[Review] A High Performance Beast That Stays Cool: The ROG Zephyrus S15
The ROG Zephyrus S15 (2020)
Looking for a compact gaming laptop that would put most PCs to shame? Enter the ROG Zephyrus S15 (2020).
Our review unit is the GX502L-XS model, which is the highest end variant packing an Intel Core i7-10875H processor and RTX 2080 Super Max-Q graphics. On top of that, it also boasts 32GB of DDR4-3200 RAM, and 2x 512GB NVMe SSD in RAID 0 configuration. The display is a blazing-fast 300Hz panel with dual Optimus/G-Sync modes, and it has added in liquid metal cooling and Thunderbolt 3 support to boot.
The exterior of the Zephyrus S15 remains largely the same, with dual lateral hinges that allow you to lift the lid with minimal flex, the familiar brushed magnesium-aluminium alloy finish, and ASUS' signature AAS design that creates a gap at the bottom of the chassis when opened up - this promotes better airflow while providing the added benefit of preventing your thighs from being roasted while using it on your lap.
The most noticeable change would be the removal of the backlighting on the ROG logo on the lid. While some may miss the extra bling factor, I personally prefer the glossy new gunmetal finish that perfectly complements the overall aesthetic.
Do note that the material of the lid is just as much a fingerprint magnet as the previous iterations, so be prepared to wipe it down often or accept the fate of having a grease-stained laptop most of the time.
Fortunately, on the inside is a considerably less smudge-able sandstone-like texture.
The 15.6" IPS-level display boasts a super-speedy 300Hz refresh rate and 3ms response time, which is perfect for gamers - especially those who prefer competitive FPS titles. Sure enough, it looks and feels buttery smooth in practice, but as a non-competitive gamer I feel there are diminishing returns past 144Hz or so as my eye can't really tell the difference. However, that's just me - competitive players would probably be able to feel a more tangible difference.
Apart from gaming, the display is also great for casual editing work, as it's Pantone-validated with 100% sRGB coverage. If you want anything more canggih, you'll have to opt for a more creator-centric machine designed for that purpose.
In terms of light bleed, it was extremely minimal and only noticeable if you're looking for it under the right lighting. Do note that this will vary from unit to unit, but it's encouraging to see the review unit in good shape.
Just like the other members in its family, the Zephyrus has skipped the webcam and doesn't have an external one included in the package, so you'll have to buy one separately if you need one.
I/O port selection is extremely generous, with just about everything you'll need, save for an SD card reader.
Due to the vent placements and AAS design, all the ports are located on the front half of the laptop, which can be quite annoying as less flexible cables will most certainly get in the way of your mouse hand and trail messily into the desk space beside your laptop.
Anyway, here are all the ports offered on the Zephyrus S15:
1 x Thunderbolt 3 With USB 3.2 gen 2 and DisplayPort™ 1.4 and Power Delivery 3.0
1x RJ45 Gigabit Ethernet
1x USB3.1 Gen2 Type-A
2x USB3.1 Gen1 Type-A
1x HDMI 2.0b
Separate 3.5mm headphone and microphone jacks
1x Kensington Lock
Keyboard and trackpad
The keyboard is still largely the same as its predecessor's, with well-spaced keys on a desktop-style layout plus an extended space bar and separate power button (no numpad though!)
There are 2 rows of function keys at the top and right, and unfortunately ROG still hasn't lit up the F1-F12 keys, which is mostly just an aesthetic issue as the spacing still allows you to locate the right key intuitively.
As a compact gaming laptop, the keys have understandably short travel distance which takes some times to get used to. Otherwise, the keys are firm and responsive yet silent - I typed this entire review on it and it felt pretty damn good. My only complaint would probably be that the arrow keys are little too small.
There's very little flex in the deck, and overall it feels nice and solid. Of course, being a top-tier gaming machine, this thing has per-key RGB so you can customise it to your heart's liking.
The touchpad has a glass surface and is centred on the chassis instead of the keyboard. It's a good size and I had no problems with it whatsoever.
One thing to note is that this laptop does not have biometric input whatsoever - there's no webcam for facial recognition and not even a fingerprint power button, which is definitely a bummer as I've become used to these conveniences already.
