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Aorus' X3 Plus v5 gaming laptop reviewed

Pint-sized and potent

A close friend who shares my passions for hardware, writing, and whiskey recently wrote about the value of a Scotch called Lagavulin. At $90, Lagavulin’s regular bottle is one of the more expensive Scotches on the shelf. By just about any measure, Lagavulin is a luxury Scotch, not a value pick. I could bring home a smoky Scotch, a rich bourbon, and a peated Islay malt for less than I would pay to get one bottle of Lagavulin.

My friend makes a point that I can’t ignore, though. There’s something special about the way Lagavulin combines those smoky, rich, and peaty flavors into one sip. While I can look elsewhere and find all those elements separately, I can’t quite replicate the experience that the luxury Scotch provides any other way.

Over the last couple weeks, I’ve had the pleasure of working with a notebook that's undisputably a luxury item. Aorus, Gigabyte’s gaming brand, sent us a tricked-out version of its X3 Plus v5 laptop. Powered by an Intel Core i7-6700HQ and Nvidia's GeForce GTX 970M, this slim 14" notebook houses some impressive hardware. At $2200 for the configuration we tested, it also carries a hefty price tag. While the X3 Plus has more graphics muscle than a similarly-priced MacBook Pro, it faces some serious competition in gaming machines from Razer and MSI.

The Intel Core i7-6700HQ is a Skylake part with a 45W TDP. It has a 2.6GHz base clock and a 3.5GHz Turbo speed. The processor is paired with 16GB of DDR4-2133 RAM. For graphics power, Aorus turns to Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 970M, which has its own 6GB of GDDR5 RAM. Aorus includes Nvidia's Optimus tech in the X3 Plus v5, which allows the machine to seamlessly switch between the GeForce chip and the Intel integrated graphics processor to save power.

TR readers will be familiar with the GM204 GPU that powers the GTX 970M from its past appearances in the GeForce GTX 970 and GeForce GTX 980. This chip is cut down a fair bit compared to those desktop monsters, though. Its 1280 shader processors, 48 ROPs, 924MHz base clock, and 192-bit path to memory put this chip closer to the desktop GTX 960 in a rough comparison of resources—not that there's anything wrong with that, mind. GPU-Z can't reveal the boost clock on this mobile part, but observation tells us that the GTX 970M in the X3 Plus v5 can run in a boost range around 1040MHz.

To complement the other high-end components, Aorus included a 512GB Samsung SM951 SSD. This speedy NVMe drive should turn some heads when we run it through some benchmarks. The Aorus X3 also comes with a 3200x1800 IPS display. It's an IGZO-TFT panel that could be brighter and more power-efficient than the average LCD.

Gaming laptops and peripherals have a reputation for bizarre shapes and garish lighting. The Aorus X3 suffers from neither of those afflictions. It has straight, clean lines and cool white keyboard backlighting.  One might not even take it for a gaming laptop at first glance, save for the large vents on the back. The sturdy, all-aluminum chassis doesn't exhibit any flex, especially in the critical keyboard and palm rest regions. Another hint of luxury is the Aorus logo on the back of the display. The mirrored glass logo faintly glows when the machine is turned on. 

The thick rear edge of the X3 Plus houses the fans and heatsinks for the X3's cooling system, as well as the display hinge. The hinge offers an appropriate amount of stiffness when opening the display, and it holds firm when the display is closed, too. That's important because the X3 Plus uses no latch to hold the display shut. If this laptop came with a touchscreen, we'd prefer to have seen a stiffer hinge yet, as the screen wobbles a bit when it's tapped. However, I only tapped the screen out of habit. This laptop doesn’t have a touchscreen. 

The bottom of the laptop has six angular feet and six ventilated openings. The entire bottom panel is secured with ten Torx screws, and it feels plenty rigid. The ventilation on the bottom and back of the laptop should produce a reasonable amount of airflow as long as the vents aren’t covered. However, it would be pretty easy to block much of the laptop’s air intake simply by setting the laptop on top of a lap or other soft surface.

We didn't have the necessary screwdrivers on hand to take apart the X3 Plus v5, but the folks over at Notebookcheck took apart their X3 Plus and found two SO-DIMM slots, two M.2 2280 slots, and one M.2 2230 slot for the wireless card. With no 2.5" bays in sight, owners that want to expand the X3 Plus v5's storage will have to rely on potentially expensive gumstick SSDs.

Here are the X3 Plus v5's essential specs, for easy comparison with other notebooks on the market:

  Aorus X3 Plus v5
Processor Intel Core i7-6700HQ
Memory 8GB or 16GB DDR4-2133
Chipset Intel HM170 Express
Graphics Intel HD Graphics 530
Nvidia GeForce GTX 970M with 6GB GDDR5 RAM
Display 13.9" IPS panel with 3200x1800 resolution
Storage Samsung SM951 NVMe SSD, 256 or 512GB
Expansion options: 1 M.2 2280 slot
Audio 2W speakers
Expansion and display outputs 1 USB 3.1 Type-C
3 USB 3.0
HDMI 2.0
Mini DisplayPort
Card reader 1 SD card reader
Communications Killer E2200 Gigabit Ethernet adapter
Intel Wi-Fi
Bluetooth 4.1+LE
Input Devices Backlit keyboard
Internal microphone
Camera HD webcam
Dimensions 12.9" x 10.4" x 0.9"  (330 x 263.5 x 22.9 mm)
Weight 3.96 lbs (1.8 kg)
Battery 73.26Wh Li-polymer
OS Windows 10 Home

Now that we've taken stock of the X3 Plus v5, let's turn it on and see what it can do.