Today we are reviewing the Gigabyte Aero 15 X9, the first Nvidia RTX laptop we tested and used for our RTX 2070 Max-Q feature earlier this month. It’s a cool gaming laptop, pretty similar to the Aero 15X v8 we looked at last year, but with a few upgrades that we’ll walk you through here.
In terms of hardware, a lot has carried over from the previous generation. The CPU is still Intel’s Core i7-8750H for most models, with an i9-8950HK option available. The display is either a 144 Hz 1080p IPS, or a wide-gamut 4K IPS at 60 Hz, at 15.6-inches in size. Memory ranges from 8GB up to 32GB depending on the configuration, though 16GB models come with single-channel memory. The battery remains 94 Wh, in what appears to be the same chassis.
So what are the changes? The big one is the upgrade from a GeForce GTX 1070 Max-Q, to the new RTX 2070 Max-Q. We’re also seeing a switch from Toshiba NVMe PCIe SSDs to Intel SSDs, which in combination with Killer networking that uses Intel’s chips, makes this Gigabyte laptop all Intel inside.
There are a few upgrades on the software side, too. There’s a new Gigabyte Command Center application plus some unique AI functionality powered by Microsoft’s Azure AI cloud services. Also worth pointing out, there’s an Aero 15 Y9 model that bumps you up to an RTX 2080 Max-Q GPU with otherwise the same hardware.
Asking price starts at $2,400 for the regular model with the RTX 2070 Max-Q, 144Hz 1080p display, 16GB of RAM and 1TB SSD. The unit we reviewed is the mid-tier X9, which features the 4K display and 32GB of RAM, bumping up the price to $2,700.
Gigabyte has been using a similar design for the past couple of gaming laptop generations, and we think it largely holds up today. This design was one of the first to use slim bezels around the display, now that’s a much more common feature, and it still looks good here. The downside is the webcam is still sitting below the screen. Newer slim bezel designs have fixed this problem, either through a small increase in the top bezel or including a camera bump. Hopefully Gigabyte goes with this approach next time, though if you're anything like me, I almost never use the webcam, so it's not a dealbreaker.
The laptop is solidly built, using a combination of metal and plastic. There’s not a lot of gamer flare which is nice, making it suitable for both gaming laptop or as a workstation. There are still a few seams around the place that make it look less sleek than something like a Razer Blade or MSI GS Stealth; Gigabyte’s design, while not bad by any means, is more of a functional build than for pure aesthetics.
This is also reflected in the size and weight. 18.9mm thick and 4.4 lbs heavy puts it in the slim and light gaming notebook category, but it’s not challenging for any records.
Those who want something that’s not chunky will be happy with the Aero 15X, although chunky laptops tend to be a lot cheaper for the hardware you get. Portability always comes at a price.
I/O is very good: two USB-C ports, one Thunderbolt 3 Type-C and the other USB 3.1. There’s a further three USB 3.1 ports, two gen-1 and one gen-2. Then you get Ethernet, HDMI 2.0, a 3.5mm audio jack, and an SD card reader. No need for dongles with this machine, it has basically everything.
The keyboard still has a nice, reasonably clicky tactile response with per-key RGB backlighting controlled through Gigabyte’s Fusion software. We appreciate the numpad, although the truncated right shift to fit in the arrow keys is a bit annoying. We’re also very happy to report the crappy ELAN trackpad used in previous models has been ditched for a better, more responsive, high precision model. It’s a big upgrade.
In terms of performance, there’s not a lot to say in this review that we haven’t covered previously, though we have still put together a performance overview below.
For productivity, the Core i7-8750H with 32GB of RAM performs exactly as expected (read our full review). In most productivity workloads, the new GPU doesn’t come into play, so you’ll get the standard productivity performance we’ve seen from these sorts of laptops for about a year now.
Comparing the new Aero 15 X9 to the older Aero 15X v8, performance is roughly equivalent. There were a few workloads like Cinebench where the new model is a little slower. There were a handful of workloads like Handbrake where performance is on par. And there were a few tasks where the new model is faster.
When breaking down these faster workloads, we have two factors at play: the Aero 15 X9 we reviewed has dual-channel DDR4-2666 memory, which provides higher bandwidth than the single-channel configuration in the Aero 15X v8 with 16GB of RAM. For tasks like 7-Zip and MATLAB, there’s a performance advantage because to this.
Then we also see some improvements in GPU-accelerated applications. Premiere doesn’t benefit significantly from the faster RTX 2070 Max-Q because the GPU is basically doing all it can here to accelerate rendering. Around the level of the GTX 1070 Max-Q there’s not much else to be gained from extra GPU performance in our test. Blender does see a large improvement, to the tune of 26 percent, in this workload run entirely on the GPU.
