1 (1)

Aorus X7 SLI Gaming Laptop Review

CES in Las Vegas is a cavalcade of consumer electronics for the year to come, with thousands of products from hundreds of exhibitors. This year, only one laptop at CES made the headlines: the Aorus X7.

The X7 got so much attention because it’s the thinnest and lightest gaming laptop ever to ship with two graphics cards – a feat that provides desktop-class gaming performance in a properly portable package.

One month after CES, the Aorus X7 showed up on my doorstep. Let’s see whether the X7 lives up to the hype.

Features & Specifications

OS Windows 8.1
CPU 4th Generation Intel Core i7-4700HQ 2.4-3.4GHz
Display 17.3″ Full HD 1920×1080 IPS LCD
System Memory 16 GB DDRIIIL 1600 (2x 8 GB)
Chipset Mobile Intel HM87 Express Chipset
Video Graphics NVIDIA GeForce GTX 765M SLI w/ 4GB GDDR5 RAM
Storage 2x 128 GB mSATA SSD (in RAID0)
2.5” 1 TB HDD 5400 RPM
Keyboard Type Backlit scissor-switch w/ macro keys, number pad
Optical Drive N/A
I/O Port USB 3.0 x3, USB 2.0 x2, HDMI, VGA, Ethernet
mDP, SD card reader, 3.5mm mic + headphone ports
Audio 2 Watt Speaker x2, Woofer x2, Microphone
Aorus Acoustic technology
Communications Killer LAN Chip
802.11ac wireless
Bluetooth 4.0
Webcam 1.3 Megapixel
Security Kensington Lock
Battery Li-Polymer 73.26 Wh
Dimensions 428(W) x 305(D) x 22.9(H) mm
Weight ~2.9kg

Other specifications exist for the X7. It’s possible to buy configurations greater capacity SSDs and you can install up to 32 GB of RAM (as two slots are left free with the 16 GB configuration).
 

Unboxing

1

The Aorus X7 comes in a rather incredible box, giving a good first impression. The standard cardboard suitcase opens to reveal a black gift box of considerable size, held in place at each of the four corners by a triangular piece of foam.

3

Open up the box, and you’ll see the laptop, wrapped in a thin synthetic cloth. Below this, you’ll find the accessories included with the laptop – a power cable and a welcome guide.

2

Additional accessories – a gaming mouse, keyboard and headset – are also available for purchase, but I didn’t receive any. I’d certainly say that a good mouse is required for any PC gaming, so make sure you’ve got one handy!

Physical Features

The Aorus X7 has a certain presence, immediately upon taking it out of its wrapper. The matte black metal frame sits solidly, cold to the touch. The frame is a mixture of clean lines and small design flourishes; a hybrid between traditional business and gaming laptops. The result is a laptop that’s certainly a gaming machine, with fan vents on every surface, but one that feels more elegant and mature than the work of Razer or Alienware.

15

The Aorus X7’s raw dimensions contribute to that feeling of strength; this is a laptop that is both taller and wider than any other 17-inch laptop I’ve used before, even the HP ZD8000 desktop replacement I got in 2006. Thankfully, on the remaining dimension – thickness – the X7 excels, making for a laptop that takes up surprisingly little space once you can actually find a bag big enough for it. The laptop is fairly heavy, too, which provides a reassuring rigidity to the chassis.

5

The lid of the Aorus X7 reminds me of a muscle car, with a definite prow at opening edge. A white Aorus logo sits mid-centre, while two smaller ridges sit near the hinge. The hinge is somewhat unusual for a laptop in that it isn’t at the absolute end of the laptop; instead it’s inset about an inch. That leaves room for a cooling stack that uses the full thickness of the laptop, while the impressive dimensions still allow for a full display, keyboard and mouse in the space remaining.

13

Opening the laptop, we see these elements, in their standard positions. The display is a 17.3-inch unit, with a resolution of 1920 by 1080. Choosing the 1080p standard makes sense for multimedia purposes, and also ensures decent game performance at the panel’s native resolution. We’ve seen smaller laptops with higher resolution screens, but getting playable framerates in recent games while maintaining acceptable detail settings is nearly impossible for them. The panel is good to middling in quality, offering good viewing angles and colour accuracy without really approaching MacBook Pro territory.

