ASUS Zephyrus G14 (2021) Review: The M1 MacBook Pro killer
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ASUS Zephyrus G14 (2021) Review: The M1 MacBook Pro killer

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The ASUS Zephyrus G14 is a new breed of powerful, portable laptop made possible by the latest AMD Ryzen CPUs.

All product photography by DL Cade.

When it comes to lightweight laptops for creatives, Apple pretty much cornered the market with the release of the M1 MacBook Air and M1 MacBook Pro. The price-to-performance of these laptops is better than anything we’ve seen from Cupertino in a long time, and the Apple Silicon M1 punches well above its weight given its ‘entry-level’ designation.

But what if you’re not a Mac fan? What if 16GB of unified memory isn’t enough? And what if you want more graphics power than the maxed out 8-core GPU variant of the Apple Silicon M1 can deliver? Is there a PC out there that offers all of these things without sacrificing the portability and efficiency of laptops like the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro?

There is, and that PC is the ASUS Zephyrus G14: a small, lightweight ‘gaming laptop’ that features a powerful-but-efficient AMD Ryzen 9 5900HS, 32GB of RAM, a WQHD/2K display with 100% DCI-P3 coverage and an NVIDIA RTX 3060 GPU with 6GB of VRAM. All of it packed inside of a 14-inch laptop chassis that’s only a tiny bit thicker, and no larger, than your typical 13-inch MacBook Pro.



Key specifications:

The 2021 ASUS Zephyrus G14 that we’re testing is the more expensive of the two main variants available in the US. Both options come with the same AMD Ryzen 9 5900HS processor and NVIDIA RTX 3060 GPU (60W, 80W boost), but our model is equipped with 32GB of RAM and a WQHD display that claims 100% coverage of the DCI-P3 color gamut, while the more affordable model comes with only 16GB of RAM and a Full HD display that can only manage 100% of sRGB.

Zephyrus G14 – FHD Zephyrus G14 – QHD
CPU AMD Ryzen 9 5900HS AMD Ryzen 9 5900HS
GPU NVIDIA RTX 3060

6GB VRAM

NVIDIA RTX 3060

6GB VRAM

RAM 16GB DDR4-3200MHz 32GB DDR4-3200MHz
Storage 1TB NVMe M.2 SSD

PCIe 3.0

1TB NVMe M.2 SSD

PCIe 3.0

Display 14-inch 144Hz FHD

100% sRGB

14-inch 120Hz WQHD

100% DCI-P3

Price $1,450 $2,000

Note that the RAM in the Full HD version is user-upgradable, but for creatives, we would still recommend the more expensive option simply because of the color-accurate display. The extra pixels aren’t totally necessary at this screen size, but we’ve found that many high-refresh-rate displays used in gaming laptops slightly under-perform their spec sheet when it comes to gamut coverage, so it’s always good to have some cushion above and beyond 100% sRGB.

If you’re going to be doing creative work, the extra $550 for the top-tier model is worth the additional RAM, resolution and color accuracy.


Design, build and usability

For photo and video editors, the ASUS Zephyrus G14’s WQHD display delivers up to 100% coverage of the DCI-P3 color gamut.

The Zephyrus G14’s design is gamer-y, but not over the top. There’s no ostentatious RGB accents or glowing logos, and while the overall shape of the laptop features a few sharp angles, there isn’t even an RGB backlight on the keyboard – just a standard white light. The chassis is available in a ‘Moonlight White’ or ‘Eclipse Gray’ and, when closed, the only hint that this is an ASUS computer comes from the Republic of Gamers (ROG) logo stamped on a pearlescent metal plate that’s embedded in the lid.

Speaking of the lid, the most ostentatious and unique design element of the ASUS G14 is the so-called ‘AniMe Matrix’ lighting effect that covers a little more than half of the laptop’s lid on a diagonal.

The Zephyrus G14’s design is gamer-y, but not over the top.

Made up of mini-LEDs hidden behind a matrix of little dots, the matrix can be customized in ASUS’ Armoury Crate software to show any number of preset animations, display a static image, or loop through a custom set of images or GIFs that you upload yourself. For this review, I obviously couldn’t resist popping the DPR logo onto the back.

