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CNET’s end-of-the-year laptop review roundup: Asus Zephyrus S, Origin PC Evo17-S and Acer Chromebook Spin 13

We reviewed a lot of laptops in 2018. Here are hands-on impressions and benchmark scores for a few we didn't get to.

Asus Zephyrus GX531GS
Sarah Tew/CNET

This year, we reviewed dozens of laptops all across the spectrum of price and power. But, as 2018 draws to a close and we prepare to see loads of new systems at CES 2019, there are still several noteworthy laptops on our testing bench. Here are brief hands-on impressions of a few, along with preliminary test results and photos. 

In 2018, gaming laptops stepped up into the next tier of power and price. The Asus Zephyrus S and Origin PC Evo17-S, evaluated briefly below, show off how PC makers are cramming ever-more robust components into relatively compact cases. On the more affordable side of the market, Chromebooks made considerable strides toward evolving into a device that will work for nearly anyone, further narrowing the scope of the few remaining tasks you need a Mac or PC to accomplish.  Acer's latest entrant, the Chromebook Spin 13, shows just how far these machines have come.

Asus Zephyrus S

There's stiff competition in the gaming laptop category, especially in the $1,800 to $2,000 price range. That's enough dough to pick up one of a handful of excellent slim machines that come equipped with a killer 15-inch display and a serious CPU-graphics card combination.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Zephyrus S checks all of those boxes -- and is distinctive enough to stand out from the crowd. The layout is idiosyncratic, with the multicolored, backlit keyboard sitting flush with the front edge of the machine and the touchpad positioned off to the right. Asus claims it's built the world's slimmest gaming laptop, and whether that's true or not -- the goalposts are always moving, after all -- the Zephyrus S, measuring less than 16mm thin, is unquestionably sleek as hell. (The trick here is a bottom panel that rises up in the back when the lid is opened, allowing for better airflow.)

The 15.6-inch HD display, ensconced by truly thin bezels, looks great and has the specs to back it up: 3ms response time, 144Hz refresh rate, 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution -- though, no support for Nvidia's G-Sync technology. Nevertheless, my Tomb Raider test run looked super smooth and played beautifully.

Gaming laptops sometimes sacrifice performance for svelteness, but the 4.6-pound Zephyrus S delivers nearly everything most folks will need for a great experience with even the most demanding games. Our test configuration (model GX531GS) came with a six-core 2.2GHz Intel Core i7-8750H CPU and a Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 that roasted the competition -- including the Razer Blade and MSI's GS65 Stealth Thin -- in our Far Cry V and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided benchmarks. Virtually every connection is accounted for, with the exception of an Ethernet port.

3DMark Fire Strike Ultra

Asus Zephyrus S (GX531GS)
Razer Blade (2018)
Digital Storm Equinox
MSI GS65 Stealth Thin 8RF
Origin PC Evo 15-S (2017)


Longer bars indicate better performance

The Zephyrus S died just short of four hours into our battery life test; if endurance is a priority, you'd be better off with the Stealth Thin. Likewise, if you want something that doesn't so plainly expose you as a gamer, we recommend the Razer Blade. But we think the Zephyrus S is a winner. The configuration we tested is an Amazon exclusive, retailing for $1,999; at the moment, it's discounted to $1,799, with Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 and a GeForce Fortnite bundle thrown in. Dollar for dollar, it may be the best value in its class.

Origin PC Evo17-S

This is the big sibling of the 15-inch Evo15-S we reviewed in February. Though we liked the smaller edition, at this point, we'd recommend the Asus Zephyrus S reviewed above, which costs considerably less and trounced the Evo15-S in our benchmark testing.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The 17-inch Evo17-S is a different animal, however. Though it's got less firepower than the massive $3,412 Eon17-X we reviewed back in the fall, it's a certified beefcake in its own right. This model starts at $1,753, but our $2,864 configuration was decidedly higher-end, equipped with a lovely QFHD G-Sync display (with a 3,840x2,160-pixel resolutions) and the crown jewel of Intel's eighth-gen Coffee Lake series, the Core i9-8950HK. Also onboard, 8GB of DDR4 RAM, an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 GPU with its own 8GB block of DDR5 memory and a 2TB SSHD. Pretty sick.

Unsurprisingly, it turned in mostly solid results in our performance tests (Geekbench and Cinebench), besting nearly every other system in our database, including the HP Omen 17 we reviewed last year, which costs around $2,250 now. And it performed really well in all of our gaming-specific benchmarks, with the exception of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, where it lagged, oddly, far behind the Omen and the rest of the field. Amidst all of the power, the Evo17-S capably keeps itself cool; our unit's performance never wavered though the fans are active and loud. The 4.5 hours we got in our drain test is about average for battery life in this category.

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided gaming test

Origin PC Eon-17X
Alienware 15 R3 (2017)
Asus ROG Strix Scar II
Razer Blade (2018)
Dell Inspiron 15 7577 Gaming (late 2017)
Origin PC Evo17-S


Longer bars indicate better performance (FPS)

And as with any Origin PC system, there are an immense number of customization options, just about every port and connection you could need and excellent customer support, which includes free labor for the life of the machine and a year of free part replacement. If you're looking for competent gaming performance in a 17-inch form factor that's one step down from the price and bulk of a system like the Eon17-X, the Evo17-S will do the trick.

Acer Chromebook Spin 13

Chromebooks took another leap toward maturity in 2018, and when Acer announced a commercial class convertible this summer, we took note. The Chromebook Spin 13's specs were certainly eye-catching -- mostly-aluminum build, eighth-gen Intel Core processors, up to 16GB of RAM -- as was the price, starting at $650 and climbing to $1,000 for more loaded configurations.

Acer Chromebook Spin 13
Sarah Tew/CNET

We got our hands on the CP713-1WN-55HT model, which costs $899 and features a quad-core Core i5-8250U, 8GB of RAM and a 64GB SSD. It destroyed the competition -- including standouts like the Lenovo ThinkPad 13 and Google Pixelbook -- in our benchmarks. More importantly, the thing just feels fast, and it performed admirably in our battery drain test, lasting for more than 11.5 hours on a charge.

Google Octane

Acer Chromebook Spin 13
Lenovo ThinkPad 13 Chromebook
Samsung Chromebook Pro
Samsung Chromebook Plus
Acer Chromebook 15
Lenovo 500e Chromebook


Longer bars indicate better performance

The 13-inch QHD display, with its 2,256x1,504 resolution, is bright and crisp, though the New York Times homepage looks a bit washed out. I found it responsive to the touch of my finger and the included Wacom stylus, in both laptop and tablet mode. Many Chromebooks have a mushy keyboard, an affliction even more common among two-in-ones and detachables. But the Chromebook Spin 13's backlit keyboard is sturdy -- it reminds me of the one on the older MacBook Air -- and positioned above a wide, accurate touchpad.  

Bottom line: the Chromebook Spin 13 gives the Pixelbook a serious run for the money, and joins it in the top tier of the category. For $899, Acer delivers a winning design, a newer processor, better battery life and a slightly larger display, with a fine, battery-free stylus included. Retailing at $999 -- though Google is discounting it to $749 through Dec. 30 -- the Pixelbook gives you twice the storage, is a pound lighter and more compact overall, but you'll need to shell out an additional $99 for the Pixel Pen. 

All our CES 2019 coverage

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