Gigabyte Aorus X7 v2 - Fastest slim SLI gaming notebook
World's slimmest SLI gaming notebook gets refreshed
With the release of NVIDIA's latest GeForce GTX 800M series of GPUs, a number of gaming notebook manufacturers have updated their offerings while retaining the same externals. This is because most of the designs were refreshed recently when they adopted Intel's fourth generation Core architecture processors (Haswell) and so it wasn't yet ripe for notebook vendors to update their designs so soon. Case in point is the stealthy looking Gigabyte Aorus X7, which is now powered by dual GeForce GTX 860M GPUs in SLI configuration instead of the previous dual GeForce GTX 765M GPUs in SLI. To distinguish them, the refreshed model is now known as the Aorus X7 v2.
You will not be able to tell the older X7 and the newer X7 v2 apart based on looks alone. The X7 v2 continues to be a black beauty with its matte aluminum chassis. It has the same aerodynamic, non-conventional silhouette that reminds us of a premium sports car. It also retains the same thinness of 22.9mm that can actually pass for an Ultrabook (the requirement for Ultrabooks with a display 14-inch or larger is 23mm).
The slim profile warrants a highly sophisticated cooling system, and the Aorus X7 v2 continues to have four side and rear vents, five thermal pipes and two fans for optimal air flow. It is easy to tell when the cooling system is working in overdrive with the loud noise it emits when we run more intensive tests and games on it.
Once you open the lid and boot it up, the gorgeous anti-glare Full HD display has excellent viewing angles for a TN (Twisted Nematic) display, and its 72% NTSC color gamut improves clarity and sharpness when viewing duller images.
Overall, it's the same sexy black chassis, the same non-conforming contours, and the same multiple vents cooling system. It still attracts fingerprints, the mirror-finish on the trackpad still makes it hard to use, and the keyboard still lacks travel. The display is equally gorgeous and its thinness of 22.9mm continues its reign as the thinnest SLI gaming notebook around.
For the most part, the Aorus X7 v2 is really the same as the original Aorus X7 machine, so we'll skip all the usability and design details (you can read a far more detailed report in our original Aorus X7 review) and jump straight to what matters most - just how much more would the updated hardware boost its performance scores? Before we head into benchmarks and performance figures, we would like to draw your attention to the finer details that have been updated on the Aorus X7 v2 like a slightly faster processor and memory, a faster spinning HDD and room for more more mSATA drive:-
|Key Specs Compared||Aorus X7||Aorus X7 v2|
|Processor||Intel Core i7-4700HQ (2.4GHz)||Intel Core i7-4710HQ (2.5GHz)
(upgradeable to Intel Core i7-4860HQ)
|RAM||4GB/8GB DDR3L-1600, 4 slots (max. 32GB)||4GB/8GB DDR3L-1866, 4 slots (max. 32GB)|
|GPU||NVIDIA GeForce GTX 765M SLI (4GB GDDR5)||NVIDIA GeForce GTX 860M SLI (8GB GDDR5)|
|Storage||Supports Triple-Storage System:
mSATA 128GB/256GB/512GB x 2 slots
+ 2.5-inch HDD 500GB/750GB/1TB 5400rpm x 1 slot
|Supports Quadruple-Storage System:
mSATA 128GB/256GB/512GB x 3 slots
+ 2.5-inch HDD 500GB/750GB/1TB/2TB 5400/7200rpm x 1 slot
Besides finding out how well the X7 v2 performs compared to its predecessor, the X7, which we reviewed just two months earlier, we will also be comparing its performance with other slim 17-inch gaming notebooks:- the MSI GS70 2PE Stealth Pro, running on a single NVIDIA GeForce GTX 870M GPU, and the Razer Blade Pro, which we compared against the MSI GS70 Stealth last year. Unfortunately, we were unable to secure The New Razer Blade Pro with the GeForce GTX 800M series GPU at press time.
We ran PCMark 8 on all the machines and noted the scores on four benchmarks: Home, Creative, Work and Storage to find out how the notebooks perform in regular usage scenarios, ranging from web browsing, document writing, video encoding, photo editing and casual gaming. The Home benchmark gives an idea of overall performance with a combination of the mentioned tasks. We also included scores of the Adobe CS6 and Microsoft Office benchmarks to get a gauge of each machine's performance on these commonly used applications.
