ASUS ROG Flow X13 review: The most powerful 13-inch 2-in-1 laptop with gaming DNA
Generally, when we talk about 2-in-1 laptops, it’s more about the sleek design and portability factor. But ASUS is taking it to a whole new level. The new ROG Flow X13 is an ultra-portable 13-inch laptop that can offer some grunt for gaming on the go. But if you want to go all out, simply plug in the ROG XG Mobile loaded with up to an NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3080 for that amazing high-end gaming experience.
External GPUs are not a new concept. We’ve seen manufacturers in the past trying to sell slim laptops with Thunderbolt ports that can connect to full-sized external GPUs. The only problem is that the external GPU enclosures are massive. Additionally, Thunderbolt had certain speed limitations as well. ASUS has managed to solve that by making a really compact mobile dock that’s not only easy to carry in a backpack but also houses an RTX 3080 with a variety of I/O ports. Instead of using traditional Thunderbolt, the company has a special PCIe-based connector that works seamlessly without any additional software or drivers. Just plug it in, and you are good to go. I got a chance to play around with the laptop and here’s how my experience went.
ASUS ROG Flow X13: Specifications
|Specification||ASUS ROG Flow X13|
|Dimensions & Weight|
|RAM & Storage|
|Battery & Charger|
About this review: ASUS India sent the ROG Flow X13 (4k Display, 16GB RAM, 1TB storage) for testing purposes only. The review only talks about the laptop as the ROG XG Mobile module was not provided, but was promised to be shared at a later stage. The opinions below are based on 15 days of regular use of the laptop. ASUS had no input into the contents of this article.
Design: Stealthy but not perfect
The Flow X13 is a 13-inch ultraportable 2-in-1 laptop which means the hinge allows the display to be folded all the way and be used in different modes. In fact, using the laptop in tent mode actually helps in performance (more on that later). At 1.3kg, the machine is pretty lightweight and easy to carry around and I found it quite comfortable both on my desk and for casual use in bed.
Taking a closer look, you can tell that ASUS has played safe with the design of the Flow X13. There’s no loud branding or RGB lighting, except a subtle textured ROG (Republic of Gamers) logo right below the arrow keys, a tiny ROG metal nameplate on the bottom of the lid, and the series name under the display. What I do appreciate is the fact that ASUS has paid attention to textures and patterns. The lid and the bottom cover feature textured diagonal lines giving it a unique look and if you look at it from an angle, you can see the split-triangular design that’s become a staple on all ROG laptops. Similarly, you see finer diagonal lines on the palm rest as well as on the inside.
The notebook gives off a very plastic feel, despite being made out of magnesium alloy. Also, the all-black, stealthy finish seems a little understated and muted, but that’s just a very personal choice, because it doesn’t look bad at all. I did notice the inside and outer shell attracting smudges, and while it’s easy to wipe them away, I had high expectations about the quality of materials that are being used.
Coming to the ports, ASUS has crammed in full-size USB and HDMI ports. There is also a USB Type-C port, a 3.5mm audio jack, and the proprietary connector for the XG Mobile external GPU protected by a removable silicone cover. Notably, this connector is split in two, where the smaller half is a USB-C port that supports data transfer and charging the notebook’s battery.
I think this is a healthy set of ports considering the form factor of the laptop. As for the exhaust vents, there are two placed next to the hinges for the display and one on the right side. The speakers are placed at the bottom, so they are a bit restricted, and the audio performance is just average.
The most disappointing design choice has to be the power button. First of all, the placement is on the right edge, instead of having it on the top corner of the keyboard. Users who prefer the tablet orientation might appreciate that, but it’s flushed with the body making it really difficult to locate. On top of that, it has an embedded fingerprint reader, which didn’t seem to be very accurate during the two weeks of my testing.
The bottom panel comes off by removing 11 screws to give you access to the internals. You can see that the RAM is soldered, and even the tiny Intel Wi-Fi module is embedded onto the motherboard. The M.2 SSD is the only part that is user-upgradable that is hidden under a small thermal pad. Notably, the laptop can only accommodate an M.2 2230, so it might be difficult to get hold of one.
