ASUS ROG Zephyrus G14 Review: First Impressions

The Zephyrus G14 launched late last month and I was immediately impressed by all of the positive reviews, largely because of the G14’s powerful Ryzen 9 4900HS APU, which was able to go toe to toe with much larger Core i9-based laptops. On April 3rd, I placed a preorder at Best Buy and 12 days later my G14 arrived, all for the (comparitively) low price of $1450 (not including taxes). This was enough to get me the 4900HS, a 2060 Max Q, a 1 TB Intel 660p SSD, 16 GB of RAM at 3200 MHz, and a 120 Hz, 1080p display. I’ve been using it for a few days now and here are my first impressions, listed in no particular order. I’ll be working on a long-term use review in the coming weeks, as well as a performance oriented review between then and now.

The 4900HS Delivers Incredible Performance and Efficiency

Let me start with the star of the show, the Ryzen 9 4900HS, AMD’s 8 core APU based on the Renoir architecture. Everything you have heard about it is true: it is amazing. My desktop PC, with an R5 3600 overclocked to 4.3 GHz, could not beat the G14 with the 4900HS in Cinebench R20. With a multi core score of 4062, the 4900HS easily beat my 3600’s score of 3703. The 4900HS does have 2 more cores than the 3600, but it’s important to consider the massive power difference: in sustained workloads, the 4900HS is eventually limited to just 35 watts, whereas my 3600 pushes about triple that at 90 watts. That is some serious optimization. The 3600 and 4900HS tied in the single threaded test with scores of 486 and 485 respectively.

For the purposes of customizing performance, ASUS includes its own software that comes with three pre-configured profiles: silent, performance, and turbo. The Cinebench R20 score was made on the performance profile, but I have decided to use the silent profile most of the time. This does come with a pretty severe performance penalty, but this allows for much higher power efficiency and lower power consumption, extending battery life.

Additionally, this APU is also quite power efficient; I often have around 10 hours of battery life while doing what I would normally do on my desktop (aside from gaming, which I haven’t done much of on the G14). I’m pretty sure this is a lot better than my old laptop, a 2018 HP Spectre x360, but I’ll have to test it properly. Efficiency is important, as my Kaby Lake G equipped Spectre has an 84 watt hour battery, compared to the 76 watt hour battery found in the G14.

Finally, the integrated graphics are pretty cool too for when I want to game but don’t really need the oomph of the RTX 2060 Max Q. The integrated graphics are fine for titles such as Terraria, Europa Universalis IV, and Torchlight II. The 4900HS basically combines the best aspects of the 4800U (fast graphics) with the best aspects of the 4900H (fast CPU cores) within a small power limit. It’s just really nice.

The RTX 2060 Max Q Is Alright I Guess

There’s not a ton to be said about the 2060 in this laptop, it’s essentially just a 2060 with a power limit. It’s kind of unfortunate to be buying a laptop with a GPU that’s about to be last gen but I’m not upset about it. The 2060 is still good and it’s better than AMD’s mobile offerings. When it idles, it does so very well, allowing me to get that 10 hours of battery life when I’m watching videos, chatting in Discord, browsing the web, and doing other light tasks.

I do have some concerns about the idling function, however, which is vital for good battery life. I have discovered two bugs that break idling on the 2060: installing a different AMD driver than that found on ASUS’s website and using any hardware monitoring software like MSI Afterburner (which I believe is also the underlying issue with getting new AMD drivers). The former can only be solved by totally removing the AMD drivers, using DDU, and then reinstalling the chipset drivers on ASUS’s website and the latter can only be solved by restarting the laptop and not opening MSI Afterburner. I’m especially bummed out about the AMD driver issue because it means my Vega 8 iGPU will not be able to get new updates such as game optimizations and the new control panel. Also, it seems that the chipset drivers ASUS provides doesn’t include even the old Radeon control panel (which was originally present on the laptop) so I now don’t even have any Radeon control panel. FreeSync still seems to work though, which is a relief. Hopefully ASUS figures out a way to make the GPU idle without these drawbacks.

The Intel 660p Is Pretty Bad

It’s funny, this laptop has parts from the three major PC hardware companies and Intel is really the only one that did poorly. The 660p is a great value but it is not a great SSD. Preparing some Steam games like the Witcher 3 for installation took minutes long. It’s just not very fast. I would buy a 970 EVO Plus to replace it, but the laptop only has one M.2 slot so I would be unable to harness the size of the 1 TB 660p. It’s a shame really.

