A Ryzen Gaming Notebook Worth Buying? RoG Zephyrus GA502
This is the ASUS ROG GA502DU. That’s a long name, but I’m going to refer to this as the GA502 for the rest of the review. Now what’s really interesting about this particular laptop is that it features AMD’s Ryzen 7 mobile processor and a NVIDIA GTX 1660 Ti Max-Q graphics card. That’s right, an AMD CPU with a NVIDIA GPU on a notebook in 2019, what a great time to be alive.
This notebook starts at $1,100 but the model that I have cost $1,200 and the difference in specs is that I’m getting a higher refresh rate display and more memory, 16GB versus 8GB. And I’ll get to the rest of the specs a little bit later in the review.
Now I do want to make something very clear. This is our first AMD notebook review, and one of the reasons for that is simply because finding an AMD notebook that was being sold wasn’t that easy. A lot of them were announced but trying to get hold of one was pretty difficult. Back at CES, ASUS announced a Tough series notebook featuring a RYZEN processor and RX560 graphics, but that notebook felt downright cheap. If you’re interested in a first look, you can watch our video here. You see there’s a stigma about AMD processors running too hot and consuming too much battery life on a notebook. And I think that’s about to change with the 502D. Let’s find out what the deal is about this notebook.
All right, so let’s dive into the specs and as you can see, the only difference between the base model and the model that I have is that you’re getting more memory and a faster display. Now in terms of CPU, you’re getting a Ryzen 7 3750H, it is a quad core, eight thread processor that comes to the base of clock of 2.3 Gigahertz, but it boosts up to 4GHz according to AMD. It also has Vega 10 graphics integrated, which switches between the 1660 TI and itself depending on the workload, which is pretty nice. There are 16 gigs of RAM with dual channel mode running at 2,666 megahertz, a 512GB NVMe SSD that has some solid rewrite performance and the star the show, of course, the GTX 1660 TI Max-Q graphics card.
Okay, so let’s kick things off with the design, and honestly, I have mixed feelings about this one. I mean there are some aggressive elements throughout the body, like the two-tone brushed metal finish and the top that is a serious fingerprint magnet. You’ve also got the ROG that lights up in a dim red color that’s barely noticeable in well lit environments, and it’s a pointless implementation in the first place.
Taking a look on the inside, it looks okay. I’ve seen better designed gaming notebooks in the past. I will admit the sandstone finish on the interior of the 502D is actually very comfortable to place your palms on. Honestly, I would have preferred the front portion of the display or the front portion of the laptop to feature the exact same finish, but it is ASUS, so that’s what we’re dealing with. Also, don’t confuse yourself thinking that there are front facing speakers on this laptop because it doesn’t, in fact, that’s just an air vent.
The real speakers, however, are actually placed at the bottom and it isn’t ideal for the best audio projection. They sound okay, I’m going to say that they’re more emphasized on the bass. It completely just obliterates the trebles, so it’s not really ideal for listening to music, but for a notebook, especially at this price point, it’s passable.
Oh, and this laptop does not have a webcam, which seems normal. Right? I mean they had to cut some corners and that’s exactly where they did. They just took out one of the main features that a lot of people value. Now personally speaking for myself, I don’t use webcams on a notebook and a desktop. I don’t even have one on my desktop PC because if I want to get on a video conference call, I would just use my smart phone because it has a front facing camera, which is definitely a convenience factor.
Now in terms of build quality, I’m really happy that ASUS hasn’t cut any corners with the 502D because the chassis feels robust. It’s not an all aluminum unibody design, but the hard plastic materials used here are pretty solid. The keyboard layout is compact, and the keys are sized perfectly except for the arrows. They’re just way too tiny and I had a difficult time getting through Excel files and some other tasks. I really wish if they were the same size as the rest of the keys to keep up continuity. The keys themselves feature a shorter travel distance and they do feel shallow. I’m not going to say it’s the best out there, but it’s very similar to my Razer Blade 15. it is backlit in white but not RGB, so keep that in mind.
The trackpad is not the best. At first when I started using this laptop, I had a difficult time gliding my finger over the surface because of its high resistance, but over time with the help of my finger grease, it’s slowly started to become smooth. It’s gross. I know, but it is a fact. Now. I also noticed that it wasn’t as responsive because the cursor would skip here and there at times, but on the positive side it does feature Windows position drivers, but I think I’m just spoiled by the glass surface on my Blade 15.
Port selection is pretty good on the 502D, so on the left hand side you have your power in, RJ45 jack, HDMI 2.0, USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-A, and a Type-C port that also acts as a DisplayPort 1.4 port and a headphone or mic jack. Switching to the right you get a Kensington lock, two more USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A ports, and unfortunately no SD card reader.
The display is good but not great. You see it’s a 15.6” 1080p, 120HZ IPS-like panel. Notice that I mentioned like because it isn’t true IPS; It lacks contrast and a bit of saturation. The best way that I can describe this panel is if an IPS and a TN panel had a baby. That’s basically it. It has good viewing angles, but if you’re thinking of doing color work, this isn’t for you. That being said, it is an amazing screen for gaming with the 120Hz refresh rate coming in clutch for fast based titles and I have nothing to complain here.
