Asus just made the Surface Pro of gaming. The Asus ROG Flow Z13 is a 2-in-1 gaming laptop, and much like Microsoft’s Surface line, it has a main tablet body and a detachable keyboard. Of course, to be a gaming laptop, there needs to be some considerable power inside, and Asus has packed in a good deal. But the ROG Flow Z13 also works with Asus’s external GPU system, the ROG XG Mobile, which can squeeze in an RTX 3080 GPU. Such a unique system doesn’t come cheap though, and it has more than a few hurdles to leap through to justify its existence in the face of so many great gaming laptops that can cost less by not trying to break any molds. So, let’s look at just how the Asus ROG Flow Z13 does.
Asus ROG Flow Z13 – Photos
Asus ROG Flow Z13 – Design and Features
If the Surface Pro and ROG Flow Z13 were twins, the Surface Pro would be the one who put on a suit and headed off to business school while the ROG Flow Z13 went full cyberpunk and hit the gym seven days a week. For a tablet, this thing is swole. Asus tries to call it a lightweight device at 2.6 pounds, but that’s for just the tablet. Once the keyboard is snapped on, the whole unit weighs 3.31 pounds. I’ll give it some credit, though – that’s still a good deal lighter than most gaming laptops. Of course, few gaming laptops are using a 13.3-inch touchscreen.
The tablet has a robust, aluminum frame that’s thoroughly stylized with cut-outs, etching, and logos. By far the slickest choice by Asus is the transparent window on the back that shows off some PCB on the inside of the device illuminated by RGB lights.
Aside from the aesthetics, the ROG Flow Z13 is remarkably similar to the Surface Pro where form and function meet. The keyboard attaches to the tablet via pins and magnets, and it has a fold near the top to give it an angle and hide the bottom bezel of the display area. The magnets are very powerful, almost making it hard to move around on a metal table. The keyboard has RGB lighting, but just one zone. The palm rest area of the keyboard is a comfortable soft-touch material, but the back is a felt-like fabric that loves to wipe up lint, dust, and hairs. The keys themselves are nice and poppy with a great typing feel.
Around back, the tablet has a beefy kickstand with a wide range of motion and a little rubbery tab on one side that helps open it up. That kickstand hides a microSD card slot and a removable cover for the SSD, which is sadly an M.2 2230 size, so it’ll be harder to find a quality upgrade. The lowest angle of the kickstand may not make much sense for gaming, but the ROG Flow Z13 display supports stylus input, so it could be useful for artwork or note-taking.
There’s decent I/O on the tablet. The right edge houses a basic USB port and a headphone jack. There’s also a volume rocker and the power button (which doubles as a fingerprint scanner) over there. The left side is where the action is. This houses a Thunderbolt 4 port that’s handy for hubs, peripherals, displays, or power input. During testing, I ran into an intermittent issue with power running through this port, seeing the device stop charging and remain that way for a while even after unplugging and re-plugging the power (and trying a different 65W GaN charger). Underneath the Thunderbolt 4 port is a special combo that pairs a USB-C 3.2 port next to a proprietary PCIe 3.0 x8 link. This pair of ports is what connects to Asus’s XG Mobile eGPU.
The XG Mobile connector is chunky and locks in place, but the length of the connector is a concern, as it presents an opportunity to apply a lot of leverage on the connection, which could make for an easily broken link. When docked the connector handles power delivery, leaving the Thunderbolt 4 port free for whatever else you might want. The dock also provides the ROG Flow Z13 with a bunch of extra ports. There are four USB ports as well as HDMI, DisplayPort, and Ethernet connectors. There’s even a full-size SD card reader. The XG Mobile is kind of like a double-wide power brick. Most gaming laptops have pretty substantial power bricks, and this is just a little extra. The graphics processor is inside alongside cooling hardware. The XG Mobile also includes a kickstand to stand it up and ensure good airflow, though intake vents on two sides should make it hard to accidentally choke the device. The XG Mobile can come with an RTX 3080, though in reviewer materials Asus has mentioned RTX 3080 Ti and AMD Radeon RX 6850M XT as options. Portability takes a hit once the XG Mobile is factored in, which brings the total package weight up to 5.78 pounds.
The Asus ROG Flow Z13 comes with a good but unremarkable display. It gets plenty bright, which is a plus. The model Asus sent for review includes a 1920×1200 display with a 120Hz refresh rate, though there’s also a 3840×2200 60Hz option. The extra smoothness of a 120Hz refresh rate is useful for gaming, but the panel’s slow pixel response time can show plenty of ghosting.
Despite Asus boasting Dolby Vision support on the display, Windows 11 hasn’t always recognized the device as HDR compatible, and only says it supports streaming video in HDR when it does recognize it. Asus also advertises Adaptive Sync support for the display, but Nvidia Control Panel won’t expose the usual settings to enable it.
Asus ROG Flow Z13 – Software
The Asus ROG Flow Z13 comes with Windows 11 and just a bit of extra stuff running on it. Most notably, it has Asus’s Armoury Crate pre-installed. This software offers some fairly in-depth detail on system vitals like CPU and GPU usage, wattage, temperature, and clock speeds, It also provides access to game profiles, quick settings. Asus also pre-installed a Pantone-validate color profile, which should make the display extra useful for creators who need a higher degree of color accuracy. Beyond this, the Asus ROG Flow Z13 is relatively free of bloatware.
Asus ROG Flow Z13 – Gaming and performance
Performance is where things get bizarre for the Asus ROG Flow Z13 as there are effectively two wildly different configurations for one machine. On its own, the tablet Asus sent runs an Intel Core i9-12900H processor with six performance cores and eight efficiency cores alongside 16GB (standard across all models) of LPDDR5 memory and an Nvidia RTX 3050 Ti graphics processor. This makes it a fairly robust little tablet, and its performance lines up with that.
