SLI gaming goodness!
IntroductionIt's a good time right now for those who like gaming on the move. With the recent release of the new 800 series Nvidia GPUs pushing gaming performance even further and potentially offering much better battery life and reduced heat, it should help to consign the leg burning, jet engine sounding and battery killing gaming laptops to the past. With the mobile gamer now being offered a huge array of choice from popular gaming dedicated brands such as Alienware and Razor, Gigabyte have decided that they want in on this action. We've reviewed several 'gaming' laptops recently from Gigabyte and on the whole they have offered good performance but have been very loud and, as we saw with our last review of the P35K, can have major issues with noise and overheating.
As their next step Gigabyte recently unveiled their new gaming focused Aorus brand. The Aorus brand ethos is all about gamers, providing the best gaming focused hardware they can without compromise. The new brand currently offers just three products, the Thunder X7 mechanical keyboard, Thunder M7 MMO gaming mouse and our review product today, the X7 gaming laptop. With a mouth watering specification including a 17.3" Full HD display, 16GB Ram, Intel i7-4700HQ CPU, dual SSDs and last but not least 2 x Nvidia GTX765M graphics in SLI, Aorus claim this is the thinnest and lightest GTX SLI laptop available. They claim it offers similar performance to the GTX780M graphics and has been ' forged and fine-tuned to run all available titles at high resolution and settings'. Read on to find out if their claims have any merit and see how this potential beast of a machine performs...
Design and ConnectivityBefore we touch on the overall design and look, the first thing that grabbed our attention was just how thin this laptop actually is. Aorus claimed it to be the thinnest SLI laptop available and that certainly appears to be the case. At just under 23mm thick it's one of the thinnest gaming laptops we've ever come across and makes you wonder how they squeezed it all in. They also claimed it to be the lightest SLI laptop available and whilst that may be true, it is still pretty heavy for a laptop coming in at 3.2kg. Although with a large footprint of over 428mm wide and 305mm deep the weight doesn't seem too much of an issue.
Now onto the design and it's a pretty gorgeous piece of kit. With a full aluminium chassis in a matte black finish it definitely has a luxury look and feel, slightly understated yet always hinting at the aggression and power it contains. The top has the Aorus logo sitting proudly in the centre in aluminium along with several sculpted lines which do set it off nicely. The aerodynamic look continues with enlarged vents to the rear and vents to both sides. Opening the lid and the minimalist look continues with just a single power button in the shape of the Aorus logo in the centre below the screen and a full keyboard with numeric keys and the secret weapon of the X7, programmable macro keys.
There's a feature we haven't seen on a laptop we have reviewed before, to the far left of the keyboard is a row of 6 G keys, the main G key switches between 5 different main configurations available from the programmable G1 - G5 keys offering up to 20 different customisations such as quick launching a program or your favourite FPS macro for example. A very useful addition to a gaming laptop and via the simple Macro Hub software, this feature is easy to use and works very well. The keyboard is fully backlit although unlike the five different colours available on the main G key to indicate which configuration you have running, the keyboard backlight is only available in white. The touchpad and buttons have a glass like feel to them and a glossy look. Overall we found no issues with the responsiveness and the buttons worked without issue and unlike the touchpad on our previous review of the Gigabyte P35K we found double tapping the touchpad on the X7 worked every time.
The build quality certainly isn't an issue here, improving from our already good experiences with Gigabyte's laptops the X7 feels very solid and well built. The screen is not hinged from the very edge of the case, meaning it's very strong and offers a good firm feel when opening and closing. Other than a minor flexing to the screen which is no surprise with the thin design, overall we were very impressed here. Our only slight negative, and this may be just down to this reviewer, is that the power connection is to the rear of the laptop, we always prefer the power connections to the side as they feel more secure and less likely that you will accidentally rip it out.
As for connections, Aorus have certainly not skimped here. To the left we find the Ethernet Port, Surround Port , VGA, 1 x USB 3.0 and the headphone and microphone jacks. To the right side we find a further 2 x USB 3.0 ports, HDMI, Mini Display port and an SD card slot. No connections to the front but to the rear we find 2 x USB 2.0 ports and the power connection. A multitude of display connection options here that we think should cover all the bases.
