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Asus VivoPC X

Introduction, Design Features

Virtual reality (VR) on a PC is still not cheap, but the cost of entry is a lot less than it was last year, when the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive kicked off the market. Not only have headset prices dropped, but reduced minimum specs (thanks to VR software optimizations) mean you just need a reasonably powerful PC, instead of a gaming powerhouse, to get a smooth VR experience.

The Asus VivoPC X is an Oculus Ready Certified PC that runs all of the VR content we threw at it smoothly but comes in at a price of just $799. It’s also a fine general gaming PC, particularly if you’re gaming at resolutions closer to 1080p than to 4K.

The VivoPC X is a sleek, compact box that would look right at home in a lineup next to a Sony PlayStation 4 Pro and a Microsoft Xbox One S. At $799, you shouldn’t be expecting top-of-the-line components, and you won’t find them here. Instead, the VivoPC X hangs just a little above the minimum requirements for the Oculus RiftHTC Vive: an Intel Core i5-7300HQ processor, 8GB of RAM, 1TB of old-fashioned 5,400rpm hard drive storage, and a GeForce GTX 1060 graphics backed by 3GB of memory. (Note: Many GTX 1060 cards use 6GB of onboard memory. This one doesn’t.) Sitting at the very low end of the high end, the VivoPC X is kind of like a Mazda MX-5 or Fiat Spyder: It’s small, it looks great, and it delivers lots of fun, but it’s not going to win any races.

Design Features

Measuring 11 inches high by 3 inches wide by 10.2 inches deep (standing vertically) and weighing just 5.1 pounds, the VivoPC X is certainly lighter and more compact than the majority of gaming PCs. But you’ll also need to toss the enormous 230-watt power brick in your backpack if you take it with you, and that adds an additional two pounds.

Asus has found the happy medium between designs cool enough for gamers and complex, colorful, brightly lit cases that look like something you’d try to extract information from in Mass Effect: Andromeda. The matte-black plastic shell has subtle red accents around the edges and some subtly etched grooves around the cooling vents on the right side. It looks good, but it lacks the over-the-top “hey, look at me!” craziness of designs like the HP Omen X’sRepublic of Gamers GR8 II, or the Cylon-like MSI Aegis 3. Like the Falcon Northwest Tiki (2017) we tested earlier this year, it looks good, but it doesn’t scream for attention.

Unfortunately, that sleek design is unmarred by useful ports on the front. There’s just a power switch and LED. All of the ports are around the back: four USB 3.1 Gen 1 connectors (the classic rectangular Type-A variety), two USB 2.0 connectors, RJ-45 Gigabit LAN, a microphone jack, and a pair of analog audio outputs. Video output consists of a single DisplayPort connector and a pair of HDMI jacks. That second HDMI port is a real convenience if you want to use a VR headset while connected to a TV or an HDMI monitor.

For wireless connectivity, the VivoPC X offers 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.1 radios. We’d really have liked to have seen at least a pair of USB connectors up front. It’s not exactly a far reach around the back, but if you have a VR setup connected in addition to a monitor, you’re already going to have a lot of cables back there, not to mention that most of the ports will already be in use.

If you choose to use the included wireless mouse and keyboard, you’ll also have to give up a USB port to the included transmitter dongle. The mouse is a basic two-button wheel-mouse design, and the keyboard has flat, laptop-style chiclet keys with almost no tactile feedback. Their wireless design is nice for gaming from a chair with the VivoPC X connected to a TV, and they’re fine for VR-controlled games or general productivity work. But FPS fans and other action gamers will likely put them aside and replace them with higher-end gaming input devices. While some competing compact gaming machines like the Acer Predator G1 include gaming-class input devices, keep in mind that most of those cost more than double the VivoPC X’s asking price.

The compact, mainstream-consumer-oriented design of the VivoPC X has one major caveat: The system’s effectively not internally upgradable. The Web site and marketing materials note that there’s an M.2 slot in the unit for an SSD drive to fix the PC’s biggest performance bottleneck: its poky 5,400rpm hard drive. But even if you find the screws hidden under the PC’s rubber feet, attempting to open the device will break a security sticker that warns of potential warranty issues if you open the unit—it’s essentially a “Keep Out!” sign.

We verified with Asus that opening the unit to populate the M.2 slot ourselves would indeed void the VivoPC X’s one-year warranty. This is disappointing, as the hard drive is the one component that makes this otherwise well-performing system frustrating to use at times: If you’ve spent any time using a system equipped with an SSD, the VivoPC X’s game- and level-load times seem interminable.

You can also say goodbye to the warranty should you choose to open the system to upgrade the 8GB of RAM to 16GB (the maximum supported by the single RAM slot) or install a faster or larger hard drive. Also, there’s no option to upgrade the CPU or GPU in the future, as they’re both integrated with the system board.

That said, the SSD was the only upgrade we really felt pangs for when using the VivoPC X, as it’s well-equipped out of the box. In order to cram that much basic gaming capability in a case so small, Asus designed a custom cooling system with an intake fan over the graphics card and a heat pipe/blower system to cool the GPU. This works to keep the system stable and cool, but the fans, silent at idle, can get really loud when gaming. Unless you have the volume cranked pretty high on your speakers or headphones, it’s definitely noticeable.

There’s little in the way of bundled apps, which are mostly Asus utilities. The key enhancement software is Sonic Studio, which lets you control audio effects, surround sound configuration, bass boost, equalizer, and voice clarity. There’s also Sonic Radar, a quirky utility that adds an onscreen display that shows you where positional 3D audio is coming from. (If you’re wondering how that could be useful, imagine hearing someone sneaking up on you in a shooter.)

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