An expensive eye-catcher with some great equipment: testing the Asus ROG Zephyrus Duo 15
What an eye catcher. What inner value. What a price. I'm getting light-headed.
The specs for the Asus ROG Zephyrus Duo 15 (UHD version):
- CPU: Intel Core i9-10980HK
- Graphics card: nVidia GeForce RTX 2080 Super Max-Q
- RAM: 32GB of DDR4-3200 SDRAM
- Data storage: A 2 TB SSD (2 x 1 TB SSD with RAID0, M.2 NVMe PCIe 3.0 x4)
- Display: A 15.6" UHD IPS display (3840 × 2160 pixels), anti-glare, 60 Hz with 100% Adobe RGB colour space coverage, Pantone validated, nVidia G-Sync
- Second screen: A 14.1" IPS touch screen with 3840 × 1100 pixels, non-reflective, 60 Hz
- Keyboard: Chiclet keyboard with backlighting, RGB keys, 1.4 mm key travel
- Connections: 1 x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type C (Thunderbolt 3, DisplayPort 1.4, Power Delivery), 2 x USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type A, 1 x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type A, 1 x HDMI 2.0b, Ethernet Port
- Audio: 2 x 3.5mm jack (headphones and microphone), 4W stereo speakers and an array microphone
- Wi-Fi, Bluetooth: Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.0
- Battery: 90 Wh lithium-ion battery
- Operating system: Microsoft Windows 10 Pro
- Dimensions: 36 x 26.8 x 2 cm, 2.4 kg
- Power supply: 240 W, supports USB Power Delivery up to 65 W
- Extras: Asus ROG Eye GC21 webcam, palm rest, ROG Ranger BP2500Gm backpack, download code for Dying Light 2 (release set for March 2021)
First and foremost, my compliments to Asus and Republic of Gamers: just at a glance, it becomes clear that the second display above the keyboard has been improved in comparison to the one installed on the Asus ZenBook Pro Duo. Now it glows almost as brightly as the main display.
In contrast to the second screen, the 15.6-inch main display cannot be operated with fingers or the pen. It comes in two variants: a 300 Hz Full HD gaming display and a 60 Hz UHD display for professional use with Pantone validation and 100% Adobe RGB colour space coverage on paper. Fascinating, I'll need to closely inspect that aspect. As a result, I test the UHD version.
Design and connectivity
At only 20.9 millimetres thick when closed, I wouldn't expect this notebook to house any truly magnificent hardware components.
The base and lid are made of an aluminium alloy in Gunmetal Gray. When I pass my fingers over it, I sense a mixture of aluminium and magnesium. Akin to Microsoft's «Surface». The lid has, as many cars do, a kind of optical crease that runs diagonally – in short, it's a slash. Further, there's a reflective ROG logo which always reminds me of an owl's eye. This could also be a modified Eye of Horus.
When opened, you immediately figure out how ROG manages to cool such a strong processor as well as a super high-end graphics card in such a thin case: if you fold up the screen, the second display automatically lifts 13 degrees. This doesn't just help to provide a better viewing angle. The air inlets for the cooling system are also located under the display. You'll find the air outlets on the side and back of the base at the height of the second screen.
In addition to a second screen, a variety of connection options are also offered. On the left side you'll see the mains connection and two 3.5 mm jacks – for headphones and a microphone.
The right side contains two USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type A and one USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type C. The USB-C port can also be used for charging if required, also offering Thunderbolt 3 and DisplayPort 1.4.
The back of the base offers another USB port – more precisely a USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type A – as well as HDMI 2.0b and an Ethernet port.
Display and second screen
Sunlight and spots are annoying. Whether it's during work or while playing games. That's why I'm happy about the Zephyrus' matte displays. The 15.6-inch panel for the present version offers 3840 × 2160 pixels and is said to have 100 percent Adobe RGB colour space coverage. I like the angle stability here. HDR isn't included, but it supports G-Sync.
The second display, also known as the ROG ScreenPad Plus, expands the image to 3840 × 1100 pixels. It doesn't claim colour space coverage for professional work. It can be operated with a mouse, a pen or your fingers. The fact that it tilts when the lid is opened isn't only beneficial for a more direct view of the image and cooling, but also for viewing angle stability. This feature has been considerably improved in the ScreenPad Plus in contrast to the already reviewed ZenBook Pro Duo and is now well adjusted to a normal seated position.
Luminosity, uniformity and colour space coverage
I like the image and colour reproduction of both screens. In a direct comparison, the second display looks minimally milky when you inspect it closely, which I don't actively notice during work or play. It doesn't bother me, but could still be improved.
