Remember when we first saw the Zephyrus that was launched nearly a year ago? That laptop has a completely different design – and the new Zephyrus M is bridging the gap between the new and traditional laptop designs.
It’s an interesting gaming laptop and we’re here to take you through the entire journey on what to expect from this beautiful gaming laptop that is called the ASUS ROG Zephyrus M (GM501).
It’s quite funny to see a laptop packed in such a way. The ROG Zephyrus M comes in a black cardboard box that has the ROG logo printed on it. Opening it up reveals… large pieces of foam and two more boxes.
The first larger box is glossy and it opens up to reveal the ROG Zephyrus M itself. There is a minimal amount of accessory here and it’s fine.
The other long box houses the power brick and wall jack. I’m quite surprised about how much detail ASUS actually put into the packaging for the power brick.
Connectivity and ports
Upon first inspection, the ASUS ROG Zephyrus M comes with a rather generous slew of ports. I was impressed that the thinness of the ROG Zephyrus M and ASUS didn’t sacrifice any ports. The USB 3.0 port is only slightly thinner than the laptop itself!
On the left side we have a large vent, a DC jack for power, a full-sized HDMI port, 3x USB 3.0 Type-A port and a 3.5mm combo audio jack.
On the right side, there’s another USB 3.0 Type-A port with a single Thunderbolt 3 ports, another large vent, and a Kensington lock.
It’s actually missing DisplayPort. ASUS could have placed a mini-DP on the left side but they did not.
You might have wondered why there’s a red LED there. The Zephyrus M actually has a brilliant design where the LEDS will shine out from the bottom if the laptop is connected to the power source and with its lid opened.
The speakers are surprisingly good, by the way. But that doesn’t really matter much – let me explain why later.
Alright – the screen. The ROG Zephyrus M comes with a 15.6-inch IPS panel which has a refresh rate of 144Hz and a GTG response time of 3ms while covering 72% of NTSC color space. That is one impressive screen – and the colors on the ROG Zephyrus M is beautiful as well. In some cases, I think it’s a slightly oversaturated – but overall, I’m liking the screen. And it supports G-Sync as well.
However, it might be because of the specs on this monitor, the ROG Zephyrus M doesn’t feature ASUS’s signature NanoEdge thin bezels. That makes the the ROG Zephyrus M having a rather large footprint.
Trackpad and keyboard
Remember the traditional layout – where the keyboard is near the screen and a large trackpad at the bottom edge? And the Zephyrux (GX501) which doesn’t have a dedicated trackpad zone but is actually at the numberpad itself, and the entire keyboard is shifted downwards to make way for the cooling system?
The Zephyrus M is actually a bridge between those two layouts of laptops. It does have some weird quirks here and there, but it was surprisingly easy to live with. Let’s start off with the trackpad.
For me, I’m someone who prefers an external mouse over a trackpad any day. However, at some situations, using the trackpad is much more convenient – and the Zephyrus M’s trackpad is definitely weird.
The first quirk is the size of the trackpad. Since the layout has been shifted downwards to make way for the ventilation holes, the trackpad will have to be shrunken in size. That makes sense as gamers use external mouse to play games anyway. And the trackpad doesn’t disappoint. It has some acceleration in mouse movement but the surface is smooth and is generally pretty okay to be used.
However, clicking on the trackpad might be an issue. Not only is the trackpad small, it’s also a tad bit too far off the left side, resulting in my left palm persistently touching the trackpad. To ASUS’s credit, the palm rejection here is really good.
Ah, the keyboard. The ASUS Zephyrus M uses a 4-zone RGB chiclet keyboard that syncs up with Aura Sync and has the WASD keys marked – not like that’s necessary.
What’s interesting about the keyboard is the 1.7mm travel distance. It’s a thin keyboard – sure, but the tactility makes is fun to type. Every actuation is essentially bottoming out a key on this keyboard, making it a little tiring to type on. For some reason, it’s really silent too. Only the spacebar is a little louder than the other keys and yet the entire keyboard is still considered really silent.
There is one big gripes about the keyboard – the cramped up arrow keys. Please retain its original size and just offset it below the zero on the numpad and right CTRL key. That’ll be great.
Actually, the cooling system and the hardware of the ROG Zephyrus M has affected our day-to-day use. This leads nicely into the next segment.
The ROG Zephyrus M that we have here dons the model number GM501GM. It’s considered the lower tier as it has an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 with 6GB of GDDR5 VRAM. The higher tier GM501GS actually has an NVIDIA GeForce GTX1070 with 8GB of GDDR5 VRAM instead. As for the full list of specs on the GM501GM, here it is:
- 15.6-inch 1080p IPS LCD display with 144Hz refresh rate and G-Sync
- Intel Core i7-8750H
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 with 6GB GDDR5 VRAM
- 16GB DDR4 RAM at 2666MHz (M471A2K43CB1-CTD)
- 256GB PCIe Gen. 3 x4 NVMe SSD (SAMSUNG MZVPW256HEGL-00000)
- 1TB Seagate hard disk at 5.4krpm (ST1000LX015-1U7172)
I honestly feel like the GPU is a little underpowered for this variant of the Zephyrus M. Remember, the GM501GM that we have for review has a GTX 1060, whereas the GM501GS has a GTX 1070. That extra horsepower from the GPU definitely helps to push the frame rate higher.