The CPU performance is very solid, making a great showing of the high-end Alder Lake chip. In the PC Mark 10 benchmark, which lets the CPU shine a bit more than some gaming tests, it stacks up just behind the AMD Ryzen 9 5900HS we’ve benchmarked in a lot of different machines. But that’s only when running the tablet alone. If the XG Mobile is attached, the CPU can get more power, and this scenario sees it leap right out ahead of the Ryzen 9 5900HS with an average PCMark 10 score of 8003. This translates into smooth operation in daily use as well. The only time I notice the device stumble is when it’s switching graphics processing between its internal or external options.
Despite the sacrifices Asus made to get all of the key hardware into a tablet form factor, the ROG Flow Z13 still has decent battery life, hitting 5:44 in our battery test. It falls shy of some of its competitors and even last year’s Asus ROG Flow X13 (a standard clamshell laptop take on this system). Popping down to the cafe for a few hours of work doesn’t have me worrying if I left the charger behind.
The RTX 3050 Ti in the system I tested has enough might to hold up to some gaming on the go. It can handle a number of games at 1080p and max settings while maintaining averages above 30fps, including Metro Exodus with RTX enabled. Of course, for $1,899, you can get a much faster gaming laptop (albeit a heavier one). The Asus ROG Strix G15 Advantage Edition costs less and easily muscles out the ROG Flow Z13 with double to triple the benchmark scores and more battery life to boot – of course, it weighs almost twice as much, too. The 4.2-pound Asus ROG Zephyrus G15 stacks up better at $1799 for a model with a Ryzen 9 5900HS and RTX 3070, and I’d absolutely recommend it instead.
Once the ROG Flow Z13 is plugged into the XG Mobile, the tides turn. The tablet gets a huge boost in performance from both the RTX 3080 subbing in for the RTX 3050 Ti, and from the extra power budget allocated to the CPU. This setup sees the system trade blows with a lot of lighter high-end gaming laptops, like the Razer Blade 15 Advanced Edition and MSI GS66 Stealth. The RTX 3080 inside the XG Mobile readily handles our benchmark titles at 1080p max settings with over 60fps on average in all of them. In many cases, this setup sees the benchmark scores doubled over the ROG Flow Z13 on its own.
Sadly, for anyone expecting desktop-class performance from the RTX 3080, that’s not on offer here. This is a mobile variant of the GPU, which sees performance constrained compared to the full-fat model – severely constrained. Asus’s proprietary connector gives the XG Mobile an advantage over other Thunderbolt-based eGPU enclosures in that it doesn’t seem to struggle with sending the video feed back to the tablet. Where eGPUs would normally see a large performance loss if the gameplay is sent back to the internal display instead of an external monitor, the ROG Flow Z13 has more bandwidth to send data back and forth (though it still performs better with an external display)
To put things in perspective, I loaded up a GPU heavy benchmark on my desktop and the ROG Flow Z13 with XG Mobile. I ran Metro Exodus’s RT benchmark at 3440 x 1440 on an external display. My desktop is running an RTX 3070 and Ryzen 5 3600X – not exactly baller like a Core i9 and RTX 3080. So, bad news for Asus when the system only hit 44.19fps average while my mid-range rig averaged 57.25fps. The fans in Asus’s setup also kick up a lot more racket than desktop fans. Asus has a Turbo mode available in Armoury Crate that scores some extra performance by upping the clock speeds and wattage, but it comes with extra heat and noise.
At least the ROG Flow Z13 can run Elden Ring with no problem at 1080p on the internal display, but that’s a small consolation for a setup that costs over $3,000. That compares poorly to a desktop setup that one could likely build for around $1,000 (assuming none of the absurd graphics card markups we’ve all been dealing with the past two years)
Now normally I wouldn’t go comparing a laptop to a desktop, but the ROG Flow Z13 practically begs for the comparison when it claims “uncompromised graphics performance” from the XG Mobile. It aims to be portable when you need it to be and perform like a desktop when you’re at a desk docked. But the reality is you can grab a competent laptop that nearly matches the ROG Flow Z13+XG Mobile combo at almost half the price with the ROG Zephyrus G15 and then get a solid gaming desktop on the side for when you want even more performance.
The ROG Flow Z13 is simply too niche an offering to make sense for just about anyone. The one possible benefit is that a ROG Flow Z13 owner could theoretically upgrade GPUs down the line by swapping to a future XG Mobile, but we’ll have to wait and see with tightly crossed fingers whether Asus continues to produce the proprietary external GPUs. And the second-hand market for XG Mobile is likely to be tiny, whereas a full-sized graphics card used in a desktop or eGPU enclosure is likely going to be easy to sell when upgrading.
It comes down to the XG Mobile. The ROG Flow Z13 is a wonder in its own right as a high-performance tablet. When the keyboard isn’t needed, it really could serve as a portable gaming machine paired with a controller. The speakers pack enough punch for it, even if they start to grate on me after a couple of hours. But the rest of the package adds enough bulk, weight, and cost that it just makes no sense to choose over a similarly powerful laptop unless you absolutely, positively must have a single device (that can sometimes weigh under three pounds) instead of two separate ones.
The Asus ROG Flow Z13 is burrowed so deeply into its niche that it can’t find a practical audience. Its standalone performance is exceptional for a tablet, but meager compared to laptops at its price, and the benefits it gets from the eGPU hardly merit the extra bulk and cost that come with it. If you can live with owning a desktop and separate tablet or laptop, absolutely do that instead.