With every generation of processors, graphics cards, hard drives, the industry gets closer and closer to the holy trinity for laptops: a reasonable price for desktop-level power with a minuscule profile.
And thankfully, times have changed. For the better. You still pay a premium for laptops, but the performance you get for that price has improved, as the latest gaming laptop from ASUS shows.
It's officially called the ASUS ROG Strix GL502VS. That's a lot of numbers and letters to describe what is basically a laptop that's purpose built for gaming at 1080p courtesy of a NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070, a 256GB M.2 SSD drive and a decent 1TB 7200 RPM SATA.
Here's the full list of specifications for the unit I tested:
CPU: Intel i7-6700HQ 2.6GHz (3.5GHz boost) GPU: NVIDIA Geforce GTX 1070 (8GB GDDR5) Display: 15.6" 1920x1080 IPS panel, G-SYNC enabled Memory: 8GB DDR4 2133 MHz (15-15-15) Storage: 1x 256GB M.2 SSD, 1x 1TB 7200 RPM 2.5' HDD Video: 1x HDMI, 1x mini-DisplayPort Wireless: 802.11ac + Bluetooth 4.1 (Dual band) 2*2 Ethernet: 10/100/1000 Mbps USB: 3x USB 3.0, 1x USB3.1 Type C (gen 2) Audio: 1x Headphone-out & Audio-in Combo Jack Dimensions: 39cm x 26.6cm x ~3.01cm (w/d/h) Power: 180W AC Adapter
There's more customisations than that: you can deck it out with a 512GB M.2 SSD, a 2TB SATA drive, up to 16GB of DDR4 RAM, and more. The only retailer currently stocking the GL502VS I could find online was charging $3199, although when more stock becomes available I wouldn't be surprised to see that price be a fraction lower elsewhere.
But while there might be plenty of power for, say, Adobe Premiere and image editing, the GL502VS is marketed as a gaming laptop. So how well does it test?
While it's entirely possible to enable Dynamic Super Resolution through the NVIDIA controls to play at 1440p or higher resolutions, we're still dealing with a laptop here. The Pascal-powered GTX 1070 might be ready for VR, but it ain't ready for 4K.
So you'll have to stick to playing at good old 1080p. But provided you're happy to do that, you'll be able to maintain a healthy frame rate for titles released this year and undoubtedly for 2017 as well.
First off the mark was the synthetic tests from 3D Mark. The i7-6700HQ and the GTX 1070 were always a good combination for a reasonable score here, and the ROG Strix GL502VS delivered.
By way of a comparison, here's the latest 3D Mark figures from our most recent tests. Our benchmarking rig in the office has a slightly older i7-4790K CPU and DDR3-1600MHz, as well as a Samsung 850 EVO SSD instead of the faster M.2 SATA drive.
It helps highlight that the GTX 1070 is a little bit overkill for 1080p, although gamers won't mind the extra headroom (particularly as the years wear on).
Second out of the blocks was Creative Assembly's blend of their long-running strategy franchise and the iconic tabletop IP from Games Workshop, Total War: Warhammer. It can be an intensive game, even on the campaign map, as tens of thousands of units from the various races clash at any one point.
I used the Ultra preset and ran the in-built benchmark three times for accuracy. The DirectX 11 and 12 renderers were used.
NVIDIA's problems with DirectX 12 and Total Warhammer have been known for a while, so the drop off here isn't much of a surprise. But even then, there's a nice healthy amount of headroom.
Third up was Croteam's The Talos Principle. The game is getting a little long in the tooth, and it would have been staggering for the GL502VS to struggle.
Testing was done using the DirectX 11 renderer with 4x multi-sample antialiasing on the Ultra presets.
Perhaps the most intensive of the tests ended up being Ashes of the Singularity, the real-time strategy game that has became the first staple for DirectX 12 testing.
Only the GTX 1080 and the GTX 1070 Founders Edition were capable of hovering around 60fps for Ashes in our last round-up.
The extreme preset and 4X MSAA anti-aliasing was used for all resolutions, while the benchmark was set to GPU focused each time. Scores shown below are averaged out across three runs.
This isn't surprising, considering how intensive the benchmark is. If you want a bit of headroom, you'll have to turn the graphics preset down to High or lower -- although in most instances, particularly during the early to mid-game, the GL502VS should have no trouble hovering above 60fps.
