Reviewing a gaming notebook is always a fun process—how many people get paid to play video games?—but there’s extra excitement involved when that notebook has a hot new slice of silicon in it. Like the rest of you, we’ve been anxiously following rumors of Intel’s Coffee Lake processors and waiting to see when they’d make their debut in laptops. The wait is over, though. Thanks to Gigabyte, we’ve had our hands on one of its Aero 15Xv8 notebooks with an eighth-generation Core mobile chip inside well ahead of the launch of today’s fresh batch of Coffee Lake CPUs, and we’re ready to share performance results.
The biggest news this morning for notebooks is that the Core i7 family is getting a welcome core-count increase. The Aero 15Xv8 is powered by a fresh-off-the-line Intel Core i7-8750H processor. With its six cores and twelve threads, this chip fundamentally changes what users can expect from the multithreaded performance of 45-W processors. Intel specs this chip for a likely-conservative 2.2 GHz base clock and a 4.2 GHz maximum Turbo Boost 2.0 speed. Contrast that with the 2.8 GHz base clock and 3.8 GHz single-core Turbo speed of the common Core i7-7700HQ that powered many a gaming notebook in the last generation of laptops, and Intel has likely managed to both boost single-threaded clock speeds while also delivering an appreciable shot of multi-threaded oomph. No complaints here.
On the other side of the Aero 15X’s slim chassis, Gigabyte slots in Nvidia’s GTX 1070 8 GB graphics card in a Max-Q thermal envelope. This card has all the resources of a regular mobile GTX 1070, but it operates at lower clock speeds because it’s tuned to work in the 80-W to 90-W range rather than the 115-W TDP that full-fat mobile GTX 1070s usually enjoy. It’s a tradeoff, to be sure, but one that leaves the Aero 15X fully capable of high-quality gaming while allowing it to stay lean and mean. The GTX 1070 pushes pixels to a high-refresh-rate 1920×1080 panel. This 144-Hz display doesn’t have G-Sync variable-refresh-rate tech, but its high refresh rate should prove a boon to demanding gamers.
Elsewhere, Gigabyte retains many of the design choices that we appreciate in its Aero line. In a market populated by chunky gaming notebooks, the Aero 15X is refreshingly thin at 0.7″ (18 mm), and it checks in at only 4.4 pounds (2 kg). The Aero 15X has a sensible, buttoned-up aesthetic that makes it look more like a portable workstation than a gaming console with a screen. Its charcoal color scheme is elegant but unassuming, and its simple lines indicate a design emphasis on form following function.
The Aero 15X is not without ornament, though. Its display is attractively laid out within slim 5-mm-wide bezels, and soft white lighting glows behind Gigabyte’s brand name on the back of the display panel. Furthermore, users with a rambunctious inner child can configure per-key RGB LED lighting under the keyboard to their heart’s desire.
The notebook omits an optical drive entirely, instead providing a massive 94.24Wh battery that fills up about a third of the notebook’s chassis. Users will have to rely on M.2 drives for storage as a result, too. In our test model, Gigabyte provided a swift 512-GB Toshiba XG3 NVMe drive.
Disappointingly, the 16GB of DDR4 in the Aero 15X is all located on one DIMM. This single-channel arrangement could hamper the Aero 15X’s performance in some scenarios, so we expect that a second stick of RAM is going to be a day-one upgrade for some users. Gigabyte likely made this choice so that eventual owners will find a free RAM slot to populate in the event that they need more memory, but we’re not sure that minor convenience is worth it given the potential performance hit it entails. We’ll be sure to explore the implications of this configuration in depth in our performance benchmarks.
On a more positive note, the Aero 15X contains a cornucopia of contempory connectivity. As seen in its table of specifications below, it offers a Thunderbolt-3 equipped USB 3.1 Type-C port. Considering that it also provides an HDMI 2.0 port and a Mini DisplayPort 1.4 connector, the Aero 15x is well-equipped to drive external displays. The HDMI 2.0 port, in particular, is a nice perk for users looking to power a 4K display at 60 Hz. A selection of USB ports and an SD card reader rounds out its connectivity list.
