We’ve been excited about getting our hands on AMD’s 7nm laptop parts for a long time now—even before visiting AMD’s campus in Austin last month for a sneak preview. Originally, we were supposed to come home from AMD with a laptop in hand to test, but the novel coronavirus had its way with this as with many other products.

We did eventually get one of Asus’ Zephyrus G14 gaming laptops with a top-of-the-line Ryzen 9 4900HS, though—and after several days of testing, we’re ready to talk about it.

Overview

Specs at a glance: Asus ROG Zephyrus G14, as tested
OSWindows 10 Home
CPU3.3GHz 8-core AMD Ryzen 9 3900HS (4.4GHz boost)
RAM16GB DDR43200
GPUAMD Radeon 8 core / Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 MaxQ
SSDIntel 660p M.2 NVMe PCIe3.0 1TB
BatteryASUStek 76000 mWh
Display1080p, non-glare, 120Hz, adaptive sync
Connectivity
  • two USB-B ports
  • two USB-C ports
  • 3.5mm phone/mic combo jack
  • DC power jack
  • full-size HDMI out
  • Kensington lock slot
Price as tested$1,449.99 at Best Buy and Asus

The Zephyrus G14 is a surprisingly small and sleek build for a full-on gaming laptop—and make no mistake about it, that’s precisely what this beast is. At first glance, the 18mm-thick Zephyrus looks more like an ultraportable design than a gaming laptop. (For reference, the Acer C720 11″ Chromebooks were 19mm thick.)

Any similarity to a Chromebook goes away when you pick the Zephyrus up, though. At a little less than 4 pounds, it’s not exactly a battlestation of old—my old System76 Gazelle Pro came in at 5.5 pounds!—but it’s much heavier than you’d expect from such a sleek little laptop.

The G14’s fans spin up quickly and authoritatively the moment the system is put under even the slightest amount of load. For a typical laptop, this might be a little annoying—but we suspect it’s a design decision the gamers the G14 is aimed at will appreciate. Nobody’s going to lose any frames because this laptop thought keeping quiet was more important.

At full-on leafblower mode, the fans are loud enough to be heard a room away. We don’t have a good way to measure the volume directly, but notebookcheck.net reports it gets as high as 53.5dB. That’s louder than competing gaming laptops—but we should note that the fan noise is a very livable, clean “whoosh” with no rattles, coil whine, or bearing hum. All you hear is air.

The cooling system, however loud, definitely performed well. Even after hours of continuous heavy graphics and CPU load testing, performance did not drop—and the chassis and keyboard did not feel hot to the touch.

Our biggest complaint about the G14 is the difficulty in opening it. There is no notch or gripping surface in the center bottom of the lid, and the hinges are very stiff. Stiff hinges mean good build quality and longer chassis life, but this really was a difficult laptop to open—the first time out of the box, we were tempted to go grab a spudger. Eventually, we discovered it can be opened one-handed from the side, rather than the center.

The keyboard backlight was also disappointing. It’s a pale white, with one or two LEDs beneath the keyboard servicing the whole thing. The overall effect is distinctly uneven, and actually reading the keys in the dark isn’t at all easy.

CPU performance

There’s not much to say about the Ryzen 9 4900HS CPU in the Zephyrus G14 beyond “wow.” Getting the full set of benchmark utilities loaded on a new laptop can be annoying—especially PCMark, which comes as a 3.27GiB zip file.

The Zephyrus G14’s Ryzen 9 4900HS CPU was more than up to the challenge of a few measly GiB of zip file, however—it unzipped PCMark in under 30 seconds, at a whopping 140MiB/sec. The bottleneck here was almost certainly the Intel 660p SSD—the 660p is a QLC (Quad-Level Cell) drive, which means its write speed tends to dip down to 100MiB/sec pretty quickly.

The Ryzen 9 4900HS did as well actually running the benchmarks. In multi-threaded benchmarks, it runs neck and neck with Intel’s high-end desktop gaming CPU, the i9-9900K. The 4900HS runs away laughing from the more affordable i7-9700K—not to mention its actual competition, the i7-9750H laptop CPU.

The race is considerably closer when it comes to single-threaded benchmarks. Single-threaded, the 4900HS comes in second or third to the Intel desktop gaming CPUs—though it consistently beats the Intel laptop CPU. The margins here are considerably smaller, though, and there’s probably not much to choose from when it comes to truly single-threaded workloads.

GPU performance

The graphics performance of the Zephyrus G14 is very good, but it’s not world-class—which makes sense in a $1,500 gaming laptop, and it only seems noteworthy because the Ryzen 9 4900HS CPU is such a showstopper. If we use the Unigine Superposition benchmark to compare its RTX 2060 Mobile to desktop parts, we end up with a rough equivalence to a four-year old GTX 1060.

