If you’re a PC gamer, chances are you have a big, bulky tower and a large-screen LCD monitor alongside it. If you’re not lucky enough to have the space for such a large gaming rig, though, not all hope is lost. Some gaming laptops have the grunt to play modern PC games, without being giant 17-inch desk-breaking desktop replacement monsters. The Aorus X3 Plus, made by the PC component experts at Gigabyte, is one of those rarities — it’s relatively small, it’s powerful, and it’s actually quite good looking.
What Is It?
- Display: 13.9in, 3200×1800 pixel IGZO
- CPU: Intel Core i7-4710HQ, 2.5-3.5GHz
- RAM: 8GB DDR3 (16GB as tested)
- GPU: Nvidia GeForce GTX 870M 6GB
- HDD: 2x 256GB M.2 LiteOn SSD, RAID 0
- Dimensions: 330x264x23mm, 1.8kg
The Aorus X3 Plus is a 14-inch laptop designed for gamers and professionals, with a reasonably thin chassis hiding hugely powerful internal components — it’s 22.9mm thick, but houses a current-generation Intel Core i7-4710HQ quad-core 2.5GHz CPU, Nvidia’s GeForce 870M GPU, 8GB of DDR3 RAM configurable to 16GB, and twin M.2 SSD slots, all running through a beautiful QHD 3200×1800 pixel display. (It actually has a 13.9-inch screen, but let’s not split hairs.)
As gaming laptops go — hello, MSI GT70 Dominator Pro — the Aorus X3 Plus’ design is actually pretty understated. Sure, there are some shiny accents, and exposed fan grilles, and a giant bird of prey logo on the lid, but the interior is actually vaguely professional. Apart from the Aorus logo on the lower centre of the 14-inch screen’s bezel, you could be typing away on a Lenovo ThinkPad.
And that’s credit to the X3 Plus’ generally excellent keyboard, too. It’s a chiclet setup, but there’s a good amount of key travel and only a tiny amount of unwanted keyboard flex when you push on the G and H keys in the centre of the layout. Off to the left, there are five macro keys and a four-mode macro switcher, and Aorus’ preloaded software lets you map key combinations with ease — a huge advantage if you intend to use this laptop for any kind of serious RTS or MOBA gaming.
The large and spacious trackpad used on the X3 Plus integrates its left and right mouse buttons into the front of the pad — you activate them by pressing down on the pad itself a la MacBook, although cursor tracking doesn’t continue as you move over the top of those buttons. This isn’t great for gaming, but I fully expect anyone committed to that enterprise to have an external mouse hooked up anyway, so it’s not a huge impediment.
What’s It Good At?
This is one seriously powerful notebook, especially considering its size. It doesn’t skimp out on any of its components either, and though that does mean it’s very expensive — unreasonably expensive, for some — it actually hits a great compromise between powerful and portable. It’s not as bulky or as outright large as the MSI GT70, for example, but it’s just as highly specced (it actually has a lot of the same components), and that means excellent performance in benchmarks and when you’re actually playing games. Being significantly smaller than the GT70, it’s a lot more useful for actually gaming on the go.
Aorus X3 Plus: Performance
CPU: Cinebench: 628 Cinebench (OpenGL): 81FPS
Graphics: 3D Mark Fire Strike: 4378 3D Mark Fire Strike Extreme: 2592
Gaming: Tomb Raider: 56fps Metro: Last Light: 45fps Battlefield 4: 78fps Crysis 3: 37fps
Storage: CrystalDiskMark (Sequential Read): 1424MBps CrystalDiskMark (Sequential Write): 892Mbps
Battery: Gizmodo Torture Test: 4hr 17min Gizmodo Torture Test Extreme: 3hr 11min
Two figures that stand out for special mention on this list are storage and battery. The X3 Plus’ optional twin M.2-format SSDs, as we tested, run in RAID 0, and while you can get already great performance from a single SSD, these numbers are just ridiculously quick. If you were planning on using the X3 Plus for video editing or something else requiring massively fast transfer rates, rest assured you won’t be disappointed.
