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Asus ROG Zephyrus Duo 15 GX550 review: Two-pronged attack

Expert Reviews logo Expert Reviews 27/07/2020 Jonathan Bray
a laptop computer sitting on top of a table: Asus ROG Zephyrus Duo 15 GX550 review: Two-pronged attack © Expert Reviews Asus ROG Zephyrus Duo 15 GX550 review: Two-pronged attack
Laptops

The Asus ROG Zephyrus Duo 15 is a strange beast. On the outside, it’s a regular, common-or-garden gaming laptop, all angles vents and cryptic glyphs. Open it up, however, and a weird hybrid of a machine emerges: an ultrawide, second display rising majestically, like a phoenix from the ashes of common sense, just to the rear of an RGB backlit keyboard.

With no wrist-rest and a touchpad that doubles as a touch-sensitive number pad to the right, the ROG Zephyrus Duo 15 is one of the most bizarre laptops I’ve ever reviewed. And, dear reader, let me tell you: I have reviewed a few.

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Asus ROG Zephyrus Duo 15 GX550 review: What you need to know

The Asus ROG Zephyrus Duo 15 is certainly unusual, but beneath that outlandish exterior lurks a fairly standard set of components. Well, when I say standard, I mean they tread a familiar Intel and Nvidia path; the specification itself is far from run-of-the-mill.

The GX550L variant sent to me for this review comes with a 15.6in, 4K display calibrated to the Adobe RGB standard (a 300Hz 1080p model is also available), plus that secondary, ultrawide touchscreen – dubbed the ScreenPad – that tilts up and lifts out of the chassis as you open up the main display.

Inside is where the fireworks start, however, with a 10th-gen, octa-core Intel Core i9-10980HK, 32GB of RAM and a pair of 1TB SSDs arranged in a RAID0 configuration for a massive 2TB in total, accompanied by an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Super GPU. That’s about the most powerful, high-end specification you can squeeze into a modern laptop and it promises to be an absolute beast in the benchmarks.

a close up of a computer: Image of ASUS ROG Zephyrus Duo GX550LXS Ultra-HD (4K) 15.6 © Provided by Expert Reviews Image of ASUS ROG Zephyrus Duo GX550LXS Ultra-HD (4K) 15.6

ASUS ROG Zephyrus Duo GX550LXS Ultra-HD (4K) 15.6" Gaming Laptop (Intel Core i9-10880H, NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 Super 8GB, 32GB RAM, 2TB M.2 NVMe PCIe 3.0, WiFi 6, Windows 10 Pro)

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Asus ROG Zephyrus Duo 15 GX550 review: Price and competition

Unsurprisingly, the Asus ROG Zephyrus Duo 15 in this guise is not exactly what you’d call cheap. In fact, if you want this lineup of components you’re going to have to fork out £4,000, which is quite the chunk of change.

While it is possible to buy a slightly less terrifyingly powerful configuration – with an Intel Core i7-10875H and RTX 2070 Super, and 300Hz 1080p screen – that would still set you back £3,000.

Octa-core Intel Core i9-10980HK, RTX 2080 Super, 32GB RAM, 2TB RAID – £4,000 Octa-core Intel Core i7-10875H, RTX 2070 Super, 32GB RAM, 2TB RAID – £3,000

As for competition, if you want the benefit of that second display (and who wouldn’t?) there isn’t anything currently on the market that’s anything like the Zephyrus.

a close up of a computer: Image of Razer Blade Pro 17 2020: Gaming Laptop with Full HD-300 Hz Screen, Intel Core i7 10 th Gen, NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 Super, 16 GB RAM, 512 GB SSD, CNC Aluminum, Chroma RGB Lighting - UK Layout © Provided by Expert Reviews Image of Razer Blade Pro 17 2020: Gaming Laptop with Full HD-300 Hz Screen, Intel Core i7 10 th Gen, NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 Super, 16 GB RAM, 512 GB SSD, CNC Aluminum, Chroma RGB Lighting - UK Layout

Razer Blade Pro 17 2020: Gaming Laptop with Full HD-300 Hz Screen, Intel Core i7 10 th Gen, NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 Super, 16 GB RAM, 512 GB SSD, CNC Aluminum, Chroma RGB Lighting - UK Layout

