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Aftershock S-15 (2015 edition) review: Great gaming notebook on a budget

By Salehuddin Bin Husin - 18 Nov 2015
Launch SRP: S$2158

Aftershock S-15 (2015) review: Great gaming on a budget

Great gaming on a budget

Aftershock claims that their S-15 is the most popular machine in their line-up.

A few weeks ago, we got our hands on one of Aftershock's newest gaming notebooks; the Aftershock S-15 (2015). Although that was an engineering sample, we did come away with the impression that the machine would be a worthy successor to the previous Aftershock S-15 models. Of course, since that wasn't a retail ready product, it wouldn't be fair to rate it since it was running on pre-production drivers which might not have all its kinks worked out yet. 

What makes the Aftershock S-15 special is that the machine is one of the first gaming notebooks in the world to be equipped with a Skylake processor. Skylake processors are Intel's newest processor generation, which boasts better power efficiency, heat management and performance over comparable processors from past generations. 

The final retail ready version of the Aftershock S-15 that you see here shares similar specifications as the unit we previewed and in case you need a refresher, the notebook is a 15.6-inch machine that packs a Full HD (1,920 x 1,080 pixels) IPS display, with an Intel Core i7-6700HQ (2.6Ghz, 6MB smart cache) processor, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970M GPU with 3GB VRAM, 8GB DDR4 RAM and 128GB M.2 SSD with a 1TB HDD. Like all other notebooks from Aftershock, the specifications are configurable, but this is Aftershock's "recommended configuration", which they say will offer the best bang for buck.

Since the external build and aesthetics remain the same our preview model, we'll get right down to the results from our test segment.
 

Test setup & performance analysis

As per the standard procedure, we'll be using the usual array of test software to benchmark the performance of the Aftershock S-15. It'll be tested on PCMark 8, a general all-purpose benchmarking software that tests the notebook's capabilities in a variety of everyday tasks. Next up is 3DMark 2013, which tests the graphical capabilities of the notebook. Of course, we'll still follow up with gaming tests, with benchmarks on Tomb Raider and Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor using each game's native benchmarking tools.

To summarize, we're using these programs for our benchmarks:

  • PCMark 8
  • 3DMark 2013
  • Tomb Raider
  • Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor

