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Asus ROG Zephyrus M GM501 review: Six cores, no waiting

ackermandan-square

Asus has a new gaming laptop that's not only powerful, inventively designed, and extremely portable, it's also one of the very first systems with a new wave of high-performance laptop CPUs from Intel.

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8.4

Asus ROG Zephyrus M GM501

The Good

This second-gen version of the Asus Zephyrus keeps the inventive raised cooling vent, lowers the price, adds a new six-core Intel Core i7 CPU and fixes the poor touchpad placement in the original.

The Bad

The fans still get quite loud, battery life is short, there's a thick screen bezel around the nontouch display, and there's no built-in Ethernet jack, which is important for downloading large game files.

The Bottom Line

Asus adds Intel's powerful new six-core Core i7 CPU to the slim Zephyrus gaming laptop, while fixing some of the original's design quirks and even lowering the price.

Inside the Asus ROG Zephyrus GM501 is the Intel Core i7-8750H, which is a six-core processor -- the first one we've tested -- up from the usual quad-core. No, it's not one of the coming-soon Core i9 CPUs, but it's definitely a sizable step up in performance over even recent chips from last year, at least according to our initial benchmark tests.

It makes sense that Asus should put this new component technology in the Zephyrus line, as it was originally used last year to debut the Nvidia Max-Q graphics card design, which fits more GPU power into a smaller, thinner laptop, to impressive effect. But here the spotlight is reserved for the six-core Core i7 CPU, as the graphics have moved from a Max-Q GeForce 1080 to a standard GeForce 1070.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

How does a laptop that's just 19.9mm thick (and weighs about 5.5 pounds) fit in a high-power graphics card and six-core CPU? Asus calls the cooling solution an Active Aerodynamic System, or AAS, and it's a bottom panel that lifts up when the laptop's lid is open, exposing a hidden vent used for cooling. This vent rises up about 9mm from your desk, which is 2mm higher than the previous Zephyrus. It's a pretty subtle effect, lifting the rear of the keyboard up slightly.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

There are even more changes from the original 2017 Zephyrus (named after the Greek god of the west wind, in case you're curious). The price of the 2017 model was about $2,700 in the US, while this new version is $2,199. That's especially notable because even though the 2018 model was much faster in performance benchmarks and just about tied in 3D and gaming benchmarks. Asus says online retailer NewEgg will also carry a version that drops the GPU to a still-decent Nvidia 1060, for $1,899.

Asus ROG Zephyrus M GM501

Price as reviewed $2,199
Display size/resolution 15.6-inch, 1,920x1,080-pixel display
CPU 2.2GHz Intel Core i7-8750H
Memory 32GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,666MHz
Graphics 8GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070
Storage 512GB SSD
Networking 802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.0
Operating system Microsoft Windows 10 Pro (64-bit)

The non-touch 1,920x1,080 display gets tweaked as well, moving up to a 144Hz refresh rate and support for Nvidia's G-Sync technology, which matches GPU output to the refresh rate of the display, resulting in smoother-looking games.

The new Zephyrus will start shipping in the US on April 16.

A touching solution

Even though there's a new CPU inside, a better cooling system and a lower price, that's not why I like this new version so much better than the original. The 2017 Zephyrus suffered from one of the most unfortunate touchpads in recent history. Not so much because it was unresponsive, but because it was shoved over to the side of the keyboard, and doubled as a backlit number pad. As I've said for (many) years, it's hard to overcome decades of muscle memory, and you mess with the traditional touchpad setup at your own risk.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Here, the keyboard and touchpad are much more traditional, and perfectly functional, which is more than I could say last year. If that all feels too square, at least the keyboard has a multicolor backlit keyboard that can mimic some of the lightshow functions of keyboards from Alienware or Razer.

Intel inside

As part of Intel's spring update to its current eighth generation of Core i-series CPUs, it includes the very first six-core laptop processor we've tested. Intel says these new chips, such as the Core 2.2GHz i7-8750H used here, are targeted for gaming, VR and content creation on high-performance laptops.

Intel also says the new Core i7 CPUs should give you a boost of about 2.7 times in gaming and 88 percent in overall performance, versus a similar three-year-old laptop (which is about how long you'd want to keep a gaming laptop before replacing it).

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Of course, this is not the very top of of the line for Intel's latest additions. A new designation, called Core i9, is coming to some high-end laptops soon, so keep an eye out for laptops with the 2.9GHz Core i9-8950HK.

In our hands-on testing, there was a definite boost in CPU-intensive tests, comparing this eighth-gen chip to a variety of gaming laptops with seventh-gen Intel Core i-series CPUs, including the Core i7-7700HQ, a common CPU in high-end gaming laptops. At least in our initial testing, these new processors deliver great performance. 

