Hands-on with the ROG GX700 gaming laptop, a liquid-cooled exotic

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Let’s be honest, you’re probably not going to buy the ROG GX700 gaming laptop. It’s extremely expensive, with a $4999 price tag that’s well outside what’s affordable for even most serious gamers. And it’s available in extremely limited numbers, with only 50 examples slated for sale in North America.

And that’s kind of a shame, because the GX700 showcases what the engineering talent in the Republic of Gamers can do when given the freedom to think way outside the box, unrestricted by traditional conventions and budgets. They came up with the first liquid cooling system for notebooks, paired it with a Skylake-based Core i7 CPU and desktop-class GeForce GTX 980 GPU, and enabled overclocking for both. The result is the laptop equivalent of a limited-edition supercar: ludicrous performance laced with indulgent luxury.booty-docked

Few mortals ever get a taste of what it’s like behind the wheel of a supercar, and the same is true for ultra-high-end gaming machines. Fortunately, one of the benefits of this gig is that I get to live beyond my means—and bring you along for the ride. Welcome to your vicarious hands-on with the one of the most unique gaming laptops ever made.

suitcase-smallWe don’t usually begin with an unboxing, but it’s worth making an exception, because the GX700 comes with its own luggage. Everything fits into a suitcase that’s easy to transport across town or to the other side of the world. You can literally roll it to the next LAN party.

The hard exterior shell protects against the knocks, bumps, and other abuses that tend to occur when transporting something of value. For added security, the contents sit behind a TSA-complaint combination lock. The only thing missing is matching handcuffs to chain the thing to your wrist.

There’s almost a ritual to unpacking the GX700. First, you dial in your secret code. Then you flip the latches, which actuate with a satisfying mechanical clack. The top lifts open to reveal fitted compartments for the laptop, its liquid cooling dock, the associated power adapters, and the included ROG Sica mouse. Everything is protected by shock-absorbing foam, and the essentials are strapped in for maximum safety.suitcase-open

The suitcase is admittedly bigger than most backpacks—and carry-on restrictions—but it’s only necessary if you want to take the whole shebang. On its own, the laptop is about the same size as a typical 17” desktop replacement like the ROG G752; it’s capable of operating independently, with traditional air cooling. The liquid cooling dock is an entirely separate piece that’s required only if you want the GX700 to reach its full potential.

This modular design is the product of research that began in 2013. We initially explored integrating liquid cooling fully into the chassis, but that made the laptop too bulky even in the realm of desktop replacements. Since people do most of their playing from home, we decided to optimize performance for that environment by much of the liquid cooling apparatus in a separate docking station fueled by a beefier power supply. This lets the GX700 retain the portability of a top-of-the-line gaming notebook and augment its performance with a more stationary sidekick.dock-front

Docking is a simple matter of lower the laptop onto the metal guide posts and then pressing down on the big lever at the back. The lever extends barbs for plumbing and power, linking the two components together.plumbing-notebook plumbing-dock

To release, simply hit the button on the front of the dock to retract the barbs, and then lift the laptop away. The industrial-grade valves have self-sealing tips, so you don’t have to worry about coolant spraying everywhere.

The dock houses the pump, which sits on rubber washers to dampen noise and vibration. It’s also home to dual 92-mm radiators topped by matching fans that vary their speed as needed. When gaming, the whole setup makes a low whooshing sound devoid of the annoying, higher-pitched whine that plagues some gaming notebooks.

Since gaming heats up the GPU more than any other component, the water block sits directly on top of that chip. Liquid cooling lowers the temperature by over 30% compared to traditional solutions, allowing the GPU to maintain its boost frequency for hours on end—even when overclocked. More on that in a moment.straight-back

The liquid cooling system is rated to dissipate up to 500W, which is more than sufficient for the 330W capacity of the brick powering the dock (and the GX700). The CPU benefits from the loop, as well, but it lacks a dedicated block and connects via more traditional heatpipes. This is the best compromise to maximize GPU cooling and gaming performance.

As you might expect, the CPU is no slouch. It’s a Core i7-6820HK with four cores and eight threads based on Intel’s latest Skylake architecture. The chip ramps Turbo speeds up to 3.6GHz under normal circumstances, and the GX700 overclocks it to an even 4GHz when docked. You can also push the CPU to 4.1GHz by tweaking the base clock with our intuitive ROG Gaming Center software, but it’s really not necessary. The GX700 performs like a high-end desktop without the extra juice.

While the CPU comes from Intel’s mobile family, the GPU is the full-fat desktop version of the GeForce GTX 980. Some other gaming laptops use the same chip, but they lack the power and cooling to harness its full potential. That’s not a problem for the GX700, which not only maintain the GPU’s stock desktop frequency, but also reaches higher speeds. With a few clicks in ROG Gaming Center, I managed to overclock the GTX 980 in my loaner laptop to 1.45GHz, an 18% increase over stock. The GX700 maintained that speed when playing The Witcher 3, and impressively, it kept the GPU temperature under 60°C. That would be a praise-worthy feat for a full-sized desktop, so it’s a remarkable achievement for a laptop, even if there’s a hump hanging off the back.

With 8GB of GDDR5 dedicated to graphics, the GX700 actually has more video memory than most desktop GTX 980 cards. The VRAM runs at the same 7GHz as desktop parts, and the chips in my sample were stable when overclocked to 7.6GHz.open-docked

The graphics synchronize with the 17.3” display via NVIDIA’s G-Sync Technology, which makes gameplay more immersive by smoothing perceptible stuttering and eliminating visible tearing. As an added bonus, the refresh rate scales up to 75Hz, a 25% boost over typical notebook displays. This faster update frequency makes games look and feel noticeably smoother, especially in titles with lots of fast action or continuous motion.

