On my never ending quest to find the “perfect” high-end ultrabook, I was able to get my hands on the new Aorus X3 Plus. I’ve never used an Aorus product before and I’ve read a few not-so-stellar reviews on Gigabyte laptops as well, so I had some low expectations before getting it.
After spending three days with it now, I’ve been pretty impressed although there are a couple issues I’ve run into that are potential deal breakers for people.
In the past few months, I’ve been able to test the 2014 Razer Blade 14, MSI GS60 Ghost Pro 3K (detailed review in here), Y50(both FHD and4K) and the Asus UX303LN. To me, each of those ultrabooks had cons that were just big enough for me to not pull the “permanent trigger”. In my opinion, the best of the bunch was the Razer Blade, but the cost was too high for the mere 8GB of RAM and lack of upgradability options.
So I was excited to finally try out the Aorus X3+ once it became available. Here’s my findings and how I think it stacks up to the competition.
The specs sheet for the Gigabyte Aorus X3 Plus
|Gigabyte Aorus X3 Plus
|Screen||13.9 inch, 3200 x 1800 px resolution, IGZO IPS, matte, non-touch|
|Processor||Intel Haswell Core i7-4860HQ CPU, quad-core 2.4 GHz|
|Video||integrated Intel Iris Pro 5200 HD + Nvidia GeForce GTX 870M 6GB|
|Memory||16 GB DDR3L|
|Storage||2x 256 GB M.2 SSD SATA in RAID 0|
|Connectivity||Wireless AC Intel 7260 , Killer LAN, Bluetooth 4.0|
|Ports||2x USB 3.0, 1x USB 2.0, HDMI, mini Display port, RJ45, mic, earphone, SD card reader|
|Operating system||Windows 8.1|
|Size||330mm or 12.99” (w) x 263.5mm or 10.37” (d) x 22.9mm or .90” (h)|
|Weight||1.8kg or 3.96 lb|
|Extras||backlit keyboard, glass trackpad, HD camera, Kensington lock|
When I took it out of the box, my first thought was: Wow, this is light! At just under 4 lbs(1.8kg), the X3+ is arguably the lightest ultrabook of its class. The lid, palm-rest and underbelly are all aluminum, but there is a fair amount of plastic still used mostly out of necessity. The vent housing in the back and the LCD bezel are both made out of a hard plastic.
I’m also pretty certain that the keyboard bracket is made out of plastic, if not, a VERY thin sheet of aluminum. Most of the plastic is understandable considering the difficulty and cost involved to make those components out of metal. As is, the keyboard bracket is a mild disappointment though, which I’ll cover more later.
Aesthetically, the machine is pretty unique. It’s flashy enough to make it stand out but it’s not over the top with bright LEDs, unnecessary chassis shape or odd glowing badges on the lid, like some competitor laptops of this class have. The logo is really the only eye catcher I would change but it’s really not that bad. It looks like GDI meets Trogdor, with a beefy arm coming out the neck of an eagle head(look them both up if you don’t know what I mean). It’s FAR more subtle than the Razer Blade and the “gaming G series” badge on the Ghost Pro, so I appreciate that at least.
Overall, the build quality feels pretty good, but I have to ding them on a couple things. When pressing down on the lid, there is a little flex. I also noticed it on the underside a little as well. This is likely due to using aluminum that is too thin and is probably how they managed to get the laptop to be so light.
Also, my unit has a minor defect in the bezel, where there is a 1 mm gap where the plastic clip meets the aluminum lid. These are the kind of things that happen when you mix plastic and metal on such a thin laptop. I noticed similar attributes with the Ghost Pro, but the Razer Blade felt incredibly solid in comparison and was similar to a Macbook Pro.
The underside is quite a nice sight to look at. There are multiple vents and footpads to make the laptop cool well and yet still look stylish. Not that I look under my laptop all that much, but when I carry it around, it’s less of an eyesore than the magnitude of stickers, screws and ports seen on other laptops. To open the bottom panel, you just need to remove the 10 screws with a T6 driver.
Keyboard and trackpad
Two of my biggest pet peeves are the keyboard and trackpad. I’m critical because I use them daily. On a gaming laptop, most people don’t care about trackpads, but these new ultraportable gaming laptops are more for those who want to have a machine for both productivity and fun. So having a good trackpad and keyboard are important to me, and seem to be the thing that gets screwed up the most.
