OPINION: It’s long been accepted that powerful gaming laptops come with many trade-offs.
Due to the high-spec components crammed inside, as well as the sophisticated cooling systems to prevent these laptops from bursting into flames, they’re typically so heavy that it feels wrong to call them a true portable.
Great progress has been made in recent years, with laptops powered by the likes of an RTX 3060 weighing less than 2kg, but if you’re craving high-end gaming performance then the laptops with the required GPU strength start to become unwieldy.
For example, the Razer Blade 17 we tested last year (powered by an RTX 3080 Ti) hit the scales at a whopping 2.75kg. Last year’s Alienware x17 R2 gaming laptop took things even further with an astonishing weight of 3kg. These laptops are so heavy that they’re difficult to move around your own home, never mind on the daily commute to work.
That’s not a criticism of those laptops, as both scored highly in our reviews, it was simply an accepted limitation of gaming laptops at the time. If you wanted the most powerful specs, then you had to settle for a large, cumbersome design, but if such laptops are so heavy that they’re difficult to use outside of the home, then why not buy a desktop gaming PC instead? This quandry is exactly why these types of laptops have a very limited audience.
Jump to the present day in 2023 and the gaming laptop industry has made significant strides. I’ve been testing the Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 (2023), which is a 14-inch portable that only weighs 1.72kg. It’s easy to carry around, and I can even hold it in one hand without strain – I certainly wouldn’t be able to say the same about the 3kg Alienware which is almost 2x heavier.
The most remarkable thing about the Zephyrus G14 is that you’re able to configure it with Nvidia’s RTX 4090 GPU without compromising on that ultra-portable build. Considering that this is the most powerful mobile GPU that Nvidia has to offer, it seems like Asus is making use of the dark arts in order to accomplish this.
There is one big caveat that’s worth mentioning: not all RTX 4090 laptop GPUs are made equal. The graphics chip found inside the Zephyrus G14 has 95W graphics power, which means it doesn’t use up as much energy as the 175W RTX 4090 GPU found inside the larger Razer Blade 16 (2023) laptop. This makes a notable difference to performance.
While the Zephyrus G14 could play Returnal in Quad HD at 69fps, the Razer allowed for a more impressive 93fps. A similar performance gap was seen with Cyberpunk 2077 in QHD, with the G14 achieving 43fps and the Blade 16 achieving 77fps. That means you’re roughly getting around a 30fps boost by opting for the Razer, which is significant considering both are powered by an RTX 4090.
Alas, bigger is still better when it comes to performance. Not only does it allow for greater power consumption, but also enables manufacturers to fit in more effective cooling systems to make sure the components are running more efficiently.
Nevertheless, I’m still very impressed with the performance of the Zephyrus G14. It’s able to run two of the most demanding modern games beyond 60fps at a Quad HD resolution. Even the PS5 and Xbox Series X can struggle to hit those heights, and yet you’re able to tuck the G14 under your arm and carry it anywhere you please.
This is one of the very first high-powered laptops that I’ve been able to use as a productivity laptop too, both at home and the office. That’s a big deal to me, as I need a laptop in the mould of a MacBook Air that I can easily transport, especially when working abroad, but I also appreciate being able to dip into the likes of Civilization VI, Football Manager and Total War during my downtime.
Previously, the only real solution was to buy both an ultrabook and a gaming laptop for separate use cases, but that requires an extremely expensive outlay. The Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 certainly isn’t cheap – with the RTX 4090 model priced at £3399.99/$3299.99 – but it’s still a better alternative than buying two separate laptops.
Asus isn’t the only company enhancing the portability for high-powered gaming systems. The new Razer Blade 14 isn’t quite as powerful, peaking with an RTX 4070 configuration, but is also fairly portable with a sub-2kg weight of 1.84kg.
I expect high-powered gaming laptops with ultra-portable designs will only become more common in the next couple of years, and that’s brilliant news for on-the-go PC gamers. Finally you’ll be able to get the true laptop experience without being forced to settle for a sub-standard gaming performance.
Ctrl+Alt+Del is our weekly computing-focused opinion column where we delve deeper into the world of computers, laptops, components, peripherals and more. Find it on Trusted Reviews every Saturday afternoon.