ASUS Zephyrus G15 Review - Not All Ryzen Gaming Laptops Are Winners

JT JT 21 December 2020
ASUS Zephyrus G15 Review - Not All Ryzen Gaming Laptops Are Winners

The ASUS Zephyrus G15 is a thinner Ryzen  based gaming laptop, but usually a smaller   size results in higher temperatures and less  performance, so let’s investigate in this review. ASUS Zephyrus G15 Review - Not All Ryzen Gaming Laptops Are WinnersThe black metal lid has a brushed finish,  while the matte black interior is plastic,   though despite that flex was on the  lower side and it felt quite sturdy,   decent build quality and  no sharp corners or edges.ASUS Zephyrus G15 Review - Not All Ryzen Gaming Laptops Are Winners The G15 weighs just over 2kg or 4.5lb,   then with the 180w power brick and  cables we’re right on 2.6kg or 5.7lb. ASUS Zephyrus G15 Review - Not All Ryzen Gaming Laptops Are WinnersIt’s on the thinner side as you’d  expect from a Zephyrus laptop,   just under 2cm thick and quite portable. My G15 has a 15.6” 1080p 240Hz screen  with a FreeSync range of 48 to 240Hz.   Unfortunately the G15 was released  before Max-Q dynamic boost was available,   so it does not have that feature,  and Optimus cannot be disabled.

ASUS list the panel with a 3ms response time,   and the software lets you enable overdrive  mode which should improve response time. With overdrive disabled, I was getting a bit  over 7ms for average grey-to-grey response time.  ASUS Zephyrus G15 Review - Not All Ryzen Gaming Laptops Are Winners I only saw a small improvement with overdrive  enabled, the average response time was now 6.5ms,  ASUS Zephyrus G15 Review - Not All Ryzen Gaming Laptops Are Winners so not quite the 3ms specified,   however there was also no overshoot  or undershoot which is the trade off. ASUS Zephyrus G15 Review - Not All Ryzen Gaming Laptops Are WinnersI’ve tested the screen with the Spyder  5, and got 94% of sRGB, 67% of NTSC, 72%   of AdobeRGB and 72% of DCI-P3, so  decent results for a gaming panel.

Brightness was alright, above 300 nits at 100%  brightness with a contrast ratio of 820:1. ASUS Zephyrus G15 Review - Not All Ryzen Gaming Laptops Are WinnersBacklight bleed was very minor in my unit   and not enough to notice normally,  but this will vary between panels. ASUS Zephyrus G15 Review - Not All Ryzen Gaming Laptops Are WinnersLike many other ASUS gaming  laptops, there’s no camera here. Although there’s no camera, it does still have  microphones.

Typing on the chiclet keyboard worked well,  and unlike the issue I noted with the space   bar on the Zephyrus M15, I’m happy to report  that’s not a problem with the G15. There’s   no numpad and the arrow keys are on the  smaller side but the key presses felt nice.

Mine only has white backlighting  with 3 levels of key brightness,   and all keys and secondary  functions are illuminated. The power button is separate from the keyboard up  the top right, and there are also extra keys above   the keyboard on the left to change volume, mute,  or open the Armoury Crate software, which is the   control panel for the machine. There appears to  be some air vents up the back below the screen. The precision touchpad clicks down anywhere  and works fine, no issues to report there. Fingerprints and dirt aren’t too obvious on the  interior, they’re far more obvious on the lid, and   also harder to clean due to the brushed finish.

ASUS Zephyrus G15 Review - Not All Ryzen Gaming Laptops Are WinnersOn the left we’ve got the power input, gigabit   ethernet facing the preferred way so you don’t  have to lift the machine to take out the cable,   HDMI 2.0b output, USB 3.2 Gen1 Type-A port, USB  3.2 Gen2 Type-C port and 3.5mm audio combo jack. ASUS Zephyrus G15 Review - Not All Ryzen Gaming Laptops Are WinnersThe right has two more USB 3.2 Gen1 Type-A ports,  air exhaust vent, and Kensington lock up the back. The Type-C port does not have Thunderbolt  but you can use it to charge the machine.   The Type-C port also has displayport output  and connects directly to the Nvidia GPU,   so it should work for VR, however HDMI  connects to the integrated Radeon graphics.

