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Review: GIGABYTE Aero 14 Laptop

GIGABYTE is freaking killing it in the laptop department. With the Aero 14 970m laptop, GIGABYTE is now a serious competitor in the bloody battlefield of ultraslim but powerful PCs occupied by companies that have decades of laptop experience under their digital belts.

Really, the $1599 GIGABYTE Aero 14 is a toned down version of GIGABYTE's upscale Aorus brand’s X5s Camo, which is a good thing -- I loved that laptop, despite the forest invisibility camo print. In my book, the Aorus X-Series sets the benchmark for crazy powerful but portable machines. With the Aero, we’re seeing some of that coveted trickle down engineering.

Now, let’s get something out of the way -- 10 series NVIDIA GPUs. If you’re like me, you’re thinking 970m is so last month. 10 is the future and we want to live in the future. But NVIDIA likes to do slooow rollouts, so it’s likely the 1070m and 1080m won’t arrive for another 6 months (and they probably won’t wear the “m” mobile badge). If you want to buy a laptop, then think “9” for now.

What makes the Aero 14 unique in a marketplace packed with things that fold? It’s a i7-6700HQ with a GTX 970m 3GB graphics card masquerading as a 14” ultrabook. The phrase “ultrabook” is being nerfed for 2-in-1 or gaming laptop. The Aero 14 is neither. It’s more of what I like to call a slim beast that does it all -- Photoshopping, gaming, 10 battery life excursions and more.

GIGABYTE Aero 14 Specs:

  • 6th Generation Intel® Core™ i7-6700HQ (2.6GHz-3.5GHz)
  • 14" QHD 2560x1440 IPS Wide Viewing Angle Anti-Glare Display LCD
  • 8GB/16GB DDR4 2133, 2 slots (Max 32GB)
  • NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX 970M GDDR5 3GB
  • 2 x M.2 SSD slots (Type 2280, supports NVMe PCIe X4 & SATA)
  • Auto-Adjusting Backlit Keyboard
  • USB 3.0 (Type-A) x 3, USB 3.1(Type-C), HDMI 2.0, mini-DP, Headphone-out jack (Audio-in Combo), SD Card Reader, DC-in Jack 
  • 94.24Wh Huge Battery Capacity -- 10 hour expected life
  • Only .78" thick (19.9mm) and 4.17lbs (1.89kg)

TOURING THE AERO 14

At .78” thick and 4.16lbs, the Aero 14 is a decidedly tiny computer, but it’s nowhere near breaking featherweight records. When it comes to laptops with 970m+ graphics, it’s definitely in a unique territory occupied by few other laptops.

The Aero 14 also goes with a QHD screen they call “3K.” 3K is misleading, it’s really 2560x1440. But 3K makes more sense in the 2K/4K context, so here we are. In reality, the matte IPS screen is super bright and clearly premium, which is a must for the money.

The Aero 14 also runs a 250GB PCIe SSD. That’s PCIe NVMe, mind you, so 400% faster than a traditional SSD. 16GB of DDR4, expandable up to 32GB. Additionally, the Aero 14 arrives with triple USB 3.0 ports, HDMI 2.0, mini-DP, and USB-C 3.1, no Thunderbolt 3 yet. Battery life with 94.24Wh is said to run a full 10 hours doing regular human things not Witcher 3 things. I believe it.

Additionally, colors! I’m always complaining about the lack of laptop colors. GIGABYTE is offering the Aero 14 in Tangerine Sunburst, Split Pea Soup and Carbon Midnight (I jest, the colors are green, orange and black. I appreciate Gig’s lack of overblown color marketing).

REAL WORLD BATTLEFIELD

I ran the GIGABYTE through my exhaustive Laptop Gauntlet of Doom -- aka life. A little gaming, a little productivity, a little of everything and a lot of carrying it around in my weak gamer arms. And it has to do it without becoming a 10lb personal crucible like some gaming laptops.

Overall, I think this formfactor is a winner. A GTX 970m in a laptop barely heavier than the competition is something special. Sure, the marketing talk is all “performance and portability” but it feels like the crack engineers at GIGABYTE really took that to heart. I mean, their Aorus X series is an example of just how many GPUs you can pack in a slim machine. The X7 has twin 970m cards for bigger 3DMark scores than a single GTX 980. No joke.

