Gigabyte Aorus X7
26th Feb 2014 | 16:30
Two GPUs' worth of gaming performance in a slender case
Aorus is a name unfamiliar to, well, everyone, given that Gigabyte has only just launched this new side brand, but if you're looking for eye-catching gaming laptops, you will know it soon. In fact, right now is a good place to start, because the X7 is a hell of a debut.
The likes of Gigabyte's own P25W and Toshiba's Qosmio X70 gaming laptops show that you can have impressive performance from a portable machine, but that you generally have to sacrifice a lot of power. Schenker's XMG C703 laptop is less than an inch thick, but has a considerably weaker GPU than its much thicker sibling, the XMG P703. The C703 still has great 1080p gaming ability, but it's not right at the high end.
The simple fact is that if you want a beefy GPU that gives out a lot of heat, you can't have it in a tiny chassis. It's just physics.
Well, Aorus doesn't care about physics, apparently. It's put the equivalent power of a Nvidia GeForce 780M into a laptop that's only an inch thick – this is right in line with the most powerful mobile card that Nvidia makes. Only the Aorus doesn't contain a 780M. Instead, it offers two Nvidia 765Ms in SLI, including 4GB of graphics memory.
They're matched up with a quad-core Intel processor that's among the best around for mobile use, 16GB of RAM and a Full HD screen. There's even more than 1TB of hard drive space. There's a ludicrous amount going on in the Aorus X7.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, it's a 17-inch laptop, and a one with a particularly large footprint at that – it might be portable, but you'll need a hell of a bag to carry it around in. At 2.9kg, it's not exactly light either, though we've seen much heavier.
What you've got is an all-black body, made of aluminium. It's not quite as solid an aluminium build as Apple's MacBook Pro with Retina display, but it's clearly fairly high quality in general. That said, on our review model, the plastic bezel around the display had come loose already.
Though it's generally more understated than a lot of gaming laptops, there is still a certain ridiculousness to its look, which comes from the fan vents.
Fitting this much gaming and computing power into a thin chassis means there's a lot of heat to get rid of and not a lot of space to absorb it, so the X7 is COVERED in vents. Two on each side, two on the back, and half a dozen on its underside.
Considering what it has to work around, we think the X7 isn't bad looking at all, with the vents at the back suggesting a vague 'spaceship' design, but everything kept as minimalist as possible otherwise.
The keyboard includes a macro panel on the left side for gaming, and a number-pad on the right hand side, and the Aorus approach of putting the games first shows through in the fact that the WASD keys have a highlighted edge, so they're easy to spot (although a way to feel them might have been even better, if annoying when typing).
Unsuprisingly, all of this doesn't come cheap. Starting at around £1600, you're absolutely paying for the power and effort that's gone into this machine. However, it's not really overly expensive given the specs – it's about in line for what we'd expect given its capabilities.
It's amazing what you can fit into an inch of laptop if you really try.
The headline item for the Aorus X7 is easily the twin Nvidia GeForce 765M GPUs. Each offers 2GB of GDDR5 graphics RAM, for a total of 4GB.
These chips aren't the highest-end of Nvidia's current range – they sit below both the 770M and 780M – but just one of them is still a strong contender for gaming, as the Schenker C703 and Alienware 14 proved. When two are combined, however, Aorus reckons they're equivalent to the 780M – but with the heat spread out more evenly, a smaller design than any 780M-packing laptop has managed is possible.
You can operate the X7 with just one GPU active, of course, which will save you on fan noise and battery life, but you can't use Nvidia's Optimus technology, which would normally let you switch to using the integrated Intel graphics for really low-power operations, giving better battery life when just doing something like browsing. It's a shame, but we don't think it's the end of the world – you're probably only really interested in the frames per second scores if you're looking at this machine.
The processing power comes from an Intel Core i7-4700HQ, which will be familiar if you've looked at any decent gaming laptop recently. It and its near-identical twin, the 4700MQ, have been used in the HP Envy TouchSmart 15, the Schenker XMG P503 and the Gigabyte P25W. It's everywhere. And why? Because it's very good indeed.
It's a quad-core chip that runs at 2.4GHz, rising up to 3.4GHz using Intel's Turbo Boost technology. It's also HyperThreaded, meaning that it can offer eight virtual cores, speeding up heavily multi-threaded applications. It's a chip that's good enough for pro-level media creation, and offers great performance for games.
The 16GB of RAM (which can be increased to 32GB) is also great – it's more than enough for gaming, and again makes the machine a tempting proposition for those who want to use media creation tools. There's more power here than you get in a MacBook Pro, for example, for a similar price.
When it comes to storage, things get interesting – Aorus is including a large hard drive, along with an SSD for fast boot/wake times. Our review unit was very fast to start and respond, but still offered 1.2GB of storage in total – not a bad deal.
The downside is that, while Windows itself will run fast, the hard drive will hold back performance when fetching files. Considering how expensive a 1TB SSD would be out of the box, though, this is a good compromise for keeping this fast while offering lots of space for storing a good size Steam library.
The screen is 1080p Full HD, and is a fairly standard TN panel, meaning it's well suited to gaming, but isn't particularly high end.
It's fairly generous with ports, offering three USB 3 connections, two USB 2 ports, two HDMI ports, a mini-DisplayPort and an SD card reader around the various edges.
There's also 802.11ac Wi-Fi, for better signal and faster speeds, and a Killer LAN chip paired with an Ethernet port, for serious network gaming. Bluetooth 4 rounds off the connections.
There's no optical drive, but that's often par for the course these days. And anyway, it's more space for GPUs/cooling.
