowest in silent mode. During the stress test, manual mode didn’t change GPU speeds, though during the game the default overclocks seem to raise the GPU speed a bit. Manual mode is doing the best as this increases the power limit up to 45 watts.

In turbo mode, the CPU seems to be capped to 35 watts with the GPU running at 80 watts. When the CPU is running at 45 watts in manual mode the GPU seems to lower down to around 75 watts due to dynamic boost. Otherwise, performance mode was capping the CPU to 28 watts, while silent mode ran it at 25 watts.

Here’s how an actual game performs with these different modes in use, so despite the GPU having a higher power limit in turbo mode, the manual mode was still performing better in this particular test. For some games that are heavy on the GPU and don’t care about CPU, we could have an instance where turbo mode does better than manual mode. I’ve also told how an external monitor helps boost performance up the top, as this bypasses Optimus.

Now things get more confusing when looking at a CPU-only workload. Here’s how the power levels look with a CPU-only stress test being run with the GPU now idle. Interestingly manual mode is capped to 45 watts, because this is as high as the power slider goes in the ASUS software, turbo mode can actually do better. This is illustrated with Cinebench, turbo mode is giving us a higher multicore score than manual mode as a result of this power limit difference.

To compare against other laptops though, I’ve decided to use the turbo mode result as that was doing the best, and with turbo mode, the G15 has broken the record for the highest multicore score that I’ve recorded in this test so far. This doesn’t change on battery power either. When you unplug the G15 you can’t use turbo or manual modes, they’re greyed out, so this was done with performance mode and the multicore score is far ahead of any other laptop tested on battery.

So the battery life is good, but if you do need to do performance-intensive tasks on battery, you’re not limited, though I would expect this to mean the battery drains faster when under heavy workload as it can perform better too, it’s a trade-off.

The G15 was on the warmer side at idle, most laptops I test are around 30 degrees Celsius for comparison. With the stress tests in silent mode, the middle of the keyboard was a little warm but not hot. Performance mode was reaching similar temperatures despite performing better because the fans increase.

Turbo mode was similar, mid 50s right in the center and hot up the back, though you don’t need to touch there. Manual mode with the fans maxed out was cooler, and in all cases, the WASD area was cooler than the rest so it felt comfortable while gaming.

The fans were still audible when idling, and remember it was warmer than most others when sitting there doing nothing. It’s still on the quieter side once the stress tests are going in silent mode. Max fans were fairly loud, but as there is some user customization this means you’ve got a range you can play with to get it how you prefer.

Gaming Comparison

Now let’s find out how well the new G15 compares against other gaming laptops in games, but use these results as a rough guide only as they were tested at different times with different drivers. I’ve tested Battlefield 5 in campaign mode at ultra settings. Compared to others, the performance isn’t terrible or anything, but I was expecting better from RTX 3080 graphics.

The 2080 Supermax-q with similar max wattage in the Zephyrus Duo 15 for instance was doing extremely similar here, despite technically being last-gen hardware. Although the G15 notes a 100-watt maximum I was seeing more like 90 watts in GPU-only workloads, this will, of course, depend on the workload and different games work differently – that’s just the way of dynamic boost.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider was tested with the games benchmark tool with the highest setting preset. Now my results here are actually better than what I showed previously in the game benchmark video, I did a BIOS update to version 404 and retested these games to see if there was a difference, and Tomb Raider, in particular, had an improvement. Regardless though, it’s still behind last year’s Duo 15 with 2080 Super Max-Q. Far Cry 5 was also tested with the games benchmark tool at max settings. I didn’t see a change in this game compared to when I previously tested it pre BIOS update.

This test tends to depend a bit more on processor performance compared to the last two games, but the G15 is in the same spot while the Duo 15 with 8 core i9 processor rose to 4th best place here.

Content Creation

Adobe Premiere was tested with the Puget Systems benchmark. The results from the G15 were one of the best I’ve tested so far, though the top three results are all from new Ryzen 5000 plus Nvidia 3000 machines, so it seems these are just a tier ahead of most others.

Adobe Photoshop generally depends more on processor performance, and again the G15 was doing very well, though it could probably do even better if I tested turbo mode rather than manual as outlined earlier.

DaVinci Resolve is more GPU-heavy, and the RTX 3080 was doing quite well here too, though not as well as the higher wattage 3070s just above it, so another example of power limit mattering more than GPU die. I’ve also tested SPECviewperf which tests out various professional 3D workloads.

Storage Testing (SSD/SD Card)

The drive speed for the 1TB NVMe M.2 SSD was great, with excellent read and write speeds. The MicroSD card slot was also doing very well, basically maxing out my V90 card in reads, and the card sits the entire way into the machine, meaning you need fingernails to actually get it out.

Linux Test

I booted an Ubuntu 20 live CD to test Linux support. Out of the box the speakers, touchpad, keyboard, and WiFi worked fine, but the keyboard shortcuts for screen brightness and keyboard lighting did not work, in fact, the keyboard lighting didn’t work at all by default.

Conclusion

So far the G15 has been one of the best Ryzen gaming laptops I’ve tested in 2021 – granted I haven’t tested that many just yet, but at the same time based on last year’s G15, trust me that wasn’t something I was expecting to say.

ASUS has made some big improvements with the new redesign. The battery life is great, temperatures are decent, the screen has good response time, good color gamut, FreeSync, and brightness. The I/O selection is good, and CPU performance is next level. The speakers sound excellent, but the strange popping issue that several people have reported needs to be resolved.

It’s good to see the high power limit for the 5900HS CPU. Despite it being an HS chip that is meant to be lower-powered variants, ASUS is boosting it up to 65 watts in turbo mode, which results in an excellent performance.

It was a little strange that manual mode didn’t let you boost beyond 45 watts though, given turbo mode does this no problem, but you would only really notice this in CPU-only workloads. In activities where the GPU is active like gaming, there’s no difference. Overall gaming performance is decent, but I expected more from the RTX 3080. This is probably due to a combination of the lack of disabling Optimus and that the RTX 3080 can’t go above 100 watts. But that’s something that’s just required to fit that in a 2cm thin machine like this.

If you want more GPU power you’ll probably have to go for something thicker. Just based on what I’ve seen here, I probably wouldn’t go for the RTX 3080 personally. You really do start seeing diminishing returns with those higher-tier GPUs, so I’d probably go for something more like the 3060 or 3070.

Anyway, it’s not all good news with the G15. I know some people will find its lack of camera enough of a reason to not consider it, and this white model makes the keyboard lighting pretty much unusable in a lit room like this. The soldered memory can limit upgrades, though if you get the model with 16 gigs soldered to the board like I’ve got here I don’t think you’ll be in bad shape, as I think 32 gigs in the dual-channel should still be enough for most people for a while yet, given 16 gigs still seems to be a good sweet spot for gaming today.

The configuration that just has 8 gigs soldered to the board is a bit more problematic though. You could install a 16 gig stick for 24 gigs in total, but you will miss out on some performance as it will be running in asynchronous dual-channel mode. Basically, wherever possible, you want to have the memory the same, and running an 8+8 config may be more limiting in the future.

Look, the G15 definitely isn’t perfect, but for the most part, these are excellent improvements over the G15 that I checked out last year. Let me know what you thought about ASUS Zephyrus G15 down in the comments, and share this article if it was useful.

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