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Asus ROG Zephyrus S15 Review 2021

Asus is out for revenge. In August 2020, the Alienware m15 R3 claimed our Editors’ Choice award among high-end gaming laptops, ending the nine-month reign of the Asus ROG Zephyrus S GX502. The ROG Zephyrus S15 seen here ($2,999.99) is the successor to the latter system, matching Alienware’s move to the higher-than-high 300Hz screen refresh rate that marks a flagship gamer nowadays. Compared with the m15 R3 we reviewed, the Asus also packs a swifter CPU and GPU and more memory, giving this fast, lavish rig an extra 6 or 8 frames per second (fps) in our game tests. That said, since the Alienware is a better value, at $840 less, we’ll let it keep the Editors’ Choice award…at least for the few days until Alienware, Asus, and their competitors all ship laptops with Nvidia GeForce RTX 30 series GPUs


Max Headroom for Frame Rates 

While the late-2019 ROG Zephyrus S GX502 had a 15.6-inch Nvidia G-Sync display with 1080p resolution and a 240Hz refresh rate, today’s ROG Zephyrus S15 model GX502LXS-XS79 has a G-Sync panel with 300Hz refresh and 3ms response time. To be sure, even multiplayer games set to low image quality rarely exceed 240fps and other genres of games come nowhere near—even given the newer laptop’s blazing Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Super Max-Q GPU—but if you want the fastest screen available, Asus obliges.

Asus ROG Zephyrus S15 left angle

Your three grand also gets you an eight-core, 2.3GHz (5.1GHz turbo) Intel Core i7-10875H processor, 32GB of RAM, and 1TB of M.2 solid-state storage—two 512GB NVMe drives set up as a single volume under RAID 0. The Windows 10 Pro system comes with a free month of Xbox Game Pass, but it has neither a fingerprint reader nor a face-recognition camera for Windows Hello biometric logins. In fact, it has no webcam at all, so unless you add a third-party model, online opponent-taunting will have to be strictly verbal, and Zoom meetings are out of the question. (The thinking, apart from the narrow bezels that the lack of a webcam makes possible, is that the serious esports types who this laptop tickles will want to deploy their own premium webcams.)

The magnesium-aluminum alloy chassis, notable for a ventilation flap at bottom rear that opens as you lift the lid, is unchanged between the Zephyrus S and S15. It measures 0.74 by 14.2 by 9.9 inches, a match for rivals like the Acer Predator Triton 500 (0.7 by 14.1 by 10 inches), though it’s a little lighter at 4.2 pounds. Compared with many garishly styled gaming laptops, it’s an understated, sleek slab, with a handsome, brushed-black finish and a prominent Republic of Gamers logo on the lid.

Asus ROG Zephyrus S15 rear view

The left edge holds Ethernet and HDMI ports, a USB 3.2 Type-A port, and headphone and microphone jacks, as well as the connector for the AC adapter. Two more USB-A 3.2 ports are joined by a Thunderbolt 3 port and a Kensington lock slot on the right.

Asus ROG Zephyrus S15 left portsAsus ROG Zephyrus S15 right ports


It Don’t Mean a Thing if It Ain’t Got That Bling 

Saying the ROG Zephyrus S15 has a backlit keyboard is like saying Jackson Pollock once bought a can of paint. The per-key RGB keyboard supports wild color and animation effects which you can page through via the Fn and cursor arrow keys or fine-tune with the provided Aura Creator software. Four special keys at upper left raise and lower audio volume, mute the microphone, and launch Asus’ Armoury Crate control panel utility.

Asus ROG Zephyrus S15 keyboard and touchpadAsus ROG Zephyrus S15 control keys

The cursor arrows are puny, but you do get dedicated Home, End, Page Up, and Page Down keys, along with a fairly snappy if slightly wooden typing feel. The buttonless touchpad blends so seamlessly into the palm rest that neither touch nor sight distinguishes it—I found myself squinting at close range to find its edges when I wanted to right-click or drag something.

Asus ROG Zephyrus S15 key colors

The 1,920-by-1,080-pixel non-touch screen is most noteworthy for its peak refresh speed, but its visual quality is decent as well. I would have liked a touch more brightness and slightly whiter backgrounds for productivity apps, but videos and games look good, with keen contrast and vivid colors. Fine details are sharp. Audio isn’t exceptionally loud (though the Sonic Studio III software’s gaming and movie presets are louder than its music setting) and bass is minimal, but sounds are clear and you can make out overlapping tracks. 

Armoury Crate lets you check CPU and GPU stats and choose quiet or performance cooling modes; tinker with the keyboard lighting; and pick from default, vivid, cinema, or FPS, RTS, or racing game screen settings. A GameFirst utility monitors network operations and lets you prioritize gaming, streaming, or multimedia traffic.

Asus ROG Zephyrus S15 right angle


Testing the S15: Top-End Gaming Mania 

The Acer Predator Triton 500 and Alienware m15 R3 have six-core processors, so for our benchmark charts I gave the Zephyrus S15 some eight-core company with the Razer Blade 15 Advanced Edition and Asus’ own super-deluxe ROG Zephyrus Duo 15, which combines a fire-breathing Core i9 CPU with a 4K resolution display. You can see the quintet’s basic specs in the table below. 

Asus ROG Zephyrus S15 comparison chart

Productivity and Media Tests 

PCMark 10 and 8 are holistic performance suites developed by the PC benchmark specialists at UL (formerly Futuremark). The PCMark 10 test we run simulates different real-world productivity and content-creation workflows. We use it to assess overall system performance for office-centric tasks such as word processing, spreadsheet work, web browsing, and videoconferencing. PCMark 8, meanwhile, has a storage subtest that we use to assess the speed of the system’s boot drive. Both yield a proprietary numeric score; higher numbers are better. (See more about how we test laptops.

