The Asus ROG Zephyrus Duo 15 is like no other notebook. This dual-screen gaming laptop mirrors Asus’s own ZenBook Pro Duo design, boasting a second full-width touch display between the keyboard and main screen, but enhances it further with a tilting, retracting mechanism. The starting price is a costly $2,999.99, but our flagship $3,699.99 test model nets you an Intel Core i9 processor, an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Super (Max-Q) GPU, 32GB of memory, and a 2TB solid-state drive. Those parts deliver blistering performance, but the star of the show is the innovative second screen, which tips up to face you and allows for multitasking with your favorite programs of choice while gaming. Most shoppers won’t shell out the necessary multiple kilobucks for this premium machine, but we think highly of the concept and execution. It’s a unique technological showcase, and, perhaps, a peek at a possible future for high-end laptops.
Impressively Streamlined for What It Packs
The auxiliary display is obviously the focal point, but let’s first get the fundamentals of this laptop out of the way. In spite of its maxed-out specifications, the Zephyrus Duo 15 is admirably thin and compact, measuring 0.82 by 14.2 by 10.6 inches (HWD). Its weight is less surprising at 5.3 pounds, but even that is not too heavy considering the build. It wasn’t too long ago that your average gaming laptop was heavier and larger than this without any special features. I’m impressed at how thin and light the Duo is on the whole, given the complex, way-out-of-ordinary feature set.
On the visual side, I like the aesthetic quite a bit. In addition to being thin, there’s a streamlined look to the chassis design, with a diagonal lid line and restrained flourishes elsewhere. The whole chassis is metal, but rather than a more standard black or grey, it’s a blue-steel color with a sparkly metallic finish. That’s more understated than it might sound, as you can see in the photos. I think it’s a pretty classy look, and it helps set this laptop apart (or even further apart, considering the second screen already exudes superhero status).
The main display is advanced in its own right. Our unit has the 4K 60Hz IPS panel option, but you can also get a full HD 300Hz IPS screen in Asus’ lower-cost models of this machine (more about them in a moment). I think the latter screen type is preferable for most gamers; gaming in 4K is difficult for any system (as you’ll see in the performance section below), and having the high refresh rate will prove a bigger benefit for most gamers. Still, the option is there if you prefer 4K resolution, say, for content creation work.
In addition to the 4K screen, our $3,699.99 model is packed to the gills with high-end parts. It features a Core i9-10980HK processor, a GeForce RTX 2080 Super (Max-Q) GPU, 32GB of memory, and a 2TB solid-state drive. Screens aside, these parts make it an insanely powerful gaming machine in its own right, strictly a high-end affair for enthusiasts. We’ll get into the details of how it performs a bit later on.
Lesser models are available at $2,999.99 and $3,499.99, both with 300Hz full HD screens. The starting model includes a Core i7 CPU, a GeForce RTX 2070 Super, 32GB of memory, and two 1TB drives in RAID configuration, while the midrange model offers the Core i9 chip, an RTX 2080 Super (Max-Q), 16GB of RAM, and a 1TB SSD.
Doubling Up on Displays: Meet the ScreenPad Plus
You’re undoubtedly most interested in the second screen, dubbed by Asus the “ScreenPad Plus.” Because of it, there is no directly comparable laptop for the Zephyrus Duo. The closest are the creator-focused ZenBook Pro Duo (also an Asus confection) and the HP Omen X 2S, which also has a second screen, but closer to smartphone-size. While we did like HP’s solution, that small screen is pretty different from what’s offered here.
As you pull the main display open from clamshell position, the ScreenPad Plus raises itself from a flat position in line with the keyboard to a 17-degree angle facing the user. This tilt is crucial for viewability while gaming (more on this in a moment), as it would be too difficult to see at a glance while flat. (There’s also a thermal advantage to this, more about which in a bit.) The tilted angle is mostly usable, though I do find myself occasionally needing to lean and peer over at it to see the whole thing fully. Unsurprisingly given its shape, the screen’s resolution is unusual, sitting at 3,840 by 1,100 pixels. The ZenBook Pro Duo also features a full-width display, but it does not have the tilt action.
The ScreenPad Plus is a completely usable second display, complete with touch capability. You can drag and drop any windows from the main display onto the second screen as you would with a traditional second monitor. Doing so is slightly more difficult than with a full second screen, as your window and cursor become fairly small once you move them onto the ScreenPad Plus. Asus created a clever software solution to help with this: When you first grab a window, a tooltip bar pops up by your cursor and offers a couple of buttons to snap the window to the lower screen. This saves you the dragging, which can be especially awkward with the touchpad.