The so-called ‘AniMe Matrix’ on the G14’s lid can be customized to display a customized image or animation.

Unfortunately, that little bit of showing off is about all it’s good for. After taking the picture above, I turned it off and kept it off to avoid any additional battery drain, and the only purpose the little dots served from that point onward was the collection of dust and other particles that are practically impossible to remove once they’ve become embedded.

It is, in my opinion, the only thing on this laptop that is 100% gimmick and 0% function, and I kind of wish ASUS had left it off. Even the cheaper model, which won’t allow you to customize the AniMe Matrix, still comes with these little holes, they’re just set to display a static ‘holographic’ effect.

Moving back to the front of the computer, both the keyboard and trackpad qualify as good-but-not-great in my book. The keyboard features a little bit more travel and ‘mush’ than I’m used to from most low-profile laptop keyboards these days, but your preferences may vary, while the trackpad is sufficiently smooth and responsive, but a little bit undersized.

The Zephyrus G14’s trackpad is smooth and responsive, but smaller than most competitors.

Compare this to the massive glass-topped trackpads favored by Apple, Microsoft, Dell and Razer, and you’ll see what I mean. By pushing the keyboard down to make room for the audio controls, ROG button and power button/fingerprint reader, the trackpad has been squeezed to just 2.5 inches tall and 4.5 inches wide.

It’s precise, with a nice springboard click that’s usable from about halfway down the trackpad, but I wish it were a little bit taller.

In terms of ports, the Zephyrus G14 comes equipped with an HDMI, two USB Type-C ports, two USB Type-A ports, a headphone jack and standard barrel connector for power. One of those USB Type-C ports can also carry a DisplayPort 1.4 signal and charge your device if you leave the included 180W power brick at home, and both can transfer data at USB 3.1 Gen 2 speeds (10Gbps), but neither supports Thunderbolt’s faster 40Gbps transfer rate because of the AMD processor.

The trackpad is precise, with a nice springboard click that’s usable from about halfway down the trackpad, but I wish it were a little bit taller.

In terms of ports, the Zephyrus G14 comes equipped with an HDMI, two USB Type-C ports, two USB Type-A ports, a headphone jack and standard barrel connector for power.

Thunderbolt is an Intel creation, and until it fully merges with the CPU-agnostic USB 4.0 standard and AMD releases Ryzen 6000 sometime in 2022, you won’t find any AMD Ryzen laptops that also feature Thunderbolt support.

Everything so far makes this a good gaming PC but not particularly special for photo and video work. That’s where the display comes in.

Following a trend we’ve seen from other gaming laptops, ASUS offers the Zephyrus G14 (and the bigger G15) with a couple of different display options. There’s an ultra-fast 144Hz Full HD display that can only hit 100% sRGB or a slightly slower 120Hz WQHD option that is ‘Pantone validated’ and claims 100% coverage of DCI-P3.

In my testing, it didn’t quite live up to that claim, managing only 95.3% coverage of DCI-P3 and 80.0% of AdobeRGB, but it did so at a respectable Delta E 2000 of less than 2. Other reviewers have profiled this display at up to 98% DCI-P3, but to my knowledge, nobody has seen it hit the advertised 100%.

In other words: the display is accurate enough for proper photo and video editing on the go, but I would not rely on it as my only screen. When it’s time for serious color grading, use the USB-C/DisplayPort to connect a larger, color-accurate 4K monitor, especially if you’re planning to print your work.

Finally, there are two more things left to mention – one positive and one negative.

The positive is battery life, which is excellent. AMD’s Zen 3 processors are already very power efficient, and ASUS is taking full advantage of that fact by putting a large 76Wh battery inside of the G14. For normal writing, research, and video consumption in ‘Silent’ mode, I could easily get 8+ hours of use out of this laptop. In ‘Performance’ mode while doing serious photo or video editing on battery, that drops to about 2 hours, but that’s to be expected given the NVIDIA 3060 GPU is pulling 60W all on its own.

The Zephyrus G14’s QHD display is color-accurate enough for proper photo and video editing on the go, but I would not rely on it as my only screen.

