Introduction, Design Features
In a day and age where basic computing can be had for under $100, we do a double-take when we see a computer that clocks in at fifty times that price.
But that’s the going rate for Asus’ latest Republic of Gamers (RoG) desktop, dubbed the GT51CA. The $4,999 configuration we’re reviewing is a monster in every dimension, standing over two feet tall and weighing north of 50 pounds. Inside its design-forward case is just about the fastest prebuilt gaming desktop you’ll find in late 2016.
The processor is Intel’s unlocked Core i7-6700KNvidia GeForce GTX 1080 graphics cards, paired together in SLI. This isn’t the first time we’ve reviewed a desktop with two of these flagship cards, and somehow we’re always glad to oblige. It’s a 4K-crushing combo for gaming on a big screen. The GT51CA barreled through our gaming benchmarks without trouble.
Our review unit’s 64GB of dual-channel RAM, and 1TB of RAID 0 SSD storage are rather notable on the spec sheet, too.
But despite the crazy specs, the price of this beast still has us in a mild state of (sticker) shock. One thing is certain: we’ll be expecting perfection at this price. As we’ll reveal shortly though, the GT51CA’s shortcomings didn’t escape our scrutiny, and we were legitimately surprised in which areas it came up short.
So with that little teaser, let’s see how the rich and famous gamers live.
The box the GT51CA arrived in was massive, and Asus couldn’t have made it any smaller. This desktop is positively enormous, at 27x15x28 inches. Sitting on top of a desk, it towers over monitors (shameless pun intended), and just about everything that’s likely to be sitting next to it.
The GT51CA would certainly impress at a LAN party, but you’ll need a dolly to wheel it there. Its 50.7-pound weight is enough that you’ll want to think carefully before lifting it. Most normally-sized gaming desktops we review land somewhere between 30 and 40 pounds.
The design of the GT51CA is really its stand-out factor, though. It’s like nothing we’ve seen before, not even from boutique brands. The sculpted exterior panels and angled sides are hard to miss.
The Iron Man-evoking fixture on the front is actually an air intake, responsible for sending cool air to the twin graphics cards. It doesn’t actually spin or otherwise move, likely due to safety concerns. Like the rest of the case, it’s fancier than it needs to be. But at this price point, that’s the idea.
The GT51CA’s lighting is split into four zones. The turbine-like air intake on the front and the inside of the case are the two zones with RGB lighting. They can be set to cycle between eight million colors. The other two zones—the Asus RoG logo on the front of the case and the the two stripes running down either side—light up in red only.
The lighting is configurable in the pre-installed Aegis II software, shown above. We found the software interface to be a little rough around the edges. It initially wasn’t quite clear to us how to change the patterns, but we figured it out after a couple of minutes of fiddling around. A special lighting theme is preconfigured for the GT51CA’s overclocking mode.
The button on the left side of the front panel, opposite the power button, activates the Aegis II software’s “Turbo 2” overclocking mode, pushing the Core i7-6700K processor to 4.6GHz. (Look for our overclocked benchmarks in the Performance section.)
Under the power button is the GT51CA’s slim tray-load optical drive. It was only a DVD drive in our review unit; a Blu-ray drive would have been nice given the system’s high price.
The GT51CA’s outer case material is plastic, although it’s solid and creak-free. The internal case structure is steel. The steel doesn’t have a finish applied, but you couldn’t tell from looking through the small side panel window. Even after opening the side panel, teh interior looked fine. The interior case lighting is limited as it is, so having a blacked-out case interior might have made it too hard to see anything through the case window.
The GT51CA has solid connectivity. The upper edge of the front panel crowds in two USB Type-A 3.0 ports, a USB Type-A 3.1 port, and a USB Type-C 3.1 port. The latter supplies power even when the desktop is off.
To the right of the USB ports are the separate headphone and microphone jacks. The headphone jack is advertised as “Hi-Fi,” but we were disappointed the one in our review unit produced static, which was intrusive enough that we could hear it over in-game sounds, and ended up switching to a USB headset. Hopefully that’s a problem with our review unit, and not a widespread issue. But without several GT51CA systems on hand to test, it’s tough to say.
