If I saw the Asus ROG Flow X13 in the wild, I would never guess it was a gaming laptop. It’s a 13.4-inch 2-in-1 convertible that’s just 2.9 pounds and .62 inches thick. Flip the screen around, and you can use it as a tablet.
A 13-inch gaming laptop with those proportions isn’t unheard of, but it’s certainly unusual. How is Asus pulling it off? The secret is that the real gaming hardware is on the outside.
On its own, the Flow X13 looks like a high-end productivity machine. Inside is AMD’s Ryzen 9 5980HS, a monstrous mobile processor with eight cores and 16 threads — making this undoubtedly the most powerful CPU we’ve ever seen in a 13-inch chassis. That’s paired with an entry-level Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 with Max-Q design, 32GB of memory, 1TB of storage, and a 16:10 3840 x 2400 touch display. (You can choose a 120Hz FHD display as well.)
On paper, that’s an excellent multimedia device that could compete very well with the likes of the Dell XPS 13, in the $1,000-$2,000 price range. But Asus isn’t selling it that way: it’s selling it as an ultraportable gaming laptop and bundling it with its very own external GPU called the XG Mobile. Asus says this GPU will deliver power equivalent to that of a GeForce RTX 3080 — Nvidia’s top of the line. So here’s the kicker: for the moment, you can only buy the Flow X13 bundled with the XG Mobile. The configuration we have costs $3,299.99.
That’s a lot of money. It’s more than any number of excellent high-end gaming laptops cost. It’s over $1,000 more than the Razer Blade Stealth 13 and more than twice the price of Asus’s own Zephyrus G14, the two best gaming laptops in the ultraportable class. The argument for it is that for $3,299, you’re essentially buying three laptops: one that’s competing with the Dell XPS 13, one that’s competing with the Blade Stealth, and one that’s competing with much larger systems like Razer’s Blade Pro 17 (with the caveat that it needs an eGPU to keep up).
I just wish those three laptops could be sold separately — and I wish I could give them separate scores. Because the Flow X13, on its own, is truly an excellent laptop and one of the most powerful 13-inch systems on the market today. But by positioning this as a gaming rig and slapping it with a $3,000 price tag, Asus has forced the Flow into the premium gaming category. And while it holds its own among competitors there, it still comes with more compromises than I’d want to see from a $3,000 product.
I’ll start by explaining what makes the Flow X13 so great as a general-purpose laptop, because there really is a lot going for it. Not only is it light enough that carrying it feels like carrying nothing, but it’s also the coolest-feeling laptop I’ve used in the past year. The lid, the palm rests, and the bottom of the deck all have a ridged corduroy-ish texture that’s hard to resist running your hands over. It also gives the whole thing a sleek, futuristic look.
Like many Asus laptops, the Flow X13 has an ErgoLift hinge that tilts the keyboard slightly off the table when the clamshell is open. This hinge was a bit more rounded than those I’ve seen on fold-under laptops in the past, and it wasn’t sharp at all in my lap.
Another thing that’s great: the 16:10 screen. Most gaming laptops are still 16:9, but many high-end business and productivity laptops are starting to move to 16:10 and 3:2 displays this year. That’s with good reason: You get noticeably more vertical space with a 16:10 resolution, which means much less scrolling and zooming out throughout your work day.
The panel is also compatible with the Asus Pen, and Asus says it’s “highly scratch-resistant.” While I didn’t go to great lengths to try to scratch the thing, I was struck by how resilient it was in general. I gave it a good amount of touchscreen use throughout my first day of testing, and I never noticed any kind of fingerprints or smudges left behind. One note: there’s noticeable hinge wobble when you’re using the touchscreen in clamshell mode, which wasn’t an issue for me but may be for some folks.
Asus says the display is “highly scratch-resistant”
Inside, this laptop is a whirlwind. The Ryzen 9 5980HS is clearly a powerhouse. It handled my decently heavy load of photo editing, Spotify streaming, and heaps of Chrome tabs and apps with no problem; I never once heard the fans spin up. The X13 could be a great choice for anyone who needs a 13.4-inch laptop for computational tasks or other heavy office or school work.
Audio is also pretty good. It doesn’t get as loud as an external speaker would, but the bass and percussion are some of the best I’ve ever heard on a laptop. In the preloaded Dolby Access app, you can also switch between presets for music, gaming, movies, etc. The Flow also supports two-way AI noise cancellation for video calls.
And the keyboard, as Asus keyboards often are, is excellent. It feels quite similar to that of the Zephyrus G14, which was one of my absolute favorite keyboards of 2020. It has a resounding click, good travel, and very nice backlighting.
The keyboard has a resounding click, good travel, and very nice backlighting
Finally, because this is a legitimate question with Asus ROG products: yes, there is a webcam. It’s nothing to write home about, but it does exist.
I really have only one complaint about this system, and that’s the battery life. While running my usual workload with the screen at 200 nits of brightness, even with Battery Saver on and bloatware uninstalled, the Flow X13 only lasted an average of five hours and 47 minutes. The high-resolution display is likely a contributor here — you may get slightly better mileage from the FHD panel. While playing Red Dead, the Flow lasted just over an hour and became unplayable 55 minutes in with 10 percent remaining.
I wish this review could stop there. Because what Asus has made here is a beautiful machine that could absolutely rival the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 as an ultraportable, 16:10 convertible. Battery life is really my only complaint. But since Asus has decided that this is a gaming laptop, we’re going to need to dive into how it handles games.
