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Review: GIGABYTE Aero 15 Laptop

Building off the sleeping giant GIGABYTE Aero 14, the new Aero 15 is simply one of the best 15 inchers available and, if I can be hyperbolic for a moment, sets a new standard for how performance “everyman” laptops should be made.

Why, you ask? 15.6” “bezel-less” display in a 14 inch laptop body. Just like the Dell XPS 15. Here, the GIGABYTE has over 10 hours battery life and 4.62lbs weight.

Plus it has a GTX 1060 inside.

So those specs put it in rarified territory.

Now, all this wouldn’t matter for much if the laptop was poorly executed with cringe-worthy build quality and buggy software. Gaming laptops are known for having issues, especially when they try to cram big graphics in small bodies.

The GIGABYTE? You can probably tell from my tone that the Aero 15 is solid -- figuratively and literally. This isn’t some half-baked product, it’s ready for the prime time. As was the Aero 14.

In fact, one of the guys at the office tried the Aero 14, then 15 and immediately ordered one.

The Aero 14 Story

The Aero 14 debuted in June 2016 with a 6th Gen CPU and an NVIDIA GTX 970m along with a huge battery. It was a unique product with barely any marketing. When I saw the Aero 14, it was one of those moments where I questioned myself as a reviewer -- why aren’t other people talking about this laptop? Why isn’t this in the top of recommended laptop roundups? What am I missing?

Also, GIGABYTE isn’t known for laptops. Their gaming models, while good, are black plastic slabs with optical drives and thermal issues. So basically just like most other gaming laptops.

GIGABYTE’s higher end brand Aorus had released laptops a year before and, while incredibly thin and powerful, lacked the marketing push to make people realize there was a new serious player on the market.

The Aero 14 was basically a test run -- take the Aorus design methodology and make an everyman’s laptop. But would the market want a premium laptop that wasn’t exactly a gaming laptop? Did people spending $1700 care about qualities other than G-Sync and max FPS?

It turned out that the Aero 14 hit a sweet spot in the market. Once it launched on Newegg, it was sold out for months.

Touring The Aero

The Aero 15 is much like the 14 -- everything good about the 14 holds over...for the most part.

That means solid aluminum construction, good scissor key feel, responsive but standard track pad, slim power bank and a good software suite.

The speakers on both models aren’t going to win any awards, but get the job done and definitely sound better than most super budget laptops.

The software included gives you gaming-style controls over fans, CPUs and GPUs though most users won’t mess with it.

One piece of software that is actually very useful is the Smart Update tool that shows you a snapshot of all your various device drivers and gives you one-click ability to update everything. This means Intel LAN, Thunderbolt 3 and other software. It’s a useful tool that, while seen on other laptops, is particularly useful on the GIGABYTE machines.

You can see the Aero 15 in action here-

All The Ports!

Thank you, GIGABYTE. The Aero 15 is clearly a pro device in its choice of ports, unlike the Macbook Pro. We’re talking full size HDMI 2.0, mini DisplayPort 1.3 (both good for 4k 60Hz output and even future displays like 8k), Thunderbolt 3, full size SD card reader, and triple USB 3.0 ports as well as ETHERNET. Yay. There’s also an extra 2.1 amp USB charging port on the slim power bank.

Compared To The Aero 14

While the laptops are practically identical, there are a couple differences.

First, the 14 has a 14 inch screen. No kidding. But it’s a 1440p and a great display. So even though the Aero 15 is more expensive, you’re taking a step down to 1080p.

The 14 also has a set of macro keys along the left side. I find the Aero’s keys some of the most useful out there -- great for mapping to apps with the GIGABYTE software.

On the Aero 15, the macros are gone to make room for the numpad on the right. The 15’s keyboard is probably the slimmest keyboard with num pad on the market.

 

Compared To The Dell XPS 15

I haven’t used the latest XPS 15, though it has been on my short list of laptops I personally want to purchase. The lack of the GTX 1060 has held me back -- I wanted a higher power GPU.

The XPS 15 at $1749 is the closest competitor -- i7, 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD and GTX 1050 with 4GB RAM (the Aero 14’s 1060 has 6GB).

The Dell comes with a fancier NVMe SSD rather than the GIGABYTE’s SATA SSD. GIGABYTE does provide double M.2 ports for adding in a second NVMe drive if you want.

That means solid aluminum construction, good scissor key feel, responsive but standard track pad, slim power bank and a good software suite.

The Aero 15 really wins on ports -- HDMI 2.0 vs 1.4, DP 1.3 vs nothing, full ethernet vs nothing.

The Dell XPS 15 with the 97Wh battery is slightly lighter at 4.5lbs vs 4.64lbs.

The battery on the Dell is said to last 19.5 hours of “productivity” using MobileMark while the Aero 15 advertises 10 hours. Both have very similar batteries, though the GTX 1060 sucks considerably more juice. My guess is there are a few more hours left in the GIGABYTE during non-GPU active applications.

Finally, the Aero 15 also adds a num pad while the Dell sticks to the standard design.

In all, there’s a reason why myself and others here are really excited about the Aero 15 -- better specs, just slightly heavier.

Versus The Macbook Pro 15

It’s murder-town, folks. Apple botched their latest devices and the numbers speak for themselves.

Starting price for the Mac? Try not to laugh: $2399.

Mac wins with a higher res 2880x1800 display, though that’s not 4k. Apple also has a fancy light up bar. The Mac is lighter at 4.06lbs vs 5.62lbs and slightly slimmer across the board.

The Aero wins across the board with a 7th Gen CPU vs 6th Gen CPU, 94Wh battery vs 76Wh, 15.6” display vs 15.4”, 16GB DDR4-2400MHz vs LPDDR3-2133MHz, 512GB SSD vs 256GB (though the Apple is NVMe).

