When you want to game on the go, taking your whole desktop with you isn’t a good solution. Traditional desktop-replacement gaming laptops tend to be so bulky that you dread hauling one around with you, and their short battery life ensures that finding the next outlet is never far from your mind.
If you’re planning on using the same laptop for work, the size and battery life won’t be the only factors that influence the notebook you carry. No one wants to be the guy in a meeting who pulls out a flashy gaming laptop with bright logos and twinkling RGB LEDs all over. What you really want is something sleek and subdued on the outside with the power to tackle your favorite titles inside, no matter where you are.
The new Zephyrus M GU502 has a perfect blend of sleek, subtle style and portable power that’s just as comfortable in a conference room as it is at a LAN party. A 9th Gen Intel Core i7-9750H and NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2060 sit at the heart of the GU502, while the 144Hz screen lets you keep pace with the pros. At just 1.9kg, you won’t struggle to carry it around all day, and up to 8 hours of battery life means you can take it anywhere. Since audio can be just as crucial to an in-game victory as your visuals, the GU502 features an ESS Sabre HiFi DAC that will let you get the most out of your headphones of choice.
Sleek and subtle
Some people like to make a bold statement when they set down their laptop, but I’ve always been a bigger fan of subtlety. When I first laid eyes on the Zephyrus M GU502, I was thrilled by how our designers achieved a unique look without resorting to flashy excess. The magnesium alloy our engineers used is as sturdy as it is capable of fending off fingerprints. The distinctive Zephyrus hairline textures on the lid create a look that fits into the board room just as well as a LAN party. When the laptop powers on, the iconic Republic of Gamers eye logo gives off a soft red glow that will be instantly recognizable by other ROG members.
Upon opening the laptop, I was pleased to see the sleek black-on-black color scheme continue on the interior. The palm rest has a soft-touch coating that, much like the lid, is quite resistant to all but the greasiest of fingerprints. I love how rigid the palm rest is, too. If I pick the laptop up by its corner with one hand, there’s no visible flex whatsoever. That's thanks to a series of honeycomb cells inside the palm rest that reinforce the chassis without adding unnecessary weight.
When I look up from the keyboard and palm rest, there’s not much else to see but the beautiful matte 15.6” IPS screen. The bezels on the top and sides of the display are a mere 6.2mm wide, and they all but disappear when playing a game. Even though I’m usually looking at the display head-on, the wide viewing angles let me kick back and watch Netflix from my hotel bed without losing detail.
I’ll admit, this is my first time using a laptop with anything more than a 60Hz refresh rate. I do most of my gaming at home on a 144Hz panel, so the Zephyrus M GU502’s 144Hz Full HD display was a welcome sight while on the road. I’m far from being a pro at any game, but once you’ve played on a silky-smooth high-refresh screen, there’s just no going back. The GU502 does have an optional 240Hz panel for those who absolutely must see every possible frame of a game. Regardless of which option you choose, both screens have a 3ms response time and are Pantone Validated for superb color accuracy.
Turing and Intel take the lead
A screen that can display 144 frames per second is great, but you need a GPU that can keep up with it. The NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2060 drives the graphics on the Zephyrus M GU502, and it’s perfect for playing virtually any title at 1080p.
The RTX 2060's Turing architecture unlocks several new technologies that improve the way games look and perform. Parallel pipelines for floating-point and integer code optimize shader performance in every game. RT Cores allow for ray-traced effects in supported titles, while Tensor Cores enable AI-powered features like Deep Learning Super Sampling (DLSS). As its name implies, DLSS uses deep learning and the power of AI to display games at higher resolutions without compromising frame rates.
I like to occasionally stream when I’m playing, which can be tough to do on a single PC, let alone on a laptop. Since the GU502 features one of NVIDIA’s Turing GPUs, however, it can take advantage of the latest version of the NVENC media engine. This codec allows software like OBS to encode your stream using dedicated hardware on the GPU, rather than making your CPU pull double duty. I tested this feature by streaming my arduous climb from Silver to Gold in Rocket League on the GU502. I was thrilled to be able to play at a stable 144Hz on Ultra settings while streaming at 1080p without a single dropped frame on the stream.
