(Pocket-lint) - Asus is making some interesting moves in the laptop space. In the last couple of years, we've seen a few compact and ultra-thin gaming laptops from the company, including the super Zephyrus S. Asus then took some of that design aesthetic and put it into a Zenbook but threw in a second screen too.
Now, with the ROG Zephyrus Duo 15 GX550, it seems that Asus is trying to sell you a powerhouse of a laptop that can do it all. This streamlined and portable gaming laptop can double as a productivity machine too.
With a second screen, 4K main screen options, and some serious specs besides, the Zephyrus Duo 15 sounds like a dream. But it does come with a seriously eye-watering price tag. So is it worth the money - or is this laptop all style over substance?
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- Up to Intel i9-10980HK CPU
- Up to Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Super
- Up to 48GB of 3200MHz DDR4 SDRAM
- M.2 NVMe PCIe 3.0 x4 1TB + 1TB SSD with RAID 0 support
- Main 15.6-inch screen in two spec options:
- UHD resolution (3840 x 2160) IPS panel, 60Hz
- Full HD resolution (1920 x 1080) IPS panel, 300Hz
- Second screen: 14.1-inch (3840 x 1100 resolution) touchscreen
There are two main variants of the Zephyrus Duo 15. One that comes with a 4K screen that's aimed at content creators. The other is designed for gamers thanks to its more responsive but lower resolution display - which is 1080p/300Hz with a 3ms response time.
Whichever screen you opt to choose, there's enough power under the hood to offer some serious performance. A 10th Gen Intel Core i9 processor, loads of RAM, Nvidia RTX graphics, and ultra-fast NVMe storage should smash through various tasks you'll throw at it.
That's part of the attraction of this laptop. It's a serious powerhouse that should rival high-end desktop alternatives, while offering portability and convenience of a compact laptop. It's powerful enough to game gloriously one minute and the next be put to work editing video, tweaking photos and more.
The other pull is the design. After all, we were big fans of the Zephyrus S with its forward-slung keyboard and side-slung trackpad, intelligent cooling system and fantastic design aesthetic. The Zephyrus Duo 15 takes the best elements of that laptop and builds upon them.
Alongside the Zephyrus Duo 15's standard 15.6-inch screen is a secondary 14.1-inch touchscreen display (that sports 3840 x 1100 pixels). As you open the lid of this machine, this second screen raises up to greet you. It only elevates up a little bit - not quite enough in our mind - but enough to offer extra room for the laptop to breathe.
Like the Zephyrus S, the Duo 15 sucks in cool air from above and uses Asus' Active Aerodynamic System to keep things cool while running quietly. A large 28.5mm air intake sits below that screen, out of sight and out of mind. Other clever cooling tech - including liquid metal thermal compounds - is included to keep the machine as cool as possible.
This cooling system also means the machine can run quietly, even when the fans are spinning quickly to enhance performance. In Performance mode the company says it shouldn't be louder than 43dB. We can attest to being impressed by just how quietly the machine runs - even when on Turbo it's not as loud as other gaming laptops we've tested.
The other highlight here is the fans don't overpower the speakers, which makes a refreshing change. This machine sports two 4W speakers with Smart AMP technology, an ESS Sabre HiFi DAC, and enough beef to deliver some seriously loud sound from such a small laptop.
Audio is adjustable via the included ROG Armoury Crate software and can be adjusted for gaming, music or movies. Sonic Studio certainly makes a difference in how the laptop sounds - and though we prefer a good gaming headset, we still found ourselves impressed with the sound performance.
Can it game?
- 2x USB (3.2 Gen 1 Type A), 1x USB (3.2 Gen 2 Type A), 1x USB (3.2 Gen 2 Type C), 1x HDMI 2.0
- RJ45 Ethernet, Intel Wi-Fi 6 with Gig+ performance (802.11ax), Bluetooth 5.0
- 2x 4W speakers with Smart AMP technology, ESS, Hi-Res certified
- 3.5mm Microphone-in/Headphone-out jack
The Asus ROG Zephyrus Duo 15 is a gaming laptop first and foremost. Sure, it has a sleek design, snazzy aesthetics, and that nifty second screen, but it's really designed to get your game on.
With the power under the hood, you'd expect to get some decent performance out of it too. That performance is going to vary depending on which model you choose. Opt for the 4K screen and you get fewer frames per second but a stunning pixel-tastic view of the gaming world. The 1080p panel, by comparison, likely offers better performance and more responsive visuals.
We tested the UHD panel version which looks very nice indeed, there's no light bleed, lots of richness and ample brightness that makes even outdoor use plausible. Despite being just 15.6-inches it still manages to impress from most angles and feels bigger than it should thanks to small bezels and a bold finish. It's also G-Sync compatible and features 100 per cent Adobe RGB as well as being Pantone Validated, meaning it's easy on the eye as well as accurate in terms of colour. It is only 60Hz though and doesn't offer any HDR (high dynamic range) options though.
