Asus has teamed up with AMD to double down on the trend of increasingly compact gaming laptops with the ROG Zephyrus G14 (starts at $1,049.99; $1,449.99 as tested), a 14-inch near-ultraportable with full gaming capabilities. The main attraction here beyond the petite size is a brand-new AMD Ryzen 9 processor, the first “Zen 2” laptop CPU we’ve tested. We’re happy to report that it’s blistering fast across the board, equally ready for gaming and media workloads, and superior to the competition. Intel, on the other hand, will not be happy; this efficient CPU is also a great value, and Team Red now threatens its hold on the mobile market. This processor is just one (major) aspect of the full Zephyrus G14 package: an attractive and portable package with high frame rates, and our new midrange gaming Editors’ Choice.
Compact Gaming with a Clean Design
One of my clearest takeaways is that the Zephyrus G14 is simply a pleasant laptop to look at and use. The style is clean and attractive, looking high-tech without screaming that it’s a gaming rig by its design, colors, and branding. I especially like our white-lid model, which both stands out from the pack and makes the system look extra modern (it also comes in dark gray). The diagonally split lid is a nice touch, with perforations on one half and blank white magnesium alloy on the other. The laptop feels high-quality to the touch—it’s a bit dense due to its form factor, but easy to carry or slip into a bag, and there is no flex to be found.
The components in this machine are arguably the stars of the show, and I’ll talk about them plenty below, but an aspect I appreciate just as much is this laptop’s size. For a long time, most gaming notebooks were big, bulky, and heavy, and even the 15.6-inch models had more heft than you’d want to tote on a daily basis. The last few generations of mobile technology from Intel, Nvidia, and now AMD have improved that, allowing gaming laptops to become much trimmer, to the point where portability is expected. There are still some 17.3-inch behemoths, but those are more the exceptions, while thinner gaming rigs like the Razer Blade 15 are becoming the norm.
Even though overall portability has greatly improved, I still want to emphasize that this is a genuine, full-fledged gamer in a 14-inch form factor. Thin 15.6-inch laptops may be on the rise, but the Zephyrus G14 goes above and beyond. Since I see so many laptops for review purposes, it’s easy to take the new normal for granted, but it’s great to finally have these much more portable options.
Specifically, the Zephyrus G14 measures 0.7 by 12.8 by 8.7 inches and weighs 3.52 pounds. The footprint here is quite compact, while the weight is great for a gaming laptop. Those gaming components add discernible heft compared to general-use laptops—the 14-inch Dell Inspiron 14 7000 is just 2.9 pounds, for instance—but Asus has done an admirable job keeping the weight and size down.
Above this screen size, while you’ll find plenty of gaming laptops that are thinner and lighter than they’ve ever been, you’re still talking about something noticeably bulkier than the Zephyrus G14. Three of our favorite slimline rigs—the Asus ROG Zephyrus S GX502, the Razer Blade 15, and the MSI GS65 Stealth—all measure at least 14 inches wide and tip the scales at 4.4 to 4.6 pounds.
Below this size, you more or less leave gaming territory altogether, with one exception—the latest Razer Blade Stealth 13 bridges the ultraportable and gaming gap. While it’s gaming-ready, both its CPU and GPU are much less potent than those of the Zephyrus G14.
All About AMD: Welcome “Renoir”
The Zephyrus G14, on the other hand, occupies a unique (for now) position. It sits firmly in the upper middle power tier, superior to plenty of gaming machines on the market but below the fastest powerhouses. There’s an in-depth breakdown of its performance below, but we should first detail the components that make it possible.
First, the silicon elephant in the room: AMD’s new generation of mobile processors. If you need the background to understand why we’re extra interested in this laptop’s CPU, here’s a quick explainer. The third generation of AMD’s Ryzen CPU platform (with model names in the 3000’s) entered the desktop scene in 2019 with excellent mainstream chips like the Ryzen 5 3600X and 3600, and really stormed the market with power CPUs like the Ryzen 7 3700X and Ryzen 9 3900X.
