High-end Ryzen 9 5980HS performance in a tiny laptop
High-end GeForce RTX 3080 performance in a tiny laptop
eGPU is cumbersome on the go
Cover for eGPU port is flimsy
The Asus ROG Flow X13 is the most powerful tiny laptop you can buy, thanks to its companion eGPU that adds graphics performance. This modular setup has a few compromises, but it’s still a great choice for highly mobile users.
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The Asus ROG Flow X13 is a laptop that breaks all the conventions. It looks like a typical ultraportable, but its CPU performance rivals or surpasses that of many laptops twice its weight. And while most thin-and-light laptops make serious sacrifices in performance, the ROG Flow X13 is actually one of the fastest gaming laptops in town.
If all this sounds great, we have two caveats. First, this unique take on a thin and powerful laptop does come with a few compromises, which some will gladly accept in exchange for its impressive performance and versatility. Keep reading before you decide whether the ROG Flow X13 laptop is the one for you. But second, even if you do accept the compromises, good luck: The bundle we tested, which is $2,800 from Asus, is currently sold out, as is the laptop alone (without the eGPU), which would be $1,500 from AsusRemove non-product link if you could actually buy it. Sigh.
This review is part of our ongoing roundup of the best gaming laptops. Go there for information on competing products and how we tested them.
The secret of the ROG Flow X13 comes down to two elements. The first is the Ryzen 9 5980HS CPU, which is AMD’s flagship Ryzen 5000 chip based on its Zen 3 cores. Our review of the Ryzen 5000 laptop CPU is actually based on the performance of the ROG Flow X13. Built on a superior 7nm process, the Ryzen 5000 (and Ryzen 4000) have made it possible to get more cores into a smaller body without the thermal issues we’ve come to expect from prior generations. We saw this last year with the Asus ROG Zephyrus G14, but that laptop’s 3.5-pound frame meant only a midrange GeForce RTX 2060 Max-Q could be used.
The second element is the GPU—and we’re not talking about the GeForce GTX 1650 Max-Q inside the chassis. For those times when you want more graphics performance, Asus created the XG Mobile, a custom GeForce RTX 3080 eGPU. Most eGPU cabinets you’re probably seen have been about the size of a shoebox, but the XG Mobile is simply tiny at 8 x 6 x 1 inches. The weight of the XG Mobile is truly portable too, at two pounds. We’ll get more into the external graphics later, but it truly lets you pack amazing powerful graphics in your bag if you need it.
Asus ROG Flow X13 specs and features
It’s truly amazing what Asus managed to fit into the slender ROG Flow X13. Here are the specs for our eGPU bundle:
Screen: 13.3-inch, 3840×2400 touchscreen with 16:10 aspect ratio
Storage: 1TB WD SN530 NVMe SSD
Networking: Intel Wi-Fi 6 AX200, RealTek USB GbE on eGPU
Dimensions: 11.75 x 8.75 x 0.62 inches
Weight: The laptop itself weighs 3 pounds, and the power brick, 1 pound. The eGPU weighs 2.1 pounds.
Right-side ports: Power button with fingerprint reader, one USB-A, and one USB-C
Left-side ports: HDMI 2.0, audio jack, eGPU port (x8 PCIe Gen 3), USB-C
The left side of the laptop includes a larger port near the rear that is the dedicated port for the eGPU, which connects to the cabinet at x8 PCIe Gen 3 speeds. You may not see it, but it also features a USB-C port that can be used for charging and data transfer when the eGPU isn’t plugged in.
In the next picture below you can get a better view of the port, which comes with a simple ROG-branded rubber cover that we can almost guarantee will be lost within the first 10 minutes of using the laptop. We’d prefer a sturdier cover if there’s going to be one, but in all honesty we’ve never jammed debris in our HDMI or USB-C ports, so maybe they’ll be OK anyway.
Mouse, keyboard and speakers
The keyboard has reasonable travel, and we were generally satisfied with it. The backlighting is solid white. We didn’t find any poorly placed keys, but there is a microphone-off button that should probably include an LED to confirm whether you’ve shut off the mic.
