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MAX-Q Laptop Battle - ASUS Zephyrus vs Gigabyte Aero 15X

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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A few months ago during Computex, NVIDIA officially launched their MAX-Q technology which endeavored to offer desktop-class gaming performance in an Ultrabook-sized portable form factor. Back then, I described the resulting notebook designs as a significant step forward for notebooks and a glimpse of what the future had in store for gamers.

Fast forward to today and MAX-Q designs have firmly entrenched themselves in the product lineups of numerous vendors like ASUS, MSI, Gigabyte, Dell, Acer and Aorus. NVIDIA’s promise of excellent performance, battery life and acoustics has obviously struck a chord and now, about four months after most of these notebooks became widely available, they’re becoming more affordable as well. So with MAX-Q’s maturity through driver updates, Black Friday coming up and the Christmas shopping season almost upon us, what better time to look at some of the most interesting notebooks on the market?

The two notebooks I chose for this review may both have the MAX-Q design language beating at their hearts but its implementation is quite different. The ASUS Zephyrus was first utilized as the poster child for NVIDIA’s budding technology and the sample that made it into our hands is the flagship version which used to retail for over $3000. In the other corner is Gigabyte’s Aero 15X, a newer notebook that has implemented what can be considered a “second generation” MAX-Q design which further optimizes the harmony between size, battery life, acoustics and graphics power.


Let’s start out our deep dive with the ASUS Zephyrus since it has been around for a bit longer and doesn’t quite have Gigabyte’s new car smell. But what the Zephyrus lacks in newness, it more than makes up for in raw processing horsepower. There’s an i7-7700HQ processor paired up with a GTX 1080 MAX-Q GPU and 16GB of 2400MHz memory which all powers a 15.6” IPS panel that comes equipped with a 120Hz refresh rate and G-SYNC. This is a specification list that would make most self-respecting gaming desktops blush with envy.

The back-of-house features aren’t any less impressive –especially that 512GB Samsung NVMe SSD- but ASUS did have to make one glaring sacrifice to attain their waifish ¾” thick chassis: the battery is rated at a pathetic 50Whr which is less than most low power Ultrabooks. That’s going to be a major problem for this thing; what’s the use of a thin and light gaming notebook if it doesn’t have enough battery life to actually stay alive for a gameplay session?

Compare and contrast all of this to the Gigabyte Aero 15X and you can understand why I’m considering it a quasi second generation device. It uses the same i7-7700HQ processor and 16GB of memory as the ASUS but that’s where the similarities end. It substitutes out the GTX 1080 for a more efficient GTX 1070 alongside a standard 60Hz 15.6” IPS screen and a fast as greased lightning Toshiba SSD.

But the advantage for the Aero 15X lies beyond the raw internal hardware specs since I think Gigabyte added some features that make it an infinitely more usable device. Not only does the battery almost double up on the Zephyrus’ capacity but there’s also an SD card reader, a mini DisplayPort and an integrated Ethernet connector. Somehow it weighs less too despite the extra heft of a larger battery. It really feels like Gigabyte was more focused on creating a versatile device instead of a one trick pony that is only targeted at the gaming crowd.


Naturally, pricing will factor heavily into the purchasing decision when it comes to any sort of new device and neither of these notebooks is what I would consider inexpensive. The Aero 15X is part of Gigabyte’s larger Aero family, some of which are equipped with a GTX 1060 and very similar secondary specifications for under $1700. This one however hits the ground running at $2200USD which is a massive premium for a graphics card upgrade. Nonetheless, if you are looking for significantly more gaming juice in a slim chassis then the MAX-Q GPUs are the way to go.

The ASUS Zephyrus was and continues to be one of the most expensive gaming notebooks on the market and with good reason; it has the potential for mind blowing performance. However, for its price of $2700 USD you could effectively build an ultra high end gaming desktop and still have money to burn on an reasonably capable Ultrabook. But then again, there’s a certain allure in owning something like the Zephyrus since its nothing but unique.

So there you have it. These are two notebooks which may be cut from the same basic cloth but their intents are actually quite different. The question here is whether Gigabyte has taken the advantage of time to create something that’s more palatable to a wider range of users.
 

SKYMTL

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A Closer Look at the ASUS Zephyrus

A Closer Look at the ASUS Zephyrus



The goal behind ASUS’ Zephyrus was pretty straightforward from day one: the RoG designers wanted to create a showcase for NVIDIA’s MAX-Q design. When we first encountered this thing back at Computex it was indeed a stunner despite a slightly oddball design. At the time there were actually some folks who thought the Zephyrus and by extension MAX-Q was too good to be true. Their tune changed when the benchmarks started rolling out but if you actually take time to look at what ASUS has, it isn’t hard to imagine how claims of desktop-class performance would be initially doubted.


