The First Gaming Laptop With AMD Inside Is Wicked Fast, Wicked Cheap, and Wicked Hot

Illustration for article titled The First Gaming Laptop With AMD Inside Is Wicked Fast, Wicked Cheap, and Wicked Hot
Photo: Joanna Nelius (Gizmodo)

In a world dominated by gaming laptops that look like race cars or alien space ships, the Asus ROG Zephrus G14 eschews that stereotypical look. The flashiest lights come from an optional LED matrix display on the lid (ours came without). The whole thing is a massive departure from those hefty black bricks festooned in RGBa, and yet it’s one that my gothic, all-black loving heart loves. But while the Zephyrus G14 has the right looks, and can even best Intel’s mobile Core i9-9980HK in several workload types, it has one serious underlying issue: it gets HOT.

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The Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 is the first laptop to come equipped with AMD’s newest mobile gaming processors, which is great because until now, Intel hasn’t been challenged in the same space. AMD has had Ryzen-based mobile processors since 2018, but they weren’t common in laptops, especially gaming ones. Now, major laptop makers like Asus are putting them into their gaming laptops for the first time, and boy does Intel have some serious competition. Provided laptop makers handle the thermal issues better than Asus has. More on that in a second.

Our Zephyrus G14 came equipped with AMD’s Ryzen 9 4900HS, Nvidia RTX 2060 Max Q, 16GB DDR4-3200 RAM, a 1TB SSD NVMe PCIe 3.0, and retails for $1,450 as configured. This one is the top-of-the-line model, but you can opt for a Ryzen 7 4800HS and a GTX 1660 Ti or lower to bring down the cost. Pricing will vary based on the exact configuration.

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Typically the Ryzen 9 4900HS is meant to compete with Intel’s Core i9-9980HK, and while I don’t have an identically spec’d laptop with that CPU on hand I do have the Intel NUC 9 Extreme Kit which has mobile Core i9-9980HK.

As usual, Intel dominates in the single core arena, but it still loses to the Ryzen 9 4900HS in benchmarks reliant on multicore performance, like rendering speeds, transcoding speeds, and Civilization VI. Rendering a 3D image in Blender with the Core i9-9980HK took 8:08 minutes, where it took only 7:25 minutes with the Ryzen 9 4900HS. Transcoding a 4K video to 1080p at 30 fps took 8:05 minutes and 6:53 minutes, respectively, and the time per turn AI speed in Civilization VI took 8.8 ms versus 7.1 ms, respectively. Even in Geekbench 4's multi-core benchmark AMD’s Ryzen 9 4900HS edged out the Core i9-9980HK test, 30468 to 29860.

Graphics card-wise, Intel’s NUC 9 Extreme Kit has a RTX 2070, where the Zephrus G14 has a RTX 2060 Max-Q, so it’s no surprise that this Asus laptop would have a lower frame count in our in-game benchmarks. But most of the time you’ll get at least 65 frames per second or higher at 1080p on ultra (or highest) graphics settings, depending on the game. The Zephrus G14 reached: 81fps on Far Cry 5, 66fps on Total War: Warhammer II, 69fps on Shadow of the Tomb Raider, and 41fps on Metro Exodus (ray tracing off). Turn the graphics down to high and you’ve got a great balance of visual quality and performance.

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However, I did run into some issues when comparing performance between ray tracing being on and off. In Metro Exodus, results were within one frame of each other, when ray tracing on should be about 10 frames lower than with ray tracing off.

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Running Overwatch on ultra at 120Hz averaged 77fps. On high it was a very nice 110 fps, but I still could only play two 5-minute games before the heat coming through the keyboard became uncomfortable and worrisome. Turning down the graphics setting in every game did nothing to bring down the temps. Which brings me to my big issue with this laptop.

It runs too damn hot. We saw a similar issue with the Gigabyte Aorus 17G, but unlike the Aorus 17G, the G14 sometimes gets too uncomfortable to keep my fingers on the keyboard for longer than 10 minutes while gaming. The CPU routinely hits temperatures as high as 100-105 degrees Celsius, sometimes spiking to 112 degrees Celsius. (The max temp for this processor is 105 C, according to AMD.) The surface of the laptop around the keyboard can get as hot as 44 degrees Celsius (or 110 degrees Fahrenheit). It could get hotter than that, but that’s also the max temperature on my thermometer.

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Another part of the problem could be the laptop’s magnesium-aluminum alloy chassis. That material is great for making things that need to be as lightweight as possible, like laptops. But while it has a thermal conductivity (the amount/speed of heat transmitted through a material) that is low for an alloy, it’s still high compared to a lot of other metals. It’s why some laptop makers today will wrap the chassis in soft-touch plastic or carbon fiber to help keep the surface cool, like Dell’s XPS 13.

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I was worried that something might be wrong with the unit I received and reached out to Asus anyway. The company said that our temperatures seemed unusually high, so we’ve returned the unit for evaluation. Asus did say that it’s normal for the Ryzen 4000 CPUs to run pretty hot, however it did also note that it’s common for other laptops to run just as hot; In the Acer Predator Triton 500 I’m currently testing I’ve seen the CPU run between 85-90 C at load so far. On top of that, Asus pushes for extra performance even if it means 5 C or 10 C higher temperatures because “most users are unlikely to notice or care about the CPU temperatures.” If they do, then performance still matters more than component temperatures.

And it should be noted that I wasn’t the only one running into heat issues. While some reviews saw the chassis temperature peaks at 31 C (88 F) while streaming a video, other reviews note the same or similar temperature readings as I did while gaming. So, at least for now, you can’t be certain how toasty the laptop will be if you buy it yourself.

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I really, really wanted to like this laptop, especially since AMD has finally put out come competitive mobile processors. But a combination of a CPU that runs at high temps and chassis material that conducts heat pretty well doesn’t make for a comfortable gaming laptop. At best, this is a $1,450 every-day work laptop for emails, some light Photoshop work, and streaming TV shows and movies. It’s way too warm to comfortably use for gaming. Asus is investigating, but until we know more I cannot safely recommend this product, now matter how fast AMD’s new Ryzen 9 4900HS mobile processor is.

READ ME

  • Runs way too hot.
  • Great design. Kudos for ditching the all-black laptop.
  • AMD’s Ryzen 9 4900HS kicks Intel Core i9-9980HK’s butt in most of our workload benchmarks.
  • 1080p, 120Hz display, but no webcam.
  • Good in-game performance.

Updated: 6/11/2020, 2:25 p.m. PT: This review has been updated to clarify Asus’ comments about the temperature of AMD’s processors.

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Staff Reporter, Reviews at Gizmodo. Formerly PC Gamer, Maximum PC.

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DISCUSSION

pitstopblog
pitstopblog

How is 1,450 bucks cheap???