In terms of upgradeability, you have instant access to the memory, storage and Wi-Fi card.
The main SSD has thermal pads on top. It’s a great design by ASUS for heat dissipation. There’s an extra M.2 slot but it’s PCI-e Gen 3 by 2 instead of by 4 so keep that in mind. Now with regards to RAM, you only have access to a single DIMM slot since the other 8GB module is soldered onto the main board.
Now one of the biggest highlights of this laptop is the battery life because it has a 76 W hour unit and I was easily able to get over nine hours of use by just refreshing a webpage every 15 seconds in Chrome and that is just insane. I did notice that the clock speeds on the Ryzen CPU was hovering from 1.4 to 1.8 GHz during those tasks. Optimization is actually really well done on the G502.
Moving on to performance and as I mentioned earlier, the Ryzen 7 3750H is a decent performer because it has four cores and 8 threads. Now do keep in mind that this CPU is not based off the 7 nanometer Zen 2 architecture because it’s still Zen plus. It also has some ups and downs depending on the type of work you do.
Let’s start off with some synthetic tests. In Cinebench R15, the 3760H scored 774 in the multi-core test. To give you a little bit of context, the Blade 15 base model featuring the Core i7-8750H which is a six core, 12 thread processor, spit out 983 and what’s really interesting is that both of these processors have the same amount of TDP. Now to throw something really interesting into this mix, I decided to throw in the i7-8565U Whiskey Lake processor. This is a 15W TDP chip and it was able to dish out 692 in Cinebench 15. The point that I’m trying to make is AMD is still a generation behind when it comes to designing a high performance, power efficient mobile processor because in that area Intel still takes the edge.
Moving onto Blender and running the BMW benchmark, the 3750H completed that task in less than 10 minutes compared to seven minutes and 33 seconds on the 8750H. Again, this is all thanks to the two extra cores on the Intel CPU. Premier Pro does not favor the 3750H because I took this 12 minute 4K project and I exported it to the YouTube 4K preset, and there is a significant difference between the Intel CPU and Ryzen. That’s thanks to Intel quick sync on Intel, but I wouldn’t try editing a video on this notebook in the first place because I noticed dropped frames consistently in the timeline. Like I said, for content creators, this notebook is not ideal.
I do want to quickly touch base on clock speeds for the 3750H. According to AMD, the CPU is supposed to hit 4 GHz on boost, but I never saw it hit that frequency. The max I saw was 3.8 or 3.9 GHz, but that was in very rare instances and this was under a full 100% load rendering this 4k project.
Switching over to gaming and the 1660 Ti Max-Q is a terrific performer. You can comfortably play most replay titles, well over 60 frames per second on high settings including Battlefield 1, Overwatch, and Apex Legends. Far Cry 5 and Shadow of the Tomb Raider were a bit demanding, so I had to tone down the settings to get over 60 FPS. Now, if I were to compare this to the Blade 15 base model from last year featuring the 8750H and a 1060 Max-Q, they’re relatively close but keep in mind that the higher CPU frequencies favored the 1060 Max-Q in Battlefield 1, where as for the rest of the tests they were lagging behind.
Now I’m only showing two tests for the Blade 15 base model in gaming since I’m updating my notebook testing, and back when I tested the Blade, I didn’t have those games in the benchmarks. Taking a look at temperatures, they’re pretty good, but there’s a major downside. You see, under heavy load scenarios, the CPU did settle around 89 C and the GPU peaked at 80 C but it’s the cooling solution that they’ve implemented on the 502D – the fans are just way too aggressive. This thing is a jet fan when you’re gaming or even trying to do something creative. Now on the positive side, under idle scenarios, it’s completely dead silent, so that’s nice.
To conclude, the GA502 from ASUS has certainly earned my respect for what it is. You see, the Ryzen 7 3750H is a solid performer for casual tasks as well as gaming and the numbers really do speak for themselves. Plus the battery life is just insane. I mean, over nine hours of use on a light load test from an AMD notebook. Guys, just think about that.
Now my biggest problem is that AMD isn’t quite set to compete with Intel yet, especially on the notebook space because they are still a generation behind, so we’re just going to wait and see what they have to offer in the next few years because right now they are slowly capturing the desktop market and we would love to see the same thing on the notebook space, it’s just a matter of time.
But the notebook by itself also has some major downsides. It does not have a webcam. The display is not the best, especially if you plan on doing content creation. Most importantly, the fans are just way too loud under gaming scenarios. Now at $1,200 a lot of you might think that the Zephyrus G is a great value, but personally speaking, if you look at something like the Acer Helios 300, that notebook gets you a faster and faster 9th Gen Intel CPU, a better displaying and more flexible specs. So it’s just difficult for me to recommend this over the competition in its current state and that’s my verdict on the ROG GA502.
Buy items in this review from Amazon at the links below:
Zephyrus GA502: https://geni.us/GA502DU
Acer Helios 300: https://geni.us/HELIOS300
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