Today we are reviewing the Gigabyte Aero 15 X9, the first Nvidia RTX laptop that we tested and used for our Max-Q RTX 2070 feature earlier this month. This is a cool gaming laptop, very similar to the Aero 15X v8 that we saw last year, but with some improvements we will guide you here. In terms of hardware, many have been carried away from previous generations. The CPU is still an Intel Core i7-8750H for most models, with the i9-8950HK option available.
The screen is IPS 144 Hz 1080p, or IPS 4K wide at 60 Hz, with a size of 15.6 inches. Memory ranges from 8GB to 32GB depending on configuration, although the 16GB model comes with single channel memory. The battery remains 94 Wh, in what seems to be the same chassis.
So what are the changes? The big one is the upgrade from the GeForce GTX 1070 Max-Q, to the new RTX 2070 Max-Q. We also see the transition from Toshiba NVMe PCIe SSD to Intel SSD, combined with Killer networking using Intel chips, making this Gigabyte laptop all owned by Intel.
There are also some improvements on the software side. There is a new Gigabyte Command Center application plus some unique AI functions powered by Microsoft Azure AI cloud services. Also worth pointing out, there is an Aero 15 Y9 model that crashes you into the GPU Max-Q RTX 2080 with the same hardware.
Prices start at $ 2,400 for regular models with RTX 2070 Max-Q, 144Hz 1080p screen, 16GB RAM and 1TB SSD. The unit we reviewed was a mid-tier X9, which featured a 4K screen and 32GB RAM, raising prices to $ 2,700.
Gigabyte has been using a similar design for the past couple of gaming laptop generations, and we think it largely holds up today. This design was one of the first to use slim bezels around the display, now that’s a much more common feature, and it still looks good here. The downside is the webcam is still sitting below the screen. Newer slim bezel designs have fixed this problem, either through a small increase in the top bezel or including a camera bump. Hopefully Gigabyte goes with this approach next time, though if you're anything like me, I almost never use the webcam, so it's not a dealbreaker.
The laptop is solidly built, using a combination of metal and plastic. There’s not a lot of gamer flare which is nice, making it suitable for both gaming laptop or as a workstation. There are still a few seams around the place that make it look less sleek than something like a Razer Blade or MSI GS Stealth; Gigabyte’s design, while not bad by any means, is more of a functional build than for pure aesthetics.
This is also reflected in the size and weight. 18.9mm thick and 4.4 lbs heavy puts it in the slim and light gaming notebook category, but it’s not challenging for any records.
Those who want something that’s not chunky will be happy with the Aero 15X, although chunky laptops tend to be a lot cheaper for the hardware you get. Portability always comes at a price.
I/O is very good: two USB-C ports, one Thunderbolt 3 Type-C and the other USB 3.1. There’s a further three USB 3.1 ports, two gen-1 and one gen-2. Then you get Ethernet, HDMI 2.0, a 3.5mm audio jack, and an SD card reader. No need for dongles with this machine, it has basically everything.
The keyboard still has a nice, reasonably clicky tactile response with per-key RGB backlighting controlled through Gigabyte’s Fusion software. We appreciate the numpad, although the truncated right shift to fit in the arrow keys is a bit annoying. We’re also very happy to report the crappy ELAN trackpad used in previous models has been ditched for a better, more responsive, high precision model. It’s a big upgrade.
In terms of performance, there isn't much to say in this review that we haven't discussed before, even though we are still gathering the performance overview below. For productivity, the Core i7-8750H with 32GB RAM works exactly as expected (read our full review) . In most workloadsproductivity, the new GPU doesn't play a role, so you'll get the standard productivity performance we've seen from this type of laptop for about a year now. Comparing the new Aero 15 X9 with the older Aero 15X v8, its performance is roughly equivalent. There are some workloads like Cinebench where the new model is a little slower. There are several workloads such as Handbrake where performance is equivalent. And there are several tasks where the new model is faster.
When breaking down these faster workloads, we have two factors at play: the Aero 15 X9 we reviewed has dual-channel DDR4-2666 memory, which provides higher bandwidth than the single-channel configuration in the Aero 15X v8 with 16GB of RAM. For tasks like 7-Zip and MATLAB, there’s a performance advantage because to this.
Then we also see some improvements in GPU-accelerated applications. Premiere doesn’t benefit significantly from the faster RTX 2070 Max-Q because the GPU is basically doing all it can here to accelerate rendering. Around the level of the GTX 1070 Max-Q there’s not much else to be gained from extra GPU performance in our test. Blender does see a large improvement, to the tune of 26 percent, in this workload run entirely on the GPU.
The good news is depending on your workload, you can expect either the same performance as other i7-8750H systems, or perhaps a little better thanks to the faster GPU. That said, the 16GB Aero 15 X9 is still single-channel, so in those memory bandwidth limited tasks it won’t be as fast as we're showing here.
Anyway for CPU-restricted remaining burdens, regardless of whether short or long, we found that as long as you are utilizing in any event the Normal fan mode, there is no distinction in execution. The AI modes didn't do a lot to upgrade the execution. For gaming, the AI modes are an improvement upon the Normal fan mode, particularly the cloud mode. Anyway utilizing either the Gaming mode, or setting fan rates to greatest, gives better execution once more. For our gaming tests which we'll get to in a minute, we utilized the Gaming mode.
