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Review: GIGABYTE Aero 14 GTX 1060 Laptop

The GIGABYTE Aero 14 “everything” laptop enters the market as PCs are having a bit of an identity crisis. At just over 4 pounds with GTX 1060 performance, killer build quality, and a freakishly huge 94.24w battery, the updated Aero 14 with 7th Gen i7-7700HQ is in unique territory that has been all but abandoned by traditional PC companies.

While there are high-end gaming laptops (like GIGABYTE’s own P35, P55 and Aorus), there aren’t many high-end do-everything laptops. The Macbook Pro has dominated the high-end semi-pro leagues with great build quality, good-enough graphics, and heaps of marketing money to kill the competition.

With Apple’s domination of the “look, I have an expensive laptop” market, the PC side has been split between gaming laptops and ultra portables. Of course, Apple has all but abandoned the users that put it in the big leagues, focusing instead on phones and gold phones and phones without jacks and you get the idea.

The GIGABYTE Aero 14 is aiming for that do-everything crowd. That means a 512GB SSD, but SATA variety, not the faster (and more expensive) NVMe model. The GTX 1060 graphics card is good for some serious gaming, though the screen offered is a 1440p model without G-Sync. Processor is the latest 7th Gen Kaby Lake i7-7700HQ.

VS THE MAINSTREAM

The price of the Aero 14 with the aforementioned specs is $1749. That’s pricey, but the Macbook Pro 15 starts at $2399 with a 6th gen CPU and Radeon RX 450 GPU – a 450 gets slapped around by the GTX 1060. The Macbook Pro with the RX 460 and higher i7 jumps up to $3099, and the 460 still gets bullied by the 1060 in embarrassing ways.

The 13-incher Mac doesn’t even come with discrete graphics. Of course, they do come with fancy bars and higher rez monitors, though not 4k or G-Sync.

But, as some Mac fans will point out, the Macbook Pro trades performance for portability – or that’s what Tim Cook claims. He’s not wrong – the Macbook Pro 15 is 4.02lbs compared to the Aero 14’s 4.16lbs. So you trade a GTX 1060, up to 32GB RAM (16 max for the Mac), a 94.24Wh battery (76Wh on the Mac) for…

Point one four pounds.

It’s no wonder I’ve seen multiple diehard Apple fans make the move.

As for comparisons to competing PC brands, the Aero 14 is in a unique space, though there are more PC manufacturers looking to get out of the pure gaming realm and offer killer portable laptops with big graphics without big red LEDs.

But there is one area where GIGABYTE crushes the competition...

BIG OL’ BATTERY

94.24 watt/hours. Just a number, but a number dramatically bigger than competing laptops. Since this is a “game a little, work a little” kinda laptop, battery life is typically high on the shopping list.

Also, other gaming laptops with GTX 1060s typically put in a baby battery good for two hours of web browsing. They expect you to plug it in at all times.

The Aero has just about the largest battery available on a laptop this size – much bigger than the Razer Blade 14’s 70Wh, MSI Phantom Pro’s 61Wh, and the 15-inch Macbook Pro’s 76Wh.

And we found GIGABYTE did a great job with battery management and performance throttling to dial in performance depending on needs. GIGABYTE claims 10 hours of usage, and we believe it.

Of course, if you do try to game while unplugged, the Aero throttles down GPU usage to 30FPS to keep the PC from dying in 20 minutes. This is pretty standard for most scenarios.

For me, being able to crank out a few rounds of Overwatch plugged in at an airport and then have enough battery life for a 5-hour flight is pretty damn impressive.

So, yeah, the Aero is a GTX 1060 laptop with real battery life that isn’t the size of a freakin’ tugboat. 

GET YOUR GAME ON

A GTX 1060 means you’re VR ready and able to crush it in the latest games. The 1440p screen looks gorgeous, and many feel it’s the right compromise in this form factor between 1080 and 4k.

On Overwatch, I was hitting 85-degree temps. Now, the Aero (and many laptops) throttle performance based on a max system temp – in this case, 85 degrees. I’ve pushed other laptops up to 90 before they nerfed performance.

On Epic mode in Overwatch, the Aero was hitting 65-70 FPS with 1440p resolution. Dropping down to 1080p resolution bumped the frames up close to 100 FPS.