|Aero 15Xv8 (as tested)|
|Processor||Intel Core i7-8750H|
|Memory||16 GB DDR4-2666 (1 DIMM, single-channel)|
|Graphics||Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 with 8 GB GDDR5 RAM, Max-Q|
|Display||15.6″ panel with 1920×1080 max resolution, 144Hz refresh rate|
|Storage||Toshiba XG3 M.2 NVMe 512GB SSD|
|Audio||2x 2W speakers|
|Expansion and display outputs||1x USB 3.1 Type-C with Thunderbolt 3
3x USB 3.0
Mini DisplayPort 1.4
|Card reader||1 SD card reader|
|Communications||Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 8265 (802.11b/g/n/ac)
Realtek Gaming Gigabit Ethernet
|Input Devices||RGB LED backlit keyboard
|Dimensions||14″ x 9.8″ x 0.71″ (356 x 250 x 18 mm)|
|Weight||4.4 lbs (2.0 kg)|
|Power adapter||180 W
6″ x 3″ x 1.25″ (152 x 76 x 32 mm)
Gigabyte set the MSRP for this configuration of the Aero 15X at $1,999. To sweeten the deal, Gigabyte also has a special promotion for the Aero 15Xv8. While supplies last, the company is providing Aero-branded Beats EP headphones to purchasers of the laptop, a $129.95 value at their suggested price.
The company sent over a pair of these headphones for me to try, and I can report that they compare quite favorably to the original Beats headphones from a ways back. The Beats EP headphones don’t fold and are bit more snug than I expected, but are sturdier and reinforced with steel. The sound is still bass-heavy, but is better balanced than the original. Compared to the Audio-Technica ATH-M20 cans currently plugged into my rig, the Beats EP headphones offer much more volume, better isolation from background noise, and similar audio quality.
A tour of the Aero 15X
All told, the Aero 15X is a tidy little package. From the side view, it presents a slim profile—not MacBook Air slim, mind you, but definitely slim in the marketplace of notoriously bulky gaming notebooks.
On the left side, users will find a Gigabit Ethernet port, a USB port, and Mini-DisplayPort connector, and an HDMI port, as well as an increasingly-endangered headphone jack.
Over on the right, there’s the SD card reader, a USB Type-C connector with Thunderbolt 3 behind it, a pair of USB 3.0 Type-A ports, and the power jack. A Kensington lock slot resides toward the rear of the notebook, as well.
Gigabyte opted to keep the display bezels on this system as thin as possible, a decision that means the webcam is located on the display hinge. That’s not our favorite placement, given the unique angle to the inside of a user’s nostrils that this position can provide, but the resulting display bezels are undeniably attractive. The notebook’s exhaust vent runs in the gap between the display hinge and the main body of the notebook. Some of the expelled air blows behind the display, and some of it blows upward across the front of the display.
Here’s a quick look underneath the hood. The front third of the Aero 15X’s chassis is filled end-to-end with a monstrous 94.24-Wh battery. As I rarely find use for my optical drive these days, I don’t mind that space being taken up this way. The design choice does limit users to M.2 drives for storage, though, and prices for those gumsticks tend to run a bit higher than for their 2.5″ brethren. Elsewhere, there’s a lonely stick of memory waiting for its soul mate, and a large dual-fan cooling solution. For the most part, the Aero 15X’s interior is simple and straightforward for would-be tinkerers.
Generally speaking, it takes a 15″ or larger notebook to accommodate a full-size keyboard comfortably, and a quick look at the Aero 15X’s keyboard shows why. The notebook fits a full keyboard and numpad comfortably while keeping its keycaps decently sized and appropriately spaced, but there isn’t room for any gaming extras like macro keys. The Alt keys on both sides of the board are a bit smaller than I’m used to, but the backspace and enter keys are thankfully full-size. The function key is tucked between the control key and the Windows key on the left side of the notebook.
Speaking as a man who writes for a living, the Aero 15x’s keyboard lives up to the notebook’s premium billing. The keys have a pleasing amount of bounce and tactile response, even though they don’t travel very far. Most keys are nearly silent in use, except for the larger keys like the enter button and space bar.
The clickpad has a highly-glossy surface with the feel of a premium phone screen. Gigabyte opted for a non-centered layout, which might alienate some, but I find that this layout puts the clickpad directly underneath my right thumb as it should be. The clickpad is an Elan unit that supports common multitouch gestures like pinch-to-zoom and two-finger-scroll, but doesn’t provide the entire suite of gestures in Microsoft’s Precision Touchpad program. The lack of a Precision Touchpad is a disappointing decision for a notebook with premium billing. Three-finger gestures to switch between open windows and show the desktop, for example, are definitely useful and definitely missing from the Aero 15X. We hope Gigabyte will employ Precision Touchpad-compatible hardware in future notebooks.