Next after that was the latest version of F1 2016 from Codemasters. The game doesn't have DirectX 12 support patched in at the time of writing, although it's still quite well optimised nonetheless.
The Ultra High preset was used across three tests, with all tests run at heavy rain (instead of the less intensive dry weather conditions).
Given that Melbourne always results in a few corners of AI-induced mayhem, this is a pretty admirable result. Everything turned up to maximum with plenty of headroom for accidental crashes.
The final game used in testing was the 2016 reboot of DOOM from id. It runs off OpenGL by default, and after a couple of months of waiting now has full support for Vulkan.
I wasn't able to test the game using the Vulkan renderer, however, as the game would crash to desktop every single time. Unfortunately I ran out of time to troubleshoot the problems, and as a result only figures using OpenGL 4.5 are provided.
Average frame rates are shown below, with the Ultra preset, FXAA (1x) and chromatic abberation enabled. All runs were conducted by running through the game’s third mission, Foundry, on the Ultra Violence difficulty for two minutes. No enemies were killed to ensure consistency with the amount of bodies being rendered and encountered, although slight differences occurred from run to run (such as the enemies opt to beat the snot out of each other).
A fairly admirable performance, and it'd be even higher once you factor in the general improvement NVIDIA cards saw across the board when Vulkan is working correctly.
Last but not least was the SteamVR performance benchmark. Testing a machine's suitability for VR is notoriously difficult, as you can't just simply measure frame rate or frame times and get a good gauge of the experience. VR games will often use adaptive resolutions to maintain a level of performance, which makes testing hard, and something like the average frame rate won't communicate whether gameplay is being rendered smoothly enough to ensure that users have a trouble-free experience.
Still, SteamVR is better than nothing. It's pretty simple as far as tests go, but it does at least return a figure that can be referenced.
As discovered when testing the RX 470, the SteamVR test only goes up to 11. The Founders Edition of the GTX 1070 hit that in previous testing, while the ASUS GL502VS falls slightly below that -- but still well ahead of Valve's 7.0 mark that separates "VR Capable" machines from PCs that are "VR Ready".
A laptop is more than just a set of figures though: there's a chassis, keyboard, speakers, weight, screen, styling and in-built software (unfortunately) involved.
The keyboard is nothing special. It's your bog-standard chiclet offering that looks and feels ordinary, which is a shame considering the quality of the hardware underneath. People who purchase gaming laptops as their primary machine do so with the intent to get some sort of productivity out of it, and that's made a whole let harder when the typing experience is gummy and generally unpleasant.
You can always use a separate keyboard, of course, but that's not an option when you're on the go. The ENTER key is oddly small as well, which I found super frustrating for standard tasks.
The battery life isn't great, which is par for the course. At 50% brightness with a standard HD movie -- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two -- and an active wireless connection, the battery lasted just under 80 minutes. With the GTX 1070 going at full pelt, you'd be blessed to squeeze more than an hour out of the GL502VS -- so you'll want to be near a power point if you want to play for long stretches while portable.
The styling is the same as previous ROG laptops. The hardware might have been updated, but the orange-and-black motif hasn't. The matte panel is the same as the one in the ROG Strix GL502VT, ASUS's cheaper gaming offering that's powered by a GeForce GTX 970M. There's nothing overly special except for the brushed aluminium on the lid, which is to be expected. ASUS built the GL502VS for power, not to be pretty. You'll get a few more hours juice if you're just browsing the web, particularly if you watch as little video as possible.
The G-SYNC enabled display is nice. It's worth noting you'll get the most out of G-SYNC when frame rates start to drop below 60fps, although you'll still enjoy the benefit of smoother motion and reduced tearing beyond that point.
The laptop also came preloaded with an awful lot of bloatware, which you'll want to uninstall. Some of the apps do have a purpose -- like the ASUS Gaming Center, which shows basic clock and memory speeds, temperatures, and allows you to setup hotkeys, adjust audio settings and more.
They're the kind of features you'll want specific programs for though. If you want to record gameplay, chances are you'll use NVIDIA's Shadowplay interface -- it's more efficient and you'll already have it with the NVIDIA drivers anyway. The audio settings are something you'll want to adjust on a game-by-game basis, and the system tracking isn't as detailed as what you'd get from EVGA's Precision X or MSI Afterburner.