Based on new microarchitecture dubbed “Zen 2,” these chips delivered excellent performance (especially at the high end) and even better value propositions, threatening Intel’s hold as the go-to option across various power and price tiers. These processors boast excellent speed across the board, and particularly excel at multi-threaded tasks. The more mainstream 3600X is plenty capable with its six cores and 12 threads, but the 3700X (eight cores and 16 threads) and the 3900X (12 cores and 24 threads) really chew through multitasking, gaming, and demanding media jobs. Our tests showed that Intel still kept its edge specifically for gaming, however.
Now, “Zen 2” CPUs are finally arriving in laptops. This 7-nanometer platform is codenamed “Renoir,” and the CPUs’ model numbers are in the 4000’s. The Zephyrus G14 is the first we’ve seen with one such processor: the Ryzen 9 4900HS.
Asus offers a handful of configurations of this laptop, some with different CPUs than ours. We have the $1,449.99 model with the Ryzen 9 4900HS chip, 16GB of memory, a 1TB solid-state drive, Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 Max-Q graphics, and a 120Hz full HD (1,920-by-1,080-pixel) display. This is not only a head-turner for its size, but also an uncommon marriage of AMD and Nvidia silicon. If these new Ryzen chips hit the mark, we may be seeing a lot more of this to come. The CPU contest has been close enough in desktops, but Intel has truly dominated the laptop segment, so it would represent a real shift.
On top of all this, Asus secured a limited-time exclusive version of this processor to match its compact 14-inch chassis. The higher-end Ryzen mobile chips have power envelopes of 45 watts, but Asus worked with AMD to tune this version down to 35 watt to work efficiently in this trim laptop. (Like Intel, AMD is using a suffix format to denote the types of CPUs in this series. The 15-watt U-Series is meant for ultraportables, and the 45-watt H-Series is for gaming and content creation.)
Asus will have four other G14 SKUs, as well, two of them less expensive and two more expensive than our middle model. Pricing starts with a $1,049.99 unit that includes a Ryzen 7 4800 CPU, 8GB of memory, a 512GB SSD, a GeForce GTX 1650 GPU, and a 60Hz display. The next model up is $1,299.99 with the same Ryzen 7 CPU and same-size SSD, 16GB of RAM, GeForce GTX 1660 Ti graphics, and a 120Hz display.
The two models above our unit are actually identical except for their exterior color (white or gray). Each costs $1,999.99 and has the same components as our model, but with a 60Hz 1440p display and a special exterior laptop lid. We saw (and loved) this lid in our hands-on preview of these laptops from CES 2020. Thanks to a customizable LED matrix behind the perforations, you can decorate the lid with text or even moving GIF images. It is definitely fun, though hardly essential, and you lose the higher refresh rate and instead pay extra for the LEDs and higher resolution.
Display, Ports, and Extras
As for the screen on our model, I think it’s a sweet spot. Full HD resolution is the right pick for these components, and it allows for higher frame rates to take advantage of the 120Hz display. An RTX 2060 won’t maintain 120fps in plenty of games, but it will go well over 60fps in many of them and hit 120fps in some, so locking it under a 60Hz ceiling would be a waste. It also features Adaptive Sync, to help keep the frame rate and refresh rates in lock step for smoother gameplay. Visually, the display quality is good, with plenty of brightness at max and bold colors.
There is one important design change that revolves around the display hinge. In previous Zephyrus laptops, Asus included an innovative bottom flap that would open as you lifted the laptop screen from its closed position. This would both raise the laptop up at a slight angle for more comfortable typing and open up the bottom vents for better cooling while gaming. It was a bit more flexible than many users liked, though, bending especially when you lifted the laptop from the bottom. This caused enough user concern (even if no actual breakage) that Asus did away with it on this model.
What remains on the Zephyrus G14 is the ErgoLift hinge seen in Asus ZenBooks, which performs roughly the same function in a different way—the bottom of the display panel actually reaches under the laptop, propping it upwards when pulled fully open. This way, you get the same keyboard tilt, improving the typing experience and allowing more air to flow through the bottom of the laptop, but it feels sturdier.
