Asus ROG G501VW Review (GTX 960M, I7)

++ Main reason to consider:

Thin & lightweight along, Thunderbolt 3 and otherwise, overall good gaming/multimedia laptop

-- Main reason to avoid:

Performance/price ratio (current pricing) and PWM brightness control which in this case results in noticeable flickering in lower brightness

Availability

Current pricing is around $1000 for basic versio

Pro : + Relatively thin & lightqweight for such hardware
+ For $800 (as I bought it), very good performance/price ratio with an I7-6700HQ and a GTX 960M
+ Very good 1080p IPS display with very good colors, contrast, blacks and high brightness. Viewing angles are very good too.
+ Thunderbolt 3 USB-C port, may prove useful for eGPUs in the future
+ Quite a good backlit keyboard with good feedback, response, travel depth and spacing. Keys machanism is a little stiff maybe
+ Low noise under high load as well as low/moderate load
+ Hinges seem to be rigid
+ TPM 2.0
+ Nice. simple, solid looks
+ Smooth touchpad
+ M.2 NVMe PCIe slot
Con : - Relatively low performance/price ratio for the usual price, compared to other GTX 960M/965M equipped laptops
- GPU core throttling under full load of Furmark + Prime95, but no so much under gaming load (Crysis 3, Ashes of Singularity)
- PWM brightness mechanism with low frequency, results in noticeable flickering when brightness is set to less than $85-90% (though mostly noticeable for much lower brightness levels)
- Outer lid is not sufficiently robust. Pull with both hands
- Parts of the bottom of the laptop and somewhat the palm rests can get a bit too warm
- No RJ-45 ethernet port (USB 3.0 <-> RJ-45 adapter supplied)
- Default storage is a 5400RPM HDD which results in a bit sluggish performance (non-gaming)
- 2.0 branded speakers aren't really that good
- Touchpad and buttons are a little shakey
- GTX 960M has 2GB VRAM and not 4GB
- 8GB DDR4 RAM soldered to the motherboard. Only one free DDR4 slot (but for gamers it should be ok anyway)
- Some kind of a coiling noise from the motherboard around the center of the keyboard, though that's pretty common
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Introduction

Asus G501VW Review front

So, the Asus G501VW is Asus’s latest thin&lightweight cheaper multimedia/gaming laptop. It seems like the less premium version of the premium UX501VW or a slimmed down version of the GL552VW. It’s mostly for those who want the usually $800-$1000 GTX 960M gaming laptop in a smaller form. I bought it for $800 during some of the occuassional discounts, but the price currently is around $950-$1000 for this configuration.

The G501VW ‘premium’ elements except the weight and dimensions is the Thunderbolt 3 USB-C port and the IPS 1080p display. In comparison to Asus’ other $800-$1000 offerings, like the GL552VW and the FZ50VW, it has the same CPU and GPU (I7-6700HQ + GTX 960M 2GB), but adds the thunderbolt 3 port and you get the TB3 port, which could be a big plus if an eGPU solution will be enabled via bios update from Asus.

These traits make it a good option for $800-$900, and a unique one even compared to non-Asus laptops. The other laptops in this range of weight are the Acer VN7-592G and the XPS 9550. The VN7-592G costs currently around $900-$1000 and the XPS usually around $1050-$1100, both with a TB3 port.

Let’s see what the G501VW has to offer in practice in this review!

