Have any of you ever looked at your ridiculously expensive, top of the line, 15-inch gaming laptop and thought, ‘I wish this had not just one, but two 4k displays’? Well, if you have, you’re in luck. ASUS thought the exact same thing and built the insane ASUS ROG Zephyrus Duo.
I’m gonna start this review with the main reason you clicked it in the first place. That second screen. It’s a 4k, ultra-wide, 14.1-inch, touchscreen IPS display. The seamless way it rises up out of the laptop when you open the lid makes the Zephyrus Duo my favourite laptop to open ever. You never ever get tired of its party piece. I was using it for about a month and every time I opened it I was wowed, and so was everyone I showed.
The second screen is integrated really well into the laptop’s software. It has an app launcher built-in, and pinning apps to the bottom screen is extremely easy to do. I found I mostly used it for looking at guides and performance stats while gaming, but the best use for me was using it as my timeline when editing video on Premiere Pro. The design really is a thing of beauty. It lifts out of the bottom laptop at a 13.5% angle so you can see it better in use and, despite how it looks, the screen is surprisingly rigid. The gap it leaves when it’s risen from the body of the laptop is used as an air vent which the Zephyrus Duo uses to cool its super-powered hardware.
Powering the 15-inch, 4k main display on the model I reviewed was an Nvidia RTX 2080 Super Max-Q, an Intel i9-10980KH, and 32GB of RAM. And, surprising literally no-one, it had no trouble running anything I threw at it. The workstation model I reviewed with the 4k 60Hz screen absolutely powered through tasks like video editing, and didn’t struggle playing any games I tested… at 1080p. Even though the RTX 2080 Super Max-Q is one of the best (maybe even the best) graphics cards available in a 15-inch laptop right now, it still can’t quite reach 60fps in AAA games at ultra settings when playing at 4k. If you want to play the most demanding AAA games, like Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and Red Dead Redemption 2 at 4k/60fps on your Zephyrus Duo you’re going to have to drop the settings down quite a bit. And it’s because of this, if you’re planning on buying this laptop for gaming, you should absolutely be getting the version with the 1080p 300hz screen. Even though I haven’t tested that version, I can tell you with absolute certainty, when gaming the higher refresh rate will make your experience much better.
This lower-resolution will even make your experience with the second screen during gaming much better, for reasons that aren’t immediately apparent. When gaming, to be able to use the second screen properly (while the game is running on the main display) the game needs to be running in a borderless window. If the game is running in exclusive fullscreen, any touch on the second display will minimise the game, so you can’t use the second screen and game in exclusive full screen at the same time. On the 4k model, this isn’t an issue at all on less demanding games where you can push the resolution all the way up to 4k and still get acceptable frames. This is because you can run the game in a borderless window and it completely fits the screen. But if you want to run a more demanding game at an acceptable frame rate you’re gonna have to turn that resolution down to 1440p, or even 1080p. A borderless 1080p window on a 4k display looks ridiculous. Nobody wants to play their games in a borderless window which takes up a quarter of a 15-inch display. So obviously you put your game into exclusive fullscreen at a 1080p resolution, essentially rendering your second screen completely useless for anything other than looking at while playing that game. If you so much as brush it by mistake you’re going to get instantly pulled out of the game as it minimises. This is incredibly annoying. When playing graphically intensive games that I had to run at a lower resolution in exclusive fullscreen I ended up just turning the second screen off altogether, because it’s so easy to accidentally brush while using the keyboard. There isn’t much worse than getting into a really intense boss battle in one of your games, for it to just get minimised because your finger accidentally brushed the second screen. On the 1080p model, this problem will be completely non-existent. And because of this, I will reiterate, if you are buying this laptop for gaming, buy the lower resolution version.
If you’re buying the Zephyrus Duo as a workstation with some gaming capability though, the 4k screen is excellent. It is extremely colour accurate, it gets decently bright, and looks sharp and vivid in use. The second display also increases your productivity by more than you’d think. Anyone who’s ever edited video on a 15-inch laptop display before knows what I’m talking about. When you’re used to a big workspace that can fit all your content on it easily, going to a poxy 15-inch display can be very difficult. The addition of the second screen which can hold your timeline or media eases that transition massively. The ASUS Zephyrus Duo absolutely flies through any sort of work task you could think to throw at it. You saw the specs before though, so you already knew this. If you travel a lot for work and need something powerful enough to replace your desktop, this machine was built for you.
Because of the second screen the keyboard has had to be moved down a fair bit and isn’t in the position you expect a laptop keyboard to be. At first this is jarring. But after a while using it I didn’t find typing on the lowered keyboard to be difficult at all and quickly got used to it. What I didn’t ever get used to though, was the awkward position of the trackpad. Because the keyboard has been moved to the area of the laptop where you’d usually find the trackpad, the trackpad has been shifted to the right and shrunk into this fiddly vertical rectangle with funny little buttons at the bottom. I absolutely hate it. Yes it’s functional, but I would not recommend using this laptop without a mouse. I did like something about the trackpad though, because it’s positioned where you’d usually have a numpad, there’s a button in the top left corner which turns it into a touch-sensitive numpad. Your laptop practically requiring a mouse to be functional in a way that isn’t annoying compromises on the portability aspect a little bit. Because of this portability compromise, I would have loved to have seen ASUS just double down on that and make a slightly larger 17-inch model to make better use of the 4k screen.
The design of the ASUS ROG Zephyrus Duo is pretty much perfect to my eyes. It looks fantastic. It has a very simple and clean design which matches the ultra-high £4000-ish pricetag. The outside is understated and classy. It has an ASUS ROG logo in the corner so you know it’s an ASUS gaming machine, but at no point is it too over the top and vulgar like many gaming devices can be. When you open it up it continues to look great. The keyboard has per-key RGB lighting so that can be customised a lot, and the housing for the second screen is great. The bezels at the top and side of the main display are thin and look modern, but the bezel at the bottom is huge and looks a bit off when compared to the rest of the device. Oh and there’s no webcam, which on a £4000 laptop is a bit of an odd omission, especially right now in the age of work video calls. The build quality is also exceptional, I can’t fault it at all. Everything feels rigid and well made, the keyboard is excellent to type on, and the materials are all premium.
I/O is also great. There is 1 USB-C Thunderbolt 3, 3 USB-A 3.0, Ethernet and HDMI 2.0 on the back, and separate mic and headphone jacks. The power cable is in a bit of a funny position, being on the left-hand side and quite far down the laptop, but once you get used to it you won’t think about it at all.
So what do I think about the ASUS ROG Zephyrus Duo? I think it’s an absolutely excellent gaming laptop if you get the 1080p 300hz model, and I think it’s maybe the best 15-inch desktop workstation replacement (capable of a bit of gaming on the side) if you get the 4k 60hz model. But if you’re buying a laptop solely for gaming it’s very difficult to recommend to anyone on any sort of budget. For gaming the model I’d go for is the 300hz one with a 2070 Super Max-Q which, even though it’s a slight hardware downgrade, still costs a whopping £3,000. You can get a gaming laptop with similar specs for much, much lower than that. It’s clear that the premium you’re paying for the Zephyrus Duo is almost entirely for that second screen, and as there are no other laptops that do this, that’s understandable. But for gaming, unless you are absolutely desperate for that bleeding-edge second screen experience I’d look elsewhere.
As a workstation on the go though, the Zephyrus Duo is probably the best I’ve ever used. The second screen compliments the excellent 15-inch 4k display beautifully and makes productivity in intensive applications way better. If you need a portable workstation, and money is no object, the ASUS Zephyrus Duo is almost certainly the best you can get right now.