Would you spend more on a laptop than a small car? Asus is hoping that there are at least a few people in this country willing to do that - and given how well multi-crore cars and homes sell all over India, that might not be such a far-fetched idea. However, Asus hasn't taken the usual luxury route, with exotic materials and high-fashion styling. What it's selling instead is pure power. The GX700 is an absolute beast of a machine, with the kind of hardware - and price tag - that no manufacturer has ever dared trying with a laptop before now.
The GX700 is, on the surface, meant to be a hardcore gamer's dream come true. It certainly does have everything we could possibly want in a modern gaming PC and then some. However, the more time we spent with it, the more we began to see that it isn't so much about gaming as it is about showing off. Read on to see what we mean by this, and whether it makes any difference.
Asus ROG GX700 look and feel
First of all, there's the packaging. A standard cardboard box would have been too low-key, so of course Asus ships this thing in a completely over-the-top four-wheeled suitcase. We've seen high-end hardware come in secret-agent-style briefcases before, mainly for the theatricality of it, but this takes the cake. The suitcase might actually come in handy to haul the GX700 laptop around with its dock and accessories. However, to be honest, it isn't an especially high quality piece of luggage, so opening it doesn't feel like unwrapping a luxury product.
On popping the latches, you'll see the laptop, liquid cooling dock, and their respective mains adapters all tightly ensconced in black foam cutouts with red Velcro straps for effect. The laptop is one of the biggest we've ever encountered, and we'll get to it in a moment. More interesting is the dock, which is completely unique. This is basically a self-contained external liquid cooling apparatus that can augment the laptop's own fans. It's massive and heavy, with a deliberately aggressive look combining black metal mesh, exposed bolts, brushed gunmetal plastic, shiny orange chrome, and a dark tinted plastic window. Thankfully, Asus avoided a military-themed design, which we've seen enough of to last a lifetime.
When you want to dock the laptop, it sits on a sort of sled which raises it at an angle and aligns two gaskets on its rear with the mechanism of the dock itself. Pushing down on the dock's huge central lever moves this mechanism forward to engage with the gaskets. Red lights start pulsating behind the tinted window, fans spin up noisily, and it's all gloriously satisfying.There's another mechanical button to release the seal, and pressing it is just as geektastic as watching the Enterprise-D's saucer section separate from its secondary hull.
The whole point of this system is that you can separate the two units when you need a more portable gaming machine, but even on its own, this thing is hardly easy to move around with. The laptop weighs 3.9kg and measures 429x309mm. The only concession to modern styling is that it's relatively thin, at 35mm. The body is mostly plastic with metal accents, all in the same gunmetal and orange colour scheme. There are two red LED strips and an illuminated Republic of Gamers logo on the lid.
The laptop's hinge is extremely firm, and is designed to stop with the lid at an angle that allows the dock to sit behind it without the two knocking into each other. There's a power inlet on the back, between the two liquid coolant seals, which means that the laptop gets its power from the desk unit when docked. All other ports are on the two sides. On the left, there are two USB 3.0 ports, individual 3.5mm mic and headphones sockets, and an SD card slot. On the right, there's another regular USB 3.0 port, two Type-C ports, HDMI and Mini-DisplayPort video outputs, and a collapsible Ethernet port. The two Type-C ports can handle 10Gbps transfers as opposed to 5Gbps on the others, and one of them also supports Intel's 40Gbps Thunderbolt 3 standard.
Flip the lid up and you'll see a nearly full-sized keyboard with a number pad and an arrow cluster that actually has room to breathe instead of being scrunched up into the bottom row. The layout is a bit unorthodox, but it's designed for gamers, not typists. There are five programmable macro keys in the upper left corner and a sixth shortcut that's permanently bound to Xsplit Gamecaster (to which you get a lifetime pass). Backlighting is red, of course, and there are three brightness settings. The WASD keys have transparent sides so the backlight shines through more and sets them apart.
The screen measures 17.3 inches diagonally, and it still feels like it's floating in a sea of plastic because of how massive the surrounding body is. It isn't a touchscreen, but that's more of an advantage here because it doesn't have to be glossy. You'll find speakers to the sides of the keyboard, firing both upwards and sideways to create a surround effect. There's no subwoofer, which many other large laptops are able to fit in.
Asus ROG GX700 specifications and software
The Asus GX700 was first announced a year ago, but its specs are still almost entirely top-notch thanks to delayed refreshes this year. With the sole exception of the GPU, everything sounds like someone drew up a fantasy wishlist without the slightest concern about cost, and just decided to go for it. We start with an Intel Core i7-6820HK processor, which can go up to 3.6GHz as is, but also allows for overclocking thanks to its unlocked multiplier. When docked, it automatically goes up to 4GHz and Asus says there's enough headroom to take that further manually.
The GPU in question is a GeForce GTX 980 - definitely still a powerhouse, but easily outclassed by this year's GTX 1080. The GPU has 8GB of GDDR5 RAM of its own, and is of course also overclockable. Asus claims that its liquid cooling solution lets you get over 40 percent better performance out of the GPU, and there's also more robust power delivery which lets it draw 80W over and above the usual 100W.