There’s a lot to like about the display on the Aero 15X. A quick check from a sharp angle confirms that it’s an IPS panel, and a fast one at that. A 144-Hz refresh rate goes a long way to smooth out a gaming experience. It’s a pity that the high refresh rate isn’t paired up with Nvidia’s G-Sync technology, but the display’s responsiveness and fluidity definitely enhance gaming on the Aero 15X. I particularly noticed the responsiveness of the display when benchmarking Doom, as the alacrity of the display pairs up well with the superlative frame rates that the Aero 15X produces in that title.
The display carries an X-Rite Pantone certification sticker suggesting better-than average color accuracy. To test the quality of the display and its purported color accuracy, we used our trusty X-Rite i1 Display 2 colorimeter and the free-and-open source display testing tool DisplayCal.
DisplayCal reports that the display covers 94.5% of the sRGB color space. That’s a result typical of many gaming displays. Its coverage conforms closely to the sRGB space, overshooting most noticeably in the blues. The display’s overall accuracy is good, as well, as it posts an average delta-E value of 0.15. These figures should satisfy all but the most demanding color professionals in day-to-day use.
Another view of the display’s calibration curves indicates that it’s most accurate in its production of reds. Users with a handy colorimeter might improve the accuracy of the greens and blues a bit, but we’re more concerned about the out-of-the-box performance.
With peak brightness of 295 cd/m2, the display is plenty bright, as well. Luminance uniformity is tolerable, although the Aero 15X’s backlight isn’t quite as bright at the edges of the display as it could be. The left-central and lower-left corners of the display are especially dim by comparison to the center. Even so, I was generally pleased by the Aero 15X’s screen in use, and these figures will vary from sample to sample.
The battery inside the Aero 15X is suitably monstrous. To assess whether the notebook lives up to Gigabyte’s claims of “all day battery,” we used our in-house BrowserBench 2 utility. This tool cycles through a list of ad-heavy modern websites at an irregular interval to simulate typical web browsing. As we’ll explain later, the notebook was set at its high performance power plan for all of our tests because of a firmware quirk, so it’s possible that users can get a little more time out of this machine by selecting a more conservative power plan. The notebook was connected to the internet through a Wi-Fi signal, and the screen was dimmed to half-brightness.
The Aero 15X lasted for just about five and a half hours of this benchmark. That’s not a shabby result, given BrowserBench2’s penchant for chewing through battery life. The Aero 15X might survive a typical work day’s light usage, but users won’t be able to leave its (reasonably-sized) 180-W power brick behind without a care.
To assess this system’s gaming performance on battery, I dialed back the settings in Deus Ex: Mankind Divided and played until the Aero 15X shut down. That’s not the most scientific of benchmarks, but it provides a decent ballpark figure for how long the laptop will last while playing a demanding title. For what it’s worth, I was pleasantly surprised by the tolerable frame rates that the Aero 15X was able to produce in this title without being plugged into a wall socket. Nvidia’s BatteryBoost technology, which paces frames to maintain 30 FPS and conserve battery life, was probably smoothing things out behind the scenes.
Our testing methods
To get a sense of the Aero 15X’s performance, we submitted it to a suite of synthetic benchmarks and a selection of games. As always, we did our best to deliver clean benchmark numbers. We ran each benchmark test at least three times and took the median of the results.
Between the Spectre and Meltdown vulnerabilities and a new version of Windows 10, enough has happened in the world of PC hardware and software these last few months that we’ve set aside our benchmark data from last year’s gaming notebook tests. To give the Aero 15X some competition, we turned to two other machines that we had on hand. First is TR Editor-in-Chief Jeff Kampman’s Alienware 13 R3. This compact notebook is equipped with Intel’s Core i7-7700HQ CPU and Nvidia’s full-throated mobile GeForce GTX 1060 6 GB.
The second is Intel’s NUC8i7HVK “Hades Canyon” system. This mean little machine sports a Core i7-8809G, a unit that pairs up a four-core, eight-thread processor with AMD’s Radeon RX Vega M GH graphics processor. We’ll use the NUC as a point of comparison for many of our CPU benchmarks, since the CPU side of that chip is comparable to a full-throated 45-W Core i7 from past generations of chips. Even so, Hades Canyon is a fully-unlocked desktop, not a thin-and-light mobile system. It’s mostly here for context.
