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Saturday, August 4, 2018

Gigabyte Aero 15X v8 (2018) Review

PRICE WHEN REVIEWED
  • From $1,999, model reviewed $2,499
The Gigabyte Aero 15X is the most powerful gaming laptop we’ve tested. Sure, only because it’s the first to use one of Intel’s new 8th-generation Core i7 laptop processors, but it is reason for excitement nevertheless. It also fits incredible gaming performance into a frame slim and light enough to carry around.


The Gigabyte Aero 15X doesn’t have the style of a Dell XPS 15 or MacBook Pro 15, or the keyboard customisation of a Razer. But the screen is fantastic, the hardware powerful and gaming performance terrific for the weight. Asus has unveiled a rival in the ROG Strix Scar 2.

PRICE AND AVAILABILITY
As one of the first gaming laptops with an 8th-generation Intel CPU, it’s tricky to gauge the Gigabyte Aero 15X’s price in context. However, we do know it’s not cheap starting at £1,999/$1,999.

It has a release date of 16 April in the UK and US.

We have the top-end version of the laptop, with a 4K/UHD screen and GeForce GTX 1070 Maxi-Q graphics card. It costs £2,399/$2,499. Drop down to 1080p display resolution and you pay £2,199/$2,299.

You can pre-order the laptop in the UK from Overclockers and Scan. And Amazon has in the US.

With the 1080p, GTX 1060 CPU at £1,999, we expect it to be somewhat less expensive than the comparable laptops from top brands like Alienware. However, as with any performance machine like this, you have to swallow the idea you could build a much more powerful desktop for the same money.
DESIGN AND BUILD
This is not the first Gigabyte Aero 15X we’ve tested. Last year Gigabyte released a version with a similar graphics card, but an older processor and less impressive screen.

The insides have changed a lot. The casing not so much.

The Gigabyte Aero 15X is an angular 15-inch laptop significantly thinner than lighter than most high-end gaming systems. It weighs 2kg and is 20mm thick.
These aren’t the sort of laptop dimensions we look for in a computer to carry around between cafes or meetings. But it is impressive considering the gaming power inside. It’s only around 200g heavier than a MacBook Pro 15, and around 5mm thicker.

It’s radically more portable than an Alienware 15, which weighs 3.5kg and is 25mm thick.

If you’re just looking for a laptop to use at home, we wouldn’t necessarily suggest you look at the Gigabyte Aero 15X first. There are trade-offs to gaming laptops this slim. But if you want to take it out and about with you, this is a great choice.

The Gigabyte Aero 15X is also less of a conspicuous gamer’s machine than much of the competition. It keyboard lettering does look a little The Matrix-inspired, but there are no colourful slashes on the lid, no LEDs across its sides and no giant aggressive-looking heat outlets. It’s only the keyboard font and the carbon fibre finish on part of the lid that add a little gamer flair.

We like this more subdued style, although we’re in the area of pure personal preference. And we do also like the smoother style of the Razer Blade 15 a little more.

There are a lot of severe angles in the Gigabyte Aero 15X. The edge of the keyboard is relatively sharp, the sides of the laptop are almost corrugated for a slight industrial look, and perhaps better strength.

The Gigabyte Aero 15X’s build is very good. The lid, the keyboard surround and the lower panel are all aluminium although it doesn't feel overtly so. A lot of top-end gaming laptops use plastic for all surfaces but the lid. Here you get closer to the feel of a premium non-gamer model where parts flex significantly less under finger pressure: always a good sign.
KEYBOARD AND TRACKPAD
The Gigabyte Aero 15X also has one of the smoothest trackpads of any laptop. It feels similar to those of Dell’s excellent XPS models.

Its surface is textured glass, and the smoothness comes from using a much finer texture.

This is a good pad for general productivity work, although we’re not huge fans of its button zoning. For a while you’re probably accidentally “right” click when you mean to use the left button. It’s not as good for gaming than general laptop jobs, as separate buttons work better.

However, as with any serious laptop built for games, you will almost certainly plug in a mouse for longer sessions. There are currently a few issues with the pad driver too, as it has a habit of freezing momentarily every now and then.

The Gigabyte Aero 15X’s keyboard is very good, with meatier key resistance and longer travel than most of this size. It’s a welcome upgrade from the shallow and light feel of the average ultraportable laptop.