The good news is depending on your workload, you can expect either the same performance as other i7-8750H systems, or perhaps a little better thanks to the faster GPU. That said, the 16GB Aero 15 X9 is still single-channel, so in those memory bandwidth limited tasks it won’t be as fast as we're showing here.
It’s worth pointing out that the Aero 15 X9 has several different performance profiles. Aside from manual controls there’s quiet, normal and gaming fan profiles. In addition we have the AI features, of which there are two modes. The green local mode analyses what you are doing on your system locally and attempts to find the right performance and fan profiles for the task at hand, while the red cloud mode moves that AI work to the cloud for potentially better results.
However for CPU-limited workloads, whether short or long, we found that as long as you are using at least the Normal fan mode, there is no difference in performance. The AI modes didn’t do much to enhance the performance. For gaming, the AI modes are an improvement upon the Normal fan mode, especially the cloud mode. However using either the Gaming mode, or setting fan speeds to maximum, provides better performance again. For our gaming tests which we’ll get to in a moment, we used the Gaming mode.
We think the AI modes have promise especially if they can learn over time as to what modes deliver the best performance. This is still early days for the Aero 15 X9 and this system. It’d be cool if it delivered optimal performance while also tuning the fan speeds, because the Gaming mode is quite loud in general, but at least for now sticking to the Gaming mode while in GPU-heavy tasks is the best choice.
A few other quick productivity comparisons before moving into gaming performance. If you’re upgrading from a Core i7-7700HQ laptop or another one of Intel’s quad-core 45W notebook CPUs, the six-core Core i7-8750H delivers about 35% more performance on average, though in heavily multi-threaded tasks gains can be up around 50%. If you do a lot of rendering work on the go, it’s definitely worth the upgrade to access those two extra cores.
And then if you’re considering whether it’s worth buying a performance-oriented portable laptop over a 15W ultraportable, here’s how the i7-8750H stacks up against Intel’s latest Whiskey Lake Core i7-8565U.
In CPU workloads you’re looking at double the performance for encoding, and when factoring in the significantly more powerful GPU it becomes a bloodbath. For any serious creative work on the go, a configuration like the Aero 15 X9 with a six-core CPU and discrete GPU is definitely the best option.
For gaming performance we’ve done a full breakdown on the new Nvidia GeForce RTX 2070 Max-Q using this exact system. For a look at each game and more discussion on the GPU in particular, it’s well worth reading our review.
Here's the data in a nutshell, though... the new Aero 15 X9 is 11% faster on average than the Aero 15X v8 with the GTX 1070 Max-Q, and this margin is typical when comparing the Aero 15 X9 to other RTX 1070 Max-Q laptops.
Do note this is the margin you’ll see when comparing equivalent memory configurations; the version of this laptop with 16GB of RAM is only single-channel, so those upgrading from a dual-channel laptop will see smaller margins.
However there’s not much to be gained moving from a fully-fledged GTX 1070 to an RTX 2070 Max-Q, as performance is roughly equivalent. It’s nice that new laptops include more performance in the same form factor, but the increase isn’t massive.
The GTX 1080 Max-Q is still faster than the RTX 2070 Max-Q if you are tossing up between those two GPUs. On the other hand, the RTX 2070 Max-Q smokes the GTX 1060 6GB to the tune of 35% on average, making this new GPU is a worthwhile upgrade. And finally, please don’t think that an RTX 2070 laptop will provide the same performance as a desktop RTX 2070, Nvidia’s new Turing GPUs have widened the desktop-laptop GPU gap compared to Pascal, so the RTX 2070 for laptops is considerably slower than the desktop equivalent.
On paper you get RTX features with the 2070 Max-Q, however performance is not sufficient to make it worth your while. In Battlefield V you’re looking at an experience below 60 FPS at 1080p with the Low DXR mode, compared to well over 80 FPS with ray tracing disabled. DLSS is not an effective feature either, as we’ve talked about separately. So our opinion is to treat RTX as more of a bonus than a key feature because support for it simply isn’t wide enough or good enough right now to make it a ‘must have’ inclusion.
While the Gigabyte Aero 15 performs well for its hardware, the cooling solution isn’t that great. To deliver top-end performance in line with other systems, the gaming fan mode should be used, which really ramps up the fans to a high degree. This mode is loud, at 48 dBA, which keeps the Aero 15 on the bottom of the chart as one of the loudest notebooks we’ve tested. This is an area the AI mode could really help, except it simply does not perform as well as the loud gaming mode.
In better news, noise levels while using the laptop for productivity tasks is a lot better. It’s still not a quiet system, at a touch under 40 dBA during a Handbrake encode, but this is mid-tier among gaming laptops. This is using the normal fan mode, as the gaming mode saw no additional performance increases for CPU-limited apps.