ComponentDescription
ModelASUS G501VW-BSI7N25
PriceAs tested, $1000, but I bought it discounted for $800 from Newegg
CPUIntel Skylake I7-6700HQ, 4C/8T, 2.6-3.5GHZ, 6MB cache
GPUNvidia Geforce GTX 960M 2GB GDDR5, GM107 (Maxwell I), 640 shaders, core@1097-1200MHZ, GDDR5@1252MHZ, 128-bit bus
Motherboard / ChipsetAsus G501VW / Intel HM170 (Skylake PCH-H)
2xPCI Express x1, 1xPCI Express x4, 1xPCI Express x16
RAMOnboard 1x8GB (single channel) DDR4 2133MHZ. One slot free
StorageHDD : HGST 1TB HGST HGST HTS541010A7E630
SSD: None
M.2 slots: M.2 SATA or PCIe/NVMe 2280 (one)
Display PanelIn review: SAMSUNG 156HL01-104 IPS 1920x1080 panel
Weight / Dimensions2.06kg (~4.54 Lbs.) + ~0.4kg 120W PSU*
383 x 255 x 20.6-21.3 mm
15.08" x 10.04" x 0.79-0.84"
(w x d x h)
KeyboardRed backlit (4 levels including off*)
Connection PortsRight side: 2xUSB 3.0, SD Card Slot, audio out/microphone
Left: AC power, 1xUSB 3.0, HDMI (2.0?), Thunderbolt 3 USB-C (USB 3.1 gen2)
Front, Rear: None
Camera720p
WiFi / EthernetWiFi: Intel(R) Dual Band Wireless-AC 7265
Ethernet: None, Ethernet to USB adapter supplied
Speakers / Audio2.0 Bang & Olufsen
Realtek chip
Battery62Wh
Bios / EC version (test unit)G501VW.205 /
Extra features
more details

Build quality, Case, design and looks

The base unit is good in terms of build quality. It’s quite firm and nice to hold. The keyboard surface feels pretty rigid too and won’t yield easily. Hinges feel also pretty strong. The only part that only a little problematic is the screen’s outer lid which isn’t rigid and I’d consider some protection if the laptop is carried in the backpack. This is disappointing.

Looks

The G501VW has a simple, solid and smooth metallic finish.

 

Maintenance and inner parts

You’ll need a Torx screwdriver and you’ll have to peel the two bottom pads that are closer to the hinges, to unscrew two screws that are beneath them. In this version you’ll find only the 1TB HDD for storage. There is one M.2 NVMe PCIe slot and one free DDR4 slot. There are already 8GB of RAM soldered to the motherboard.

Asus G501VW Review : motherboard

Both CPU and GPU are soldered. Two fans cool the system, connected by two heatpipes (one smaller) and are shared between the CPU and GPU.

Keyboard and touchpad

Keyboard. The keyboard is pretty nice, with good key spacing, good travel depth and feedback, but the typing is a little stiff to my taste. Overall, a nice keyboard, though. No real complaints.

Touchpad. Average. A little shaky and buttons clicking isn’t the smoothest experience. Saying that, it’s pretty smooth and feels ok on the finger.

Sound & Speakers

Average, maybe Average+. The Asus G501VW comes with 2.0 speaker system, located on the bottom’s left and right. They have some strength, with relatively good mids, but that’s more or less all. The lows are missing and highs are messy, I think.

General subjective performance experience

The performance is sometimes a bit sluggish, probably due to the 5400RPM HDD.

Added CPU-Z and GPU-Z screenshots.

 

Gaming Performance

Test Methods & Drivers

OS : Windows 10, fully updated

Drivers: Nvidia Geforce 364.72

Synthetic 3D benchmarks

3DMark performance – link to source:

Asus G501VW Review : 3DMark GTX 960M 2GB I7-6700HQ

Summarized gaming performance

Asus ROG G501VW Review : GTX 960M, I7-6700HQ gaming benchmarks fixed

Performance is more or less like the usual performance of other laptops with an I5/I7 and a GTX 960M, although there are some difference in FPSs, maybe due to throttling.

Crysis 3

Asus G501VW Review : CPU and GPU clocks in Crysis 3 1080p GTX 960M I7-6700HQAsus ROG G501VW Review - Crysis 3 GTX 960M 1080p benchmarks

Thief

Thief sees some advantage using Mantle API over the DX11. Heavily Vulkan/DX12 optimized games/game engines should see much higher improvements.