During my casual playing, I didn’t notice any thermal throttling, despite the Aero 14 staying right around 85 degrees during heavy gameplay. 

THE WIND TUNNEL

Of course, a slim chassis means slim thermal management. So when gaming, the laptop is going to get loud to keep it cool. While I didn’t measure dBs, my personal feeling is the laptop was right on the border of annoying.

The sound was noticeable, but not nearly as bad as some other laptops, including some big gaming laptops that promise thermal performance. Even GIGABYTE’s own Aorus GTX 1070 laptops had to get louder to keep the PC cool. 

AUDIO

Speaking of sound, the speakers are in the middle of the pack. For a laptop with a fat battery and fat performance, getting phat beats like it’s the 90’s is challenging, but at least the Aero didn’t make my ears turn in on themselves. I wouldn’t give it any awards, but it got the job done and, in laptops, that’s good enough. 

OTHER TOUCHES

GIGABYTE also includes their “G” macro keys along the left side. Macro keys are cool if you don’t use them. GIG’s software lets you bind programs or combos to each key. You can also press the “G” key to switch between different colored sets. So the red set could be all gaming macros, while the purple set could be Netflix, mail, etc.

Speaking of the keyboard, it’s a pretty nice compromise between traditional keyboards and mechanical. It features some feel-good clicking, though some didn’t quite like how it felt. Personally, I really like the keyboard, and my daily keyboards include a Topre Realforce, Gateron Red, custom Leopold with MX browns, and more. So, ya know, I’d complain if the keys were potatoes.

The trackpad isn’t anything exciting, but it works better than some truly vestigial pads on gaming laptops. It gets the job done, but isn’t as large or responsive as others out there.

THUNDERBOLT 3?

Unfortunately, GIGABYTE didn’t include Thunderbolt 3 in the Aero 14. Now, the savvy among you are probably saying, “There is literally nothing on the market that uses Thunderbolt 3.” And, while you’re wrong, you’re not that wrong. There are T3 dongles for, ya know, laptops that don’t have normal ports.

But why Thunderbolt 3 will matter shortly is 4k raw video editing. The Aero 14 is powerful enough to edit the footage but storage speeds are, at this stage in 4k evolution, the big bottleneck.

So, for a laptop that eats the Mac’s lunch, having the ability to plug into Thunderbolt 3 to edit off a 4k raw RAID system would be very useful. Basically, an 8 bay RAID 0 system with Thunderbolt 3 will hit 2000MB/s, which is where you need to be to edit native 4k raw files. That’s something the pro crowd would appreciate. 

LET’S TALK COLOR THEORY

I’ll be blunt: these colors make me sad. The GIGABYTE Aero 14 comes in pea green, safety cone orange, and black with an orange stripe.

GIG’s marketing talks about Nano finishes but the colors are just...not right. They weren’t right last year, and they’re still not right this year.

I’m told the green and orange are big in countries that aren’t the USA, but how hard is it to, ya know, change the paint? It has to be easier than meeting UL safety codes and language localization.

Sure, the Nano lithography finish is really nice – basically, it’s a fancy coloring process. But lithography is typically used for attractive graphics. There are no graphics here, except the envelope-like design and a slight carbon texture. Why a green envelope? Is this actually a clever nod to some cultural inside joke? I’m genuinely curious.

Really, a unique, powerful laptop like the Aero 14 shouldn’t have to apologize for the strange design choices.

GIGABYTE’s higher-end brand Aorus does really excellent work, including the new motherboards with white and silver accents. Why not gloss white, two-tone anodized, or even matte silver finish like a SurfaceBook or any number of other laptops?

A company has to go out of their way to make green and orange laptops. When going bold, go bold in a way the market will appreciate. 

OVERALL

GIGABYTE’s understated Aero 14 is a sleeper in the performance laptop market. It’s undeniably a Macbook Pro killer.

The Aero 14 could use NVMe SSDs, Thunderbolt 3, and RGB keys, but that’s what the Aorus is for. The Aorus X3 lands around $1999 with a 13” G-Sync screen and all the fixins.

But it’s one thing to kill the Mac in specs; it’s another to kill it in sales. If GIGABYTE brought the same design savvy found in its other products to the Aero 14, the press would be talking about the Aero as “the new laptop to beat.”