So I thought I nice way to kick off this site would be to break down my own personal arsenal of tech. I’ve been on a streamlining trend lately, but there’s still plenty to cover. In this Part 1, we’ll look at the centerpiece of the millennial techie, the laptop.
There’s something a bit magical about the do-anything nature of a good laptop. You have just enough power, just enough screen and just enough keyboard to make you master of any domain. A good laptop lures one’s mind toward daydreams of saving the day with one’s tech prowess and preparedness. However real these dreams may actually be, the magic behind them requires a laptop that can perform both at your desk and on the road, all with a little bit of style.
There are only a few real contenders to begin with, and when price plays a role, that list narrows further. Ultimately, I went with the Asus Zephyrus G14. One of the new 4000-series AMD mobile CPUs was a must, and the G14 builds a very good, but not perfect, package around that the amazing Ryzen 9 4900HS.
The exterior of the G14 is attractive, though unconventional. One big plus is that there’s no large ASUS branding anywhere. I’m not a fan of their branding, so limiting it to the small silver badge is a big win to me. The tiny holes on the laptop lid (I don’t have the version with the lights) give it a unique look that adds some nice geometry to the lid. I could see not liking them, as they are attention-grabbing, but they don’t bother me.
The rest of the G14 exterior is pretty nice, with a silver unibody base that reminds me a lot of an early 2010s 13” Macbook Pro, but with much more aggressive vents for cooling. The keyboard also reminds me an older Macbook Pro, but mixed with modern ThinkPads which aren’t quite as mushy. It’s a phenomenal keyboard (except the less than effective backlighting) with a mercifully standard layout.
Returning to the exterior, the one area where the G14 lets me down is with the layout of the ports, which are all squished in the front middle of the sides of the laptop. I suppose this has to do with making room for the excellent cooling solution, but it creates an unusual untidiness. In practice it isn’t as annoying as I’d feared, but I wish they’d found a way to put them in their traditional locations. Aside from that the ports are quite good. You get two USB-C ports (one does charging and display), two USB-A ports, a headphone jack, a full-size HDMI port and of course the barrel plug charging port. The only nice-to-have that’s missing is ethernet.
Speaking of networking, I’m getting about 250-400Mbps over wifi, though that could be partially down to my aging AC1200 router. I’ve been using it extensively with Bluetooth headphones and they have maintained a strong connection throughout my apartment, only losing connection when I leave the building and get about 50ft away.
Performance is excellent for a laptop that you can easily slip into your backpack. The Ryzen 9 4900HS performs extremely well in multimedia, productivity and gaming tasks, while also flexing it’s multi-core muscle when you let it. One example of this multicore might that I’ve taken advantage of is recording game footage in Open Broadcasting Software (OBS). Like with the 12-core Ryzen 9 desktop the G14 replaced, I can record steady 60fps footage of AAA games like Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla at using software (CPU) rendering with no hiccups. It’s incredible to have that kind of power in such a portable laptop. You won’t be able to play every game at max settings, but I haven’t had to work hard to get great framerates in everything I’ve thrown at it.
But this isn’t like shoving a jet engine into a Mini Cooper. When you unplug the G14 and go mobile, it can sip battery for legitimately 9-10 hours when writing, web browsing and watching videos. One caveat to this battery life is that I often must reboot to achieve it, as the graphics fail to automatically switch over to the integrated Radeon graphics until rebooting. Fortunately, the G14 is a fast machine which doesn’t take long to reboot, but it would be nice if they could fix whatever bug is causing this. Still, the G14 stays very cool and quiet for basic mobile use.
Heat is noticeable under heavy loads, particularly to the right sight of the keyboard by the exhaust vent, but I’m not sure it ever crosses the line from very warm to hot. The Ryzen 4900HS CPU runs almost weirdly cool during light tasks, though with the default profiles the fans do like to run at a low speed almost all the time. This even happens when operating in the mid-to-high 30s, which is not uncommon for me when just browsing the web and writing.
I’ve made a couple of upgrades to my G14, installing a 2TB Corsair MP510 SSD and upgrading the RAM from 16GB to 24GB. Those are the only upgrades available, with only one RAM slot available since 8GB is soldered. I was initially concerned about the performance impact of going from dual-channel memory to single-channel, but the loss of CPU performance has seemed quite low thus far. In Cinebench R20 for example, the score only changed from 4138 to 4103 when switching from 16GB of dual channel memory to 24GB of single-channel memory. I plan to investigate this deeper later, but so far it doesn’t seem the performance impact is as big as I’d worried.
Moving outside again, the lack of webcam seems like a dumb omission, but I’d mostly use the webcam at my desk anyway, where I already have a dedicated webcam set up on my external monitor. Maybe this was Asus’s bet, that G14 buyers would already have a webcam. Not much else to say about the lack of webcam.
The speakers are quite good. They have good bass for a laptop this size and get loud enough to overpower the fans without distorting. They’re the best laptop speakers I’ve used outside of a store, though most of the nice laptops I’ve used are ThinkPads which have notoriously lackluster speakers.
The overall package the G14 is hard to top. If you can live with the software issues I mentioned, this is the first Windows laptop I’ve used that can give you the type of experience Apple has offered with their larger Macbook Pros for years. Good build quality in a portable design, the power do get you through whatever you need at an acceptable level and the ability to last through the day when you just need to do basic work.
There are certainly some rough edges to the G14, like the front and center I/O, the weirdly shaped power button and fingerprint reader, which works great for me, and the slightly unrefined design elements. But those are all a small price to pay for a laptop that takes the first step toward that techie fantast of saving the day with their awesome gear…as long as a webcam isn’t required.