The display is based on an IPS panel with wide viewing angles that let you easily share a game of split-screen Rocket League with friends. We opted for a 1080p resolution to deliver the best gaming experience. 4K is an option on some versions of the GX700, but the GTX 980 doesn’t have enough horsepower to produce a consistent 60 FPS at that resolution with the eye candy turned up. 1080p is better fit for the laptop’s primary mission, and combined with the smaller screen size, that resolution easily has enough pixels to create sharp, detailed images.

On an ultra-high-end system like the GX700, you expect to be able to run games at the native resolution with all the details turned up. And you can. I tested a stack of demanding titles with everything maxed out, and performance was excellent in every single one. Check out these 60-second FPS plots based on individual frame times gathered by Fraps. You can click the buttons below the graph to switch between games.

Most of the games stayed over the magical 60-FPS mark, and even when there were dips below it, G-Sync smoothed out the wrinkles. I’ve never experienced anything quite like this on a gaming laptop before. Heck, I’ve used plenty of gaming desktops that don’t perform this well.

The graphs illustrate performance with the CPU at 4GHz and the GTX 980 at stock clocks, matching the “Extreme” profile available when the laptop is docked. Detaching the GX700 reduces the cooling capacity and switches over to a smaller 180W power brick, which takes both extreme mode and manual overclocking off the table. This “Optimized” configuration also dials back the GTX 980 a smidgen, from 1228 to 1190MHz. The gaming performance is still fantastic in optimized mode, so you can choose between packing light or going all in depending on the occasion.booty-notebook

Regardless of whether the GX700 is docked, all my games loaded quickly thanks a terabyte of solid-state storage. The onboard storage comprises dual 512GB PCI Express SSDs arranged in a RAID 0 array. Each drive is based on NVM Express, otherwise known as NVMe, a low-overhead protocol designed specifically to maximize performance with SSDs. The results speak for themselves:crystalSo, yeah. The GX700 has faster storage than most desktops, let alone typical gaming laptops. It peaks at nearly 3300MB/s in CrystalDiskMark, which is 5-6X the top speed of the SSDs in most gaming rigs.

Everywhere you look, the GX700 is stacked. It’s loaded with 64GB of DDR4-2800 memory, enough for the most extreme multitasking scenarios. And it’s got both Gigabit Ethernet and 802.11ac Wi-Fi, so you can connect to the fastest networks with or without wires.right left

Connectivity abounds, including reversible Type-C connectors for both Thunderbolt 3 and USB 3.1. The GX700 is compatible with upcoming external GPU docks, making it possible to add even more graphics horsepower down the road, and it can power up to three auxiliary 4K displays via DisplayPort 1.3 and HDMI 2.0 outputs. Even the onboard audio has been enhanced with a premium ESS Sabre DAC and dedicated headphone amp—because it just wouldn’t do if games didn’t sound as good as they look and feel.keyboard

Speaking of feel, the keyboard is excellent. The keys have 2.5 mm of travel and a clear actuation point, enabling precise input for gameplay and high speeds for normal typing. The keyboard supports 30-key rollover, so it can handle more simultaneous key presses than you have fingers, and it includes dedicated macro keys, so you can keep your favorite combos within reach. Another dedicated key serves as an XSplit shortcut for streamers, while red backlighting makes it easy to play in the dark.

The touchpad is huge, which is nice, but I have to admit that I’ve mostly been ignoring it in favor of the included ROG Sica mouse. The 5000-DPI optical sensor tracks well on pretty much any surface, and it easily keeps up with my decidedly average reflexes. While the Sica isn’t as full-featured as some of our more exotic designs, like the ROG Spatha, hardcore gamers are likely to bring their own peripherals. The Sica merely ensures that a good mouse is available right out of the box suitcase.straight-front

After about a week with the GX700, I can’t help but feel a little bit spoiled. Everything about this laptop offers a premium experience, from the jaw-dropping gaming performance to the top-of-the-line specs to the brushed metal body holding it all together. There’s also an air of notoriety that follows the GX700 everywhere it goes. This isn’t just another ultra-high-end gaming laptop; it’s a showcase for how ROG’s bold innovations can have big implications for real-world gaming.

I still can’t afford it, but the GX700 costs a lot less than an exotic supercar, so there are plenty of people who can. If you have the means and want the ultimate gaming laptop, the GX700 is simply in a class all its own. It delivers an uncompromised desktop gaming experience in a portable package that’s perfect for hardcore LAN addicts and power-hungry road warriors. Thanks to the plentiful horsepower produced by its overclocked CPU and desktop-grade GPU, the GX700 even has appeal as a easily transportable workstation.

The modular design necessarily involves sacrifices when you’re fully mobile, without the dock, but there’s an alternative if you want to maximize performance away from home. The ROG G701 is basically the same laptop, minus support for liquid cooling and the external dock. Traditional heatsinks and blowers keep the CPU and GPU cool, and while this approach can’t beat liquid cooling overall, it actually helps the G701 perform better than an undocked GX700. Best of all, the improved experience on the road comes with a lower price tag; the G701 is selling for $3999, a grand less than its super-cooled sibling.

Either way, you’re getting a phenomenal machine with serious gaming chops. The GX700 best captures the inspired innovation that drives our Republic of Gamers division, while the G701 pushes the boundaries within more traditional confines. And both will induce envy in your opponents.