The gaming nature of the ROG Flow X13 shows up with the function keys, which feature dual purposes. In most ultraportable laptops, the secondary function for keyboard backlight, mute, or screen backlight control is on by default, while most gaming or content creation laptops default to function keys for apps or games. The ROG Flow X13 goes with the latter, which may annoy someone who doesn’t want to press the function key to change the screen brightness.
The trackpad features a carbon-fiber look to match the keyboard deck and is Microsoft Precision-complaint. We found it fairly smooth and had no complaints inside of the operating system. Using it to move in the UEFI was twitchy, but that won’t matter to most.
The speakers on the ROG Flow X13 are about average for an ultraportable–adequate in the middle range, sketchy on the bass. That may seem like faint praise, but the sound quality of the average thin gaming laptop is even worse. Consider this basically an improvement.
The ROG Flow X13’s overall build quality is nice. The aluminum-clad laptop has a generally solid feel with a pleasant industrial texture on the lid, bottom panel, and keyboard deck. It is a fingerprint magnet, though.
We also want to mention the use of rubber bumpers on the corners of the keyboard deck. They are designed to keep the keyboard from getting too close to screen. We’ve seen such nubs tear off in the past, though, and these thin, tall ones (about 0.75mm over surface) seem vulnerable.
All about the XG Mobile eGPU
Besides the Ryzen 5000 CPU, Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 3080 is the other star of this show. Sure, compared to the RTX 3080 desktop it’s a slight letdown, but it’s also completely unrealistic to expect identical performance from the laptop version of any GPU, let alone the monster that is the GeForce RTX 3080.
What’s new about the RTX 3080 mobile version is the vendors’ ability to vary the power usage from 80 watts to 150 watts. For the XG Mobile, Asus uses the 150-watt variant, which has so far been eclipsed only by a 155-watt version we’ve seen in a much larger, 17-inch MSI GE76 Raider laptop. Bottom line: You’re getting top-end graphics performance in a package that’s actually portable.
Those into open standards may complain that Asus should have done the work to integrate Thunderbolt into the ROG Flow X13 and XG Mobile and avoid using a proprietary connector. Asus maintains it did so because Thunderbolt’s x4 PCIe doesn’t have enough bandwidth to drive a GeForce RTX 3080. We’d have to agree, because even the x8 PCIe custom connector is just barely enough to drive it.
While the Ryzen 5000 CPUs only offer x8 PCIe Gen 3 bandwidth, one problem with using external graphics is you’re not only sending data to the GPU, you’re also bringing the rendered frames back from the GPU to be displayed on the laptop’s panel across that x8 connection.
One way to avoid that is simply to run a second display off of the eGPU. We did just that and saw about a 10- to 15-percent increase from the additional bandwidth. In some games, however, it can accomplish more. In Counter Strike: Global Operations, which runs at just under 300 fps using the laptop’s display, we saw it spike to 470 fps using a display hooked directly to the eGPU’s HDMI port. Clearly, the RTX 3080 Laptop can benefit from additional bandwidth.
One other thing we want to point out to potential buyers is that you lose access to the onboard GeForce GTX 1650 when you plug in the GeForce RTX 3080. That means you can’t use both for computing purposes. Asus said one benefit is the cooling for that GeForce GTX 1650 now goes to the CPU, and you should see a small performance increase.
Keep reading to learn about CPU and GPU performance.
Asus ROG Flow X13 CPU Performance
To see where the ROG Flow X13 and its parts stack up, we’ll kick off with Maxon’s older Cinebench R15, which is based on the company’s 3D modelling software used in its Cinema4D app. It’s older and actually fairly lightweight, but it favors systems with more cores and higher clock speeds.
As you can see below, the 3 pound ROG Flow X13 sits atop the chart, edging out even Alienware’s beastly Area 51m R1, which featured a desktop Core i9-9900K inside of its 8-pound body.
This speaks to the amazing performance the Ryzen 9 5980HS offers—and shows the really tough jam Intel is facing with its “H”-class CPUs, which are built into the vast majority of gaming laptops today.