Here are the specifications of our test systems:
|Aero 15Xv8||Alienware 13 R3||Intel NUC8i7HVK|
|CPU||Intel Core i7-8750H||Intel Core i7-7700HQ||Intel Core i7-8809G|
|CPU TDP||45 W||35 W||100 W (package power)|
|Memory||16 GB (1x 16 GB) DDR4-2666||16 GB (2x 8 GB) DDR4-2666||16 GB (2x 8 GB) DDR4-3200|
|GPU||Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070
with Max-Q design
GTX 1060 6 GB
|Radeon RX Vega M GH|
|Graphics memory||8 GB GDDR5, 8 GT/s
|6 GB GDDR5, 8 GT/s
|4 GB HBM2 RAM
|Storage||Toshiba XG3 M.2 NVMe
|Samsung PM961 512GB
|Intel Optane SSD 800P 118 GB SSD
Intel SSD 545s
|Battery||94.24Wh Li-polymer||76 Wh Li-ion||N/A|
Before we dig in, we should note that some odd behavior from the Aero 15X forced us to break with one of our long-running practices when testing notebooks. We insist that it’s the best practice to test notebooks on a balanced power plan rather than Windows’ high performance power plan. Briefly put, it’s the power plan that makes the most sense for the most users. Unfortunately, the Core i7-8750H inside the Aero 15X didn’t behave as expected while the machine was set to the balanced power mode. The highest CPU clock we observed under this plan was far less than 3.0 GHz. We’re working with Gigabyte on the issue, and we’ll update this review if we learn more.
In the meantime, we’re reporting results we obtained from the notebook with the high performance plan enabled. This is a decision with consequences, most notably due to the fact that the CPU idles at its all-core Turbo clock when the laptop is in this power plan. In certain benchmarks, this will give the Aero 15X a bit of an unfair advantage. In our assessment of the laptop’s battery life, the opposite is likely true.
Intel’s Extreme Tuning Utility gives us a closer look at how the high the chip can clock under various multithreaded workloads. Even with six active cores, the Core i7-8750H can boost up to very impressive clock speeds if thermal conditions allow. Recall that the Core i7-7700HQ that powered many a gaming notebook in the heyday of Kaby Lake topped out at 3.8 GHz under Turbo Boost Max 2.0. The i7-8750H should prove quite the potent contender.
Finally, a note for folks who have been following the Spectre vulnerability news: we actively verified that Gigabyte’s firmware includes mitigations for that vulnerabality. All three of our testing machines today include these mitigations, ensuring a level playing field in this regard.
Memory subsystem performance
Getting started, then, let’s take a look at the the main memory performance from this trio of machines using AIDA64’s built-in benchmarks. Recall that this is not a fair fight—each system has a different memory configuration.
Given the different memory speeds in the three different systems, there’s really nothing unexpected here. The NUC8i7HVK, with its 16GB of DDR4-3200 in a desktop system, wins in every category. The DDR4-2666-equipped Alienware 13 trails at a respectable distance, and the Aero 15X, with its single-channel DDR4-2666 RAM, is well behind in every category except for latency.
Some quick synthetic math tests
AIDA64 is a versatile utility with a number of useful benchmarking tools that help us sketch out broad differences between the processors we test. The CPU Hash integer benchmark uses AVX, while the single-precision FPU Julia and double-precision Mandel tests use AVX2 with FMA.
Of these benchmarks, CPU PhotoWorxx is the most sensitive to memory bandwidth, so the Aero 15X comes in a disappointing third place there. In the other three tests, however, the Core i7-8750H inside the Aero 15X takes a commanding lead thanks to its six cores, twelve threads, and high all-core Turbo speed.
TR code monkey Bruno Ferreira has given us a handy way of testing code compilation performance using the Qt SDK. We set Qtbench to use all cores and threads on our test systems’ CPUs.
The Core i7-8750H opens an impressive lead over the four-core, eight-thread parts in this multithreaded workload. Get ready to see the simple-yet-effective recipe of more cores and more threads pay off for the Aero 15X in a range of our tests.
File compression with 7-zip
A bit of a performance delta between compression and decompression isn’t entirely surprising, but the Aero 15X seems to be underperforming in the compression benchmark, perhaps due to the limited memory bandwidth available to the processor. The i7-8750H proves very capable at unzipping archives, though, and is markedly more capable at compression than the previous-generation i7-7700HQ in the Alienware 13.