Asus ROG G501VW Review : Thief GTX 960M 1080p benchmarks

Bioshock Infinite

Asus ROG G501VW Review : Bioshock Infinite GTX 960M 1080p benchmarks

Civilization : Beyond Earth

Asus ROG G501VW Review - Civilization Beyond Earth GTX 960M 1080p benchmarks

Total War : Attila

The new iteration of Total War : Rome II, Attila is a much more demanding game and FPSs are much lower.

Metro : Last Light

No matter what I’ve tried, performance in Metro Last Light remained problematic, it’s like the GPU stopped working even now and then

Asus ROG G501VW Review : Metro Last Light GTX 960M 1080p benchmarks

Battlefield 4 Campaign

BF4 campaign benchmark

Asus ROG G501VW Review : Battlefield 4 GTX 960M 1080p benchmarks

World of Tanks

Asus ROG G501VW Review : World Of Tanks GTX 960M 1080p benchmarks

Shadow Of Mordor

Dragon Age : Inquisition

Asus ROG G501VW Review : Dragon Age Inquisition GTX 960M 1080p benchmarks

Ashes Of Singularity

Ashes of Singularity is out from BETA stage, so now we’ll keep benchmarking it

Asus ROG G501VW Review : Ashes Of Singularity GTX 960M 1080p benchmarks

The Talos Principle

Asus ROG G501VW Review : The Talos Principle GTX 960M 1080p benchmarks

Rise of the Tomb Raider

Asus ROG G501VW Review : Rise Of The Tomb Raider GTX 960M 1080p benchmarks

Dark Souls III (DX11)

The new Dark Souls III.

Even though FPSs aren’t the highest, it works well for me.

Thermals, Throttling & Noise handling

As described before, the CPU and GPU have two shared heatpipes and fans. Cool air is sucked from below and thrown out of the rear.

Four tests:

1. Idle, power saver mode

2. Gaming : Crysis 3 gameplay. “very high” settings with SMAAx2 For Crysis 3, “High performance” power mode.

3. Prime95 torture test. “High performance” power mode.

4. Prime95 + Furmark on 1366×768 test, AAx2. “High performance” power mode.

 

Asus G501VW Review : CPU & GPU temperatures

Temperatures are relatively ok, but let’s check throttling and noise levels.

Heat

The G501VW chassis temperatures gets hot mostly around the areas near to the hinges and the palm rests (mostly the right palm rest). The bottom gets hotter, also around the center of the keyboard. The G501VW performs not exceptionally good or bad for such a laptop, but other laptops with such a hardware but larger frame have better chassis temps, like the Lenovo Y700 and Acer VN7-592G.

Throttling

Under Prime95 + Furmark, the G501VW’s GPU core throttles down to around 0.4GHZ for long periods, while CPU maintain higher clocks. That’s not a very smart behavior for gaming as you’d want higher GPU clocks and a bit lower CPU clocks. However, under Crysis 3 stess levels, the GPU clocks remain very high. I didn’t test Ashes of Singularity clocks, but FPSs are relatively high, meaning throttling isn’t that high.

 

Here is a table that shows the temperatures and the throttling state:

Throttle CPU average stable CPU MAX GPU
36 32 Idle
No (2.6GHZ) 87 88 Prime95
GPU Core@0.4GHZ 83 85 79 Prime95 + Furmark
GPU Core@0.4GHZ 83 86 79 Prime95 + Furmark CPU@-100mV
No (2.6GHZ) 75 78 80 Crysis 3

Noise

The G501VW is obviously optimized for lower noise over lower temperatures. This is a preferable configuration for many people.

  1. Under high load, fans noise is relatively low and, for example, I could play music while gaming.
  2. Under light/moderate, the G501VW fans can be heard, but only a little bit, even though they are operating on a very low speed. It’s not annoying or something, but still.

Overall, noise levels are pretty low and for me, satisfying.

