Time and time again, I see a big delineation in the gaming laptop market. You can get small and portable and relatively lightweight gaming machines, or you can get big desktop bruisers that are portable only if you really need them to be. As the new GTX 900M series of Nvidia's laptop graphics chips start to appear in new laptops, though, we're seeing relatively thin devices that can still handle a fair bit of 3D graphics performance.
One of those new laptops is the Aorus X7 Pro, which boasts a gutsy Core i7 CPU and two GTX 970M graphics cards in SLI. The X7 Pro takes all the smarts of the lesser X3 Plus, settles them in a slightly larger and more desktop-esque chassis, and ups the power by a pretty massive margin.
What Is It?
- Processor: 2.5GHz Intel Core i7-4870HQ
- RAM: Up to 16GB
- Screen: 1920x1080 17.3-inch, matte
- Storage: Up to 3 256GB SSDs, 2TB hard drive
- Graphics: 2x Nvidia GeForce GTX 970M, 6GB VRAM
- Battery: 73.26 Watt-hour
The X7 Pro is the top laptop in Aorus' hardcore gaming notebook line-up. It's a chassis with a massive 17.3-inch screen, so the 428x305mm dimensions shouldn't surprise you. What is worth mentioning is the X7 Pro's 22.9mm maximum thickness, which is a huge difference from the heft of the only other 17-inch we've reviewed recently, MSI's hulking GT70 Dominator Pro (at a more-than-doubled 55mm thickness).
This Aorus has the same styling as its 13.9-inch counterpart, with a Lamborghini-esque satin black finish and a few matte silver flourishes on the fluted finishes on its flat-but-sloping lid. Copious amounts of ventilation for the heat-producing internal components come courtesy of the two massive rear exhausts, and there are two more vents on either side of the body. Like I mentioned before, there's a real Aventador feel to the entire laptop, with an entirely metal chassis, glass clickable trackpad, and the same excellent mechanical switches as the X3.
In terms of those internal components, too, you won't be disappointed. The X7 Pro has the one-step-down-from-top Intel Core i7-4870HQ quad core CPU, usually ticking over at an already impressive 2.5GHz but boosting all the way to 3.7GHz if required thanks to Turbo Boost 2.0. You can spec the X7 Pro out in a few different variants, but the top of the line model that I tested used three 256GB solid state drives in RAID 0, had a 2TB hard drive for long-term file storage, and complemented that fast CPU and SSD setup with a pair of SLI'd Nvidia GeForce GTX 970M GPUs.
Being a high-end machine, as well as a potential desktop replacement, the X7 Pro is furnished with great peripherals and connection options. The 17.3-inch screen is Full HD 1080p -- not a low resolution, but not Ultra HD either like the X3 Plus -- with a matte coating that minimizes glare. The keyboard uses mechanical switches and feels excellent given the relatively short travel from top to actuation, the glass trackpad makes up for mediocre feel with a large surface area, and if you need multiple inputs and outputs you're well catered for -- there's three USB 3.0, two 2.0, HDMI and miniDisplayPort and VGA, Ethernet, surround analog audio, microphone, digital audio and an SD card reader all arranged around front, sides and rear.
What Is It Good At?
This laptop has some serious performance. Aorus says it's a desktop replacement, and I fully believe them in that statement. The X7 Pro's i7-4870HQ CPU and twin GTX 970M GPU combo, along with those crazy triple SSDs, combine to a crazily high 3DMark Fire Strike score of 11102 with a graphics score of 14885. PCMark 8 returned a result of 4831 for Home, 5512 for Creative and 5099 for Work benchmark loads. In modern 3D-driven games like Tomb Raider, Metro: Last Light and Far Cry 4, those GTX 970Ms work really well with Nvidia's latest 344.75 drivers, with solid results at 1920x1080 pixels that never dipped into unplayable territory.