It may take a few days to get used to the way the keyboard is shifted slightly left of centre to fit in the NUM pad, which is one reason the MacBook Pro 15 doesn’t have one. However, if you’re a serious gamer you probably want a NUM pad.

The Gigabyte Aero 15X’s keyboard is backlit, and able to display 16.8 million colours: just about any tone you like. All colours look “true”, where some multi-colour backlight LEDs tend to struggle to make whites actually appear white.

However, Gigabyte’s keyboard customisation software is not the best. While there’s per-key lighting, you can’t set it per key, or even use zones. You have a large choice of animated presets, some of which will give you a headache, or a single colour across the keyboard.

This wouldn’t put us off, we like a one-colour backlight, but may disappoint those who like to go to town with the lighting.

SCREEN
The Gigabyte Aero 15X we reviewed last year had a very solid display with good colour and contrast. This 2018 model makes significant upgrades bringing it much closer to a pro-level display.

It’s 15.6in across and uses an LCD panel, which is standard stuff, but its colour and contrast are quite excellent. It covers 99.8 percent of sRGB, 96.5% of Adobe RGB and 86.4 percent of DCI P3.

When we also include the tones rendered outside of these gamuts, those figures rise to 143.3 percent (sRGB), 98.8 percent (Adobe RGB) and 101.6 percent (DCI P3). These are exceptional scores.

The Gigabyte Aero 15X’s colour depth is far better than the vast majority of laptops at any price. Colour accuracy is also much higher than average among ultra-premium laptops.

We’re glad that Gigabyte has also reined this in, though. Windows 10 running at this full colour depth can look sickly. As standard the Gigabyte Aero 15X uses a Pantone colour mode that has the warm look you get with a professionally calibrated screen, and properly controlled colour.

Contrast is excellent too at 1524:1. You won’t find much better than this in a laptop with an LCD screen.

So it's a great option if you want to play games but also do creative tasks like photo editing. If you just care about gaming you might well prefer the 144Hz display available on the Razer Blade 15.

Maximum brightness is 387cd/m, which is great and far more than you’ll need indoors. As the laptop has a matt screen, it’ll even hold up fairly well outside. The screen’s surfaces diffuses reflections.

The area around the screen is worth noting too. Like a Dell XPS 15, there’s barely any screen border, apart from below it. It's not a touchscreen but that's not expected for a gaming laptop.

We’re reviewing the top-end 4K version of the Gigabyte Aero 15X, so you likely won’t get this standard-setting performance from the 1080p version. It is also worth remembering that while this is a very powerful laptop, it doesn’t have enough power to play the most demanding games at 4K resolution.

Are there any display criticisms? The only annoyance we’ve noticed is the Gigabyte Aero 15X’s seems to switch briefly, and awkwardly, between its native colour mode and the calibrated Pantone one on boot-up. Much like the keyboard, it’s the Gigabyte software the lets the Aero 15X, if only in a small way.

CORE SPECS, PERFORMANCE AND BENCHMARKS
The Gigabyte Aero 15X for 2018 is the first gaming laptop we’ve reviewed to have one of Intel’s Core i7-8750H CPUs. This is part of the Coffee Lake-generation of processors.

It has six cores, where until now most top-end gaming laptops used the last-generation quad-core Intel Core i7-7700HQ CPU.

Is there a huge difference? Here’s where it gets a bit complicated. Since we reviewed the last Aero 15X there has been hit to laptop processors caused by updates designed to combat the Spectre and Meltdown insecurities. That said, we’ve not seen a huge change in the benchmarks results of our reviews.

The new Gigabyte Aero 15X scores 16,976 points (4814 single-core) in Geekbench 4, compared to the 14,502 (4353) of last year’s Aero. That’s a healthy upgrade, if not a 50 percent one.

In PCMark 10 the laptop scores 4,274 points, which is actually lower than we saw in last year’s version. However, that laptop’s score was a somewhat anomalous result. More recently we reviewed the Asus RoG Strix GL703VM (with Core i7-7700HQ) laptop, which scores a closer 4,390 points.

We don’t see the kind of radical gains of Intel’s U-series processors in this latest generational upgrade. Those chips are designed for slim and light laptops. However, Geekbench 4 suggests there is a real upgrade in raw performance.