MSI’s Ghost Pro had a great keyboard but had a mediocre trackpad. The Razer Blade had both a nice keyboard and trackpad, but chose to have physical mouse buttons over the more popular clickpad style.
My feelings on the X3+ trackpad are mixed. At first glance, I thought it was one of the nicest trackpads I’ve ever seen. It’s solid black glass and it certainly feels like it. In fact, it feels exactly like the glass on my smartphone. It’s definitely a strange thing to use at first but I could certainly get used to it. There is a small line on the trackpad to distinguish between left and right click(which are integrated into the trackpad by pressing down on the corners). It’s very responsive but not entirely accurate. In fact, I think it’s so smooth that you sometimes miss just how far you want the pointer to go.
When using a trackpad, I expect the mouse pointer to move across the screen consistently with my finger strokes. With this trackpad, I noticed that sometimes the pointer would not go as far with the same motion as before. For example, moving from left to right across the trackpad would move the mouse pointer a certain distance, but if I moved my finger back to the original spot my mouse pointer might only make it halfway.
Additionally, this is an Elan trackpad so the drivers are quite limited in comparison to Synaptics. I turned the pointer speed all the way up but was not able to move the mouse pointer more than 75% across the screen in one stroke. This is partially due to the high resolution of the screen but can only be fixed with drivers. Hopefully Elan and/or Microsoft will update those drivers soon.
Another thing to note on the trackpad is because it’s glass, it can be hard to use if you have sweaty hands. The glass is only slightly oleophobic, similar to your average smartphone but not like the Nexus 4(which is probably the slickest glass I’ve ever seen). So fingertips with a little moisture will get stopped up on the glass from time to time. I noticed this more when the laptop got hot, making my palms hot. It’s something to think about if you plan on using it outside and you live in a warm weather town.
The keyboard on the X3+ is above average to me. I had no trouble at all typing on it right from the start. The keys have good travel for such a thin laptop and are very responsive. The keys are well placed, the shift keys are full sized and the windows key is on the left side. It’s pretty much your average 13-14” laptop keyboard layout with the addition of the macro keys on the left side.
The backlighting is white and looks absolutely perfect to me. There are only three settings: off, medium and bright. They used a matte film over the lighting so there is no annoying bleed coming from the keys at certain angles.
The macro keys on the left hand side are a pretty cool highlight to the machine. The top “G” key can be long pressed to turn on/off the ability to use the other keys. Once on, it can then be pressed to change color from green, red, blue, orange and purple. Each of these colors represents a set of macros for the numbered G keys underneath. So 25 macros in all.
You can program those keys to do whatever macros you desire. While meant for gaming, you can also use these keys for productivity. I made one set have cut, copy, paste, previous window and close window(a dangerous one). I also had another set to have print screen, Alt-X, Alt-Z(undo and redo for some programs), home and end. It’s a pretty clever way to return some functionality to a portable laptop layout that would otherwise only be found in 15.6” laptops. One thing I will say is you WILL hit the G key a lot, thinking you are hitting escape. It’s harmless but might be bad if you really needed to hit escape in time.
I’ll also compliment them with making some useful function key assignments – it’s nice to see keys that turn on/off things like Wifi, Bluetooth, webcam, trackpad, etc. The Fn key that confuses me is the eject button on the Esc key. At first I thought it would work with SD cards, but it doesn’t. It also doesn’t work with external DVD drives, so I’m not sure what its purpose is.
With all that good stuff, I feel obligated to point out the only major flaw I found with the keyboard: the flex. If I had to rank this with other laptops I’ve seen, I’d say it’s below average. Normally I see the most flex in the middle of the keyboard, but on this one, I see it all over. A lot of it has to do with the (assumed) plastic bracket used to hold the keyboard in. It’s not the same piece as the palmrest, so it’s natural that it isn’t a perfect fit.
