Hands-On: The AORUS 15-X9 is portable gaming luxury

One of the first products GIGABYTE’s gaming brand AORUS brought to market a few years ago was a gaming laptop. It’s been fascinating to see how far these portable gaming machines have come since then, and how the brand has moved so quickly into the smaller, sleeker, and significantly more powerful space. The difference between those early 10 series models and the brand-new AORUS 15-X9 is night and day.  

We recently got the chance to test out this Newegg-exclusive model, and were interested to see if it could make an impression in the increasingly crowded gaming laptop segment.

You can currently pick up the AORUS 15-X9 for $1,999 on Newegg.com, GameCrate's parent site.

The looks department

First, let’s talk design.

Though AORUS is very clearly targeting the gaming demographic over professionals with this system, it’s less obvious than  it was in some of their previous models. This is a trend I appreciate. The screaming eagle logo on the back might be a giveaway that this is more than an Excel machine, but the tasteful white stripes etched into the back of the display look great, especially against the matte black casing. The only other branding is the logo on the diamond shaped power button, and the text underneath the display.

The copious ventilation on the back and sides of the laptop make it clear there’s something big going on inside, but other than that, this is a relatively restrained and tasteful design. The small size also accentuates this more modern take on a gaming computer. It’s not the thinnest or lightest gaming laptop on the market, but it’s still incredible how small it is compared to the AORUS laptops of old. At less than five and a half pounds, and about an inch thick, you’ll have no trouble whatsoever carrying the X9 around for some Apex Legends on the go.

My only real issue with the design choices is the somewhat floppy display hinge. It’s small, which looks snazzy, but doesn’t really provide enough support for the display to feel securely attached. The result is a screen that wobbles a bit, and seems a bit more fragile than I would like. It’s not a huge problem by any means, but with the rest of the build quality being so stellar, this one shortcoming stands out.

The keyboard has appealing lighting, with full software control for the three zones of RGB. It looks great, though the keys feel a bit mushy for my tastes. There’s no question about the large horizontal trackpad however: the responsive movement and satisfying switches definitely impress.

Powerful innards

The most exciting feature of any gaming laptop, aside from the display (which we’ll get to shortly) is the upgraded internals.

Powering the 15-X9 is the Intel six-core i7-8750H CPU, 16GB of DDR4 RAM, a 512GB M.2 NVMe PCIe SSD for your OS and most commonly used games/programs, alongside a 1TB hard drive for storage and backup.

On graphics duty is the RTX 2070 from Nvidia, packing 8GB of GDDR6 VRAM. As you’d expect, especially from a machine with a 1920x1080 display, you’re going to be seeing some seriously high frame rates with this GPU, even when playing the most demanding AAA titles.

We pushed The Division 2 up to Ultra settings, and were very pleased with the results. The software benchmark included with the game pegged the X9 at an average of 80 FPS, running at 144Hz, and Ultra settings. Post-virus Washington D.C. has never looked better.

The RTX 2070 can make short work of even the most demanding titles at 1080p, and with a screen like this, you can really see the difference. We didn’t get a chance to test out the real-time ray tracing capabilities of this Turing chip (mostly because there aren’t a lot of games that support it yet) and no doubt there would be a performance hit if we did. Still though, it’s great to have that option if ray tracing is something you do want to enable when it becomes more prevalent.

What are you looking at?

The AORUS 15-X9 uses a 15.6 inch, 144Hz IPS display. This is a perfect match for the RTX 2070, which might struggle at 4K resolutions for newer titles. By keeping the screen at 1920x1080, you can instead take advantage of high frame rates and the higher refresh rate for a an all around silky smooth gaming experience. In the next round of updates I’m hoping to see G-Sync to go alongside the Nvidia GPU, but for now, you’re going to have to use on software based V-Sync if you’re having issues with screen tearing.

It’s nice to see the slow standardization of high refresh rate screens in gaming laptops finally happening. Those higher hertz make a huge difference, and if you’re looking to have a luxury portable gaming experience, a display like this one is definitely the way to go.

The sound of cooldown

Given the nature of high-end components, thermals are definitely going to be a concern in a machine this size. AORUS obviously had this in mind if the giant air vents on the side, back, and bottom of the X9 are any indication.

It seems as though they pulled it off, at a cost.

Temperatures stayed well within expected parameters throughout our time with the X9, even when the GPU was under significant load. That’s great news, but there’s no getting around the fact that it does get loud as a result. These fans are working hard, and you can definitely tell. While playing The Division 2, it wasn’t an issue most of the time, but when I cranked the fans up to maximum (using a very handy keyboard shortcut,) I definitely got some looks from around the office wondering what was going on with my laptop.

This isn’t uncommon, and certainly not unique to AORUS, but you’ll definitely want to use a headset if you want to push the fans. Still though, if that’s the price for a well-cooled GPU in a relatively thin chassis, it’s a solid tradeoff.

Connections

The AORUS 15-X9 has plenty of ports, including three USB 3.1, one USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C, one Mini DisplayPort, an HDMI, a RJ45 port for those of us who like hard line connections, and standard audio jacks. The placement of power, HDMI, USB-C and MiniDP ports on the rear of the system is a great touch for people who want to keep the X9 plugged in at home, as it provides some clean cable management options.

The lack of Thunderbolt 3 is a little disappointing, though the inclusion of MiniDP and the high-end display help mitigate that disappointment somewhat. You’ll still be able to use an external display via HDMI and MiniDP, though you might not need to given the high refresh rate of the included screen.   

Sound and software

Though the speakers aren’t exactly an audiophile's dream, AORUS did take the extra step of including NAHIMIC 3D 7.1 digital surround sound for an audio upgrade. That can make a big difference when you’re using a headset.

The included AORUS Control Center software is also very functional, and allows you to monitor your system closely, control lighting, and just about everything else you’d expect from a modern laptop software suite. It might be time for AORUS to consider a visual upgrade for the software as the menus are looking a little antiquated, but it’s intuitive to use, and definitely an appreciated addition.

X9 marks the Spot

The AORUS 15-X9 is hopefully the new standard of what to expect from 1080p gaming laptops. Powerful, cutting-edge hardware, effective cooling, and, most importantly, a fantastic display that doesn’t just look great, but embraces the power of high refresh rates.

With a great selection of connectivity options, an RTX GPU, mostly stellar build quality, and an attractive design, the AORUS 15-X9 is an easy recommendation for anyone looking for a virtually flawless 1080p gaming experience they can bring anywhere.