My five-year-old son has an aggravating way of responding to decisions. If I present him with two options, he will invariably try to get both. If I try to offer him spaghetti or pizza for dinner, for example, he’ll say “spaghetti and pizza!” He’s either a horribly indecisive child or a budding logical prodigy, but I’m not sure which.
To be fair to him, though, many of us dislike making choices, especially when we have the nagging feeling that we’re being presented with a false dilemma. When purchasing laptops, consumers are often asked to choose between devices that can play games capably and devices that are truly portable. But why? With all of the recent emphasis on power efficiency from Intel and Nvidia, why can’t we have laptops that are both powerful and portable?
With the Aero 15 gaming notebook, Gigabyte appears to be letting gamers have their cake and eat it, too. Within a slim and light package, the Aero 15 packs some serious gaming hardware. Add to that the promise of all-day battery life, and Gigabyte’s latest notebook starts to look like a “best of both worlds” device that’s equally effective as a portable productivity machine and a plugged-in gaming rig.
The Aero 15’s spec sheet starts with a familiar processor in the gaming notebook market: Intel’s Core i7-7700HQ. This 45W chip isn’t quite at the top of Intel’s mobile lineup, but it’s darn close. With four cores, eight threads, and a max turbo frequency of 3.8 GHz, it’s plenty capable for most users, and a proven gaming workhorse. Gigabyte pairs up the Core i7-7700HQ with 8 GB or 16 GB of DDR4 RAM running at 2400 MT/s. The testing model that Gigabyte sent to our laboratory was filled up with 32 GB of RAM, though.
Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1060 6GB provides the graphics horsepower in the Aero 15. It occupies the upper-mid-range of Nvidia’s mobile graphics card lineup, falling behind the beefy GTX 1080 and 1070 but offering twice the CUDA cores of the GTX 1050. With 1280 stream processors, 80 texturing units, 48 ROPs, and a 192-bit path to GDDR5 memory running at 8 GT/s, this GPU is a lot like the desktop GTX 1060. The only major difference between the mobile GP106 chip and its desktop counterpart is the 80W thermal spec of the laptop chip, down from 120W on the desktop. Our previous experience with the mobile GTX 1060 indicates that it’s a good fit with 1920×1080 displays, so we’re not surprised that the Aero 15 base model is equipped with a 15.6″ screen with that resolution.
There’s a lot to like about the exterior of the Aero 15. Incredibly, the aluminum chassis is just 0.78″ thick (19.9 mm), and the notebook weighs in at 4.62 lbs (2.1 kg), making it an easy travel companion. The display is nicely highlighted by slim 5-mm bezels, and is supported by a sturdy hinge. As is usually the case from Gigabyte, the Aero 15’s styling isn’t overdone. Gigabyte’s name appears on the back of the display panel in glassy, mirror-finish letters that glow softly when the laptop’s powered up, and there’s an accent near the display hinge in the company’s trademark orange color. Otherwise, the the notebook has a subdued, reserved appearance. Folks who fancy a bit of color can grab green or orange versions of the Aero 15 instead. The keyboard’s per-key RGB LED backlighting gives owners a fun tool for customizing the notebook’s appearance, as well.
Check out the rest of the Aero 15’s specs below. Notice the generous selection of ports, including Thunderbolt 3.
|Processor||Intel Core i7-7700HQ|
|Memory||8 GB or 16 GB DDR4-2400|
|Graphics||Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 with 6 GB GDDR5 RAM|
|Display||15.6″ IPS panel with 1920×1080 / 3840×2160 max resolution|
|Storage||Samsung SM951 M.2 PCIe NVMe SSD, 256 GB or 512 GB
1x open M.2 2280 slot
|Audio||2x 1.5W speakers|
|Expansion and display outputs||1 USB 3.1 Type-C (Thunderbolt 3)
3 USB 3.0
|Card reader||1 SD card reader|
|Communications||Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 8265 (802.11ac)
|Input Devices||RGB LED backlit keyboard
|Dimensions||14.0″ x 9.8″ x 0.78″ (356.4 x 250.0 x 19.9 mm)|
|Weight||4.62 lbs (2.1 kg)|
6.6″ x 2.4″ x 0.81″ (167.6 x 61.0 x 20.6 mm)
Gigabyte offers the Aero 15 in a couple of different configs through Newegg. The closest variant to the version we tested goes for $1899 in black, green, or orange. For the price, buyers get a 512 GB SSD and 16GB of memory. A Newegg-exclusive upgraded version comes only in black, and it offers a 1 TB SSD and Windows 10 Pro for $2299. Those prices put the Aero 15 in the upper echelon of similarly-equipped gaming notebooks, so we expect great things from it. Let’s dive in.