Test Notebooks Compared
  Aftershock S-15 (2015) Aftershock W-15 Aorus X5 ASUS ROG G751JT Gigabyte P35X V3
  Aftershock S-15 (2015) Aftershock W-15 Aorus X5 ASUS ROG G751JT Gigabyte P35X V3
Processor and Chipset
  • Intel Core i7-6700HQ (2.6Ghz, 6MB smart cache)
  • Intel 100 series chipset
  • Intel i7-4790K (4GHz, 8MB cache)
  • Intel Z97 Express
  • Intel Core i7-5700HQ (2.7GHz, 6MB Cache)
  • Intel HM97
  • Intel I7-4710HQ (2.5GHz)
  • Intel HM87
  • Intel i7-4710HQ (2.5GHz)
  • Intel HM87
Operating System
  • Windows 10
  • Windows 8.1 64 bit
  • Windows 8.1
  • Windows 8.1
  • Windows 8.1
System Memory
  • 8GB DDR4 RAM
  • 8GB DDR3L
  • 16GB DDR3
  • 8GB DDR3L
  • 16GB DDR3L
Video & Display
  • NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970M (3GB VRAM)
  • 15.6 Full HD (1920 x 1080 pixels) IPS LCD
  • NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980M
  • 15.6 inch QFHD (3640 x 2160) Glossy PLS
  • 2 x NVIDIA GeForce GTX 965M (8GB VRAM)
  • 15.6-inch WQHD+ (2880 x 1620) IPS LCD (G-sync capable)
  • NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970M
  • 17.3-inch Full HD Matte IPS
  • NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980M
  • 15.6 inch WQHD+(2880 x 1620) LCD
Storage
  • 120GB SSD + 1TB HDD
  • 128GB SSD
  • 1TB HDD
  • 512 GB (256GB x 2 in RAID 0) SSD + 1TB HDD
  • 8GB Hybrid HDD + 1TB HDD
  • 256GB SSD + 1TB HDD
Connectivity
  • Intel 3165 AC WIFI+BT
  • Killer 1525 AC WiFi + Bluetooth
  • Killer LAN
  • Wireless 802.11ac
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • Integrated 802.11 a/c
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • Gigabit LAN
  • Integrated 802.11ac/b/g/n
  • Bluetooth V4.0
  • Gigabit LAN
Audio
  • Sound Blaster X-FI MB5
  • 2 x 2W internal speakers
  • Sound Blaster X-Fi MB3
  • ANSPTM 3D sound technology (headphone output only)
  • 2 x Internal speakers
  • 1 x Subwoofer
  • Built-in speakers
  • Built-in subwoofer
  • MaxxAudio support
  • 2x 1.5 Watt speakers
  • 1x Woofer speaker
  • Dolby Digital Plus Home Theater
I/O Ports
  • 4x USB 3.0 port
  • 1 x eSATA/USB 3.0 combo port
  • 2 x mini-DisplayPort
  • 1 x HDMI
  • 1 x Headphone jack
  • 1 x Microphone jack
  • 1 x S/PDIF output jack
  • 1 x RJ-45 LAN port
  • 1 x SD card reader
  • 3 x USB 3.0
  • 1 x USB 3.0 (powered, AC/DC)
  • 1 x USB 3.0/eSATA combo port
  • 1 x HDMI output
  • 2 x DisplayPort (1.2)
  • 1 x headphone jack
  • 1 x microphone jack
  • 1 x S/PDIF output
  • 1 x Ethernet port
  • 1 x SD card reader
  • 4 x USB 3.0
  • 1 x miniDisplayPort
  • 1 x D-SUB
  • 1 x HDMI
  • 1 x Surround port
  • 1 x Ethernet jack
  • 1 x Microphone jack
  • 1 x Headphone jack
  • 1 x SD card reader
  • 4 x USB 3.0
  • 1 x Thunderbolt
  • 1 x HDMI
  • 1 x VGA port/Mini D-sub
  • 1 x Headphone jack
  • 1 x Microphone jack
  • 1 x S/PDIF output jack
  • 1 x Ethernet
  • 1 x SD card reader
  • 2 x USB(3.0)
  • 2 x USB(2.0)
  • 1 x HDMI
  • 1 x mini DisplayPort
  • 1 x D-sub
  • 1 x Mic-in
  • 1 x Earphone-out (SPDIF)
  • 1 x Ethernet
  • 1 x SD Card Reader
  • 1 x DC-in Jack
Battery Type
  • 60Wh
  • 82WH (Removable, 8 cell)
  • Li-Polymer, 73.26Wh
  • 88 Wh (8 Cells, fixed)
  • 75.81Wh (Li-Polymer, fixed)
Dimensions
  • 385 x 271 x 25 mm
  • 386 x 262 x 7 ~ 35.7 mm
  • 390 x 272 x 22.9 mm
  • 416 x 318 x 20 ~53 mm
  • 385 x 270 x 20.9 mm
Weight
  • 2.43KG
  • 3.4KG
  • 2.5KG
  • 4.8 kg (with battery)
  • 2.3KG (with battery)
Miscellaneous
  • Kensington Lock
Optical Drive
  • Blu-ray writer
  • DVD Super Multi

PCMark 8

The final version of the Aftershock S-15 performed somewhat similarly to the engineering sample. While we did notice some uplift in certain test suites (with around 4% increase in Home and Adobe benchmarks), as a whole, the difference is minor.

The Aftershock S-15 handily beat out the Gigabyte P35X V3, with a 19% lead in Home, a 12% lead in Creative and a commanding 30% lead in the Work test suite. Storage scores are about the same, but the Gigabyte machine has the upper hand for both of the Apps benchmarks, with a 6% advantage in the Office test and a 15% lead in the Adobe benchmark. The Gigabyte machine's 6% lead in the Office test is possibly due to the copious amount of RAM the machine has at its disposal, which also explains the lead it also has in the Adobe benchmark. On the other hand, the Aorus X5 posted higher scores than the Aftershock S-15 in nearly every benchmark save for the Work test suite, where it trailed by 9%.

