Asus ROG Zephyrus M16 review: Nice design but Intel inside costs too much
Quick verdict: The Intel-based Asus ROG Zephyrus M16 packs in good battery life and an appealing 16:10 display, but it's outclassed and overpriced compared to its AMD brethren when it comes time to play games. And who buys a gaming laptop not to play games on it?
- 16:10 display
- Includes webcam
- Good battery life for lighter tasks
- Outclassed in CPU and GPU performance by AMD equivalents
- Comparatively expensive
- Weird port layout
The Asus ROG Zephyrus M16 sounds like it should be a machine gun, but instead it's Asus's take on machine gunning an Intel processor more or less into the design of the existing ROG Zephyrus G15. There are differences, most notably in the choice of processor but also in the inclusion of a webcam and a slightly different screen aspect ratio.
However, this is still a gaming laptop, and while it's powerful within its class, the simple reality is that it lags behind the G15 where it counts. If you have a really specific need for Intel, Thunderbolt or an integrated webcam it may be worth buying, but otherwise the G15 is the model to go for.
Design: Still a beautifully light chassis for a gaming system
Unpacking the Asus ROG Zephyrus M16 gave me a solid feeling of déjà vu, because in many respects Asus really has just taken a whole heap of G15 bodies and rejigged them for changed internals. There's nothing wrong with that, because every laptop maker iterates over time for emerging technologies.
I was somewhat tempted to simply drop in my existing review paragraphs around the G15 when it came to the design of the ROG Zephyrus M16, because there's just so much that still applies.
You're still talking about a simple and robust frame that feels a lot lighter than you might expect out of a 15-inch gaming laptop. Like the G15, it measures in at 35.5x24.3x1.99cm with a carrying weight of 1.9kg.
That's not light for a laptop, but for a gaming laptop it's quite slender. If you do want a more portable gaming solution than your typical beached whale design, Asus has that nicely tied up.
The keyboard is RGB backlit and nicely quiet, with the same weird hexagonal power button at the top. It's responsive for gaming, and equally suitable for when you need to type out that latest boring corporate report, before getting back to gaming.
Like the G15, the port allocation is mostly on the left-hand side, with a combination audio jack, HDMI 2.0b, gigabit ethernet, dual USB-C 3.2/PD ports and a single USB A type port to be found. The right-hand side houses a secondary USB A type port and micro SD card reader.
The technical change here is that the switch to Intel allows the ROG Zephyrus M16 to support Thunderbolt 4, something it couldn't do on the AMD-based G15 if that kind of video bandwidth is important to you.
The screen is also subtly different. Where the G15 has a 15.6-inch 2560x1440 165Hz display, Asus slices away at the bezels to cram in a 16-inch 2560x1600 165Hz display, which means it switches up to a 16:10 ratio. If you're looking for a laptop to work on as well as play on, that has significant upsides for the side-to-side display of documents or web pages.
The slender bezel also manages to make space for a webcam, something that was weirdly absent from the older G15 models, although the new 2022 models announced at CES will include those. The camera on the M16 is only a 720p model. It'll suffice for your zoom calls but not thrill. In my tests it tended to struggle to pick up detail in middling light, and the onboard microphones are workable without being particularly sharp.
Performance: Core i9 performance is fast, but you can get faster for less money
As with most gaming laptops, you've got choices to make when it comes to picking up the Asus ROG Zephyrus M16, because Asus doesn't just make one of them. At the top end, you can get a model with an Intel Core i9-11900H processor, 16GB of RAM, 1TB of storage and either an NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3070 or NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3060 GPU.
Lower cost models offer an Intel Core i7-11800H processor, 16GB of RAM, either 1TB or 512GB of storage and either an NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3060 or NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3050. One big catch with the cheapest M16 model currently available is that it also drops the display down to just 1920x1200, while the other models share the same higher resolution screen.
The model Asus supplied for review was the top-tier variant. If you like your strings of consonants and numbers, it's technically the ROG Zephyrus M16 GU603HM-K8004T. Just rolls off the tongue, doesn't it?