10

The keyboard and touchpad are also of a good quality, as befitting the X7’s high-end market position. The keyboard is a tiny bit shallow for my tastes, but is otherwise fine. The scissor switches provide decent tactile feedback, and the layout is quite sensible – from left to right we have a column of macro keys, the main cluster and a numberpad. These macro keys are controlled in software, and can be set to replicate any key or sequence of keys. They’re mostly useful in MMOs and desktop applications, but will occasionally prove useful in other games as well.

11

My only remaining gripe with the keyboard is its highlighting of the WASD keys with a white stroke, which serves no practical purpose. All gamers will know these keys by heart, while non-gamers won’t get useful information from the highlighting. It seems to ruin the otherwise decent legends, for the sake of ticking a ‘for gamers’ laptop design checklist.

12

The touchpad is likewise almost perfect, with one small flaw. The touchpad is made of glass, like that of Apple’s MacBook Pro, and offers a rather satisfying experience – at least while it’s clean. Unfortunately, the touchpad seems to have a knack for picking up finger grease quickly, which interrupt the smooth touch gestures with small stops and starts. Thankfully this is something you’ll quickly learn to deal with, either by stroking a little more forcefully or by cleaning the touchpad regularly, but it’s still an annoying imperfection.

So a good first impression and overall look; a well-chosen display; near-perfect keyboard and touchpad. The remaining areas are the ports and features on the left, right and back sides, and here the Aorus X7 shines.

8

The left hand side is home to the following ports, from left to right: Gigabit ethernet, HDMI, VGA, USB 3.0 and two 3.5mm audio jacks for headphone out and microphone in.

9

On the right hand side, we have another good range of ports, again from left to right: SD card slot, two USB 3.0 ports, HDMI and mini Display Port. That brings the total number of video outputs to four (three digital, one analogue). It’s worth noting that three displays can be driven by the laptop, but to use the HDMI on the left hand side you’ll need to disable SLI.

6

On the back we have three further inputs – two USB 2.0 ports and the AC power port. I like the inclusion of these extra USB ports, as they’re ideal for plugging in extra input devices like mice and controllers without taking up valuable space to the left and right of the laptop, as this is where your mouse would likely sit.

14

The remaining physical feature is the bottom of the laptop, which is fairly nondescript – just regulatory information in the bottom-centre, plus a large assortment of exhaust inputs and outputs in vaguely geometric shapes.

Testing Methodology

Now, the fun part starts, and we can begin testing this laptop’s performance. As usual, we are performing both synthetic benchmarks and subjective analysis over a week of use for work and play. Let’s get right to the results.

Subjective Impressions: Gaming

This is a gaming laptop, so let’s look at its performance in games first. Happily, I’m able to report that the Aorus X7 is as capable a competitor as its specifications would suggest. We’ll see this later in the benchmarks, but the X7 provides near-desktop levels of performance. At 1080p, you can expect playable (read: 30-60+ fps) at high settings in almost all games. This is awesome for a laptop, and makes for an ideal LAN machine.

I played through a few titles on the Aorus X7, and came away impressed each time. Low-end titles like Trackmania Nations, Super Hexagon and Call of Duty 4 run with their settings maxed out and running up against vsync as you’d expect. Performance is more surprising in medium-range and older games like StarCraft 2, again frequently rising above 60fps even on high settings. High-end and/or poorly optimised titles like Dark Souls, Battlefield 4 and World of Tanks provided the most surprising results, again running on high at 1080p at playable framerates. Overall, performance was more than respectable on all games that I tried, often coming close to my three-year-old gaming desktop in performance.