The Aorus X7 v2 fared exceptionally well in the PCMark 8 benchmark tests, scoring the highest in every single benchmark. For the Home benchmark, the X7 v2 recorded a 27% increase in performance compared to the older X7 with a score of 4929. None of the other notebooks made it past a score of 4000. This means that the X7 v2 is able to handle a range of different tasks much more swiftly.
3DMark 2013 is a synthetic benchmark designed to test a notebook's graphics and gaming capabilities. For a more in-depth understanding of 3DMark 2013, please refer to our article "3DMark (2013) - Notebook GPU Performance Review". We'll be running our notebooks through two benchmarks:
- Cloud Gate is designed for integrated GPUs and utilizes a DirectX 11 engine limited to Direct3D feature level 10 (equivalent to DirectX 10) with a heavy emphasis on geometry, heavy post processing, particle effects, and volumetric illumination.
- Fire Strike serves as a showcase for DirectX 11 features, utilizing a grueling two-part test with extreme levels of tessellation and volumetric illumination, as well as complex smoke simulation using compute shaders and dynamic particle illumination.
The benchmark results were within our expectations, with the Aorus X7 v2 leading the pack with a score of 19159 for Cloud Gate and 4592 for Fire Strike. Compared to the older X7 with NVIDIA GeForce GTX 765M SLI GPUs, the new X7 v2 with NVIDIA GeForce GTX 860M SLI GPUs recorded a 10% and 20% increase in performance for Cloud Gate and Fire Strike respectively.
The X7 v2 also scored 20% higher than the MSI GS70 2PE Stealth Pro that only has a single NVIDIA GeForce GTX 870M graphics chip, a figure consistent with most of the following game tests as you will see below.
Crysis 2 puts GPUs through their paces with a grueling test of tessellation, Parallax Occlusion Mapping, water rendering, and particle motion blur and shadowing. We tested the notebooks on Very High and Ultra settings.
Both the newer and older Aorus X7 notebooks can handle Very High settings without problems, averaging about 60 FPS. The MSI GS70 2PE Stealth Pro with a single NVIDIA GeForce GTX 870M GPU can tackle this setting easily too. The Razer Blade Pro that has the last generation NVIDIA GeForce GTX 765M GPU is already falling behind with only an average of 45 FPS in this same test.
On Ultra settings, this is where the performance advantage of SLI graphics becomes apparent. The Aorus X7 v2 with dual NVIDIA GeForce GTX 860M GPUs has a total of 8GB graphics memory, and outshines the rest with an average score of 53.8 FPS. Its predecessor managed only 43.1 FPS, which means the new X7 v2 is about 25% more powerful. The MSI GS70 2PE Stealth Pro put up a good show as it averaged 41.6 FPS, almost rivaling the previous generation dual GPU SLI setup on the original Aorus X7 machine. Expectedly the old Razor Blade Pro isn't able to keep pace and only managed half the scores of the rest, making it choppy at this high detail level.
Tomb Raider is a fairly challenging benchmark running on a heavily-modified Crystal Engine. Besides hardware tessellation and use of DirectCompute, other render technologies like depth of field, high definition ambient occlusion, and contact-hardening shadows are used in this game benchmark. We tested the notebooks on Normal and High settings, with the unsurprising result of the Aorus X7 v2 winning by a large margin.
On Normal settings, the Aorus X7 reached a staggering 164 FPS on its NVIDIA GeForce GTX 860M SLI graphics, while the GS70 with a single GeForce GTX 870M scored 'only' 122 FPS, or a difference of about 30%.
The Aorus X7 v2 did exceptionally well in performance benchmarking, but its battery life one Futuremark's Powermark test suite continues to be its limitation even though it houses a massive 73.26Wh battery. Although we can understand that the SLI graphics set up will use up battery more quickly, our previous review of the older X7 shows that turning off SLI does not significantly lengthen battery life. The MSI GS70 2PE Stealth Pro is thinner, lighter and contains a much smaller battery (60Wh), but it lasted 45 minutes longer.