What I can't judge by the naked eye are the promised colour values, luminosity, uniformity of illumination and contrast values. To determine these values, I measure both panels with the x-rite i1Display Pro Plus:
The 15.6-inch UHD display has an average brightness of 370 cd/m² at the brightest level. This becomes 334 cd/m² for the second display. Well, my eyes didn't deceive me – I was justified in praising this aspect at the start of this review. The difference between the luminosity of both displays at the brightest setting is 36 cd/m². In January, I measured a difference of 97 cd/m² for the Asus ZenBook Pro Duo.
The uniformity of illumination is good for both panels. The large one has a light drop of only 10 cd/m² from the brightest to the darkest area. You won't notice that with the naked eye. Illumination isn't quite as accurate on the small panel, but even a 33 cd/m² difference isn't much.
Colour space coverage is vital for professional work in the fields of graphics and video production. Asus knows this, which is why the main display should have 100 percent Adobe RGB coverage as standard. I measured 99.9 percent for sRGB, 99.7 percent for Adobe RGB and 88.3 percent for DCI P3. Thus, the screen delivers pretty much exactly what the manufacturer promises. A dream come true for graphic designers and friends of pre-press. For video producers, the DCI P3 coverage is alright, but it should still be higher. The static image contrast is a crisp 1492:1.
The second screen should only be used supportively in professional use, as its colour space coverage isn't as great: I measured 95.5 percent with sRGB, 69.9 percent with Adobe RGB and 72.5 percent with DCI P3. The static contrast is 963:1.
Operating the second screen: what can it do?
The ScreenPad Plus, which works seamlessly in conjunction with the main screen, does offer up something new: additional game content. Consequently, the Zephyrus Duo 15 also gets you a download code for Dying Light 2. Although the game won't be released until next spring, we've already known since the Zephyrus launched that the title will offer exclusive additional content on the second ROG screen. It remains to be seen exactly what this will be.
If you already want to use the second display for gaming purposes, install the corresponding App to display real-time statistics and recommendations for League of Legends, Fortnite or CS:GO. In addition, the GPUTweak II and Armoury Crate applications can be used to change graphics settings and performance during gaming.
Of course, the second screen can also be deactivated at the touch of a button if required. The following features are also enabled:
- Screen expansion: display a website across both screens, for example.
- Automatically arrange up to three windows: drag and drop applications onto the screen and automatically resize the window to fit the entire, half or one third of the display area. This is done by moving the mouse to the right, left or top edge of the display and then releasing the program.
- Use of integrated apps: work with apps that are designed specifically for the second screen. Some are pre-installed. The ScreenPad Plus also has an additional launcher, which also stores regular applications.
- Screen content swapping at the push of a button: make an Excel sheet jump from the main display to the second screen or vice versa at the push of a button.
- Mouse actions: when you grab a window with your mouse, a small button with three functions appears right next to the mouse pointer. Dragging the window to the button allows you to either expand the window to both screens, make the window switch screens or add it to the launcher of the second screen.
All in all, I find the ScreenPad Plus to be a useful addition. It works as well as a second screen on a desktop PC. Researching and writing at the same time can be done very easily without constantly having to Alt-Tab out. If you like, you can also download a piano app and fiddle around with it.
Keyboard and trackpad
I already know the layout of the chiclet keyboard that slides to the front edge of the base. Reminds me a bit of a living room keyboard. So I don't accidentally press the right arrow when I want to hit the Ctrl key.
The keys have a three-level backlight and RGB. So you can adjust the colours as you like. The key stroke occurs at 1.4 millimetres – when pressed, I sense a clear trigger point. Personally, I like the typing feel on this rather quiet keyboard. I'm also supported by a palm rest, which is included in the bundle.
The touchpad is small. Nevertheless, after getting used to it, it's precise in handling. In addition, a luminous number pad can be activated by pressing the upper left corner.
The stereo speakers are located below the base at the front corners. If the Zephyrus is placed on a table, they sound good by notebook standards. If you pick it up or have it on your lap, the resonating table top is missing and the bass is weakened; even on a stable surface they're rather reserved. In short: I like the highs and mids for music, games and watching movies. The bass is okay, but still the reason why I reach for a headset with every notebook sooner or later.
90 Wh battery capacity sounds like a lot for a notebook. At least as long as it doesn't have hardware as potent as this one. I get why ROG didn't add more Wh to the Zephyrus in lieu of its slender frame. To find out what the device can do when unplugged, I test it while continuously streaming YouTube videos, at peak performance and during office work.
Important: the device has nVidia G-Sync. Since G-Sync only works as long as the integrated second graphics unit of the SoC is deactivated, it's also switched off at delivery. This way, the device is ready for gaming. For all work that doesn't require the power of the nVidia GeForce RTX 2080 Super Max-Q, i.e. browsing the internet or office work, this default setting is bad for battery life. The dedicated super graphics card draws more power than the integrated one. I'd therefore recommend thinking about the device's intended use and selecting the correct energy mode before using it.