This performance comes with an important caveat though – these games must be engineered to take advantage of SLI (dual graphics card) configurations. Most games these days are indeed engineered in this way, but you will always run into exceptions, like Company of Heroes 2. Here, you’d be better off getting a single-GPU laptop like the Gigabyte P35K, as you’ll see no difference in performance between the two. For that reason, before pulling the trigger it’s important to do some research and ensure that SLI is supported in the games that you want to play; if they’re not it’d be better to have a more powerful single graphics card.

Of course, performance isn’t everything. A big problem with the P35K, my favourite Gigabyte gaming laptop so far, was its issues with noise and heat while gaming. Here the X7 proved exceptional, with its serious thermal design proving up to the challenge of keeping the machine cool during even the most stressful games and benchmarks. Noise was also kept to a minimum, which came as a surprise given the impressive thinness.

To sum up then, the Aorus X7 is as potent a laptop as I’ve ever played with, and it definitely works as a desktop replacement for PC gamers with a little extra cash to spend.

Subjective Impressions: Work

For gaming, CPU/GPU power is key. For traditional non-game desktop applications, you tend to see rather rapid diminishing returns after a baseline level of CPU/GPU power has been reached; here the presence and speed of storage and RAM is a bigger factor. Here, the Aorus X7 has no issues, with 16 GB of RAM and a pair of solid state drives in RAID0 providing an excess of performance.

The addition of a second logical drive, a 1 TB unit, also proved useful for storing media. Combined with the high resolution display and good to excellent input options, this is definitely a laptop that you could do some work on. The excess of USB ports also proved useful, allowing for the addition of any desired functionality.

The various shortcuts littering the desktop - not too much to remove!

The various shortcuts littering the desktop – not too much to remove!

Of course, there were some downsides too. Generally you can choose two of performance, size and battery life – and the X7 is heavily optimised for the first two options at the expense of the third. While average battery life was reasonable at four hours, it’s nowhere near that of the 12-hour MacBook Air and several other Haswell-equipped Windows options.

The massive height and width also proved a barrier, making it difficult to use the X7 on cramped public transport. If you’re looking for a laptop primarily for working on the go then you’d do better to look elsewhere. This is a gaming laptop first and foremost, meant to be moved from desk to desk.

Little here, either.

Little here, either.

Benchmark Results

3DMark

3DMark is our go-to benchmark for accessing CPU and graphical performance, with a workload that mimics a 3D videogame. We look at the laptop’s performance running in SLI mode only, due to time constraints.

3DMark (latest) Ice Storm Cloud Gate Fire Strike
X7 (discrete, SLI) 116534 17586 4171
P27K (discrete) 58487 12372 2557
P27K (integrated) 41289 5294 575
P35K (discrete) 86517 13154 2675
P35K (integrated) 62813 7368 819
U2442 (discrete) 42430 4463 1147
U2442 (integrated) 36812 3955 517
Aspire S7 34113 3928 548
Aspire V5 32841 3633 474

As you’d expect we see impressive gains versus the single graphics card of the P27K and P35K. Most notably, the gains increase with the workload, so you’ll likely notice more of a difference in performance between a single and dual GPU laptop when you’re running graphically demanding games. Generally, that means if you’re running older games at lower settings then getting an SLI laptop won’t be worthwhile, whereas recent games set at high detail settings will be drastically improved with the addition of a second GPU in SLI.

Screenshot 2014-02-13 17.25.23

 

Screenshot 2014-02-13 17.27.42

 

Screenshot 2014-02-13 17.31.31

Cinebench

Cinebench is a nice cross-platform benchmark that stresses the CPU and GPU. Again, discrete graphics results to follow.

Cinebench R15 OpenGL CPU
X7 (discrete, SLI) 88.42 641 cb*
P27K (discrete) 82.24 560 cb*
P27K (integrated) 22.32 567 cb*
P35K (discrete) 82.34 636 cb*
P35K (integrated) 90.72 638 cb*
U2442 (discrete) 23.33 2.33
U2442 (integrated) 16.13 2.59
Aspire S7 15.88 2.77
Aspire V5 14.15 2.39

This test doesn’t appear to benefit from SLI, so we see near-identical scores to the Gigabyte P35K, a laptop with almost exactly the same specs otherwise. This is a nice illustration of why it can be good to save £600 if you don’t run SLI-capable apps.

