We really liked the Aorus X3 Plus when we looked at it in September last year, appreciating its just-right mix of satchel-bag portability and outright computing and high-res gaming performance. Aorus' new and improved version of the X3 Plus has a more powerful graphics card, more SSD storage that is even faster than it was before, and faster RAM to boot.
What Is It?
- Display: 13.9in, 3200x1800 pixel IGZO
- CPU: Intel Core i7-4710HQ, 2.5-3.5GHz
- RAM: 8GB DDR3-1866MHz (16GB as tested)
- GPU: Nvidia GeForce GTX 970M 6GB
- HDD: 3x 256GB M.2 LiteOn SSD, RAID 0, up to 512GB
- Dimensions: 330x264x22.9mm, 1.87kg
The Aorus X3 Plus, circa $2899, is a 14-inch laptop designed for gamers and professionals, with a thin chassis hiding hugely powerful internal components. Just like the previous model it's 22.9mm thick across its metal, sharply curvaceous chassis, and has a slightly modified specs list from last year's iteration.
An Intel Core i7-4710HQ running between 2.5 and 3.5GHz runs the show, and the GPU has taken a quantum leap forward to a GeForce GTX 970M with 6GB of RAM, while storage now comes from not two but three SSDs, running in RAID 0 if you so desire (the third is a mSATA drive rather than M.2, not that it matters). The laptop's 8 or 16GB of RAM can be either 1600MHz as per the previous X3 Plus or the faster 1866MHz variant, and you still get a high-quality Killer 802.11ac Wi-Fi networking card.
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 five-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?
The previous Aorus X3 Plus had plenty of grunt in the first place, more than enough for its stated purpose of playing modern games away from the power of a desktop power adapter. The new one refines the formula, keeping the same CPU but making significant -- and I mean significant -- improvements to graphical power with the new Nvidia GeForce GTX 970M and getting some extra transfer rate speed and lower game loading times Despite being the same CPU, the X3 Plus V3 does a little better overall than the previous model -- maybe a few driver tweaks and Windows updates along the way have helped out a bit.
Of special note is the fact that the X3 Plus V3's particular breed of GeForce GTX 970M, a pretty gutsy upper-mid-range notebook GPU in its own right. The X3 Plus V3's 970M, though, has a whopping 6GB of VRAM versus the 3GB or 4GB of competitor models, and that makes it more capable when you're playing games at higher resolutions and larger texture sizes -- useful since this particular machine has a very detailed 13.9-inch 3200x1800 pixel IGZO panel. Three SSDs, not just two, also make for some super-zippy transfers.
CPU: Cinebench: 674 Cinebench (OpenGL): 83FPS Graphics: 3D Mark Fire Strike: 6544 3D Mark Fire Strike Extreme: 3412 Gaming: Tomb Raider: 62fps Metro: Last Light: 49fps Battlefield 4: 81fps Crysis 3: 41fps Storage: CrystalDiskMark (Sequential Read): 1424MBps CrystalDiskMark (Sequential Write): 892Mbps Battery: Gizmodo Torture Test: 4hr 53min Gizmodo Torture Test Extreme: 4hr 23min
The other standout is the X3 Plus' integrated 74Wh 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 three-quarter 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. It's also an improvement from the previous model, which is great to see.
Even when it's running graphically intensive benchmarks or 3D games, the Aorus X3 Plus runs relatively quietly under heavy load -- and it's an improvement from the previous model, too, thanks to cooler graphics components. 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 3200x1800 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. You do get a beautiful boost in performance, though, and the V3 is a machine you can legitimately use for gaming.
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. It's also worth mentioning that the internal speakers are OK, but not necessarily great. They don't perform well with bass at high volumes, although near-field listening and lower volumes perform just fine.
Much improved from the previous model is the compromise that the 13.9-inch screen makes with its 3200x1800 pixel resolution. Because the GTX 970M has 6GB of VRAM, it's better able to store the high resolution textures needed to play modern games at this kind of quality, and that means everything runs a little more smoothly. Depending on the title, it still doesn't have the power to play some modern games like Far Cry 3 or even Crysis 3 at higher frame rates. It's more than powerful enough for 1080p gaming, that's for sure.
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, although not for gaming -- 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 Aorus X3 Plus V3 is a powerful machine. More than powerful enough for everyday tasks, unless you have a really specific and high-powered requirement for a high-end laptop. Even then, its triple SSDs, quad-core Core i7, and revamped graphics chipset make for a multipurpose laptop that should really be gutsy enough for any mainstream game or computing task that you throw at it. The recent upgrade just solidifies its place in our list of the top laptops of 2015.
Despite all that power, the X3 Plus isn't nearly as bulky as you'd expect it to be. It's no MSI GT72, no chunky build-your-own Clevo -- everything is refined and adequately ventilated and cooled, but built into a slim chassis with a carefully smoothed and chamfered and gently carved profile. Apart from that rather chunky power brick, the V3 is a device that's more than portable and usable if you're a travelling computer-user.