If you want to deactivate G-Sync and switch on the second graphics unit instead, you can do this by clicking on the corresponding option (Optimus mode) in the Armoury Crate software. After that, the device restarts and the battery lasts longer. I turned on Optimus mode for testing the battery during office work and during continuous streaming of YouTube videos.
Nonstop YouTube streaming
To create a fair comparison to our other notebook reviews, I turned off the second screen and set the brightness of the 15.6-inch display to 150 cd/m². Then I let music videos run in a continuous loop and waited until the notebook bade farewell after three hours and 27 minutes. That's not long, but it fits the potent Intel Core i9-10980HK, which comes along with a TDP of 45 watts. For comparison: an Intel Core i7-1065G7, as installed in the Surface Book 3, has a TDP of 15 watts. With that, as well as an 82 Wh battery, the 15-inch Surface Book 3 achieved seven hours and 47 minutes in the same test, which is over four hours more.
Battery life under maximum power and volume
During peak performance, I didn't only measure the battery life and noise level, but also the cooling behaviour. This means how long the CPU can remain fully loaded before the device clocks it down. In order to use all the device hardware at full capacity, I ran a stress test at the highest screen brightness. For this purpose I ran the HeavyLoad and FurMark apps at the same time.
The Zephyrus Duo 15 lasts 23 minutes at 100 percent CPU usage. I measured about 50 decibels from my seated position, one arm's length away. Then everything changed. Not the way I expected, however. Cooling became somewhat quieter and the CPU jumped from 100 to 25 per cent use and back again at regular intervals, six times a minute.
After 39 minutes, the behaviour changed again. Ventilation became quieter still, around 35 decibels. The graphics card remained fully utilised, but the CPU now showed the opposite behaviour as before: utilization was now mostly at 25 percent, and jumped to 100 percent again and again at the same regularity as before. And so it remained until the device's battery was drained after 57 minutes.
I've never seen such behaviour in any other notebook. Normally, ventilation is never shut down, only the CPU. That's funny, especially since I also made sure that the notebook wouldn't let energy saver mode lower maximum performance on its own. This didn't happen. Everything seemed normal, but the behaviour proved the opposite. By the way, if the notebook is connected to a power supply, it never turns down the ventilation without being asked. Only if I order it to do so using Armoury Crate.
Battery life during office work
When working in the office, I mostly use programs where the device uses the integrated graphics card. Still, some Photoshop is also included. The device stays alive for around half my working day. After four and a half hours at the latest, the appliance must be plugged back into the power outlet.
With the Intel Core i9-10980HK, Asus ROG includes a high-performance mobile 64-bit high-end SoC, manufactured in a 14 nm++ process. It's based on Comet Lake architecture and has eight cores. Using two cores, the processor clocks from 2.4 to 5.3 GHz. To do this, however, the temperature of the SoC must remain below 65 degrees Celsius, otherwise the cores only reach 5.2 GHz. Using three to eight cores, the maximum frequency is 4.4 GHz. The TDP is 45 Watt. Among other things, Intel's UHD Graphics 630 GPU is also on the chip.
The high-end super graphics card
In the nVidia GeForce RTX 2080 Super Max-Q, you get a very powerful mobile graphics card. It's a slimmed-down or power-saving variant of the version without Max-Q, but is nevertheless clearly positioned in the upper high-end range. The TU104 graphics card chip is manufactured in a 12-nm process and offers features such as Real Time Ray Tracing and Deep Learning Super Sampling. The version installed here has 8GB of GDDR6 VRAM and clocks in from 1080 to 1330 MHz. The power consumption is 90 Watt.
To test performance, I perform benchmarks; Cinebench R20 and Geekbench 5 for the processor, 3DMark and VRMark as well as gaming benchmarks for «Assassin's Creed Odyssey», «Civilization VI: Gathering Storm» and «Far Cry 5».
Processor performance: Cinebench R20 and Geekbench 5
Cinebench by Maxon lets you see how your PC performs when rendering Cinema 4D content. Processors with more cores will always deliver better results (except single-core results).
Geekbench runs on Windows, MacOS, Linux, Android and iOS. Next to simulated real scenarios (single- and multi-core), Geekbench can also detect your GPU performance when it comes to image processing and artificial recognition. Thanks to the Geekbench browser, you can compare results with other systems.
