Just a few short months ago Asus announced their first ROG Strix gaming laptop, the light and compact GL502. As you might expect from a Strix branded laptop the GL502 means business, but surprisingly isn’t over the top and is certainly isn’t overpriced.
Asus has gone with a high quality yet compact 15.6-inch display. In spite of the modest footprint this thing packs a real punch with a Core i7-6700HQ at its heart along with the very capable GeForce GTX 970M, while there is also a 980M model as well.
Core i7 processor, GeForce graphics card … this all sounds really expensive in a gaming laptop, but surprisingly it really isn’t. Over in the US potential buyers are faced with an asking price of just $1250, down from $1500 just weeks ago, while us Aussies can snag one for as little as $2100. So what’s the catch I hear you ask? Well let’s find out…
The ROG Strix GL502 certainly looks and feels like a quality laptop, so no corners have been cut here. Right away the brushed aluminium black top cover grabs your attention, as do those nuclear looking neon orange highlights. Can’t say this would be my first design choice but I have to hand it to Asus, it is anything but boring.
Towards the back of the top cover you will find a nice cooling fluorescent Republic of Gamers emblem in the centre. As much as I do like this lid design it does come with one drawback, it’s a fingerprint magnet. Go anywhere near this thing with oily hands and you will instantly leave your mark, so neat freaks will want to keep a microfiber cloth handy at all times.
Underneath the laptop we find a durable plastic backing which has been given a rough yet nice feeling texture. Again the fluorescent orange highlights are on display here in the form of four very funky looking rubberized feet.
Lifting the dual hinged lid reveals this mobile gaming station in all of its black and orange glory. The 15.6” display features a fairly large plastic bezel featuring a 1280×720 HD Webcam in the top middle. The bezel also features a number of rubberized buffers that help avoid marking the screen when the laptop is folded up.
Moving to the keyboard area, we find more plastic, this time given the same brushed texture as the aluminium lid. Of course there are more orange highlights here which include another ROG logo as well as some aggressive looking speaker grills.
The full-size Chiclet style keyboard also features fluorescent orange text which is red backlit for a seriously cool effect. There are three brightness levels and of course the backlighting can be disabled entirely to save battery life. The WASD keys are orange with black lettering and well that just screams gaming laptop, doesn’t it? That said what doesn’t scream gaming laptop is the complete lack of dedicated Macro keys.
Hardcore gamers might frown at the Chiclet keyboard but I have to admit it feels quite good, for a laptop keyboard. The keys feature a travel distance of 1.6mm which is slightly better than your typical Chiclet keyboard, while they require 55 grams of pressure to actuate. The keys feel firm with no wobble and provide satisfying feedback when pressed. The keyboard does feature a NumPad and the power button has been integrated into the top right hand corner, which I guess is kind of neat.
The touchpad, which for the most part is going to be disabled on a gaming laptop is surprisingly large at 105 by 75mm. It’s nice and smooth while offering responsive, jitter free cursor movement. The click pad has been integrated into the touchpad itself and while it does produce nice loud clicks you can’t for example click the left button, hold it down and then click the right button. It is very much a one button at a time deal.
Overall it’s a nice looking layout and despite being a small gaming laptop the GL502 doesn’t seem to given that impression. In total it measures 388mm long, 266mm deep and just 22.8mm thick. These modest dimensions mean that it weighs in at just 2.1 kilograms or 4.8 pounds.
Getting inside the laptop to make upgrades is relatively easy. The entire bottom panel can be removed once no less than ten Philips head screws have been removed. The CPU and GPU are both soldered directly to the main PCB so there’s no chance of upgrading either of these components in the future. I should also note that there’s only a single SO-DIMM slot available for expansion.
This means the pre-installed 8GB module which is on the opposite side of the PCB and not easily accessed without dismantling pretty much the entire laptop is there to stay. Still this means by adding a relatively inexpensive 8GB DDR4 module you can double the laptop’s memory capacity. Perhaps just as important is the fact that you’ll also be enabling dual-channel memory which will significantly increase the available memory bandwidth.
