Asus ROG Zephyrus Duo 15 review: Dual-screen gaming in your lap

asus rog zephyrus duo 15 review 05

Asus ROG Zephyrus Duo 15 review: Dual-screen gaming in your lap

“The Asus ROG Zephyrus Duo 15 does dual-screen PC gaming unlike any other laptop.”
  • Great performance
  • Intuitive secondary screen
  • Gorgeous 4K screen
  • Relatively thin and light
  • Insanely expensive
  • Poor battery life
MSRP $3,700.00

You’ve never seen a gaming laptop like the Asus ROG Zephyrus Duo 15.

Sure, there are other dual-screen laptops out there, such as the HP Omen X 2S or Asus ZenBook Pro Duo. But the Zephyrus Duo 15 outguns them all with its tilt-up secondary screen, built right into the chassis.

Its $3,700 starting price will scare off anyone not committed to the idea of having a built-in second screen on your gaming laptop. But for those willing to take the dive, the ROG Zephyrus Duo 15 might be the most interesting gaming laptop ever made.

ScreenPad Plus

The secondary screen on this laptop, which Asus calls the ScreenPad Plus, sits below the primary screen and automatically tilts up when the lid is opened. The screen’s frame looks a bit flimsy, but I was impressed to feel just how rigid it was. There’s a magnesium alloy backplate behind it for support. It’s all built into a hinge that allows for a seamless and sturdy opening action.

The idea of a tilting secondary screen might seem excessive — and maybe it is. But the tilt of the ScreenPad Plus does have a purpose. The secondary screens of other laptops are all flat on the keyboard deck, which isn’t a great viewing angle. That’s especially noticeable when you have lights overhead.

The Zephyrus Duo 15 solves the problem by propping up the screen at a more natural viewing angle. No more leaning over or off-angle viewing. The angle Asus achieved isn’t perfect, but it’s far improved over a flat surface. This angle can’t be adjusted, though, which is a shame.

While gaming, you could easily slide down a guide or build order, reducing the need to alt-tab out of a game.

This increased usability might sound slight, but it inspired me to want to use the second screen more and more. Asus offers a number of proprietary applications and features for the ScreenPad Plus. There’s a handwriting app, a calculator, and, of course, the Armoury Crate settings app. Armoury Crate is useful for monitoring your system, changing performance modes, and changing lighting settings.

But the ScreenPad Plus’ most useful function is as a second screen. If you work from home and don’t have access to an external monitor, the ScreenPad Plus takes the place of that in an ingenious way. Dropping down Spotify or YouTube while using the primary screen for writing or photo editing is great. While gaming, you could easily slide down a guide or build order, reducing the need to alt-tab out of a game.

Windows 10 already has great side-by-side snapping features, and they shine on the ScreenPad Plus. At eight inches diagonal, the ScreenPad Plus feels large enough to easily handle those types of tasks. The touchscreen functionality helps, requiring only a quick swipe to where your hands rest on the keyboard. The options feel endless.

That doesn’t mean the ScreenPad Plus is a perfect implementation. It’s still a little strange to see your cursor shrink down, and there’s a slight green tint on the second screen. I also wish the gap between the screens was a bit smaller to create a more unified field of view.

From a software perspective, there are still some missed opportunities. Windows just isn’t set up well to support a second touch screen. If you’re playing a game, touching the ScreenPad Plus will freeze your controls or interrupt the gameplay. It’s a limitation of Windows, but it stands in the way of this design’s full potential.

Performance

The angle of the ScreenPad Plus has a second advantage. According to Asus, there’s a performance gain as well. Other Zephyrus laptops have a vent that lifts from the bottom, propping up the laptop at an angle. The angle of the ScreenPad Plus offers the same advantages to cooling. The fans are exposed underneath the gap in the screen, boosting airflow and thermals throughout the system while keeping the bottom of the laptop flat.

This is important, as there are some very hot components to keep cool. The Zephyrus Duo 15 comes in two configurations — and both are extremely high-end. The model I reviewed is the 4K configuration, made for content creation. The other is a gaming-oriented machine with a 1080p 300Hz screen. Both cost $3,700 and offer only top-of-the-line specs. You get an Intel Core i9-10980HK processor, an Nvidia RTX 2080 Super Max-Q, 32GB of RAM, and 2TB of solid-state storage.