It’s worth stressing, here, that this does not in any way make the G14 a bad performer. Its consistent 50+ fps when running the Superposition benchmark are significantly better than my own Ryzen 7 3700X workstation with Radeon RX 590 GPU can manage, and the experience is artifact-free, even in slow pans that give the user plenty of time to notice flashing on leading edges and similar glitches.

The RTX 2060 Mobile also compares roughly with 4-year-old desktop parts on Passmark’s less-demanding 3D Graphics Mark tests. More interestingly, our Zephyrus G14 noticeably outperformed Passmark’s baseline scores for the RTX 2060 Mobile in both 3D Graphics Mark and 2D Graphics Mark. This is most likely due to CPU performance influence on the tests.

We’ll mention the Zephyrus G14’s fans again here, because GPU benchmarking is what really kicks them into high gear. We thought that they were moving a lot of air during the CPU benchmarks—but we clearly just didn’t have a good frame of reference.

We were impressed at how clean the Zephyrus G14’s fan sound is, with no whine, rattle, or buzz. But we certainly can’t call it quiet—it’s moving so much air through a very tiny space, and the whoosh is easily audible from a room away.

Listing image by Jim Salter

Battery life

Testing the battery life in the Zephyrus was, frankly, kind of a pain. We used two of PCMark’s battery-test profiles: Modern Office and Gaming. Modern Office went well enough, coming in at 9 hours 35 minutes—and if this were a normal laptop, we’d have been tempted to turn that number in and call it a day.

The Zephyrus G14 isn’t a normal laptop, though—it’s a gaming laptop. So after fully recharging the battery, we ran it through PCMark’s Gaming profile, netting 2 hours 9 minutes. Fair enough—except we noticed that the Fire Strike 3D benchmark scene running during the test was only achieving frames per second in the high 20s.

Sure enough, when we checked the detailed logs from PCMark’s run, it had been running against the integrated Radeon graphics, not the discrete RTX 2060 Mobile. So we’re not entirely sure how relevant that score really is.

Windows 10 has a relatively new feature allowing you to select which GPU to use with a given application, under System settings–>Display–>Graphics settings. We used that to target both the PCMark launcher and the FireStrike executable itself to the RTX 2060. Unfortunately, PCMark ignored us and chose the Radeon GPU anyway. Then we tried using the Nvidia control panel to target the application, with the exact same results.

Since no combination of settings, panels, or power profiles would get PCMark to use the discrete graphics, we turned back to Superposition and ran it in Stress Test mode rather than Benchmark. By comparing start time to the time an Event ID 42 (System sleep) was recorded in Event Viewer, we got a total runtime of 2 hours 2 minutes.

Ultimately, we don’t recommend trying to do more than casual gaming on the battery, on this or any other laptop. Your framerates will suffer, and you aren’t going to get much playtime.

Conclusions

Asus’ Zephyrus G14 is a mid-range gaming laptop with an out-of-this-world CPU in it. If you want the best possible framerates, neither this laptop nor this price bracket will suit you—you’re going to need to shell out somewhere between $3,000 and $4,000 for something with an RTX 2080 Mobile in it.

With that said, at $1,500 and with a world-leading CPU, the Zephyrus is a very interesting value proposition. If you’re an only moderately obsessed serious gamer and want the best possible desktop and application performance along with your games in a sleek package with good battery life, this might be the laptop for you.

We didn’t love the uneven keyboard backlight, and it takes some practice to figure out how to get the Zephyrus G14 open without looking like you rolled a critical fumble. But neither of these flaws are dealbreakers, given the very reasonable price point.

The Good

  • The Ryzen 9 4900HS CPU is incredible
  • The Intel 660p NVMe SSD is a good fit for the expected use case of the laptop
  • Clean, buzz-rattle-and-whine free fan whoosh
  • Reasonable $1,500 price point
  • Crisp 120Hz display
  • Sleek design

The Bad

  • Geforce RTX 2060 GPU feels slow compared to the 4900HS CPU
  • No wired Ethernet jack—Wi-Fi gaming is laggy gaming!
  • Although the fan noise is clean, there’s no shortage of it

The ugly

  • Stiff hinges and no notch/grip make the Zephyrus G14 difficult to open
  • Keyboard backlight is uneven and difficult to read
  • Like every other laptop, the go-fast stickers are visibly, aggravatingly not quite on straight, and it makes us cranky
    If you know how to unsee this problem, please teach me your relaxed and easygoing ways.
    Enlarge / If you know how to unsee this problem, please teach me your relaxed and easygoing ways.
    Jim Salter

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