Let’s talk a bit about this XG Mobile thing. It’s small for an external GPU, weighing just 2.2 pounds; Asus says it’s only 6 percent of the size of a typical GPU. It connects to the Flow X13 with a proprietary connector that allows for up to 64Gbps of bandwidth, with another 10Gbps reserved for USB link.
In addition to serving as an external GPU, the XG Mobile powers the laptop when it’s plugged in. (The Flow also ships with a regular 100W charger.)
XG Mobile powers the laptop when it’s plugged in
The eGPU also serves as an external USB dock with a whole bunch of extra ports. In total, it includes: one HDMI 2.0, one DP 1.4, one Ethernet jack, one DC input jack, four USB 3.2 Gen 1 ports, and one SD card reader. That’s in addition to the one USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A, two USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type C (with DisplayPort 1.4 and PD support), one audio combo jack, and one HDMI 2.0b that are already on the laptop itself. All in all, a good selection.
I ran five popular games on the ROG Flow at 1920 x 1080 resolution, both with and without the XG Mobile. I also ran them at native resolution (with the XG Mobile). All games were run at their highest possible settings; in 4K, they were run with DLSS on and ray tracing off (where applicable). Take a look at the results in the chart below:
Asus ROG Flow X13
|Horizon Zero Dawn
|Red Dead Redemption II
|Shadow of the Tomb Raider
|ROG Flow X13, 1920 x 1080
|ROG Flow X13+XG Mobile, 1920 x 1080
|93 (ray tracing off), 76 (ray tracing on)
|71 (ray tracing off), 55 (ray tracing on)
|ROG FLow X13+XG Mobile, 3840 x 2400
As you can see, these frame rates are respectable. You should be able to play whatever game you want at 1080p without needing to bump the graphics down, and you can even play some at native resolution. Even so, my overall reaction here is “Meh.” To illustrate why, I’ll pull out a few comparisons. (This is all with the usual caveat that relative performance will always vary by title.)
While using the GTX 1650, the X13 ran Shadow of the Tomb Raider at an average of 40fps. The Razer Blade Stealth 13 ran that title at 45fps, and the Zephyrus G14 ran it at 74fps. The Zephyrus also beat the Flow on Red Dead Redemption II, averaging 31fps to the Flow’s 29fps. Red Dead wouldn’t allow me to max out every slider due to available memory, so this system is further behind the Zephyrus than that score makes it appear.
My overall reaction here is “Meh”
Both of these laptops are comparably portable to the Flow X13 and just as well-built; they have worse processors and better GPUs. They also both cost over $1,400 less than this Flow X13 bundle. So if you’re looking to actually game on the go, rather than just do office work, think about whether you’d rather have one of those much more affordable devices with better frame rates.
But I’d still be on board with a $3,299 bundle price if the X13 Flow and XG Mobile delivered exceptional performance with no compromises — especially if it put 4K gaming on the table. The good news is that this external GPU does provide an acceptable 4K gaming experience (especially on Overwatch, the easiest game on here). But eGPUs generally come with some sort of performance penalty, and I’m seeing that on some of these titles.
For comparison, we can look to the Razer Blade Pro 17, a GeForce RTX 2080 Super Max-Q system in the same price neighborhood as the Flow X13 bundle. (Our 2080 Super Max-Q configuration was $3,199.) The XG Mobile clearly has no trouble with easier titles like Overwatch, where it breezed past all of the laptops mentioned here. But it struggled with more intense fare, and ray tracing in particular. The Blade Pro 17 averaged 95fps on Shadow of the Tomb Raider with ray tracing maxed out, where the Flow X13 and the XG Mobile averaged 76fps. Asus’ Zephyrus Duo 15, also with a 2080 Super Max-Q, also handily beat the Flow there, averaging 87fps.
And the Flow is also coming in behind more affordable systems with Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 3070 — the $1,899 MSI GP66 Leopard beat it on both Tomb Raider and Horizon, and essentially tied it on Red Dead.
So overall, whether you’re getting better frame rates from the XG Mobile or a larger gaming laptop will be somewhat title-dependent — but it’s clear that we’re seeing a performance penalty on some popular games.
So here’s the best argument for the ROG Flow X13. During the day, you can use it as a work and entertainment laptop, with a great screen, a comfortable keyboard, full audio, and a phenomenal processor that can handle whatever tasks you throw at it. Maybe you can play a game or two, if you bump down the resolution. When you’re home at night, put the Flow on your desk and pop in the XG Mobile, and it becomes a premium gaming laptop with 4K chops.
That’s fine; I’m all for that. But prospective buyers should be aware that in creating a laptop that essentially functions as three laptops (an XPS 13, a Stealth 13, and a Pro 17), you’re making compromises in each use case. In the ultrabook category, it’s the battery life. In the portable gaming category, it’s the low-powered graphics card and the massive uptick in price. And in the desktop-replacement category, it’s the eGPU performance cost, which may or may not be significant depending on the games you’re playing.
Reviewers throw this phrase around to describe all kinds of laptops, but it’s very true here: in attempting to be a jack of all trades, this laptop is a master of none. And while the Flow X13 is a top-notch convertible, and an impressive achievement from Asus, it also costs over $3,000. If you need both a high-performance office laptop and a high-performance gaming laptop in one, and you have that kind of change to throw around, I won’t stop you. But those who primarily need one or the other should be better able to fulfill their needs with something more affordable, whether it’s a high-end 2-in-1 or a portable gaming rig.
Photography by Monica Chin / The Verge