Sound-wise, the Zephyrus S15 serves up the usual laptop-grade fare. The speakers are located at the bottom of the laptop, so music does bounce off hard surfaces reasonably well but do get muffled on softer surfaces like your lap or a blanket.
In terms of volume, it goes loud enough to fill a medium-sized room but won't fare as well in crowded outdoor locations - though I'd recommend you that avoid being a public nuisance by blasting your music in public anyway.
The Zephyrus S15 can be switched between Optimus and G-Sync modes depending on your needs. Optimus mode helps prolong your battery life automatically switching between the integrated and discrete GPU depending on your needs, so if you're just doing paperwork, your Zephyrus will default to the iGPU instead. Do note that G-Sync is disabled while in this mode though.
If you wanna go full-speed for gaming, you can use G-Sync mode. Do note that this laptop doesn't use NVIDIA's Advanced Optimus technology, so you'll still have to expend a few clicks and restart the laptop to switch between Optimus and G-Sync modes.
Either way, Optimus is a boon when it comes to saving battery - for general browsing and article writing, it lasted roughly 5 hours on 60% brightness. Of course, gaming will drain it much faster (it won't last 2 hours) and it will be locked to Performance mode max, so you'll definitely want to lug around the chonky power brick if gaming is on the agenda.
As for working on the go, if you're planning on working more than 5 hours outside, ROG has thoughtfully included a smaller 65W charger* that you can easily bring on the go without adding too much weight to your bag.
*only available in certain regions - thankfully ours is on the list
When it comes to performance, the Zephyrus S15 is - unsurprisingly - a monster. The following benchmarks were all conducted on Performance mode.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider - Highest
Far Cry 5 - High
Assassin's Creed: Odyssey - Ultra High
The Zephyrus S15 is definitely no slouch when it comes to GPU-heavy tasks like gaming or CPU-heavy tasks like rendering. The only game it struggled a bit with was Assassin's Creed: Odyssey at Ultra High settings, but it's not really a surprise as it's known to be a very taxing game. General productivity will obviously be a breeze at these specs, and the excellent SSD speed coupled with RAID 0 configuration makes boot-up and loading up applications a breeze.
Anyway, the fact that the Zephyrus S15 sailed effortlessly through pretty much anything we could throw at it isn't really a shocker as all the parts are pretty much maxed out, but with such power begets the question: how hot does thing get? Which brings us to...
To put it simply, the external thermals of the Zephyrus S15 are pleasantly cool. The upper half closer to the heat pipes were hotter but still manageable at about 50°C, while the keyboard and palm areas were significantly cooler at around 30-40°C.
If you're gaming on your lap, it isn't uncomfortably hot as well, thanks to the AAS design that creates a gap between the hottest parts of the base and your exposed flesh.
Opening it up, you can observe a total of 2 fans and 6 heat pipes that help distribute heat effectively, but the star of the show is undoubtedly the implementation of liquid metal cooling, which is present on the entire 2020 ROG laptop lineup.
The metal compound from Thermal Grizzly supposedly reduces CPU temperatures by up to 10°C compared to the usual thermal paste. Applying liquid metal is definitely a finicky procedure, so ROG has developed a special process along with custom equipment to slather on the compound precisely.
In any case, it seems to be working as this high-powered beast remained relatively cool throughout gaming and testing. The fans do ramp up quite a bit as well, especially in Turbo mode, but if you have a good headset, this shouldn't be an issue.
The ROG Zephyrus S15 (GX502L-XS) is undoubtedly a great machine for those with moolah to spare. You'll enjoy top-tier specs along with great design in a portable form factor. Thermal performance is also great, and made even better with the introduction of liquid metal cooling.
However, the price tag is certainly very steep at RM15,499. We'd actually recommend going for the slightly lower-end SKU (GX502L-WS ) and save a whopping RM5,000; the only compromises would be an RTX 2070 Super instead of an RTX 2080 Super Max-Q, 16GB instead of 32GB of RAM, and you'll get 1TB of SSD instead of 2x512GB in RAID 0 configuration.
The performance should be extremely similar considering the RTX 2080 is a Max-Q version, so if you're not hellbent on getting the cream of the crop, the GX502L-WS is also a good option to consider.