Introduction, Design, Features
The market for budget gaming notebooks is a hotbed of activity, and we’ve reviewed plenty of them. Models with 15.6-inch displays tend to be the most popular; our current top pick in that size is the Dell Inspiron 15 7000 (7577), an under-$1,000 unit with a GeForce GTX 1060 Max-Q graphics chip. Should you decide to jump up to a model with a larger 17.3-inch screen, however, you’ll find the selection a lot more limited. For instance, when we searched on Newegg.com for 15.6-inch gaming laptops under $1,150, we got five pages of results. When we increased the screen size to 17.3 inches, our results dwindled to less than one full page.
That makes the subject of this review something of a unicorn. What you’re looking at is the Asus Republic of Gamers Strix GL703, specifically the model GL703VD-WB71 that retails for $1,149. This value-oriented gaming machine packs an Intel Core i7-7700HQ quad-core CPU and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 graphics card with 4GB of dedicated memory. This unit also includes 16GB of memory and a large 1TB hybrid hard drive. As is usually the case with Asus notebooks, the GL703 series is sold only as a preconfigured model.
The processor and graphics card combo in our review unit is powerful enough to run most of today’s AAA-level games at 1,920×1,080 (1080p) resolution with medium-to-high detail settings, but don’t expect much more than that; the graphics card is Nvidia’s GTX 1050, not the faster 1050 Ti variant. We found just one 17.3-inch competitor with the GTX 1050 Ti chip in this price range, the HP Omen 17t. It lacked some of the features of our Strix GL703 review unit, such as an RGB-backlit keyboard, but it was otherwise competitive. (On paper, anyway.)
Although the Strix GL703 is considered a budget gaming notebook, a laptop that retails for north of four figures is hardly considered budget-friendly in the scope of the general notebook market. (A true budget machine would be something like the $250 Lenovo Ideapad 120sStrix GL753 that we reviewed in February 2017.
There’s no getting around that this machine is a handful, given its 17.3-inch diagonal display. However, its 0.98-inch thickness and 6.5-pound weight make it a bearable companion for infrequent trips. Don’t forget to factor in its relatively bulky 150-watt power adapter.
The all-black exterior of this notebook has some unique styling elements. The matte black plastic on the palm rest both looks and feels better than the faux aluminum finish of the GL753. You’ll still find some of the former streaking across the chassis, but its diagonal grain gives it an upscale look.
There’s some real brushed aluminum on the lid backing. The orange-backlit ROG logo is prominently situated off to one side. It’s illuminated by the screen itself, so you don’t have independent control over whether it’s lit up or not.
The lid was resistant to flexing. The chassis felt solid as well, although it had some perceptible horizontal flex. That’s almost inevitable given the plastic construction and large size of this notebook. The plastic is relatively thick and of good quality.
The full-size keyboard is recessed so that its key tops are flush with surrounding chassis. The tactile feedback from the island-style keys is friendly and encouraging. The layout is where this keyboard has some difficulty. The two-thirds-sized number pad keys require extra precision, especially the pinky-sized 0 key. The same is true of the arrow key cluster. In an odd turn of events, there’s no End key on this keyboard, although there is a Home key at the top right corner.
At least the power button isn’t a keyboard key as it was on the GL753; on the GL703, it’s a dedicated button just above the number pad. (Thanks, Asus!) We also love the dedicated volume and microphone buttons above the left side of the keyboard. There’s an Asus RoG button next to them that launches the pre-installed ROG Gaming Center software.
The software shows resource usage and provides shortcuts to a number of apps, including Asus Aura Core for controlling the keyboard backlighting.
The four-zone keyboard backlighting is a selling point for the GL703. It’s not per-key RGB backlighting as you’d find on, say, the MSI GT75VR Titan Pro, but we’ve yet to see that functionality offered around the price point of this Asus laptop. The software allows you to create and store up to three profiles. Each lighting zone can be one of the 16.7 million colors in the RGB spectrum. A breathing effect is available, along with three levels of brightness. The backlighting isn’t particularly bright even on the highest setting, but it looks good in the dark.
We thought the clicking action of the GL703’s touch pad was average; it was a tad on the stiff side for our preferences. The pad’s anti-glare surface made for smooth finger tracking, though.
The speakers in this notebook face horizontally outward from under either side of the palm rest. The volume level was fine for personal listening, but don’t expect to entertain a crowd.
The Strix GL703VD-WB71 we’re reviewing has a full HD (1,920×1,080) display with a 17.3-inch diagonal. It produced a great-looking picture in our testing.
Deep blacks, high brightness, and ample color made games and almost anything else look lifelike. The in-plane switching (IPS) technology in this panel provides wide viewing angles for a consistent picture from any angle. Wide viewing angles aren’t necessarily a major feature for gamers, since they’ll pretty much always be looking at the display head-on, but we’re not complaining.