SpecificationThe X7 presents quite a mouth watering specification and one at first glance that closely resembles a lot of the components in the P35K. But at £1,649, over £350 more than the P35K you'd expect a few more bells and whistles and that's exactly what we get. Kicking it off we have the popular Intel Haswell Quad Core i7-4700HQ CPU running at 2.4Ghz (turbo speed 3.4Ghz), 16GB of DDR3 1600Mhz RAM (upgradeable to 32GB) and 2 x Nvidia GTX765M 2GB graphics in SLI giving a hefty total of 4GB of GDDR5. The display is a 17.3" Full HD 1920 x 1080 backlight display, using a standard TN panel. There is no optical disk drive in the X7 which seems to be the norm these days with the increase in digital downloads. We also get Bluetooth V4.0, a Killer LAN chip and the latest 802.11ac Wireless.
As we saw with the Gigabyte P35K and P25W, the storage configuration options are pretty vast and should cover most bases. The triple-storage system in the X7 offers 2 slots for mSATA SSDs up to 512GB each and 1 slot for a 2.5" HDD up to 1TB giving a total storage capacity of up to 2TB. Our review sample came with 2 x 128GB Lite-on mSATA LMT-128M6M SSDs setup in RAID 0 configuration and a 1TB Toshiba 5400RPM HDD. RAID 0 splits the data evenly across two or more disks but without parity information and therefore increases the speed by a good margin. The downside of RAID 0 is that there is no data redundancy, so that means if one drive fails, you lose the data across both of them.
The technical specs for the 128GB Lite-on SSD claim impressive read speeds of up to 530 MB/s and a good write speed of 300 MB/s. During our three runs with ATTO Disk Benchmark, we found an average read speed of 1020 MB/s and an average write speed of 637 MB/s. Thanks to the RAID 0 configuration we saw very fast ATTO Disk benchmarked speeds way above of the single SSD quoted speeds, but whilst these speeds are impressive, for real world application using the differences between an SSD in standard mode as opposed to RAID 0 are less conclusive. Using the Storage Test benchmark on PCMark 8 which uses workload traces recorded from actual programs such as Battlefield 3, MS Office and Photoshop for example, and therefore represents real world tests rather than synthetic ones. It is not affected by differences in CPU or GPU performance and we get a score of 4956 with a bandwidth of 239.33MB/s. This score is very similar to many single SSD systems tested on 3D Mark's website which would suggest that the synthetic improvements seen with a RAID 0 setup do not translate to real world use.
The 2 x 128GB SSD converts to an available space of 217GB for Windows to use. After the Windows installation and various other pre-installed software that leaves us with 178GB along with 931GB of free space on the HDD, so plenty of storage available here. Compared to the P35K and the P25W laptops we reviewed the result in our manually timed power on test was a little disappointing. Power on from a cold boot to the windows desktop provided a rather slow average time of 29.36 seconds, still not a huge time admittedly, but compared to the sub 10 second P35K, this system should do far better here.
DisplayThe 17.3" screen is a Full HD 1920 x 1080 resolution TN panel. The TN panel offers excellent response times which is important for gaming along with reasonable viewing angles. The matt panel copes well with reflections and diffused even the brightest of light to a manageable level. The brightness levels were very impressive with the 100% setting perhaps too bright for general use. No backlight bleed was visible during our tests.
We use Passmark's Monitor Test program for the laptop screens currently, which runs through various standard quality tests of the screen to give you an idea of the its performance. It also comes with a very useful help section to tell you exactly what you should be looking for and areas where the screen may not be performing well. The screen passed all the tests without any issues but as we saw with the P35K the colours could be better. It's a basic test admittedly, but the software is free and without resorting to buying expensive software and test equipment, this is a test most home users can easily replicate for themselves.
Pre-installed SoftwareIt's good to see Aorus keeping the level of pre-installed software to a minimum again. Although with plenty of storage space this isn't too much of an issue, but keeping a system lean and mean always helps for gaming. The software we saw on the P35K is present again but the UI has been given a revamp in line with the Aorus design. The Smart Manager has been replaced with the Command and Control software, but offers exactly the same functions with quick access to the brightness, volume, fan and power mode settings to name a few. The SmartSwitch has been given a similar Aorus revamp, offering the same functions again to quickly shutdown and restart along with a useful setting of choosing between the Windows 8 default or desktop as the main start screen.
In addition to this the SmartUpdate is again present, Aorus restyled to 'Drivers Update' offering a list of all the current driver and firmware versions with a simple one click link to download the latest official or even beta drivers. We updated quite a few of these during our testing and this worked very well and made updating drivers very simple and easy to do. The final pre-installed software worthy of a mention is Power DVD 10 (not really a lot of use with no optical drive) and a free 1 month trial of Office 365. No antivirus software is preloaded.