£3,198.98 Buy now a close up of a sign © Provided by Expert Reviews

Even among more humdrum machines, the specification of the Zephyrus stands out. Of the 2020 gaming laptops we’ve tested so far, the most powerful I’ve seen is the Razer Blade Pro 17in, which is available with an Intel Core i7-10875H, Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Super and a 1TB SSD for around £3,231. By that measure, the Zephyrus, particularly the “cheaper” model, doesn’t seem at all bad.

a close up of a computer: Image of Razer Blade Powerful (2020): Laptop with 15.6 Inch Full HD-300 Hz, Intel Core i7, NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 S, 16 GB RAM, 512 GB SSD, CNC Aluminum, Chroma RGB Lighting | UK Layout © Provided by Expert Reviews Image of Razer Blade Powerful (2020): Laptop with 15.6 Inch Full HD-300 Hz, Intel Core i7, NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 S, 16 GB RAM, 512 GB SSD, CNC Aluminum, Chroma RGB Lighting | UK Layout

Razer Blade Powerful (2020): Laptop with 15.6 Inch Full HD-300 Hz, Intel Core i7, NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 S, 16 GB RAM, 512 GB SSD, CNC Aluminum, Chroma RGB Lighting | UK Layout

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If you don’t mind dropping the extra screen, other, better-value options become available. The Razer Blade 15 (2020) comes with up to an Intel Core i7-10875H, Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Super, 16GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD for £3,099, and the Gigabyte Aorus 15G, available with a similar specification to the Asus (Core i9-10980HK, RTX 2080 Super, 32GB of RAM, 240Hz display), costs considerably less at £2,899. Indeed, the specification we tested – Core i7-10875H, RTX 2070 Super, 512GB SSD, 240Hz display – comes in at around half the price.

With such strong opposition, you’ll have to want that second screen an awful lot to justify spending the extra money.

a close up of a computer: Image of AORUS 15G: 15.6 Inch FHD 240 Hz, i7 10875H, RTX2070 SUPER, 16 GB RAM, 512 GB SSD, Win10 Home © Provided by Expert Reviews Image of AORUS 15G: 15.6 Inch FHD 240 Hz, i7 10875H, RTX2070 SUPER, 16 GB RAM, 512 GB SSD, Win10 Home

AORUS 15G: 15.6 Inch FHD 240 Hz, i7 10875H, RTX2070 SUPER, 16 GB RAM, 512 GB SSD, Win10 Home

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Asus ROG Zephyrus Duo 15 GX550L: Design and features

It might look unusual, but the 2020 Zephyrus 15 Duo isn’t the first time we’ve seen the so-called ScreenPad grace an Asus gaming machine. That honour falls on the shoulders of the Asus ZenBook Pro Duo. However, the design has been refined for 2020.

As before, that second display stretches the entire width of the chassis and occupies the full space behind the keyboard. It’s the same width as the laptop’s main 4K screen, but much shorter, boasting a letterbox 3,840 x 1,100 resolution and measuring 14in across the diagonal.

The new part of the design is that, instead of being integrated into the base of the laptop, this year’s ScreenPad tilts up from the rear on struts, lifting out of the chassis slowly as you open the laptop lid.

Apart from being a neat piece of engineering, this has a couple of major benefits: first, it means the second screen is easier to read and interact with; and second, it exposes the system’s two main cooling fans, making for more efficient air intake and cooling of those beefy internals. Despite the mechanicals, the Zephyrus isn’t at all chunky, either – not by gaming laptop standards, anyway – measuring 360 x 268 x 20.9mm and weighing 2.4kg.

The ScreenPad isn’t the Zephyrus’ only novel feature. The position of the keyboard also raises an eyebrow. It's been shunted down to the front edge of the chassis, which means there’s no flat area to rest your palms on while typing (a separate rubber wedge-shaped wristrest is supplied in the box). Despite sounding like a bit of a nightmare, though, this does have benefits. For one thing, it makes it easier to tap the spacebar with your thumb while gaming. It also means your hands stay cooler, as your palms aren’t heated by the warming laptop chassis.