Display: Functional for most use cases
The 13.4-inch display comes with a glossy finish, and being the first ASUS gaming laptop to offer a 16:10 aspect ratio, you get a bit more vertical coverage. The bezels are fairly thin on the sides but not so much on the top and bottom. The non-conventional aspect ratio also means that you are going to see black bands while watching content. ASUS has included a built-in webcam on this notebook, unlike the ROG Zephyrus series, so you don’t have to rely on an external one. The touch screen panel is protected by Gorilla Glass and is offered with either a 4K (3840 x 2400-pixels) 60Hz refresh rate option, or a full-HD (1920 x 1200-pixel) with a 120Hz refresh rate. Getting the latter option makes more sense in my opinion, as you can appreciate the higher frame rates. Having said that, ASUS sent us a unit with the 4K panel, which isn’t bad, but I prefer faster frame rates over a higher pixel count. The display also supports a stylus pen which ASUS does bundle in the box. There’s nothing really unique about it, and I’m not really into writing or sketching, so I didn’t really bother using it at all.
It sounds like an impressive display on paper as ASUS lists the panel as 13.4-inches, offering 116% coverage of sRGB, 86% of Adobe RGB, and 85% DPI-P3 color spaces. It offers Adaptive-Sync and is also Pantone validated as well. I liked the colors on the display as they look punchy, and it should also be good for some creative work like photo or video editing. Rated to offer 300-nits of brightness, it isn’t super bright, but it gets the job done and I didn’t have any issues using it indoors.
I am not really sure about the 4K resolution panel though. This laptop goes beyond gaming and is made for a variety of users. That’s probably why ASUS has that option, but at 13.4-inches, I think a full-HD panel is excellent. Having said that, I had a great time watching videos on the Flow X13 especially since there are options to prop it in different modes making it convenient to use almost anywhere. It’s the same case when it comes to gaming, although I really wish ASUS had the chance to test the 120Hz panel.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The keyboard looks and feels nice with an identical layout to the ROG Zephyrus G15. There’s a good amount of spacing between keys and the keystroke is surprisingly good especially considering how slim the laptop is. You also get dedicated keys on top for volume, mic mute/unmute, and a key to fire up the Armory Crate software. As I mentioned above, there is no fancy RGB lighting, so you have to compromise with simple white backlighting which could use some more brightness.
The touchpad is smaller than what you would find on most 13-inch laptops and that’s because of how the keyboard is laid out, especially with those dedicated keys on the top. I don’t really mind the size, but people who like using gestures might find it difficult to use.
Also, don’t go by the picture above as the surface of the touchpad is smooth and the textured lines sit underneath the glass panel. Overall, it isn’t the best touchpad I’ve used so far, but it does get the job done.
Performance: The most powerful CPU on a 2-in-1 laptop
ASUS offers the ROG Flow X13 in a ‘Supernova Edition’ that is available with AMD’s newest Ryzen 9 5980HS octa-core processor. There is also the standard edition of the laptop, which is the one that I’ve got, that comes with the Ryzen 9 5900HS featuring eight cores and max clock speeds going up to 4.5GHz. The laptop also comes with 16GB of soldered LPDDR4X memory with 1TB NVMe PCIe Gen 3 SSD for storage. The NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650 GPU has 4GB of DDR6 video memory and is rated to push up to 40W, which is not bad considering how slim the chassis is. To keep the temperatures in check, ASUS is using a liquid-metal-based thermal paste by Thermal Grizzly, and dual ‘Arc Flow’ fans that feature 84 blades each with varied thickness to increase airflow.
As you can see from the results below, the laptop manages to ace all CPU-intensive benchmark tests. Compared to the Lenovo Legion 7i I reviewed last year loaded with Intel’s 10th-gen Core i7 and RTX 2080 Super, the ROG Flow X13 manages to beat it in Cinebench R20, Cinebench R15, Geekbench 5, and PC Mark 10. But when it comes to 3D benchmarks, the GTX 1650 is just an average graphics chipset. This is where the ROG XG Mobile comes in. Stay tuned for full benchmark results once we get our hands on the eGPU.