Interestingly, the ASUS ROG G751JT performance is a bit inconsistent, despite also packing an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970M. While both machines have different processors, the one in the ASUS machine is slower, which should mean that the Aftershock S-15 has an advantage. That's not so. The results are wildly varied, with the ASUS machine sometimes outperforming the Aftershock machine by a large margin. For example, in the Creative test, the ASUS machine led by 7% but in the Work test, the ASUS machine was 11% behind the Aftershock notebook.

 

3DMark 2013

3DMark 2013 scores for the final version of the Aftershock S-15 continues the trend from PCMark 8. While there's an 8% percent difference in Cloud Gate (with better performance on the final machine), on Fire Strike, the difference can easily be chalked up to acceptable variance. For all intents and purposes, the final version of the Aftershock-15 performed just as well (better in some aspects) than the engineering sample.

In 3DMark, the Gigabyte P35X V3 and the Aorus X5 fared better than the Aftershock S-15 in both Cloud Gate and Fire Strike. The Aorus notebook led by 14% on Cloud Gate and 17% on Fire Strike, while the Gigabyte machine had a slim 2% lead on Cloud Gate and an impressive 25% lead in Fire Strike. The SLI cards in the Aorus and the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980M in the Gigabyte P35X V3 are beefier when it comes to 3D rendering, which is why both machines have convincing leads over the Aftershock S-15.

Against the other NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970M equipped machine, the ASUS ROG G751JT, the results were plainly in the Aftershock machine's favor, with it posting higher scores in both Cloud Gate (16% higher than ASUS' notebook) and Fire Strike (41% increase).

 

Tomb Raider

Tomb Raider showed that both the Aftershock machines were performing at a similar level again.  We don't feel that there'll be any noticeable performance difference between the two machines due to their differences in average frame rate being so slight.

When up against the Aftershock S-15, the Aorus X5 had a 28% lead on Normal and High, while the Gigabyte P35X V3 posted scores that had it in the lead by 24% on Normal and 30% on High settings. Those results are to be expected though, since the Aorus X5 is running with two GPUs in SLI, while the Gigabyte machine is equipped with the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980M, the best mobile class GPU available.

The ASUS machine also posted similar scores to the Aftershock machines, which is rather surprising considering that it has been trailing in all previous tests.

 

Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor

Again we see that both Aftershock machines performed similarly.

Here, it's the Gigabyte machine which had the better scores, with it being 40% ahead on High settings, though that lead dropped to 29% when tested on Ultra. The Gigabyte machine's performance is within the norm of machines equipped with NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980M GPUs, as the MSI GT72S benchmarks show.  

The Aorus X5 on the other hand, only had a 22% lead on High, which shrunk to just 5% on Ultra. As mentioned in the Aorus X5's review, the notebook's performance was rather subdued, with it having the horsepower just a tad lower than that of a NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980M equipped machine. That's why, despite it being an SLI machine, it posted scores that aren't a great leap forward from what the Aftershock S-15 had.

The ASUS ROG G751 is another story though. Even though it's powered by the same GeForce GTX 970M, its score on High is a 20% increase over the Aftershock S-15 (final version) though it drops to only a 5% delta on Ultra. Seeing that its temperatures are relatively low, we suspect that it could NVIDIA's GPU Boost at work. The ROG G751 has a higher rated power adapter which could provide the GeForce GTX 970M within more juice to overclock.

 

Temperature

For the temperature comparison, we can easily see that the new Skylake processor does help somewhat in lowering overall operating temperature. Even the GPU was nearly comparable to that of the Aftershock W-15 which had an enhanced cooling system due to the system being capable of overclocking, which raises heat generation.

On the chassis side of things, the Aftershock S-15 is one of the coolest notebook we have tested. Its recorded temperature of 29 degrees Celsius for the top half of the keyboard is clearly cooler than any other machine. All the other 15-inch machines don't even come close to the temperature the Aftershock S-15 managed to sustain (the ASUS notebook is a 17-inch machine). The lower operating temperatures of the Skylake processor surely must have had a hand in contributing to the lower operating temperatures that we see here.