There’s no denying the Zephyrus is an oddball notebook but that’s mostly due to the fact that ASUS had to make some design and structural sacrifices. Shoehorning a desktop-class GPU into a thin and light gaming laptop isn’t an easy feat and as a result the entire keyboard had to be moved downwards towards the user. That means most of the mission-critical components are closer to the screen along with cooling intakes.

ASUS has also pushed the speakers onto the keyboard’s flanks and while they aren’t the best around (the slim chassis doesn’t allow for an integrated subwoofer) the sound profile is adequate if a bit tinny.


Unfortunately, even with more vertical space to work with the keyboard is a mixed bag. On one hand the baseline feel of this thing is almost perfect. The keys deliver excellent tactile feedback, their actuation points are well defined and the integrated RGB LED’s (which can be controlled from ASUS’ software) give consistently even illumination. But as a holistic typing or gaming experience, it just doesn’t work.

The problem here comes down to the keyboard’s location relative to the rest of the Zephyrus. While ASUS does include a handy wrist rest, the overly forwards positioning felt far too close to me. Finding a comfortable typing position meant pushing the notebook further away or my forearms would be hanging off the desk. Meanwhile, this also made it impossible to place the Zephyrus on my lap since the notebook would be partially hanging off my knees. It also doesn’t help that the keyboard’s stunted height makes the whole affair feel cramped.


While I may not be a fan of the keyboard, the trackpad is something else entirely. It’s well thought out, surprisingly functional and just flat out amazing. The amount of lateral space is a bit restrictive but the honest-to-goodness buttons are so much better than all the form over function integrated button designs that pollute the notebook market these days. Their responsiveness is spot-on and the trackpad’s inherent resistance insures its learning curve is gentle.

Due to its location next to the keyboard (where a mouse would normally be) I was actually able to use it for some casual gaming without completely destroying my Overwatch rank. The overall experience was so much better than the quasi-contortionist motions you have to normally perform when gaming on a notebook sans mouse.


With the touch of a button in the upper left corner, the trackpad turns into a handy numpad. Most folks likely won’t use this but if you have a mouse hooked up to the Zephyrus this makes the setup feel more like a traditional desktop keyboard.


The underside of ASUS’ Zephyrus is pretty interesting too since the entire bottom plate lifts itself slightly off the tabletop at an angle once the lid is opened. Called the Active Aerodynamic System (AAS) it opens up incoming air vents to create 20% more circulation and lower temperatures, allowing ASUS to incorporate a GTX 1080 into such a slim frame. There’s also an included screwdriver to remove that flexible bottom portion and service the fans. Unfortunately, no other components can be upgraded on this notebook since they’re locked tightly aware in areas you can’t access with that screwdriver.

The AAS is an excellent idea on paper but I feel like it could also cause longevity issues in the mid to long term. You see, the bottom portion that “flexes” open is made of plastic and feel quite flimsy. One wrong move and one of the unprotected edges could (in theory at least) break.


Connectivity options on this particular notebook aren’t exactly copious and there are actually a few noteworthy omissions too. On one side there’s a Kensington lock, two USB 3.1 Gen1 ports and a USB 3.1 Gen2 Type-C / Thunderbolt 3 connector. Missing is a native DisplayPort 1.2 connector with G-SYNC and instead expects users to buy a Thunderbolt to DisplayPort adapter.

While the addition of a G-SYNC capable output is certainly welcome news, you’ll need to sacrifice the only Type-C connector on this notebook to use it. That’s a pretty big deal when you consider there are no other connections with blazing fast Gen2 speeds and if your smartphone requires a Type-C plug, you’re SOL.


The other edge has a combo headphone / mic jack, two more USB 3.1 Gen1 connectors and a single HDMI 2.0 output. There’s no SD card reader or LAN port here but the latter being cut is understandable due to the razor-thin profile on display here. ASUS does have a USB 3.1 to RJ45 adapter bundled here though.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Messages
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Montreal
A Closer Look at the Gigabyte Aero 15X

A Closer Look at the Gigabyte Aero 15X



The story behind the Aero 15X is an interesting one. At first this chassis was used for slightly lower end and less costly but no less capable versions of the Intel + NVIDIA partnership. That typically meant an i7 or i5-series processor and a GTX 1060, GTX 1050 Ti or GTX 1050 graphics card.

