It took the better part of two decades for water-cooling technology to reach into the retail laptop market, but ASUS and their GX700 monster-machine get credit for being the first to take the leap. I really hope they’re not the last.
For the past few years I’ve often heard a more-or-less standard reply when discussing the current state of the PC market with friends: „If you want a real computer, build a desktop”. And generally, that piece of advice is – or used to be – quite valid. A strong CPU and GPU, a healthy overclock – maybe even use some water cooling to make sure you push that silicon to the limit. Until not very long ago, most of these features were more or less the exclusive domain of Desktop PC’s. Well, now they’re not.
Water-cooling personal computers began sometime around two decades ago. The exact time and place is rather uncertain, but Overclockers’ Dave Nelson wrote a nice historical piece on the evolution of the PC cooling waterblock.
ASUS „flooded” the high-end laptop gaming market, putting together some of the most powerful hardware currently available, along with a proprietary water-cooling system in their flagship Republic of Gamers laptop, called the GX700VO, and its Hydro Overclocking System dock.
I’d like to point out a few things to start: A long time has passed since the top performing components on a laptop were – at best – a third as powerful as those on a desktop. Current chips, especially those made by Intel, generally use identical cores for their high-end parts, whether mobile or desktop – with the exception of the E-series hexacore and higher chips, which are still way too host and power-hungry to be accomodated in such a small system. Otherwise, the differences are usually related to power draw and TDP restrictions, so that a wide range of machines can consistently achieve similar cooling performance of the same CPU’s.
Or otherwise said, take an i7-6820HK and a i7-6700K, clock them both at the same speed and you’ll probably notice no real difference between the two. Even in the times of Core2Duo and Core2Quad, enthusiast laptop owners managed to bring top-end CPU’s to truly impressive speeds. Sure, the thermal ceiling of laptops is an important limitation to performance, but it’s mostly important to enthusiasts.
On the GPU side however, though the last four years have offered more and more impressive improvements in the power of laptop GPU’s, there was always a fairly significant distance between desktop and mobile computing. At least until last year, when nVidia released the full GTX-980 desktop core… for laptops.
That was when enthusiasts the world over began dreaming and imagining… how would the ultimate gaming laptop look?
ASUS chose to respond to this question by putting together some of the most powerful components in this market. And they didn’t stop there – they also made the thinnest and lightest system featuring that hardware, and on that cake, they put a cherry – the Hydro Overclocking System.
The technical specs of the ASUS Republic of Gamers GX700VO look somewhat like those in use by a sysadmin running tens of virtual machines:
- The CPU is an Intel Core i7-6820HK, using the Skylake architecture. It features four hyperthreaded cores running at 4GHz;
- The Memory on offer is… slightly ridiculous. 64GB of DDR4-2800 memory (DDR4-2400 in the test model);
- The Storage is designed to be blazing fast – two Samsung SSD’s paired in Raid-0;
- The Screen is a 17″ display, offering 1080p or UHD 4K resolution;
- The GPU is an nVidia GeForce GTX 980 card. No M at the end there. This is the most powerful GPU available on laptops at the moment;
- All the above are contained within a 3.6Kg chassis, which is an extraordinary number when compared to competitors featuring similar specs (MSI offers the same weight but a 1cm thicker machine, while Clevo machines are 4.2Kg or 5Kg heavy).
The GX700 chassis is silver, slim and solid.
The material used is a combination of metal on the hood and over the base. The underside is made of textured plastic, which feels nice and smooth to the touch.
In all, the result is favorable. Fingerprints only stick to the bottom, which is rarely touched and slmost never looked at. The screen has a 130 degree opening which – while it doesn’t compare with some business machines – is quite good.
The connectivity options of the GX700 are varied and – we hope – somewhat future-proof.
3 USB 3.0 ports, one USB 3.1 Type-C and a Thunderbolt 3 port. We’re particularly curious on whether this Thunderbolt 3 port will enable the use of a dedicated external GTX 980 at some point in the future for even more processing power. It remains to be seen if use of SLI will be possible in this way in the future or similar functionality achieved through DirectX 12 multi-GPU features.
The card reader offers excellent speeds, up to 230MB/s, and the wireless card is an Intel Wireless-AC 7265, capable of 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac connections and Bluetooth 4.0.
Maintenance access under the hood though, is somewhat complicated. We recommend not hurrying when opening up the machine.