The battle for gaming supremacy has waged long and hard between AMD and Intel, but recently most of the value and performance has tended to drop in AMD's favour. Given that the M16 is effectively an Intel-juiced-up G15, I was keen to see what kinds of performance differences might be seen between the 2 models, especially for graphics rendering.
Here's how the Asus ROG Zephyrus M16 compares against a range of gaming-specific laptops in PCMark and 3DMark's benchmark tests:
It's not a great look for the ROG Zephyrus M16. It is important to point out that some of those systems can come in at a higher price point than the ROG Zephyrus M16 – but some are older, and can be had for the similar or lower prices.
This doesn't mean that the ROG Zephyrus M16 is a bad gaming laptop. There was little that I threw at it that couldn't display crisply thanks to that 16:10 screen, and while it did absolutely nothing to improve my gaming prowess, it certainly had few lag issues.
Still, if you're in the market for a gaming laptop, it makes sense to eke out the most performance you can get for your gaming dollar, and here the ROG Zephyrus M16 notably stumbles.
Battery: The battery is better than most gaming laptops (but not great)
Breaking news: Gaming laptops do not have good battery lives, because the needs of high-end GPUs and CPUs and displays absolutely murder most laptop batteries.
You're surprised, right?
The challenge for gaming laptops is real, but one factor that Intel has pushed heavily in recent years is the low power consumption of its CPUs especially.
That has to be balanced against a 16-inch display and a good GPU of course, but still, I went into testing the Asus ROG Zephyrus M16 with low expectations for overall battery life.
In ad-hoc situations while gaming, I could certainly kill the M16 within an hour or so of blasting away in just about any intensive game. Ad-hoc working fared quite a bit better, leaving me to wonder if it would manage a full day's usage for a typical worker.
The answer is probably not unless you're particularly economical with your usage, although when benchmarked, the Asus ROG Zephyrus M16 did show off some capability for longer-term battery endurance. Here's how it compared:
The PC Mark 10 gaming figure sits exactly within my own ad-hoc observations, but the video rendering test is quite pleasing. Video playback is quite light work for any modern computer, but it's still an area where most gaming laptops struggle. The Asus ROG Zephyrus M16 wasn't one of those, measuring the highest performance in that test we've seen from any gaming laptop.
The Asus ROG Zephyrus M16's default charger is predictably its own heavy brick that would be a bit of a challenge to carry around with you. One nice touch here is that the Asus ROG Zephyrus M16 does support charging over USB-PD through its USB-C ports. It will pop up a warning about slow charging when you do so, but it's at least an option if you're desperate for power and away from the standard charger.
Should you buy it?
- Buy it if a 16:10 display and Thunderbolt are important to your workflow, alongside your gaming ambitions.
- Don't buy it if you want the best value Asus gaming rig.
It's great that Asus offers a choice in processors in its gaming laptops, because it opens up avenues for value and performance to consumers that you just don't see with a 1-processor-maker approach.
However, that kind of comparison inevitably leads to winners and losers. The Asus ROG Zephyrus M16 does win by a slim margin on gaming battery life, and more so for less intensive work, and it also wins on Thunderbolt compatibility and 16:10 aspect ratios if that's important to you.
However, it's still a Republic of Gamers branded machine, and Gamers is the important word there. The AMD-based machines are just that bit nippier in gaming performance, and can be had for less money, and those are the real key metrics here. You won't be stuck with a lemon if you buy the Asus ROG Zephyrus M16… but there is a better option that you really ought to consider instead.
ROG Zephyrus M16 review: Pricing and availability
How we tested
The Asus ROG Zephyrus M16 was loaned to me by Asus for the purposes of review. It was tested over a 2-week period as both a productivity laptop, using it for web browsing and writing functions, as well as detailed benchmarking and game playing for evaluative purposes. Battery tests were run multiple times to come up with an average score for comparison with other gaming laptop options.
Alex Kidman is a multi-award-winning technology journalist who has been writing about and reviewing laptops for over 20 years with extensive experience in gaming, consumer and business laptop evaluation.
8GB DDR4-3200 SO-DIMM
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