ASUS G501 Lightning Review: If the MacBook Pro Could Game

By Sean Buckley on at

Want a thin gaming laptop? We have a whole guide for that—but the ASUS G501 wasn’t the best laptop on our list. In fact, I kind of dismissed it with just three sentences. It deserves more. Let’s take a slightly deeper look.

What Is It?

Emblematic of what manufacturers seem to think a thin gaming laptop should be. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good machine, but you can use the ASUS ROG G501 as a checklist for the category. Thin metal chassis? You betcha. Subtle coloured accents? Yup. Enough graphics power to get away with being called a gaming laptop? Yes. A sturdy, strong frame that looks just a little too much like an Apple MacBook? Of course!

It’s a laptop that’s everything it’s supposed to be and not much else. And that’s fine.

Who’s It For?

Anybody who finds the above list of traits appealing that doesn’t see anything they like better in Gizmodo’s Best Thin Gaming Laptop guide. You know, ASUS fans.

It might also work for folks looking for a thin laptop with a super high resolution screen who don’t want a MacBook Pro with Retina display.

Design

ASUS G501 Lightning Review: If The MacBook Pro Could Game

This machine is about as simple as they come: a thin, 0.8-inch, 1.8-kilo aluminium computer draped in matte black with red highlights. The standard cavalcade of PC ports run around the machine’s edge, including two USB ports, an audio jack, and an SD card reader on its right side, plus a mini DisplayPort, full-sized HDMI and a third USB plug on the left. Visually it looks almost exactly like the MacBook Pro would if it had a full sized keyboard and a black facade. So basically, a paint-by-numbers thin gaming laptop.

That doesn’t mean it’s not nice, though. The G501 has a solid, full-sized keyboard and a large mousepad that handles Windows 8 gestures with aplomb. It’s screen isn’t touch-capable, but it is a 15.6-inch super high resolution 3840 x 2160 display with wonderfully wide viewing angles. The speakers aren’t anything to write home about, so let’s move on.

Using It

ASUS G501 Lightning Review: If The MacBook Pro Could Game

Performance is the difference between a good gaming laptop and a great gaming laptop. The ASUS Republic of Gamers G501 is just a good gaming laptop—and this is what kept it out of the winner’s circle in our big Bests round-up. The GeForce GTX 960M graphics chip at the heart of the machine is a good GPU, but it’s definitely a middle-range performer. This means it can play everything on the market right now, but just not at their maximum settings or the laptop’s native 4K resolution.

Want to play Far Cry 4? Go for it—as long as you keep the graphics settings at medium or lower with a 1080p resolution. Older games like Tomb Raider and Witcher 2 can flirt with higher graphics, but neither are completely playable on maximum settings. GTA V ran pretty well with a mixture of high and very high graphics settings, but it didn’t get buttery smooth until it dropped down to “normal.” Not bad at all—but it feels a little last year in terms of performance.

The Best Part

Most gaming laptops fail to last more than two hours under a heavy workload. This one can last me five.

The Tragic Flaw

That big, beautiful 4K display is way, way more than the laptop’s mid-range graphics chip can handle. Sometimes it makes weird stuff happen: games configured to run full screen sometimes launch at 1080p in a tiny window on the desktop, and almost any game that tries to run at the screen’s native resolution is completely unplayable.

We’re just not ready for 4K gaming laptops, guys. Maybe next time.

This Is Weird…

ASUS G501 Lightning Review: If The MacBook Pro Could Game

Remember that full-sized keyboard I mentioned earlier? That was a minor fib: all the buttons are here, but the num-pad on the right hand side looks a little deformed. All of its buttons are about half as wide as every other key on the laptop. It’s fine, but a mite odd.

Review Notes

  • The entire touchpad clicks down for a left click, but pressing down on only the right-hand-corner of the pad activates a right-click. That takes some getting used to.
  • The power button looks just like a regular keyboard key, and is located above the num-pad. I forgot where it was multiple times.
  • ASUS has put a fair amount of pre-installed software on here. All of it is unnecessary, but most of it is at least complementary: an update utility, a ISP speed test tool and a hotkey tool for changing the colour temperature of the monitor.
  • There’s also a Windows 8 ASUS deals app. I uninstalled it on principle.
  • These keyboard buttons definitely take a little more force to depress than I expected. It’s not bad per se, but it’s different enough that I noticed it.
  • ASUS says the G501 is one of the coolest, quietest laptops on the market. It definitely gets warm, but I never got it so hot I was worried I was going to burn myself. I never thought it was too loud. This claim checks out.

Should You Buy It?

Are ASUS Republic of Gamers machines your absolute favourite brand of laptops in the whole world? Then sure—but if your fandom isn’t as strong as your reason, hold off. The ROG G501 is a good machine that hits all the right notes to stand out as a quality thin gaming laptop—but it’s priced like a great machine. It’s good. Really good, even. It isn’t great.

For the same £1,399 the G501 would set you back, you could have a 14-inch Razer Blade with a more powerful graphics chip, a smaller frame and a slightly better mouse and keyboard—for a little more (though I don’t recommend this) you could even get the Blade with a super high resolution display. For less than the cost of the ASUS laptop, you could have a 15-inch MSI GS60 Ghost Pro with better internals and better speakers. Hell, you could even buy the Ghost’s 17-inch brother, the GS70 Stealth, and still come away with a more powerful, less expensive computer.

ASUS G501 Lightning Review: If The MacBook Pro Could Game

Okay, but what if you don’t really want a gaming machine: you want a 15-inch Windows laptop with a screen and chassis to rival the MacBook Pro with Retina that can still play games sometimes. Fine, maybe the ASUS ROG will work for you... but it’ll cost you as much as that MacBook Pro and have less battery life. That doesn’t mean it’s not the right choice—it just means that the ASUS G501’s higher-end graphics come at a price.

Bottom line: the ASUS ROG G501 is a good gaming PC, but it’s not a good value.

ASUS ROG G501J Specs

  • Display 15.6-inch 3840 x 2160 IPS UHD
  • Processor: 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-4720HQ
  • Graphics: NVIDIA GTX 960M
  • Operating System: Windows 8.1
  • Storage: 128GB boot SSD, 256GB data SSD
  • Memory: 16GB DDR3L 1600 MHz SDRAM
  • Connectivity: 3x USB 3.0, 1x Mini Displayport, 1x HDMI, 1x SD card slot, 3.5mm audio jack, Integrated 802.11ac or 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0
  • Dimensions: 15.07” x 10.03” x 0.83”
  • Weight: 4.5lbs
  • Base Price: £1,399