There are a lot of good gaming laptops out there, but this article is about one of those than stand out of the crowd: the Asus ROG GL503VS, also known as the ROG Strix Scar Edition.
The GL503 is Asus’s latest series of mid-range gaming notebooks launched in Q4 2017, with updated designs and features, improved screens and most importantly, improved cooling over the older GL502 lines. We talked about the entry level GL503VD in a previous article, and in this one I’ve gathered all my impressions after spending about 10 days with the high-end variant, the GL503VS.
Its main selling points are the GTX 1070 graphics chip inside and a 144 Hz IPS-level screen with GSync, which make it one of the most interesting 15-inch gaming laptops with a fairly decent price ($1899 for the mid-range configuration as of November 2017 – probably less in the future) and portable size-factor.
We’ll talk about the laptop’s strong points and quirks below, and we’ll also take a detailed look at its performance and the new cooling that’s in charge with keeping temperatures at bay. Spoiler alert: it does an excellent job at it, but it’s also noisy. Keep reading to find out more.
The specs sheet
|Asus ROG Strix GL503VS Scar Edition|
|Screen||15.6 inch, 1920 x 1080 px resolution, IPS, 144 HZ, GSync, matte|
|Processor||Intel Kaby Lake Core i7-7700HQ, quad-core|
|Video||Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 (8GB GDDR5 vRAM)|
|Memory||32GB DDR4-2400 (2x DIMMs)|
|Storage||256 GB SSD (M.2 80 mm NVMe) + 1 TB HDD (2.5″ bay)|
|Connectivity||Intel 802.11AC WiFi 8265 Tri-Band with Bluetooth 4.2, Realtek RTL8168 Gigabit LAN|
|Ports||4x USB-A 3.1, 1x USB-C Thunderbolt 3, HDMI 2.0, miniDP 1.2, LAN, SD card reader, headphone/mic, Kensington Lock|
|Baterry||62 Wh, 230 W power adapter|
|Operating system||Windows 10|
|Size||384 mm or 15.11” (w) x 262 mm or 10.31” (d) x 25.4 mm or 1” (h)|
|Weight||2.52 kg (5.6 lb), .92 kg (2.0 lbs) power brick|
|Extras||RGB backlit keyboard – 4 zones, stereo speakers, HD webcam|
Asus offers the ROG GL503VS in a few different configurations, with various amounts of RAM and types of storage options. Our test unit comes with 32 GB of RAM, but I’d reckon most people should be fine with just 16 GB of RAM, thus would end up getting the configuration that’s most widely available: i7-7700HQ CPU, GTX 1070 GPU, 16 GB RAM, 256 GB SSD + 1 TB HDD – $1899 in the US and 2099 EUR in Europe at the time of this post. Follow this link for updated configurations and prices at the time you’re reading the article.
Design and exterior
Let’s talk about the build and aesthetics first.
I for one am not a fan of gaming-designs with bright LEDs, sharp edges and aggressive color accents, and thus I appreciate that this new ROG Strix is more tamed down than the older models. There’s still a big red ROG logo on the lid, backlit by the screen’s panel, which means it can’t be switched off or controlled manually in any way. You can however cover it up with a decal. This aside though, the GL503VS is pretty clean.
The outer lid is made of a dark brushed aluminum, with a subtle Republic of Gamers branding on the lower edge and a plastic bar at the top, for the wireless antennae. The design lines remind more of the ROG Zephyrus than of the older ROG Strix laptops, which I’d reckon most people will like.
The interior on the other hand is made from what looks like plastic with a carbon-fiber finishing (or perhaps it is carbon fiber after all, I can’t tell). We’ve seen similar interiors on the Dell XPS lines, but on this Strix the material is a bit harder than on my XPS and not as rubbery. The edges are also a little sharper, as the carbon-fiber doesn’t wrap-around them as on the XPS, but ends abruptly into a plastic frame that encircles the sides.
Overall though, there’s very little to complain about here. Yes, the dark materials show smudges and fingerprints, but that would have been the case with metal as well. And given the fact that the main-body is fairly sturdy, with no flex noticeable with everyday use and typing, I’d say Asus made a good decision going with this approach that I’d reckon helped keep the weight at bay as well, to some extent.