 

Battery Life and Power Consumption

The final version of the Aftershock S-15 manages to provide even more battery life than the engineering sample, with a 4% increase in run time. While 4% doesn't seem much, 9 minutes of extra time could mean the difference between finishing a game and quitting because your laptop died. The only other machine to come close to the Aftershock S-15's battery life is the Gigabyte P35X with its 182 minutes of battery life. Compared to the Gigabyte machine, the Aftershock S-15 lasted 24% longer.

While the Aorus X5 might be a 15-inch machine, it being an SLI notebook meant that it inevitably consumed more power, especially with NVIDIA's Optimus tech not in use. Due to that, even with its larger capacity battery, it lasted only 122 minutes.

 

Portability Index

Our Portability Index factors in battery life, weight and volume so you can see which notebook is the most worthwhile to carry around.

In this case, the index clearly favors the Gigabyte P35X though both Aftershock S-15 come really close. The final version of the Aftershock S-15 had a better score because its battery life was a tad better than the engineering sample, though every other aspect of the machine was identical. The Aorus machine would've definitely fared better if its battery life was longer but as it stands now, the machine simply doesn't have the legs to stand toe to toe with either the Gigabyte P35X V3 or the Aftershock S-15 where general 'portability' is concerned.

 

Conclusion

The Aftershock S-15 is clearly a worthy gaming machine if you're looking for value instead of outright performance. Though it's not packing the most cutting-edge features, there's no denying the value the machine presents.

Aftershock's newest S-15 continues the manufacturer's tradition of having great keyboards on their notebooks. The one on the Aftershock S-15 is great with raised keys and pretty good key travel.

For just S$2,158, you get an Intel Core i7-6700HQ (2.6GHz, 6MB smart cache) processor, an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970M, 8GB DDR4 RAM with a 128GB SSD and 1TB HDD storage. As a result, overall performance is no slouch, even if it is outpaced by more powerful machines like the Gigabyte P35W V3 and Aorus X5. The bottomline is that the Aftershock S-15 offers very good specifications and performance for the money. As for the other parts of the machine, the notebook's weight is in line with most other gaming notebooks of its size and the battery life is actually above average for gaming notebooks, a major plus point for any gamer.

The lack of G-Sync display is a shame, but Aftershock does offer an upgrade to a G-Sync capable display for just S$130 extra, which we feel is a worthwhile investment. Other downsides include the lack of both USB 3.1 and Thunderbolt 3 ports. While both ports aren't ubiquitous in most notebooks and devices yet, it's only a matter of time before they will be, which means that the Aftershock S-15 isn't as future-proofed as it could probably have been.

Of course, the Aftershock S-15 is not the only machine in the market. You can also consider the following machines:-

Alternatives to the Aftershock S-15
  Aftershock S-15 Aftershock S-15 (fully upgraded) Alienware 15 Aorus X5 ASUS G751JT (17-inch) Gigabyte P35W V3
Processor Intel Core i7-6700HQ (2.6GHz, 6MB smart cache) Intel Core i7-6700HQ (2.6GHz, 6MB smart cache) Intel Core i5-6300HQ (2.3GHz, 6MB smart cache) Intel Core I7-5700HQ (2.7GHz, 6MB smart cache) Intel Core i7-4710(2.5GHz, 6MB L3 cache) Intel Core i7-4720HQ (2.6Ghz, 6MB L3 cache)
GPU NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970M NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980M NVIDIA GeForce GTX 965M NVIDIA GeForce GTX 965M SLI NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970M NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970M
Display 15.6-inch Full HD 15.6-inch Full HD with G-Sync 15.6-inch Full HD 15.6-inch WQHD+ (2880 x 1620 pixels) IPS with G-Sync 17.3-inch Full HD 15.6-inch Full HD
Storage 128GB SSD + 1 TB HDD 500GB (250GB x 2) SSD in RAID 0 + 1TB HDD 1TB HDD 512GB (256GB M.2 SSD x 2) in RAID 0 + 1TB HDD 1TB Hybrid HDD 128GB SSD + 1TB HDD
RAM 8GB DDR4 32GB DDR4 8GB DDR4 16GB DDR3 8GB DDR3 16GB DDR3
Price S$2,158 S$3,272 S$2,199 S$3,899 S$2,198 S$3,499

Gigabyte is refreshing their P35 line-up with Skylake as well as, though we're still unsure how much their new models will cost and when they'll be launched. For now, there's the Gigabyte P35W V3 which we've detailed in the table above. It's one of the priciest systems and for that sum of money, the Aftershock S-15 can be upgraded to have better hardware than what the P35W V3 has, which makes spending that much money on the Gigabyte machine a tad wasteful, even if it's really light and it comes with a Blu-ray combo drive.

