Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 (2021) review: cut by the Blade

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Asus has refreshed its blockbuster, category-defining Zephyrus G14, a gaming laptop that was so successful last year that it was basically impossible to buy in the months following its release.

As was probably wise, the company has made very few changes to last year’s product. The 2021 Zephyrus G14 has last year’s chassis with new chips (AMD’s Ryzen 5000 mobile processors and Nvidia’s RTX 3000 mobile GPUs). There are also new display options: last year’s model had a 1080p 120Hz panel or a 1440p 60Hz panel, while this year’s offers the choice of a QHD 120Hz screen or a 1080p 144Hz screen, in addition to a 1080p 60Hz option.

Those updates put the G14 a bit closer to the premium category than it was last year, and the price reflects that — the entry-level RTX configuration, which was $1,499 last year, has been bumped up to $1,549. That’s still decent value, but it’s no longer the rarity that it was in last year’s market. The competition has gotten more powerful, and it’s not too much more expensive.

All 2021 Zephyrus G14 models have AMD’s Ryzen 5000 series processors. The top option is the eight-core Ryzen 9 5900HS. This is more efficient than other chips in the Ryzen 9 series (such as the 5900HX, which powers the Razer Blade 14), but it still packs some serious power. My test unit paired this chip with an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060, as well as 32GB of RAM, 1TB of storage, and the QHD 120Hz display. QHD gaming laptops are a trend that’s exploded this year, in part because Ryzen 5000 and RTX 3000 chips have finally made QHD gaming a reasonable possibility.

This configuration is listed for $1,999.99 on Asus’ website (though it’s sold out there as of this writing), and it’s pretty much the top model you can buy. The other $1,999.99 model is one that Asus developed with DJ Alan Walker, which comes with fancy packaging that can function as a DJ deck. It’s a bit specced down, though, including just an RTX 3050 Ti and 16GB of RAM. (We reviewed that device separately — it’s cool, but mostly cool for Alan Walker fans.) Both of these models also include the AniMe Matrix, a fancy grid of LEDs on the G14’s lid that can form cool animated designs if you’re so inclined.

Those are the only two configurations currently listed on Asus’ website. I’ve also been able to find a $1,549.99 model at Best Buy that includes the RTX 3060, 16GB of RAM, and the 144Hz 1080p display (which is likely better value than my test unit), as well as a $1,149.99 model with a 60Hz display, a Ryzen 7 5800HS, and a GeForce GTX 1650. Excalibur PC also has an RTX 3060 / QHD / 16GB / 1TB model for $1,799.99. None of these include the AniMe Matrix.

The biggest thing to take away from all this is that the G14 has a ceiling — the RTX 3060 and the Ryzen 9 5900HS are the best you can get. Last year, that combination would’ve made it the most powerful 14-inch gaming laptop in the world. But there’s a reason that’s not the case anymore, and it’s called the Razer Blade 14.

The Zephyrus averaged 191fps on CS:GO at native resolution and 263fps in 1080p. Dust particles, fires, clouds, and other intense effects were no problem. It averaged 33fps on Red Dead Redemption 2 with all sliders maxed at 1440p, 40fps on the Ultra preset, and 51fps on the Ultra preset in 1080p. (DLSS wasn’t super effective in this game, oddly — I only saw 42fps on the Ultra preset at 1440p with the feature set to “quality.”)

Where the RTX 3060 really struggled was ray tracing in Shadow of the Tomb Raider. The G14 averaged 28fps on the highest preset with the feature set to Ultra (DLSS was helpful here, bumping that average up to 42fps). It did much better with ray tracing off, averaging 57fps at native resolution and 83fps in 1080p.

Right off the bat, these results are a sizable step up from last year’s G14; this model’s beating it on all three titles in 1080p. However, it still can’t quite run all of these games at playable frame rates in QHD unless you bump some settings down (though it can certainly take full advantage of its 120Hz display with esports fodder like CS:GO).

The more demanding titles are where the performance gap between the RTX 3060 and the RTX 3070 really becomes apparent. The Zephyrus G15 with the same processor and a 3070 crushed the G14 on both Red Dead (averaging 58fps) and Tomb Raider (61fps with ray tracing on, 81fps with ray tracing off) in 1440p. That model is actually $150 cheaper than my G14 unit — it doesn’t include the AniMe Matrix and only has 16GB of RAM. The G15 also comes with an RTX 3060 (with 16GB of RAM and 512GB of storage), for an even cheaper $1,499.99.

The Razer Blade 14 I tested had an RTX 3070 as well as a Ryzen 9 5900HX, in a chassis that’s actually a little bit smaller than the G14’s. It also gave the Zephyrus a run for its money on both Red Dead and Tomb Raider (averaging 58fps and 51fps in QHD, respectively). An RTX 3070 Blade 14 is more expensive than this G14 model ($2,199.99 as of this writing) and only has 16GB of RAM, but still offers a lot for that price — you get not only the extra power, but also a 165Hz QHD screen, an RGB keyboard, and a webcam. The G14 doesn’t even have a great cost argument against the Blade 14 if you want to stick with the RTX 3060, because you can also buy the latter with an RTX 3060 and a 144Hz display for $1,799.99 ($200 less than my test model).