The touchpad is weirdly out of position, too, shunted over to the right-hand side, and it's quite narrow by modern standards. You can even tap your finger in the pad’s top-left corner to turn it into a number pad if you like, complete with backlit keys stencilled in red beneath its smooth, matte surface. I can’t see this getting much use, though, since it’s actually more fiddly to use than the number keys on the top row of the keyboard.

Otherwise, keen Asus followers will recognise the build-quality standards and features that characterise the Zephyrus brand. It’s all housed in a sturdy, matte-finish metal chassis, with the ROG logo inset in chrome on the lid, and there’s plenty of connectivity scattered around. The laptop’s HDMI 2.0b and Gigabit Ethernet ports are housed, alongside a USB-A 3.2 Gen 2 port at the rear, between twin exhaust vents. 

There’s a further pair of USB-A 3.2 Gen 1 ports plus a Thunderbolt 3 port on the right edge, while the machine’s power input, headset and a separate microphone jack are situated on the left. Wireless connectivity is delivered via a 2x2 MIMO Intel Wi-Fi 6 AX201 adapter.

a close up of a computer: Image of ASUS ROG Zephyrus Duo GX550LXS Ultra-HD (4K) 15.6 © Provided by Expert Reviews Image of ASUS ROG Zephyrus Duo GX550LXS Ultra-HD (4K) 15.6

ASUS ROG Zephyrus Duo GX550LXS Ultra-HD (4K) 15.6" Gaming Laptop (Intel Core i9-10880H, NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 Super 8GB, 32GB RAM, 2TB M.2 NVMe PCIe 3.0, WiFi 6, Windows 10 Pro)

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Asus ROG Zephyrus Duo 15 GX550L: Keyboard, Touchpad and ScreenPad

Aside from its Marmite positioning, the keyboard itself is a joy to type on. Its square, Scrabble-style keys have a solid, well-damped action and there’s fully customisable RGB backlighting on offer.

The layout is largely sensible, too, although I’d have preferred a double-height Enter key and a slightly wider left-Shift key. Two extra buttons sit just above the touchpad: a shortcut key for activating Asus’ Armoury Crate settings application and one for enabling and disabling the second screen – if you want to extend your battery life, for instance. There’s also a fan shortcut on the F5 key for toggling between “Silent”, “Performance” and “Turbo” fan modes.

There’s not much to say about the touchpad, other than that its narrow width makes multitouch gestures feel a little cramped. I do, however, like that it’s not a clicky touchpad. Instead, you have two separate left and right mouse buttons below it, which are much, much more pleasant to use. More of this, please, manufacturers.

The ScreenPad is what makes this laptop different but, despite the fancy name, this is no voodoo. Windows 10 treats it exactly as it would if you had plugged in an external monitor: you can drag application windows and desktop shortcuts onto it in exactly the same way.

Asus hasn’t left it at that, however, and has preinstalled extra ScreenPad software to make managing what’s on the pad “easier”. Tap the small arrow on the left edge of the ScreenPad and up pops a number of quick-launch icons; you can drag Windows shortcuts onto this space from the desktop and then tap them with a finger to launch them.

There’s also a screen switch button for swapping apps instantly from the main screen to the Screenpad and vice versa, plus a brightness slider and a handwriting-recognition app. You can use the latter to scrawl text with your finger or a stylus, but it’s not as good as Windows 10’s built-in handwriting input tool.

Alas, the ScreenPad software doesn’t always work perfectly. In particular, launching apps this way frequently ended up moving apps around and minimising the game I was playing at the time. I found it simpler and more reliable to launch the apps I wanted before playing, then arranging them on the ScreenPad with Windows’ own snapping tools.

More useful, potentially, is the ability to use the ScreenPad as a space for tool palettes and the like while editing photos in Photoshop or videos – it’s also a handy space for approving documents that need an old-school signature.

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Asus ROG Zephyrus Duo 15 GX550 review: Display

The Zephyrus 15 Duo is available with one of two displays in the UK. The higher-spec machine I tested comes with a 60Hz 4K (3,840 x 2,160) display calibrated to the Adobe RGB colour gamut (best for creative work), while the lower-spec variant comes with a 240Hz Full HD display, which is the better screen for gamers. Both are non-touch IPS panels.