There's also the Alienware 15. The S$2,199 variant of the machine is the one which is priced closest to the our Aftershock S-15 review unit. As can be seen from the table, the machine's specs, particularly its GPU and lack of an SSD is a big drawback. It does have a leg up on the Aftershock S-15 in two areas, it is compatible with the Alienware Graphics Amplifier and also has a Thunderbolt 3 port. Think of the Graphics Amplifier as an external GPU dock that allows Alienware users to plug in a desktop GPU which can then be used to boost their Alienware notebook's graphics performance. This allows its notebooks with weaker mobile GPUs to beef up their gaming capabilities, though you'll need to shell out extra money for both the Graphics Amplifier and an extra desktop GPU. Thunderbolt 3 on the Alienware 15 allows fast data transfer rates, up to 40Gbps, and is touted as the interface of the future. While there are few devices that can take advantage of this high-speed interface for now, we would rather have this option than not. Of the two features mentioned here, the Graphics Amplifier is easily the more attractive item, but bear in mind that it will cost gamers substantially more. In this respect, the Aftershock S-15 is easily the more value for money pick.

The other NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970M machine is the ASUS ROG G751JT, which has an older Intel Core i7-4710HQ (2.5GHz, 6MB L3 cache) processor, 8GB DDR3 RAM and a hybrid 1TB HDD. The ASUS machine is a 17.3-inch notebook though and it also comes with a Blu-Ray writer. That's for S$2,198, which is great value for a large 17-inch gaming notebook. However, our biggest beef with its standard configuration doesn't come with an SSD, which we think should be a basic requisite for any gaming system at this point of time.

The only 15-inch SLI gaming notebook option is the Aorus X5, though at almost twice the price of the recommended Aftershock S-15 spec, it's hardly a budget laptop. Even if you're willing the shell out the money for an Aorus X5, you can easily outfit the Aftershock S-15 to have similar specs, with only the display as the main drawback. The Aorus X5's WQHD+ display is unmatched by any 15-inch notebook. While having an SLI setup might seem like a worthy trade-off for the extra graphics horsepower, it is worth noting that the Aorus X5's dual NVIDIA GeForce GTX 965M GPUs only perform at a level similar to a single NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980M, as we found out in our tests.

Since Aftershock offers customizable notebooks, those who demand the most of out their machine can choose to deck out the Aftershock S-15 to the max and equip it with an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980M, 32GB DDR4 RAM, 500GB (250GB x 2) SSD in RAID 0 with a 1TB HDD and a G-Sync compatible, Full HD (1920 x 1080 pixels) monitor for S$3,272. Aftershock doesn't offer a CPU upgrade though, so you'll still have to make do with the Intel Core i7-6700HQ, like in the review unit. If you compare this to other high-end 15-inch notebooks, you'd find that the Aftershock S-15, even in its maxed out form, continues to offer good value for money.
 

It might not have the extra frills like custom macro keys or customizable backlights, but the Aftershock S-15 is still a solid budget gaming machine.

Looking at its rivals, the Aftershock S-15 is clearly a viable option if you're planning to get a decent gaming system without breaking the bank. Plus, its customizability allows players with deeper pockets to equip their notebooks with even more powerful components. No matter how you look at it, the Aftershock S-15 offers great value amongst all other 15-inch gaming notebooks.

8.0
  • Design 7.5
  • Features 7
  • Performance 8
  • Value 9
  • Mobility 8
The Good
Decent gaming performance
Above average battery life (for a gaming notebook)
Unrivaled value for money
Great keyboard
Customizable
The Bad
Full-HD display beginning to look dated
No USB 3.1 or Thunderbolt 3 compatible ports
Not as feature-packed as competitors
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