There are a lot of screws that need to be removed, and you’d first need to take off the rubber feet, followed by 12 screws, then another two screws hidden under the screen’s hinges, near the waterpump connections. It’s pretty complicated, and there’s some risk of damaging the chassis.
That said, the way the cooling system is designed is fascinating. GX700VO offers two massive heatpipes which connect the CPU’s dedicated fan with the CPU itself, then the GTX-980 GPU along with its waterblock (which cools the core as well as the GDDR5 memory) and then on to the second fan, dedicated to the GPU itself.
It quickly becomes pretty obvious the the water-cooling system’s primary purpose is to cool down the GPU core and memory, as well as take some load off the heatpipes, not to focus on the CPU. In all fairness, since the entire system is interconnected, the CPU will benefit from this arrangement as well – sharing the water pathway with the GPU might have simply resulted in cooling neither properly.
We haven’t mentioned the system’s packaging yet. ASUS Republic of Gamers GX700 provides the most hardcore packaging I’ve ever seen on a computer.
The package itself is… a big black rolling luggage. When delivered, the entire package weighs 27Kg, and is clearly intended for long-distance travel, which is a very nice touch.
Its interior is split in two halves – one contains the laptop, which is well fastened inside a hard polyurethane shell and secured with elastic bands. The other half contains the massive cooling system, two power supplies (a massive 330W one destined to be used with the Hydro Overclocking System and a smaller 180W for on-the-go), and an ASUS RoG branded mouse.
I’ve seen all kinds of laptops so far, but in the future I’ll definitely remember the first water-cooled gaming laptop I played on. The Republic of Gamers GX700 is the first on the market equipped with a water-block.
I say first on the market, because way before it (in 2012) the engineers at Asetek demonstrated a modified water-cooled Alienware m18x, which represented a big source of hope and frustration for enthusiasts at the time, since the technology was never made publically accessible.
The GX700 Hydro Overclocking System designed by ASUS is, at least in its current implementation, an add-on type solution, not a true replacement for traditional air-cooling.
Even though the system comes with generous overclocking – with the CPU running at 4GHz (an 11% boost) and the GPU running at a boost rate of 1200MHz, the temperatures reported convinced us that there is plenty of room available to keep pushing up the clocks.
More to the point, under full load at factory settings, the CPU hovers around 76 degrees Celsius, and the GPU report 59C, an extremely cool temperature for this kind of chip. Considering this is a GTX-980 chip, designed to run up to 98C, we can’t help but be extremely impressed by the cooling abilities on offer.
There’s been a lot of talk in other reviews or previews of the GX700VO of how noisy the cooling system is, and indeed – depeding on the performance settings used, it’s possible for the HOS to sound like an airplane turbine.
However, ASUS offers the ASUS Gaming Center software, which – besides the custom performance profiles – offers the ability to manually control the laptop’s cooling, as well as that of the dock itself. After tweaking the settings a bit, we discovered that a performance settings between 10% and 20% is more than sufficient to keep the system very well cooled – and generate almost zero noise.
So what can the beast do? We ran MSI Afterburner and tried pushing the GTX-980 as far as we could.
We managed to push the core up to 1387MHz, and 7100MHz on the vRAM. At these clocks, we ran the laptop through Unigine Heaven, Unigine Valley and Furmark to determine stability, and 3DMark Fire Strike and Fire Strike Ultra to check the performance.
I don’t think I need to mention these are some pretty huge overclocks.
At these clocks, the GPU temps finally pushed past 60C, reaching 67C in Furmark at 4K resolution. This is interesting, since the temperature is almost identical to that of Desktop GTX-980 GPU’s released by ASUS, such as the STRIX OC, when they’re overclocked.
The problem is that the GPU’s default voltage of 1.15V quickly acts as a ceiling for our hopes of extreme overclocking, a hard-limit we haven’t managed to overcome. We do feel like mentioning that a 22% overclock to such a high-end chip, in a laptop, and under a voltage penalty, is an extremely impressive result.
As can be seen in the table above, the GX700VO is more powerful than 85% of all system tested in Fire Strike, and plenty stronger than the VR recommended spec.
It’s in 4K where the overclock really shines, the final score placing the system squarely in the top bracket of machines using a similar configuration.
Let’s make this clear: The raw performance on offer is exceptional, way above any laptop using a single GPU. The only machines stronger than this one are dual-GTX-980-wielding MSI GT80’s, with their massive, thick and unsatisfying designs, and a weight of over 5KG, not to mention a price tag of about 5500 EUR.