A look inside
Many of our readers just can’t resist taking things apart, and neither can we. A star-bit screwdriver was all we needed to pop off the bottom panel of the Aero 15. The panel is fitted very snugly, so it requires just a little bit of encouragement to come loose. We’ll send some kudos to Gigabyte’s engineering team for the tight tolerances, though.
One thing that stands out at first glance is the absence of a 2.5″ drive bay. Some users might balk at that omission, even though there’s a second M.2 slot available. The price per gigabyte for M.2 storage is still fairly high. However, what users get in return is a much larger battery. We reckon that a lot of folks would happily trade in the 2.5″ drive bay in their current notebook for a bigger battery, and think that Gigabyte made a good move here.
This Samsung SM951 M.2 SSD is one that our readers are likely already acquainted with. Our review of this drive found it capable of spectacular performance, but a little limited by thermal throttling. Considering that this is the only drive the system ships with, users should think hard about upgrading to the 512GB model pictured here. A gaming library fills up 256GB very quickly these days.
The laptop is cooled by Gigabyte’s familiar dual-fan cooling solution. Two beefy heat pipes run across the graphics chip and the CPU. The rear exhaust vent runs almost the entire width of the notebook, but it’s tucked into the gap between the display hinge and the base of the laptop.
I haven’t always heaped accolades on Gigabyte’s laptop keyboards, but I’ve been quite pleased with the typing experience on the Aero 15. The switches aren’t mechanical, but the keys are lively and respond with pleasant tactile feedback. The notebook isn’t as wide as some of the company’s other 15.6″ laptops, necessitating a few changes in the layout. Notably absent is the column of macro keys that Gigabyte commonly tucks along the left side of the keyboard. I didn’t shed any tears over their absence, as I don’t tend to do much with macro keys, but some might be disappointed there. More annoying to me was the combination the delete and insert functions into one key. That being said, the rest of the layout is intuitive, and the keys are well-spaced.
The clickpad is functional and unassuming, registering movements easily and across its entire surface. I found it a little disorienting that the clickpad doesn’t register movements gestures along its edge unless the movement was initiated in the upper region. However, I quickly got used to the clickpad’s quirks.
More troubling is the webcam placement. The display’s 5-mm bezels are delightfully slim, but they don’t leave room for the webcam at the display’s upper edge. Instead, Gigabyte placed the webcam on the display hinge. That’s just not a flattering angle for anybody, especially for middle-aged men still learning to make nose-hair trimming part of their daily grooming schedule.
Gigabyte’s latest notebooks feature a display calibration and certification program by X-Rite Pantone. The certification program should ensure that purchasers can expect consistency from these displays. What reviewers see in the test models should line up with what users get when they first power up the device. In the provided Smart Manager tool, users can toggle the calibration profile from X-Rite Pantone on and off, or access a variety of other other display settings as they prefer.
So what kind of display quality should users expect? For our own display testing, we used an X-Rite i1 Display 2 colorimeter and the free-and-open source DisplayCal.
According to DisplayCal, the Aero 15’s screen covers 90.2% of the sRGB color space. That’s a little disappointing, but probably not a deal-breaker for gamers. Hardcore content professionals might need to look for a machine that claims full coverage of the sRGB gamut.
Primarily, the screen is off in its production of greens. The display’s average delta-E is just 0.08, though, indicating that it produces other colors very accurately. These results suggest that the factory calibration is effective within the range of colors the Aero 15’s display can reproduce.
The display also has respectable peak brightness and luminance uniformity levels. At center, the display’s peak brightness is 319.47 cd/m², which is bright enough to make the Aero 15’s screen readable in a wide variety of environments. The display’s luminance varies along the edges by at most 2.29%, and on average by 0.6%.