Speaking of typing, a quick note on the keyboard. It’s fairly basic, but plenty comfortable to use. The key travel is moderate, and maybe slightly more on the mushy side than ideal, but it’s responsive. The touchpad is a bit underwhelming—it’s responsive and smooth, but somewhat small. The deck around the keyboard and touchpad is silver on our white-lid model, and the magnesium alloy feels pretty good to the touch. I like the feel of the lid more than that of the deck, and I think aluminum would feel more premium here, but the alloy helps keep the weight down and is preferable to cheaper plastic.
Finally, we come to the connectivity options. On the left flank, there’s a USB-C port with DisplayPort out, an HDMI video output, a headphone jack, and the power port. On the right side, there are two USB 3.1 Type-A ports and a USB-C port. Wireless connectivity includes Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.0.
Performance Testing: Ryzen Shines Brightest
For testing comparisons, I gathered a group of relevant gaming laptops we’ve tested to pit against the Zephyrus G14. Some of these are our favorites in the category, though their prices and components cover a fairly wide range. Take pricing with a grain of salt as it relates to performance—factors like storage capacity, display technology, and other aspects mean it’s hardly 1:1. Besides, you’ll see that the Zephyrus G14 can take on more expensive machines anyway. Below is a cheat sheet of these systems and their components…
The Zephyrus G14 is the least expensive model on this list—some of the competitors start around the same price or lower, but we’re using the configurations we reviewed here. The Blade Stealth 13 ($1,799 as tested) is the only smaller system, as mentioned earlier, and so it has a notable decline in comparative component power. The others are larger and more expensive, with high-end Intel CPUs popular for gaming machines and objectively more potent Nvidia GPUs. The very thin and light MSI GS65 Stealth is next up at $1,699, while the Acer Predator Triton is $2,499.99 as tested and the Razer Blade 15 cost $2,599.99 as tested. The 14-inch screen size is an unusual one for a gaming laptop, thus the lack of other 14-inch contenders here.
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.
The Zephyrus G14 and its new CPU turned heads right out of the gate, posting the highest score of any of these systems in PCMark 10. Considering the relative thermal restraints of the chassis sizes, that speaks well to the Ryzen 9’s efficiency. The Triton 500 hung close, but the others were a decent way behind, and you can see how much the smaller Stealth 13 lagged behind. As for the storage speed test, the speedy SSDs all fall within the same range. Indeed, I experienced that in my own use—the G14 felt snappy to boot and zip around Windows. PCMark is hardly the most strenuous CPU test in our lineup, so the next few will prove illuminating.
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.
You have to come away impressed by the Zephyrus G14 and the 4900HS in these tests. This laptop was the best performer (or tied for the best) in all three benchmarks, in a smaller chassis than all but the Blade 13 and with the lowest price tag. Its eight cores and 16 threads flew through these tests relative to the Intel competition, especially in Cinebench. While gaming will remain more dependent on the GPU (see the following tests), every bit of CPU efficiency helps.
What’s more, this level of performance edges the Zephyrus G14 away from the “good at media for a gaming laptop” tier and closer to “good at media tasks, period.” Creative laptops and mobile workstations will retain the upper hand, but this system hangs admirably close to the numbers of some Core i9-9980HK laptops. We were optimistic about the performance of this CPU based on the “Zen 2” desktop chips, but mobile silicon is a different prospect. Seemingly, AMD has succeeded in balancing performance with thermal limitations, making as efficient a chip as possible.
It’s worth a reminder that the Ryzen 9 series is the top end of AMD’s new mobile platform, and there are Ryzen 5 and 7 chips more suited for ultraportable and general-use laptops below it. But given that the price of the platform and this laptop are still commensurate with (or lower than) Intel’s gaming-ready laptop chips, it’s a fair comparison. The Core i9 mobile CPUs are found in a rare few gaming laptops, after all, as the Core i7 is far more common, and thus the main competition in this size range.
The Asus is primarily a gaming system, sure, but its portability and general usefulness as an everyday laptop encourage you to use it for more than that. When the performance backs up that concept, it’s a very appealing package. Intel should be concerned about AMD’s threat here; on a head-to-head performance and value basis, these “Renoir” chips, at least based on this first exposure to one we’ve had, look like a real threat.