The branding on the interior is even more subtle than on the outside. Yes, there’s a gray ROG logo beneath the screen and ASUS, Strix and Republic of Gamers logos embossed in the main-deck, but these latter ones are black and blend in well with the surfaces around. You’ll notice however that always lit power-button when you’ll use the laptop in a dark room, and you might also notice the status LEDs that are placed beneath the screen. I sure wish they weren’t there, but at least they’re not very bright and I can expect to learn to ignore them after a while.
There’s one more element to mention here: that grill above the keyboard. It doesn’t hide speakers beneath, as it’s actually a cooling grill meant to improve air intake, alongside with the large intakes on the bottom and the intake/output grills on the back edge. There are even intake cuts on the front edge, something I don’t think I’ve ever seen on an ROG before, so unlike with some of their other laptops, Asus actually made sure enough air can get inside this one, which corroborated with the internal cooling solution actually do a great job at keeping the device cool in high loads. More about that in the dedicated section down below.
Back to the overall build quality of this computer, I’d say it’s one of the sturdiest out there, but keep in mind the lid is a little weak and you should probably use a sleeve when carrying it in your backpack. There’s no noticeable effect on the panel when pressing on the lid, but better safe nonetheless. That aside though, this laptop is tough, with the sides and bottom made from hard-plastic that looks like can take a beating.
The GL503VS feels quite practical and comfortable to use as well. It sits firmly on the desk, thanks to the multitude of small, but grippy, rubber and plastic feet on the bottom, the screen can be easily grabbed and lifted with a single hand (goes back to about 140 degrees) and the palm-rest is spacious. The front lips are rather on the sharp side though and the laptop’s front profile is fairly tall and will put unwanted pressure on the wrists.
On the belly you’ll notice those multiple air vents mentioned earlier, as well as the quick-access bay that let’s you get to the internals. The speakers have been moved and no longer fire underneath the laptop, but towards the sides, which help with their volume, audio quality and makes them more difficult to cover and muffle.
The sides also host the IO, and there’s pretty much everything you’ll need on this laptop, with 4 USB-A slots, an USB-C with support for Thunderbolt 3, HDMI 2.0 and miniDP 1.2 for video, as well as a LAN port, a card-reader (an SD card will stick half-out) and Kensington lock. On top of these, most of the connectors are on the right side, including the PSU, so cables won’t get in your way when using a mouse (if you’re a rightly, that is).
Just a heads-up, the Thunderbolt 3 port seems to be hooked up via 2x PCIe lines as far as I can tell from HWInfo. I don’t have an eGPU to properly test this though, so take it as it is until someone else can provide more details on the matter.
All in all, this is one of the nicest ROG laptops I’ve tested in the recent years, and the icing on the cake is the fact that the GL503VS is actually not as bulky or as heavy as you might expect from a GTX 1070 laptop. It weighs 5.6 pounds, it’s 1 inch thick and while the bezels around its screen aren’t minuscule as on the XPS 15 or Zenbook UX550, they’re not that big either. In conclusion, good job Asus, even with those gaming accents that are still left here and there.
Keyboard and trackpad
The keyboard hasn’t changed that much from the previous ROG Strix lines and I’d reckon most people will get along well with it, but if you’re coming from an ultraportable with short-stroke keys you’ll need some time to get used to its feedback.
The layout is mostly fine, but the NumPad area and the directional keys are cramped. Personally I don’t care much about the NumPad, but the directional keys are important on a gaming laptop and I consider that Asus should have better implemented them.
While we’re talking about the layout, I should also mention there are four extra keys on the top of the main-deck, for Volume UP/DOWN, Mic and the ROG Center app, as well as a dedicated Power button towards the right, with a Power Logo that’s always lit in red. There are no Macro keys though, which I’d reckon gamers would have want, and those existing 4 buttons cannot be remapped as far as I can tell from the included software (please correct me if I’m wrong).