The negative is the total lack of webcam on this computer. While the Zephyrus G14 does have a built-in microphone array embedded in the top bezel, it does not have a webcam. None at all. Not even the crappy 720p option that’s included in most laptops today.

With so many photo and video professionals communicating with their clients over Zoom as much (if not more) than in-person, this is a huge miss. I suppose the idea is that gamers who stream will use a nicer camera anyway, and those who don’t won’t care about a webcam, but it’s a glaring omission that has the potential to really annoy you day-in and day-out.

Tehre is no webcam on the ASUS Zephyrus G14 – a frustrating omission given the increased popularity of video conferencing.

Overall, I quite like the design and build quality of the Zephyrus G14. Sure, I tend to prefer the rigid CNC-milled aluminum unibody designs favored by companies like Razer and Apple, but I never felt like I was dealing with a flimsy laptop and the design aesthetic is clean enough to use for both business and fun… assuming you turn off the AniMe Matrix.

For creative professionals, you can go in knowing that the I/O is solid, the trackpad is good (if a little bit small), and the screen is sufficiently color accurate so that you can get your work done on the go. If you can live without Thunderbolt and a webcam, the G14 checks just about every other ‘ultra-portable’ box, without sacrificing performance.

Speaking of which…

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Performance benchmarks

Despite its small size, the Zephyrus G14 is one of the fastest photo and video editing laptops on the market.

What really makes the ASUS Zephyrus G14 special is just how powerful it is given its size and weight. This is down to the magic of the AMD Ryzen processor inside, which is built on AMD’s Zen 3 architecture and practically sips wattage compared to most of Intel’s chips.

This is why ASUS chose AMD for this 14-inch laptop, why Razer chose AMD for their 14-inch Blade, and why we expect to see Ryzen PCs and M1 Macs practically take over the ‘powerful-but-portable’ category for at least the next year or two. Intel’s latest 11th-geneneration H-series laptop CPUs are more efficient than 10th-gen, but they still soak up a lot more wattage to generate those results.

For this round of performance benchmarks, we tested the M1 Mac mini, an Intel-based 13-inch MacBook Pro, the AMD Ryzen-based Razer Blade 14 and the ASUS Zephyrus G14. Full specs below:

Zephyrus G14 13-inch MBP M1 Mac mini Blade 14
CPU AMD Ryzen 9 5900HS Intel Core i7-1068NG7 Apple Silicon M1 8-core AMD Ryzen 9 5900HX
GPU NVIDIA RTX 3060

6GB VRAM

Intel Iris Plus Graphics Apple Silicon M1 8-core NVIDIA RTX 3070

8GB VRAM

RAM 32GB DDR4

3200MHz

32GB LPDDR4X

3733MHz

16GB Unified Memory 16GB DDR4

3200MHz

Storage 1TB NVMe M.2 PCIe 3.0 SSD 4TB NVMe SSD 2TB NVMe SSD 1TB NVMe M.2 PCIe 3.0 SSD
Display 14-inch 120Hz WQHD IPS LCD

100% DCI-P3

13-inch Retina Display

100% Display P3

N/A 14-inch 165Hz QHD IPS LCD

100% DCI-P3

Price $2,000 $3,600 $1,700 $2,200
Price w/ 1TB of Storage $2,000 $2,600 $1,300 $2,200

Unfortunately we did not have an M1 MacBook Pro on hand to do a side-by-side comparison, but the internals of the M1 Mac mini and the internals of the M1 MacBook Pro are identical, so the results should be interchangeable. As usual, we tested Adobe Lightroom Classic, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Premiere Pro, and Capture One 21 using the suite of tests described here.

All tests were run a minimum of three times in a row, with the laptops plugged in, fully charged, and set to their maximum Turbo/Performance settings.

Lightroom Classic

Import and preview generation in Lightroom Classic is based entirely on CPU performance, RAM amount and RAM speed. Each of these machines has a different combination of these factors, and the ASUS Zephyrus G14 and M1 Mac mini end up trading blows at the top of the import table thanks to the stellar performance of their respective CPUs and the Mac’s fast unified memory architecture.

Despite having an ever-so-slightly more powerful CPU than the ASUS, the Razer Blade 14 falls to last place because of its 16GB RAM limitation, while the Intel-based MacBook Pro sits somewhere in the middle of the pack.

