I think it’s reasonable to say that it’s hard to readily recommend the ASUS ROG Zephyrus Duo 15 (GX550LXS-RTX2080Q), period. Doing so is simply like recommending someone to buy the latest Aventador, in which the only two possible responses are: “oh yeah, there’s that”; or more likely, an eye roll for an unproductive suggestion.
But this is what the Zephyrus Duo is all about – going all out just because you can – and there will always be someone (who can afford one) who will appreciate its feature set.
There’s a lot to like if going all out is the watchword. First off, there’s the fine, bevelled edges, clear delineation of brushed, polished and coated finishes; all subtle touches that frame what I would call a ‘gently aggressive’ silhouette. If I didn’t know better, I would have thought that the Zephyrus Duo was a sophisticated business laptop that’s given an edge with some visual tweaks. And I think this is a pretty classy design as far as gaming laptops go. Its slightly bluish tint of grey (gunmetal) is just the business once you turn on the familiar, aggressively reddish LED hues.
For a high-performance gaming laptop, the form factor isn’t too bad. It has to be slightly chunky to accommodate a secondary screen – ASUS calls it ScreenPad Plus – as well as a GeForce RTX2080 graphics card and a cooling system. But the girth doesn’t throw off the laptop’s proportions and the side profile is somewhat elegant. The Zephyrus Duo weighs almost 2.5kg, which is heavy for a laptop, but the weight is distributed evenly enough that it doesn’t feel unwieldy when you clutch it. That said, this is not a laptop for the everyday commute. It’s heavy enough to wear you down by day’s end. The side vents for cooling is a dead giveaway that this laptop is of the gaming variety since it’s necessary for minimising the heat channelled to your fingers on the keyboard.
Only two USB and a thunderbolt 3 port adorn the sides of the laptop along with microphone and headphone jacks and the power connector – this is a no-nonsense gaming rig with no extraneously unnecessary distractions. You get a Gen 2 USB 3.2 port at the rear – flanked by one HDMI and one LAN port – presumably for file storage purposes. You don’t get an onboard webcam despite all that money you pay, but I figured if you are paying that much for the best of everything, you’d probably want a standalone camera for the job rather than an onboard solution. And hey, what do you know, ASUS does bundle the ROG EYE Webcam, along with McAfee Antivirus, a Gladius Mouse II, the ROG Delta Headset and a Ranger backpack to sweeten the deal.
But let’s not forget, this is a very specific laptop – it’s for gaming after all, and it’s quite useful in that sense to have a secondary display. It’s no different from a desktop with a second screen: pull out an FAQ as you play, use it for OBS if you are streaming, etc. The only downside is that using ScreenPad might minimise your game if you tap on it – so you have to figure out the quirks for every game that you intend to use it for. In day to day use, as mentioned, you probably need to find a purpose for it in the context of your workflow. Arguably, I find that designers and video editors would probably find the ScreenPad Plus more useful than gamers will, and they would certainly appreciate the large usable display as a control panel for their toolboxes. ScreenPad Plus has more promise than Apple’s implementation of their Touch Bar, which is ultimately limited by space and you’re better off linking up an iPad to your Mac or Macbook for this purpose.
The trade-off is that the touchpad is moved to the side, so you can’t simply work it with your thumbs. But because I’m not a words-per-minute warrior, it doesn’t matter, I can spare the time to lift one hand off the keys and move it to the right where it now resides. It is surprisingly comfortable but I guess I would be using the mouse most of the time on a gaming laptop. However, you might want to have a wrist rest, because it’s a very sudden transition from space bar to tabletop and it might be awkward for people who are used to conventional laptop dimensions.
With an Intel Core i9-10980HK processor, 32GB of RAM, GeForce RTX 2080 running the show, this is a case of if-this-doesn’t-do-it-then-nothing-can. Coupled with a 1080p display, the results are very pleasing. The combination of high frame rates, spot-on colour, as well as goldilocks-sized 15.6" display results in a very engaging gaming experience. I can’t remember ever dropping below 60 fps unless I’m trying to push maximum settings on batshit crazy-demanding games like Metro Exodus or Cyberpunk. I’d take this over (desperately trying to find optimal settings for) 4K any day. And even at high loads, the fan isn’t too annoying, but I’d assume that you’d be using headphones most of the time. That said, the speakers aren’t bad at all. While there’s a distinct lack of bass, the clarity is unquestionable. Arguably the most surprising bit about the Zephyrus Duo has got to be the battery life, as you can get about five hours, give or take, with the second display on (normal use of course). I don’t think gaming laptop users are expecting to use their laptops without a charger often, but it’s good to know that you have considerable leeway when you’re nowhere near a power cord.
So where does the Zephyrus Duo stand? Obviously, ASUS has priced it apart from the main pool of candidates. If you’re merely looking for performance, then the Zephyrus Duo represents poor value. But this laptop should be judged for the bells and whistles that it offers and to that end, the Zephyrus Duo pretty much feels like the $7000 laptop it claims to be. Although ScreenPad Plus functionality could be better (it’s a support issue), there aren’t many complaints you can level at it. But if you can easily plonk down $6,998 for this monster, I think you have little to complain about life too.
ASUS ROG Zephyrus Duo 15 GX550LXS-RTX2080Q
Features - 9/10
Value Proposition - 5/10
Performance - 9/10
Design & Build Quality - 9/10
Overall - 8/10
Whimsical luxury gaming personified. There's no question you can get similar performance for far less, but the ride won't be as fun.