How the tiny Asus ROG Flow X13 can outpunch big gaming laptops

In one of the boldest claims to come out of CES, Asus claims its convertible ROG Flow X13 can be as fast, if not faster, than much larger gaming laptops.

Let’s say that one more time: Asus is claiming a 2.8 lbs. 13-inch thin and light convertible laptop can outperform desktop replacement gaming laptops that weigh more than twice as much. While you might dismiss it as hyperbole, when you hear about the trick Asus pulls to do it, you just might be impressed.

The ROG Flow X13 itself offers up to 10 hours of battery life during video playback, and a 13.4-inch IPS panel with a 16:10 aspect ratio. You’ll be able to choose between either a 1920×1200 screen at 120Hz or 4K at 60Hz. Inside, you’ll find a CPU up to AMD’s new 8-core Ryzen 5980HS, paired with a GeForce GTX 1650. 

How Asus catapults the ROG Flow X13 up to and past larger gaming laptops is the use of its new ROG XG Mobile external graphics dock.

What makes the XG Mobile and the ROG Flow X13 completely different than other Thunderbolt-based eGPU cabinets is its size and connection. Asus said the x4 PCIe Gen 3 connection over Thunderbolt doesn’t really have enough bandwidth to support ultra-fast modern GPUs, so the company designed its own semi-proprietary connector using a x8 PCIe Gen 3 connection between the ROG Flow X13 and XG Mobile.

The tiny ROG XG Mobile connects to the Flow X13 using a custom x8 PCIe connector and features a custom GeForce RTX 3080 GPU inside. A built-in kick stand lets it stand up on its own.

Besides the x8 PCIe connection, Asus also plumbs in an additional USB-C 10Gbps to drive the USB ports, Gigabit ethernet, and SD card available on the dock. The XG Mobile itself is built using a custom PCB and Nvidia’s new GeForce RTX 3080 mobile GPU with 16GB of RAM, powered by an internal 280-watt brick that drives both the ROG Flow X13 and the XG Mobile when powered up.

One huge performance advantage the pairing brings is in thermals. When running with the ROG XG Mobile rather than the internal GPU, the Flow X13’s Ryzen 9 5980HS processor gets an increased thermal budget which allows it to run at higher clock speeds for longer periods of time. The XG Mobile also features a custom vapor chamber cooler which keeps all of the heat outside of the laptop and should allow the mobile GeForce RTX 3080 to run at 1,810MHz with a power budget of 150 watts.

At 2.2 lbs and just 29mm thick, Asus actually expects some people to bring the ROG XG Mobile on the road with them. The company even designed a custom carrying case that lets you slip both the ROG Flow X13 and the XG Mobile dock inside of it.

Most conventional eGPU cabinets over the years have typically been the size of large shoe boxes and built around the concept of accepting standard full-sized desktop graphics cards. 

The upside to the Asus ROG XG Mobile is you likely will get the same if not more performance than a typical 5 lbs. gaming laptop. The downside is you will need to run it off wall power, of course, and you can’t simply swap the mobile GPU out with a new one down the road.

Supernova Edition

The first ROG Flow X13 laptops will feature other Ryzen 5000 chips but if you want AMD’s highest-end HS chip, you’ll have to wait until this year, when a special “Supernova Edition” of the notebook ships with a Ryzen 9 5980HS chip that can boost up to 4.8GHz on lightly-threaded tasks. All the other offered Ryzen CPUs will support Nvidia’s Dynamic Boost—a feature that we’ve only seen so far on Intel-based laptops—but the Supernova Edition will not. Like other ROG laptops, the Flow X13 will also make judicious use of more efficient liquid metal thermal paste. Asus said the laptop features cooling traditionally not seen on a laptop this small and thin.

Pricing for the Asus ROG Flow X13 and ROG XG Mobile wasn’t announced but both will ship in the next two months.

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