Canon EOS R6 Import Nikon Z7 II Import Sony a7R IV Import Fuji GFX 100 Import
ASUS G14 1:38 2:59 3:30 7:35
Blade 14 2:07 4:16 4:58 12:30
M1 Mac mini 1:44 2:54 3:03 8:51
MacBook Pro 2:22 3:42 4:02 10:12

It’s a similar story when we try exporting heavily edited 100% JPEGs, but now that there are more pixels to move around, the ASUS G14 wins every single category.

As resolution increases and file sizes get larger, the Blade 14 and M1 Mac mini fall way behind the rest of the pack, held back by the maximum 16GB of RAM available to them. By the time we get to the 100MP Fuji GFX 100 files, the ASUS G14 is more than 15 minutes faster than both the M1 Mac mini and the Blade 14, but only about 3 minutes faster than the two-year-old MacBook Pro.

These results show you just how RAM dependent Lightroom Classic exporting really is. The more RAM, and the faster your RAM, the better your performance… even if you’re running an older processor and no discrete GPU:

Canon EOS R6 Export Nikon Z7 II Export Sony a7R IV Export Fuji GFX 100 Export
ASUS G14 3:58 8:55 11:41 23:40
Blade 14 5:30 14:40 20:46 40:02
M1 Mac mini 4:06 9:21 15:04 38:44
MacBook Pro 5:55 12:01 15:35 26:46

Capture One 21

Capture One 21 is a whole different animal. As we showed in our recent head-to-head comparison between Capture One and Lightroom Classic, C1 is less dependent on RAM speed and better optimized to take advantage of powerful GPUs through hardware acceleration.

At import, CPU performance is still the most important factor, and the ASUS G14, Blade 14, and M1 Mac mini are within spitting distance of each other, while the MacBook Pro and its weaker 10th-gen Intel processor falls further and further behind as file sizes increase.

Canon EOS R6 Import Nikon Z7 II Import Sony a7R IV Import Fuji GFX 100 Import
ASUS G14 00:40 00:59 1:12 1:50
Blade 14 00:40 00:59 1:14 1:50
M1 Mac mini 00:45 00:53 1:00 1:22
MacBook Pro 00:47 1:42 2:12 3:12

At export, the Zephyrus G14 uses its combination of a fast CPU, fast GPU, and 32GB of RAM to (once again) sweep every single category. None of the other computers could keep up.

The Razer Blade 14 only fell a little bit behind the ASUS, but by the time we get to the largest files the M1 Mac mini is more than 10 minutes slower than the Zephyrus G14, and the Intel-based MacBook Pro was another 10 minutes slower than that – a full 20 minutes and 45 seconds slower than the ASUS G14.

If you own an Intel-based 13-inch MacBook Pro (as I do) this is not a pretty graph.

Canon EOS R6 Export Nikon Z7 II Export Sony a7R IV Export Fuji GFX 100 Export
ASUS G14 1:35 3:12 3:50 6:53
Blade 14 1:48 3:47 4:47 7:46
M1 Mac mini 2:53 7:02 8:49 17:20
MacBook Pro 4:57 12:50 16:18 27:38

Photoshop

When we ran the Pugetbench benchmark for Photoshop, the ASUS G14 came incredibly close to beating the impressive overall score put up by the M1 Mac mini, and did manage to beat the Mac in both the GPU and Filter categories.

However, this result requires a bit of context.

Presumably due to their ultra-fast unified memory, M1 Macs are able to merge panoramas much faster than any PC we’ve tested (at least in Photoshop), but the high overall score is disproportionately affected by that one factor. It’s like an Olympian winning the decathlon by coming in the middle of the pack in 9 events, and then pole vaulting twice as high as anybody else.

In most of the individual tasks that the benchmark performs, the ASUS G14 is as fast or faster than the Mac, which is reflected in the high General, GPU, and Filter score. I only really loses the ‘overall’ battle because of its lower PhotoMerge score.