We think the AI modes have guarantee particularly on the off chance that they can learn after some time concerning what modes convey the best execution. This is still early days for the Aero 15 X9 and this framework. It'd be cool in the event that it conveyed ideal execution while likewise tuning the fan speeds, on the grounds that the Gaming mode is very noisy by and large, however at any rate for the time being adhering to the Gaming mode while in GPU-substantial undertakings is the best decision.
Thermally the laptop gets quite hot, hotter than the previous Aero 15X v8. CPU temperatures are unchanged but high for a gaming laptop, around 90C, although throttling wasn’t a big concern. Thicker gaming laptops are closer to the 75 to 80C mark. However GPU temperatures with the RTX 2070 Max-Q have increased compared to the GTX 1070 Max-Q, now sitting around 86C compared to 79C.
The chassis of the laptop also gets hot. The fans exhaust air through a fap below the display, however the position of these vents means the hot air is redirected in front of the display, towards the keyboard. Most other laptops vent out the sides and back, either behind the display or onto the desk. In venting forwards, the top edge of the laptop gets very hot, up over 50C during gaming in the center near the power button. Directly below this, the keyboard can be over 40C. Luckily the WASD keys are cooled well, around the 30C mark, but that isn’t true for the entire keyboard.
The average thermal performance surprises us considering what the Aero 15 looks like internally. We guess there are just some inefficiencies in the design. The laptop is quite upgradeable when removing the bottom cover though, revealing easy access to the memory slots and a second, free M.2 slot for storage upgrades
Our Aero 15 X9 review unit came equipped with the 4K 60Hz IPS display option, rather than the 144 Hz 1080p option we reviewed in the older model. The 4K option is the route you’d take if you want to use this laptop for creative workloads or content creation, as 4K is too intensive for the RTX 2070 Max-Q for gaming. Instead, gamers are be better off with the high-refresh 1080p screen, especially as the GPU can handle many games around the 100 FPS mark on Ultra settings at this resolution.
While this display is supposedly X-Rite Pantone certified, we have a few issues with the 4K panel and its calibration. This is a wide gamut monitor targeting 100% Adobe RB and it comes with what is supposed to be a factory calibrated profile installed. However the profile has been generated incorrectly. It looks like Gigabyte has mapped the display’s wide color primaries as the sRGB color primaries, which leads to oversaturation and other weird behaviour. We noticed this oversaturation right away, everything is extremely vibrant on this panel. Proper calibration should allow both sRGB and wide gamut content to be mapped properly with just a single profile.
This is disappointing for those that might have wanted to use the display straight out of the box, however it could also be an issue with our early review unit. On the upside, as the display is more than capable of 100% Adobe RGB coverage, calibrating it properly will lead to good results. We also recorded a near 1400:1 contrast ratio which is strong for an IPS panel, along with peak brightness of 360 nits and very good viewing angles. The panel quality is there, it’s just the calibration that’s letting it down.
Overall, the Gigabyte Aero 15 X9 isn’t a huge improvement over last year’s model, but it does pack some nice upgrades. While Nvidia’s RTX features don’t provide much in this GPU design, the RTX 2070 Max-Q is ~10% faster for gaming at 1080p, which you’d take every time considering there’s no change to the form factor. The improved trackpad is a long overdue addition. And some of the new software tools aren’t game changers, but could be promising if more work is put into them.
These changes have been made without sacrificing other elements that already made this laptop great. It’s still a well-built, portable design with a huge battery. The Core i7-8750H performs well, making the laptop great for productivity. There’s still a 1080p 144Hz display option for gamers, and when calibrated properly the 4K screen option is great for creators. There’s plenty of I/O and easy internal upgradeability for both the RAM and storage. The per-key RGB backlight keyboard is still one of the best in its class.
With that said, two of our primary concerns with this laptop design haven’t been addressed. The cooler is still loud and it runs hot to deliver performance equivalent to other systems. The webcam position is also not great, a by-product of this early bezel-free design.
Whether the Aero 15 X9 is a good purchase comes down to what price you can get one at. Right now, for a decent hardware loadout you’re looking at $2,400. For the GPU upgrade along over the 1070 Max-Q is not worth the premium, if you can find equivalent thin and light laptops for under $2,000 with nearly identical specs otherwise.
But these GTX 1070 Max-Q laptops won’t be around for much longer... Right now, there are only a few thin and light gaming machines that use the RTX 2070 Max-Q: besides the Gigabyte Aero there's the MSI GS65 Stealth and the Razer Blade 15.
The MSI option is selling for the same price, and while we haven’t tested the new RTX version yet, last year we had a slight preference for it over the Aero. The new Blade 15 is $200 more expensive and packs a smaller SSD, while the overall aesthetics are arguably nicer.
But as is always the case with these portable gaming machines, it will depend on how much you are willing to spend for the portability factor. For pure performance, there are faster options available in thicker, heavier chassis. Both Asus and Gigabyte offer the full RTX 2070 GPU in their thicker chassis for $2,000. That’s a better value option if you don’t see yourself moving the laptop around very much.
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