I’ve seen some reviews say it’s not so bad, and I agree – it’s totally subjective to the user. I think I even saw a video saying there was minimal flex but by seeing it, it looked terrible to me. Comparing it to the competition, the Razer Blade had no flex, GS60 had a tiny amount in the center(almost none) and the Y50 had minimal flex. I could certainly live with it – it’s not like it’s impeding my typing, but it’s not nice to look at and is certainly not what I’d expect from such an expensive laptop.
On a brighter note, that plastic bracket might come off, which could allow for you to remove and modify the keyboard. It would be cool to be able to easily change the backlight color like on some of the Asus RoG laptops.
The X3+ contains the exact same model screen as the new Razer Blade. The only difference is this is a matte non-touch model as opposed to a glossy touchscreen. It’s a Sharp IGZO 3200×1800 resolution screen that measures 13.9”(or 14” by Razer’s standards). Dead on, the image is absolutely stunning, calibrated with accurate and beautiful colors right out of the box.
The viewing angles are pretty good but are not up to par with FHD IPS screen’s I’ve seen in the past. There is an obvious color shift when you take a slight angle from dead center, which makes some of the colors a little more whiteish. One example is the red x for windows turns to a light beige when at 45 degrees. Colors and text are still visible until around 130-140 degrees where they fade out more. It’s not as bad as TN screens where it fades to nothing or the colors change color completely, but it’s not as good as some IPS screens where you can literally read a document at 170 degrees.
The problem lies in the brightness and it’s a double edged sword. If you lower the brightness settings in Intel’s control panel, the viewing angles are perfect, but many of your images will seem darker than they should. I found the sweet spot to be -20 if viewing angles matter but kept them at default of 0 for the 95% of the time when they didn’t matter.
Unfortunately there is a hard stop that prevents you from opening the lid more than about 140 degrees. This isn’t going to bother most people, but those that stand over their laptops all the time might find it limiting. Another fault I found with the screen was it was a little wobbly. Since it’s not a touchscreen, it’s not the end of the world, but they could have done a little better.
I think they left the hinge a little weak in order to open the lid one handed, but there are other competitors that are able to do that without having a wobbly screen. Speaking of opening it one handed, it barely does so. About 50% of the time, the front of the laptop picks up completely before opening up.
My last gripe about the screen is the lid is very weak, causing potential future damage to your LCD. I noticed that when I would adjust the lid quickly, the screen would flicker. Upon further investigation, light tapping on the back lid causes the backlight to strike the lcd, resulting in white flashes on the screen. This is not what I would expect out of a $2000+ laptop.
The brightness level is also very good with a measurement of 290 cd/m2. The advertised brightness was 400 cd/m2, however I was unable to get those numbers. Once unplugged, the max brightness drops slightly to 230cd/m2, still very bright enough to use in a well lit office or outdoors. The contrast ratio measured a mere 430:1 at the brightest setting and dropped slightly to 390:1 at lower brightness levels. The color gamut of the display resulted in sRGB: 98%, NTSC 69% and aRGB 74%.
As with other UHD+/4K screens, you’re going to have to deal with the scaling issues present in these systems. Most windows apps run perfectly fine and look great. In fact, when using the desktop, you will grow to love how it looks and start to cringe at the sight of a FHD display. But there are problems with UHD displays that, for now, I find just plain annoying.
For example, some games are not playable at full resolution and require you to scale them to a lower resolution, such as 1600×1900. Usually that isn’t an issue, but for some games it will play in a letterboxed version on the upper right corner or the center of the screen. Crysis 3, for example, does this randomly: sometimes it will open full screen and other times it will run in the letterbox. The only sure fix is to manually change the desktop resolution to the desired level before playing the game.
Depending how low you go, the scaling will make some tasks impossible until you revert it back to normal. I assume Windows, Direct X or whoever is responsible will fix this, but it’s been an issue for over a year now with no proper solution. Other applications will refuse to scale properly, such as Blizzard launcher and Origin launcher. So they will be 4x smaller than you see on a FHD display, and it’s something you just have to get used to until they fix it.
Hardware and performance
Unlike most laptops, the Aorus X3+ comes pretty much maxed out. It comes with 16GB of RAM and both M.2 bays are filled with 256GB SSDs each, configured in RAID 0. There may be lower speced models in the future, but there are no reliable sources as to what those models are and/or when they will be available.