Upgrades can also be made to the storage. The GL502 can be purchased with a pre-configured secondary 1TB 7200 RPM hard drive, though the particular model I have doesn’t feature any kind of 2.5” storage at all. The primary storage device is however an M.2 SSD and while the base configuration for this laptop is a 128GB model, the version I have features a 256GB drive. The particular drive in question is the super snappy Samsung SM951 NVMe SSD.
When it comes to connectivity I would say the GL502 is reasonably well equipped. Naturally there is no connectivity at the front or rear. Asus has stuck everything towards the back of the left and right sides which helps neaten things up. Starting with the left side we find a DC power input, Gigabit Ethernet port with clip cover, Mini DisplayPort, HDMI, USB 3.0 port and a single USB 3.1 Type-C gen 2 port which sadly doesn’t support Thunderbolt 3.
Meanwhile the right side features a Kensington Lock, SD card reader, two more USB 3.0 ports and a 3.5mm combo audio jack. The USB ports are spread far enough apart that you can access them both simultaneously using wide thumb drives and dongles.
The 15.6-inch display for me is a highlight of the GL502. The model I have does feature a 4K display which I feel is overkill for the GTX 970M GPU, but it does look amazing. For those wondering you can purchase this laptop with a 1080p screen and this is what I recommend you get. Something else that I really appreciate is the matte finish, no highly reflective gloss screen here. The only possible drawback as I see it is the lack of G-Sync support as this would have been the perfect pairing with that GeForce GPU.
The display features in-plane switching technology and boasts a brightness of 300 nits and a contrast ratio of 900:1, both of which are very respectable for a laptop screen. Throwing up a solid black image full screen, with the brightness set to max, I couldn’t detect any backlight bleeding around the edges. Naturally there were no dead pixels though, if you are unlucky here Asus does offer a no “Zero dead pixel” policy.
As you would expect from a quality IPS panel the colours were rich and the blacks were very black. Overall I am very happy with the quality of this display.
Complementing the impressive visuals are a pair of small upward facing speakers that hide behind those orange grills that I spoke of earlier. The speakers are certainly loud enough and the quality is decent though they do lack bass almost entirely which does detract from the experience somewhat. That said most gamers will no doubt be rocking a headset so given the price point this certainly isn’t a deal breaker.
Specs & Options
Before we jump into the benchmarks let’s just go over the full spec list as well as the alternate options. As mentioned previously my model which is the GL502VT-FI047T comes loaded with the Core i7 6700HQ, GeForce GTX 970M with 3GB of VRAM, 8GB of DDR4-2133, 256GB NVMe SSD and a 15.6” 4K IPS display. The 2.5” storage options include a 1TB 7200 RPM or 5400 RPM drive or alternatively a 2TB 5400 ROM drive, none of which are in the model I have.
There are also options for a 128GB or 512GB SSD and some models come with 16GB of memory as standard. There is also the option to purchase the GL502 with a Core i5 6300HQ though I haven’t seen that model on sale yet, at least not down under. Those wanting more GPU horse power should seek out the 980M model though we recommend avoiding the UltraHD 4K version.
All models receive wireless networking support via an Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC M.2 module capable of theoretical transfer rates of up to 867 Mbps. The module integrates Bluetooth 4.2 and WiDi as standard. We experienced no connectivity or dropout issues during our testing.
The same internal 4-cell, 15.2 volt, 4240 milli Amp hour lithium ion battery pack is featured inside all models. The battery can be replaced but you have to remove the back cover, much like what you would do for a memory upgrade. Should you been to purchase a new battery I should point out they aren’t exactly cheap, starting at around $130 Aussie.
Now let’s get to the good stuff. How does this thing perform in our tests? I’ve run a few benchmarks and some of the latest games to give you a good idea of how it stacks up. Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of gaming laptops to compare it to, but you can get a good idea by how it performs relative to our desktop GPU results. All tests were run of course at 1080p, with the maximum in game quality settings.
Call Of Duty: Black Ops 3
First up we’ve got Call of Duty: Black Ops III and here the GL502 performed as expected – right on par with the Gigabyte P57W that featured the same GPU. This meant it slightly edged out the desktop GTX 960, and was 7 fps behind the R9 380. It was good to see the laptop get over 60fps on max settings.