Our testing methods
To gauge the performance of Gigabyte’s Aero 15, we ran it through a variety of synthetic benchmarks and assessed its performance in number of games. Regular readers might recognize some of these results, as we used them as a point of reference for our review of Gigabyte’s own Aorus X5 v7 notebook. While we revisited our discussion of the data to emphasize the performance of the Aero 15, folks familiar with our previous article shouldn’t feel bad about jumping ahead to our analysis of the Aero 15’s thermal performance.
Still here? Then you should know that our comparison of the Aero 15 and the Aorus X5 isn’t exactly a fair one. The Aorus X5 boasts a more powerful processor and graphics card than the Aero 15, and it’s in a bigger chassis with generously-sized vents. Readers shouldn’t be surprised when it takes home first place in most benchmarks.
Even though the Aero 15 is destined for second place in this particular road rally, we’re interested in how close it can get to the Aorus X5. The MSRP for the Aero 15 is $500 less than that of the Aorus X5, so we’ll forgive it for earning participation trophies rather than blue ribbons, provided that it can put together respectable performance numbers in its own right.
The first set of tests are part of the AIDA64 Engineer benchmarking suite. Primarily, these tests will provide a quick snapshot of what kind of performance each CPU can muster. With the two Kaby Lake processors in today’s comparison, Photoworxx uses AVX2 instructions, CPU Hash uses AVX, and FPU Julia and Mandel use AX2 with FMA.
Intel’s Core i7-7820HK maintains a slim but consistent margin of victory over the Core i7-7700HQ. The i7-7700HQ comes closest to its sibling in the CPU PhotoWorxx test, where it posted a score just 4.3% behind the CPU powering the Aorus X5.
First up in our round of gaming benchmarks is this year’s reboot of Prey, a sci-fi horror shooter built on CryEngine V. The 2006 original has mostly stuck in my mind for its portals, but the new version dropped most of the puzzle mechanics. It focuses instead on establishing an unsettling environment, unpredictable enemies, and a mind-bending narrative.
As we did with our tests of the Aorus X5, we tested this game’s performance in the Arboretum, a zone filled with foliage and long-distance views. I’d previously cleared the benchmarking area of enemies to ensure consistency between runs. We used the game’s Very High preset for testing.
Even if its average frame rates aren’t quite as fluid as its bigger brother’s, the Aero 15 delivers an excellent 99th percentile frame time that’s just a whisker behind what the Aorus X5 produced at the same resolution. There’s an odd spike about halfway through the benchmark represented in the first graph, but that seems to be an anomaly, as it didn’t reappear in the other runs. Both notebooks keep 99th-percentile frame times under the magic 16.7-ms threshold.
The “time spent beyond X” graphs quantify the “badness” during a benchmark, those moments when the fluidity of the animation is interrupted. If there are any frames beyond the 50-ms threshold, that indicates a severe hitch that brought down the average frame rate to a 20 FPS average or lower. 33 ms correlates to 30 FPS or a 30Hz refresh rate. Ideally, every frame should meet or surpass the 16.7-ms threshold, as that correlates to a 60 FPS average. The 8.3-ms threshold corresponds to 120 FPS, a very high standard for the machines to meet.
The Aero 15 worked hard for its second-place finish in this title. It posted a few more frames past the 16.7-ms threshold than the Aorus X5 did, but only a few: neither notebook spends more than a tenth of a second or so on tough frames here. So far, the Aero 15 is looking like the kind of scrappy underdog folks love to root for.
Next up is 2016’s Doom, a fast-paced and brutal FPS title that hits all of my nostalgia buttons. Thanks to its tightly-optimized engine, it runs quite well on a wide variety of systems, and I hear that it’s even fun to play, as well.
As much as I enjoy this game, it’s a bit of a pain when it comes to benchmarking. Finding a relatively calm 60 seconds of gameplay is next to impossible, although the game’s Arcade mode certainly takes some of the fuss out of benchmarking multiple systems. These runs use the opening UAC level that features the iconic reveal of a dusty Martian landscape. The end of the benchmarking run has me running in circles in a set pattern away from spawning demons. I tested the game at its Ultra preset.