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.
As mentioned, 3D tasks are much more reliant on the GPU. The RTX 2060 Max-Q is an above-average card, but given its place at the bottom of the RTX hierarchy, it falls short of the others. Still, you can see that it’s a marked improvement over the GTX 1660 Ti in the MSI laptop, and these are good scores, even if they don’t stack up to the top of Nvidia’s offerings. I wouldn’t recommend the Zephyrus as a professional 3D system, though.
One negative that has to be addressed is the fan noise. During the more strenuous CPU and 3D tests above, the G14’s fans really ramped up to a constant hum. The pitch of the fans is slightly higher, which is that much more irritating to listen to. This noise is likely attributable to the size, as this more compact chassis also has less thermal room to work with, and the cooling system needs to work hard. Since this happened during processor tests and even during big downloads, it’s not just a problem during gaming.
The fans aren’t uniquely loud—other gaming laptops have sounded similar—but they’re certainly noisier than average. I could hear the fans working behind me through my earbuds in voice calls, though if you have music or game audio playing, it should drown them out. If you’re straining the laptop in a public space, though, I’m not sure those around you will appreciate it much! There is a Silent mode you can switch to via the included Asus software, which does help somewhat, as well as a Turbo mode. The latter did boost the above results: Fire Strike jumped to 14,423, for example. If you’re at home and don’t mind the fan noise, feel free to flip it on for a few more frames per second. Speaking of frame rates…
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).
As you can see, the Zephyrus G14’s small body was able to churn out frame rates comfortably over 60fps. That’s still a bit short of the 15-inch laptops and their superior GPUs, but is at the level where you don’t need to compromise your graphics settings. You can see the difference between it and the Blade Stealth 13, which struggled to hit 60fps. The downtuned Max-Q RTX 2060 is plenty capable, and with Nvidia’s revamped DLSS, may be more capable of running ray tracing smoothly.
As far as making use of the 120Hz display, you’re getting some advantage even with the frame rates you see in these two games—they are over 60fps, after all. Major AAA games aren’t generally what higher refresh rates are for, and competitive multiplayer titles will get much closer to, or sit at, 120fps. For example, I ran Rainbow Six: Siege on maximum settings and the Zephyrus G14 managed 152fps, which is very encouraging.
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 Zephyrus G14 ran for a respectable seven hours and 43 minutes on this test, another encouraging result. This will give you plenty of hours away from the charger for travel, taking advantage of the compact design. If a system was physically this portable but could only last for a couple of hours off the charger, it would undermine the concept, so Asus has avoided that pitfall.
Of course, if you play games while on the battery, it won’t last as long as our video playback test, as games are more draining for any laptop. Still, you can mix in a little game playing on the go if you wish, without killing your charge right away. It’s not the longest-lasting battery even among this batch, and yes some non-gaming ultraportables last for closer to 20 hours, but it’s a solid result. Among gaming laptops the Zephyrus G14’s battery is better than average, so even if it’s not setting a new bar, the battery life should give you no pause.
A Uniquely Portable, Full-Fledged Gaming Laptop
The Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 is an impressive laptop on every front. We like the way it looks, the compact form factor is useful and, in a way, satisfying to use, and the performance is stellar. AMD’s new CPU really shines, and puts a lot of pressure on Intel in this price range, as it did on the desktop. This CPU is snappy for general use, more proficient than the competition for media, and was no bottleneck for gaming. Fitting a higher-tier GPU into this chassis is likely not possible, and is where larger competitors can set themselves apart (as well as boasting bigger screens).
Still, this laptop goes comfortably above 60fps, which is what you want at this price range. With this power and the 120Hz screen, it’s a solid AAA gaming machine and an excellent competitive multiplayer laptop. If you really want higher frame rates than this, the options are out there, but we’re big fans of this total package. The Zephyrus G14 earns our Editors’ Choice for midrange gaming laptops for its strong performance and unmatched portability.