Don't let anyone kid you otherwise – size matters. A featherweight portable may be great for saving your shoulders in transit, but there are inevitable compromises at the other end of the journey. Processing and graphics power are just the start. You will also have to make do with a smaller screen. If you don't make these compromises, you will almost certainly end up with a monster machine like Alienware's M18x.
We said “almost” in that last sentence because Gigabyte thinks there is another way. In a bold design move, Gigabyte's Aorus X7 manages to partner a 17.3in screen with Nvidia SLI graphics in a machine that is just 22.9mm thick – not much more than a lot of Ultrabooks.
Putting this in perspective, the Alienware M18x is 54.7mm thick, and weighs 5.41kg, against the X7's 2.9kg. The thinness of the X7 is just one area where the design grabs your attention. It also sports Alienware-like stealth fighter styling, although without the bling lighting. Gigabyte is clearly aiming to beat Alienware at its own game, and in many respects succeeds, although the core specification isn't quite so uncompromising as the M18x and its ilk.
The processor inside is the same Intel Haswell generation Core i7 as the last two Gigabyte notebooks we have looked at. This is the 4700HQ, which is a quad-core model running at a nominal 2.4GHz. But of course both these factors are enhanced, as with most Intel CPUs. Hyper-Threading turns the four physical cores into eight virtual ones, and Turbo Boost allows a single core to hit 3.4GHz when required, or all four to reach 3.2GHz.
Gigabyte has partnered this capable processor with 16GB of 1,600MHz DDR3 memory, spread across two DIMM slots. There are four in total, with a maximum of 32GB memory, so there's room to grow here, except that the sleek design means that there's no easy access to the memory slots without removing the entire bottom panel using a Torx screwdriver.
So far, so similar to the core specification of the 15.6in Gigabyte P35K. But the X7 has a special trick up its sleeve. Instead of just the single Nvidia GeForce GT 765M of the P35K, the X7 has two, which can be combined into a SLI configuration. This is a pretty amazing feat, considering the skinny side profile of the X7. Each 765M sports 768 CUDA cores and 2GB of GDDR5 memory, with 850MHz core and 4,000MHz memory clock frequencies. So this combination will provide pretty potent 3D acceleration for software that can benefit from SLI.
However, it's worth noting that although Intel HD 4600 graphics will still be integrated into the Core i7-4700HQ processor die, Nvidia Optimus technology is not supported, so this will be dormant even when you don't need powerful 3D acceleration, with potentially detrimental results for battery life.
The storage configuration takes the sensible compromise option of combining a solid state disk for the operating system and main applications with a regular hard disk for general data. The former is actually a pair of 128GB LiteOn LMT-128M6M drives configured as a RAID 0 array for improved performance, whilst the latter comes in the form of a whopping 1TB Toshiba 5,400rpm MQ01ABD100 unit. So there is plenty of storage available for all manner of activities. No optical drive is included, but we'd rather have the skinny profile than the almost certainly fatter one a DVD or Blu-ray drive would require. With games increasingly delivered via online stores like Steam rather than disc, this is a perfectly sensible choice.
The X7's 17.3in TFT is a more natural recipient of its 1,920 x 1,080 resolution than the 15.6in unit in Gigabyte's P35K. It's not quite as bright as the latter's display, though, and viewing angles aren't quite so excellent either, because it uses TN (Twisted Nematic) rather than the more expensive IPS technology. But this is still a crisply detailed screen that is more than up to providing enjoyable video and gaming. Audio isn't exactly booming, as you would expect from such a thin notebook, but there's an S/PDIF connection if you want the full surround experience instead.
With its 17in chassis, the X7 has plenty of room for a comfortable keyboard with full-sized keys. Although the keyboard is visibly very similar to the P35K's, we found the action more clearly defined, giving the X7 a superior typing experience. The larger, glossy trackpad is also an improvement over the P35K's, and it’s more responsive to clicks and taps. It is also considerately positioned beneath the keyboard spacebar, to minimise accidental brushing with the heel of your hand.
The proportions of the chassis also mean the X7 is extremely well endowed for ports. The left is home to minijacks for a microphone and headphones, with the latter doubling as an optical S/PDIF connection for surround sound. Then there's a USB 3.0 port, VGA, full-sized HDMI, and LAN – which uses a gamer-friendly Killer chipset. On the right is the SD card reader, another two USB 3.0 ports, a second full-sized HDMI, plus mini DisplayPort. So to say that your multi-monitor options are comprehensive would be an understatement. There are a couple of USB 2.0 ports on the rear next to the power connection, too. Wireless networking offers the latest 802.11ac standard, as well as Bluetooth 4.0.
Thanks to the SLI graphics, the X7 achieved the second highest score we have seen in Futuremark's 3DMark11, hitting 7357. Only Alienware's M18x was quicker. The result of 4,215 in the Firestrike portion of 3DMark is also highly impressive. The SLI graphics aren't so capable with professional OpenGL, providing 61.57 in Cinebench R11.5 and 89.41 in Cinebench R15. The single mobile Quadro in Scan's 3XS MGW-20 wins out here, although these are still very good results.
If you do need to engage in less entertainment-oriented activities, the X7 is no slouch here either. It managed 3,886 in the Home test of PC Mark 8 and 4,604 in the Work test. The rendering tests in Cinebench R11.5 and R15 resulted in scores of 6.93 and 640 respectively, both highly commendable, with the R11.5 score close to the fastest we have seen.
However, nothing is perfect, and the X7 has the usual downside of entertainment-oriented desktop replacements when it comes to battery life. Still, it did manage to last for 178 minutes of PC Mark 8's Work test away from the power socket, with SLI disabled, which is a useful time albeit nowhere near Ultrabook territory. Turning SLI back on again for our Battery Eater stress test, where processor and graphics are run at full pelt, and the duration dropped to 151 minutes. This is a reasonable result, and you might get close to two hours of gaming on the move.
You can't expect a notebook with this premium design to be cheap, and the price of £1,659 certainly doesn't place the X7 in the economy bracket. However, this isn't a hideous price to pay for a powerful 17in entertainment notebook that has style and sophistication well beyond the usual brick-like formats we have come to expect from this genre.
Overall, the Aorus X7 is the most accomplished notebook we have seen from Gigabyte yet. It's very much focused on gaming and entertainment, but the portability along with a battery life that isn’t too bad mean that you could comfortably use it for more everyday notebook activities too, when required.
Manufacturer and Model
Gigabyte Aorus X7
2.4GHz Intel Core i7 4700HQ
16GB 1600MHz DDR3 SDRAM
NVIDIA GeForce GT 765M x 2 SLI
2 x 128GB LiteOn LMT-128M6M solid state disks in RAID 0 configuration plus 1TB Toshiba MQ01ABD100 5,400rpm hard disk
17.3in LED backlit TFT with 1,920 x 1,080 pixels
Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0
3 x USB 3.0, 2 x USB 2.0, 2 x HDMI, VGA, mini DisplayPort, LAN, combo headphone / SPDIF, microphone, SD card reader
Width x Depth x Height
428 x 305 x 22.9mm
2 years global warranty