Overall General GPU Filter PhotoMerge
ASUS G14 973.6 99.0 97.3 86.9 115.0
Blade 14 835.6 85.6 88.8 67.3 111.9
M1 Mac mini 1017.8 99.4 81.2 82.9 144.2
MacBook Pro 597.7 65.4 32.6 52.8 62.6

Premiere Pro

Our final tests involve Adobe Premiere Pro. Unlike most other Adobe CC apps, Premiere is well optimized to take advantage of the NVIDIA GPUs in both the Razer Blade 14 and the ASUS Zephyrus G14 through ‘CUDA’ hardware acceleration. It’s also able to take advantage of ‘Metal’ hardware acceleration on the M1 Mac mini.

This fact alone puts these three computers in a league of their own, and leaves my poor little Intel-based MacBook Pro trailing way behind the rest of the pack in every video encoding task we tried.

The Zephyrus G14 steals the show here, putting up the fastest times in all but one category despite stiff competition from both the Razer Blade 14 and M1 Mac mini. Using our Sony a1 test video, the G14 rendered and exported the full Premier Pro project 1 to 2 minutes faster than either the Blade or the Mac mini, and a whopping 18 to 20 minutes faster than the MacBook Pro.

This result, more than any others, shows the potential of GPU hardware acceleration. Properly implemented, it can produce massive performance gains.

Render All Export Master File Export H.264 Export H.265/HEVC Warp Stabilize
ASUS G14 6:40 00:15 6:06 5:59 2:33
Blade 14 8:50 00:41 8:12 8:06 3:13
M1 Mac mini 7:32 00:18 7:30 7:19 2:13
MacBook Pro 25:53 00:37 26:12 25:09 2:36

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Takeaways

Normally, this is the part of the review where I would list a few interesting takeaways based on the strengths and weaknesses that I noticed while running our benchmarks. But the ASUS does so well across the board that I don’t really have much to say other than: wow.

The ASUS Zephyrus G14 is an extremely capable photo and video editing machine – far more capable than you would guess given its small size. Thanks in large part to the power-efficient AMD CPU, ASUS has created a little monster that packs more punch than any other ‘ultra-portable’ PC laptop on the market, including the similarly specced Razer Blade 14 and, presumably, the M1 MacBook Pro (based on our M1 Mac mini results).

ASUS has created a little monster that packs more punch than any other ‘ultra-portable’ PC laptop on the market.

From a performance standpoint, ASUS basically didn’t have to cut any corners; as a result, we get a $2,000 14-inch laptop that easily outperforms $3,000+ Intel-based PCs from less than a year ago and gives the Apple Silicon M1 some honest to goodness competition in this size and price bracket.

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Conclusion

What We Like What We Don’t Like
  • Exceptional performance
  • Color-accurate WQHD display
  • Small and portable
  • Good variety of ports
  • Great battery life
  • Affordable
  • No Thunderbolt Support
  • No SD card slot
  • No webcam
  • Small trackpad
  • The AniMe Matrix is a neat-but-useless gimmick

It’s hard to find fault with the 2021 ASUS Zephyrus G14. It already offers most of what ‘creators’ are hoping to see from the rumored 14-inch MacBook Pro: it’s a small, portable, efficient laptop that delivers professional-grade performance in creative applications, including GPU accelerated tasks.

All of this for an extremely reasonable price and without some of the Apple-specific downsides that we’ve gotten used to: the lack of user-upgradable storage, the lack of ports, and occasional compatibility issues (especially with ARM-based M1 Macs).

The 2021 ASUS Zephyrus G14 a small, portable, efficient laptop that delivers professional-grade performance in creative applications.

The only real downside for creatives is the lack of Thunderbolt support – a must for some specialized equipment – and the computer’s focus on certain gaming-specific specs and design elements. Personally, I’d rather have a more power-efficient WQHD display that’s limited to 60Hz or a more affordable Full HD option that covers 100% DCI-P3, and the ‘AniMe Matrix’ feature is nothing more than a party trick that sucks up battery if you forget to turn it off.

Sure, this little gaming laptop can’t match the top-shelf build quality and clean design of brands like Apple, Razer, Microsoft, and even Dell – which is basically the only reason I can’t give the computer a full 5 stars – but if you’re looking for the ultimate ultra-portable PC laptop with the fewest trade-offs and the best performance, the ASUS Zephyrus G14 is the way to go.

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