There is no big change in gaming performance, however, as the Gigabyte Aero 15X uses the Nvidia Max-Q GTX 1070 we’ve seen before.

This is a version of the GTX 1070 card designed for slimmer laptops that don’t have room to fit in large, advanced cooling systems. Unlike the “full” laptop version of the GTX 1070, the Max-Q version doesn’t get that close to the performance of the desktop 1070. But it is still terrific for such a compact machine.

Deux Ex: Mankind Divided runs at an average 53.4fps at 1080p, Ultra settings, and 109fps at 720p, low settings. You can’t max everything out in a high-end game like this and still get rock-solid 60fps. But you can get close.

At 4K resolution, Ultra settings, the 19.7fps average is far too slow for our liking. You could fiddle around at resolutions between 1080p and 4K, though.

Some games do run fine at 4K. Alien: Isolation averages a very good 56fps at this res. At 1080p it averages 175fps and a ridiculous 213fps at 720p, low settings.

The Gigabyte Aero 15X is a great gaming laptop, although we did see very similar results from last year’s model, which had the same GPU.

Even with the Max-Q GPU, quite a lot of heat is created when gaming. To get rid of it the Gigabyte Aero 15X uses a combo of wider and narrow diameter fans. You can hear this duo tone as they rev up, the smaller fans creating a higher-pitch noise.

You can let the laptop judge the fan speed itself, or max it out using a keyboard shortcut, which might work well if you wear a headset or headphones. When gaming the Gigabyte Aero 15X is reasonably loud, but does not have the annoying whine of some thinner laptops that use smaller fans.

Heat bleeding into the keyboard is the issue you can’t get rid of completely. However, the parts you touch never get hot, just warm. And we’ve seen some keyboard heat-up in all the Max-Q laptops we’ve tried.

The fans run no matter what you’re doing, even writing a document. However, they’re very quiet when running low and we have not noticed any annoying coil whine noise.

CONNECTIVITY AND AUDIO
Most laptops in the “thin and light” class are shifting over to using all-USB-C connectors. The Gigabyte Aero 15X, thankfully, has not.

It has a wide array of connectors. There are three full-size USBs and one USB-C with Thunderbolt 3. For video there’s a DisplayPort and full-size HDMI. You also get a full-size Ethernet RJ-45 and an SD slot.

That we used the term “full-size” three times there tells you how little Gigabyte has compromised to make the Gigabyte Aero 15X slimmer. This connection array is exactly what we want in a portable gaming laptop.

You don’t need a set of adapters, you don’t need a dock.

Other things to note include the way the slim display bezels push the webcam underneath by the hinge, making its angle somewhat awkward.

The speakers are not particularly good either. Top volume is conservative, there’s no bass and treble is tame. They don’t sound ugly, but you wouldn’t want to use them regularly for gaming.

BATTERY LIFE
A sticker on the Gigabyte Aero 15X claims it has “all day battery”, and we hoped this would prove true. The last model trucked on for an excellent nine hours 55 minutes.

This model doesn’t last anywhere near as long. Playing a looped video at 120cd/m brightness, the Gigabyte Aero 15X only lasts three hours 55 minutes. That’s six hours less than the old model.

Even the GTX 1070 and a bump to 4K screen resolution shouldn’t drain the battery this much so this is disappointing.

SPECS
  • 15.6-inch (3840 x 2160) 4K 282ppi IPS LCD matte
  • 2.2GHz Intel Core i7-8750H (3.9GHz boost) 6 cores, 12 threads
  • Windows 10 Home 64-bit
  • Nvidia GTX 1070 Max-Q GPU with 8GB RAM
  • 16GB 2400MHz DDR4 RAM
  • 500GB
  • 802.11b/g/n/ac single-band 2x2 MIMO
  • Bluetooth 4.1
  • 1x USB-C 3.1
  • 3x USB 3.0
  • Ethernet
  • mini DisplayPort
  • HDMI
  • Kensington Security Slot
  • SDXC card slot
  • stereo speakers
  • HD webcam
  • single mic
  • 3.5mm headset jack
  • UK tiled keyboard with numberpad
  • two-button trackpad
  • 94Wh lithium-ion battery, non-removable
  • 356.4 x 250 x 19.9mm
  • 2071g
  • 2-year onsite warranty

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