Ask any professional gamer what would he/she choose between a gaming laptop and desktop, and I bet the answer will always be a big bulky desktop PC. Wonder why? Despite impressive designs and smart cooling systems, gaming laptops are still way behind in terms of computing power when compared to custom-built rigs. And that’s because PC elements for mobile devices need to be made efficient in terms of thermals and power consumption, which is why a graphics card for a laptop needs to be de-tuned in order to keep it working normally without melting the internals.
Lately, we have seen laptop makers come up with laptops that offer the same desktop-class performance in portable gaming laptops. The Dell Alienware Area 51-m that I reviewed earlier did the same by allowing for a desktop-class GPU and CPU, with an option to upgrade in the future. It was impressive unlike anything I have ever seen and I assumed it cannot be perfected for the next few years. Asus didn’t sit shut and the skunkworks at ROG came up with something at this year’s Computex in Taiwan to bring desktop-class gaming in a laptop.
Asus calls it the ROG Mothership – a machine that portrays a marriage between a laptop and desktop. Asus says that an ROG Mothership could cost you almost Rs 4.85 lakhs. And for that amount of money, the ROG Mothership is an interesting computer that previews several features you could see perfected in the ROG laptops of the years to come. Asus says it tries to use the desktop’s form factor to improve performance in a machine that technically qualifies as a laptop.
Those are lots of interesting things to claim and with the alien spaceship-inspired looks, the ROG Mothership got me interested as well. Hence, I decided to try out this concept device for a few weeks to see whether the Mothership previews a viable future for the gaming laptop.
Design: Let’s say it’s the best of all worlds
Asus is adamant about calling the ROG Mothership a versatile desktop replacement, especially with the modular design. And at first glance, it definitely appears that way. The ROG Mothership is unlike any other laptop that I have ever seen. When placed on the desk upright with its kickstand out, it feels similar to an All-In-One desktop PC.
The design of the ROG Mothership isn’t going to win any beauty pageants but it is for sure the coolest looking gaming laptop I have seen in my life. The top of the laptop has a classic ROG brushed aluminium finish with an illuminated ROG logo on the top. The speaker grille resembles heat vents but with the copper lining inside, it imparts a sense of class to the ROG Mothership. At the back, there’s an aggressive panel with vents resembling rocks on the seashore. The kickstand, also carrying a ROG logo, automatically kicks out while placing on the desk.
Since the computer components are stuck behind the display, it’s weird to see the heat vents lined with copper accents on top of the display. Hence, to the side of the display, you will find a power button, an SD card reader, 1 USB 3.2 Gen2 Type-C / Thunderbolt 3 port, 1 x USB 3.2 Gen2 Type-C with DisplayPort 1.4, 3 USB 3.2 Gen2 Type-A ports, 1 USB 3.2 Gen1 Type A / USB charger port, an HDMI 2.0 port, a 3.5mm headphone and microphone combo jack, another 3.5mm microphone jack and an RJ-45 jack. In short, it’s got everything you need from a gaming laptop. Asus being Asus, the ROG skunkworks are very particular with detailing and they bring drama to the laptop with the small ‘ROG Mothership 192’ branding.
However, what peaked my testosterone levels was when I switched on the ROG Mothership. The backlit ROG logo is common but the speaker vent glows in RGB colours and when it shines on the copper trim, it’s simple I am out of words. You have to see the Mothership in person to get what I want to see. Let’s just say that it will bring out the 5-year old in you every time you boot it up.
Open the lid and it’s a little surprising to see the keyboard coming down instead of the display. The keyboard lid is detachable and thanks to the modular design, you can fold it into a regular size wireless keyboard. The keyboard’s battery can be charged either by connecting it with a USB-C to USB-A cable or by simply docking it to the system using the magnetic pogo pins. The keyboard format is similar to the one from the ROG Zephyrus S, with the keyboard sitting downward leaving a black space on top that does nothing on the Mothership. There’s a small trackpad that doubles up as the touch-based Numpad. And just to spice up the interior, the blank space carries a brushed metallic finish with a ROG logo etched into it with copper lining. The display has think bezels to the sides but Asus makes generous use of it by inserting an IR camera system for unlocking the machine.
On the whole, I can say that the Asus ROG Mothership looks exciting even before you boot up the system. But are exciting looks good enough to bring this design to the masses?