The G14 Has Good Build Quality But Feels Like A Premium Toy

So, the G14 is really premium feeling and sturdy. But it’s also very light and small, so it almost feels like a toy. Not that this is a bad thing necessarily, but that is the feeling I get when using it. Since the HP Spectre feels so professional and businesslike, switching to the G14 definitely accentuated its lack of professional and business design. But, it’s definitely premium feeling and looking, thanks to its colors, thin display bezels, and moderately thin chassis. That being said, it looks pretty slick and it probably won’t stand out too much.

It did really surprise me how light this thing is given the massive heatsink on the inside. I believe it’s even lighter than my HP Spectre (though to be fair it is smaller). Yet it is also very rigid from top to bottom, with the keyboard area showing no sign of flexing and the screen hardly bending at all. The rubber stoppers on the bottom of the laptop also seem to be excellent, which stands out to me because the rubber stoppers on my HP Spectre actually slipped off due to heat and because you have to remove one of them to access 4 screws that lock you out of the inside. ASUS seems to have committed no serious sins on the G14 in respect to reliability.

The 120 Hz Display Looks Nice But It Has Terrible Ghosting

Aside from the poor SSD, the G14 also suffers from a poor display. It is 120 Hz and is factory calibrated, but this panel has horrible ghosting. I can visibly see trails when moving around a Chrome window at a speed that isn’t exactly fast. But, on the other hand, I really haven’t noticed the ghosting effect since I’ve started using the G14 more regularly. I never even noticed it while playing GTA V for about half an hour, so that’s good.

The Keyboard and Trackpad Are Shockingly Good For a Gaming Laptop

One of the things I was very sad to have to give up on my HP Spectre was the keyboard and trackpad. HP made both of these components very well (minus the fact that the trackpad used Synaptics drivers), especially the keyboard, which I would describe as needing a little force to press all the way down that resulted in a springy sort of feeling and made a slightly clicky sound at the end of the keystroke which provided some nice feedback.

But surprisingly, the G14 keyboard is actually very similar. It’s an excellent typing experience and I’ve written most of this review on the G14, but the amount of space between all the keys really bothers me. When I need to hit keys farther to the right, I find myself pressing the wrong key more frequently (like accidentally pressing comma instead of period or K instead of L). That said, this is something I’ll get used to in time.

Additionally, the trackpad is great. Though it’s not particularly large, it has a smooth surface, accurate buttons, and uses Windows Precision drivers which are great for recognizing gestures such as the one used for scrolling. I can notice a significant improvement compared to my HP Spectre, especially on scrolling. This isn’t a trackpad in the same tier as the Macbook or something, but I was surprised at how good it was. I don’t feel like I made a compromise here.

Everything Else I Like and Don’t Like

I don’t have any particularly strong opinions about anything else the G14 has (or doesn’t), but I’ll go through a quick list of smaller things I noticed.

  • No webcam, which means no Windows Hello facial recognition… and no webcam. Now was a very bad time to choose not to put a webcam on a flagship laptop.
  • The fingerprint scanner is really quick and can actually cache your fingerprint when you boot up the system, throwing you right onto the desktop once it finishes booting.
  • Limited expansion of RAM and storage.
  • Getting into the laptop is easy, but one of the screws has a tiny spring on it for some reason (maybe something to do with mitigating high heat?) and now I can’t screw it back in.
  • The silent profile should really just turn the fans totally off unless I’m actually doing something intensive on it. You can manually turn the fans off, but this feature only exists when plugged into the wall.
  • Things do get quite hot and loud while gaming, but the WASD keys stay cool and the fans aren’t whiny so a good pair of headphones drown out any noise.
  • I/O is great, with a full-sized HDMI port, a USB type C port on each side, 2 USB type A ports on the right side, and a headphone jack.
  • The snipping tool hotkey on F6 only works if the Windows key is unlocked.
  • For some reason, some applications read the 4900HS as a 4900HSS which to my knowledge does not exist.
  • Intel’s wifi card is pretty great.

My Overall Impression

I really like the G14. I never thought I would be able to get a laptop with so few compromises. It has great battery life but also high performance. It’s light and small, yet packs such a powerful APU and GPU. It’s a gaming laptop with a great keyboard and trackpad. It costs just $1450. The only places where ASUS could have done better is the screen and the SSD, but everything else is almost perfect.

I’ll be using this laptop daily to try and figure whether or not it’s a good daily driver; expect me to publish my findings in a few weeks. Over the next week, I’ll also be working on some benchmarks that focus on performance between the different power profiles, both on battery and on wall power. Stay tuned for the ultimate conclusion.

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