Onboard AudioAn area that always fills us with dread, the on-board audio seems to be a much neglected area in many laptops we've reviewed. The X7 uses Aorus' Acoustic System which claims to offer superb sound positioning and comes in the shape of two x 2watt speakers located either side of the laptop at the front corners and two woofers underneath the laptop. The sound quality is surprisingly good, in fact some of the best we've heard in a laptop for a long time. The positioning of the two main speakers really helps, the standard location seems to be just below the screen but by locating them at either side on each front corner you are closer to the audio and the difference is immediately noticeable.
The audio quality is surprisingly good!
The audio quality is excellent, no breakup or distortion was heard even at the maximum volume, which is very loud and probably too loud even for blaring out your favourite song. The woofers add that extra bit of punch and bass to the audio, although not to a massive degree. For gaming the sound again was excellent and for once headphones are not an essential item here. The system noise is far quieter than the P35K rocket ship fans which means you can hear the game quite well. A laptop for once that has paid a bit of attention to the audio, hopefully other manufacturers will follow suit and stop pushing the onboard audio to the bottom of the pile.
Battery LifeThe battery specification here is a Li-Polymer 73.26Wh. Firstly with our YouTube video test, which is a 4 hour loop of a standard 480P video and with the laptop set to the high performance setting and the screen at 100% brightness we managed a pretty pitiful 1 hours 54 minutes. Then with the balanced setting with the brightness lowered to 50% we managed to squeeze out slightly more but still a disappointing 2 hours 12 minutes. Compared to the batteries in the P35K and the P25W, which gave almost 4 and 5 hours respectively, these results are not good.
Moving onto gaming and in high performance mode we managed 1 hour 19 minutes. Whilst this appears much increased when compared to the same test on previous gaming laptops, it is increased for a reason. With every setting set to maximum and no power saving settings in operation, the difference in performance between mains power and battery was staggering. As you will see below in our benchmark tests the mains power gave excellent results thanks to the 2 x GTX765M in SLI, but with battery power the results were very poor. We could play no games on high settings and the 3D Mark Ice Storm test for example was only 26137, compared to a superb 124210 under mains power. No settings were available in the BIOS or the system to improve this either.
Benchmark Tests and Performance
Benchmark Score Summary
Time to Desktop 29.36 Seconds 7 Super Pi @ 1M 10.76 seconds 8 3D Mark - Ice Storm 1.2 123415 6 3D Mark - Cloud Gate 1.1 18095 6 3D Mark - Fire Strike 4393 6 Passmark Performance Test 8.0 4380.5 6 Cinebench 11.5 Open GL 59.49 FPS - CPU 6.85pts 6 Unigine Heaven 4.0 796 6 Unigine Valley 1.0 1205 6 PC Mark 8 - Home Conventional 3.0 3860 6 PC Mark 8 - Storage Test 4956 8
Our standard set of tests as shown in the table above are each run 3 times, with the average score taken. The tests were all carried out with the laptop in high performance mode, the mains power plugged in and using the latest Nvidia 335.23 graphics drivers. Aorus claim the 2 x GTX765M in SLI should offer performance similar to that of a single GTX780M, which according to Passmark's Video Card benchmark listing sits very close in performance to that of a desktop GTX570.
The overall results were excellent here and showed the power of the dual GTX765M graphics. In our gaming tests we had some of the best results we've ever seen during a laptop review. Key highlights were a superb 47FPS with Max Payne 3 with the settings pushed right to the max, including using up all of the available 4GB of graphics memory which normally grinds most laptops to a halt, along with a decent 52FPS in BF3 on Ultra settings. This blows away our previous scores with the single GTX765M in the P35K and shows that this laptop can comfortably play games at the very highest settings . For the benchmark tests again we saw much improved scores with Unigine Valley 1.0 giving an average of 1205 and Heaven 4.0 giving 796, compared to 625 and 422 respectively that we saw with the P35K. The only area we saw a similar result to the P35K was with the Cinebench test, which was to be expected as SLI is not supported by Cinebench 11.5.