You can however control the backlightning from the AURA software that comes preinstaled, as this keyboard gets RGB backlightning with 3 intensity levels and 4 zones that can be individually configured (different colors and some effects). This is nice, but at the same time at least standard for a gaming laptop of this period.
As far as the typing experience goes, this keyboard is not right down my alley, but it’s still a fairly good typer. The keys feel nice to the touch and have a slightly concave keycap. They also travel 1.8 mm into the frame, which should help the overall typing experience, but they are a bit mushy and require a firm stroke to actuate, which for me lead to an awkward feeling of uncertainty that translated in higher than average error rate, which in all fairness got better with time.
Those interested in gaming on other hand should know that the keys support N-key rollover (explained here) and according to Asus, are guaranteed for 20-million presses, so they’ll perform well and reliably in games.
On the other hand, I don’t have much to nag about the trackpad. It’s a well sized and positioned plastic surface made by Elan, but with Precision drivers, and it performs well with all the standard activities. It’s not a clickpad and thus not clickable, instead Asus implemented some awesome dedicated physical buttons that are a pleasure to press and are also basically noiseless.
The screen is perhaps this laptop’s primary selling point: a IPS-level panel with 144 Hz refresh rate and GSync. There’s just no other laptop with such a screen out there and if you’re into gaming, this will make a huge difference on your experience.
If you’re not into gaming, well, fist of all perhaps you shouldn’t look at this computer in the first place. But let’s say you’re not and still interested in the GL503VS, well, then you should know this panel is fairly good, but not the best you can get on a 15-inch laptop in terms of either brightness, sharpness, uniformity or color accuracy. I’ve added my readings below, taken with the Spyder4 sensor:
- Panel HardwareID: AU Optronics AUO70ED (B156HAN07.0);
- Coverage: 92% sRGB, 72% NTSC, 76% AdobeRGB;
- Measured gamma: 2.3;
- Max brightness in the middle of the screen: 284 cd/m2 on power;
- Contrast at max brightness: 760:1;
- White point: 8400 K;
- Black on max brightness: 0.37 cd/m2.
It’s definitely not bad though, with 285 max brightness (and keep in mind the Sypder records lower levels than other sensors) and fairly good contrast as well. The white point is skewed out of the box though and there’s also a small gamma deviation that you can address with this calibrated profile available here. Still, the uniformity issues might be the biggest concern, yet for me those were not visible with the naked eye, and there’s a fair chance I have a pre-production sample and those final retail units might not experience the same inconsistency. We’ll see.
As far as flickering and PWM goes, I don’t have the tools to properly test it, put I didn’t notice anything unusual with the naked eye or using a video camera.
Hardware and performance
The hardware is the other reason you’ll want to buy this laptop. We got to test a high end configuration with an Intel Core i7-7700HQ processor, Nvidia GTX 1070 8GB graphics, 32 GB of DDR4-2400 RAM, a 256 GB M.2 NVMe SSD and a 1 TB 5400 rpm spinning HDD. Except for the RAM, this is pretty much identical to the models available in stores that come with just 16 GB of memory, which is enough for games these days, but can also be upgraded, as the configuration should get a 1x 16 GB DIMM and leave the other DIMM free.
The storage options and RAM slots are easily accessible through a dedicated access-bay on the back of the laptop. In order to get to the cooling you’d have to unscrew the entire back panel though, which is still a fairly easy task, as it’s hold in place by a handful of screws. Most of them are visible, but there are also screws beneath the access bay and you’ll also have to remove the HDD as well in order to be able to take out the back.
As far as the performance goes, this laptop breezes through everyday activities and multitasking. Since it comes with GSync, the Intel graphics is disabled, but both the CPU and the Nvidia GPU clock down to where they need to in order to offer a good balance between performance, temperatures and noise. More about that in the next section.
Our GL503VS did very well in benchmarks and demanding loads too, with the CPU and GPU working at full-speed in all our games and tests, with no sign of throttling or performance loss, as long as it was plugged into the wall.
Performance plummets on battery though, as you can see in some of the pictures below, and while this might be addressed with further software updates, I think it’s safe to assume you’ll want to keep this laptop plugged in when playing your games. BTW, GSync doesn’t work while on battery either.