On the desktop’s rear panel resides the remaining connectivity. Two USB Type-A 2.0 ports and a legacy PS/2 port live at the top. Below them sits a bank of six USB Type-A 3.0 ports, an Ethernet jack, and 7.1 surround sound jacks, as well as SPDIF. We like that instead of just blocking off motherboard video ports, as is often the case with gaming tower where you’re meant to connect to the dedicated graphics card(s), Asus used a motherboard here that has no on-board video ports. This eliminates confusion and just makes for a nicer-looking system backside.
You certainly won’t be wanting for monitor connections, as the two GTX 1080 Founder’s Edition graphics cards each have three full-size DisplayPorts, one HDMI, and one DVI-D port.
One of the GT51CA’s more peculiar and unique features is its included near-field communication (NFC) wristband. Hover this just above the illuminated RoG logo on the front of the desktop, and you’ll activate a hidden storage volume. “Shadow Drive,” as Asus calls it, appears as an 847GB volume in Windows Explorer after the wristband is detected. It worked seamlessly in our testing, though we probably won’t be complaining about the absence of this feature on the next desktop we review.
Three Phillips-head screws must first be removed from the rear of the panel to pop off the left side and reveal the GT51CA’s innards. With the screws removed, the left side slides to the rear, but this required an abnormal amount of effort on our review unit to defeat the initial friction point and pop it loose.
The darkened interior has a tidy look. There’s a distinct lack of visible cables, and the ones that are visible are neatly routed. The bottom-mounted power supply means the power plug won’t be dangling from the top of the desktop.
The power supply is a 700-watt unit with an 80 PLUS Silver certification. It isn’t modular, though as we noted, the cabling is well managed.
The large ATX motherboard sits above the power supply compartment. It’s a proprietary model for the GT51CA, not a standard Asus board, with four DIMM slots for DDR4 memory, three PCI-Express x16 slots, and three PCI-Express x1 slots.
The circular CPU waterblock has a red illuminated Asus RoG logo on it. The closed-loop liquid cooling system has its radiator mounted on the back of the tower, with a 120mm fan attached to exhaust the warm air. There are no top-mounted fans, though there are perforations for ventilation up there.
Two identical M.2 Type-2280 (80mm) SSDs make up the boot drive in our GT51CA configuration. One lives under the topmost GTX 1080 in the motherboard’s M.2 Type-2280 (80mm) slot. The graphics card must come out for it to be accessible. The other SSD is adapter-mounted in the PCI-Express x4 slot under the lower of the two graphics cards.
One of the GT51CA’s five 3.5-inch bays is populated by a 1TB Toshiba hard drive in our review unit. The bays all have tool-less slide-out trays; simply pinch the ends together to remove, and you can pop in another drive and slide it into the chassis. The system is upgrade-friendly in this regard, but getting power and SATA cables to any drives you might add later on presents a minor challenge. Extra power cables are stored behind the black plastic shroud under the 3.5-inch cage, but if there is an obvious way to get the shroud off, we couldn’t find it. Furthermore, the motherboard’s six SATA 6Gbps ports are under the top GTX 1080, so you’ll likely need to remove the card to access them.
The GT51CA includes a keyboard and mouse of above-average quality.
The mechanical keyboard appears to be exclusive to the GT51CA; we were unable to find it listed on Asus’s RoG site as a keyboard advertised for sale on its own.
Starting on a positive note, the keyboard has a superb tactile feel. Its keys make the pleasing clicks and clacks that mechanical keyboards are known for. The WASD cluster has blank orange keycaps, but the standard keys are included in the box, should you decide to swap them out.
The keyboard has a relatively sturdy plastic frame, and a soft-touch palm rest is included, which snaps on with some difficulty. The keyboard’s layout is as standard as they come. When pressed in conjunction, the Fn key on the right side of the space bar activates the secondary media control functions printed on the F1 through F6 keys.
The keyboard’s feature set ends there. It has no built-in ports or dedicated macro keys. There are what appear to be holes for USB Type-A and headphone/microphone jacks behind the NumLock indicator light, but they’re filled in.
The oddest part about this keyboard is that it uses a PS/2 connector. A USB adapter was attached to it, but that’s a bit bizarre in this day and age. No wonder it doesn’t doesn’t have backlighting, gaming macro keys, or pass through ports. Functionality like that isn’t available over PS/2, a connector which made its debut in 1987.
Although it provides a wonderful typing experience, the GT51CA’s included keyboard leaves us wanting more. We normally wouldn’t be so critical, but the GT51CA’s price point implies we should be getting the best.