The 60Hz refresh rate of this display is typical for a notebook. For gaming, that means the display can show up to 60 frames per second without tearing. The GeForce GTX 1050 GPU in this notebook isn’t likely to push beyond that in today’s games, as our benchmarks (to follow) will show, so there’s no need for a 120Hz screen. We would, however, like to have seen Nvidia G-Sync support to make in-game performance even smoother.
The ports on the Strix GL703 are situated along the left and right edges of the chassis. Something we liked about the port placement was that they were clustered as far back as possible from the front of the chassis. This means you won’t have cords jutting into your external mouse space. We wish more notebooks would take this approach, especially gaming notebooks.
The left edge has the AC power jack, the Ethernet jack, mini-DisplayPort and full-size HDMI video-out connectors, a pair of traditional USB-A 3.0 ports, and the headphone/microphone combination jack.
The right edge has the SD card reader, a USB-C 3.1 port, a USB-A 3.0 port, a legacy USB-A 2.0 port, and the cable lockdown notch. SD cards thankfully inset fully into the reader.
For selfies, the Strix GL703 has a 720p Webcam above its display. The picture quality was grainy and pixelated, but no more than is the norm for a notebook Webcam.
As we said, the GL703’s Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 graphics can clear the 30fps threshold for smooth gameplay with most of today’s AAA-level titles, but it’s a near thing. (Look for our benchmarks on the next page.) The faster GTX 1050 Ti, or VR-ready 1060 and above, would be preferable, but would bust the Asus’ price ceiling.
The GL703’s other components are mostly par for the course. Its Intel Core i7-7700HQ quad-core processor is a blazing fast chip for a laptop; it’s commonly found in high performance notebooks through the $2,000 mark. With 16GB of DDR4-2400 memory, gaming and just about any other demanding task isn’t much of a challenge.
Our GL703VD-WB71 struggled a bit in storage performance because of its 1TB hard drive. Although the drive in our unit had a large 8GB solid-state cache, it still didn’t measure up to a true solid-state drive in real-world performance. Updates for Windows 10 seemed to take forever to install. Fortunately, upgrading the GL703 is a task that doesn’t require an engineering degree. A single screw holds on the bottom access panel. The panel can then be pried off with mild effort.
In here you’ll find the 2.5-inch bay, an M.2 Type-2280 (80mm) slot for SSDs, and one of the DIMM slots for memory. The other DIMM slot is likely located on the other side of the motherboard, and is therefore inaccessible without total disassembly. Fortunately, that inaccessible slot was occupied by a 16GB DIMM in our review unit, the most it can support, negating the need to upgrade it. You can reach the GL703’s maximum supported memory of 32GB by adding a 16GB DIMM under the bottom access panel.
Cooling performance is important for any notebook, especially gaming notebooks that will be stressed for continuous periods of time. We played Square Enix’s Rise of the Tomb Raider for 30 minutes on our Strix GL703 to assess its ability to stay cool.
Here’s a look at the outside of the GL703 through our FLIR One Pro infrared camera.
You can see that the heat is concentrated towards the center-rear, where the processor and GPU are located inside the chassis. Two fans send air out the back of the chassis through vents on either side.
Here’s a closer look at the keyboard. The peak temperature we recorded up here was 117 degrees F just above the keyboard. That’s not an area you’re likely to touch during normal usage, but it’s still hotter than we prefer to see. Fortunately, the keyboard area remained right around 100 degrees F, and the palm rest didn’t exceed 83 degrees F.
You can clearly see the cooling fans at work from this view of the bottom of the chassis. The temperatures were similar to the top of the chassis, maxing out at 113 degrees F at the center-rear. The rest of the surfaces down here were around or under 100 degrees F. Putting the GL703 in your lap while gaming isn’t the best idea in any event, as you’d likely block the all-important airflow to the fans.
For further analysis, we recorded the GTX 1050’s performance over the gaming session with GPU-Z.
What we’re looking for here is evidence of thermal throttling, where the GPU would reduce its clocks due to temperature or power restrictions. That didn’t happen at all with the GTX 1050 in the Strix GL703; as a matter of fact, the chip’s core clock (blue line) averaged 1,807MHz, whereas it was only rated for a 1,454MHz base clock and a 1,593MHz boost clock. The memory clock (black line) maintained its rated 1,752MHz the whole time. Looking at the red temperature line, the GTX 1050 topped 72 degrees C, a decidedly low number for a gaming-grade GPU inside a notebook. We didn’t show CPU data in the chart, but the Core i7-7700HQ hit 92 degrees C during this session. We’d prefer to see the CPU stay in the 80 degree C range or below, but the chip is rated for 100 degrees C.
In terms of noise, the two cooling fans inside this notebook were moderately loud. Our ears heard them across a living room. The fan noise was consistent while gaming, not ramping up or down. Thus, you can get used to it after a few minutes. It’s unlikely you’ll be able to disguise the fact you’re gaming on the Strix GL703, so don’t try it in class. (Well, don’t sit in the front row, for starters.) The fans were mostly well-behaved while idling, although they did tend to jump up and down if we loaded a complex web page or did another task that spiked the processor usage.