The Aero 15 doesn’t crank out the highest FPS in this comparison, but it does yield the best 99th-percentile frame time. That 13.1-ms result is quite excellent. The Aorus X5’s performance appears to be affected by some CPU bottlenecking in Doom. Even though the GTX 1070 is cranking out a lot of frames, the spiky frame-time graph and relatively high 99th-percentile frame time suggest that the CPU is having to work overtime to keep up.
Two games into our benchmarking suite, and we still haven’t seen a frame past the 33.3-ms mark. In Doom, the Aero 15 delivers exactly the kind of gaming experience we’re looking for.
Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor
Over the years, many games have tried to present J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy world in a compelling way. One of the most successful attempts was 2014’s Shadow of Mordor, which gave players satisfying combat and an open world to explore.
We tested this title at its Ultra preset, and opted to grab some our benchmarking results from actual gameplay rather than from the in-game benchmarking tool.
The Aero 15 struggles more on this title than on the last two. Its average FPS figure looks reasonable enough, but its 99th percentile frame time is less than ideal. That impression is confirmed by the spikiness throughout our frame-time graph.
Despite having to sweat a bit, the Aero 15 didn’t register a frame past the 33.3-ms threshold. It did post about three seconds’ worth of frames below the 16.7-ms mark, though. For a smooth visual experience, it looks like gamers might prefer to drop the settings down a notch for this game.
Grand Theft Auto V
It’s been four years since this popular open-world title first debuted, and it’s still a blast to play. One of the clearest testaments to the game’s impact and enduring appeal is the fact that it still retails on Steam for $60.
We grabbed our benchmarking runs from an early mission in the game that tasks players with repossessing a car and following the character’s buddy Lamar. There are many scripted events and vehicles throughout the mission, making for fairly consistent benchmarking. In-game settings are generally maxed out, with a few exceptions. Apologies in advance for the wall of screenshots.
Oddly enough, it took a game from 2013 to really push these test configurations. We tend to run gaming benchmarks for CPUs at 1920×1080 in order to put the stress on the processor rather than on the graphics card, but that didn’t happen here. At these settings, the GTX 1060 in the Aero 15 had more than enough to do.
Aside from one small blip at the 33.3-ms mark, the Aero 15’s hardest time comes at the 16.7-ms mark. Whereas the X5 spends under half a second on tough frames that would drop the instantaneous frame rate below 60 FPS, the Aero 15 spends over four seconds of our test run on such frames. Unsurprisingly, the more-powerful GTX 1070 delivers a better experience than the GTX 1060 6GB here.
The Witcher 3
Andrzej Sapkowski’s fantasy world has not only spawned a critically acclaimed trio of role-playing games and a pile of novels, it’s also being adapted into a forthcoming drama on Netflix. Now that I’ve got you all excited, I should mention that the show isn’t coming out any time soon. In the meantime, you’ll just have to console yourself with The Witcher 3 and its excellent Blood and Wine expansion.
We benchmarked the game in the gorgeous Skellige Isles, taking Geralt on a stroll down a cliffside path. The game was set at its Ultra preset, but with HairWorks disabled.
I took the liberty of re-running our benchmarks for this title after the publication of our Aorus X5 v7 review. In the weeks that I’ve been working with the Aero 15 since publishing our initial benchmarks for the device, I’ve been increasingly convinced that those results didn’t represent the whole picture for each notebook’s performance. A bit more time just playing around in The Witcher 3 suggested to me that the Aero 15’s performance is more inconsistent than those early numbers suggested.
While the average FPS results stayed largely the same in the fresh round of benchmarks, indicating the notebook’s ability to produce a large number of frames, there are some ugly spikes in the first half of the benchmark run that push its 99th percentile frame time up to 24.7 ms, a much less commendable result than what we saw the first time around.
Our “time spent beyond” graphs help quantify the game’s inconsistent performance on the Aero 15. With about two and half seconds spent beyond the 16.7 ms and a few frames crossing the 33.3 ms threshold, it’s clear that the Aero 15 has some struggles with this title. The Aorus X5 with its GTX 1070 provides a demonstrably smoother experience.
Thermal and acoustic performance
Before diving into the Aero 15’s thermal performance numbers, let’s take a quick peek at its cooling solution. About a third of the device’s bottom panel is given over to venting.
