Review: Updated: Aorus X5

Review: Updated: Aorus X5

Introduction and design

Update: Gigabyte has informed TechRadar that a new BIOS update has fixed a bug that caused Nvidia’s G-Sync technology to drag down the Aorus X5’s performance. We’ve since installed the new firmware and retested the laptop to find the solution has indeed fixed the problem.

The Aorus X5 should have no business being this powerful while being so light and thin. At just 22.9mm, or under an inch thick, the X5 has a pair of Nvidia GTX 965M chips hiding within its aluminum chassis, along with a 256GB solid-state drive (SSD) and a 1TB hard disk drive (HDD).

There’s no question that this is a hardcore gaming machine, either. The Aorus X5 has a ton of gaming-specific features beyond just its powerful graphics capabilities and 2,880 x 1,620 15.6-inch screen. On the far right of the full-sized keyboard are five programmable macro keys. There’s even the option to add a dedicated hardware encoder, which takes the strain of livestreaming and recording gameplay off of the CPU.

As far as its contemporaries, the Aorus X5 is on par with the Razer Blade 2015 regarding the total package. It falls short of the Blade in some performance areas, but just barely, while making up for those shortcomings elsewhere. Granted, the X5 falls short of the absolutely beastly Origin EON15-X in terms of pure performance, but for its price point – and the fact that it weighs nearly 2 pounds less – makes it a serious contender for anyone looking for a hardcore gaming laptop.

Unmistakably a gamer’s laptop

High-performance laptops seem to be following the design examples set forth by high-performance automobiles, and the X5 is no exception. Its smooth lines give way to sharp points and angular vents that would look like right at home on a Lamborghini.

Aorus X5 review

The black aluminum body is interrupted by several exhaust ports, which helps facilitate the heavy cooling necessary to run the X5. The side vents also continue the super-car feel, and the vents in the rear leave no question that there’s a lot going on under the hood.

The lid comes to a slight point at its peak, with a small raised line running about an eighth of the way down. The Aorus logo, a brutalist design that would be right at home on the war machines in a futuristic anime, lights up when the laptop is on. When not powered up, however, the laptop logo is just as visible, thanks to being silver and a polished finish that reflects light like a mirror.

The full-size keyboard has low, high and off backlighting settings. The programmable macro keys run in a vertical line to the left of the keyboard, with the top key highlighted in one of five colors, depending on which set of macros is in use.

Aorus X5 review

The keys themselves have a scissor-type mechanism with a nanometer-too-little travel to feel tactile/clicky. They’re also pretty close together, to save space for the extra row of macro keys. Between the lack of satisfying travel and the tightness of the keys, I found my fingers tripping up more than usual when typing.

Around the matte-finish screen is a substantial bezel. The sides and bottom of the screen are half an inch or so from the edge of the lid, while the lip up on top is a bit smaller.

Just above the keyboard’s number pad is the Aorus logo that also acts as a light up power button. The touchpad also has a version of the Aorus logo in low-contrast grey against the rest of the laptop’s black aluminum, though Gigabyte explained my unit came with a prototype version of the pointing device.

The black interior is fairly smudge resistant, but keep a microfiber cloth on hand to keep your laptop free from finger- and handprints. The review version I tested came with a microfiber cloth included, which is a welcome touch.

Aorus X5 review

Overall, this notebook looks 100% the part of a performance gaming laptop, and Aorus wants you to let everyone around you know it. There is no mistaking this laptop for a business class or casual machine – only gamers need apply.

One of these things is not like the other

One jarring experience with the Aorus X5 is using its proprietary software. The macros, performance gauges and command and control software all have a common theme that looks absolutely out of place among the smooth, clean lines of Windows 8.

Instead of trying to match the overall feel of the OS, Aorus’s software tries to match itself to the design of the laptop itself. The result is an unattractive user interface (UI) that sticks out and ends up looking cheap despite its usefulness.

Specifications and performance

It’s by no means the lightest computer out there, but for what’s inside, the Aorus X5 is lighter than you might think. I was surprised when I first pulled it out of the box. At 2.5kg, or 5.5 pounds, the Aorus X5 is a full pound heavier than the Razer Blade 2015, but still feels lighter than it should. It’s impressive given all the hardware the X5 has tucked inside. And it’s just under an inch thick when closed, coming it at 0.9 inches, or 22.9mm.

