The Asus Zephyrus is back — with a totally normal keyboard
The original Zephyrus GX501 carried the burden of being the first notebook available with Nvidia's Max-Q technology. When Jensen Huang so eagerly showed it to the world early last year, all eyes were on Asus to see if the power-efficient Max-Q can really deliver on its promises. From a consumer's perspective, the Zephyrus name often came hand-to-hand with Nvidia Max-Q.
It's a bit surprisingly then to learn that the next Zephyrus will be dropping the GTX Max-Q GPUs that made the first Zephyrus so popular in favor of a standard GTX 1070. Called the Zephyrus GM501, Asus has gone back to the drawing board to create a more traditional keyboard and clickpad due to fan response on the GX501. The chassis on the newer model is otherwise nearly identical to the first from its brushed aluminum outer lid and focus on a thin profile. Opening the lid, for example, will still elevate the bottom panel for improved airflow and angle the system slightly.
|Zephyrus GM501||Zephyrus GX501|
|CPU||Intel hexa-core Core i7-8750H||Intel quad-core Core i7-7700HQ|
|GPU||GeForce GTX 1070, manual graphics switching||GeForce GTX 1070 Max-Q or 1080 Max-Q, no graphics switching|
|Display||15.6-inch AHVA, matte, 1080p, 144 Hz, 3 ms, G-Sync||15.6-inch IPS, matte, 1080p, 120 Hz, G-Sync|
|RAM||Up to 32 GB DDR4 2666 MHz||8 GB soldered + 1x SODIMM DDR4-2400|
|Ports||Thunderbolt 3, 4x USB 3.0, HDMI 2.0, 3.5 mm headset||Thunderbolt 3, 4x USB 3.0, HDMI 2.0, 3.5 mm headset|
|Battery||4-cell, 55 Wh||4-cell, 50 Wh|
|Dimensions||20.3 x 384 x 261 mm||17.9 x 379 x 262 mm|
|Weight||2.5 kg||2.25 kg|
Moving the keyboard back to its "correct" position carries some drawbacks. One reason why the keyboard on the GX501 was so close up was to make room for the cooling solution behind it. Now that the keys have returned to the center, Asus had to make the GM501 slightly thicker than the GX501 (20.3 mm vs. 17.9 mm) to accommodate both the more demanding GTX 1070 GPU and increased height of the keyboard. In person, however, the difference is barely noticeable and the keys definitely feel firmer this time around compared to the softer GX501 keys.
The system fans are also now thinner, more powerful (12 V), and with more fins than on the GX501 for more airflow. They were certainly audible at the Asus preview event where the system had been looping the Unigine benchmark scene all afternoon, but a more controlled environment will be needed to see if fan noise is any louder or quieter than the original Zephyrus. It's worth noting here that Max-Q entails a 40 dB(A) fan noise rating when gaming while standard non-Max-Q GPUs have no such ceiling.
Asus made sure to take better advantage of the thicker volume aside from just improved cooling. The rare manual graphics switching feature is now available alongside a larger battery, a second SODIMM slot, and a secondary 2.5-inch SATA III bay for additional storage. In comparison, the first Zephyrus had only a single SODIMM slot and a smaller battery with no GPU switching for shorter runtimes. The system will even be one of the first to carry a 144 Hz/3 ms AHVA panel for very smooth gameplay whereas the newer MSI GS65 and Gigabyte Aero 15X systems will carry "only" 144 Hz/7 ms options.
Beyond the changes mentioned above, the GM501 is largely the same Zephyrus that we're already familiar with in terms of feel. The lid still flexes more than on thicker gaming notebooks like the G703 or MSI GT73 and upgrading the system can be a hassle because of the unique bottom panel design. In turn, the base feels a bit stronger and the internal updates are very welcomed. The bump from Kaby Lake to Coffee Lake-H and GTX Max-Q to standard GTX should give the GM501 a performance edge over the GX501.
On the flip side, we're slightly disappointed to see no 4K UHD options as the GTX 1070 is wholly capable of native 4K gaming. It will be interesting to see how the new 15.6-inch Zephyrus can compete against the aforementioned 15.6-inch MSI GS65 and Aero 15X as these alternatives carry attractive thin-bezel designs that make the GM501 look unwieldy in comparison.
The Asus Zephyrus GM501 is set to launch on April 16 alongside other Coffee Lake-H refreshes including the MSI GS65/GT75, Alienware 17, HP Omen 15/17, and Asus' own ROG G703. The manufacturer wants to make it clear that the GM501 will complement the existing GX501 and is not a direct successor. As such, both models will continue to be in stock for the time being.
Our full review on the new Zephyrus GM501 can be found here.