Screenshot 2014-02-13 18.00.50

CrystalDiskMark

CrystalDiskMark is a benchmark that examines disk read and write performance. Here, we’re testing only the SSD – the mechanical hard disk would report significantly worse scores.

CDM 3 Read Seq 512K 4K 4K QD32
X7 998.6 674.7 28.97 417.1
P27K 474.5 353.8 21.37 312.3
P35K 926.8 679.6 24.55 494.6
U2442 468.0 339.0 21.72 282.6
Aspire S7 793.1 333.0 22.3 193.3
Aspire V5 107.2 35.65 0.417 1.003
CDM 3 Write Seq 512K 4K 4K QD32
X7 631.6 627.3 62.59 375.0
P27K 317.0 320.7 40.10 262.0
P35K 624.2 574.1 56.59 473.7
U2442 177.9 178.2 46.07 150.2
Aspire S7 509.8 229.2 70.39 61.71
Aspire V5 106.7 50.47 0.973 1.147

Again, no real surprises here – the dual RAID0 SSDs of the X7 and P35K provide a clear advantage over the single SSD solution of the P35K.

Screenshot 2014-02-13 17.57.44

GeekBench

GeekBench is another cross-platform benchmark that examines memory and processor performance. This time I’m using version 3 of the benchmark, meaning we only can compare the P27K directly to the P35K.

GeekBench 3.1.3 Single-core Multi-core
X7 3196 12044
P27K 2820 10212
P35K 3233 11993

As expected, processor performance is similar to the P35K and faster than the P27K, due to a slightly worse processor and slower RAM found on the P27K.

Screenshot 2014-02-13 17.51.27

Metro: Last Light

Metro is a challenging game, both on you and your PC. Its benchmark tool is quite formidable, so let’s take a look at how the X7 performs in an actual game. The settings are Direct X 11 renderer, 1920x1080p, High quality, AF 4X filtering, normal motion blur, no SSAA, DirectX 11 tessellation or PhysX.

metro ll

Here we have considerably better performance than the P27K – 45 FPS, on average compared to 27 FPS on the single GPU laptop. That’s highly playable, and could reach 60 FPS with medium detail settings instead of high.

Company of Heroes 2

Our final benchmark is Company of Heroes 2, a strategy game set in World War II. It’s worth noting that the benchmark is much more stressful than a typical campaign mission or multiplayer match. The test settings are 1080p resolution with no v-sync or anti-aliasing, then medium for the other options.

2014-02-13_00001

Here we see slightly worse performance compared to the single GPU of the P35K, with an average FPS of 20.43. For comparison, my gaming PC (Core i7 2600k, 2x Radeon 6950 in SLI) gets only 40 FPS on the same settings, so it’s not bad for a laptop and certainly playable in-game. The reason that we don’t see impressive gains here is that the game is (deliberately) not set up to use SLI, so we are just using a single GPU here. I’m not sure why the score is 3 FPS lower on the ostensibly better X7, but the difference isn’t massive regardless.

Conclusion

The Aorus X7 is the first properly portable dual-GPU gaming laptop. While its height and width are considerable – even more so than the average 17-inch gaming laptop – it is thin and light. This means that if you have a bag big enough to handle it, you’ll enjoy an incredible power to portability ratio.

The X7 is an excellent first model for the new Aorus brand; Gigabyte have done well here to take their efforts to produce the ultimate gaming laptop to the next level. If you’re looking for a 17-inch gaming laptop, you won’t find anything better than this. 10/10.

Pros

  • Impressive performance thanks to dual GPUs and high-spec components used throughout
  • Classy design with careful flourishes, an understated muscle car
  • Very thin given its power, without noise or thermal issues

Cons

  • Oversized chassis makes for a tight fit in all but the largest bags
  • Glass trackpad gets greasy quickly; this ain’t no MacBook
  • Middling battery life can’t compare to all-day Haswell designs
5 / 5 stars     
Posted in Hardware, Laptops and tagged , , , , , .