Because of the added screen, the Zephyrus Duo certainly looks and feels high-tech, like something out of a sci-fi film or TV show. The main question, though, is about the ScreenPad Plus’ utility. It’s cool, sure, but is it useful? The quick answer is that I wouldn’t say it’s essential, but that doesn’t mean it’s not helpful. Since you can put virtually any window or application there, its usefulness is really up to what you try to do with it.
Since this is a gaming laptop, a few use cases stick out to me in particular. While I’m playing games, I’m usually also on Discord to voice chat with friends. With a dual-monitor desktop setup, it’s easy enough to have the chat on another screen, but playing on a laptop requires you to minimize your game. The ScreenPad Plus allows you to have Discord, or any other chat application, open at all times. It’s not a game-changer, exactly, but this is the sort of convenience you enjoy when paying for a luxury feature like a second display.
It’s easy to imagine extending that concept to other uses cases from there. You could always have a game map or some sort of reference material in a browser tab open on the ScreenPad Plus while you play, which is that much easier to pan or press with touch capability. You could also keep Spotify up for easier access to your music, or if you’re streaming, keep your stream controls or chat opened on the second screen.
I noticed that some interactions don’t mix well with games that are in full screen, as they will minimize if you click onto the ScreenPad Plus, but running games in borderless windowed mode or windowed fullscreen (both of which I frequently use, anyway) gets around this issue. Using the screen is also not perfect—text is definitely smaller on the ScreenPad Plus, but as long as it’s not your primary screen, it works for its supplementary purposes. You can also disable the ScreenPad Plus entirely with a dedicated button above the touchpad, which is useful for when you just don’t need it on or want to conserve battery.
Do I think the ScreenPad Plus is necessary, or that Asus expects everyone to buy a laptop this expensive? No, it’s hardly essential, and this is more of a halo product and technology showcase than a likely volume seller. But I do think it’s cool, and legitimately useful beyond just a gimmick, if you’re part of the small slice of the market who can afford it. We have seen some some increasingly alien form factors recently (the Predator Helios 700 and its sliding keyboard, the Asus Mothership GZ700 and its tablet/AIO-style detachable design), and I’m on board with useful innovation in a space that has seen the same shapes and designs for decades. This is one concept that I wouldn’t be surprised to see in many more laptops in some shape or form in the future.
An Innovative Keyboard
You’ll have noticed the touchpad is relegated to the right side of the laptop, in line with the keyboard layout. This might be a surprise, but that unusual location is not unique to the Duo, or only due to the presence of the ScreenPad Plus. Several premium Zephyrus laptops have put their touchpads there, a necessity when the panel above the keyboard has been dedicated to cooling. The Zephyrus Duo combines the two, putting an advanced cooling system beneath the elevated display. This is pretty effective at keeping the laptop cool, since the fans pull in cool air from the top unobstructed, and exhaust out the sides and rear. The top portion of the keyboard gets hot, but it’s not too bad, and the rest of the build and touch screen avoid getting too warm.
With the ventilation system taking up space, the keyboard gets moved down, and the touchpad is pushed to the right since it can’t be located centrally. The right-side touchpad takes a little getting used to (thanks to muscle memory, I often initially reach toward the middle before correcting, and its slim width isn’t ideal), but it’s perfectly serviceable. Most gamers will attach a mouse much of the time, anyway.
Like other Zephyrus laptops, the touchpad can also transform into an LED-lit number pad, at the press of a button in its top right corner. Tapping the numpad numbers wasn’t always 100 percent reliable for me; getting them to register requires a firm direct press, rather than acting like a sensitive touch panel.
Between its placement and its build, the Zephyrus Duo’s keyboard isn’t one of its strong suits. Having it pushed up to the edge is a bit awkward, though some may find it feels more like a desktop keyboard that way. The keys are flat and don’t have much travel, so typing feels a bit like tapping, because you can feel them hit bottom pretty quickly. The keys are individually backlit, though, which makes for some fun visual effects.
Finally, the ports. The left flank holds the power connector, a headphone jack, and a mic jack, while the right side is home to two USB 3.1 ports and a USB-C port…
The rest are located around back, likely a necessity of the unique design since the back half of either flank is dedicated to cooling. There, you’ll find an Ethernet port, an HDMI connection, and another USB 3.1 port, completing an overall solid port selection.
There is no webcam on this laptop, however, a peculiar exclusion, especially in the current climate of remote work and videoconferencing in 2020, not to mention gamers who might want a camera for streaming. You’ll have to add your own.
Now Testing: A Top-End Performer, Too
In order to judge the Zephyrus Duo’s performance, I gathered a group of relevant laptops to compare benchmark results. These alternative gaming laptops are all high-end machines, similar in size, price, components, or some combination of those factors. You can see their names and basic specs in the chart below.
