Asus ROG Zephyrus GX701 review: New Nvidia RTX graphics supercharge this slim Asus laptop

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The Good One of the first laptops available with the latest Nvidia RTX graphics cards. Incredibly slim and light for a 17-inch gaming laptop. Clever volume scroll wheel and new per-key RGB lighting.

The Bad The touchpad is awkwardly shifted off to the right side. When gaming, the system gets hot and the fans get loud. The vented rear panel may not appeal to everyone.

The Bottom Line Asus fits a larger screen and the newest GPU on the block into the slim Zephyrus GX 701, but at the cost of battery life and ergonomics.

8.1 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 9
  • Performance 9
  • Battery 5

If you haven't gotten the memo yet, gaming laptops no longer have to be massive backbreaking monsters. They also don't need wild, flame-embossed lid designs or glowing backlit creature logos. The latter actually still seems pretty tough to get rid of, but thinner, more powerful gaming laptops are now the mainstream, at least at the higher-end of the price scale.

The first arrival in our testing lab to combine both a slim, professional-looking design with the expanded power of Nvidia's new RTX graphics cards is the Asus Zephyrus GX701. The laptop versions of the new RTX 20-series GPUs have just launched in laptops, with a handful of models available now and more on the way. From our early testing, these new laptop GPUs represent a generational leap over the previous GTX models (still available in many laptops).

Sarah Tew/CNET

The 17-inch Asus Zephyrus GX701 is the fourth iteration of that thin-and-light Asus series we've seen. Despite being only 18.7mm thick, it has the Nvidia RTX 2080 Max-Q GPU, which is near the top of the current stack, with only the non-Max-Q 2080 sitting above it for now. Nvidia introduced these Max-Q variant in 2017 as a way to get higher-end GPUs in slimmer laptops, with only a modest hit to overall performance.

Surprising no one, the RTX 2080 Max-Q in the new Asus Zephyrus beat other high-end  gaming laptops when it comes to game performance. The closest competition comes from laptops with full-power Nvidia GTX 1080 GPUs, but those are already dinosaurs, with high prices and bulky bodies. We included a gaming desktop with dual desktop RTX 2080 cards to show how the desktop experience can still beat even a high-end laptop.

Asus Zephyrus GX701

Price as reviewed $3,299
Display size/resolution 17.3-inch, 1,920 x 1,080 display
CPU 2.2GHz Intel Core i7-8750H
Memory 24GB DDR4 SDRAM 2666MHz
Graphics 8GB Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Max-Q
Storage 1TB SSD
Networking 802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 5.0
Operating system Windows 10 Pro (64-bit)

A laptop that likes to vent

The system manages this style-to-power ratio by dispersing heat across a wide footprint. The body itself, housing a 17-inch screen, is 11.8 inches wide and 10.6 inches deep. More than half of the interior is empty real estate (except for a glowing Asus gaming logo), with fans kicking heat out through tiny vent holes.

Heat also escapes through a wide opening at the rear of the system, where the bottom panel lifts up on tiny hinges when the clamshell is open. This raises the rear of the system up by a few millimeters, but especially against the larger 17-inch body, it's hardly noticeable.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Of course, making all this room for high-end graphics and tons of cooling means making some changes to the traditional laptop layout. Each of the Zephyrus laptops we've seen over the past two years has taken some liberties with the expected keyboard/touchpad. Here, the keyboard is pushed all the way to the front lip of the system, eliminating the usual wrist rest.

The touchpad gets shifted to the right side, where a number pad might live on a different laptop. As always, you mess with the established norms of laptop design at your own peril. Having a touchpad off to the side, and one with a portrait-style orientation rather than a landscape one, is just never going to feel entirely natural. Decades of muscle memory will continue to pull your fingers down rather than to the right.

Need a number pad? Probably not, but the touchpad here lights up with a number pad screen at the touch of a button. It's a gimmick we've seen on a few similar touchpads (including the original Zephyrus), but I'd trade it all for a standard touchpad in the usual spot.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The keyboard, while shallow for a gaming laptop, has per-key backlighting in a rainbow of colors and patterns. But my favorite feature may be the small roller control for system volume. If I had a dime for every time I've squinted at a keyboard while holding down the function button and trying to figure out which keys control the volume, I might be able to buy a Zephyrus.

We're continuing to test the Zephyrus, including its battery life, so we'll update with more information in the near future. Two quick additional observations in the meantime: the chassis can get hot, both on the panel above the keyboard and on the bottom panel; and when the fans kick in, you'll probably hear it from across the room. But that's with the system preferences set to "Turbo," in the Asus control app, confusingly called "Armoury Crate." You can also pick Balanced or Silent modes, which trade lower noise for lower performance.