Aorus X7 Pro: Performance
CPU: PCMark 8 Home: 4831 PCMark 8 Creative: 5512 PCMark 8 Work: 5099 Graphics: 3D Mark Fire Strike: 11102 3D Mark Fire Strike Graphics: 14885 Gaming: Tomb Raider: 157fps Metro: Last Light: 89fps Far Cry 4: 78fps Storage: CrystalDiskMark (Sequential Read): 1178MBps CrystalDiskMark (Sequential Write): 1260Mbps Battery: Gizmodo Torture Test: 3hr 38min Gizmodo Torture Test Extreme: 1hr 28min
Those three SSDs in RAID 0 deserve special mention. This isn't a spec you'd expect to find in even a gaming-focused desktop PC, but the X7 Pro's packaging allows for those three daisy-chained SSDs to produce frankly ridiculous results that eclipse anything I've seen before. If you were looking for a PC to use for some serious video or image editing, the X7 Pro is that device. Windows boot times, game load times, file transfer times -- all excellent. You won't be disappointed.
Where the X3 Plus defined itself with a 3200x1800 pixel display that was great for media -- video watching and high-res photo editing especially -- the X7 Pro is a gamer's machine. As such, Aorus has made some very smart choices in the hardware it has shoehorned into the Pro's chassis. The 17.3-inch screen only being 1920x1080 pixels is the standout, since it's a middling resolution that isn't detrimental to regular ol' everyday Web browsing and so on, but that provides a welcome boost to performance and frame rates during gaming. Even those twin GTX 970Ms would struggle at higher resolutions, so 1080p was a smart choice.
Just like the X3 Plus -- again -- the X7 Pro's onboard keyboard does an excellent job. It's a short-throw mechanical 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.
What Is It Not Good At?
All that serious performance comes at the cost of serious waste heat. The fans in the Aorus X7 Plus work overtime, but a powerful CPU and two powerful GPUs simply produce a lot of extra thermal overhead, As a result, the chassis does get quite warm during gameplay -- this is what it's meant to do, naturally, since the entire body functions as a heatsink -- and there is a bit of thermal throttling of chipsets going on after extended use to protect the internal silicon. Think of the X7 Plus as a high performance tuner car -- it has a hell of a lot of power, but you can't use it at 100 per cent all the time without paying a slight price.
Despite all that warmth being exhausted through chassis and fan vents, the X7 Pro still runs very loud under full load. If you're planning on doing a lot of gaming, my advice is that you invest in some nice noise-cancelling headphones, because that's the best way to block out said quite loud fan noise. Otherwise you'll find your gameplay experience tarnished by the excessive whirring in the background.
As you can see from the table above, the Aorus X7 Pro's battery life is not great. Try as you might with intelligent CPU power throttling and Windows brightness adjustment and Nvidia BatteryBoost 2.0, there's only so much you can do to eke out extra hours of life from such a slim body -- especially if you want to be getting some work done in the meantime. I managed to get near four hours of life from the X7 Pro under everyday conditions, but even without running a 3D game that high-brightness display sucks up a lot of power. Gaming away from a power point is not recommended unless you're happy with sub-one hour playtimes.
Part of that comes from the fact that BatteryBoost 2.0 doesn't work -- at the moment at least -- when you have two graphics cards working at the same time. I'm not confident that it would make a huge different, but it goes to show that when you have this much power on tap, you have to make a couple of compromises along the way.
Should You Buy It?
Do you need crazy powerful desktop-grade performance from a laptop that is, for its size category, still relatively portable? Then the circa-$3300 Aorus X7 Pro should be your go-to machine.
It's expensive, of course, but that points to the great build quality and the quality of the components inside it. The design is simultaneously attractive and understated like the X3 Plus it takes its styling cues from, so it wouldn't be completely out of place on a professional's office desk -- and then used for some serious after-hours gaming sessions.
The 17.3-inch size of the screen necessitates a relatively wide and long laptop -- there's no getting around that -- but the 22.8mm depth is worth mentioning again. I'm impressed by the high performance components that Aorus has managed to fit inside the X7 Pro's chassis, because they're genuinely on the same level as a last-generation high-end desktop PC or a current mid-range model.
The market for a 17-inch gaming laptop is definitely niche, and its high price restricts that niche further. But that doesn't mean the X7 Pro isn't a good laptop -- it is. It's very good, in fact, if you're the kind of gamer that wants to take their laptop on the road. Just don't take it too far away from a power outlet.