The mouse included with the GT51CA is available for sale on its own. The Asus GX950 laser mouse is a dedicated gaming model with a laser sensor. It retails for $79.99, but Asus had it listed in their online store for $49.99 as we wrote this, though it was selling for around $70 at many other online outlets.
The mouse is designed for medium-to-large right hands. (Sorry, lefties, it’s not ambidextrous.) The arch shape curves more towards the rear, with long left and right-click buttons. The grooved cutout on the left puts your thumb within easy reach of the two side buttons directly above. The slight gap between the two side buttons makes it possible to tell them apart by feel. The right side of the mouse has a lip for your pinky to rest on, which is appreciated.
The mouse’s upper surfaces are coated in a grippy soft-touch material, and the rodent feels hefty in the hand at first. But you can tune the weight to your liking thanks to the built-in weight adjustment system: Turn the circular piece on the mouse’s underside to the left to unlock the weight tray. Five 4.5-gram weighs are included.
The GX950’s braided cable feels durable enough. What’s truly unique about it, though, is the five-way adjustable cable management. The cable can be routed to the left, right, straight out the front, or kinked off to the left or right via dedicated channels on the underside of the mouse. Just press the cord into whichever channel you want to use.
The red switch behind the scroll wheel changes the DPI. The GX950’s laser sensor supports up to an incredible 8200 DPI, though it’s hard to imagine needing that much sensitivity. The DPI level is indicated by the four-LED light cluster, smartly positioned behind the left-click button, so it won’t be hidden by your hand.
The illuminated button just back from the DPI switch toggles between the mouse’s three onboard profiles. Its color changes to green, red, or yellow to indicate the selected profile.
Profiles and other settings are configurable in the somewhat unrefined Asus Gaming Mouse software, which was preinstalled on our GT51CA.
We were pleased to see the mouse support separate X and Y axis DPI adjustments. Only two DPI settings can be stored per profile, though.
All of the buttons can be reconfigured, including the DPI switch if desired. To access the macro editor (which is sadly pretty basic), change one of the buttons to a Script option.
The software holds and manages only three profiles, but you can import and export profiles if needed. We’d have preferred unlimited profile storage, and the ability to swap them in and out of the mouse’s three onboard profiles at-will, as opposed to having to deal with importing and exporting.
The GX950 was comfortable to use while gaming, although the rear arched shape took some getting used-to, forcing our hand to sit a bit further back than usual. Minus any real customizable lighting, the GX950 is a fine example of a gaming mouse.
The GT51CA is listed on Asus’ Web site as being available with different specifications, though the only one we could find for sale in the United States as we wrote this was the GT51CA-XB71K configuration we’re discussing here. You know, the one that’s listed at $4,999.
For that amount of dosh, you’re getting the high end of the high end. Its Core i7-6700K is the fastest processor you can buy for Intel’s mainstream LGA 1151 socket. It comes overclocked to 4.3GHz in the GT51CA, up from 4.0GHz without overclocking. And then a push-button overclock boosts the processor even further to 4.6GHz. It’s rare we see even a boutique brand push the processor this far. Asus says it puts the processors used in the GT51CA through a special selection process.
To test the processor overclocking, we used Futuremark’s FireStrike Extreme benchmark. The overall score at the base overclock was 14,644. When overclocked, it showed almost no change to 14,681. This was consistent across multiple runs.
The physics sub-score of the benchmark, however, went from 13,184 to 13,712, or an improvement of four percent. That’s actually pretty close to what we’d expect the difference to be from overclocking to this degree, as going from 4.3GHz to 4.6GHz is just a seven percent increase. It’s hardly noticeable, even in benchmarks. But at least you’ll have bragging rights.
A single Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 is formidable enough. The GT51CA-XB71K has two of them, connected together via a high-bandwidth SLI bridge. This setup is only in its element when gaming at a 4K resolution. Our benchmarks to follow will show it has plenty of headroom even at that resolution.
The 64GB of RAM in our review unit is overkill. We feel 16GB is the sweet spot for price to performance, as so far we haven’t seen evidence of a game that positively responds to more. Then again, given the GT51CA’s price, we’ll take all the RAM we can get. And lots of RAM is useful for other tasks, like content creation with massive files. 64GB is the maximum the GT51CA’s motherboard supports, and it’s arranged in a four-16GB DIMM configuration. The RAM runs at DDR4-2400 out of the box, but supports XMP profiles for DDR4-2800 in an overclocked state. This is done through the motherboard’s BIOS. We didn’t experiment with this feature, but we are mildly curious as to why the GT51CA isn’t running that way out of the box.