At the heart of the Zephyrus M GU502 is the 9th-gen Intel Core i7-9750H. Its six cores, 12 threads and 4.5GHz max Turbo clocks are more than enough to take care of my multitasking needs for work and gaming. Of course, most of the time, the CPU won’t be running at full speed. Instead, our intelligent cooling profiles will adjust the clock speeds and fan usage to maintain a balance of power usage, speed, and cooling.
Over the month that I’ve had the GU502, I’ve used it to play several popular online games with my friends. These include the three main battle royale titles: PUBG, Apex Legends, and Fortnite. I also occasionally dabbled in Overwatch, and I’ve finally attained Gold in Rocket League.
I tend to strike a balance between high frame rates and high-quality visuals when I play. I like the edge and fluidity that higher frame rates offer, but I also want my games to look good. For a title like Rocket League, I was able to crank all the options up and still maintain a solid 144 FPS. I even streamed some of my matches on Twitch without losing any performance. Both Apex Legends and Overwatch got impressive frame rates with the graphics set to the High defaults.
PUBG and Fortnite both played a lot better on their respective Medium settings, although those seeking higher frame rates can turn down settings even further to achieve those. Overall, the Zephyrus M GU502 tackled every game I wanted to play with ease at the screen’s native 1080p resolution. You can click through the graphs below to see how each game performed. The graphs show the frame rate over 60-second sections of gameplay that I tracked using the open-source OCAT software.
Keeping your cool
One of the essential elements in any laptop is how effectively it deals with heat. Ineffective cooling can cripple a device with even the most powerful hardware. That’s why the Zephyrus M GU502 uses a total of five individual pipes that pull heat away from the CPU, GPU, and the circuitry supplying them with power. By splitting up these heatpipes, we’re able to cool each component more efficiently than if they were shared.
The heatpipes move the thermal energy to one of four heatsinks located at the rear and sides of the laptop. There, ultra-thin copper fins dissipate the heat, and two n-Blade fans expel it from the device. The unique n-Blade fans spin quietly under normal loads but do get a bit louder as you play demanding titles. I usually play with a headset on so I can talk with my teammates, and even as things heated up in the final circle of PUBG, my team didn't notice the sound of the fans bleeding into my mic.
If you want to tweak your cooling profile, Armoury Crate is the place to do it. Using a dedicated one-touch key, it’s easy to pop into the software and switch between the Silent, Performance, and Turbo profiles, or to create your own. In Manual mode, you can adjust the GPU’s Base Clock and Memory Clock offsets, as well as set your desired fan speeds. You can also use the software to keep an eye on your component temperatures, fan speed, and more.
Touch and go
The chiclet-style keyboard is laid out and spaced to mimic the layout of a desktop, which my large hands appreciate. The F-keys at the top are even spaced out in sets of four, just like you would find on one of our desktop gaming keyboards. The arrow keys reside underneath the right Shift key, while the familiar Home, Insert, Delete and Page Up/Down keys are lined up on the right side of the keyboard for easy access. Four dedicated hotkeys allow you to adjust the volume quickly, mute/unmute your mic, and open Armoury Crate at the press of a button.
The individually-backlit keys have a soft coating and a relatively short travel that are pleasing to use whether I’m typing or gaming. You can control the lighting through Armoury Crate to match your other Aura Sync devices or choose from several pre-programmed effects. You can also use the Aura Creator utility to set up advanced lighting effects on a per-key basis.
The touchpad sits in the center of the palm rest and is coated with a similar texture as the surrounding area, albeit with a less grippy feel. I prefer the light texture, as it gives me a feeling of more precise control versus smoother glass pads. Both single and multi-finger commands were snappy and responsive for those times when I didn’t have the space to bust out my mouse for finer control, thanks to Microsoft’s Precision drivers.
Work long and prosper
Battery life isn’t a sexy feature, but it’s an essential one in any laptop. Gaming laptops can be forgiven for their shorter battery life because you’re going to get the best performance when the device is plugged in. However, the Zephyrus M GU502 is more than a gaming notebook. It’s a sleek business laptop and a content creation machine, too. That’s why it features a battery that won’t quit on you after just a couple of hours of work.