The Zephyrus Duo is the most expensive in the batch, but that has more to do with its display and massive storage than pure performance. Only 17-inch powerhouse laptops are generally more expensive (and some, like the Asus ROG Mothership, are thousands of dollars more). The Acer Helios 700 ($2,199.99 as tested) is the only 17-inch laptop in the bunch, and felt a necessary inclusion with its unique sliding keyboard. The HP Omen X 2S ($2,499 as tested), as mentioned, is the closest to the Zephyrus Duo in design given its small second screen. Finally, the Acer Predator Triton 500 ($2,599.99 as tested) and the Asus ROG Zephyrus S GX502 ($2,199.99 as tested) are more traditional 15-inch gaming laptops, and the former is especially helpful as a comparison thanks to its 10th Generation processor.
PCMark 10 and 8 are holistic performance suites developed by the PC benchmark specialists at UL (formerly Futuremark). The PCMark 10 test we run simulates different real-world productivity and content creation workflows. We use it to assess overall system performance for office-centric tasks such as word processing, spreadsheet jockeying, web browsing, and videoconferencing. PCMark 8, meanwhile, has a storage subtest that we use to assess the speed of the system’s boot drive. Both tests yield a proprietary numeric score; higher numbers are better. (See more about how we test laptops.)
Not surprisingly, this premium batch of gaming laptops are all more than speedy enough to zip through daily tasks. Even with the small spread of PCMark 10 scores, all of them rate highly in this test. The Zephyrus Duo’s CPU should be one of the most efficient in this group, but PCMark 10 doesn’t fully stress a CPU’s extra cores and threads, so the multimedia tests will give us a fuller picture. As far as storage speed, PCMark 8 shows all of these SSDs offer very quick (and similar) load times.
Next is Maxon’s CPU-crunching Cinebench R15 test, which is fully threaded to make use of all available processor cores and threads. Cinebench stresses the CPU rather than the GPU to render a complex image. The result is a proprietary score indicating a PC’s suitability for processor-intensive workloads.
Cinebench is often a good predictor of our Handbrake video editing trial, another tough, threaded workout that’s highly CPU-dependent and scales well with cores and threads. In it, we put a stopwatch on test systems as they transcode a standard 12-minute clip of 4K video (the open-source Blender demo movie Tears of Steel) to a 1080p MP4 file. It’s a timed test, and lower results are better.
We also run a custom Adobe Photoshop image editing benchmark. Using an early 2018 release of the Creative Cloud version of Photoshop, we apply a series of 10 complex filters and effects to a standard JPEG test image. We time each operation and add up the total execution time. As with Handbrake, lower times are better here.
As you can see, the expectation about this Core i9 chip’s extra cores and threads was met. It was the best performer in all three tests, and mostly by comfortable margins. Since the Core i7-10750H in the Triton 500 is also 10th Generation, you can see how much of an improvement jumping to a 10th-generation Core i9 gets you. That specific Core i7 is a six-core/12-thread chip, while the Core i9 is an eight-core/16-thread.
In this case, it gets you a marked improvement, enough to take the Zephyrus Duo from “gaming laptop that can perform media tasks when needed” to “legitimately quick machine for media-content work.” That’s not too surprising given the price, but since there are so many factors to this laptop’s price tag, it’s good to know the CPU is very fast. Some high-configured professional media laptops may be quicker, but it’s hard to improve too much on a Core i9 system with 32GB of memory without drifting into the mobile workstation field. Creative pros intrigued by the power will also enjoy the 4K display.
3DMark measures relative graphics muscle by rendering sequences of highly detailed, gaming-style 3D graphics that emphasize particles and lighting. We run two different 3DMark subtests, Sky Diver and Fire Strike, which are suited to different types of systems. Both are DirectX 11 benchmarks, but Sky Diver is more suited to midrange PCs, while Fire Strike is more demanding and made for high-end PCs to strut their stuff. The results are proprietary scores.
Next up is another synthetic graphics test, this time from Unigine Corp. Like 3DMark, the Superposition test renders and pans through a detailed 3D scene and measures how the system copes. In this case, it’s rendered in the eponymous Unigine engine, offering a different 3D workload scenario for a second opinion on each laptop’s graphical prowess. Note here that the 1080p High preset would not run on this laptop, an issue we’ve occasionally seen with Superposition across various systems.
The GPU in this system sits at the top of the laptop graphics hierarchy, only behind the non-Max-Q version of the 2080 Super (which we have yet to test). It performed up to that level on the synthetic tests, posting higher scores than the alternatives (including other RTX 2080 Supers with Max-Q design). The previous Max-Q RTX 2080 Super GPUs had somewhat disappointed us given their theoretical power, and we concluded that the Max-Q tune-down impacted them greatly. The performance of this laptop raises our expectations slightly, but let’s look at the real-world game tests first.