The back has a couple of air exhaust vents, ASUS Zephyrus G15 Review - Not All Ryzen Gaming Laptops Are Winners  while the front just has a small indent  for getting your finger in to open the lid,   and there were no problems opening it up with one  finger, it felt well balanced sitting on my lap.

Underneath appears to have some  air vents towards the back corners,  ASUS Zephyrus G15 Review - Not All Ryzen Gaming Laptops Are Winners but if we take a closer look we can see these  are actually blocked off for some reason.  ASUS Zephyrus G15 Review - Not All Ryzen Gaming Laptops Are Winners ASUS have done this with other models like  the TUF A15, so I can only assume the idea   is to bring air in over other components  first, but we’ll check out thermals soon.

The bottom panel was easy to remove, there  are 15 phillips head screws to undo and   the one down the front right stays in but  raises up the corner to help you get in.ASUS Zephyrus G15 Review - Not All Ryzen Gaming Laptops Are Winners Inside we’ve got the battery down the  front, two M.2 storage slots above,   WiFi 6 is to the left of the installed  SSD, and there’s just one memory slot here. My G15 comes with 8gb of DDR4-3200  memory soldered to the board,   though there’s also a 16gb on board option.  If you want dual channel you’ll need to make   sure there’s a stick installed in  the single slot like I’ve got here.

The two speakers are on the left and right sides  towards the front, I thought they sounded quite   good for a laptop, easily above average with  some bass, and the latencymon results were ok. 

The G15 is powered by a 4-cell 76Wh battery. I’ve  tested it with keyboard lighting off, background   apps disabled and screen at 50% brightness. ASUS Zephyrus G15 Review - Not All Ryzen Gaming Laptops Are Winners It lasted for just over 8 hours in the YouTube   playback test, an excellent result, and a little  better than the G14 with same sized battery a   couple of spots below it, though both were a fair  bit ahead of the Zephyrus M15, again with the same   battery though that one is Intel based. The  gaming test lasted for an hour and 46 minutes,   it still had 9% charge left but the frame rate  dipped to 6 FPS so I stopped it after this time.

Although the G15 can be charged over Type-C, don’t  expect full performance for tasks like gaming,   just consider it good for on the  go use like school or office work.

Let’s check out thermals next. The ASUS Armoury Crate software lets us  pick between different performance modes,   which from lowest to highest  are silent, performance, turbo,   then manual is kind of like turbo mode but  you have more control, it lets you adjust fan   speed and change the GPU overclocks. In the  upcoming thermal tests, I found the fans in   turbo mode were at the same speed as manual  anyway, so I didn’t test them separately.

ASUS Zephyrus G15 Review - Not All Ryzen Gaming Laptops Are WinnersThe idle temperatures were a little warm  with a 21 degree Celsius ambient room,   stress tests were done with the Aida64 CPU  stress test with stress CPU only checked   and the Heaven GPU benchmark run at the same  time, while gaming was tested playing Watch   Dogs 2. Yeah I know Legion is out, but  I want comparable data to past videos. The GPU was thermal throttling any  time it was at 86 degrees Celsius,   so in both performance and turbo  modes with the stress tests running,   and while gaming in performance mode, though turbo  mode was still not far off. A slightly warmer room   would be enough to push it over the edge.

The CPU  was also thermal throttling in some cases too,   though interestingly the cooling pad was  actually making fair improvements here.   Usually this isn’t the case with laptops  that have blocked intakes above the fans.

These are the clockspeeds for the same tests  just shown. ASUS Zephyrus G15 Review - Not All Ryzen Gaming Laptops Are WinnersThe GPU speeds in silent mode were   a fair bit lower, so don’t expect a great  gaming experience with this option. The CPU   was able to run at 4GHz over all 8 cores best  case with the cooling pad in the game test. I don’t think this is too bad given the HS  processor has a 35 watt power limit, which   was only being reached in turbo mode.

Performance  mode seems to limit this to 30 watts. The 2060   max-q was only hitting its 65 watt limit with the  stress tests going with a cooling pad in use due   to the GPU thermal throttling that was otherwise  happening, so this is why ASUS aren’t using the   full 80 watt variant or higher, there wouldn’t  be too much point if you can’t keep it cool.