For the GM501GM that we have for review here, the scores in benchmarks aren’t bad either. However, we have to test it with 2 different fan modes – Silent, and Overboost. With such a thin form factor, heat is a big issue and the only method to keep it in check is through thermal throttling.
With those performance numbers out of the way, what about the SSD? Safe to say, it’s actually a really speedy NVMe SSD. I’m really impressed with the speed – nearly as fast as the Plextor M9PeG and M9PeY that we reviewed here. As the hard disk, there’s nothing out of the ordinary here.
With such power and thinness comes great heat – so how is ASUS dealing with the heat with the Zephyrus M?
If you’ve seen the original Zephyrus, then the cooling solution on the Zephyrus M shouldn’t be a surprise. It still has the backplate that opens up for direct airflow. With such specs, one would expect high heat output – and you’re right.
Once you open the lid, two things happen. The ROG logo on the lid turns on, and the hinge opens. Look at the before and after here. And honestly speaking – I don’t suggest learning the ASUS ROG Zephyrus M (GM501GM) turned on with the lid closed.
At idle only, the Zephyrus M (GM501GM), the CPU is at 75°C whereas the GPU is at around 60°C. That goes to show how warm the laptop is while idling and doing basic work.
While playing Overwatch with Epic settings, the FPS can reach slightly shy of 80FPS and the temperatures are insanely high – 87°C on the CPU and 80°C on the GPU while the fan mode is in Silent.
At the Overboost fan mode, I can reach about 100FPS at Epic settings again, but the temperature is insanely high – about 85°C on GPU and the CPU actually hovers around 80°C to about 97°C. It did throttle a little at first, but eventually stabilized and still able to boost its clock speed to somewhere around 3.3GHz when both CPU and GPU are stressed.
Perhaps the Zephyrus M needs its thermal paste reapplied? Or regular cleaning of the laptop will have to be done? And how?
Maintaining and upgradability
This is a rather… an inconvenient task. The Zephyrus M has the hinged backplate that opens up automatically when the lid is opened. To remove that hinged backplate is simple, but what comes next is a total nuisance.
Opening the backplate by removing few screws and some locking mechanism magic, the two fans and the red SMD LEDs are revealed. Nothing else are shown. At this stage, you can technically clean the fans, but it won’t be easy to get into the nooks and crannies.
Here’s where you can see the red LED too. It’s really bright.
To access everything at the back, you’ll have to remove every single screw at the back – and that’s not convenient at all. But, once it’s opened, you can access everything inside.
Here we can see a lot of things – from the multiple heatpipes to the M.2 NVMe SSD, HDD, and also the double RAM slot.
To perform maintenance on the ASUS ROG Zephyrus M (GM501GM), it’s fairly simple. The fans are already exposed without taking the entire backplate off – but it’ll be a challenge to clean the it completely.
It only takes a few screws to take the fan out but the power cable will be left dangling if you don’t remove the entire backplate.
By default, ASUS included 16GB RAM in the ASUS ROG Zephyrus M (GM501GM). What we found interesting is that ASUS used a single 16GB RAM instead of 2x8GB. That’s good as you can buy another 16GB RAM and slot it in to make it 32GB.
Here we can also see the M.2 SSD and HDD placed side by side. Upgrading these will be a breeze.
Reapplying thermal paste?
As we stated here, reapplying thermal paste could fix or improve your thermal issue. Let’s be honest – the laptop has its thermal paste applied at the factory and has to survive through hot and cold and only arrives to you after a few months.
Beware – as removing the thermal solution will void your warranty since the warranty sticker is on one of the screws for the CPU block.
Alright – don’t get me started with the battery. The Zephyrus M (GM501GM) has such impressive hardware – and with G-Sync in the equation, that means NVIDIA’s Optimus will not work.
Optimus is NVIDIA’s technology to switch between the low-powered integrated GPU and also the discrete high-powered NVIDIA GPU depending on the task you’re running. G-Sync requires and will only work with NVIDIA GPU – in the case of the GM501GM, it’s the GTX1060.
The ASUS ROG Zephyrus M (GM501GM) has a 55Wh battery – which is not that huge to begin with.
Since the GTX1060 is running all the time, don’t expect more than 2 hours of battery life. I am typing – I meant I was typing this review with the GM501GM, but the battery life totally conked out around 2 hours at maximum battery saving option.
I also using the GM501GM to monitor the entire live stream that I was doing with Tech Critter on the Razer Huntsman. I unplugged the GM501GM at 100% battery, did the live stream for one hour, and the battery was drained to 0% after the live stream.
So depending on your usage, the battery on the Zephyrus M (GM501GM) is… bad. I’m wondering how the GM501GS that has a GTX1070 will turn out.
Wrapping up the ASUS ROG Zephyrus M (GM501GM) review
Upon using the Zephyrus M (GM501GM) for quite some time, I actually love this laptop quite a lot. I have a few reasons too – the trackpad is good, keyboard is great, and the SSD is speedy. Comes with a 1TB hard disk as well.
However, with an open backplate, dust and debris can enter easily – and cleaning it out isn’t simple but it’s possible. Let’s not forget that there is still an issue regarding its temperatures – which is quite an issue.
ASUS is asking for RM7,545 for the ROG Zephyrus M (GM501GM). And for me, I think you should take a look at the STRIX Scar II too. It’s a more traditionally-designed laptop with similar specs, but from what I heard, the Zephyrus M a more superior cooling solution.
Where to buy?