While the modular design with the metal body feels luxurious, it is impractical as a laptop. It weighs 4.8Kgs and that’s not light by any standard. Hence, it is impossible to carry it around in your backpack, especially with the massive 17-inch display size. And while setting it up on the desk, it’s easy to slam it on the desk as the kickstand doesn’t pop-out always. Additionally, the modular keyboard detaches easily, which means you have to be extremely careful when you are setting it up. And do note that the two 280 Watt power adapters are massive, taking up a lot of space. However, I found that the ROG Mothership can only run on a single power adapter most of the time even while gaming and that saves you from caring about the other heavy laptop.
That said, this is still at a concept device it very early stages and hence, I can give it the benefit of the first-gen product. And as a first-gen product, the ROG Mothership is impeccably built and it will surely earn you the reputation in your gaming community.
How’s the ROG Mothership as a gaming PC?
My one-word answer will be -Impressive!
With a design borrowed from All-In-One desktops, the ROG Mothership can breathe more easily than any other laptop. And that means Asus can go overboard with the specifications. The ROG Mothership houses a lethal combination of a 9th Gen Intel Core i9-9980HK processor along with a desktop-class Nvidia RTX 2080 graphics card with an overboost of up to 1880MHz and 8GB GDDR6 VRAM. My unit came equipped with 64GB DDR4 dual-channel SDRAM and a combination of three 512GB PCIE 3.0 SSD storage, thereby totalling up to 1.5TB. For the display, my unit came with a 17-inch Full HD IPS LCD screen with a refresh rate of 144Hz and support for Nvidia G-Sync.
This is possibly the best hardware you can find right now on a gaming laptop and as expected, the ROG Mothership spares no stone unturned to offer the best visual experience. My favourite title from 2019 – F1 2019, ran at the ultra graphics settings with frame rates upwards of 100 fps. Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption 2 for PC was also rendered at the highest graphics settings with average rates upwards of 60-70 fps – mind you, this is a very demanding game on the PC platform right now. I also played Control with ray-tracing enabled on the system and the game ran smoothly with frame rates above 70 fps consistently. I think you can throw any game at it and the Mothership will happily chew through it and spit it out with lunatic levels of performance.
It’s while playing these games that you will see the ROG Mothership’s cooling system doing its job very well. The fans kick in to dissipate heat and it could be noisy after a while. But the cooling system doesn’t let performance hamper in any way.
While the raw performance on the ROG Mothership is great, the display leaves a little to desire. 17-inch display is big but the colours aren’t as bright and vibrant as they should be on a laptop of this class. The 144Hz refresh rate is smooth but I found the display lacked the brightness levels and the dynamic range that Asus prides itself with other ROG laptops. In games like Red Dead Redemption 2, it’s almost very difficult to see while playing at night conditions.
The Mothership is plainly a gaming laptop and hence, I didn’t try writing documents on it or doing any other regular laptop stuff. However, the Mothership still qualifies as a laptop and it comes with a battery built-in that can give you a backup of close 3.5 hours at max while browsing the web or sneaking around Windows folders. Do note that you have to attack a separate mouse or a controller to get the best experience.
The in-built speakers are surprisingly good for a laptop with meaty audio performance rending good bass levels, crisp highs and clear vocals. With the keyboard docked, the audio tends to get slightly muffled but undock the keyboard and the audio performance improves.
Is the Asus ROG Mothership the future of gaming laptops?
Nobody knows the future yet but if Asus is able to refine this concept, the ROG Mothership is for sure a preview of an exciting future for PC gamers. With the ROG Mothership, the gaming laptop as a concept finally gets to breathe easily and offer more performance that may equal some gaming desktops. Surely, there are big chinks in the ROG Mothership’s armour and Asus needs to refine them drastically. For example, the 4.8Kg weight puts the Mothership in the classic desktop category and the modular-style keyboard panel needs to be firmer and easy to attach. And Asus can surely do a better job with the display.
However, the ROG Mothership isn’t a commercial gaming laptop. No, not at all. As I see it, the ROG Mothership is a proof of concept for what laptops can be if performance is of prime concern. The simple idea of mounting the laptop internals on the back of the display could make laptops use the same desktop hardware and not compromise on processing power. It’s heavy but compared to the likes of the Alienware Area 51-m, it’s less bulky and you can move it around. And this is a first-generation product, which locks my eyebrows in a raised position.
It’s sad that Asus isn’t selling it commercially in India but I am happy to see that most of the technology on the Mothership could make it to regular ROG laptops in the coming years. And that for me as an enthusiastic gamer is a very great piece of news. Come on Asus, bring this laptop to more of your ROG series laptops for us power-hungry gamers.
Asus ROG Mothership review
- Unique design
- Better thermal