This step up for GIGABYTE is a big deal in my book. I used the other entry level gamers from GIGABYTE like the P57 in all its plastic glory and wasn’t as impressed. They feel like a previous generation’s machines. Hell, there’s even a front DVD drive on the P57, just begging to be accidentally bumped and crushed. It wasn’t next gen.

The Aero 14 is next gen. The Aero with its all aluminum design was an everyday warrior the same way the Aorus X5 was begging to slay the FPS and go on the road.

As for other touches, I found the stereo speakers to be surprisingly adequate, better than others in the slim competition though they’re a far cry from the triple or quad speaker setup of much larger laptops - -physics, mind you. But the sound quality was, in fact, quality, even without aftermarket speaker branding like Bose or Harmon Kardon or Wilson. I wouldn’t be disappointed and I’m an audiophile.

KEYBOARD LOVE

Now, let’s talk keyfeel. I’m a big mechanical keyboard nerd and the instant I tried the GIGABYTE I was all like “ah yiss” -- again, someone in the laptop engineering department knows what’s up. These are some nice keys. Better than the Aorus? Maybe, I’d have to test back to back, but I really like crisp click, nautical miles better than membrane affairs.

Gig says their 1.7mm of travel puts the 1.1mm of the Razer Blade 14 to shame. I don’t have a Blade to compare, but combined with the Aero’s “80 melting points island style keyboard” I think they have a winner. What is 80 melting points? No idea. Actually, I have an idea -- in mech keyboards, you want as many contact points under the keys as possible. The extra contacts makes for a stronger experience.

Whatever the tech, GIGABYTE’s engineering team deserves a nice steak dinner for a killer keyboard.

OTHER KEYBOARD TOUCHES

Interestingly, GIGABYTE packs two unique keyboard features in the laptop -- on the left side are “G” macro keys pulled directly from their fancier Aorus laptops, and home/end/pageup/down on the right side.

Let me just say I love the home/end arrangement. I find myself using those keys like nobody’s biz. Maybe it’s because I live on the keyboard, but I’m glad some smart laptop designer wanted the same touches as I did.

The macro keys are every bit as good as the Aorus models -- five different colors for a total of 25 different macros. Get to binding because they are pretty useful for gamers/editors.

TRACKPAD XL

Again, top marks for the trackpad. While I hesitate making any definitive claims about rankings, it definitely feels like a premium pad, not an afterthought like some gaming laptops. I feel like the Aero is better in this department than the Aorus models. It’s huge, it’s sensitive, no separate buttons, but all clickable.

DOWNSIDES?

There’s always compromises because, you know, physics. The same issues with the Aorus X5 hold here -- namely, it can get loud and hot under full gaming loads. This is one of those First Laws things that won’t be resolved until quantum computing or whatever.

The Aorus, being all aluminum, is kinda begging for hot plate status. GIGABYTE deals with the leg burn using copper pipe and fan setup that’s pretty cool, but there’s no way to get over the raw temps the 970m puts out.

LET’S TALK LOOKS

I’m superficial with my laptops -- I want top performance to look the part. Far too many laptops are boring black slabs that, from a distance, could be either $300 chromebooks or $3000 Aorus murder machines.

The Aero 14, while a step in the right direction, just isn’t as styled as I’d like. Of course, everyone has their personal preferences. My preference veers away from semi-gloss towards matte or super high-gloss. Yeah, I’m a paint dork.

The Aorus X5 Camo’s finish -- not the camo print itself -- was excellent. The matte hydro-dip was something special and should be found on more laptops.

The Aero 14’s colored top lid, however, doesn’t quite live up to the promise. It seems a little out of place to me. Where the rest of the laptop is matte pebbled, the lid is semi-gloss with a faux carbon fiber cutout.

And the colors aren’t my thing. I do love hipster green and orange, but these aren’t them. GIGABYTE slays the black/orange theme in other places, but here it’s far too...what’s the word? Pedestrian? Predictable? I’m not sure, but I want edgier colors in either automotive gloss finish or matte hydro color dip. Maybe it’s too costly, but I can dream.

OVERALL

The GIGABYTE Aero 14 is going to make a lot of people very, very happy. It’s a 970m 14” version of the absolute beast that is the Aorus X5 camo. And since it’s $1599 rather than $2599, I can predict this will be a top seller for people who want a dreamy keyboard and actual portability in a gaming laptop (crazy right?) but also want the muscle for everything from Doom to Lightroom. Steak dinner, GIGABYTE, you deserve it.