It’s not often I review a laptop that makes me want to hum YMCA or gyrate to Saturday Night Fever. Then again, it’s not often I review a laptop made by Gigabyte Technology with a keyboard that flashes blue, green and red, and makes you feel you’re at a 70s disco.
While it has the components of a gaming laptop, Gigabyte’s pitch of the Aero 15 includes the commercial world, so you could see your company elite dancing on the boardroom table. Alternatively, you could be booted out of meetings having annoyed everyone with the light show.
Gigabyte’s laptops are not as well known as, say, those of Apple, Dell and Hewlett-Packard, but they’ve been in the market for decades and are readily available, even if not through some big retailers.
The Taiwanese firm is known as a pioneer of motherboard and computer hardware manufacture. It also makes graphics cards, and myriad components for gaming, laptops and tablets. In the era when people built their own computers, you would typically start assembly by screwing down a Gigabyte motherboard into an empty desktop case, as I did many times.
More recently, Gigabyte has developed its Aorus line of high-performance, high-end gaming laptops and at this month’s Computex computer fair in Taipei highlighted new ones such as the X5 MD and X9.
The Aero 15, which I have been trialling, has a seventh-generation Core i7 processor released this year. The i7-7700HQ in the Aero is used in several new gaming laptops, so you would expect it to be zippy. The NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 graphics card is pitched to gaming, too.
In my tests, Aero 15 proved to be very capable but not at the high end of gaming performance, scoring 29.57 frames per second in graphics performance and 478cb in CPU performance in Cinebench R15.
There’s some things to note upfront. First, this is a laptop, not a smaller notebook. At 36.5cm wide, it wouldn’t fit comfortably in an over-the-shoulder bag, and at 2.1kg, while not a lead weight, is heavier than, say, a 15-inch MacBook Pro (1.83kg). The notebooks that you’d stow in a backpack these days are lighter and smaller.
But for taking to meetings, or putting in the car to use in a presentation offsite, you’ll have plenty of computer grunt when you get there.
There is an abundance of connection options. On the left side there’s Ethernet, USB3, HDMI 2.0, mini DisplayPort 1.3 and audio, on the right an SD card reader, USB Type-C, and two more USB3 ports. Who says it is sexy just to have a single USB-C connector on a notebook? Certainly not Gigabyte.
It says its USB-C connector with Thunderbolt 3 is capable of transfer speeds of up to 40 Gbps. You’ll need a Thunderbolt 3 USB-C cable and an incredibly fast external device to get near that. I got 0.71Gbps using a straight USB-C to USB-C connector to an external drive. Gigabit says the Thunderbolt 3 port can support two 5K displays simultaneously.
Aero 15 doesn’t have a DVD reader/Blu-ray player. That’s something worth pointing out to Gigabyte, which insists on including DVDs in packaging with utility drivers and PowerDVD 12. How do I load these into the machine?
The Aero 15 keyboard takes getting used to. As I mentioned, Gigabyte has a key backlighting system that spectacularly flashes from red to green to blue and back to red. Fortunately, pressing Fn + space will lower the brightness, and a second press will turn it off. Huh! But at a conference in a darkened hall where you need backlighting for typing, you’ll be the talk of the row — more so if you also opt for the bright orange chassis ahead of the more subdued black one. We’re told a green-coloured Aero isn’t available in Australia.
You get a full-sized keyboard including the separate numeric keypad on the right-hand side, as with a regular desktop keyboard. If you’re used to a notebook, keys at the right are translated leftward. The trackpad offers smooth operation although the direction of scrolling is opposite to say, a Microsoft Surface Book. When you drag your fingers downward on the trackpad, you go down a web page. On many laptops, you’re dragging the web page down the screen and seeing what’s above it.
The Aero 15 case with its striking red monogram is 35.6cm wide but with a small 5mm bezel manages to house a 15.6-inch display. It currently offers 1080p resolution and is bright and clear. There’ll be a 4K version of Aero 15 in the third quarter.
Gigabyte says it has partnered with X-Rite Pantone to ensure colours are accurately reproduced, although it’s hard to tell with the naked eye.
It has a big 94-watt hour battery. Using our battery test of playing video at 50 per cent brightness with hardware acceleration enabled, I received seven hours of continuous playback. It’s good for a laptop with a fast Core i7 processor rather than mobile device chip, but not in the league of notebooks with energy-saving processors that offer well over 10 hours. Horses for courses.
There are a few riders. There are big venting grills on the underside and, while that keeps the laptop cooler, you might not want to play too much high-end gaming with it on your lap. The fan is noisy when switched to maximum, but you can manually control it by pressing Fn + esc.
The webcam is at the bottom of the display rather than above, which usually means relatively unflattering images.
Personally, I’ve moved away from laptops with full keyboards to more compact notebooks, but if you want a business laptop, the Aero 15 will give you power on the go. We’ll see you at the YMCA. Both the black and orange versions are available for $2899 online.
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