The processor gives you 8 cores and 16 threads to work with, which leads to powerful processor performance. This is from Intel’s latest 10th-gen lineup, as well, which includes slightly faster boost clock speeds over the previous generation. The Zephyrus Duo 15 impresses in Cinebench R20 and Geekbench 5, posting record-breaking scores for a laptop. Last year’s Asus ZenBook Duo Pro was another powerful Core i9 laptop with a second screen. The Zephyrus Duo 15 handily beats it in both single-core and multi-core performance. It also wins in single-core performance against the Zephyrus G14, an AMD Ryzen 4000-powered laptop with the same amount of cores and threads.

It has a trustworthy screen to do professional color-grading and editing on.

I encoded a 4K video clip in Handbrake in H.265 to test the processor. It wasn’t as consistent as I’d hoped. The first couple of runs were incredibly fast, taking just one minute and 38 seconds. From there, the runs slowed down by 33%, and stayed there for the next few attempts. That’s solid speed for this processor, though some less expensive laptops, like the Dell G5 SE, can keep up.

However, the Zephyrus Duo 15 has a powerful CPU and GPU. To see how the system balances a heavy workload together, I rendered a two-minute 4K clip in Premiere in ProRes 422. I was particularly interested to see these results because of Nvidia’s Dynamic Boost, a new feature supported on the Zephyrus Duo 15. Because it’s managed by a singular thermal system, power can be shared between the GPU and CPU. In other words, if an application or game can use more of the GPU, it can be powered all the way over even 100 watts.

The Zephyrus Duo 15 finished the task in 7 minutes and 44 seconds. That’s marginally faster than the Dell G5 SE, and offers a big lead over the 9th-gen Razer Blade I tested in 2019. However, it can’t beat other Core i9 options like the Dell XPS 15 or Asus ZenBook Pro Duo. The ZenBook Pro Duo’s thicker chassis seems to do more for its video-rendering capabilities than Nvidia’s Dynamic Boost can for the Zephyrus Duo, which is disappointing.

As my machine was the 4K content creation model, these tests are vital. The 4K screen is beautiful on its own — a color-calibrated panel with precise colors, 96% AdobeRGB, and a 1,040:1 contrast ratio. It maxes out at 381 nits of brightness, though the matte finish of the display means reflections are kept to a minimum. All that makes for a trustworthy screen to do professional color-grading and editing on.

Gaming performance

The Asus ROG Zephyrus Duo 15 delivers fantastic gaming performance. If buttery smooth frame rates are your top priority, the 1080p 300Hz model is clearly the model you want. But thanks to the Nvidia RTX 2080 Super Max-Q and G-Sync panel, even the 4K option I reviewed is a functional gaming laptop.

Because the 4K panel is locked at a 60Hz refresh rate, much of the benefit of 1080p is wasted, making 4K resolution a solid option in some games. Civilization VI is a good example. The Zephyrus Duo 15 averaged 70 FPS (frames per second) at 4K with settings at Ultra. The same was true in Battlefield V, where it averaged 56 FPS at Medium in 4K. Sure, the 90+ FPS you get at 1080p is better, but unless you’re plugged into an external gaming monitor, those extra 40 FPS won’t help.

G-Sync was a big help to gaming, making up for the lower refresh rate of the 4K display.

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey was the exception. The Zephyrus Duo 15 handled this tough game at 1080p Ultra High quite well, averaging 59 FPS. However, it was choppy at 4K.

Other gaming laptops that use the RTX 2080 Super Max-Q slightly out-pace it, such as the Acer Predator Triton 500. However, while the Zephyrus Duo 15 is not the fastest gaming laptop I’ve tested, but I was please by how it balanced heat, chassis size, and performance.

G-Sync was a big help throughout, making up for the lower refresh rate of the display. Just remember, the laptop doesn’t come with G-Sync enabled out of the box. You’ll need to head into Armoury Crate and restart the system to toggle it on.

Design

The Asus ROG Zephyrus Duo 15 is a big laptop. Despite having only a 15-inch screen, Asus needed plenty of space to squeeze in the ScreenPad Plus without scrunching the keyboard. The result is a massive bottom bezel below the primary screen. It’s absolutely huge, and it props up the screen higher than a standard 15-inch laptop.

Elsewhere, the Zephyrus Duo 15 does its best to stay trim. It’s only 0.78 inches thick and weighs just 5.3 pounds. The entire system uses magnesium alloy to keep things light. Asus is right that using aluminum would have made for a heavy laptop, though the magnesium alloy leaves the slightest amount of bend in the lid.

This isn’t the right laptop to bring to a coffee shop.