Aorus X5 review

The Origin EON15-X is 45% heavier, at 7.5 pounds (3.4kg), while the Razer Blade comes in at a full pound lighter. I never feel that the weight is an issue when carrying the Aorus X5 from seat to desk, or vice versa. But the fairly bulky power brick adds significantly to the strain on my shoulder when transporting the unit via laptop bag.

At 390 x 272 x 22.9mm, or 15.35 x 10.72 x 0.9 inches, the X5 is larger and thicker than the Blade, more closely resembling the EON15-X at 15.16 x 10.67 x 0.98 inches, or 358 x 271 x 24mm.

The specs on the Aorus X5 provided for testing are as follows:

Spec sheet

  • CPU: 2.7GHz Intel Core i7-5700HQ (quad-core, 6MB cache, up to 3.5GHz with Turbo Boost)
  • Graphics: 2 x Nvidia GeForce GTX 965M SLI (8GB GDDR5 VRAM)
  • Memory: 8GB DDR3L (1,866 MHz)
  • Screen: 15.6-inch 2,880 x 1,620 WQHD+ LCD with G-Sync
  • Storage: M.2 265GB x 2 SSD (RAID 0), 1TB 7,200 rpm HDD
  • Connectivity: Killer LAN, Intel AC 7265 802.11ac Wireless
  • HD Webcam
  • Weight: 5.51 lbs, 2.5kg
  • Size: 15.35 x 10.72 x 0.9 inches, 390 x 272 x 22.9 mm (W x D x H)

As tested, the X5 costs $2,299 USD (about ₤1,478, AU$2,973). That’s no small sum of money, but it’s $100 cheaper than the Blade and has a ton of storage included. The X5 can be configured with up to 3.5TB of disk space, and there are three slots for SSDs, meaning you have the option of anywhere from 128 to 512GB of flash storage.

All that storage is good news in the world of increasingly enormous games. Grand Theft Auto 5 clocks in at over 60GB, which would decimate the Blade’s storage but barely scratches the surface of the X5’s hard disk space. As modern games increase in size and complexity, even the base X5 allows for some wiggle room.

Aorus X5 review

When it comes to resolution, the X5 just barely lags behind the Blade. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with the G-Sync enabled display. At 2,880 x 1,620, beyond-HD video looks simply incredible. YouTube’s UHD offerings are presented in phenomenal clarity, and the color reproduction on the X5 is fantastic.

I find myself watching, and then rewatching, wildlife videos on YouTube, simply because they looked so amazing. The screen is also bright enough that I was able to use it in direct sunlight, and there’s a light sensor above the screen that automatically adjusts brightness based on the ambient lighting.

Aorus X5 review

The Blade’s 3,200 x 1,800 screen manages to cram in more pixels, but the X5 can hook up to an external monitor for full 4K output. It also supports up to three monitors at 5,750 x 1,080 resolution, a function I was sadly unable to test.

Performance

The Aorus X5 doesn’t just borrow its styling cues from modern super cars. When it comes to performance, half the fun is pushing the machine to its limits. I had zero issue editing photos in Lightroom or watching UHD content on YouTube. I even played around editing some 4K video in Premiere Pro, and the X5 handled it without so much as batting an eye.

When it came to gaming, I found myself loading up some slightly older games to see how far I could push the settings. On 2013’s Tomb Raider reboot, turning the graphical settings to 11 presented nothing in the way of performance loss at 1080p. I could even turn on TressFX, which rendered Lara Croft’s hair in a way that I didn’t even realize I’d been missing this whole time. Now I’m loathe to go back.

Aorus X5 review

All that horsepower comes with more than just a monetary price, however. Fan noise is definitely a problem. The computer has to work hard to pull all that heat away from the processors, and once the graphical intensity ramps up, so does the fan noise.

There are different, pre-programmed fan modes in the Command & Control software bundled in with the computer, but turning the fans to "quiet" produces a noticeable hit to performance, thanks to thermal throttling. Metro: Last Light, for example, on high settings crawled to a paltry 17 frames per second (fps).

