This stratospherically powerful and remarkably thin SLI gaming laptop is, not surprisingly, hot and loud.
IT’S RARE FOR a laptop to cram desktop-level processing and graphics performance into a thin chassis. Ultra-powerful laptops are typically housed in vast, cavernous chassis that are great for cooling but aren’t what we’d call attractive. The Best Buy-winning Schenker XMG P504 is an excellent example of this, as its smoulderingly fast components are given ample room to breathe in its boxy Clevo chassis.
It’s hugely impressive, then, that Aorus -Gigabyte’s new gaming brand – has filled the XTs slim frame with even more powerful components than the XMG P504. At 3kg, it’s heavy and certainly not something you’ll want to lug around in a bag all day.
The X7 isn’t just thin, it’s also beautifully designed, with swooping curves and vents on the side and rear. These features show that some real thought has gone into the design. The X7’s matt-black finish is plain, but this gives it an understated elegance.
Three USB3 ports can be found on the side of the chassis, and there’s a pair of USB connectors at the rear. The inclusion of separate headphone and microphone jacks is welcome, as is the presence of VGA, HDMI and Mini DisplayPort connectors. You’ll be able to plug your X7 into virtually any monitor, with the added possibility of daisy-chaining three Full HD monitors together using DisplayPort.
The Gigabit Ethernet port on the left of the device is connected to a Killer LAN Ethernet controller, which claims to prioritize gaming traffic and minimize packet loss, making it more suitable for online gaming than a standard Ethernet controller. The XTs built-in Wi-Fi adaptor supports the latest 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard, which is another welcome addition that will result in faster and more reliable wireless connections.
The Full HD screen built into the X7 performs reasonably well. While its 539:1 contrast ratio and 0.5cd/m2 black levels aren’t the best we’ve ever seen on a laptop, they’re just about good enough to let us pick out details in darker spots in images and games. Our calibrator reported that the screen was displaying 88 per cent of the sRGB color gamut, which is the very least we’d expect from a laptop at this price.
Both the touchpad and the keyboard are excellent. The keyboard is a particular highlight, as it has five programmable macro keys to which you assign a number of shortcuts. Even better, an extra G button lets you cycle through five different banks of shortcuts, which means the five keys perform a certain set of functions depending which bank you’re using, so you can assign up to 25 shortcuts to the buttons. The buttons are illuminated with a different color for each bank, so you can tell which shortcut bank you’re using.
The touchpad has integrated buttons, and you’ll need to make sure your finger is in the bottom quarter of the pad if you want to feel a satisfying click.
The X7’s performance is nothing short of scintillating, although that should come as no surprise considering the components on board. Our review sample came with a fourth-generation Intel Core i7-4710HQ processor, which has a stock clock speed of 2.5GHz but can Turbo Boost to 3.5GHz. However, retail versions of this laptop come with a Core i7-4860HQ, which runs at a stock clock speed of 2.4GHz but can Turbo Boost to 3.6GHz. Both processors have four cores and use Hyper-Threading for better multitasking. Other than clock speeds, the main difference between the two processors is that the i7-4860HQ has better built-in graphics, but that’s fairly irrelevant when both laptops are equipped with two dedicated graphics chips.
The Core i7-4710HQ helped the Aorus X7 achieve an overall score of 99 in our PC benchmark test. That’s just one point away from the score of our reference desktop processor and is phenomenal for a laptop.
Gigabyte claims there’s little difference in performance between the i7-4710HQ and the i7-4860HQ, and that certainly seems to be true from the specification of the two chips. The retail version of the X7 with its Core i7-4860HQ will have similar or better performance than our review sample, so you can be confident that this laptop will have no problems accomplishing the most demanding multimedia tasks.
The processor is paired with 16GB of memory, and the X7 can be upgraded to a whopping 32GB. For storage, the X7 has three 128GB mSATA SSDs configured in RAID 0, which means they work as a single highspeed, high-capacity drive. This configuration really helps with game load times, media transcoding and other hard disk-dependent tasks. There’s also a 1TB hard disk for storing your documents and media collection.
Even more impressive is the X7’s gaming performance. It produced an average frame rate of 120fps at both 1,280×720 and 1,920×1,080 resolutions with graphics quality set to High. Increasing graphics quality to Ultra brought the frame rate down to 64fps, which is still silky smooth.
The reason for such immense graphics power is the inclusion of two Nvidia GeForce GTX 860M graphics processors (GPUs) running in SLI mode, which means they work together in tandem. These chips have 8GB of graphics memory between them and provide graphics performance that exceeds a single GeForce GTX 880M, Nvidia’s most powerful graphics processor.
During our Crysis 3 benchmark, however, the pitfalls of running two graphics chips in SU mode became apparent. At a resolution of 1,920×1,080 and High graphics quality, the X7 managed an average frame rate of 40fps – the same score achieved by the Scan 3XS Graphite LG156, which has just one 860M graphics chip.
Dual-GPU technologies such as SLI can suffer from compatibility problems with software drivers and games, and you’ll sometimes have to search internet forums to find workarounds for your game’s lack of SLI compatibility. We prefer using a single powerful graphics processor rather than two lower-specification GPUs in SLI or CrossFire modes, but with laptops you don’t always have that choice. Having two cards working in SLI mode can be an sounds like a small vacuum cleaner as it ejects hot air as fast as possible from its four ventilation ports. Despite the din, however, the laptop remains very warm, even when idling. When running a game such as Crysis 3, the right-hand side of the palm rest gets very hot indeed and the area of the chassis above the keyboard is almost painful to touch.
Finally, as with many other gaming notebooks, the X7’s battery life is extremely poor. In our battery test it survived just two hours and 13 minutes, so this is definitely a laptop for the home rather than the commute.
Despite these flaws, the Aorus X7 is an amazing laptop. It’s also expensive. For performance it just about beats the Schenker XMG P504.
The Aorus X7 isn’t perfect (we don’t like the noise or heat) and the second GPU may be wasted on some games, but it’s still one of the most desirable gaming laptops we’ve seen. If you’re not bothered about having a slim, attractive laptop and want to spend less, however, consider buying the Scan 3XS Graphite LG156. It also has great graphics performance and is powerful enough to use in place of a desktop computer.