The power consumption results are in line with the short battery life. The Aorus X7 v2 consumes 36.63 watts, almost double that of the MSI GS70 2PE Stealth Pro. The battery and power consumption problem actually worsened with this refresh, as the capacity remained the same but the newer hardware seemed to use more juice instead. While it's possible the newer GPUs consume slightly more power, we're more inclined to pinpoint that the speedier CPU, faster memory modules and a faster hard drive, all contributed to the increased power consumption instead of a more power efficient notebook that it might have been if not for these other upgrades.
As we mentioned, the power consumption results are based upon Futuremark's Powermark test suite that uses a mixture of tasks like browsing the internet, watching videos, performing some content creation tasks and others. Had we gone full steam ahead to engage ourselves in a game while not plugged into a power source, the battery life would easily be much lower. In such a scenario, you would much rather have a notebook with an extended battery life even though it's not the absolutely fastest machine available. Further to that, as we highlighted in our original Aorus X7 review, the system lacks NVIDIA's Optimus power-saving technology.
The slightly lower battery life of the Aorus X7 v2 and heavier weight translated to a lower portability index of 0.223, compared to other 17-inch slim gaming notebooks as shown in the graph above. At 3kg, it is no featherweight either, and in addition to that you will need to carry your charger with you at all times. Its thinness is the only redeeming factor here as it can still slip into a slimmer messenger bag rather than demand a bulky laptop backpack to house everything you need.
The Gigabyte Aorus X7 v2 has no match when it comes to graphics prowess as it is currently still the only slim SLI gaming laptop around. It has a gorgeous matte black finish and sexy non-conventional lines that will sure turn heads when you take it out from your bag. The brilliant display complements its powerful GPU well, giving you a visual treat whether you are watching high resolution videos or playing graphically intensive games.
We would recommend the Aorus X7 v2 for gamers who are upgrading from an older mid-range gaming notebook and looking for a significant boost in performance in their new machine. The X7 v2 will suit seasoned gamers who already attuned in carrying their battle gear like mouse, keyboard and charger with their gaming machine notebook, but as a thoroughly well contained portable gaming notebook to easily bring around places as-is, due to its trackpad (pretty but not practical), shallow keyboard, average speakers and limited battery life, it might not be the best option.
While we've not really penalized these aspects when we reviewed first Aorus X7, which wasn't a long time ago, do understand that the gaming notebook market has evolved somewhat and there are more slim gaming notebooks that are more capable than previously. For example, we've previously mentioned that the MSI GS70 2PE Stealth Pro could be a formidable challenger to the original Aorus X7, but at that time of review, it wasn't yet available for evaluation.
This time round while evaluating the Gigabute Aorus X7 v2, we also got hold the updated MSI challenger and it is far better than the previously compared MSI GS70 Stealth. In fact, the GS70 2PE Stealth Pro is so good that it could easily match the performance levels of the original Aorus X7, which mind you, is very impressive. Even though the new Aorus X7 v2 is about 20 to 25% faster in the tasks that matter the most, it's not necessarily improving your gameplay any better other than future proofing for even harsher games in the future; essentially the performance of the original Aorus X7 is fast enough for the notebook's resolution. Now consider that the MSI GS70 2PE Stealth Pro offers the performance of the Aorus X7 but with a sleeker profile, much lighter body, better keyboard and trackpad usage experience, more fulfilling audio performance and offers nearly 40% more battery life. Doesn't that sound like a better all-round slim gaming notebook that would appeal to more users?
This black beauty is also not for users who are hoping to get the best bargain either. Aftershock XG17-v2 with a similar configuration (Intel Core i7-4710MQ, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 860M 2GB, 16GB RAM, 2 x 256GB SSD + 1TB 7200rpm HDD and Windows 8.1 64-bit) will retail at about S$2,500. Yes, it's a single GPU machine, but it can match the rest for the rest of the specs. The trade off is another 300 grams more to shoulder, and the much thicker profile of the Aftershock XG17-V2 to put up with (roughly double the thickness of the Aorus X7 v2).
But if you have seen the Gigabyte Aorus X7 v2 in person and fallen in love with its unique contours and unbeatable graphics performance, then look no further. This powerhouse will live up to your expectations and deliver the best performance a 3kg notebook money can buy.