A highlight of the Zephyrus Duo 15 is the simple switchable screen visuals that can be accessed via Armoury Crate. These include settings like racing, scenery, RTS, FPS, vivid, and our favourite for working during the day - eye care. These options transform the screen easily and allow you to adjust it to suit whatever you're doing.
Settings like this are easily accessible thanks to the second screen. You can open up Armoury Crate on the second screen and monitor your performance or tweak settings as you game.
Alternatively, this screen space can be used for anything you can think of. We used it for Discord, Skype calls, stream chat from Twitch and more. Asus says it'll also work with specific games in future - offering a custom display for certain parts of the game - a map, for example, that's always on and visible.
While we enjoy having it on hand for all the above reasons, we feel it doesn't quite jut up enough to be seen easily - and certainly not big enough to replace a proper secondary monitor.
The other downside of playing in 4K is that performance isn't mind-blowing. The Zephyrus Duo 15 has several different operating modes depending on what you're doing - Windows, Silent, Performance, Turbo.
Turbo gives the best performance and enables Nvidia’s Dynamic Boost to get the most performance out of the machine when gaming. We used that mode during testing and saw some mixed results. We ran Far Cry New Dawn, Assassin's Creed Odyssey, Death Stranding and other titles too. In 4K, on ultra-high settings, Assassin's Creed managed around 40fps. Far Cry resulted in a touch more. And we pushed 80-90fps with Cuisine Royale and other less intensive games.
We were expecting more from this machine considering the power (and the price). Asus suggests Assassin's Creed should have been at least 60fps, but we certainly didn't see it, even with the latest drivers.
You can, of course, output the visuals to an external display. We did just that with a 3440 x 1440p monitor to test and play Death Stranding in ultrawide. On the highest settings, we saw the frames-per-second counter climb to the top 80s. We also played Assassin's Creed on this screen and saw better performance there too - not surprising considering it's technically fewer pixels, but the machine was also powering two screens at the time.
The Zephyrus Duo 15 can also handle virtual reality. It doesn't have Display Port outputs in the traditional way, but if you have a USB-C to DP adapter you can run an Oculus Rift S or other modern VR headset without any fuss. We did just that and enjoyed some Beat Sabre in the lounge without any issues.
Misery for your thighs
Despite what reads like sufficient cooling - the GPU and CPU ran at around 70 Celsius when gaming (184 Fahrenheit) - the laptop itself gets incredibly hot, especially when gaming or working on the lap.
We found we were getting rather hot legs during long sessions and decided to test to see what was going on. A temperature sensor on the underside revealed the bottom rear regularly reached temps of 50C (148F). Once when we'd left the laptop running on a footstool while we busied ourselves with other household tasks we came back to find the same spot measured 60C (166F)! Alarming considering it wasn't even gaming at the time.
We'd suggest this laptop can only really be used for gaming on a desk, with the exception of gaming in the depths of winter when you could happily turn the heating off and just keep warm from the excess heat it produces.
Design pleasures and niggles
- Backlit chiclet keyboard with per-key RGB lighting
- 1.4mm travel distance, N key rollover
The keyboard is nicely backlit, with per-key illumination, and offers a comfortable typing experience. Short travel distance and n key rollover result in good gaming fun too.
We enjoy the side slung trackpad as it doesn't get in the way as much as a traditionally designed one. With a press of a button, it also transforms into a touch-sensitive Numpad. Other function keys allow for simple things like adjusting screen brightness, keyboard lighting, volume adjustment and so on.
There are some niggles with the Zephyrus Duo 15 though. USB ports are limited in our view. There are only three USB-A ports - which you'll soon fill up if you're plugging in a headset, keyboard and mouse.
This laptop also doesn't have a webcam, which seems incredible in the current world where everyone is on video calls or streaming online. Add your own webcam and you're using up one of the few ports available as well.
The built-in microphone also seems to pick up a lot of fan noise and delivers underwhelming audio capture.
Battery life is also another negative, unfortunately. We found this machine could manage around two hours before it needed plugging in. Even with all the usual settings tweaks to maximise battery life it still struggled.
There's plenty to admire about this twin-screen gaming machine. It offers all the goodness as found in the Zephyrus S with the added bonus of a secondary screen.
Yet it comes with some serious downsides. No webcam leaves us puzzled, as does the relatively low frame-rate counts, and the insane underside temperatures.
Alas, the Zephyrus Duo 15 might therefore be proof that cramming the best tech into an ultra-thin device results in too many complaints. Don't get us wrong, we love it for the standout design and that screen. But do we love it enough to shell out several thousand notes? Probably not.
Others to consider
Alienware M15 R2
If you want something that's beautiful, powerful and fun to use then the Alienware M15 R2 is a great alternative. Like this Asus laptop, the Alienware is expensive, but it's also a real gaming powerhouse. The screen on the 4K version of this machine is also incredible and that made it worth the price on its own in our mind.
Gigabyte Aorus 15G
The Gigabyte Aorus 15G is a bit of a different beast. It doesn't have two screens and it's not as slim as the Asus either, but it does boast some great spec. Intelligent AI software is included to optimise the machine and give you the best gaming experience. It also has a tactile keyboard that's different from any other laptop we've seen.