If you typically see a multi-threaded benchmark and assume that having more cores matter in all things, you’d be mistaken. The vast majority of games and applications that people use, such as Google Chrome and Microsoft Office, rely far more on single-core performance. To gauge that we also run Cinebench R15 using a single CPU core or thread. As you can see, compared to the other performance H-class laptops, the ROG Flow X13 steps away nicely.
One issue with Cinebench R15 is how quickly it runs. Modern laptops are limited by the heat they produce and the power they can use. To make the laptops and their coolers work a little harder, we use an older version of the free HandBrake utility to perform a CPU-based encode of a 1080p 30GB file using the Android Tablet preset.
The ROG Flow X13 slips to third place behind the older Alienware Area 51M R1 and the Acer Predator Helios 700. What you have to keep in mind, though is the ROG Flow X13 is a 3-pound laptop, while the Alienware tips the scales at nearly 9 pounds, and the Acer is 10.5 pounds. Those larger laptops have a lot more room for cooling and power delivery, which keeps both ahead of the pack by a bit. But the fact that the ROG Flow X13 comes up right behind them is extremely impressive.
Asus ROG Flow X13 GPU Performance
To gauge gaming performance, we use UL’s 3DMark Time Spy. It’s a synthetic test, but what’s nice about that is you can break out just the graphics performance.
You can see the Flow X13 results in the chart three times. The result with its on-board GeForce GTX 1650 Max-Q GPU may be the lowest on the chart, but it’s actually acceptable for on-the-go gaming.
Don’t get whiplash, but you’ll find the other two results at the very top of the chart. We see the XG Mobile and GeForce RTX 3080 hammering every other laptop we’ve seen in the last two years. And if that’s not enough, the performance buff the laptop gets using an external display on the eGPU is even better.
Time Spy is a fairly conventional graphics test that doesn’t measure hardware ray tracing. For that, we ran 3DMark’s Port Royal to compare it to the GeForce RTX 3080 in the Gigabyte Aorus 17G, which has its GPU set to 105 Watts. The ROG Flow X13 with XG Mobile posts a very decent 16-percent improvement over the Aorus 17G.
To be fair to the Aorus 17G, it’s incredibly quiet. The XG Mobile under load is not quite as quiet, registering about 5 to 6 dB louder—still far from the most annoying we’ve ever heard.
When we ran our standard Rise of the Tomb Raider game on the Flow X13 with XG Mobile, the results were a little more mixed. The game is fairly old now, and our test settings call for it to be run in DirectX11 mode. We know this game isn’t really pushing modern GPUs anymore, and the laptops with high-clock-speed CPUs seem to have the edge here. Anecdotal runs on more modern games show the ROG Flow X13 keeping up with (but not outrunning) big gaming laptops.
Asus ROG Flow X13 Battery life
Our last test is a simple battery rundown. We switch the laptop to airplane mode and set the volume to its halfway mark, with earbuds in place. We set the screen brightness to 250 to 260 nits and loop a 4K video until it dies.
Battery life on the laptop is just under six hours. Considering the screen is a 4K UHD+ panel, that’s actually not bad. A larger battery would help, but then the laptop would weigh more. Probably the easiest way to “add” battery life to the Flow X13 would be to skip the 4K panel, but that also means you give up resolution.
Rather than see the ROG Flow X13 as a ultraportable laptop for a day on the road, you’ll have to accept somewhat worse battery life for more performance.
With so many different facets to the Asus ROG Flow X13, there is a lot to unpack. On the performance tip, it’s obviously stupidly fast, especially when you consider how little it weighs. Add the XG Mobile, and you have gaming performance that can run with big 17-inch gaming laptops.
Performance clearly isn’t the deciding factor in the ROG Flow X13—it’s really whether the form factor works for you. Its modular approach to trimming down weight when needed is awesome for a high-mobility person.
The negative to that is it’s more hardware. A laptop with an onboard GPU means all you have to do is put it on the table, flip it open, and get to work. With the ROG Flow X13 you have to deal with setting up the XG Mobile. The separated GPU also can’t be used on battery—it needs AC power.
What you get is choice. For someone who wants incredible flexibility, the ROG Flow X13 hits it out of the ballpark.
One of founding fathers of hardcore tech reporting, Gordon has been covering PCs and components since 1998.