Real-World Gaming Tests
The synthetic tests above are helpful for measuring general 3D aptitude, but it’s hard to beat full retail video games for judging gaming performance. Far Cry 5 and Rise of the Tomb Raider are both modern, high-fidelity titles with built-in benchmarks that illustrate how a system handles real-world gameplay at various settings. We run them at 1080p resolution at the games’ medium and best image-quality settings (Normal and Ultra for Far Cry 5 under DirectX 11, Medium and Very High for Rise of the Tomb Raider under DirectX 12).
The picture is less clear in these tests, but still positive. The Zephyrus Duo did average the highest frame rate at Far Cry 5’s maximum settings, if only by a little, and we must remember that it also includes the best processor. Its Rise of the Tomb Raider frame rate was not the absolute highest, though still plenty impressive, so I can’t definitively say it’s the superior 3D performer.
Regardless of how exactly the Zephyrus Duo stacks up against the competition, it is a highly proficient gaming laptop. The price tag being so much higher than the other laptops is more to do with the 4K display, 2TB SSD, and second screen than added graphics power, so you shouldn’t expect it to blow them away. Frame rates above 100fps mean you’ll rarely see dips, though with a 60Hz refresh rate, you also won’t get to appreciate them much.
Speaking of the 4K display, I also tested these two games at 4K resolution. It should come as no shock that frame rates dropped drastically. On maximum settings for Far Cry 5 and Rise of the Tomb Raider, the Zephyrus Duo averaged 43fps and 44fps, respectively. That is far less playable than the 1080p frame rates, and I generally wouldn’t recommend playing AAA games like these maxed out at 4K. Even the most powerful desktops have trouble posting super-high frame rates at 4K resolution.
As mentioned, the Zephyrus Duo does remain cooler and quieter than many other systems, thanks to its innovative cooling internals, so I appreciate that the second screen led to a performance-improvement opportunity. The fans are definitely audible while gaming, but even in performance mode (which we used for testing), they’re not egregious. You’d be hard pressed to find a gaming laptop from which you can’t hear the fans. Turbo mode is definitely louder, as you’d expect, though still in line with the default noise levels of some laptops. Turbo mode did deliver an extra 5fps or so in our tests, so if noise is no issue thanks to headphones or playing in solitude, you don’t have much to lose by switching it on when needed.
Battery Rundown Test
After fully recharging the laptop, we set up the machine in power-save mode (as opposed to balanced or high-performance mode) where available and make a few other battery-conserving tweaks in preparation for our unplugged video rundown test. (We also turn Wi-Fi off, putting the laptop in airplane mode.) In this test, we loop a video—a locally stored 720p file of the same Tears of Steel short we use in our Handbrake test—with screen brightness set at 50 percent and volume at 100 percent until the system quits.
The above result is the runtime with the second display turned off, as it’s not advisable to keep the second screen on when you’re concerned about the battery staying alive. The result is pretty long, better than I would have thought given the 4K display and potent parts. This much runtime will allow you to use this laptop off the charger in case you want to show off in public.
I also ran the battery test with the second display turned on; the Asus lasted for 4 hours and 57 minutes, certainly shaving off time, but not drastically.
Two Screens, One Excellent Execution
The Zephyrus Duo 15 is a unique laptop. Asus’ own ZenBook Duo gets close, but our test system’s angled screen and top-end gaming performance stand alone. While not every experimental design is a hit, or at least not destined to influence future laptops, we think the inventive and useful Zephyrus Duo can be both.
It’s a complicated concept that Asus made very streamlined and simple, giving it a premium feel and performance to match. The less expensive configurations are easier pills to swallow, but either way, we appreciate the design and execution of this laptop in concept and practice.
Asus ROG Zephyrus Duo 15 (GX550) Specs
|Processor||Intel Core i9-10980HK|
|Processor Speed||2.4 GHz|
|RAM (as Tested)||32 GB|
|Boot Drive Type||SSD|
|Boot Drive Capacity (as Tested)||2 TB|
|Screen Size||15.6 inches|
|Native Display Resolution||3840 by 2160|
|Variable Refresh Support||None|
|Screen Refresh Rate||60 Hz|
|Graphics Processor||Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Super (Max-Q)|
|Graphics Memory||8 GB|
|Wireless Networking||802.11ax, Bluetooth|
|Dimensions (HWD)||0.82 by 14.2 by 10.6 inches|
|Operating System||Microsoft Windows 10|
|Tested Battery Life (Hours:Minutes)||6:16|