Even if the GL503VS doesn’t throttle or overheat with benchmark and games, I did undervolt my test unit (details in here) just to see what that would translate in.
This sample was unstable at -100 mV, so I dialed back to -90 mV (normally I’d expect the i7-7700HQ to be stable at -125 mV, but this one wasn’t), which as expected didn’t result in any improvements in benchmark results, but did result in lower temperatures in Cinebench and other CPU intensive activities (about a 4-6 degrees drop), as well as in games (smaller difference of 2-4 degrees for the CPU, and a marginal difference for the GPU). Details below.
As far as the gaming performance goes, I’ve tested a few games at the native FHD resolution and Ultra settings. Keep in mind I’ve disabled VSync for the tests, but in reality you should keep VSync on in order to benefit from GSync and that 144 HZ refresh rate. All in all though, you’ll be able to run pretty much every recent title with at least High settings on this laptop.
|Shadow of Mordor||152 fps|
|Grid Autosport||118 fps|
|Tomb Raider||139 fps|
|Bioshock Infinite||128 fps|
|FarCry 4||100 fps|
Given the fact that the GPU averages around 80 degrees in games with no performance loss, I’d reckon there’s even room for some slight overclocking on top of the default clock speeds offered out of the box, especially when paired with an undervolted CPU and perhaps a repasting of the CPU/GPU, as stock pastes aren’t usually that good. I didn’t get to do it on this test sample though, so can’t share any findings.
Noise, Heat, Connectivity, speakers and others
Asus implemented a new cooling solution on the GL503VS and you can check it out in the pictures below.
It’s not complex or complicated by any means, but its seems to be working fine. It consists of 2x 12v fans with dedicated heat-sinks, as well as three heat-pipes: one for the CPU and VRAM, a dedicated one for the CPU and a dedicated one for the GPU. The improved air circulation also helps to some extent.
All in all though, this implementation is able to keep the laptop cool with everyday use and long gaming sessions.
*Daily Use – 1080p Youtube clip in EDGE for 30 minutes
*Load – playing Far Cry 4 for 30 minutes
As far as the noise goes, both fans are active pretty much all the time, as both the CPU and GPU are active all the time as well. I’ve mostly used the Auto fan profile from the ROG control center and it kept the fans at slow speeds with daily use, to the point where they’re barely audible in a normal room (about 37 dB, 33dB room noise), but you’ll hear them in a quiet environment. You’ll also hear the spinning HDD if you’re running content from it, otherwise it’s shut of. I didn’t notice any electrical noise or coil winning on my sample though, but as you know, that’s a lottery these days, and there’s no guarantee yours won’t get some.
With games the fans spin faster and are noisier than on most other gaming laptops I’ve came in contact with, averaging 54-55 dB at head level. They can get even louder if you switch the fans manually to their maximum speeds, but that never happens while they’re on Auto and I don’t think there’s any reason you’ll want to do it yourself, as temperatures are not a concern on this laptop. Fan noise is though and although the speakers are fairly nice and can cover it to some extent, you’ll probably want to use headphones most of them time when playing games.
The two speakers Asus implemented on the GL503VS are punchy and loud, averaging up to 86 dB at head level. They don’t distort and barely push any vibrations into the frame at high volumes, and thanks to they’re placement on the edges, aren’t easy to cover and muffle when using the laptop on the lap. The sound quality is only average though, yet decent, with good mids and lows noticeable from 85 Hz in the available speaker frequency tests from Youtube.
For connectivity Asus went with an Intel Wireless AC 8265 chip for wireless and Bluetooth, as well as a Realtek chip for Gigabit LAN. I’ve mostly used my sample on wireless, but for some reason the included module did not perform as well as on other implementations of the same chip, especially once stepping further away from the router. Take the findings with a grain of salt, there’s a fair chance our sample came with early immature drivers and further software updates would fix this issue, but there’s also the chance this doesn’t get the best antennae layout, so it’s something to keep in mind and properly check on your unit.
The last aspects to mention here are the webcam and microphones placed on top of the screen. They’re decent for occasional calls and perhaps some occasional streaming, but they’re definitely nothing to brag about.