But as time moved on Gigabyte realized that despite the Aero 15’s slimming profile and relatively small footprint, there was more than sufficient interior space and cooling capacity for a MAX-Q design. Hence, the Aero 15X was born as a product that showcases what a second generation MAX-Q notebook should look like.


One of the primary selling factors for the Aero 15X is the fact that it looks like a normal notebook unlike the Zephyrus which screams “gamer” from every angle. It’s also a lot more space-efficient than ASUS’ offering since Gigabyte has managed to offer a 15.6” matte screen in a smaller footprint by adding an ultra thin bezel and maximizing the keyboards horizontal space across the entire chassis.

The end result of those design tweaks is a visually stunning thin and light notebook that can pull double duty as a gaming station or mobile creative powerhouse without batting an eyelash. I used this thing for two weeks and the only design complaint I had was the exterior finish picks up grease like a magnet. Make sure you have a microfiber cloth on hand at all times.


When it comes to Gigabyte’s physical input options, the Aero 15X and I have a love / hate relationship with one another. The keyboard is extremely well implemented and its keys have everything I could possibly want. Somehow the engineers were able to maintain a pretty decent throw distance and tactile feedback despite it hovering over some pretty hot-running interior components. My gold standard for notebook keyboards is my Sony Vaio 13Z and this one comes pretty close to matching it.

But the trackpad…..oh my God the trackpad. When on its best behavior it’s about as accurate as a drunk chimpanzee throwing darts. At the worst of times it randomly picks up phantom gestures, has no palm detection whatsoever and proved to me once again why I detest integrated left / right buttons so much. Now supposedly this trackpad is highly modifiable with different firmwares but straight out of the box, it is nothing but a ball of never ending frustration. It is so bad that I went from looking to buy an Aero 15X to never wanting to see one again.


While the keyboard may be one of the best I’ve encountered in the last few years, its backlighting leaves much to be desired. There’s a lack of lighting cohesion with some keys glowing much brighter than others and the outwards glow is only visible at certain angles.


Like the ASUS Zephyrus, the Aero 15X’s chassis is locked down tighter than Fort Knox so upgrading anything within is virtually impossible. You can actually see in the image above that even after judiciously rubbing with a cloth, some fingerprints just refuse to go away on the finish Gigabyte chose.


Gigabyte’s connector offering is leaps and bounds better than what ASUS equipped their Zephyrus with. On one edge there’s a LAN jack, USB 3.1 Gen1 HDMI 2.0, a mini DisplayPort 1.2 connector with native G-SYNC support and a combo headphone / mic ouput.


The other side features a few welcome surprises as well. There’s a Kensington lock, a pair of USB 3.1 Gen1 connectors, a USB 3.1 Gen2 Type-C / Thunderbolt 3 port and (huzzah!) a mini SD card reader. As I alluded to in the introduction, this layout makes the Aero 15X much more user friendly and adaptable than the Zephyrus.
 

SKYMTL

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Discussing Panel Quality & Sound

Discussing Panel Quality & Sound


Both of these notebooks are equipped with 1080P 15.6” IPS screens but from a gaming standpoint, the ASUS Zephyrus does have a distinctive advantage with is 120Hz G-SYNC equipped display. More importantly, that notebook won’t have any problem maintaining framerates that take full advantage of the 100Hz refresh rate.

Gigabyte on the other hand seems to have geared their display to appeal to prosumers and gamers alike. It comes calibrated straight out of the box with Pantone certification and a number of presets revolving around that visually optimal color space. Where it lacks in refresh rate, it more than makes up for in stunningly rich colors.

ASUS Zephyrus

Gigabyte Aero 15X

When looking at both these displays face-on, there really isn’t much to distinguish one from another. Aero 15X does have slightly richer color hues and a more robust color space but when properly calibrated the Zephyrus can display very similar outputs.

Neither notebook exhibited any outwards uniformity issues either but that could be more of a byproduct from dim displays rather than perceived panel quality. Yes, you heard that right; I found both Gigabyte and ASUS notebooks couldn’t reach adequate brightness output in well-let spaces. While the matte coatings were a welcome addition, it was almost impossible to use either of them outside. This also caused an issue with photo and video editing since bright whites and highlights often had a grayish cast due to low backlight intensity.

ASUS Zephyrus

Gigabyte Aero 15X

Off angle viewing ended up being as expected with two IPS panels vying for superiority. There was very little in the way of contrast loss, color shift or banding evident on either display, though Gigabyte’s enhanced color depth did tend to give it a slight edge. Nonetheless, I’d still choose the Zephyrus’ display for gaming since its higher refresh rate and integrated G-SYNC support provided substantially smoother onscreen movement.


