The Asus ROG GX800VH, a liquid cooled monstrosity of a gaming laptop, is one of those things that, like 4K phones or the Apple Watch, is wholly unnecessary yet awfully desirable. Beneath its fully mechanical, RGB-lit keyboard is Intel’s top-of-the-line mobile i7-7820HK processor, which is based on the same Kaby Lake architecture as the i7-7700K and is similarly overclockable. There are two Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 graphics cards paired in SLI, 64GB of DDR4 memory, and an 18.4-inch 4K display with G-Sync. Buying one costs £6,600/$6,300, which is an astonishing amount of money even considering the tech that’s included.
The GX800VH certainly isn’t for everyone, then, not least those that want the most bang-for-the-buck. But as an example of what’s possible on the bleeding edge when money is no object, it’s one of the finest pieces of technological willy-waving that we’ve ever seen.
Buying a GX800VH requires a commitment from both your credit card and your ego. Not only is the laptop itself physically large and covered in orange highlights, but it comes with both a backpack and a suitcase to carry the accompanying liquid cooling unit around—and the graphics on the suitcase are hardly what you’d call subtle. Still, the suitcase—which is filled a pre-cut foam insert for the liquid cooling unit and extra power supply—and bag do make carrying the whole setup around that much easier, should you want to lug it around to a friend’s house or, if you’re seriously committed to gaming, on holiday.
While the GX800VH uses a mixture of plastics and brushed metal rather than the full-metal chassis you might expect at this price point, it still has a premium feel, which is helped by its substantial weight of 5.7kg. (Suffice it to say, this is not a laptop you will want to move around often, let alone actually use on your lap). Unfortunately, my particular review unit suffered in transit, with the bezel becoming partly separated from the display. The bezel was easy enough to pop back into place, but such damage is hardly the most reassuring start to unboxing a six grand laptop.
As you’d expect for a laptop that’s 45mm thick, the GX800VH packs in plenty of ports. There’s a 3.5mm headphone jack, a 3.5mm microphone jack, one Thunderbolt 3.0/USB 3.1 Type-C port, one USB 3.1 Type-C port, three USB 3.1 Type-A ports, gigabit Ethernet, one mini-Display Port, and an SD card reader. All that’s missing is 10Gb Ethernet, which I’d expect to see at this price point. There’s an eight-cell, 76Whr battery inside too, although with battery life that barely scrapes past an hour and a half, I’d consider it more of a backup in case of power cut, rather than a means to actually use the laptop on the go.
Alongside the pre-overclocked 4C/8T i7-7820HK processor—the stability of which varies depending on whether you use the liquid cooling unit, and whether you have one or both of the included 300W power supplies plugged in—you get 64GB of 2800MHz DDR4 memory, two GTX 1080 graphics cards, and a pair of PCIe X4 NVMe SSDs in RAID 0 for excessively fast storage (with a spare slot to add another).
There’s little you could want for in the GX800VH except perhaps for a processor with more than four cores. If you took just £3,000—less than half the cost of the GX800VH—you could easily build a monster desktop PC with a 10-core processor like the Core i9-7900X.
But then, that would hardly be as interesting would it? The GX800VH’s claim to fame is its external liquid cooling unit, which locks into docking ports at the back of the laptop with a satisfying clunk. The way it works is rather clever. Inside the laptop is a heat pipe cooler that covers the CPU and both GPUs. Normally, the heat pipe is cooled via two heatsinks and blower fans that sit at the rear of the laptop. However, when the laptop is docked, liquid is pumped through the heat pipe and out into the docking station, where two radiators and fans are waiting.
The result is both a dramatic reduction in temperatures and an increase in performance versus air cooling alone. Undocked, the CPU—which is overclocked to 4.4GHz by default—is easily throttled in synthetic tests, with temperatures peaking above 91 degrees Celsius. The GPUs, while staying within their own thermal limits at 76 degrees, only hit a top clock speed of 1,721MHz.
Docked, the CPU hits a mere 50 degrees under synthetic load, while the GPU hits 60 degrees and clocks at a much higher 1873MHz. That’s almost as high as a desktop GTX 1080, offering more than enough performance to make good use of the built-in 4K 60Hz display.
However, such performance demands that you use both the included 330W power supplies—one plugged into the dock, and the other into the side of the laptop. It’s possible to use the laptop with just one power supply, but without enough juice on tap the GPUs don’t clock as high. It’s also worth noting that liquid cooling, at least in this case, doesn’t mean quiet. This is one loud laptop, with only the pitch of the fans changing depending on whether it’s docked or not. The noise is certainly more bearable when using the liquid cooling system, but if noise is a concern, a desktop is the way to go.
Performance is, as you’d expect for a computer packing an i7 and two GTX 1080’s, impressive. Compared to a GTX 1080 Ti paired with a mighty eight-core Intel processor, the GX800VH often comes in faster at its native display resolution of 4K. That said, SLI support remains something of an oddity. In Hitman, for example, the GX800VH came nowhere near the frame rate of a the lone GTX 1080 Ti. That’s not to mention that, across the board, 99th percentile minimum frame times are poor due to increased frame variance caused by rendering across two GPUs. I didn’t find it all that noticeable during gameplay, but some are more sensitive to this than others.
Realistically, most people aren’t going to buy the GX800VH. A gaming desktop is cheaper, quieter, and a better performer. Even factoring in the cost of a 4K monitor, mouse, and a mechanical keyboard to match the quality of those built into the laptop (the keyboard, despite using Asus’ own MechTAG switches, is great to type on), a desktop works out cheaper.
For those that want a gaming laptop specifically, there are far cheaper choices out there, many of which—while still large—aren’t as bulky as the GX800VH. Those that want to go slimmer still can look at Nvidia Max-Q laptops like Asus’ own Zephyrus, which packs a GTX 1080 into a 18mm thick chassis (just ignore the ergonomically absurd keyboard design if you can).
But then, the GX800VH isn’t about practicality or value for money. It’s a product that exists because some clever folks figured out a way to make the seemingly impossible—a liquid cooled laptop—work. Even if Asus only ever sells 10 of them (buy it here!), it’s heartening to see that something so wonderfully ludicrous exists.
- Totally OP specs
- Excellent performance
- Comfortable mechanical keyboard
- A marvel of engineering
- Quality 4K G-Sync display
- Loads of I/O
- Noisy, even when docked
- Needs two power supplies plugged in for full performance
- SLI support remains patchy
- It’s freaking huge
- The graphics on that suitcase
- It costs over six grand. That money is better spent on a desktop.
This post originated on Ars Technica UK