The other standout is the X3 Plus’ battery. Powerful laptops using desktop-grade components usually don’t perform especially well, especially when they’re relatively small and need to be portable, and doubly so when they’re running uncommonly high resolution and high brightness displays. Looping a 720p video with Wi-Fi on and screen brightness set to 50 per cent, though, the X3 Plus actually managed four and a half hours of running time. That’s not long enough for an international flight, but it’s pretty damn good considering the power you have on tap.
Even when it’s running graphically intensive benchmarks or 3D games, the Aorus X3 Plus runs relatively quietly under heavy load. That’s a result of having large front and rear fan intakes channeling air through the laptop’s components, exhausting out the base with equally spacious output holes. That’s a great recipe for quiet cooling, and it means that you’ll be able to use the X3 Plus for marathon gaming sessions — provided you’re not using it on your lap. There’s some minor thermal throttling going on after extended torturous use, but that’s an outlier and you won’t often run into it on the X3 Plus.
The Aorus X3 Plus’ screen is beautiful. It’s a 3200×1800 pixel native resolution IGZO display, boasting a relatively enormous 264ppi across its 13.9-inch diagonal screen area. It’s also able to operate across a very wide range of brightness, extending from relatively dim to extremely bright, which is incredibly useful when paired with its semi-matte coating for working outdoors or in bright environments. (That’s one of the most important screen specs to consider when buying a laptop, so is a big point in the X3 Plus’ favour.)
What Is It Not Good At?
Some people aren’t going to like the thickness and relative bulk of the X3 Plus considering its 14-inch dimensions. It’s not the thinnest laptop you can get, and it’s not the lightest, and when it’s facing competition from something like a 13-inch MacBook Pro that is significantly thinner and more streamlined, you really have to want the X3 Plus’ extra power and graphical performance.
The design, too, is going to turn some people off. It’s not quite the MacBook Pro, and it’s not quite the MSI GT70, and that means it’s a little bit gaudy — it doesn’t know what to be. The grey internal design is slightly naff, too. I actually liked it after spending a fortnight travelling with it, but I’m honestly not sure whether that was just Stockholm Syndrome.
There’s an inherent issue with the X3 Plus, though, and that’s the use of a 3200×1800 pixel screen. At that high a resolution, you’re only going to be playing older 3D games at its native res, and newer games will have to be upscaled to 1800p from 1080p rendering. If you want to get consistently playable framerates in Metro: Last Light for example, 1080p is the way to go. It still looks good, but part of me wishes that Aorus had gone for a 2560x1440p or 1920x1080p display instead and simplified the process.
Being a performance laptop, the 180 Watt power brick bundled with the X3 Plus is large. That’s not at all a problem if you intend to leave it tethered to a desk and only work remotely for one power cycle at a time, but if you intend to travel, it does take up a fair bit of luggage space. If you’re travelling from home to work and back, for example, it’s probably a good idea to consider buying a second charger and leaving one at each location to save yourself the hassle and extra weight.
It’s expensive, too. Any high-powered laptop is a pricy ask, especially when you consider the compromises inherent in its design, but when you consider that you could get a MacBook Pro or Razer Blade 14 for the same money thereabouts as the X3 Plus — both of which are sleeker and are still pretty damn powerful — you should grip those extra dollars tightly. If you can shop around, and ideally find the Aorus X3 Plus for sub-$2500, that’s when it starts to become a great deal.
Should You Buy It?
The X3 Plus is a great laptop. It’s quite small, it’s definitely powerful, and it looks good. It doesn’t quite have that allure and that sense of complete and utter design brilliance that you find with some other high-end laptops, but it’s nonetheless well built and certainly doesn’t disappoint when it comes to gaming.
The use of a 3200×1800 pixel screen, the use of downward-firing speakers, and the lack of a touchscreen all might be turn-offs for specific niches, but these are only small tweaks that need to be made, or compromises that need to be worked around, for Aorus to make the X3 Plus a brilliant piece of gaming or mobile productivity hardware.
As Aorus’ only truly portable and truly high performance gaming laptop, the X3 Plus competes strongly with the Alienware 14, Razer Blade 14, and the fleet of build-your-own laptops from brands like Metabox. If I was spending my own money, and looking for a laptop that could perform capably as an all-in-one device for home and work, for gaming and movie watching and Web browsing alike, it’d be very close to the top of my list.