- Cinebench 11.5
- OpenGL 60.74fps
- CPU 6.96
- 3D Mark Ice 121671; Cloud 17293; Fire 4220
- Battery Eater Pro: 122 mins
So, the Aorus X7 is a bit of a beast. Really, given the spec list, this shouldn't come as a surprise – but here it's confirmed. The X7 isn't just powerful for a laptop that's an inch thick – it's just plain powerful.
The twin Nvidia 765M GPUs do very well in benchmarks, comfortably beating out the single 770M in the likes of the Gigabyte P25W and Toshiba Qosmio X70, but bested by the single 780M used in the Schenker XMG P503.
But that's in benchmarks – in the real world, performance is even better. Just about everything we threw at it played as smoothly as you'd hope, but the headline is that BioShock Infinite, with everything maxed, achieved 55 frames per second average at 1080p. The XMG P503, which its 780M card, achieved 45 frames per second.
The occasional uncertainty of SLI means that this kind of performance increase won't be true of every game, but it's fair to say that Aorus has met its target of 780M-equalling performance (provided you remember to turn on both GPUs – only one is active by default).
Of course, this amount of power is great outside of games, too – with 4GB of GDDR5 RAM on offer, it's a great portable option for anyone who needs 3D power for pro graphics applications. That said, if a thin 3D machine is what you're after, there's a new ultrabook workstation contender in the form of the HP ZBook 14, which offers an AMD FirePro workstation-class GPU.
The CPU scores basically as expected in its own benchmarks, matching performance in most of the other laptops we've already mentioned, as well as the HP TouchSmart 15. It's a very capable chip, and though it isn't from the absolutely highest end, it's really more than powerful enough for both gaming and even most pro applications – let alone just general browsing and video use.
The mSATA SSD in our review model meant that performance when using Windows was very good for the most part, as was booting up. And, unsurprisingly, 16GB of RAM meant that we didn't exactly see a lot of slow-down from having lots of applications open.
Keyboard and trackpad
But we knew it would be a good performer – what surprised us was how good the usability was in general. The keyboard is truly excellent, with crisp, responsive keys that give plenty of feedback when typing. The travel is a tiny bit short for our liking, but that's just nit-picking – and gamers may prefer the shorter press anyway.
The trackpad is nice and responsive, and works really well, but does have one significant downside – it's glossy glass, and it picks up fingerprints and grease to a comical degree. And it's not just an aesthetic thing – it actually gets in the way of using it, causing friction or the responsiveness to drop. OK, for gaming, you're probably going to be using a mouse or controller, but we wish the trackpad was a little nicer.
The screen is decent, but nothing to get excited about. Using a good-quality TN panel means good response rates for gaming, but colour reproduction and viewing angles are merely nice, rather than great (or any further superlatives).
One area where, perhaps predictably, usability suffers a little is in the noise levels from the fan. With one GPU under load it's not bad at all – a high hiss that can be drowned out without too much difficulty. With both GPUs at full load, though, it's a different story.
Yeah, it's pretty loud. And you can feel air blasting almost a foot out of the side vents. It's great that they're doing their job, but you'll certainly know about it.
This perhaps explains why Aorus has put some of the world's loudest speakers in this machine. They're decent, but the overriding impression is that, boy, can they go loud.
Aorus has included some software extras, and that's not as terrible a thing as it often is with laptops. There's a menu that makes it fast and easy to adjust some settings, and provides access to things like different fan profiles, so you can actually manage the potential noise levels. It's all very thoughtful stuff.
Finally, we expected battery life to be fairly poor, and it was. But it wasn't as bad as we thought – we've seen a lot worse in gaming machines. Two hours in our intense battery tests isn't great, but it means that you could easily watch a film on battery power.
When you see the claims about the Aorus X7's power and put them up against its size, you'd think there has to be a catch. Performance that's worse than claimed, or overheating issues, or a sacrifice in build quality. But no – Aorus said it could make an inch-thick laptop with power equal to Nvidia's highest-end single mobile GPU, and it has.
Well, there is one catch of sorts, which is that it definitely isn't cheap. As we said, it really isn't over-priced either, considering that you'll pay roughly the same for a similarly-specced 780M machine, which will likely be chunkier.
Still, at over £1600, you have to really be sure you want it – you could get a hell of a gaming desktop for that price, after all.
Two GPUs, astonishing performance for a fairly thin laptop. Aorus' cooling magic makes for a really impressive machine, and it doesn't skimp in other areas for power, either.
The design isn't bad, as gaming machines go, and we were really impressed by its overall usability – the keyboard is one of the best we've seen on a laptop. We also liked the subtle extra software included by Aorus.
And yes, it's thin, and it's mostly nicely made. It's also fairly upgradeable – many of the components aren't hard to get at if you're handy with a screwdriver.
The battery life is poor, but that's often the case with gaming machines. The screen isn't quite as nice as it could be – it's fine, but it's only as good as those you get on laptops half the price.
There are few other niggles, like the way the trackpad can become awkward to use, and the screen bezel coming away slightly on our review unit – though the latter didn't affect performance.
There are some concerns over using SLI instead of a single GPU, though – you might not always get the performance you expect. We're not saying not to go for it, but do be aware of this.
The loudness is a shame, but it comes hand in hand with the power – really, it's actually not bad for fan noise in relative terms, but ultimately it is loud.
The Aorus X7 is a truly impressive gaming machine, with a truly impressive design. It's got some small issues, but if you really want high-end portable gaming in a chassis that's minimal and slim, Aorus has done the impossible and made it happen.