Gaming laptops usually come with such a premium for their portability that you can feel like it's a penalisation. As a result, one has to swallow that penalty and save up extra aggressively for one of the best gaming laptops in order to feel you're getting the most out of it. But it doesn't have to be that way. Laptops positioned further down the price scale still offer great experiences, and you won't have to pay bank-busting prices. The ASUS ROG G GA502 gaming laptop is one of those. It's a mid-range to entry-level gaming laptop that has a well-balanced set of components and offers a great way into portable PC gaming that's more affordable (at least in the context of gaming laptops - it's priced at around the $1,000 / £1,000 mark).
Processor: AMD Ryzen 7 3750H
Graphics: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660 Ti 6GB - Max-Q design
Memory: 16GB DDR4 RAM
Display: 15.6-inch vIPS 120Hz
Storage: 512GB NVMe SSD x 2
Ports: 1 x USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C with DisplayPort™ 1.4; 3 x USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A; 1 x HDMI 2.0b; 1 x 3.5mm headphone and microphone combo jack; 1 x Kensington lock; 1 x RJ-45 jack
Connectivity: Intel® Wireless-AX200 (802.11/ac 1*1) / Bluetooth 5.0
OS: Windows 10 Home 64-bit
Weight: 4.63 pounds (2.1kg)
Upon first inspection, the GA502 really is a good-looking machine. Its brushed metal finish is immediately pleasing on the eye and there's no over-the-top flashy additions, extensions, or logos adorning it. The GA502 is also a resident of the thin and light neck of the woods, coming in at just 20mm thick and weighing only 2.1 kilograms. It's also no bigger than it absolutely has to be. The 15-inch display is housed by a 14-inch chassis which results in extremely thin bezels (6.2mm) around the vIPS-level display. All this adds to the minimal design and neat, understated aesthetic.
In the same vein, lighting on gaming laptops might normally make a bit of a fuss. However, the only RGB elements here are the ROG logo on the front that glows red and subtle backlighting of the keyboard that highlights each button in white. The whole thing is restrained and handsome as a result.
As expected for a gaming laptop, this excellent chassis carries the usual array of ports that should serve you well. There's an HDMI port to connect to other screens as and when needed, an ethernet connection (the thickness of the laptop pleasingly just allows enough room for this), one USB-C (with DisplayPort 1.4) and three USB-As. The audio jack present is also a headphone and microphone port combined, which is a good space-saver, though increasingly common these days. All in all, the GA502 is well set for an extra mouse, keyboard, and headset if you want a more 'normal' setup beyond just the laptop. It also gives you scope to easily hook up to a monitor for a display boost. If you've got another USB-A device that needs hooking up you'll be at maximum occupancy on those connections, of course, but the USB-C present should greatly assist in avoiding any such circumstances.
Meanwhile, the keyboard and trackpad are firmly in the good-to-middling category. They are fine for everyday use and gaming. The spacing between the keys is good and you are never in danger of accidentally striking keys. What's more, it's actually quite a satisfying keyboard to type on (the actuation is shallow, however, so for fans of mechanical keyboards this might not be enough to transition away from a designated and attached plank). As for the trackpad, it functions fine. Unfortunately, its built-in mouse buttons are a sticking point. Literally. They have a tendency to stick on the edge of their neighbouring framework causing them not to function as they should and to require more force to press than one might be comfortable with. As with all review units, this may have been a flash in the pan or a singular occurrence, but I can only call it as I see it.
Its battery life doesn't get off easily either. ASUS claims the laptop's 73Wh battery lasts for up to 8.8 hours, but PC Mark revealed it was closer to the 2-3 mark of constant gaming usage. Naturally, this is with the caveat of the GA502 being a gaming laptop and unlikely to be kept off power for any serious length of time.
How does the ASUS ROG Zephyrus GA502 fare against some industry standards? Here's how it got on against some rigorous tests.
