The best 2-in-1 laptop of CES 2021 could be a gaming revelation

The best 2-in-1 laptop of CES 2021 could be a gaming revelation
(Image credit: Asus)

CES 2021 has been a virtual event for the most part, as so it wasn't flush with vast amounts of hyper-futuristic or bizarre tech to try out. But that's given run-of-the-mill hardware like gaming laptops the chance to shine. And it was the Asus ROG Flow X13 that really caught my eye. 

In fact, it caught the eye of the rest of Tom’s Guide, too, as it won Best of Show in the Tom’s Guide CES 2021 Awards. And this was for good reason, as the Flow X13 is a 2-in-1 ultraportable that comes with the potential for Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 graphics power. 

That might sound bizarre, but the Flow X13 achieves this through a custom connection to a compact external graphics card that houses Nvidia's mighty 4K gaming GPU. So the Flow X13 can be a relatively unassuming laptop by day, a tablet for viewing videos on your commute and then a gaming powerhouse when you get home.  

And I want one. Like, really want one. 

ROG Flow X13

(Image credit: Asus)

The full ROG Flow X13 package includes the laptop with AMD’s new Ryzen 9 5980HS processor, up to 32GB of LPDDR4X RAM, up to a 1TB SSD and a GeForce GTX 1650 graphics card, as well as the external GPU and a GeForce RTX 3080 in a custom package. And that's set to cost $3,000.

Now stop laughing in the back, seasoned PC gamers, I know you can get a powerful desktop PC for $1,500 to $2,000. And even if you can't find where to buy the Nvidia RTX 3080, there's a whole slew of gaming laptops with the mobile versions of the GPU coming out soon, for around $2,000.

So a three-grand uppercut to my bank balance might seem like madness. But hear me out.

2-in-1 ultraportable GeForce power

For a start, I don’t have a decent 13-inch ultraportable, let alone one with a GTX 1650 and a 120Hz refresh rate display. So the Flow X13 has that going for it, especially as it looks rather neat and doesn't scream “I’m a gaming machine.” 

There are also precious few 2-in-1 laptops that have dedicated graphics in an ultraportable frame. And the new RTX 3080 laptops we've seen so far certainly don’t pull 2-in-1 duties, or sport a 13-inch frame.

You might argue that for $3,000, I could get a powerful gaming desktop and a solid ultraportable. But for my use case, where I like to do as much as possible with as little clutter as possible, the Flow X13 scratches a particular itch.

To clarify, I need to explain my current work and gaming setup. When I’m in work mode, bringing you readers hot tech news, I use an HP Spectre x360 15. It’s a rather attractive 2-in-1 laptop, with a decent specification and an impressive 4K display, though it's a little bulky.

Work and play — all on one slim machine

As I need to work on two screens, I have the Spectre x360 folded back into its portrait mode and sitting below my monitor. I then use a wired gaming mouse and the rather excellent wireless Microsoft Surface keyboard; I’m a huge fan of the tactile feel of Surface device keys.

But when the working day is over, I unplug the mouse and push back the 2-in-1 display so it fits beneath my monitor stand. I then break out my gaming keyboard and plug the mouse into my gaming desktop, which sits unceremoniously beneath my desk.

Roland's desk

My current work and gaming setup is crying out for the Asus ROG Flow X13 (Image credit: Future)

This setup is reasonably neat and means I don’t need to have a gaming PC whirring away, gobbling up power, when I only need to do basic computing tasks. But it’s not exactly elegant. I also live in a small East London flat, so I’ve not got a lot of space to play with. Even on the floor, my PC still chews up square footage.

Now, if I had the ROG Flow X13 I could do away with my desktop. It’s a decent machine, but doesn't have the specs to compete with the latest Ryzen 5000 CPUs or the new GeForce RTX 30-series graphics. And gaming after work wouldn’t involve unplugging peripherals and repositioning my laptop. I could simply shut off Slack and go straight to gaming with the external RTX 3080 ready for a graphics workout. 

However, the Flow X13 promises more than removing a minute or two of laptop acrobatics from my life. Let's say I want to go and enjoy a bit of light gaming on the go, or given the current U.K. coronavirus lockdown, on my sofa, or in bed. The solid specs inside the Flow X13 will facilitate that. 

I’m lucky enough to have both the PS5 and Xbox Series X, so I’m well provisioned for the latest in console gaming. But I have a solid selection of Steam games and quite like the idea of running them on my 4K TV, which is something my desktop struggles with. 

Doing this with the ROG Flow X13 looks to be as simple as connecting the external GPU to my TV and then using the laptop with an Xbox Wireless Controller to play a whole range of Steam games. 

When going on holiday or work trips become safe again,  the ROG Flow X13 looks set to be a portable games machine with more power than a PS5. Carrying the laptop and external GPU looks like it would be a lot easier to carry than a PS5.

And unlike a gaming laptop, being able to pop the Flow X13 into its tent or portrait mode, then gaming with a Bluetooth controller, looks set to be a much more relaxing way to game after a busy day at, say, CES 2022. 

Of course, $3,000 is a lot of money, even for a device that looks like it’ll handle work and play with ease, as well as the bits in-between. And I’d need to give the ROG Flow X13 a proper go rather than salivating over it from the other side of the Atlantic. 

Yet, while CES 2021 showed off a lot of appealing gaming laptops, including the slim MSI Stealth 15M and the neat-looking Acer Trion 300 SE, it’s the Asus ROG Flow X13 that my mind keeps coming back to when I have the desire to punish my savings account.

I hope this device encourages other laptop makers to get creative with how they can make gaming machines more modular. Desktop PC gaming isn't going anywhere but for those of us who are low on space, but who want to see Cyberpunk 2077 actually run well, more tech like the Flow X13 is very welcome. 

Roland Moore-Colyer

Roland Moore-Colyer a Managing Editor at Tom’s Guide with a focus on news, features and opinion articles. He often writes about gaming, phones, laptops and other bits of hardware; he’s also got an interest in cars. When not at his desk Roland can be found wandering around London, often with a look of curiosity on his face.