Only the best will do, and so there's 64GB of DDR4-2400 RAM which is also overclocked to 2800MHz. For storage, we have the pleasure of having not only a super-fast NVMe SSD, but two of them in a striped RAID 0 array for twice the speed. The drives are both 512GB Samsung SM951 M.2 units, and are seen by Windows as single 1TB logical disk.
The screen is a 4K IPS panel, which, at just 17.3 inches, has a density of 254ppi. Windows 10's scaling is absolutely necessary with these dimensions, and is set to 175 percent by default. You also get Gigabit Ethernet, Wi-Fi 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.0, and a 720p webcam. The battery is rated at 93Whr and Asus obviously isn't bragging about battery life in terms of hours. You get a 180W power brick to use when the laptop is on its own and a much bulkier 330W one for the dock.
Our review unit came running Windows 10 Home. We're used to seeing a glut of self-branded apps pre-installed on Asus laptops, and there's no shortage here either. The company has tried to unify them into one master control panel, to limited success. The ROG Gaming Center app is awkwardly designed and many controls are either hidden, poorly arranged, or lack descriptions of what they do. You can define and switch between profiles here, or just flip individual toggles. Some options are simple toggles but others launch their own apps, such as Turbo Gear which lets you overclock on the fly as well as manually; Splendid, which offers screen colour temperature control; ROG MacroKey to configure the five macro keys; Sonic Radar, a game overlay designed to help you pinpoint enemies based on aural cues; and Sonic Studio, an audio equaliser which includes a handy mode for recording your voice as you live stream your games online.
The overclocking tool has three presets: Standard is the default when running on battery power; Optimized kicks in with the laptop using its own power adapter; and Extreme can only be used when the dock is engaged and powered up. There's also a Manual mode which has fairly basic sliders and no graphs or heat/power target settings like Asus' own motherboard and graphics card utilities. You can tweak very basic CPU, GPU and RAM parameters here if you like. We would have liked some on-screen guides or prompts, or at least a printed overclocking guide, considering the UI is geared to those who aren't going to be digging very deep.
Asus ROG GX700 usage and performance
While not the easiest to carry around, it still is definitely possible to travel with the laptop section of the GX700. We're eager to see how wide the performance gulf is when using the laptop on its own and when coupled with the cooling unit.
The docking and undocking process is extremely simple. We have to commend Asus for figuring out how to seal the coolant tubes without making things complicated for users. The company does warn that tiny amounts of liquid might drip from the gaskets after undocking, but we didn't see this happen during our review process, and we played with the mechanism quite a lot. Hopefully, the amount that drips out over a lifetime won't be enough to require a refill; a process that seems as though it would involve a trip to an authorised service centre.
However on the software side, docking tended to be a bit unpredictable. There's no obvious message about whether you need to shut down the laptop beforehand, so we went ahead and did it. We found that in most cases, things went perfectly fine, and the laptop adjusted its clock speeds on its own. On a few occasions though, it became unresponsive or refused to wake up from sleep. The dock also emits a really long, loud beep each time it kicks in, which took us by surprise.
You'll need a deep desk to fit the laptop with the dock behind it. The combined contraption is fairly comfortable to use, but it does vibrate quite a lot thanks to the twin radiators in the dock. The keyboard is just about okay; though a bit too mushy for our tastes. We loved the full-sized arrow cluster but hated the merged delete/insert key. Num Lock has been displaced in favour of a shortcut to Asus' Gaming Center application which has controls for overclocking, fan speed, accent lighting, and other user preferences. You can define four profiles for different kinds of games or other usage scenarios. The trackpad is particularly bad, often failing to recognise taps. The two buttons are also extremely wobbly and difficult to use.
If you use the built-in keyboard's WASD block, your wrist will end up half on the trackpad and half off it, which is a bit uncomfortable - though at least the low sensitivity means that unwanted input isn't a problem. We saw and felt a fair bit of flex towards the centre, with the entire keyboard deck visibly sinking with even normal key pressure. This area also got quite hot when we were gaming. You'll definitely want an external keyboard and mouse for serious gaming.
The display is incredibly sharp, but not very vibrant. Colours don't pop like they do on many other high-end devices, and we found it to have an unnecessarily warm overall tone. Asus's multiple utilities include Splendid, a display tuning tool which let us tweak the colour temperature to our liking.
Audio from the built-in speakers was a letdown. We were hoping for a full, rich sound considering the size of this laptop, but were instead disappointed by how hollow and grating it was. Music and even voices were often scratchy, and the maximum volume wasn't all that loud.
Thanks to its blazing fast hardware, the GX700 booted in under five seconds even with loads of our test software installed. Of course what everyone wants to know is how well it performed in benchmark and gaming tests. We started with just the laptop on its own, running in Optimized mode when plugged in, and then ran the same tests with it docked, running in Extreme mode.
PCMark's Home test gave us 4065 points with just the laptop, and 4218 points when running overclocked thanks to the dock. We also saw a modest boost in the Work test run, with 3120 and 3282 points respectively. The Creative test caused the machine to crash, which was a surprise.
