Asus ROG Zephyrus M16 (GU603HR) Review: Slim and Light Gaming Laptop

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Gaming laptops have a huge market in India, especially now that retail high-end desktop PC components are harder to buy than ever. Many people have chosen gaming laptops over desktops because they prefer compact, versatile machines that can serve for work as well as entertainment, but there have often been limits in terms of hardware power and immersion. Now, a new class of gaming laptops is emerging, thanks to new hardware that allows for much-improved performance in slim, practical laptops. We’re now seeing the emergence of a new category with 16-inch 1440p displays, thanks to the latest CPUs and GPUs being able to drive this resolution without sacrificing quality.

For the new ROG Zephyrus M16, Asus has used Intel’s 11th Gen mobile H-series CPUs and Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 30-series mobile GPUs which were both announced. Prices begin at Rs. 1,44,990 in India which definitely makes this a premium gaming laptop. What’s most interesting about this laptop is how slim and light it is despite its large screen and top-end specifications. We’ll see whether its design compromises usability, or whether today’s hardware actually means that super-bulky gaming laptops are things of the past.

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The lid has a pattern of over 8,000 tiny dots through which a prismatic film refracts light

 

Asus ROG Zephyrus M16 (GU603HR) design

If the M16 designation sounds new, that’s because the company has launched this model to replace the outgoing Zephyrus M15 (GU502). However, the Zephyrus M16 is actually slightly smaller than its predecessor, measuring a few millimetres less in width and depth. The thickness stays the same at 19.9mm, and weight is also unchanged at 1.9kg. By gaming laptop standards, this is extremely slick. You wouldn’t have too much trouble commuting with this laptop in a backpack if you’re a student or professional.

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Inspired by the Zephyrus G-series, the new M16 has a pattern of thousands of tiny perforated holes across most of its matte black lid. The triangular patch cuts across the lid diagonally, and from a distance it just looks like a different texture. However, this isn’t a micro-LED dot array. As you approach the laptop, you’ll see shimmering rainbow effect through the holes thanks to a “prismatic” layer beneath them. You’ll see this light effect at certain angles and it seems to move as you tilt the lid or move your head around. It’s a striking look, but the downside is that the holes can get dusty very quickly. Finger smudges are also quite visible across the lid.

With the lid flipped up, you’ll see the new 16-inch screen which is not only bigger but has a 16:10 aspect ratio. Asus has nearly eliminated the chin, but thankfully there’s room at the top for a webcam in its ideal position. The side borders are only 4.6mm thick, and the overall screen-to-body ratio is a remarkable 94 percent.

The hinge allows the display to go as far back as 180 degrees. As with many Asus laptops, the lower half of the laptop gets raised when the lid is raised, which helps with airflow as well as typing comfort. On the downside, the lid does bend and flex quite a bit, and there’s visible warping on screen when a little pressure is applied. Asus has done away with the giant illuminated ROG logo that the previous model had, and instead there’s a much more subtle patch in one corner of the outer lid, and no branding at all on the inside.

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asus zephyrus m16 keyboard ndtv asus

The keyboard is comfortable to type on, but the layout could have been better

 

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On the lower half of the body, you’ll see an island-style keyboard with RGB backlighting. speaker grilles and a lot of space on either side. Asus has ditched the column of dedicated paging keys to the right which means the keyboard and trackpad are now centred with each other and the arrow keys have more room to breathe. Strangely, there are no Insert or PrintScrn keys. Taking screenshots is quite inconvenient (you can still call up the Windows Snipping Tool with Win+Shift+S or use the Fn+F6 combo on this keyboard to save to the clipboard, or use the Xbox game bar to save a file, but it becomes a multi-step process).

The power button has an integrated fingerprint sensor, which Asus oddly does not point out anywhere. You can set it up through the Windows Settings app but it would be easy to not even realise that this is a feature. There are also dedicated volume and mic mute buttons which do come in handy. The power, charging and SSD activity LEDs on the upper edge are placed so they’re visible when the lid is closed. Unfortunately, they’re also very bright and reflect off the screen. The activity LED, which keeps flashing, is especially distracing.