Another important consideration which would have been great had it been implemented by the ASUS RoG GX700VO, is the integrated GPU present in the i7-6820HK chip – which ties in to the absence of the nVidia Optimus feature.
We’re aware the choice had to be made between Optimus and G-Sync – however, even without Optimus, we would have loved to have the choice of a hardware switch to disable the GTX-980 GPU on the go.
We say this because the GX700VO is by far the lightest and slimmest gaming laptop in this performance bracket. We think many users would have loved the idea of having a gaming laptop which could also be used for long amounts of time when away from a power socket. Unfortunately, the nVidia GPU is a massive power sucker, and you can expect about 2 hours of battery life when watching a 1080p h.264-coded film, for example, with a maximum of a little over 3 hours when idle.
But let’s forget the raw performance for a little while and talk about the actual usage experience. Let’s talk ergonomics, design and display.
When it comes to the display, the machine we tested is FullHD, with an effective resolution of 1920×1200. The screen demonstrates an above-average brightness of around 320 nits, a contrast of almost 980:1 and an effective sRGB coverage of about 85%.
This latter aspect is not bad, though neither is it great. Regarding the response times, a real-world value of 22ms is a tiny bit high for extremely competitive gamers, but better than the average 30ms among other laptop displays. Don’t confuse this with the low 2-8ms G2G values offered by most desktop monitors – those are only marketing values and not realistic.
The presence of G-Sync is a real benefit.
As the years passed, we’ve gotten used to all sorts of unpleasantness regarding refresh rates. Too small is not good… everything stutters and the immersion is thrown out of whack. Too big is also not good. The faster the system – and poorly optimized the drivers – the more likely it is to start experiencing screen tearing at refresh rates over the screen’s limit.
Well, a G-Sync enabled GTX-980 cuts all those issues away. It’s very hard to find a game in which the GX700VO isn’t an excellent performer. Actually, let me rephrase that. This machine is capable of taking any modern game up to 4K and delivering playable frame-rates even under the highest settings.
Macro functions, a dedicated nVidia GameStream button, as well as a NumPad. The laptop’s controls are accessed using the traditional Fn+F1-F12 keys. The keyboard is backlit by the traditional ASUS RoG red.
The GX700 keyboard is very good for typing. The design features slightly beveled chicklet keys, and a key separation of about 3mm. We really appreciated the full-size arrow keys, often ignored by recent laptops. The keyboard is placed pretty deep inside the chassis, leaving plenty of space for the palms to rest.
The touchpad is aligned under the Spacebar key, and is surprisingly big, with a height of 6.5cm and a width of up to 12cm.
It’s precise, the dedicated buttons are similarly big and pleasant to the touch, and the generous space allows the navigation of the entire screen without picking up the finger as often as on other laptops. The generous space offering is useful when utilizing multi-touch gestures in Windows, as it makes this one of the few laptops that really allows you to use 3 or 4-fingered gestures.
But is it all milk and honey? Could ASUS have done anything more to make the RoG GX700 more attractive?
On the one hand, a lot of other reviews picked on this machine because it’s very expensive, and not very practical – because the machine’s true performance can’t be reached without using the Hydro Overclocking System – and some design decisions, in our opinion, make sacrifices which are too significant for what they offer, or which could have been mitigated – such as the decision to implement G-Sync without offering a way to compensate for the lack of Optimus.
On the other hand, let’s call out some basic truths: This is a single-GPU laptop designed to maximize not just performance, but portability as well. Not so long ago, a 3.6Kg machine at 15″ would have been considered to be of acceptable heft. And the GX700 is definitely maxed-out.
A quad-core, factory overclocked Skylake CPU, with plenty of headroom. An enormous amount of the fastest kind of RAM available at the moment. An ultra-fast SSD raid-0 array. A very good screen, with options for both FullHD and 4K.
Plenty of modern, future-proofing connections, two power supplies, a phenomenal cooling system and even a rolling baggage.
And if that weren’t enough, when you’re on the move and want to be able to game on your travels, you’ll be taking one of the thinnest, lightest and most portable in this top-end niche. The entire system is carefully crafted, for a certain kind of user – the enthusiast.
The ASUS Republic of Gamers GX700VO is an enthusiast-grade machine, and in our opinion it does a great job of it.