Cinebench CPU: 1,688 cb
3DMark Fire Strike: 5,533 points
3DMark Time Spy: 4,519 points
PC Mark 10: 3,491 points
CrystalDiskMark: 1288 MB/s read; 982 MB/s write
Shadow of the Tomb Raider: 1080p high: 60fps; 1080p medium: 61 fps
Total War: Warhammer II: 1080p high: 63 fps; 1080p medium: 81 fps
Tom Clancy's The Division 2: 1080p high: 61 fps; 1080p medium: 75 fps
As for performance, the ASUS ROG Zephyrus GA502 deploys its hardware to great effect and almost exactly as I expected it to. Particularly given the considered composition and selection of the components within its shell. Booting up Apex Legends, I was quietly confident it would handle the speedy shooter with little to no trouble. It does. The game runs smoother once a few graphical settings have been lowered to be closer to a 'medium' setting, of course, but it was otherwise able to handle the battle royale for a good long session. It's encouraging that the GA502 managed one of the best online games of the year easily. Because of this, I would have no problems recommending it for Fortnite or Overwatch players too.
Upping the ante somewhat, this laptop handled the more detailed and demanding The Division 2 with relative ease but for a few hiccups. Settling on the medium-to-high level of settings, the laptop performed well enough for extended sessions in the game, and I enjoyed running around the ruins of Washington DC for a good few hours with barely any complaints. Fair warning here, though - here were sometimes glitches and stutterings when things get busy. However, these were never bad enough to ruin gameplay or really put me off. I had a similar experience in Ghost Recon: Wildlands, where the play was pretty seamless and the world constant and steady.
Despite the decent benchmark scores, there is a noticeable dip in performance during the likes of Total War: Warhammer 2. Running the game on the recommended settings (which happened to be Ultra, curiously) there is a lot of stuttering and interruptions. Particularly in bigger and longer battle sequences. Turning the settings down does remedy this to an extent, but there is always the remnant of underperformance when things get busy. This represents the laptop in a microcosm really: a bit of tweaking with settings usually fixes things, but you have to know about and get used to this.
Other than that, the downsides are few and far between. Still, there are a couple of things that raise an eyebrow all the same. The first is the fact that it's loud, and permanently so when a game is running. Basically, as soon as you wave your cursor over a game's icon, the fans boot up and kick into action. I know it's a lot asking for a quiet gaming laptop, and you're likely to drown it out with speakers or a headset anyway, but still - the noise here is so constant that it was a little off-putting and borderline worrying. In fact, the GA502 was so loud and worked so hard that I couldn't help but think something's not quite right. In our relatively busy office, you could still hear it going ballistic from many desks away and across chatter.
The second gripe I had was the touchpad sticking again. This made the mousepad even less than optimal for gaming in the few instances I did try to just use the onboard controls.
My third and final criticism was the display. I generally enjoyed my time viewing games on the GA502's screen, but you can tell it's a vIPS-level display and not a genuine IPS panel. Its depth and detail is a little lacking, and it is a bit dim overall. This takes the sheen off the experience. The decent refresh rate of up to 120Hz helps, but for overall vibrancy and crispness, there's just something lacking (having said this, it is worth remembering its place in the market and the price tag).
Overall - should you buy it?
All in, the GA502 gaming laptop is a great little gaming machine that's easy to recommend to those looking to get a decent machine without paying the big bucks. It's not pretending to be a super high-end gaming laptop - which is fine - and it's comfortable in its own skin. Once you are comfortable with its limitations, it reveals itself as a great gaming machine that offers a thoroughly enjoyable performance and comes with a value-busting price tag. You just have to know that it's not an 'ultra setting always on' kind of machine. The drawbacks of the screen, lack of camera and less-than-optimal touch pad do hold it back a bit and stop it being a world beater at its price but the whole package is a very good bundle for medium gaming. Resist the urge, curb the temptation and learn to love and enjoy medium settings and you'll find an excellent laptop that can handle pretty much everything you throw at it (on medium, anyway). A terrific machine.