The Windows 10 Home operating system of our review unit was installed on the C: drive, which is a 1TB RAID 0 array composed of two 512GB Samsung SSDs. These are PCI-Express drives supporting the NVMe protocol, and some of the fastest available. Our informal CrystalDiskMark benchmarking showed just over a 3,000MB per second sequential read and write speeds. The 1TB secondary hard drive in our GT51CA was only at 200MB per second for reads, or about 1/15th as fast. That’s just sequential performance, though. In day-to-day usage, we can’t say we noticed a difference between the GT51CA’s RAID 0 blazing array and a single mainstream SSD.
The 1TB 3.5-inch secondary hard drive in the GT51CA feels a bit stingy at this price point. Considering 8TB drives are readily available at around $200, and 1TB drives start at about $50, there’s really no reason to stick to such small storage capacity when you’re spending this much.
And while we’re on the subject of surprises, something the GT51CA has that you won’t find on most high-end gaming desktops is pre-installed bloatware—in the form of a nagging McAfee trial and Wild Tangent games. We’d expect this kind of thing on a $300 detachable, but still wouldn’t be happy about it. To say it was a surprise to see some on a product this expensive is an understatement. As system cruft goes, what’s here is far from the worst we’ve seen, and shouldn’t take more than a few minutes to remove. But on a system priced around $5,000, it’s an extremely out-of-place annoyance.
We put together a mock DIY build with the same caliber of components as the GT51CA-XB71K, and came out to just shy of $3,500. We also built an Alienware Aurora R5 with almost identical specs, and it came to $3,895 in early December 2016, while an AVADirect Avant came to $3,765. We didn’t include a keyboard or mouse in our builds, but ones on par with the GT51CA’s bundled peripherals would only add around $100. In short, there appears to be quite a premium for the GT51CA’s design, clean build, NFC wrist band, and other features. Typically, system builders tend to charge around a 20 percent premium over the cost of parts for things like assembly and warranty. But with the Asus GT51CA-XB71K, that number is a little over 30 percent.
The fans in this monster desktop consist of the front-mounted intake, the 120mm exhaust fan in the power supply, and the 120mm exhaust attached to the processor’s liquid cooling radiator. There is also, of course, a cooling fan inside each GTX 1080 graphics card.
The air from the front intake makes its way across the graphics cards. The concept here is that the air will rise to the top, where it can exit out the rear 120mm radiator-mounted fan. The desktop’s other primary air intake is the extensive perforation in the top panel.
We enabled the maximum 4.6GHz overclock on the Core i7-6700K, and then did a 30 minute stint in Rise of the Tomb Raider. The processor ended up hitting 89 degrees C, a considerably higher temperature than we expected. It’s below the chip’s maximum, but not by a large margin. The 4.5GHz overclocked Core i7-6700K in the AVADirect Avant, paired with a larger Corsair-brand liquid cooler, only hit 66 degrees C in our testing. Even the 34-inch all-in-one Digital Storm Aura only hit the upper-70-degree C range.
The Nvidia GTX 1080 graphics cards topped out at 85 degrees C. That’s the norm for a Founder’s Edition card. The bottom card ran about 10 degrees cooler than the top card, probably because it was the first to breathe the fresh air coming from the front intake. Our GPU-Z logging indicated the cards maintaining their core and memory clocks at all times while gaming.
In terms of noise, the GT51CA in general makes a low frequency muted humming when turned on. Most of this comes from the 120mm radiator fan. The case design generally lacks large openings, which helps keep the sounds contained within.
CPU activity causes the rear 120mm radiator fan to speed up, and the amount of sound coming from the GT51CA increases to a noticeable degree. Although it lacks discernible motor whine, the actual volume of sound is significant and can’t be dismissed as background noise. Under load, the sound level easily drowns out most ambient noise in the vicinity.
That aside, the GT51CA is quieter than the AVADirect Avant we tested, which had an open-air case design and more 120mm fans. The Alienware Aurora R5, on the other hand, was noticeably quieter than the GT51CA’s volume level. That system, though, had just one graphics GTX 1080 card.