Disk encryption with VeraCrypt
The disk-encryption utility VeraCrypt includes a built-in benchmark that tests a number of algorithms. We’ll test two—AES and Twofish.
The Aero 15X seems to be hitting a memory bandwidth bottleneck in the hardware-accelerated AES test. Its extra threads and cores should make for a big win over four-core, eight-thread CPUs, but that advantage doesn’t come through in our results. The Twofish test, on the other hand, gives us a look at straight number-crunching performance without the hardware acceleration. Here, the i7-8750H’s multi-threaded prowess is quite evident, and the Aero 15X takes home another victory.
Here’s a new benchmark for our test suite. Indigo Bench is a standalone application based on the Indigo rendering engine, which creates photo-realistic images using what its developers call “unbiased rendering technologies.”
Indigo’s benchmark tells a familiar story: more cores and more threads means higher performance. The Aero 15X delivers quite nicely here.
Maxon’s Cinebench R15 benchmark is multithreaded and comes with a 64-bit executable. The first test runs with a single thread, and the second uses all available threads.
The Aero 15X’s Core i7-8750H lags behind the NUC in single-threaded performance here, perhaps due to a thermal constraint.
When Cinebench takes advantage of all available cores and threads, though, the Aero 15X can really stretch its legs. Its 12 threads gives it quite an advantage in this test over its quad-core competition.
Blender, a popular open-source modeling and rendering application, is notable in that it can take advantage of AVX2 instructions on compatible CPUs in its most recent versions. Blender offers a number of benchmarking scenes, and we just happen to be a fan of the “bmw27” test file.
The Aero 15X takes the lead here, but not by as wide of a margin as we’d expect over its quad-core competition. This result might be because the Core i7-8750H has to clock down considerably in AVX workloads. When rendering in Blender, the i7-8750H settles down to about 2892 MHz on all cores. If we compare mobile to mobile CPUs, however, the i7-8750H takes a wide lead over the Core i7-7700HQ in 35 W form.
Our last rendering benchmarking comes courtesy of Corona. The tool is a raytracing benchmark that reports both the rays per second achieved by a test machine and the time it takes a machine to complete the scene.
The Aero 15X’s core count advantage is even more pronounced here than it is in Blender, and it easily outpaces the four-core, eight-thread CPUs in this test.
Handbrake is a widely-used video-transcoding app. To assess its performance on our test machines, we convert a two-minute 4K source file from an iPhone 6S into a 1920×1080, 30 FPS MKV using the HEVC algorithm implemented in the x265 open-source encoder. We otherwise left the preset at its default settings.
The Aero 15X wins this benchmark by a whisker, but the NUC is close behind. We haven’t known Handbrake to care about memory speed too much in the past, but it’s possible that the application does mind single-channel versus dual-channel RAM configurations. Whatever the cause, we don’t get as large a performance improvement as we might expect from this multithreaded benchmark.
CFD with STARS Euler3D
The Euler3D benchmark uses a fluid dynamics simulation to test processors, and it tends to be exceptionally memory-bandwidth intensive. We configured Euler3D to take advantage of all available threads.
This benchmark just wasn’t going to be friendly to the Aero 15X due to the machine’s single-channel memory configuration. Those extra cores and threads don’t make up the difference here. Benchmarks like these show why Gigabyte might have considered springing for dual-channel RAM in this notebook, even if owners do have to set aside two sticks of RAM if they want to upgrade in the future.
That’s enough work for one day—let’s set aside the productivity benchmarks and play some games. First up is Bethesda’s popular reboot of the Doom franchise. With its fast-paced action, mesmerizing soundtrack, and impeccable renderer, it’s been a go-to title for gamers and benchmarkers alike since it launched.
Doom‘s Arcade mode makes it easy to load up your favorite level. Even with the full range of levels available from the game, it’s hard to ignore that first iconic reveal of the the dusty surface of Mars that occurs in the UAC level. For benchmarking, we tested the game at its Ultra preset.
The Aero 15X turns in an impeccable performance in Doom. Its frame-time plot exhibits no offensive spikes that would suggest hitches or stutters, and its 99th-percentile frame time is accordingly quite low.