Here’s how game frame rates differed with  these different modes in use in an actual game, ASUS Zephyrus G15 Review - Not All Ryzen Gaming Laptops Are Winners turbo and manual mode were the same as expected  as we get the same overclocks by default,   then lower results with the lower  modes due to power limitations,   as these allow the fans to run quieter.

Here’s how CPU only performance looks in Cinebench  with the GPU now idle, ASUS Zephyrus G15 Review - Not All Ryzen Gaming Laptops Are Winnersso it’s able to do better   when the 2060 max-q isn’t contributing heat into  the system. ASUS Zephyrus G15 Review - Not All Ryzen Gaming Laptops Are WinnersThe 4900HS stacks up fairly well when   compared to others, doing better than the G14  with the same processor a couple of spots below.   The single core result is one of the  best I’ve seen from a Ryzen processor.

When idling the keyboard was around the low 40  degree Celsius point, so warmer than the usual   30s I see with most others.ASUS Zephyrus G15 Review - Not All Ryzen Gaming Laptops Are Winners With the stress  tests running in the same silent mode it’s   mid 50s in the center and quite uncomfortable. ASUS Zephyrus G15 Review - Not All Ryzen Gaming Laptops Are Winners In the higher performance mode there are now   hotspots of 60 degrees, so again fairly hot  in the middle. ASUS Zephyrus G15 Review - Not All Ryzen Gaming Laptops Are WinnersTurbo mode is quite similar,   but the WASD keys are at least cool, ASUS Zephyrus G15 Review - Not All Ryzen Gaming Laptops Are Winnersso while  playing a game it feels fine, but I wouldn’t   want to keep my hand on the middle keys for  too long.

The fans were still audible when idling. It’s  still on the quieter side with the stress tests   going in silent mode, performance mode was  then similar to most gaming laptops I test,   then turbo mode was a little louder and the same  as using manual mode to set the fans to max speed.

Now let’s check out how well  the Zephyrus G15 performs in   games and see how it compares with other laptops.

I’ve tested Battlefield 5 in campaign mode at  ultra settings, and the G15 is highlighted in red. ASUS Zephyrus G15 Review - Not All Ryzen Gaming Laptops Are Winners  It’s not doing as well as I thought, coming  in around 6 FPS behind the smaller G14 with   the same CPU and GPU. It’s being beaten by  any non Max-Q 1660 Ti because those run with   a higher 80 watt power limit, so it doesn’t  matter much that we’ve got RTX 2060 graphics   here as the power limit is more important  in games, at least outside of ray tracing,   granted I wouldn’t have high hopes in ray  tracing from a 1st gen 65 watt option anyway.

These are the results from Far Cry 5  with ultra settings in the built in   benchmark. ASUS Zephyrus G15 Review - Not All Ryzen Gaming Laptops Are WinnersThe G15 moved up one level here  as this game depends more on the processor,   and the 4900HS can offer some nice performance,  but that said it’s still a little behind the   G14 with same key specs, and also beaten by  those higher wattage 1660 Ti laptops above it.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider was also  tested with the games benchmark   tool with the highest setting preset.  ASUS Zephyrus G15 Review - Not All Ryzen Gaming Laptops Are WinnersThe G15 is still able to pass 60 FPS,   but now it’s 10 FPS below the G14 which was  hitting a 16% higher average frame rate. This is   likely down to thermal throttling noted earlier,  as the G14 does run cooler despite being smaller. I’ve also tested the G15 in 20  games at all setting levels,   check the card in the top right or link in the  description if you want more gaming benchmarks.