The GL503VS gets a 62 Wh battery, much like the previous ROG GL502VS. That’s average sized for this class, but given the GSync monitor and thus the lack of Optimus, you shouldn’t expect much from this laptop on a charge. Check out the data below for more info (the screen was set at 30% brightness, roughly 120 nits):
- 20 W (~3 h of use) – text editing in Google Drive, Balanced Mode, screen at 30%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 22.6 W (~2 h 40 min of use) – 1080p fullscreen video on Youtube in Internet Explorer, Balanced Mode, screen at 30%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 20.2 W (~3 h of use) – 1080p fullscreen .mkv video in the Movie app, Balanced Mode, screen at 30%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 25.7 W (~2 h 20 min of use) – 4K fullscreen .mkv video in the Movie app, Balanced Mode, screen at 30%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 31 W (~2 h of use) – browsing in Edge, Balanced Mode, screen at 30%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 40 W (~1 h 30 min of use) – gaming on battery, High Performance Mode, screen at 30%, Wi-Fi ON.
Asus pairs the laptop with a 230 Wh power brick, required to properly power the hardware inside. It’s fairly chunky and weighs around 2 lbs (.9 kg) in the European version, with the included cables. A full charge takes about 2 hours.
Price and availability
The ROG Strix GL503VS Scar Edition is available in most regions of the world as of mid-July 2018.
The most widely spread configuration and the one that makes the most sense to buy gets you the i7-7700HQ processor, 16 GB of RAM (1 stick), the GTX 1070 graphics, a 256 GB SSD and a 1 TB HDD, as well as the 144HZ matte screen, for $1899 in the US and 2099 EUR in Germany.
I’d expect this to get cheaper as time goes by, follow this link for updated configurations and prices at the time you’re reading the article.
There’s little not to like about this Asus ROG GL503VS. It’s built well, it looks nice, it offers almost all the right features and traits and it performs excellenty while plugged into the wall. Its main selling point is the screen though and perhaps the single most important reason you’ll want to go with this unit over the competition, since nobody else offers such a screen right now.
Otherwise though, if you don’t care that much about that 144 Hz GSync screen, the GL503VS’s flaws might make you wonder if it’s the best buy for you. The typing experience is subjective, but is not that great imo, the cooling system is noisy under load, and then there are also the potential issues with the screen’s uniformity and wireless performance to keep an eye on. On top of those, there are quite a few other good 1070 15-inch laptops out there, many of them with larger batteries, TB3 x4 and some actually more affordable than this ROG Strix:
- Dell Alienware 15 – GTX 1070 overclocked chip, FHD 60 Hz IPS GSync screen, 99 WH battery, TB3 x4, 7.5 lbs – starts at around $1700;
- Acer Predator 15 G9-593 – GTX 1070, FHD 60 Hz IPS GSync screen, 89 Wh battery, no TB3, 8.2 lbs – starts under $1500;
- Asus ROG GL502VS – GTX 1070, FHD 60 Hz IPS GSync screen, 62 Wh battery, no TB3, 5.6 lbs – starts under $1600;
- Aorus X5 v7 – i7-7820HK, GTX 1070, 3K IPS GSync or QHD 120 HZ GSync screen, 4x RAM slots, 94 Wh battery, TB3 x4, 5.5 lbs – starts at $2299.
These aren’t the only alternatives, there’s a greater list of good 1070 laptops here, as well as one of 1070 MQ devices over here. Each option has its own fair of quirks though, so make sure to document your decision so you’ll know exactly what you’re buying into.
All in all though, I believe the Asus ROG Strix GL502VS is a nicely balanced gaming laptop in its segment, and it should get more competitive down the line with the discounts that will surely follow. As of November 2017 it should be on your map primarily if you’re interested in a computer for gaming with excellent performance and a high-refresh rate screen, but don’t mind paying the premium for it, while sacrificing a few other aspects.
That’s about it for this review of the ROG Strix GL503VS Scar Edition, but I’m looking forward for your opinions in the comments section below, as well as your feedback and questions, if any.