These “time spent beyond X” graphs quantify the “badness” during a benchmark: moments when the fluidity of the animation is less than smooth, or at least less than perfect. If a card spends any time beyond the 50-ms threshold, even a handful of milliseconds, that indicates a severe hitch that brought down frame rates to 20 FPS or lower. 33.3 ms correlates to 30 FPS, or a 30-Hz refresh rate—the figure you’ll ideally want at a minimum for Vsync to work at all on a 60-Hz display. Ideally, every frame should meet or surpass the 16.7-ms threshold, as that correlates to the 60 FPS we always want to see from graphics cards. The 8.3-ms threshold corresponds to 120 FPS, a very high standard for the machines to meet.
Both machines perform so well in this title that they didn’t register a single frame beyond 16.7 ms. The Aero 15X takes a narrow victory in average FPS, while the Alienware offers just a tad smoother experience—though it would take an eagle eye to notice the difference in person.
Rise of the Tomb Raider
Few gaming franchises have greater name recognition than Tomb Raider. Rise of the Tomb Raider‘s lush visuals can present quite a challenge to gaming hardware when the settings are cranked up.
Our benchmarking run occurs in the game’s Soviet Installation level. After picking off a few guards with some well-aimed arrows, we follow a set path in and around a dilapidated building. In-game settings are generally maxed out.
Preliminary numbers indicate a win for the Aero 15X, although the GTX 1060 in the Alienware 13 certainly did an admirable job managing this game at these settings.
With no frames registered past 33.3 ms, both the Aero 15X and the Alienware 13 post very clean numbers in Rise of the Tomb Raider. Neither notebook spends more than a couple seconds of our one-minute test run on tough frames that take more than 16.7 ms to render, suggesting a smooth and enjoyable gaming experience.
Grand Theft Auto V
Here’s a game that needs no introduction. Grand Theft Auto V has been a perennial favorite for benchmarking since its launch in 2013. Due to the way the title favors processors with strong single-core performance, it’s a good tool for assessing how capably a CPU can keep its graphics card fed and busy, too.
Early on the storyline, players are tasks with repossessing a pair of cars along with a fellow named Lamar. The joyride that ensues involves a number of scripted events and vehicles, making the benchmark more consistent than most runs inside the open-world game. Game settings are generally turned up as high as they’ll go, with some notable exceptions.
Once again, we’re seeing good numbers from both machines. This isn’t entirely a surprise, given that these machines have a maximum resolution of 1920×1080 and graphics processors that are more than more than up to the task of cranking out frames at this resolution. Still, there’s something satisfying about aggressively cranking up the graphics settings without worrying about whether the machine will keep up.
With only a third of a second spent past 16.7 ms, the Aero 15X and its GTX 1070 is the clear winner in this benchmark.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided
The original Deus Ex is routinely named as one of the finest video games of all time. While its recent prequels haven’t had the same impact on the gaming world, it’s no small compliment to them to say that they’re worthy of their heritage.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided remains quite the demanding title. Its Dawn engine is capable of powerful visual effects, and we turned on just about all of them. We benchmark this title in the crowded, cramped corridors of Golem City.
I shouldn’t say that I told you so, but here goes anyway: I told you Deus Ex is a demanding title. The fuzziness in the line graph indicates that the Aero 15X’s CPU could be working overtime in this title. The Aero 15X retains the lead here in average frame rates, but its 99th-percentile frame time is nearly even with that of the GTX 1060 6 GB-equipped Alienware 13 R3.
When we graph the Aero 15X’s frame times by percentage, there’s a telltale rise in the tail of its curve that indicates that there could be trouble in paradise. That’s due to some time spent past 33.3 ms and 50 ms. Now, the Aero 15X did spend 6.3 seconds less than the Alienware 13 beyond the 16.7 ms mark. Even with a couple hitches in this demanding title, gamers will still enjoy a considerably smoother experience from the GTX 1070 Max-Q.
The Witcher 3
We’ll wrap up our gaming benchmarks with fan-favorite The Witcher 3. If developer CD Projekt Red’s upcoming title Cyberpunk 2077 is half as successful and critically-acclaimed as the company’s Witcher series was, the developer will have yet another massive hit on its hands.
We benchmark The Witcher 3 in its White Orchard region, a zone full of dense forests, suspicious guards, and townsfolk oddly resentful of a white-haired hero who does nothing but slay local monsters. Once again, we try to put the hurt on these notebooks by raising the graphics settings about as high as they’ll go.
Neither notebook submits a poor performance here, but the Aero 15X demonstrates its mettle. With a clearly superior average-FPS result and 99th percentile frame time, Gigabyte’s machine shows what users get by spending a bit more coin for a Max-Q GTX 1070 rather than the GTX 1060 6 GB.