In games and 3D tests, there wasn't a big difference between this new Zephyrus and the original model. That makes sense, because we're swapping the previous Nvidia 1080 Max-Q (which prioritizes efficiency) for a standard Nvidia 1070 (which prioritizes performance). The end result is a near tie, but certainly fast enough to any new game at high detail settings and full 1,920x1,080 resolution. For example, the PC version of Far Cry 5 ran at high settings and FHD resolution at 83 frames per second. 

Stepping up

The first-generation Zephyrus was an impressive engineering feat with a sky-high price and some annoying design compromises. This sequel keeps the overall slim look and feel and improves on performance (while swapping some components around), and thankfully hits the reset button on the unfortunate experiment in touchpad placement.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

There are still a few missteps. Battery life isn't great, the display is merely OK with a basic 1,920x1,080 resolution, and there's no dedicated Ethernet jack on board, which is important if you're downloading 30GB-plus games on the regular.

Still, it's a big step in the right direction. The original was fun, slick-looking and powerful, but felt more like a proof of concept than something practical. This reworked Zephyrus adds just enough mainstream tweaks to make it a legitimate recommendation for a superslim gaming laptop that can work as your main nongaming machine, too. 

Geekbench 4 (multicore)

Asus ROG Zephyrus M GM501 (2018) 20,442Origin PC Evo 15-S (2017) 14,347Alienware 15 R3 (2017) 14,060Asus ROG Zephyrus GX501 (2017) 13,942Dell Inspiron 15 7577 Gaming (late 2017) 10,611
Notes: Longer bars indicate better performance

Cinebench R15 CPU (multicore)

Asus ROG Zephyrus M GM501 (2018) 1,135Alienware 15 R3 (2017) 746Origin PC Evo 15-S (2017) 722Asus ROG Zephyrus GX501 (2017) 687Dell Inspiron 15 7577 Gaming (late 2017) 510
Notes: Longer bars indicate better performance

3DMark Fire Strike Ultra

Asus ROG Zephyrus GX501 (2017) 4,095Alienware 15 R3 (2017) 4,054Asus ROG Zephyrus M GM501 (2018) 3,954Origin PC Evo 15-S (2017) 3,180Dell Inspiron 15 7577 Gaming (late 2017) 1,871
Notes: Longer bars indicate better performance

Bioshock Infinite gaming test

Asus ROG Zephyrus M GM501 (2018) 184.22Asus ROG Zephyrus GX501 (2017) 180.94Alienware 15 R3 (2017) 178.42Origin PC Evo 15-S (2017) 148.38Dell Inspiron 15 7577 Gaming (late 2017) 122.21
Notes: Longer bars indicate better performance (FPS)

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided (fps)

Asus ROG Zephyrus GX501 (2017) 84.3Alienware 15 R3 (2017) 82.1Asus ROG Zephyrus M GM501 (2018) 79.2Origin PC Evo 15-S (2017) 72.7Dell Inspiron 15 7577 Gaming (late 2017) 50.2
Notes: Longer bars indicate better performance

Streaming video playback battery drain test

Dell Inspiron 15 7577 Gaming (late 2017) 362Alienware 15 R3 (2017) 236Asus ROG Zephyrus M GM501 (2018) 225Origin PC Evo 15-S (2017) 216Asus ROG Zephyrus GX501 (2017) 146
Notes: Longer bars indicate better performance (in minutes)

System configurations

Asus ROG Zephyrus M GM501 (2018) Microsoft Windows 10 Pro (64-bit); 2.2GHz Intel Core i7-8750H; 32GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,666MHz; 8GB Nvidia GeFroce GTX 1070; 512GB SSD
Asus ROG Zephyrus GX501 (2017) Microsoft Windows 10 Pro (64-bit); 2.8GHz Intel Core i7-7700HQ; 24GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,400MHz; 8GB Nvidia GeFroce GTX 1080 with Max-Q Design; 512GB SSD
Alienware 15 R3 (2017) Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.8GHz Intel Core i7-7700HQ; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,666MHz; 8GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070; 512GB SSD + 1TB HDD
Dell Inspiron 15 7577 Gaming (late 2017) Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.5GHz Intel Core i5-7300HQ; 8GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,400MHz; 6GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 with Max-Q Design; 256GB SSD
Origin PC Evo 15-S (2017) Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.8GHz Intel Core i7-7700HQ; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,666MHz; 8GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 with Max-Q-Design; 512GB SSD
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8.4

Asus ROG Zephyrus M GM501

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 9Performance 9Battery 6