This isn’t my favorite keyboard in the world. Because of that second screen, the keyboard and touchpad are pushed down to the bottom of the keyboard deck. This isn’t the first time Asus has tried this design. Even the Zephyrus S used this design. There are downsides, such as the lack of wrist rests. That makes using the Zephyrus Duo 15 on your lap pretty uncomfortable. It can even get tiring on a flat surface, and requires a lot of extra space on a table. This isn’t the right laptop to bring to a coffee shop, but few gaming laptops fit that bill. Asus does include a wrist rest in the box, though, which is a nice addition.

Key travel feels a bit shallow at 1.4mm, though that’s comparable to laptops like the Dell XPS 15 or Razer Blade. Typing quickly takes getting used to coming from the Dell XPS 15, though after a few hours, I was typing fast. The keyboard comes with per-key RGB lighting, which can be fully customized in the Armoury Crate settings.

The Zephyrus Duo 15 uses the same key layout as other Asus gaming laptops, such as the Zephyrus S. There are some oddities, like the Print Screen key located between the Alt and Ctrl keys. In the function row (and above the touchpad), you get quick access to helpful shortcuts like disabling the ScreenPad Plus, or turning it off completely.

The skinny touchpad is located to the right of the keyboard, which will always be an afterthought in these types of designs. The tracking feels responsive, though the size isn’t ideal, especially if you happen to be left-handed.

Asus continues to not include a built-in webcam for its gaming laptops. That makes the Zephyrus Duo 15 unfit for the work-from-home life many of us live right now. That’s too bad for a laptop that could function as a work machine as well as a gaming laptop. The laptop also lacks Windows Hello login support, either in the form of a fingerprint reader or an IR camera. Other high-end gaming laptops like the Razer Blade have included this in recent years.

Port selection is fantastic, offering a solid mix of gaming must-haves and future-proofing. On the sides of the chassis, you have two USB-A ports, a USB-C Thunderbolt 3 port, a headphone jack, a mic input, and your barrel-style power plug. The Thunderbolt 3 port means you don’t have to lug around the heft power adapter all the time to keep the laptop charged during casual use. For full performance, of course, you’ll want to use the barrel plug.

On the back, Asus adds HDMI 2.0, an Ethernet jack, and an additional USB-A port. The location of these rear ports are handy, and make for a cleaner desk setup when fully docked.

Battery life

Battery life isn’t a highlight on the Asus ROG Zephyrus Duo 15. I assumed that, based on the 4K screen alone. Throw in a second screen and a hefty GPU — and you can’t expect much.

The Zephyrus Duo 15 is a G-Sync laptop, which locks GPU usage on the Nvidia card and usually results in awful battery life. Asus includes the ability to switch to Nvidia Optimus mode, which lets the system toggle between graphics automatically. That didn’t seem to help — at least, not enough.

Without the secondary screen on, the laptop only lasted around two hours. With the screen on, that was reduced to just an hour. Yikes. Asus says it’s been having some issues with the Nvidia GPU turning on when it shouldn’t. During local video playback or browsing in Google Chrome, the system would occasionally tax the graphics card.

That would explain the poor battery life, but it’s not a great excuse. Whether Dynamic Boost or Optimus is the culprit, I expected at least a couple more hours out of the Zephyrus Duo 15. Despite having a large 90-watt hour battery, you’ll want to keep this one plugged in most of the time.

Our take

The Asus ROG Zephyrus Duo 15 is sparked by a great idea. I love to see experimental designs like this one make it out of the prototyping stage. The second screen is great, but the Zephyrus Duo 15 is more than just a one-trick pony — it delivers in both performance and in usability of its second screen. $3,700 is a hefty price to pay, though. That’s $400 more expensive than a comparable Razer Blade, which was already one of the most expensive gaming laptops you could buy.

This isn’t the final form of Asus’ vision for second-screen computing, but it’s the best to come along yet.

Are there any alternatives?

If you’re only interested in the second screen, Asus offers the ZenBook Duo. It’s not a gaming laptop, but it offers a similar second screen — except without the lifted angle.

Outside of that, no other laptop can replicate the second-screen features of the Zephyrus Duo 15. There are plenty of gaming laptops that can provide great performance for a much cheaper price.

How long will it last?

The Zephyrus Duo 15 is sturdy and well-built. The gap created beneath the ScreenPad Plus is a worry. It’s not hard to imagine things getting stuck inside, whether that’s small objects or just dust.

Should you buy it?

Yes. Not everyone is willing to foot the bill for the bonus of a second screen, but it’s undoubtedly one of the most interesting gaming laptops ever made.

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