There’s little need to make too much of the Alienware 13’s time spent past 50 ms—that’s clearly a temporary hitch. We’re benching on settings a shade or two higher than many users might pick, anyway. The Aero 15X’s performance is worth praising here, as it only spends about five seconds of our benchmark past 16.7 ms. Compare that to the 14 seconds of our one-minute test run that the Alienware 13 R3 puts up, and the Aero 15X closes out our gaming tests with an impressive win.
All told, the Aero 15X is an impressive mobile gaming platform. It’s a whopping 1.4 lb lighter than the Alienware 13 R3 and its GTX 1060 6 GB. It’s about a tenth of an inch (4 mm) thinner than the Alienware machine. Even with its considerable weight savings and slightly slimmer chassis, Gigabyte’s latest effort generally delivers considerably smoother gaming experiences than the Alienware does thanks to the GTX 1070 Max-Q chip inside. Combine that with the potentially impressive performance from the Core i7-8750H in non-gaming tasks, and you have yourself quite the compelling premium notebook PC for just $100 more than the Alienware, as tested.
Thermal and acoustic performance
With our benchmarks out of the way, let’s take a look at how well the Aero 15X handles the heat from the components inside. We’ll start with a look at its cooling solution. The intake vents on the bottom panel are broad and cover about a third of the panel. The two smaller sections on the right and left pull air directly onto the notebook’s two fans.
And here’s a view from the inside. Heatpipes run the length of the notebook and connect to two fin stacks. The notebook doesn’t appear to have much in the way of an exhaust vent from this angle, but that’s just because the exhaust vent is behind the display hinge.
We put the Aero 15X through three tests to assess its ability to manage hot silicon. The first isolates the graphics chip. We fired up Unigine’s Heaven benchmark to put a full load on the GTX 1070 and monitored temperatures and clock rates throughout a twenty-minute benchmarking run.
The graphics chip’s temperature leveled off at about 70° C, an impressive temperature for a pixel-pusher of this pedigree. The chip’s clock rate fluctuates a bit over the course of the run, but averaged 1394 MHz. That’s actually a bit above Nvidia’s suggested 1379-MHz boost range for GTX 1070 Max-Q chips. The Aero 15X’s Max-Q GTX 1070 did boost up a bit from time to time, reaching 1544 MHz at highest. In any case, Gigabyte has more than adequately cooled this graphics chip.
To assess how well the Aero 15X cools its Core i7-8750H, we use Prime95’s Small FFTs test. Prime95 is very much a multithreaded benchmark, as it uses all available threads in its never-ending hunt for Mersenne prime numbers. The Small FFTs test is especially hard on a CPU’s AVX units, so it produces heat well in excess of even the most demanding real-world workloads.
Once again, temperatures are kept quite reasonable, as the CPU package temperature reaches 71° C at its highest. The processor’s clock speeds tell an interesting story about how that result comes about, though. The clock speeds initially boost up to about 3.7 GHz, due to the way Intel’s Turbo Boost gives the chip some extra juice at the start of a workload. After that, the clock speed settles down to just under 2.5 GHz. That behavior is consistent with our real-world tests of AVX-intensive benchmarks, and it still manages to stay above Intel’s 2.2 GHz base clock spec for the Core i7-8750H.
So much for the CPU and GPU in isolation. For our final test of the Aero 15X’s thermal performance, we’ll submit it to a worst-case scenario. In this test, we fired up Unigine’s Heaven benchmark and Prime95’s Small FFTs test simultaneously. Note that this is very much a torture test that taxes the CPU and GPU in a way that no game (or application) on the market ever will.
As you’d expect, temperatures definitely climb higher when both the CPU and GPU are put to work. Remarkably, temperatures stay quite manageable throughout the test. The GTX 1070 stayed cooler than the processor, averaging 76° C and never rising above 80° C. The Core i7-8750H, on the other hand, flirts with 90° C for much of the benchmark. At these temperatures, the CPU clock speeds certainly aren’t going to rise higher than they did in the previous benchmark. They settled down near 2.6 GHz and stayed there. Still, that performance suggests that even demanding OpenCL applications that can yoke both the CPU and graphics card will run fine on the Aero 15X.