Cinebench R15's GPU-bound OpenGL test run showed a massive improvement, from 59.76fps to 122.69fps. The CPU-bound test was less affected, going from 712 points to 861. Similarly, POVRay's benchmark ran in 3 minutes, 2 seconds on the laptop alone, but 2 minutes, 18 seconds when docked.
SiSoft SANDRA's CPU tests also made the GX700 crash, which is not only unusual but now possibly part of a pattern. No matter the settings, the GX700 just rebooted itself as soon as the tests began. We managed to check out some of the other subsystems and came away with some astounding numbers. The RAID SSD array gave us 1.85GBps and 2.38GBps sequential reads and writes respectively when undocked, and 2.08GBps and 2.59GBps respectively when docked. Memory bandwidth was reported as 29.12GBps and 29.43GBps, a surprisingly small difference since Asus says the GX700's RAM is also liquid cooled when the unit is docked.
Moving on to synthetic game tests, we found that the dock had much more of an effect on graphics than it did on CPU performance. 3DMark's Time Spy test produced 3304 points without the benefit of liquid cooling, and 4014 points with it. The Fire Strike Ultra test showed a similar jump from 2412 to 3108 points. Unigine Valley refused to run at 2560x1440 so we stepped down to 1920x1080 and got 40.6fps undocked and 65.2fps docked.
Ashes of the Singularity did not run at all - it exited with an error at launch whether we launched it in DX11 or DX12 mode. We ran Rise of the Tomb Raider's built-in benchmark at 4K using the Very High preset, and it gave us a fairly solid average of 29.52fps with the dock and 22.41fps without it. Bringing the resolution down to 1920x1080 resulted in a rise to 77.95fps and 57.04fps respectively. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is a bit more stressful, and gave us an unplayable 11.5fps at 4K using the Very High preset with the dock. We knocked the resolution down to 1920x1080 and managed a decent 35fps. GTA V had no problem running at 4K on the GX700. We got a score of 48.28fps when running its built-in benchmark with the dock, and 38.96 without.
Finally, we ran through a few games manually with the GX700 docked on our desk, the way it's meant to be used most often. We started with one of our favourite games of the year, Doom (2016). Since it runs well on even mid-range hardware, we had high expectations. Using the Vulkan API and Ultra quality preset, we were able to get roughly 136fps at 1920x1080 and a very respectable 43fps at 4K. There's no reason not to use Vulkan, but we did check out standard OpenGL performance and found it to be slightly lower, at around 120fps and 36fps respectively.
We then moved on to Far Cry 4, a classic which scales well to all kinds of hardware. As expected, we had no trouble at 4K even with the Ultra preset selected. Motion was smooth, with an average of 34fps. Reducing the quality would certainly make for better frame rates, but we found even this much to be extremely smooth.
Rise of the Tomb Raider can be somewhat demanding at its highest settings, and we pushed everything as far as it would go. At 4K and using the Very High profile, the game did feel just a little choppy. We recorded 27fps in ordinary gameplay, and while more noticeable than Far Cry 4, gameplay was just as enjoyable.
That brings us to one thing that's hard to quantify: the value of the GX700's G-Sync capable screen. This is a proprietary Nvidia feature for LCD panels which varies the rate at which it refreshes and syncs this to the GPU's output, thereby eliminating tearing and other artefacts which are the result of inconsistent frame timing. The feature only works with specific monitors which have Nvidia's hardware built in, which costs extra, and so its inclusion makes perfect sense for the GX700. We did definitely feel that games were smoother than usual, particularly the scenery in GTA V which can easily exhibit tearing when you race through it.
Overall, this isn't a bad laptop, but it does leave us with a dilemma. The only way you're going to get the most out of it would be to use it docked on a desk, where it isn't all that comfortable. When used as a laptop, you aren't getting all the performance you've paid for and it still isn't all that portable. For the price Asus is asking, we could build an equally powerful desktop as well as buy a highly capable gaming laptop - and yes, there'd be more than enough left over for a nice suitcase if you really want one of those too. Sure, you'd get a specific combination of features and capabilities that no other product offers, but we can't help feeling that the GX700 isn't as great as the sum of its parts.
Applications that should work perfectly fine just crashed, the keyboard and trackpad were disappointing, and the speakers just aren't all that good. There's also no upgrade path; the dock won't work with future laptop models. However, the worst thing about the GX700 is that we already know it's outdated. This product has been available internationally for just under a year, and if we're spending so much money, we want the absolute best. Asus showed off its GX800 model at this year's Computex, and that model has not one but two GeForce GTX 1080 GPUs, plus a mechanical keyboard and better speakers. The GX800 isn't available for purchase yet, but it does exist, and that's reason enough to feel like we're being served something a bit stale with the GX700 at this point in time.
There's nothing wrong with spending your money however you see fit, but at the end of the day, the GX700 is like buying a supercar when you live in the city. It will give you a thrill and will be fun to show off, but is utterly impractical and will only be used to its full potential on rare occasions.
Ratings (Out of 5)