According to Gigabyte, there will be a X3 model that will have a 13.3” 2560×1440 screen instead of the one this machine has. It will be roughly the same pixel density and the bezel will be larger, but I think that might be a better option for those who want to play games at full resolution.
Update: Gigabyte has just released a QHD(2560×1440) version of the laptop. See my links below on where to get one.
For connectivity, a Killer LAN port is located in the back of the machine, next to the power adapter. There is also an Intel Wireless AC 7260 card onboard. While this is generally a good wireless card, I have been having some trouble with it connecting to some wireless networks. There have been a couple other reports on the forums as well. It’s most likely a driver issue, but there could potentially be a hardware issue at stake. On my home network, I was able to download at 35Mbps and upload at 11Mbps from 2 rooms away(approx. 30ft) from my router. Closer ranges, I maxed out my connection.
The CrystalDisk benchmarks were very good, with sequential read speeds around 950MB/s and sequential write speeds of 739MB/s. 512K speeds were also in the 600s which is great. You would think the boot time would be faster, but I was getting boot times of about 15 seconds. That’s still nothing to complain about.
Other benchmarks were as follows:
- 3DMark: FS – 4201, SD – 13450, CG – 15041, IS – 91304
- 3DMark temps: Max CPU 97°C, max GPU 85°C
- PCMark 8 – 3216 with max CPU 88°C and Max GPU 65°C
I was able to grab some benchmarks while playing a couple games as well.
- Skyrim – played the first dragon fight from beginning to end
- all settings maxed out, 1920×1080 resolution – 60fps with drops in the low 50s. CPU 98°C, GPU 87°C
- max settings but no AA or AF, 3200×1800 resolution – 50fps with drops to the mid 30s. CPU 99°C, GPU 93°C
- all settings maxed out, 1600×900 resolution – 60fps capped. CPU 95°C, GPU 84°C
- Crysis – Played through the opening scene for 10 minutes
- Medium settings, no AA 1x AF, 3200×1800 resolution – 25-35fps, CPU 99°C, GPU 93°C
- Medium settings, no AA 1x AF, 1920×1080 resolution – 50-60fps, CPU 88-93°C, GPU 79°C
- Very High settings, no AA 1x AF, 1920×1080 resolution – 25-40fps, CPU 98°C, GPU 88°C
*Note: All temps taken in a room @ 24C. Measurements were taken with HWMonitor and GPU-Z
I experienced some frequency throttling when playing Crysis 3 at native resolution, however it was very minor and only dropped the framerate by 5-8fps. This can be prevented by lowering the graphics details a little, to keep the GPU under 90C. I wasn’t using a cooling pad, so that might help as well.
9/14/14 update: I was able to retest all the gaming benchmarks on a cooling pad. Across the board, CPU temps improved by 5-8°C and GPU temps improved by a maximum of 4°C
Yes, this laptop gets hot but it’s only because I was pushing it hard. Lowering the graphics details and/or resolution will certainly decrease the temperatures. I would be very cautious of letting my CPU temperatures stay this high long term.
2/3/15 Update: Gigabyte has released v3 of the X3+, which includes a 970M GPU. This will add a noticeable performance bump as well as cut down on the heat issues I experienced. See below on where to get one.
Noise, Heat and others
During normal use, the laptop is extremely quiet. Once in a while the fans will kick on low speeds, but they are barely audible. When playing games, the fan speeds certainly pick up though. As you can see from the game results, the laptop gets very hot! To dissipate that amount of heat, the fans kick on full speed. I’ll give them credit, I did not experience a whole lot of throttling, but I also didn’t play any long sessions either. As close to the thermal limits as I got, I would try to avoid pushing the machine to the limits on a regular basis.
As far as the cooling system goes, there are two large fans – one for the CPU and the other for the GPU. The intakes are on the rear portion of the bottom of the laptop. The exhausts are those two large ports out the rear of the laptop. The exhausts are plenty big enough and point in an ideal direction to prevent discomfort.
Fan noise at low speeds were measured to be 35db from the users head. At full speeds, the fans are about 55db. Take this with a grain of salt as this is measured from a smartphone app and is not incredibly accurate. I did measure similar results on both the Razer Blade and the GS60 Pro though, the Razer Blade being the quietest of the three.