Technically, the 4K panel is spot on. I measured Adobe RGB gamut coverage at a very impressive 98.3% and a volume of 100.9%, while colour accuracy within Adobe RGB was very good, too, with an average Delta E colour difference score of 1.44. It’s a superb display for editing photos and video, in other words, although that 60Hz refresh rate means it’s not great for fast-paced FPS games.

Asus ROG Zephyrus Duo 15 GX550 review: Performance

The decision not to give customers at least the choice of a high refresh rate screen on the more powerful configuration is a strange one; it means to get the best gaming performance possible, you’re better off paying less for the lower-spec model.

That’s a shame, because the more powerful Zephyrus I have in front of me is one hell of a machine. In our 4K media benchmarks, which are focused mainly on CPU-bound image- and video-conversion tasks and video playback, the Zephyrus was the fourth-fastest laptop we’ve ever tested, lagging behind only the Alienware Area-51m, the Acer Predator Triton 900 from 2019 and the AMD Ryzen-powered Asus TUF A15. It’s faster than the top-spec Razer Blade Pro (2020) and the Gigabyte Aorus 15G XB. That bodes well for CPU-intensive tasks such as high-resolution video editing and rendering.

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The SSD RAID array is pretty snappy, too, returning a lightning-quick sequential read speed of 2,691MB/sec in the AS SSD tests. However, it’s disappointingly much slower for writes, at 1,498MB/sec.

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For games, it’s a beast. In the Metro: Last Light 1080p benchmark with High settings enabled, the ROG returned an average frame rate of 186fps, matching the Gigabyte Aorus 15G and beating everything but the Alienware Area-51m. And in the super-tough Hitman 2 benchmark at 1080p (and High settings in everything), it reached an average 51.4fps, lagging behind only the Area-51m and the Acer Predator Triton 900.

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As expected, enabling ray tracing in the Wolfenstein Youngblood tests at 1080p hits frame rates pretty hard, but here the Zephyrus’ RTX 2080 Super GPU helped it keep up with the similarly specified Razer Blade Pro (2020), and stretch a significant lead out over the Gigabyte Aorus 15G.

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The long and short of it is that the Zephyrus will be able to play any game you throw at it, at the 60fps limit its 60Hz display places upon it. It will go higher than that if you connect a high refresh rate display to the HDMI 2.0b port at the rear or the Thunderbolt 3 port at the side.

In fact, the only area where the Asus struggles when it comes to performance is battery life, although given the large, high-resolution displays and high-powered components, that’s hardly a surprise. To give it a fair chance, I disabled the ScreenPad and switched to integrated graphics but, even in such favourable conditions, the Zephyrus Duo lasted a mere 4hrs 9mins in our video rundown test, lagging behind the Gigabyte Aorus and Razer Blade Pro 17in (2020). That’s surprisingly poor given there’s a big, four-cell 90Wh battery inside.

a close up of a computer: Image of ASUS ROG Zephyrus Duo GX550LXS Ultra-HD (4K) 15.6 © Provided by Expert Reviews Image of ASUS ROG Zephyrus Duo GX550LXS Ultra-HD (4K) 15.6

ASUS ROG Zephyrus Duo GX550LXS Ultra-HD (4K) 15.6" Gaming Laptop (Intel Core i9-10880H, NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 Super 8GB, 32GB RAM, 2TB M.2 NVMe PCIe 3.0, WiFi 6, Windows 10 Pro)

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Asus ROG Zephyrus Duo 15 GX550 review: Verdict

Aside from battery life, though, there’s no doubting the performance capabilities of the Zephyrus Duo. It sits comfortably among the fastest laptops we’ve ever tested and it will cope with pretty much any game or demanding application you care to throw at it.

And, while the 60Hz display certainly doesn’t help with this laptop’s gaming credentials, its impeccable colour accuracy and wide colour gamut means it’s a brilliant screen for creative tasks such as professional photo and video editing or rendering.

The big question is this: if it’s mainly gaming you want to do, do you really want to spend £4,000 on this machine? Do you really want the second screen that badly? Wouldn’t you rather pick up a Gigabyte Aorus 15G XB, which is less exotic and slightly less speedy but £2,100 cheaper? That’s a decision that, ultimately, rests with you and your bank manager; I know, however, where I’d put my money.

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