Here’s how the Aorus X5 handled our benchmarks:

Benchmarks

  • 3DMark: Cloud Gate: 22,374; Sky Diver: 21,246; Fire Strike: 7,855
  • Cinebench CPU: 709 points; Graphics: 116 fps
  • PCMark 8 (Home Test): 3,776 points
  • PCMark 8 Battery Life: 2 hours and 16 minutes
  • Middle Earth: SoM (1080p, Ultra): 58 fps; (1080p, Low): 127 fps
  • Metro: Last Light (1080p, Ultra): 34 fps; (1080p, Low): 103 fps

The X5 easily beats out the Blade, but falls short of absolute dominance in our benchmarks, unlike the Origin EON15-X. The faster processor and graphical boost afforded by the two GTX 965M in SLI, coupled with the slight reduction in resolution from the Blade, lets the X5 pull ahead. At full resolution, the X5 was able to run Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor at a surprising 39 fps.

G-Sync non-buff

The display is one of the first of its kind with Nvidia’s G-Sync enabled. Surprisingly turning on this option produces a negligible drop in performance on nearly every test.

Aorus X5 review

While the benchmarks certainly seem to run unabated with G-Sync turned on, the practical differences of the flicker and ghosting-reducing technology were almost equally unnoticeable. I had to really try to see a difference, and only really noticed when I ran the G-Sync Pendulum demo that came with the computer.

Sure, it’s "portable"

Battery life for the Aorus X5 borders on the unacceptable. The PCMark 8 battery test results came in at 2 hours and 16 minutes, and anecdotally I was only just able to break the 2 hour mark with 8 extra minutes when streaming a movie with a dozen or so tabs running in the background. Working in Adobe Premiere on battery, with the screen at half brightness, sapped the juice in 1 hr 45 minutes.

You’ll get better battery life out of the Origin EON15-X (2 hours and 8 minutes) and Razer Blade (3 hours and 43 minutes), both of which outlasted the Aorus X5. This means Gigabyte’s SLI-toting machine is severely limited in portability, and isn’t that the entire point of having a laptop in the first place?

Verdict

I’m going to have serious problems going back to sub-UHD after experiencing the Aorus X5. It does everything a gaming laptop should do, and it does it extremely well. The laptop presents itself as a machine for gamers by virtue of its angular design and its plentiful vents. The look is more an asterisk than an exclamation point, and Gigabyte did well by wrapping the X5 in a skin in which it clearly belongs.

While the high-powered graphics capabilities, phenomenal screen, and onboard streaming card make this a fantastic fit for high-powered gamers, its incessant fan noise and utterly awful battery life keeps the Aorus X5 from truly reaching greatness. It performs better than the Blade at slightly lower resolution, and its plentiful storage options more than make up for its lower pixel count. Beyond gaming performance, anyone who works with graphics and processing heavy applications would do well to add the Aorus X5 to their fleet.

We liked

Everything looks beautiful on the Aorus X5 screen. Photos are rendered in vivid color and clarity, and Ultra HD video runs smoothly and without issue. Older games can be pushed to their highest settings, and modern games run well and look beautiful when optimized with Nvidia’s GeForce software.

The optional streaming hardware allowed me to play Super Meat Boy on my Twitch channel at a solid 720p, 60 fps, and the programmable macros were perfect for quick and effortless multi-button inputs. It’s also a worthy status symbol: every single one of my friends wanted to see it in action.

We disliked

If you want to push the laptop at all, you’re going to end up making a whole bunch of noise. The fans run hard and they run loud. Eliminating the fan noise through software is possible, but greatly diminishes the performance that makes the X5 so appealing.

The roughly 2-hour battery life is fine when you consider everything the X5 is doing. But as anyone who’s lost themselves in an open world game can tell you, two hours can come and go in what feels like the blink of an eye.

Final verdict

The Aorus X5 is an excellent machine that offers tons of gamer-specific features beyond just its pretty screen and processing power. The bright, colorful display is adequately powered, and the X5 handles productivity applications as easily as gaming. Part of the fun for me was seeing just how great my older games looked with their settings and resolution turned to the max.

Sure, this laptop falls short of the Origin EON15-X in benchmarking, and the Razer Blade 2015 in resolution and battery. But the Killer LAN, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, onboard video encoder for streaming or recording and the comfortable amount of available storage makes the X5 a serious contender for any power gamer out there looking for a beastly machine to impress their friends.

The X5 is smack-dab in the middle of the EON-15X and the Blade 2015, falling just short of the former but eking by the latter. If you don’t mind being a slave to power outlets, or are looking for a laptop that could replace an aging desktop, the Aorus X5 will more than satisfy your PC gaming needs.

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