The Cine- and Geekbench results:
|Benchmark score||Link for the full results|
|Cinebench R20 – CPU Multi Core||3,500 points||-|
|Cinebench R20 – CPU Single Core||497 points||-|
|Geekbench 5 – CPU Multi Core||8,313 points||Detailed results: browser.geekbench.com/v5/cpu/3274030|
|Geekbench 5 – CPU Single Core||1,305 points||Detailed results: browser.geekbench.com/v5/cpu/3274030|
|Geekbench 5 – GPU OpenCL (Graphical benchmark)||98,464 points||Detailed results: browser.geekbench.com/v5/compute/1336525|
|Geekbench 5 – GPU Vulkan (Graphical benchmark)||81,835 points||Detailed results: browser.geekbench.com/v5/compute/1336538|
|Geekbench 5 – GPU CUDA (Graphical benchmark)||114,181 points||Detailed results: browser.geekbench.com/v5/compute/1336542|
In multi-core mode, the Zephyrus Duo 15 shows its power. The processor goes hard and easily achieves three times the Cinebench R20 score of the Intel Core i7-1065G7 in a current Microsoft Surface Book 3. Geekbench 5 comes in at around two and a half times the power. In single-core use, the difference is somewhat smaller; in Cinebench R20, the performance increase is 26 percent, in Geekbench 5 it's 23 percent.
3DMark: Gaming Benchmarks
3DMark offers loads of benchmarks to test gaming PCs and laptops. To give you an overview, I tested 1080p-Gaming (Fire Strike), WQHD-Gaming (Time Spy) and UHD-Gaming (Time Spy Extreme).
|Benchmark||Resolution and DirectX version||Result||Comparison to a 2020 Gaming Laptop
(Intel Core i7-9750H, Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060)
|Fire Strike||1920 x 1080 pixels, DirectX 11||19,364 points
|Time Spy||2560 x 1440 pixels, DirectX 12||8,828 points
|Time Spy Extreme||3840 x 2160 pixels, DirectX 12||4,041 points
The powerful hardware in the Zephyrus Duo 15 scores considerably better in all benchmarks than the reference laptop model with an Intel Core i7-9750H and a mobile nVidia GeForce RTX 2060.
VRMark: Virtual Reality Gaming Benchmarks
Time to enter Virtual Reality? VRMark benchmarks let me know if the notebook is ready for virtual reality gaming.
|Benchmark||What is being tested?||Result||Points needed (VR Ready)|
|VRMark Orange Room||HTC Vive and Oculus Rift performance||12,048 points
|VRMark Cyan Room||DirectX 12 performance||8,531 points
|VRMark Blue Room||Current hardware performance||2,776 points
The notebook passes the Orange and Cyan Room benchmarks. This means you can play with current VR headsets without any problems.
Gaming and FPS
Although my current display can only operate at 60 Hz, UHD gaming is possible with it. And with the hardware at hand, that's a lot of fun. Nevertheless, I'd think twice before getting it, whether you'd use it for gaming or work. For continued gaming, I'd recommend skipping the pre-calibrated UHD display and instead benefitting from a display with 300 Hz and a 3 ms response time.
In order to have a concrete basis for my praise of this thing's performance, I make in-game benchmarks at the highest possible quality. With «Far Cry 5», the CPU isn't as heavily taxed as the GPU. «Assassin's Creed Odyssey» and especially «Civilization VI: Gathering Storm» are more processor-intensive and accordingly stress the hardware more.
Here are the results:
|Game and resolution||Ø FPS||Min. FPS||Max. FPS|
|Far Cry 5, 1080p||117 FPS||94 FPS||139 FPS|
|Far Cry 5, 1440p||89 FPS||76 FPS||102 FPS|
|Far Cry 5, 2160p||48 FPS||43 FPS||56 FPS|
|Assassin's Creed Odyssey, 1080p||66 FPS||32 FPS||122 FPS|
|Assassin's Creed Odyssey, 1440p||52 FPS||32 FPS||113 FPS|
|Assassin's Creed Odyssey, 2160p||36 FPS||24 FPS||94 FPS|
|Civilization VI: Gathering Storm, 1080p||95 FPS||70 FPS||130 FPS|
|Civilization VI: Gathering Storm, 1440p||86 FPS||64 FPS||103 FPS|
|Civilization VI: Gathering Storm, 2160p||62 FPS||49 FPS||69 FPS|
Conclusion: I'd love to be a millionaire
Asus ROG inspired me with its high-end graphics card, strong processor and a whole lot of innovation. In the Zephyrus Duo 15, the manufacturer brings its second display to new heights. A novelty for gaming notebooks. One thing to keep in mind: the Zephyrus I tested, the one with a pre-calibrated UHD display, is better suited for professional creatives who like to play with potent hardware.
The second touch-capable display is very useful when working. It clearly accelerates your workflow, but not necessarily during gaming. But that could change. After all, Asus ROG already convinced Techland. The games company will release the first AAA title with additional content for the second display next year in Dying Light 2.
Whether the design and potent hardware are really worth the eye-watering price is questionable. Before testing, I took some time to consider the pricing. But now I have to admit that I'm pretty hooked. If I didn't have to worry about money, I'd get this thing in a heartbeat. The version with 300 Hz display, that is.