Introduction and design
In the race for the thinnest gaming laptop, we’ve seen plenty of contenders from the MSI GS60 Ghost Pro to the Razer Blade. The promise of a gaming notebook that’s easier to take anywhere is tempting, however, greater portability has also made some of these machines feel underpowered with limited graphics options.
The Asus ROG Strix GL502, on the other hand, strikes the perfect balance between portability and power. This 15.6-inch laptop might be less than an inch thick but it can be fully loaded with serious high-end graphics, including a Nvidia GTX 980M with 8GB of video memory. Beyond parts and measurement, this gaming laptop delivers on all fronts with style, snappy inputs and a colorful screen.
Asus has slowly been edging its way away from the done-to-death black and red color scheme found on most gaming laptops. Instead of crimson highlights, the GL502 has orange trim accenting its black paint job. It’s not a grand departure like the titanium and copper design found on the Asus ROG GX700 and ROG G752, but it’s a start.
Though, we almost wish Asus would have stuck to the purely black and red motif, as the keyboard backlighting is still red.
Aside from the new paint job, Asus has seriously upped the profile of this machine with a new look that’s in line with the rest of its ROG series. Whereas the Asus ROG G501 closely copied the MacBook Pro look, the GL502 stands on its own with an attractive and aggressive design.
Brushed aluminum screen lids are fairly common on gaming laptops, and so, you’ll also find one on this Strix machine. But, the GL502 also features an extra flat edge stamped with the Republic of Gamers tagline.
The rest of the chassis is made out of plastic, which might seem disappointing at first, but it feels solid as any full-metal gaming laptop. What’s more, Asus has given the keyboard deck a similar brushed finish to its top lid, while the underside carries a mechanical design etched into the panel.
There’s a load of branding here, between the Strix logo cut into the keyboard deck and Republic of Gamers featured prominently on the top and bottom of the laptop, but you can’t deny that there isn’t a single boring side to this 15-inch beauty.
Beyond looks, the Strix’s largely plastic exterior also helps keep weight down to a mere 4.4-pounds (2kg). To put that in perspective, Dell’s super slimmed down XPS 15 weighs the same amount with lower-spec parts and a more comparable Gigabyte P35X v5 weighs in at 5.29-pounds (2.4kg).
That said, the GL502 can’t quite match up with lightweight systems like the 4.25-pound (1.93kg) Razer Blade and the 4.2-pound (1.91kg) MSI GS60 Ghost Pro. It’s also isn’t the world’s thinnest gaming laptop measuring in at 15.35 x 10.47 x 0.92 inches (38.99 x 26.59 x 2.34 cm; W x D x H), but this is largely to make room for a much more efficient cooling system.
Beware of blast
Ultra-thin gaming laptops haven’t been the coolest of customers. More often than not, they either get excruciatingly hot, moo like a cow with loud fans or end up throttling components to stop the whole machine from melting itself down. Asus is the first company to make sure its svelte gaming machine is adequately cooled without any of those downsides.
On the rear edge of the GL502, you’ll find two thick heatsinks, and they’re not just painted orange for show. This large exhaust system pushes out a constant stream of air hot enough it could double as a space heater. Internally the laptop features Asus’ new ‘dual thermal design,’ which runs two separate lines of copper heat pipes and fans to cool the CPU and GPU individually.
Thanks to this efficient cooling system, the GL502 never really gets toasty on your lap, and the fan noise doesn’t get too rowdy either. Heck, you might even find a use for all the hot air coming out the back to keep your coffee hot.
Specifications, performance and features
The Asus ROG Strix GL502 can be configured with a variety of components. But, with a starting price of $1,249 (about £955, AU$1,641), it definitely isn’t a budget buy even if it nets you a 1TB hard drive disk (HDD) and 3GB Nvidia GTX 970M. For a slightly lower price, you can get the highest-end version of the Dell Inspiron 15 7000 or Lenovo Ideapad Y700, but you’ll be limited to the Nvidia GTX 960M for graphics.
The configuration you see below will run you $1,449 (about £1,107, AU$1,904), which is a considerable bargain compared to the $2,199 or AU$3,299 (about £1,649) you would pay for a comparable Razer Blade with a 3K screen. Even if you were to pick up the strongest configuration of the GL502, it would still be more affordable than the cheapest Blade at $1,899 (about £1462, AU$.2461), complete with an 8GB Nvidia GTX 980M.