The trackpad is especially large. It can be physically clicked, and its texture feels great. There’s nowhere to rest your wrists when using it since it extends right to the lip of the lower deck. To the sides of the trackpad, the deck is covered in a soft-touch finish.

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All the ports are placed towards the front of the laptop, to allow for large vents farther back on the sides. On the left, you have the DC power inlet, HDMI 2.0b output, a Gigabit Ethernet port, 10Gbps USB 3.2 (Gen 2) Type-A and Type-C ports, another Type-C Thunderbolt 4 port, and a 3.5mm audio socket. On the right, you’ll find a 5Gbps USB 3.2 (Gen 1) Type-A port, a microSD card slot, and a Kensington lock slot. You can get DisplayPort 1.4 video output and you can even charge this laptop at up to 100W through both the Type-C ports.

asus zephyrus m16 vents ndtv asus

Hot air is ejected out the back, and the LEDs placed here reflect off the screen

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Asus ROG Zephyrus M16 (GU603HR) specifications

Intel’s 10nm ‘Tiger Lake’ architecture has graduated from ultra-slim laptops to gaming and enthusiast-class halo products. For this segment, you get more cores and higher TDP ratings which translates to higher clock speeds for longer under load. Interestingly, the CPUs in this segment have much weaker integrated GPUs, but this isn’t a problem since there’s a discrete GPU to do most of the heavy lifting anyway. One thing to note about the higher 45W max TDP rating is that actual performance is entirely dependent on each laptop OEM’s thermal design – this spec alone is no guarantee of performance.

In India, The Asus ROG Zephyrus M16 (GU603HR) is available with either a Core i9-11900H or Core i7-11800H, both of which have eight cores and Hyper-Threading. Other than higher clock speeds, the main advantage of the Core i9 is Turbo Boost Max 3.0 support, which you can read all about in our desktop ‘Rocket Lake’ 11th Gen Core i9-11900K review. This generation introduces PCIe 4.0 for faster connections to SSDs and the GPU.

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On the graphics front, Asus offers the new Zephyrus M16 with either an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 Ti, RTX 3060, or RTX 3070 mobile GPU. Mobile GPUs have delivered different levels of performance in different laptops with the same specifications thanks to thermal constraints, and with this generation Nvidia is requiring that laptop makers disclose more granular information. You can check the actual clock speeds and power consumption targets of each variant on Asus’ product listing page.

The top-end variant that I have for review features the Core i9-11900H, which is clocked at 2.5GHz with a maximum boost speed of 4.9GHz, and also the GeForce RTX 3070 with a 1390MHz boost speed, 80-100W thermal envelope, and 8GB of dedicated GDDR6 memory. My unit also features a 2TB Samsung NVMe SSD and 32GB of DDR4-RAM, of which 16GB is soldered and the rest is a removable module. This configuration is priced at Rs. 2,29,990 in India. You can pry off the bottom of this laptop to upgrade the one SO-DIMM module for up to 48GB of RAM in total, and there’s also a second empty M.2 slot for another NVMe SSD.

asus zephyrus m16 left ndtv asus

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Most of the ports are on the left, towards the front of the Zephyrus M16

 

The 16-inch screen has an unusual 16:10 resolution, which is actually great for productivity and helps increase secreen size without making the laptop’s body wider. The 2560×1600 resolution (WQXGA) “IPS-level” panel has a 165Hz refresh rate and 3ms response time. Asus claims 100 percent DCI-P3 colour gamut coverage and Pantone validation, but there’s no indication of peak brightness. Thankfully, the panel has a matte texture and is not highly reflective. Surprisingly, there’s no 4K option like before.

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Despite its slimness, this laptop has a 90WH battery. A rather large 240W charger comes in the box. You get a 720p webcam, microphone array, and speaker setup with two 2W tweeters and two 2W woofers. There’s also Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) and Bluetooth 5.2.

Interestingly, Asus already says that a Windows 11 update rollout plan will begin in late 2021. Asus’ Armoury Crate and MyAsus utilities come preinstalled and also need to be updated. The former lets you apply performance profiles, tweak the RGB keyboard lighting, adjust microphone properties, and screen colour temperature, while the latter lets you download a user manual and shows some battery health options, and smartphone file transfer and screen sharing options (if you also run the MyAsus mobile app).