One final thing to note on gaming — this thing gets hot. While I didn’t see evidence of throttling necessarily, the 5900HS was consistently in the high 80s (Celsius) or low 90s during gameplay. (On the bigger G15, for context, the same chip ran through all the same titles without jumping above 80.)

The G14’s case also got very, very hot during gameplay. The keyboard was uncomfortable to touch, and the bottom was blistering. If I held my hand right above the keys, I could feel the heat. This wasn’t too far from the experience I had with last year’s G14, but the Blade 14 did a better job with even more powerful components. While it had some trouble keeping its chip cool, the heat didn’t transfer to the outside of its chassis in my testing.

The fans were also loud during gameplay, though you can switch to a “Silent” profile in Asus’ Armoury Crate software. I used this while doing regular office work with the G14, and it did live up to its name while keeping the keyboard cool (though the bottom of the chassis was still toasty most of the time).

So what does the 2021 G14 have going for it? Pretty much everything else. The display is crisp and vivid, maxing out at 300 nits and covering 100 percent of the sRGB gamut, 87 percent of AdobeRGB, and 99 percent of P3. The speakers — including two downward-firing woofers and two tweeters, deliver clear audio with resonant bass and forceful percussion. The G14 comes preloaded with Dolby Access, including audio presets for games, music, movies, and voice. (The Music profile makes vocals clearer, while the Music and Game presets give the backing tracks more oomf.) The microphones had no trouble picking up my voice on work calls, even with some background noise.

The chassis is thin, light, and sturdy, and the ErgoLift hinge, an Asus staple that folds under the deck and lifts the keyboard slightly off the ground, isn’t as sharp in your lap as it is on some other Asus laptops. And the G14’s keyboard and touchpad are some of my favorites — not just among gaming laptops but among all laptops on the market. The keys are backlit, quiet, and comfortable, with plenty of travel and a satisfying click — I especially appreciate the dedicated volume keys at the top of the deck. The trackpad is quite smooth, with one of the easiest clicks you’ll find on a laptop. I didn’t see any palm rejection issues and could generally scroll without hitting plastic.

Finally, battery life is an area where the G14 solidly beats the Blade 14. That’s to be expected, given the former’s more efficient processor. Using the G14 as my daily driver with an office workload, I averaged nine hours and 38 minutes. (This was with Battery Saver on, the screen around 200 nits, and the GPU disabled.) That’s longer than I saw from last year’s G14 as well as this year’s G15, and it makes this model one of the longest-lasting gaming laptops I’ve ever tested. The Blade averaged just six hours and 12 minutes from the same workload.

Battery gaming was also a decent experience. I got an hour and two minutes of Red Dead Redemption 2 gameplay on the Ultra preset; the game was playable for 57 minutes of that time and dropped to stuttery frame rates after that (with around 10 percent remaining). The 180-watt charger is decently fast, though not exceptionally so. It took 50 minutes to juice the G14 up to 60 percent during light Chrome use.

There are only two real issues with the chassis. First, the fingerprint sensor on my unit was finicky and failed to recognize me about a third of the time. I’ve asked Asus whether this is an issue they’ve encountered before. The second is that there’s no webcam. One of the benefits of a thin and light device like the G14 is that it’s supposed to make for a great multipurpose driver, which is a significantly taller order when it can’t do video calls. Yes, you can plug in an external camera, but that’s a whole extra thing, and it’s especially annoying if you’re carrying the G14 around a lot. Asus really should just stick a webcam on this thing, even a lousy one, especially since its competitors have them.

At the end of the day, the G14 is still excellent. It’s a good performer in a good chassis, with a keyboard, touchpad, speaker system, and battery life span that are absolute standouts. (Seriously — I apologize to whatever keyboard I have to review after this one, because it’s probably going to look bad in comparison.) And the new chips have delivered a marked improvement over last year’s G14.

Unfortunately, while this laptop hasn’t changed that much, its competition has. The G14 is no longer the most powerful 14-inch gaming laptop you can buy — and while its battery life in particular may still make it a great buy for some users, it’s no longer the obvious choice for everyone. The Blade 14 offers significantly more powerful chips in a chassis that’s thinner and almost as light.

And while the Blade 14 is more expensive, there are also a number of ways to get an RTX 3070 for a lower price than the G14 is asking here. If you’re willing to go for something slightly bigger and miss out on the fancy lights, the Zephyrus G15 will give this exact chassis design (with the same exceptional keyboard, touchpad, audio, and battery life) with much better gaming results for less money. If you still want fancy lights, you can also get a 5900HX and an RTX 3070 (along with a 144Hz display) in the RGB-packed ROG Strix G15 at a lower price than my test unit.

Again, the G14 is still excellent. But there’s more excellent stuff in this category now than there was last year. The G14 has moved out of “slam-dunk” territory and into “good option for people who want a specific combination of things” territory. Which is, to be fair, where almost all gaming laptops live.

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