Here is the Asus ROG Strix GL502 configuration sent to techradar for review:
- CPU: 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-6700HQ (quad-core, 6MB cache, up to 3.5GHz with Turbo Boost)
- Graphics: Nvidia GeForce GTX 970M (6GB GDDR5 RAM), Intel HD Graphics 530
- RAM: 16GB (DDR4, 2,133MHz)
- Screen: 15.6-inch FHD (1,920 x 1,080) with in-plane switching (IPS)
- Storage: 128GB SSD (M.2 SATA3), 1TB HDD (7,200 rpm)
- Ports: 3x USB 3.0, 1x USB 3.1 Type (Gen1), HDMI, mini Display Port, card reader, Ethernet, headset jack
- Connectivity: 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0
- Camera: 720p HD webcam
- Weight: 4.4 pounds
- Size: 15.35 x 10.47 x 0.92 inches (W x D x H)
The Asus ROG Strix GL502 is a rock star when it comes to Full HD gaming, For the last few weeks, we’ve been using the 15-inch notebook as our primary Overwatch system, and it’s been an absolute joy with Epic settings turned on and a constant 60 frames per second (fps). Even when operating on battery power alone, the laptop maintains a solid 30 fps experience.
With Doom, a much more intense first-person shooter game, I was able to kick the graphical settings up to Ultra and see a steady 60 fps runtime as well. Though there are rumors Nvidia’s next generation Pascal graphics are due to come mobile side very soon (as of this writing), the current configuration should still be more than capable to see you through the current swath of games and titles released over the next few years.
Here’s how the Asus ROG Strix GL502 performed in our suite of benchmark tests:
- 3DMark: Cloud Gate: 21,081; Sky Diver: 19,403; Fire Strike: 6,515
- Cinebench CPU: 679 points; Graphics: 105 fps
- GeekBench: 3,623 (single-core); 13,255 (multi-core)
- PCMark 8 (Home Test): 3,358 points
- PCMark 8 Battery Life: 3 hours and 5 minutes
- Battery Life (techradar movie test): 5 hours and 14 minutes
- The Division (1080p, Ultra): 34 fps; (1080p, Low): 86 fps
- GTA V (1080p, Ultra): 29 fps; (1080p, Low): 131 fps
Backing up the claims we just made, our benchmarks show the GL502 consistently keeps up with other Nvidia GTX 970M-powered gaming laptops, like the Aorus X3 v3 and Razer Blade. In more than a few cases – including the most intensive 3D Mark and GTA V benchmark tests – the Strix actually performs much better.
That’s not too surprising when you take Asus’ much better cooling system into account. It’s more than likely that both the Razer and Aorus were buckling under throttling constraints when we ran these challenging benchmark tests.
Like most gaming laptops, the only area in which the Asus GL502 underperforms is long battery life. Lasting for a maximum of 5 hours and 14 minutes while playing Guardians of the Galaxy on loop at 50% brightness, the Strix falls short of the impressive six-hour run time we squeezed out of the Razer Blade. Still, this isn’t as bad as the three-hour-or-shorter runs we’ve seen from other thin gaming laptops.
With regular usage, expect to get between four to nearly six hours of battery life, depending on how hard you’re stressing the machine and how high you’ve set the screen brightness.
Screen and speakers
While battery life is a mild disappointment, the quality of the screen and speakers on the GL502 are impeccable. We’ve pretty much adored the screen on every Asus device from the ZenBook series to the company’s most affordable Chromebook, but the vibrancy of colors seen on the Strix is on a whole other level.
Hues are represented brightly and distinctly on the 15-inch screen, and then a helping splash of rich contrast elevates image quality even higher.
Visuals are only the half of it. The Asus ROG GL502 also sounds excellent, thanks to a pair of surprisingly powerful speakers. Though they might only look like two tiny slivers on the side of the keyboard deck, the tweeters on this system can push out plenty of sound, representing the cacophonous battles in Overwatch handily.
Efficient cooling has been the biggest hurdle for thin gaming laptops to get over. While MSI, Razer, Gigabyte and more have been trying to crack the code, Asus has done a stellar job of shrinking down the 15-inch gaming laptop to a more portable size without sacrificing in any way on power.
The Asus ROG Strix GL502 is stylish without out being overtly obnoxious about it. Beyond its sharp looks, there aren’t many other gaming laptops this thin and light that can be equipped with an 8GB Nvidia GTX 980M. Even with a 6GB Nvidia GTX 970M, this machine more than kills it with Full HD gaming now and for years to come. Plus, there’s the super vibrant screen and potent speakers help round out the entertainment experience with this amazing machine.
The biggest detraction we can give this 15-inch gaming laptop is battery life, but even then it’s not the worst. Five-to-six-hour battery life is middling by general standards, but it won’t leave you hanging like other machines that only last for three hours and can’t keep you away from the plug.
It’s rare for us to be this thoroughly impressed with a gaming laptop. Aside from the minor knock against battery life, there’s nothing wrong with Asus ROG Strix GL502. In fact, almost everything else about the machine is stellar from the crisp keyboard, loud speakers, stunning screen and solid Full HD gaming experience. This is one of the best all-around gaming laptops we’ve ever reviewed, hands down, and we recommend it if you’re in the market for a solid mobile PC gaming system.