Asus ROG Zephyrus S15 PCMark

The S15 placed last in our PCMark 10 productivity measurement, but it easily exceeded the 4,000 points we consider an excellent score, so it joins the others as overkill for Word and Excel. PCMark 8’s storage exercise is pie for today’s speedy solid-state drives. 

Next is Maxon’s CPU-crunching Cinebench R15 test, which is fully threaded to make use of all available processor cores and threads. Cinebench stresses the CPU rather than the GPU to render a complex image. The result is a proprietary score indicating a PC’s suitability for processor-intensive workloads. 

Asus ROG Zephyrus S15 Cinebench

Cinebench is often a good predictor of our Handbrake video editing benchmark, in which we put a stopwatch on systems as they transcode a brief movie from 4K resolution down to 1080p. It, too, is a tough test for multi-core, multi-threaded CPUs; lower times are better. 

Asus ROG Zephyrus S15 Handbrake

The two Asus laptops set the pace in these events, showing workstation-class levels of processing power. The Razer underperformed despite having the same CPU as the Zephyrus S15. 

We also run a custom Adobe Photoshop image-editing benchmark. Using an early 2018 release of the Creative Cloud version of Photoshop, we apply a series of 10 complex filters and effects to a standard JPEG test image. We time each operation and add up the total (lower times are better). The Photoshop test stresses the CPU, storage subsystem, and RAM, but it can also take advantage of most GPUs to speed up the process of applying filters. 

Asus ROG Zephyrus S15 Photoshop

Another blistering performance from the Zephyrus siblings. The S15 is built for hardcore gaming, but overwhelmingly capable of taking care of productivity and creativity apps as well. 

Graphics Tests 

3DMark measures relative graphics muscle by rendering sequences of highly detailed, gaming-style 3D graphics that emphasize particles and lighting. We run two different 3DMark subtests, Sky Diver and Fire Strike. Both are DirectX 11 benchmarks, but Sky Diver is more suited to laptops and midrange PCs, while Fire Strike is more demanding and lets high-end PCs and gaming rigs strut their stuff. 

Asus ROG Zephyrus S15 3DMark

All five are formidable, but first place goes to the S15. 

Next up is another synthetic graphics test, this time from Unigine Corp. Like 3DMark, the Superposition test renders and pans through a detailed 3D scene, this one rendered in the eponymous Unigine engine for a second opinion on the machine’s graphical prowess.

Asus ROG Zephyrus S15 Superposition

The Zephyrus Duo balked at our Superposition 1080p test, but the Alienware excelled and the other three gamers did even better. 

Real-World Gaming Tests 

The synthetic tests above are helpful for measuring general 3D aptitude, but it’s hard to beat full retail video games for judging gaming performance. Far Cry 5 and Rise of the Tomb Raider are both modern AAA titles with built-in benchmark routines. We run these tests at 1080p resolution using both moderate and maximum graphics-quality presets—Normal and Ultra for Far Cry 5 under DirectX 11, Medium and Very High for Rise of the Tomb Raider under DirectX 12. 

Asus ROG Zephyrus S15 Far Cry 5Asus ROG Zephyrus S15 Rise of the Tomb Raider

As I said, laptops with 300Hz displays specialize in multiplayer games rather than titles like these, but they’re obviously world-class choices for any game. You might argue that getting a GeForce RTX 2080 Super rather than an RTX 2070 is paying more for bragging rights than for a noticeable real-world difference, but that comes with the category. 

Battery Rundown Test 

After fully recharging the laptop, we set up the machine in power-save mode (as opposed to balanced or high-performance mode) where available and make a few other battery-conserving tweaks in preparation for our unplugged video rundown test. (We also turn Wi-Fi off, putting the laptop into airplane mode.) In this test, we loop a video—a locally stored 720p file of the Blender Foundation short film Tears of Steel—with screen brightness set at 50 percent and volume at 100 percent until the system quits. 

Asus ROG Zephyrus S15 battery life

A big win for the S15, even if actual gaming will drain the battery much quicker than our video-playback exercise. We hope to see four hours’ battery life from a gaming laptop, but 10 and a quarter hours is respectable for almost any notebook.

Asus ROG Zephyrus S15 rear logo


Expensive and Extreme 

The Asus ROG Zephyrus S15 delivers just what folks who buy $3,000 gaming laptops want: sky-high 1080p frame rates in a good-looking package. Indeed, it’s one of the handsomest we’ve seen, almost able to pass for a civilian notebook until you lift the lid and the keyboard light show begins. The missing webcam is an annoyance, and the imminent arrival of newer Nvidia GPUs will diminish its status, but the S15 easily earns a place amid the gaming elite.

The Bottom Line

Gamers with deep pockets will adore the eight-core horsepower, 300Hz display, and Vegas-neon keyboard of Asus’ ROG Zephyrus S15.

Asus ROG Zephyrus S15 Specs

Laptop Class Gaming
Processor Intel Core i7-10875H
Processor Speed 2.3 GHz
RAM (as Tested) 32 GB
Boot Drive Type SSD
Boot Drive Capacity (as Tested) 1 TB
Screen Size 15.6 inches
Native Display Resolution 1,920 by 1,080
Touch Screen No
Panel Technology IPS
Variable Refresh Support G-Sync
Screen Refresh Rate 300 Hz
Graphics Processor Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Super (Max-Q)
Graphics Memory 8 GB
Wireless Networking 802.11ax (Wi-Fi 6)
Dimensions (HWD) 0.74 by 14.2 by 9.9 inches
Weight 4.2 pounds
Operating System Windows 10 Pro
Tested Battery Life (Hours:Minutes) 10:13

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