Sound Quality



For the most part I think the quality (or lack thereof) on these notebooks is immaterial since most gamers and professionals will gravitate towards headphones over speakers. Nonetheless, I did find the Zephyrus offered better soundstage reproduction since its speakers basically flank the viewer while the Aero 15X had a slightly more robust and well rounded output from its dual 2W speakers.

In terms of headphone compatibility, neither had the power necessary to drive my AKG K712’s adequately without a secondary amplifier installed. This is a bit disappointing since many other high end gaming notebooks at $1750+ price points now integrate reasonably high quality headphone DACs / amplifiers into their audio outputs. On the other hand, gaming headsets like HyperX’s Stinger series won’t have any issue here.
 

SKYMTL

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System Benchmarks; Synthetic Testing

CineBench R15 64-bit


The latest benchmark from MAXON, Cinebench R15 makes use of all your system's processing power to render a photorealistic 3D scene using various different algorithms to stress all available processor cores. The test scene contains approximately 2,000 objects containing more than 300,000 total polygons and uses sharp and blurred reflections, area lights and shadows, procedural shaders, antialiasing, and much more. This particular benchmarking can measure systems with up to 64 processor threads. The result is given in points (pts). The higher the number, the faster your processor.



PCMark 10


PCMark 10 is the latest iteration of Futuremark’s system benchmark franchise. It generates an overall score based upon system performance with all components being stressed in one way or another. The result is posted as a generalized score.



WPrime


wPrime is a leading multithreaded benchmark for x86 processors that tests your processor performance by calculating square roots with a recursive call of Newton's method for estimating functions, with f(x)=x2-k, where k is the number we're squaring, until Sgn(f(x)/f'(x)) does not equal that of the previous iteration, starting with an estimation of k/2. It then uses an iterative calling of the estimation method a set amount of times to increase the accuracy of the results. It then confirms that n(k)2=k to ensure the calculation was correct. It repeats this for all numbers from 1 to the requested maximum. This is a highly multi-threaded workload but we have also included single thread results. Below are the scores for the 1024M benchmark for multi thread and 32M for single thread.




All of these benchmarks show the notebooks running neck and neck with only a few variations here and there. In some cases certain slight changes in hardware or the reaction of the CPU / memory / GPU can contribute to the variations you see above. Nonetheless, they aren’t significant in the least.
 

SKYMTL

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System Benchmarks; Memory & Storage

AIDA64 Memory Read / Write

Memory bandwidth benchmarks (Memory Read, Memory Write) measure the maximum achiveable memory data transfer bandwidth. The code behind these benchmark methods are written in Assembly and they are extremely optimized for every processor variant by utilizing the appropriate x86/x64, x87, MMX, MMX+, 3DNow!, SSE, SSE2, SSE4.1, AVX, and AVX2 instruction set extension.


The last few synthetic benchmarks showed us that both notebooks are very tightly matched and that carries over into the memory tests. Despite using the exact same memory specifications, Gigabyte is ever so slightly ahead since the Aero 15X uses a bit tighter timings on its two 8GB DIMMs.


Crystal Diskmark

Crystal Diskmark is a simple storage subsystem benchmark which measures sequential bandwidth across a large number of file sizes. For the purposes of this test, we are using a 1GB file size and measuring both read and write performance.


This is where the rubber really meets the road for Gigabyte. Their Toshiba NVMe SSD simply beats the pants off the Samsung offering within the Zephyrus. It isn’t even close. As a matter of fact, this happens to be one of the fastest storage subsystems I’ve ever seen in a notebook.
 

SKYMTL

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Productivity Benchmarks: 7-Zip / Corona

7-Zip


At face value, 7-Zip is a simple compression/decompresion tool like popular applications like WinZip and WinRAR but it also has numerous additional functions that can allow encryption, decryption and other options. For this test, we use the standard built-in benchmark which focuses on raw multi-threaded throughput.




Blender


Blender is a free-to-use 3D content creation program that also features an extremely robust rendering back-end. It boasts extremely good multi core scaling and even incorporates a good amount of GPU acceleration for various higher level tasks. In this benchmark we take a custom 1440P 3D image and render it out using the built-in tool. The results you see below list how long it took each processor to complete the test.




3ds MAX Corona Renderer


Autodesk’s 3ds MAX is currently one of the most-used 3D modeling, animation and rendering programs on the market, providing a creative platform for architects to industrial designers alike. Unfortunately its rendering algorithms leave much to be desired and third party rendering add-ons are quite popular. One of the newest ones is called Corona.