Under a typical workload, and with Gigabyte’s “gaming” fan profile enabled, the Aero 15X’s fans spin somewhere between 4000 RPM and 4800 RPM. In this range, the machine’s overall volume varies between 32 dBA and 39 dBA, as measured by the Soundmeter app on my smartphone from a distance of one foot away from the fans. The fans will kick into a higher gear when temperatures rise, as they did during our torture test, for example, and will hit about 5000 RPM. Even at this speed, the fan noise falls within Nvidia’s 40-dBA guideline for noise production from Max-Q systems.
Noise character matters as well, though, and the Aero 15X’s fans have a whiny quality about them that’s difficult to ignore. All in all, these fans do their job, but I’ve sat in the company of better-sounding spinners. Even so, Gigabyte hasn’t sacrificed cooling ability for thinness in the Aero 15X.
When all is said and done, the Aero 15Xv8 is a promising notebook with a lot to recommend it, but there are a few concerns that prevent us from giving it an unqualified winning verdict. The combination of Intel’s new Core i7-8750H processor and Nvidia’s Max-Q GeForce GTX 1070 is a potent one, and for the most part Gigabyte gave these core components a solid supporting cast. The battery is large, the stock NVMe SSD is spacious and speedy, and the high-refresh-rate display is a good showcase for the kind of visual performances that the Aero 15X can orchestrate.
Unfortunately, our testing of the i7-8750H was hampered by one of Gigabyte’s spec choices. The Aero 15X is only given one stick of DDR4 memory, and this single-channel arrangement limits the notebook’s performance in a few scenarios. Power users looking to get the most out of this system will almost certainly be looking for a second stick of memory as soon as they pull the Aero 15X out of the box, but they shouldn’t have to suffer this inconvenience from a machine this expensive. Value-minded users might care about setting aside two sticks of memory if they need an upgrade, but the enthusiasts who will shop this class of machine almost certainly won’t mind the prospect of putting unused DIMMs in a drawer for no-worries performance out of the box.
The Aero 15X’s behavior under Windows’ default Balanced power plan was also unbecoming of a notebook this expensive. This power plan, as its name suggests, offers users the best balance of power efficiency and performance. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get the i7-8750H to behave as we expected under this power plan—the processor wouldn’t boost over 3 GHz, no matter what we tried. Only under Windows’ High Performance power plan did we see the processor behave in line with its advertised speeds. This behavior may be the consequence of early firmware and software, as Gigabyte was still looking into this issue as we went to press. We hope Gigabyte ensures that retail Aero 15X machines perform as advertised under any Windows power plan.
Those beefs aside, Gigabyte’s design team deserves credit for balancing a sensible aesthetic with a few luxury touches. The Aero 15X’s aluminum chassis is both well-constructed and elegant. The slim display bezels are a fitting frame for the bright, high-refresh-rate display, and are an important part of the reason why Gigabyte can keep this 15.6″ laptop contained in a relatively small profile. Despite the care and attention given to the per-key RGB LED-illuminated keyboard, the touchpad is a bit of a disappointment. It has the look and feel of a premium input device, but it’s odd to see a notebook in this price bracket without support for Microsoft’s Precision Touchpad initiative.
The Aero 15X also afforded us our first opportunity to run some benchmarks on the Core i7-8750H. It’s remarkable that we’re able to reap the benefits of six cores and twelve threads in the same power envelope as last year’s quad-core chips. The processor performs predictably well in applications that are able to leverage its multithreaded computational prowess. Lightly-threaded workloads, like a number of the games we benchmark, don’t gain much from the generational increase, but they don’t take a step backward, either. The performance of Nvidia’s GTX 1070 Max-Q graphics card is an impressive leap over full-fat implementations of the mobile GTX 1060 6 GB, and it doesn’t seem to come at the cost of much performance or in noise levels. Gigabyte deserves praise for keeping all of these powerful parts cool inside the Aero 15X’s slim chassis.
Whatever concerns we might have with this particular laptop, we are excited about current trends in the gaming notebook market. It’s remarkable that we’re not only testing a 45-W, six-core Core i7 processor, but we’re testing it inside a device that’s truly thin and light. Such a device doesn’t come cheap—the Aero 15X is a $1,999 notebook—but there’s undoubtedly a market for a thin-and-light laptop with excellent battery life, powerful multithreaded performance, and capable gaming prowess. We expect many premium notebook buyers will want to give the Aero 15X a look as they eye ways to dive into Coffee Lake CPUs on the go.