As far as external heat goes, the underside gets extremely hot to touch. It’s not something you put on your lap, although I did so during the game testing as a worst case scenario. If you insist on playing on your lap, don’t wear shorts and expect sweaty thighs. The keyboard on the other hand stays at tolerable temperatures. At no point did my palms or fingers feel uncomfortable. They did get a little warm though, which led to sweaty fingertips. Like I mentioned before: sweaty fingertips = sticky trackpad.
On the front edge, both on the right and left, there are two grills that could be mistaken for vents. These are actually for the speakers.
Don’t be fooled though, as the speakers actually face downward and there are sound ports on the bottom as well. They are not particularly loud either and I wonder if there is something I’m missing. Sometimes they sound fine but when I played Skyrim, it was awfully quiet. It was so quiet, I could barely make out any voices over the fan noise. I’ll keep looking into it, but my first impression is the speakers are terrible.
My battery test consists of using the stock “Balanced” power profile, maximum brightness, wifi connected, Bluetooth off, keyboard backlit and running a 720p movie in a continuous loop at full screen with the volume muted. I start the clock when it’s unplugged and stop it when the unit performs a self- shutdown. The Aorus X3+ lasted exactly 3 hours and 30 minutes. This can be compared to the GS60 Pro, which got 2 hours and 57 minutes and the Razer Blade which got 4 hours and 7 minutes.
I repeated the test in the stock “Power Saving” power profile. Brightness was set to 30% (about 80 nits) and all the other settings were the same as the previous test. The X3+ lasted 4 hours and 36 minutes. This beat my previous test of the Ghost Pro at 3 hours and 14 minutes, but just fell shy of the Razer Blade’s 4 hours and 57 minutes.
All in all, the battery life is pretty decent for a gaming laptop, but not that great for an Ultraportable. Considering the processor is a quad-core and not the low voltage U processors, this battery life is expected.
The power brick is quite large compared to the competition. I’ve read complaints about how they should be able to make theirs as small as the Razer Blade, but it should be noted this brick is 180W as opposed to the 150W bricks of the Razer and MSI GS60.
Even though it’s bigger, I think this is a good thing. When testing the Ghost Pro and Razer Blade, I constantly monitored throttling due to lack of power when the settings were maxed out. I never had this issue with the Aorus X3+. The brick is significantly thicker than the brick of the MSI Ghost Pro, but is not as wide or long. I’d say they say they did about as good as they could given the wattage they chose.
Price and availability
The model I have is priced at $2099 USD and I’ve bought it from Newegg. It is the only configuration available for the time being, but smaller storage, less RAM and/or the lower resolution screen will certainly drop the price a couple hundred dollars on some of the future models. So stay tuned for updates, I’ll add to this section as soon as this laptop becomes more widely available.
Update: Gigabyte has just released the 970M version of the X3+. The 870M versions are still available and are now heavily discounted. You can find them both at Newegg.
Follow this link for more configurations and potential discounts.
PS: From what I know, getting Gigabyte laptops outside of the US is complicated. If you do know reliable sources that actually ship it to Europe or other regions, do tell in the comments section below.
I’m looking forward to spending a little more time with this machine. Another thing I’m interested in trying is playing older games on battery. I’m curious if the Iris Pro 5200 will be more efficient than a throttled 870M. I also want to try and tweak the power plan to see how much battery life I can get.
As far as the laptop goes, it’s certainly going back because of the Wifi issue and the gap in the lid. I will be hard pressed to replace it with another though unless I find something I really love about it. The keyboard flex and the lid flex(which causes the screen flicker) are reasons enough for me to stay away. This is a really expensive machine to have to treat it so delicately.
On the positive side, the laptop is extremely lightweight and powerful – something no other laptop except the Razer Blade can claim. The Aorus X3+ is about $550 cheaper than the Razer blade with 512GB of storage, so maybe average build quality is something that could be tolerated in order to save some money.
Don’t forget too that there should be cheaper models coming out. This puts it in good competition with the MSI Ghost Pro. Then it might just come down to what size screen you want.
There are certainly a lot of pros and cons to weigh though and I hope this review helps answer any of your questions. If there is anything else you would like me to add, please let me know and I’ll do my best to provide.