Thermally the laptop gets quite hot, hotter than the previous Aero 15X v8. CPU temperatures are unchanged but high for a gaming laptop, around 90C, although throttling wasn’t a big concern. Thicker gaming laptops are closer to the 75 to 80C mark. However GPU temperatures with the RTX 2070 Max-Q have increased compared to the GTX 1070 Max-Q, now sitting around 86C compared to 79C.
The chassis of the laptop also gets hot. The fans exhaust air through a fap below the display, however the position of these vents means the hot air is redirected in front of the display, towards the keyboard. Most other laptops vent out the sides and back, either behind the display or onto the desk. In venting forwards, the top edge of the laptop gets very hot, up over 50C during gaming in the center near the power button. Directly below this, the keyboard can be over 40C. Luckily the WASD keys are cooled well, around the 30C mark, but that isn’t true for the entire keyboard.
The average thermal performance surprises us considering what the Aero 15 looks like internally. We guess there are just some inefficiencies in the design. The laptop is quite upgradeable when removing the bottom cover though, revealing easy access to the memory slots and a second, free M.2 slot for storage upgrades.
Our Aero 15 X9 review unit came equipped with the 4K 60Hz IPS display option, rather than the 144 Hz 1080p option we reviewed in the older model. The 4K option is the route you’d take if you want to use this laptop for creative workloads or content creation, as 4K is too intensive for the RTX 2070 Max-Q for gaming. Instead, gamers are be better off with the high-refresh 1080p screen, especially as the GPU can handle many games around the 100 FPS mark on Ultra settings at this resolution.
While this display is supposedly X-Rite Pantone certified, we have a few issues with the 4K panel and its calibration. This is a wide gamut monitor targeting 100% Adobe RB and it comes with what is supposed to be a factory calibrated profile installed. However the profile has been generated incorrectly. It looks like Gigabyte has mapped the display’s wide color primaries as the sRGB color primaries, which leads to oversaturation and other weird behaviour. We noticed this oversaturation right away, everything is extremely vibrant on this panel. Proper calibration should allow both sRGB and wide gamut content to be mapped properly with just a single profile.
This is disappointing for those that might have wanted to use the display straight out of the box, however it could also be an issue with our early review unit. On the upside, as the display is more than capable of 100% Adobe RGB coverage, calibrating it properly will lead to good results. We also recorded a near 1400:1 contrast ratio which is strong for an IPS panel, along with peak brightness of 360 nits and very good viewing angles. The panel quality is there, it’s just the calibration that’s letting it down.
Final two bits of performance: the Intel SSD 760p used in the Aero 15 X9 is extremely fast, one of the fastest SSDs available in modern gaming laptops. That’s a nice bonus. Then for battery life, it performs similarly to other slim and light laptops, if a little lower due to the 4K display.
Overall, the Gigabyte Aero 15 X9 isn’t a huge improvement over last year’s model, but it does pack some nice upgrades. While Nvidia’s RTX features don’t provide much in this GPU design, the RTX 2070 Max-Q is ~10% faster for gaming at 1080p, which you’d take every time considering there’s no change to the form factor. The improved trackpad is a long overdue addition. And some of the new software tools aren’t game changers, but could be promising if more work is put into them.
These changes have been made without sacrificing other elements that already made this laptop great. It’s still a well-built, portable design with a huge battery. The Core i7-8750H performs well, making the laptop great for productivity. There’s still a 1080p 144Hz display option for gamers, and when calibrated properly the 4K screen option is great for creators. There’s plenty of I/O and easy internal upgradeability for both the RAM and storage. The per-key RGB backlight keyboard is still one of the best in its class.
With that said, two of our primary concerns with this laptop design haven’t been addressed. The cooler is still loud and it runs hot to deliver performance equivalent to other systems. The webcam position is also not great, a by-product of this early bezel-free design.
Whether the Aero 15 X9 is a good purchase comes down to what price you can get one at. Right now, for a decent hardware loadout you’re looking at $2,400. For the GPU upgrade along over the 1070 Max-Q is not worth the premium, if you can find equivalent thin and light laptops for under $2,000 with nearly identical specs otherwise.
But these GTX 1070 Max-Q laptops won’t be around for much longer... Right now, there are only a few thin and light gaming machines that use the RTX 2070 Max-Q: besides the Gigabyte Aero there's the MSI GS65 Stealth and the Razer Blade 15.
The MSI option is selling for the same price, and while we haven’t tested the new RTX version yet, last year we had a slight preference for it over the Aero. The new Blade 15 is $200 more expensive and packs a smaller SSD, while the overall aesthetics are arguably nicer.
But as is always the case with these portable gaming machines, it will depend on how much you are willing to spend for the portability factor. For pure performance, there are faster options available in thicker, heavier chassis. Both Asus and Gigabyte offer the full RTX 2070 GPU in their thicker chassis for $2,000. That’s a better value option if you don’t see yourself moving the laptop around very much.