I’ve taken the GU502 to coffee shops to do work and flown across the country for business meetings, and not once has the battery let me down. I typically get more than 5 hours of work done on a single charge, and the USB-C port allowed me to top it off from my portable power bank when outlets were scarce. The same port also allowed me to use the same 65W USB-C charging cable as my phone with the GU502, letting me leave the large 230W adapter at home. Of course, to unlock the full gaming potential of the machine, you'll need to plug in the larger power brick.
Can you hear me now?
There’s no substitute for a good set of headphones when you’re playing your favorite game, and the GU502 can take full advantage of even the best set of cans. Its premium ESS Sabre HiFi DAC delivers a broad dynamic range that just can’t be matched by typical sound cards. From the highest highs to the lowest lows, the Sabre DAC delivers crisp and clean sound without distortion, and virtual 7.1 surround sound helps you pinpoint your in-game enemies before you even see them.
Not every situation calls for a pair of headphones, so the GU502 has a set of Smart Amp-powered speakers. These speakers are designed to deliver strong audio and a broad dynamic range at high volumes without damaging the cones or introducing distortion. This feature came in handy when bingeing "The Office" in my hotel room after a long day of meetings. The audio remained crisp and clear, even when I cranked the volume as Michael loudly declared his bankruptcy.
I set out to use the Zephyrus M GU502 as a portable gaming and streaming device that I could be as comfortable with on the road as I as I am on my home rig. One immediate concern that I tend to have with a laptop that’s going to pull this kind of duty is the number of ports I have available to me. After all, I need a gaming mouse, a webcam, a headset, a controller, and a hardwired internet connection. I also like to connect a second monitor for watching chat, and a port to charge my phone while I use it for chat if another screen isn’t available. All that is a tall order for a laptop, but the GU502 let me plug in every device I need without having to pack a USB hub along with the rest of my gear.
On the left side of the GU502, you'll find the input for the notebook's dedicated power adapter, a Gigabit Ethernet jack, an HDMI 2.0b output, a USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-A port, and dedicated headphone and microphone jacks.
The right side of the notebook houses the multi-purpose USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C port. This reversible connector can charge the notebook or fast-charge other devices, and it can also output DisplayPort signals for compatible monitors. You'll also find two USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A ports and a Kensington lock slot here.
Work hard, play harder
There was a time when gaming on a business trip simply meant I’d need to bring my Nintendo 3DS or some other dedicated portable gaming device with me. After all, the ability to work on a trip tends to outweigh my desire to play games in my downtime. However, the Zephyrus M GU502 has everything I need to accomplish both tasks from the same laptop. It’s got the power and performance to keep up with my favorite games, and even has headroom to let me stream from a hotel when I want to.
Just as it’s able to keep pace with my gaming habits easily, this notebook fits in perfectly with my work lifestyle. It’s sleek but subdued enough to fit in at any meeting I might attend without drawing unwanted attention. The battery life is enough to get me through a day of meetings and editing content without searching for an outlet. And it’s got the raw power to handle any of my content creation needs.
||ROG Zephyrus M GU502
||Intel Core i7-9750H
||15.6" FHD 144Hz 3ms IPS-type
||NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2060, 6GB GDDR6 VRAM
||16GB DDR4 2666MHz
||1TB M.2 NVMe SSD
||Intel 9560 2x2 802.11ac Wave 2 Gigabit WiFi
||1x Gigabit Ethernet
1x USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type C (with DisplayPort 1.4 and USB power delivery)
2x USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type A
1x USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type A
1x HDMI 2.0b
1x 3.5 mm audio jack
1x 3.5 mm mic in
1x Kensington lock slot
||RGB backlit chiclet keyboard with 1.4 mm travel distance, N-key rollover, and Overstroke
||2x 2W speakers with Smart Amplifier technology
||76Whr 4-cell Lithium-ion
||230W AC adapter
||Windows 10 Pro / Windows 10 Home
||14.1 (W) x 9.9 (D) x 0.74 (H) inch
You can find the Zephyrus M GU502 starting at $1,849.99 in the US at the retailers listed in the table above.