1920 x 1080 Resolution FPS (Fraps) Battlefield 3 Ultra Settings 52 Battlefield 3 High Settings 72 COD: Black Ops 2 Maximum Settings 118 Max Payne 3 Maximum Settings 47 Max Payne 3 High Settings 80
To illustrate our earlier point regarding the performance using battery power, with the Max Payne 3 test where we received 47FPS using mains power, under battery power alone (but with the power settings still on high performance mode), we received an average of just 15FPS which was completely unplayable. The system is severely crippled when you just use the battery, something to bear in mind if you are expecting to play games on high settings whilst on the move or away from a power source.
Our thanks go http://www.futuremark.com for providing the licence keys for 3DMark and PCMark 8.
Temperatures and NoiseThe HWMonitor screenshot below shows the maximum temperatures the various system components reached during our testing session. The CPU core temperatures at idle were a pretty high 52°C whilst under test conditions these reached a tropical 98°C.
Our main issue with the Gigabyte P35K was that it got extremely hot and was far too noisy. The heat didn't appear to be expelled efficiently or in the right place either meaning if you had it on your lap it almost felt like it was burning you. Thankfully it's a different story here with the X7. As you would expect with the 2 x GTX765M in SLI there is a lot of heat produced and a fair amount of noise too, but even with that our highest reading with our sound meter was just under 50dB for gaming and 46dB during our benchmark tests. Not quiet by any means, but with the improved onboard audio the gaming sounds were certainly not drowned out this time by the system fans going crazy.
The heat levels are definitely helped here by the Aorus 'Exclusive Thermal Technology' which claims to substantially increase air intake and exhaust. With 5 thermal pipes, 4 vents and 2 fans these claims definitely have some merit. During our testing the machine clearly got very hot towards the rear where all the thermal components are located, but it wasn't excessively so and was nowhere near the leg burning levels that we saw with the P35K, nor was any area of the X7 too hot to touch or hold.
- Superb gaming performance
- Fast SLI GTX765M graphics
- Thin and stylish design
- Decent onboard audio
- Good value for money
- Macro Keys
- Great storage options
- Poor battery life
- Noisy when under load
- Not the latest 800 series Nvidia graphics
Aorus X7 Gaming Laptop ReviewThis first offering from Gigabyte's new gaming focused arm, Aorus, packs a very decent specification into the slim 1" thick design. At £1,649 the Aorus X7 main draw is the dual GTX765M Nvidia graphics in SLI and Aorus claim this to be the thinnest SLI laptop available and that certainly appears to currently be the case. With a very versatile storage system offering up to 1TB SSD and 1TB HDD, you get 16GB of RAM, the very popular Intel i7-4700HQ Quad Core CPU and other goodies such as the latest 802.11ac Wireless all packed into a lovely all black aluminium chassis that looks the part and gives an excellent overall feel with a high level of build quality.
The matte display is a 17.3" 1920 x 1080 Full HD using a standard TN panel. Excellent for gaming and we had no issues during any of our tests, along with a very good brightness level and overall image quality. The only negatives being a slightly lower viewing angle and colours that could have been better. With our benchmark tests we saw improved results when compared to previous laptops we have reviewed here at AVForums but it was the gaming tests where the system and the power of the GTX765M graphics in SLI really shone through. With superb FPS scores in all of our test games, the highlight being 47FPS in Max Payne 3 on maximum settings , the Aorus X7 is a gaming powerhouse of a laptop and one that can comfortably play games on the highest settings.
Noise and heat is always going to be an issue with laptops that push everything to the limit and this is no difference with the X7, although the thermal technology Aorus have employed mitigates this to a certain degree. With the system under full load it did get to a pretty noisy 50dBs and saw the CPU reach 98°C and the GPUs reach 77°C, but thanks to the excellent onboard audio and the location of the vents and the fans, the noise and heat is certainly not a big issue, nor a deal breaker as we saw with the Gigabyte P35K. It's an excellent first release of a dedicated gaming laptop by Aorus and whilst £1,649 may sound like a hefty price, in comparison to other gaming laptops it offers pretty good value. An Alienware system with a single AMD R9 M290X graphics but without the SSDs comes in at almost the same price and similar systems from other providers such as MSI come in at slightly more.
With the new 800 series Nvidia GPUs that were released recently, we can only assume Aorus just missed the boat in getting these into the X7 and we've no doubt a future update will include these, but even so the GTX765M in SLI are certainly no slouch as we have seen. Weighing up the system as a whole we found very few negatives and many positives including superb performance and excellent onboard audio, which is a rare thing to say with a laptop. The Aorus X7 is a worthy winner of an AVForums Recommended Award.
Value For Money8
Our Review Ethos
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