Now for the benchmarking tools. I’ve used Adobe Premiere to export one of  my laptop review videos at 4K.ASUS Zephyrus G15 Review - Not All Ryzen Gaming Laptops Are Winners Lower times   are better here, and in general the Ryzen options  don’t do quite as well as Intel machines as Intel   offers a boost with quicksync. The G15 was just 21  seconds slower than the G14 with the same specs.ASUS Zephyrus G15 Review - Not All Ryzen Gaming Laptops Are Winners I’ve also tested Premiere but with the Puget  systems benchmark, and this tests for more   things like live playback rather than just  export times. Higher scores are better now,   and the G14 with the same specs had basically  the same score, and both were doing well here. ASUS Zephyrus G15 Review - Not All Ryzen Gaming Laptops Are WinnersAdobe Photoshop is a bit different,  still fairly good results compared   to others just not super impressive,  and a bit behind the G14 this time. ASUS Zephyrus G15 Review - Not All Ryzen Gaming Laptops Are WinnersDaVinci Resolve is more GPU heavy, and again very  close score with the G14. This is a GPU heavy test   and those are the only two machines I’ve had  with 65 watt 2060 Max-Q, so that makes sense,   though that said both were ahead of that  115 watt 2060 in the Max-15 just below. ASUS Zephyrus G15 Review - Not All Ryzen Gaming Laptops Are WinnersI’ve also tested SPECviewperf which tests  out various professional 3D workloads.  

I’ve used Crystal disk mark to test the  512GB NVMe M.2 SSD. ASUS Zephyrus G15 Review - Not All Ryzen Gaming Laptops Are WinnersThe speeds are alright,   nothing impressive but not too bad.

Finally let’s discuss price. The 1660 Ti Max-Q model with 4800HS is   $1250 USD, though the M15 with 2070 Max-Q is the  same price on sale, and fact is that’s going to   perform better in games, not to mention the M15  doesn’t have blocked air intakes like the G15. The G15 with specs I’ve tested here is about  $1400, so $150 extra for the slight spec bump   which doesn’t seem too worthwhile when you can get  that 2070 M15. Plus the G14 is actually on sale   for less than all of these, and as we saw earlier  it does better in most games compared to the G15.

Let’s conclude by summarising both the good and   the bad sides of the G15 to help  you decide if it’s worth buying. Like other Zephyrus branded laptops from ASUS,  the G15 is on the smaller and thinner side   making it quite portable. Less space means less  room for cooling though, and even with the lower   wattage Max-Q graphics and HS Ryzen processor  there was still thermal throttling present. This probably isn’t helped by the air vents  above the intake fans being blocked. I find   it strange that the Intel based M15 with  similar design doesn’t have these blocked too,   though I suppose that one can be specced  higher, but still. Hardware Unboxed has   shown that overall having ventilation holes  underneath is a positive with the TUF,   I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a similar story  here, but without cutting the panel up I have no   way of knowing for sure. I don’t think they’ve  just done this to try and make Ryzen look worse,   people are quick to forget that there are  Intel TUF models too with the same design.

I found it interesting that despite being  a little larger than the smaller G14,   with the same main specs the G14 was often  outperforming the G15, particularly in games. The   G14 is often more expensive though, but with the  sale on at the moment the G15 ends up being more. Outside of games though in CPU only  workloads the G15 was doing a little better. 1 memory slot might be a  little limiting for upgrades,   especially if you have the 8gb soldered  to the board option that I’ve got here.   With the 16gb soldered to the board option  though it would be less of an issue,   install a 16 gig stick for 32 gig in dual  channel, or if you need capacity you could   install a 32 gig stick for 48 gig total, probably  plenty for most people despite the single slot.

On the positive side though,  the battery life is excellent,   one of the best results from a gaming  laptop I’ve had seemingly due to Ryzen,   as the Intel M15 with same sized  battery wasn’t lasting as long. Type-C charge is also a nice bonus feature. The screen is good and better than the one in  the G14, but at the same time 240Hz is probably   a bit overkill for lower wattage max-q 1660 ti  or 2060 graphics unless you’re mainly playing   esports titles, which I guess to be fair  is the main reason you’d want 240Hz anyway.

Overall for the price though, the Zephyrus G15  doesn’t seem that great to me. When it launched it   was one of the first Ryzen 4000 options available,  if you wanted the benefits of Ryzen it was one of   the few choices, but now closer to the end of 2020  there are just so many other options available.  

Personally I’d pay less money for the Legion  5 with a faster screen and better performance.   It’s a bit thicker, so I suppose  it depends how much you want the   slimmer form factor which is typically  what the Zephyrus lineup is known for. Anyway let me know what you thought about the ASUS  Zephyrus G15 gaming laptop down in the commentse.

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