In this test we take a custom 3D scene of a room with global illumination enabled and render it out in 720P using Corona’s built-in renderer.




There really isn’t all that much to talk about here since neither of these tests show us anything different that we’ve already seen. Both i7-7700HQ notebooks boast literally the same performance.
 

SKYMTL

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Productivity Benchmarks: GIMP / Handbrake / WinRAR

GIMP


While it may be open source, GIMP is actually one of the most popular free photo editors available right now. It uses both SYSTEM and GPU acceleration for certain tasks. In this test we use an 8K image and use a script to run eight different filters in succession. This is considered a lightly threaded workload since the memory, SYSTEM and storage drive can all play a role in performance.


Here the Zephyrus shows a very small lead in both tests which is likely due to the fact that Gigabyte’s notebook has a ton of bloatware installed whereas ASUS’ device has a relatively (but not completely) clean Windows install.


Handbrake


Video conversion from one format to another is a stressful task for any processor and speed is paramount. Handbrake is one of the more popular transcoders on the market since it is free, has a long feature list, supports GPU acceleration and has an easy-to-understand interface. In this test we take a 6GB 4K MP4 and convert it to a 1080P MKV file with a H.264 container format. GPU acceleration has been both disabled and enabled. The results posted indicate how long it took for the conversion to complete.



WinRAR


WinRAR is one of those free tools that everyone seems to use. Its compression and decompression algorithms are fully multi-core aware which allows for a significant speedup when processing files. In this test we compress a 3GB folder of various files and add a 256-bit encryption key. Once again the number listed is the time to completion.



Here are two tests which involve some storage subsystem intervention and as expected the Aero 15X and its insanely fast Toshiba SSD leap to the forefront. WinRAR is specifically impacted in this case.
 

SKYMTL

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Synthetic Gaming Performance

3DMark


Synthetic testing is never an accurate way to depict potential in-game results but Futuremark’s 3DMark has the capability to run some straightforward tests and spit out a reasonably good representation of where a given system will land once we get into the actual games. In this test we run the Fire Strike and Fire Strike Extreme benchmarks, the latter of which puts additional stress on the CPU while the former typically causes a GPU-centric bottleneck.





Superposition Benchmark


Unigine’s Superposition benchmark is a follow-up to their popular Heaven and Valley series but this time VR environments and interactive objects are factored into the equation. Basically this test should determine how well a given platform will perform in VR environments.



This was pretty much a foregone conclusion: the GTX 1080 wins by about as much as it normally would on the desktop. I do want to point out though that the Aero 15X’s benchmarks certainly aren’t anything to sneeze at either!
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,857
Location
Montreal
1080P Gaming Benchmarks

1080P Gaming Benchmarks


In order to properly test how notebooks perform in gaming scenarios and to even the playing field given the fact that there are multiple screen resolution options available, we have standardized our methodology. In all scenarios we have decided to output the video signal to an external monitor instead of utilizing the notebooks’ integrated display so an idea can be given of how the systems can perform across a wide variety of situations. To prepare for an influx of DX12 titles we have also moved away from FRAPS and we are now using the handy PresentMon tool that’s available for free from GitHub. At the time of writing, this is the only tool available that can consistently log DX12 frametimes.

All results shown below are based upon the averages of three consecutive benchmark runs. Under no circumstance to we use any rolling demos or in game benchmarking tools. Rather, actual gameplay run-throughs are used for every game.


Doom (Vulkan)


Not many people saw a new Doom as a possible Game of the Year contender but that’s exactly what it has become. Not only is it one of the most intense games currently around but it looks great and is highly optimized. In this run-through we use Mission 6: Into the Fire since it features relatively predictable enemy spawn points and a combination of open air and interior gameplay.



Fallout 4


The latest iteration of the Fallout franchise is a great looking game with all of its detailed turned to their highest levels but it also requires a huge amount of graphics horsepower to properly run. For this benchmark we complete a run-through from within a town, shoot up a vehicle to test performance when in combat and finally end atop a hill overlooking the town. Note that VSync has been forced off within the game's .ini file and the Ultra High Resolution Texture Pack is being used.



Middle Earth: Shadow of War


While it may not be the best looking game on the planet, Shadow of War is a fun to play, open ended game that still has amazing visual fidelity. In this run-through we used a simple battle sequence where the player attacks a stronghold with a band of orcs. The total time played is about 30 seconds.



The first round of gaming benchmarks show that both systems are able to throw out some impressive framerates despite being thin and light notebooks. We are talking about more substantially more than 60FPS in every title even at their highest detail settings.
 

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