|Cinebench R20 (Multi-core/Single-core)||Cinebench R15 (Multi-core/Single-core)||Cinebench R15 OpenGL||Geekbench 5 (Multi-core/Single-core)||PC Mark 10||3D Mark Time Spy Extreme||3D Mark Time Spy||3D Mark Firestrike Ultra||3D Mark Firestrike Extreme||3D Mark Firestrike|
|ASUS ROG Flow X13 (Performance mode)||4231 | 542||1526 | 228||130.35fps||7455 | 1413||5888||1457||2995||1756||3546||7299|
|ASUS ROG Flow X13 (Performance mode)||4546 | 561||1931 | 231||144.25fps||7653 | 1402||6068||1516||3333||1734||3721||7741|
As for gaming, I was only able to test the laptop with the onboard NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650, which is a low-to-mid-range card. Surprisingly it managed to hold up well in certain first-person shooters. For instance, I was able to get close to 85-90fps on Apex Legends with all the graphics settings pulled down. Rise of the Tomb Raider would go up to 30-35fps on the maximum settings and about 55fps at the lowest settings, while Star Wars Jedi Fallen Order went up 70fps average on the lowest graphics settings and V-Sync off. Essentially, the gaming performance on the laptop is not groundbreaking, but it isn’t terrible either. In fact, it’s the best gaming experience that you can get on a slim notebook of this size and thickness. Of course, adding the prowess of the RTX 3080 via the ROG XG Mobile would completely change the scenario. Another point to note is that I couldn’t fully appreciate the gaming experience since I was limited to a 60Hz refresh rate display.
|Game||Frames per second (1920 x 1200)|
|Rise of the Tomb Raider||55fps~|
|Star Wars Jedi Fallen Order||72fps~|
What did concern me was the limited perforations at the bottom for the fans to pull in fresh air. However, the thermals are mostly in control as I didn’t see the CPU go beyond 90.8 degrees celsius or the GPU go over 72 degrees celsius during various tasks. The laptop does get hot right above the center of the keyboard while the palm rests go a little warm while gaming. ASUS suggests that you can get the best performance out of this laptop in tent mode as it enables uninterrupted airflow from the bottom and exhaust vents.
The internal SSD is a Western Digital PC SN530 NVMe SSD that supports PCIe Gen3 x4 interface and offers speeds of up to 2,400MBps, which isn’t the fastest one around but is fast enough for most workloads including gaming. I quickly confirmed the peak read and write speeds by running CrystalDiskMark.
Coming down to the battery performance, the notebook managed to last me anything between six and seven hours. This primarily included my daily workflow with 10-15 browser tabs, watching videos on YouTube, some photo editing on Photoshop, and streaming music on Spotify. I also tested the battery with a 4K video loop on YouTube with the display brightness set to 50%. It lasted almost six hours. For a laptop with a 4K panel, that isn’t terrible. The bundled 100W charger is fairly compact, and there is also support for USB Power Delivery which means you can juice up the battery with most off-the-shelf chargers or even a power bank. You do need to note that like most gaming laptops, the full potential of the discrete GPU can only be harnessed when hooked to the bundled charging brick.
Conclusion: Unique, pricey, and niche
The ROG Flow X13 is unlike any laptop on the market today, making it a unique and attractive proposal. ASUS is redefining the 2-in-1 category with this product and has proved that there is no dearth of innovation when it comes to great gaming laptops. Having said that, I didn’t get to test the ROG XG Mobile eGPU, so my verdict is currently limited to the laptop itself.
I have to say that the Flow X13 is the most powerful 13-inch laptop that money can buy, all thanks to the powerful octa-core AMD Ryzen 9 5900HS processor. It’s pretty impressive to see the amount of performance this tiny and lightweight laptop manages to squeeze out. The build quality and design were a bit of a mixed bag personally, but honestly, I didn’t have any major complaints. The only competitor that I could think of is the Razer Blade 13 Stealth, but the choice of AMD’s Ryzen processor on the Flow X13 absolutely demolishes anything that comes in its way. As for the ROG XG Mobile, from what I know, it can supercharge the graphics capabilities allowing the laptop to stand tall with 17-inch gaming behemoths. Make sure you return to the review as I will be updating my laptop experience with the ROG XG Mobile once we get access to it.
It is a pricey affair at $1,500 and if you are planning to go for the eGPU dock, that’s an additional $1,500 (although buying them as a combo is about $300 cheaper). But if you are someone who wants a sleek, compact notebook that you can carry to work and then come back home to enjoy gaming at the best possible performance, this is what you need. ASUS has recently announced that the new NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3050 GPUs are making their way to the ROG Flow X13. So just keep this in mind, as it should offer better performance than the GTX 1650. If you are willing to give up on the compact chassis or don’t like the external GPU setup, I would recommend going for the new ROG Zephyrus G14 or even the G15 for a similar price offering.
The laptop has been officially launched in India starting at ₹1,19,990, although we are yet to confirm the pricing for the ROG XG Mobile eGPU dock.