As we saw in our hardware teardown, a pair of fans pull cool air through these vents and expel it through the rear of the device. The exhaust vent is long, narrow, and located between the body of the Aero 15 and its display hinge. Some of the hot air that it exhausts goes underneath the display and behind the laptop, but much of it ends up blowing straight up the front of the display hinge and the screen. That jet blast might heat up the user’s hands and face over time, but the thin chassis of the Aero 15 doesn’t leave a lot of room for improvement in this regard.
Our tests of the Aero 15’s cooling solution begin with a GPU stress test. The tried-but-true Unigine Heaven benchmark provides a convenient way to push a system’s GPU usage up to 100%, so we let the utility run us in a few circles around everyone’s favorite dragon statue while monitoring the system with AIDA64 Engineer’s logging utility.
Despite being pushed to its limits, the GTX 1060 inside the Aero 15 hardly broke a sweat. Temperatures never exceeded 80° C throughout the test. The system didn’t even have to rely on thermal throttling to make that happen. Aside from a few odd moments early on, the GPU’s core clock remained comfortably above the GTX 1060’s 1404 MHz base clock. Although the clock-speed variance in the chart above might look concerning, clock speeds in modern GPUs are highly dynamic and load-dependent. On average, the Aero 15 doesn’t seem to have any trouble letting the GTX 1060 inside run at its full potential.
When it came time to make the CPU sing for its supper, the Blender Cycles renderer was ready and waiting. We loaded up the “bmw27” demo file and let it render, monitoring the Aero 15’s vitals as before.
Once again, the Aero 15’s cooling solution is up to the task. Temperatures hovered just about 80° C once the notebook warmed up. The CPU’s core clock was very stable throughout, averaging about 3.4 GHz and only varying by about 60 MHz in either direction. If that’s not the picture of stability, I don’t know what is.
The system remained remarkably quiet throughout these tests, as well. Fan speeds reached as high as 4400 RPM during the CPU stress test, at which point the fans produced about 35 dBA of noise by my rough measures. That’s more than audible, but unlikely to bother most users, especially since the noise produced by the fans has a rounded character thankfully free of any whine or whistle. That bodes well for the Aero 15’s suitability for use in quiet or shared spaces.
If a device has any pretensions to portability, it needs to deliver on battery life. To give the Aero 15 some serious longevity away from a wall socket, Gigabyte crams a massive 94.24 Wh battery inside the notebook. The provided 150W power adapter is a relatively slim 6.6″-long (17 cm) affair with remarkably long cords. Put together, the two cords (one into the power adapter, and then a slim cable to the notebook) measure about 10′ long (3 m). The adapter also has a 2.1A USB port, giving it some extra charging functionality for devices that can plug in over USB.
Our first round of battery life tests use our in-house BrowserBench tool, which loads and reloads an old version of our site’s home page, cycling through content every 45 seconds. Notebooks in the test are set on their “balanced” power profile with the screen at 50% brightness, and are connected to the internet through Wi-Fi.
It’s hard to overstate just how well the Aero 15 performed in this test. It offers over seven hours of web-browsing time. That’s sufficient to handle an entire work day for most folks, or even a long day of flying. Those who need even more browsing time can find it in a variety of ultrabooks, but they won’t be fragging hellspawn on those low-power machines when they get home in the evening. The difference-maker here is Nvidia’s Optimus technology, which allows the notebook to switch back and forth between the low-power integrated graphics and the powerful discrete GPU so that the device conserves power whenever the user isn’t using a graphically-demanding application. The G-Sync-equipped Aorus X5 has to do without Optimus in order to make its VRR magic happen.
We give notebooks a relatively light task for our gaming battery life benchmark, as current notebook batteries just can’t supply enough power to let processors and video cards really stretch their legs. With the same power settings as we used for the web browsing tests, we played a fresh round of Civilization V with a stopwatch handy to see how long the notebooks could keep the screen glowing.
As expected, battery life takes a hit when the Aero 15 is used for gaming on the go. It does, however, provide almost 60% more gaming battery life than does the Aorus X5, a margin that works out to a full extra hour of global conquest. As the Aero 15 and the Aorus X5 both have a 94.24 Wh battery, this difference is most likely the result of the Aero 15’s more-efficient chips and lower-resolution display.