Screen & Screen quality

The default panel is SAMSUNG 156HL01-104 1920×1080 IPS/PLS display. Subjectively, contrast is pretty high with very good (low) blacks and colors good and my Spyder5Elite measures do show it. Maximal brightness isn’t the highest, but it’s good enough, and coupled with good contrast and viewing angles, watching the screen is pretty a nice experience. Color accuracy seem to be relatively good too.

Unfortunately, I could “detect” PWM brightness mechanism with my (bare) eyes under 90% brightness. You could easily see flickering of the screen. It was actually obvious. I didn’t feel different significantly in a way I could way strongly related to using this laptop, but still.

Overall, my experience was pretty good with this display, PWM aside.

ContrastBrightnessBlack levels
720 309 0.43
sRGBadobeRGBNTSC
99 77 71

Battery Performance

In my tests, the G501VW could do around 6.5 hours of very light use and over 5 hours of general use/work use, like browsing the web + Office stuff + Youtube music.

Asus ROG G501VW Review Battery Performance

Issues

  • As Paul Ryasnoy added in the comments, indeed there is a coiling noise. At first I didn’t mention it, because it seems to be quite common, but maybe it’s better to set the bar

Competing gaming laptops / Alternatives

    • GTX 960M equipped laptops, check the $1000 gaming laptops recommendations
    • The VN7-592G is pretty close in weight and has some advantages in thermals.
    • Dell XPS 9550 which usually sells for around $1050 at least (GTX 960M version)

Conclusion

Let’s wrap it up. The G501VW offers low weight and slimmer frame, with good gaming performance for the price, good IPS display and the Thunderbolt 3 USB-C port which is not common for $800-$1000 gaming/multimedia laptops currently. It does uses a PWM brightness control noticeably and thermals and CPU/GPU clocks algorithm isn’t the best, resulting in GPU throttling under Furmark + Prime95 load (but it’s better in games).

As said before, I got it for $800 New from Newegg, I think. For $800-$900, that’s a good price for those who look for a slimmer, more lightweight laptop, and especially, such a laptop with a thunderbolt 3 port. I’d say that for such a price, that’s a good option indeed. However, it is selling for $1000 currently, and for those who’re looking for higher performance for the price or for those who want such performance for lower price, that’s not such a good option (Dell 7559, Lenovo Y700, others).

Compared to the Acer VN7-592G, which also has an I7 and a Thunderbolt 3 USB-C port (and PWM), the G501VW is a little more lightweight and has a better IPS display, but PWM slickering is more noticeable and chassis gets hotter with more GPU throttling.

Bottom line, for $800-$850 and even $900, that’s a good option. Just remember that for $900, you get a 5400RPM HDD. Otherwise, with current pricing in mind (of around $1000), I’d consider laptops like the 7559 for $750-$800 and even the Y700/VN7-592G, if it’s just for gaming and you don’t care about the extra 300-500 grams

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  • Ewyn

    I have read previously about some ROG models receiving a BIOS update that fixed PWM issue, can anyone confirm this for this particular model?

    • I haven’t new bioses for the G501VW or GL502VT – can you link to the source?

      • Ewyn

        I can’t for the love of God find the source, I have read about a 100 reviews this week of many laptops. I’m certain it was an ASUS laptop but I do recall now the review was from around the middle of 2015, so that means it’s not applicable to this laptop. Sorry about the confusion, my bad there.

        Too bad that’s a deal breaker for me in this case.

        I am looking for a laptop in the $1000-1200 price range with durable chassis (will be carried around in a backpack often), good battery life (something that can last longer than 3 hrs of web browsing and light work) that will be mostly used for office work, media (movies and series) and gaming (nothing hardcore though). So far every model I have checked out has some flaw that bothers me and I’m starting to feel very annoyed and desperate about it.

        Anyhow, thanks for the reply anyway, the search continues!