And, ya know, real ports rather than just USB-C and the bag of dongles (sold separately).

Oh, and the Aero 15 has the GTX 1060 6Gb vs a Radeon Pro 450 2GB.

Let me repeat that: Radeon 450 2GB! That’s...sad, Apple. You can spec out the base model with a 460 with 4GB and a higher i7 CPU (still 6th Gen) to bring the price up to $2899.

And that’s still vastly weaker than the base Aero 15. Apple, for a hot minute, was competitive in the price/performance game, but now? Apple is price gouging. And doesn’t even offer anything that’s remotely close to a premium Pro laptop. Sure, the Macbook Pro is 4.

Good RGB Keys

A quick note on RGBs -- you don’t have to do Rainbow Bright 24/7. I set up the Aero 15’s keys with a subtle palette to highlight keys I use the most and to help me find my finger placement for touch typing. My setup put one color on the arrow cluster, another for just the letter keys, another for top row numbers and a final color for the keypad.

Then again, the basic RGB flow is quite subtle and nice, not like the freak show LEDs on some keyboards.

The Screen

The “bezel-less” display is an IGZO affair, seen on Dell’s XPS laptops and expensive monitors. It’s interesting it has taken this long for another manufacturer to use the bezel-less display in a powerful consumer laptop.

Of course, manufacturing agreements can lock up unique products for years.

Here, the model we received has the 15.6” HD resolution display with a matte finish and no touching action.

A 4K model is said to be coming though we haven’t heard any details if the 4k screen will be touch sensitive like the Dell XPS 15.

That aside, the screen looks great and, while we didn’t do any display benchmarks, the color accuracy with the X-Rite Pantone Calibration is a good indication that GIGABYTE is providing the needs for professional graphics users.

Finally, the webcam is located on the bottom, just like the Dell XPS series. It just comes with the territory of slim screens. I never use the webcam, I put a solid layer of tape and tinfoil over it. Because, ya know, spies.

Thunderbolt 3

The Aero 15 has Thunderbolt 3, unlike the 14. The promise of Thunderbolt 3 is vast -- 40 Gbps, external PCIe devices, buckets of monitors, etc.

Interestingly, in our tests with the StarTech Thunderbolt to Dual DP or Dual HDMI we weren’t able to get both display out ports to work -- only a single display output would function at a time.

Thunderbolt 3, while offering incredible promise, has some quirks that make it kinda funky. One of them is how displays are routed through Thunderbolt.

In desktops, some manufacturers use a mini DP out from a GPU to a separate PCIe Thunderbolt 3 card. This then pipes the DP through the Thunderbolt 3 out. With StarTech, some Thunderbolt 3 devices support only one display, some two. And there is very little info to help cut through the confusion.

Some laptops do the double display out over Thunderbolt 3 and it probably has to do with how the internal GPU is connected. Here, we’re betting the structure of the Aero doesn’t pipe an extra DP out of the card into the Thunderbolt 3 connection. Or not -- the Aero 14 advertises dual 5K display over Thunderbolt 3. Is it an issue with StarTech? We don’t have other T3 dual devices to try. But, as of now, we can’t recommend dual display over Thunderbolt 3 if you’re going for multiple setups.

That said, it might be fixed in software updates in the future but, as it is, this tech is so new, it has been try to figure out what is really happening -- and that’s even talking to the developers.

Benchmarks

We tested the GTX 1060 against a full size desktop variation, and were impressed to find only an 8 to 10% difference in performance.

We ran Firestrike to get a sens eof the GPU's performance and ended up with a score of  9,483 -

And an overall system score of 3,510 from Timespy.

Let's Talk Thermals

The challenge of slim laptops with fat GPUs is thermal destruction. GIGABYTE’s own P35 and P37 gaming laptops have had some thermal throttling when pushing hard. Meaning, the GPU hits 90 degrees and decides it doesn’t want to die, so it scales back the performance.

The Aero 15, in our real world gaming tests, didn’t thermal throttle. That’s important. Because “real world” is what you want to look for. We didn’t try nuking the laptop with stress test benchmarks because no one using this laptop would ever run 100% GPU and CPU load at the same time -- it just doesn’t happen in the real world.

And the lack of throttling holds true, at least in our tests, for the Aorus laptops which are similarly slim and powerful. So GIGABYTE’s dev team is using the slabs of aluminum to keep it cool.

The good news is, even during heavy Overwatch sessions, the Aero 15 never got too toasty for our wrists. This is a big problem with gaming laptops -- they become too dang hot to touch. Again, the Aero 15’s design kept the keyboard nice and “cool.” Well, warm, but nothing close to other gaming laptops or even GIGABYTE’s cheaper plastic offerings.

Let's Talk Looks

The Aero 15, like the Aero 14, is a full aluminum laptop that, in the pictures, doesn’t look like a monolithic slab compared to other full metal machines. In fact, it looks a little like plastic which, combined with their “Nano-Imprint Lithography”, makes the laptop look noticeably different than other high end laptops.

To me, the difference in appearance isn’t exactly a good thing. I prefer the unibody style of other solid aluminum models.

Or, better yet, give us some interesting colors. Gloss white with subtle touches would be better than the pea green and safety orange. Combined with the envelope triangle at the base of the screen, it’s not uncommon to hear people in the office say “that looks weird.”

I’m told the green and orange colors are popular in other countries, but the sales of the colors are a fraction of the black model. So why not try out something hot in the US market? Swapping colors can’t be that tricky.

Overall

The Aero 15 is a monster of a laptop and the device that should put GIGABYTE on the map as a major laptop player. With a subtle exterior design tweak, it could really appeal to the premium designer and content creator crowd, not to mention the everyday do-everything people like myself who crank out some videos and end the day with a couple dozen rounds of Overwatch.