Rise of the Tomb Raider
Next up was Rise of the Tomb Raider, and the results were similar for the most part. We saw an average of 56 fps, with a minimum of 36, and this was a little faster than the R9 380 this time, and exactly on par with the GTX 960. Moving up the food chain, the R9 390 was well ahead on 78 fps.
The third game tested was the rather demanding Tom Clancy’s The Division. Here the GL502 was only good for 35 fps with the Ultra quality setting, and this was again on par with the P57W and the GTX 960. The R9 380 jumped ahead again, this time but 9 fps on average.
Cooling, Noise, & the Power Adapter
Keep the GL502 humming along are a pair of 60mm blower fans, each of which is connected to its own array of copper fins. These copper heatsinks are connected to one another via a pair of flat heat pipes which pass over the CPU and GPU, the GPU VRAM is also covered by a copper heat spreader. It’s an elegant solution that seems to work well.
Under light load the fans are very quiet and based on my crude measurements never generated much over 30 dBA. Under load when gaming the fans do creep up quite a bit as you might expect and in the process generate around 40 dBA. Volume wise the GL502 is fairly typical for a gaming laptop. I did appreciate how the fans only spin up gradually so you don’t get that annoying fan surging noise over and over again.
Causing the fans to spin up are of course the CPU and GPU which generate quite a bit of heat under load. Given that this is a very thin gaming laptop we expected the GL502 to run very hot indeed. When gaming our temperature gun reported a maximum surface temperature of 62 degrees for the keyboard side and 66 degrees for the bottom. That’s actually not bad though like most gaming laptops it will become uncomfortable on the lap during the summer season.
The 180w power brick and is big, but not ridiculously big so you won’t have too much trouble transporting it around. In total there is a little over 3 meters’ worth of power cord.
As for the battery life, Asus claims 6 hours. With the WiFi constantly active and the screen brightness set to 50% we consistently got around five and a half hours out of the GL502 which isn’t bad given the hardware inside. Once fully depleted the battery takes a little over 2 hours to full recharge.
Coming away from this review I am extremely pleased with this ROG Strix lappy. Granted the timing isn’t great to be checking out a laptop sporting a Maxwell GPU, but at $1250 US the GL502 is difficult to pass up. I should point out that the model Newegg is selling doesn’t come with the SSD, that said it does boast a 1TB hard drive and 16GB of memory, so still an amazing deal. Of course you can still add an M.2 SSD which opens up a huge number of possibilities.
The cheapest GTX 1060 enabled laptops start around $1550 with most priced much closer to $2000 US. Frankly for 1080p gaming the GTX 970M is still more than capable and while I really love what the GTX 1060 has to offer mobile gamers, for the money the GL502 is just too hard to pass up.
The truly awesome news being that the GL502 is destined to receive the GTX 1060 as Asus prepares to release the GL502VM, while the GL502VS will sport the GTX 1070! No doubt they will cost considerably more than the 970M model though.
Sadly, down under we aren’t seeing the same discounts as US shoppers though it has to be said even at $2100 the Asus GL502 is competitive in our market. In OZ land the GTX 1060 gaming laptops seem to be coming in at around $2500 with most priced a few hundred dollars more.
The only slight hiccup for an otherwise perfect product is the limited 12-month warranty which comes as standard. Meanwhile the larger yet similarly priced Gigabyte P57W that I reviewed recently comes with a 2-year warranty and this has become a standard for most new Gigabyte laptops. The Asus warranty is top notch in the sense that it covers even a single dead pixel or accidental damage, the only issue being the duration when compared to a key competitor such as Gigabyte.
Keeping pricing and everything else in mind the Asus ROG Strix GL502 is without question a keeper. The nuclear orange highlights are fun, the 15.6-inch IPS panel is beautiful and the performance speaks for itself. What do you guys think? Let me know in the comments.
Availability & Pricing
The ROG Strix GL502 is available in FHD for $2599 and UHD 4K for $2699 from selected ASUS Partners & ASUS E-Shop.