It seems a bit redundant to have two separate apps, especially since both also show “deals” and promotions. I did also see a pop-up ad for an Asus extended warranty. McAfee LiveSafe is also preinstalled, and it occasionally shows messages asking you to register and subscribe, or enable certain features.

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asus zephyrus m16 webcam ndtv asus

The Zephyrus M16 has a webcam in its rightful place – the previous model didn’t have one at all

 

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Asus ROG Zephyrus M16 (GU603HR) performance

One little obstacle to usage was the fact that this laptop ships with a power cord that has a large 16A plug, and most people’s houses aren’t wired for 16A appliances in convenient spots. My unit came running Windows 10 (20H2), and after applying all available updates and patches, it was ready for testing. In everyday use, and for productivity, the Zephyrus M16 proved to be quite versatile. The high-res 16:10 screen is a pleasure to work on, making multitasking easy. You can change the default 150 percent Windows scaling to 125 percent if you want even more usable real estate.

Asus has implemented a single-touch feature that caches your fingerprint when you press the power button so you don’t need to reach over to it again when Windows 10 presents you with the login screen. Unfortunately, the sensor didn’t work as well as the ones on phones that we’re all now used to, in my experience. It often required a longer or second touch.

The keyboard is firm and springy without being noisy. It’s pretty comfortable and key travel is very good. The lack of a PrintScrn key is hugely frustrating. The entire keyboard is one single RGB backlight zone and there are a few choices of lighting patterns, colours, and intensity, plus syncing with other compatible hardware. Trackpad placement is good and it’s large enough to make multi-finger gestures convenient.

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I found the screen just a little dull, and you’ll have to push the brightness up if you’re working or gaming with a lot of sunlight around. Colours don’t pop like they would on some high-end consumer laptops, which is probably a good thing for colour-sensitive work. The video watching experience is still great, especially with 4K content. The speakers produce surprisingly crisp and open sound, though it isn’t especially loud and the bass is rather lacking.

Starting with general-purpose benchmarks, the reliable PCMark 10 showed scores of 6,950 and 8,792 in its standard and Extended runs. Cinebench R20 managed 606 and 5,407 points in its single- and multi-core tests respectively. POVRay’s render test completed in 1 minute, 1 second, and the newer V-Ray brenchmark showed CPU and GPU render scores of 15,592 and 429 respectively.

CrystalDiskMark reported very impressive SSD speeds – 7100.1MBps and 5262.1MBPs sequential reads and writes, with 2365.8MBps and 2148.8MBps random reads and writes respectively. As for real-world scenarios, the Zephyrus M16 took 1 minute, 43 seconds to compress a 3.24GB folder of assorted files, and just 35 seconds to transcode a 1.3GB AVI file to H.265.

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3DMark’s Time Spy and Time Spy Extreme tests threw up scores of 9,096 and 4,527 respectively. The DX12 Port Royal test score was 5,509. As for feature tests, DirectX Ray Tracing showed a score of 23.74fps, while the DLSS test scene ran at 25.12fps with DLSS off and 58.93fps with it on. Unigine’s standalone Superposition graphics benchmark managed 5,906 points using its 1080p Extreme preset.

asus zephyrus m16 right ndtv asus

A full-sized SD card slot would have been more useful than the microSD slot here

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Many games run at the Zephyrus M16’s native 2560×1600 resolution, so comparisons to laptops with more standard 2560×1440 panels should take this slight added load into account. Shadow of the Tomb Raider supports RTX ray tracing and DLSS, so it’s a good game to start with. At the Highest quality preset at 2560×1600 and with ray tracing disabled, its built-in benchmark gave us an average of 71fps. Setting ray traced shadows to ‘High’ quality took that down significantly to 45fps. To compensate, I enabled DLSS, and that resulted in an average score of 54fps. You’ll have to decide what quality tradeoffs you’re okay with.

