Upon opening up the stylish storage box, the ASUS ROG Zephyrus S GX531 certainly presents a slim physique. The 16mm slimline laptop boasts a host of features that belies its size. The GX531 is a slick looking machine, from its diagonal two-toned lid with the signature ROG logo to the stylish orange racing stripe around the perimeter of the laptop. The GX531 has a rectangular shape, reminiscent of the iPhone 4 design, with its squared off edges and slightly rounded corners. With dimensions of 360mm x 268mm, the gaming laptop is narrower than my current rig, but is a tad longer. And at just 2.1kg, the GX531 is an ultra-portable gaming machine. The extra length is brought about by the hinged screen sitting somewhat forward of the rear in the closed position, but upon opening the lid, the screen features a thin bezel, enabling that narrower design.
Opening up the lid and pressing the Power button immediately brings the laptop to life, a burst of colour spreading across the keyboard and pulsating around the sides and rear of the machine. This laptop has a completely different setup to every other laptop I’ve seen. For starters, the keyboard is positioned at the front of the laptop and has the touchpad to the right of the keyboard. I was a little disappointed at first glance, because I do prefer a laptop with a numpad (it’s a work thing) and this laptop did not have one. That was until I noticed a small button situated just above the touchpad. With a press of the button, the touchpad converted to a numpad. Despite the lack of that tactile feel you get from touching actual keys, the numpad performed well.
The GX531 features the usual range of ports with the exception of an Ethernet port, which is probably a by-product of the slim design. It comes with 2 USB 2.0 ports, an audio jack, and a USB3.1 Type-C port along the left side with the power, whilst the right side features a USB 3.1 port and a USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C port with Display Port 1.2. This port doubles as a portable charging station, allowing owners to charge the GX531 with a portable power pack. The rear comes with a Kensington Lock and a HDMI port. For me, this is the ideal location for the HDMI port, although I do prefer the power outlet at the rear too.
At first it looks a little strange to have the keyboard right at the front on the machine, and I did find myself clicking the spacebar a couple of times early on when I was wanting to click the left-mouse button of the touchpad. And having the keyboard positioned so close to the front resulted in me placing the laptop further back on my lap when typing. This did feel a little awkward, but for the most part, I have the laptop sitting on a desk, and for this, I found the keyboard position to be more comfortable.
The keyboard has the ROG Aura feature, allowing gamers to customise the colour of their keyboard setup. The inbuilt software makes switching the colour schemes a simple experience. The colours can be set for specific games (or other software) enabling gamers to configure the design to their own preference. The keyboard lighting can be turned off altogether if so desired.
The GX531 is impressive from the time it is turned on. The single hard-drive of the review unit only had 500GB storage, which is a little on the low side, especially for gamers who like to fall back on a range of favourites. But the SSD, loads up extremely fast, and transfers files with ease, decreasing the load times of games substantially.
Visually, the GX531 performed superbly. I don’t have access to a VR device, but the laptop stormed through the Steam VR test without raising a sweat. When playing non-VR games, the GX531 and its GeForce RTX 2080 with 8GB GDDR6 VRAM conquers anything thrown at it. Dirt Rally 2.0 at highest graphical settings was smooth, with framerates never dropping below 60fps. The scenery was stunning as my rally car flew by, and the weather effects are brought to life with crisp, vibrant colours. My go-to game for laptop reviews - The Witcher III - also looked spectacular on the highest settings and kept a consistently high frame rate. The characters and the landscape of the Northern Kingdoms feel so immersive with the 15.6” Full HD screen showing everything in great detail.
Immersion is increased with the wonderful audio of the GX531. Having the keyboard at the front of the laptop enables the fans and, more importantly, the speakers to be positioned in the area between the keyboard and the screen. This produces some wonderful sound quality. The dual speakers pump out some great volume enabling the gamer to pick up every bit of sound required when playing a game. Listening for nearby footsteps or for far off gun shots was a breeze, as the sounds came through loud and clear. Plugging in a decent set of headphones allowed for even greater immersion, as the audio is directed more efficiently. Of course, a portable laptop such as the GX531 would be used for other aspects. When listening to music, the deep bass tones project wonderfully both through the speakers and a headset. When watching a movie or TV shows, explosions boom through the speakers whilst the dialogue is crisp and clear.
The fans are quiet when running standard tasks such as surfing the net, watching videos and completing office work, but when gaming, the volume ramps up a bit as they attempt to cool down the device. This isn’t too noticeable though when you have a decent set of headphones on, or have sound blaring through the wonderful speakers, but it can be somewhat annoying if you’re moving through a suspenseful (and quiet) section of a game.
The battery life was probably the major letdown of the laptop. Using the laptop on normal settings got me only around three and half hours of use, which increased about an hour when I dulled the screen brightness and turned off unnecessary background apps. When gaming, I was barely able to scrape together two hours of game time. This is generally enough time for a morning or afternoon commute, but for a full gaming session, you’ll need to make sure that you don’t forget the brick-like AC adapter or have a portable power pack handy.
Overall, if the team at ASUS let me keep the Zephyrus S GX531, I’d be a happy man. The laptop looks great, performs superbly and is an ultra portable gaming machine due to its size and (more importantly) weight. The only letdowns are the battery performance and the non-existence of an ethernet port, which is probably due to its slimline style and for most users would be irrelevant anyway. The placing of the keyboard and trackpad did take a little getting used to, but I did find myself preferring it over the tradition placement, especially when is sits on a desk. The Zephyrus S GX531 is a beast of a machine, but one with a slim physique, and for around $3,000, it isn’t overly damaging to the wallet.
ASUS ROG Zephyrus S GX531
15.6inch FHD IPS 144Hz
Intel Core i7-8750H
16GB DDR4 2666MHz RAM
512GB PCIe NVMe SSD
Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 8GB GDDR6 VRAM
Connectivity: 802.11ac + Bluetooth 5.0
I/O Ports: 1x Type A 3.1 (Gen2), 1x Type C 3.1 (Gen1), 1x Type C 3.1 (Gen2), 2x Type A2.0, 1x 3.5 Combo Jack, 1x HDMI