  • I read this review about the coiling noise from the motherboard around the center of the keyboard, and I ignore it. So I bought this laptop, but when I start reading documents in the laptop that low pitch sound gets very annoying, so I am going to return this laptop! Thank you and please do more reviews about laptops and please let me know if they have that annoying low pitch sound.

    • Well, many have it, from my experience :

  • Jefferry Huynh

    Hi Junky,

    How are the build quality and thermal comparison between this one and the Dell 7559 (Assuming they have the same i7)? This one is way lighter than the Dell, and that is something I can justify to pay extra for. Thank you.

    • Hi Jefferry!

      I’d say that the 7559 has better thermals and generally, less throttling, at least in the I5 case.
      The G501VW has more advantages – Thunderbolt 3 port and better display (but with more pronounced PWM, which means more flickering)

      You can find refurbished Dell 7559 for like $550-$600 from Dell outlet when there is a sale

      • aka_charos

        Junky, did you try Iris software (iristech dot co) ? It promises to bypass the PWM . I wonder whether that is true. G501VW seems like a good testing (with pwm at 200Hz from 90% brightness)

        • No! Never heard about it and I admit that I probably haven’t check for anything like it before (I should have though)

          I don’t have the G501VW no more, but I can test it with the Y700 AMD which also has such a PWM performance, I think

        • I didn’t see any setting that is related to PWM – did you see anything related?

        • OK, I see now – these tools are doing some image processing to the frame. I see some smaller, simpler tools, like this http://www.nelsonpires.com/software/dimmer/

          This one actually says what it’s doing – it uses opacity to create dimming effect. Probably like you’d do with CSS – opacity of 50% equals a blend of 50% image + 50% black background

          This is not like changing brightness via hardware, but it should work as far as PWM goes:
          1. You set windows screen brightness to 100%, so no PWM/flickering
          2. Then you use one of these tools
          3. They are not the same as changing the backlit power. You will use more power probably and the image should look a little different, but that does not mean it will be bad! So, yes, this is a useful solution

          • aka_charos

            Yes, the dimmer software is a fine little utility. However it doesn’t support multiple monitors so for my desktop I use http://www.pangobright.com/ . Very nice little app that supports multiple monitors

            Iris though claims to dim the monitor by controlling the hardware instead of an opacity overlay:

            “At the end of the graphics pipeline, just where the image leaves the computer to make its journey along the monitor cable, there is a small piece of hardware that can transform pixel values on the fly. This hardware typically uses a lookup table to transform the pixels. Iris controls this hardware and uses it to decrease your brightness. You get flicker free low brightness. Set your hardware brightness to the MAX and control it with Iris.”

            I guess the question is how to be sure that the app is actually fiddling on the hardware level and is not yet another opacity layer app!

            My desktop setup doesn’t allow me to test it anyhow if that is true (no pwm monitor here).
            That’s why I asked from you to check it out !

            • I talked to the man – he said it is not a hardware control, but a software control. Yes, it manipulates the last frame, the one that will be displayed, and changes the pixels, but not the brightness, only a brightness effect (meaning, changing the RGBA values)

        • Well, also, it seems that for a good display, dimming via hardware will be better in terms of contrast.. maybe colors too

          • aka_charos

            That’s for sure. If you have a single screen and the monitor doesn’t suffer from pwm syndrome , hardware adjustment is the way to go!

            But even though I have a couple of good monitors , working/studying at night (not with color critical applications) is a big hassle to adjust the brightness by hardware for multiple monitors. So I use pangobright for ease of use.

            Now if I had a pwm laptop like g501vw ( still top of my list for buying candidate) , I’d prefer inferior color accuracy than eye fatigue and headache!

            • Unless it reduces contrast too much
              Anyway, that’s a good option, I’ll post it

  • Paul Ryasnoy

    Thanks)

    What about “coil whine noise” ??

    • Yes, I’ve heard that, but for some reason I didn’t write about it – maybe because I’ve noticed it in almost all laptops I’ve recently had, as far as I remember
      But maybe indeed I should add it