Metro Exodus also has a repeatable and consistent built-in benchmark with an RTX preset which uses the Ultra quality preset, High ray tracing effects quality, and DLSS. At 1920×1080, the average frame rate was 53.44 percent. Using the same settings, but with ray tracing and DLSS disabled, the average came to 62.3fps which means once again, the penalty for using ray tracing isn’t too high, but some people might find it worth disabling.

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Next up for in-game benchmarks, Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey delivered an average of 52fps at 2560×1600 with Ultra High graphics. Far Cry 5 averaged 96fps at 1920×1200 and 82fps at 2560×1600, using the Ultra quality preset at both resolutions. Middle Earth: Shadow of War also managed 97fps at 1920×1200 and 72fps at 2560×1600, both at Ultra quality. These games show that the Zephyrus M16 will be pretty good for slightly older titles that don’t have ray tracing effects or need DLSS.

I also played through a few games manually for a while. Control is a popular RTX-enabled title. Ray tracing effects were set to High, as was the overall quality preset. DLSS by default renders at 1707×1067 to upscale to 2560×1600 which is roughly a 1.5X scale. At these settings, I was able to average between 45-55fps. Disabling ray tracing but leaving DLSS on immediately caused a jump to 70-80fps.

Doom Eternal has just been updated to support ray tracing and DLSS. This game generally runs well even on lower-end hardware. At Ultra Nightmare quality, using the native 2560×1600 resolution, performance ranged from 80-100fps without ray tracing, depending on how frantic battles were. That dropped considerably to 30-50fps with ray tracing enabled. Oddly, DLSS actually made performance dip well below 30fps causing drastic stutter – this might be an isolated experience or a bug with the just-released RTX functionality.

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The Zephyrus M16 does run rather hot when stressed, and even sometimes while idling, parts of the body get warm. The upper row, fingerprint sensor, middle-right of the keyboard, and wrist rest area do get fairly toasty. The top edge of the laptop’s lower half, where hot air is ejected through the hinge, can become too hot to touch for more than a second. Asus says it has used a liquid metal thermal interface between the cooler and the CPU and GPU chips, and it has also redesigned the laptop’s fans to be more efficient. The fans are still quite loud – you’ll definitely hear them when running any heavy workload. You’ll use an external mouse for most gaming situations, but things can still get uncomfortable. This review was conducted in a non-airconditioned room, so your experience might vary.

As for battery life, you wouldn’t expect all-day productivity from a gaming laptop. The Zephyrus M16 managed to last only about 5-6 hours on a full charge with ordinary everyday work, which included some video streaming and plenty of heavy Web pages open in multiple tabs. The heavy Battery Eater Pro test ran for only 1 hour, 42 minutes, which is just about okay.

asus zephyrus m16 hinge ndtv asus

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The ‘Ergolift’ hinge raises the lower half of the laptop to tilt it forward when opened

 

Verdict

Asus has tried hard to deliver high-end gaming performance in a very slim and light package. The company has succeeded in some ways – just a few years ago, you’d have had to lug around a literal suitcase if you wanted this level of performance. With the Zephyrus M16, that load comes down to 2kg. You can in fact run today’s most demanding games at very reasonable settings, and that too at a resolution greater than 1080p on a large, immersive display.

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The specifications are impressive, but the price is quite high too. I like the variety and number of physical ports, plus the fact that the SSD and one RAM module are user-replaceable, meaning potential for upgrades. 16:10 displays are a rare pleasure these days, and Asus has chosen a good panel for this segment.

That said, things aren’t perfect. The biggest downside of the Zephyrus M16 is that it gets uncomfortably hot and distractingly loud. The need for a 16A power outlet will cause some trouble for people, and there are a few niggles like the poorly placed status LEDs and popups from the preinstalled software.

Using an external keyboard and mouse would take care of the physical discomfort (and lack of certain keys), and you still have a very portable gaming or multi-purpose machine. If you can live with some compromises and like the idea of a slim and light gaming laptop, this might be a good choice. I still hope to see Asus and other companies use these new CPUs and GPUs in laptops that aren’t as fashion-conscious, with beefier cooling systems, for those who want performance and usability without worrying about looks.

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Price as reviewed: Rs. 2,29,990

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