Virtual reality performance
To assess the Aero 15’s virtual-reality gaming capabilities, we tried out Futuremark’s VRMark utility. This benchmarking tool is a bit more notebook-friendly than the SteamVR Performance Test, which stubbornly refuses to conduct its benchmark with the Aero 15’s GTX 1060 rather than the CPU’s integrated graphics. After running its benchark, VRMark spits out a “score” and an average FPS number that can be compared to those from systems that exactly match the minimum and recommended hardware requirements for the Oculus Rift.
The survey says that the Aero 15 is VR-ready. Its 128.39 average FPS exceeds the 109 FPS produced by Futuremark’s test system. While we know better around here than to trust average FPS numbers too much, it does seem safe to say that users will have an acceptable VR experience with the Aero 15 should they happen to have a headset on hand.
First impressions dictate a lot that happens in our world, and the Aero 15 certainly gives a good first impression. Its sturdy, solid chassis is pleasantly thin and sized a lot more like a 14″ notebook than one might expect, given the fact that it actually has a 15.6″ display. It’s hard not to like the Aero 15’s thin display bezels and attractive, responsive keyboard. Gigabyte even refrained from styling this notebook like a Mountain Dew-fueled piece of “gamer” gear, as some around the industry do.
A quick tour around the Aero 15’s spec sheet only reinforces this positive first impression. Intel’s Core i7-7700HQ and Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1060 are pretty close to the sweet spot of mobile gaming hardware, offering more than enough gaming prowess for the notebook’s bright 1920×1080 display. The unit’s 512 GB M.2 SSD will make a speedy, comfortably-sized home for a game library, and Gigabyte supplies all the ports that we care most about, including Thunderbolt 3.
My work as a reviewer of gaming notebooks doesn’t let me say this often enough, but the Aero 15’s battery life is beyond reproach. It’s not simply a desktop replacement, but a truly portable workstation. It survived over seven hours of our web browsing test, making it a suitable choice for those who need their laptops to work as well as play. Chalk that performance up to a hefty 94.24 Wh battery and Gigabyte’s thoughtful implementation of Nvidia’s Optimus technology.
Opting for Optimus did prevent Gigabyte from outfitting the Aero 15 with G-Sync. Folks who want the finest mobile gaming rig possible might have reason to lament that choice, as Nvidia’s variable-refresh-rate technology is hard to give up once you’ve gotten used to it. Others might find the extra battery life well-worth the tradeoff. More troubling are two of Gigabyte’s decisions concerning the Aero 15’s display hinge. It’s a perfectly fine display hinge, as far as its opening and closing duties go, but it’s really not the right place for a webcam. Folks with any degree of self-consciousness are likely to be unhappy with that camera angle. Second, the position of the notebook’s primary exhaust vent is less than ideal, as the display hinge catches most of the hot air and deflects it up and across the surface of the display. We’d prefer a clearer exhaust path to the rear of the notebook, but such an arrangement might compromise the thinness of the Aero 15. Tradeoffs, tradeoffs.
As far as gaming performance goes, the Aero 15 delivers a fantastic experience in Prey and Doom, but wasn’t quite up to the challenge of providing silky-smooth visuals in the other titles we use—at least, not with the graphics settings cranked all the way up. To be fair, playable settings are just a click or two away in these titles. Folks looking for the best gaming experience possible on a notebook already know to look for devices equipped with a GTX 1070 or GTX 1080. The Aero 15 allows gamers to dive into any title currently on the market with only the occasional compromise on in-game settings.
The pricing landscape for gaming notebooks is always a little awkward to assess, as it’s a market that fluctuates frequently with discounts and promotions, but it’s safe to say that the Aero 15’s $1899 starting price at Newegg and Amazon is a little steep. Models with comparable hardware are certainly out there, and they don’t flirt quite so close to the $2000 mark as the Aero 15 does. That being said, portability is a killer feature for many users. The Aero 15’s slim chassis and excellent battery life are worth a few extra bucks compared to the bulk of other gaming notebooks.
Overall, the Aero 15’s positives greatly outweigh the few negatives. It handled our test suite of games capably while crushing its stablemate in our battery life tests, and its thin-and-light body can go anywhere without drawing undue attention. That’s an easy combination to recommend, so we’re sending the Aero 15 home with a TR Recommended award.