Gigabyte Aero 17 (2020) Review – Performance ISN’T Everything

It’s been almost seven months since I looked at an Aero laptop, but that comes to an end today with this new Gigabyte Aero 17 HDR XB. The last one I checked out was the Aero 15 OLED, and I didn’t have the best experience with it in terms of functionality and performance. However, that 4K OLED display was absolutely gorgeous, I can still see it in my memory.

This Aero 17 model comes to the new 10th gen Intel Comet Lake processor and NVIDIA’s RTX Super Max-Q graphics. As its model name suggest this is the 17-inch variant, and I was naturally curious to see how this larger body would help cool the new hardware. I also want to compare it to Intel’s 9th gen Coffee Lake CPU and NVIDIA’s non-Super Max-Q graphics, because if you recall both Intel and NVIDIA launched their CPUs and GPUs for notebooks at the exact same time. The big question is whether this ‘fresh’ hardware going to give us any noticeable improvement over the last generation? Let’s find out. Oh, and by the way, I am going to be comparing this to AMD Ryzen 9 4900HS and the results are surprising.

I want to quickly go over the specs of the Aero 17. The model that I have over here comes with a new Core i7-10875H 8-core/16-thread CPU, 16GB of dual-channel memory running at DDR4-2933, a 512GB SSD, and RTX 2070 Super Max-Q GPU, and a 4K IPS display. The price you pay for all of that is $2,800 USD. Now that the price that Gigabyte told us, but their official site says $2,900 USD, so take that into consideration. Now of all the notebook brands that I’ve come across, Gigabyte is probably the only one offering such a large number of SKUs of their Aero 15 and Aero 17 notebooks. You can choose models ranging from $1,700 all the way up to a whopping $4,300 USD.

The notebook itself hasn’t changed all that much, think of this as a super-sized Aero 15 with the same lid and the same backlit logo. Honestly, Gigabyte hasn’t changed anything on the outside. The chassis for the most part is made out of CNC aluminium, but it’s not an all-unibody design like the Razer Blade and yet the build quality is pretty good. The hinges have been stiffened up a bit. One of my biggest issues with last year’s model was the wobbly screen, but I barely noticed that on this year sample.

When you open up the laptop, you are greeted with a full-size keyboard with a pretty straightforward layout. Now don’t mistakenly assume that this comes laptop with front-facing speakers, because that’s not the case. Those grills are just there for ventilation. The speakers are in fact located at the bottom and they merely sound okay. There is no bass, there is a lot of treble, it’s not the best sounding laptop speakers that I have come across. Basically they haven’t changed the sound signature compared to the last generation, so nothing new here.

The keyboard is really good, the typing experience is way better than my Blade notebook. This is basically a copy and paste from last year’s design. It has good feedback, the RGB illumination is really nice and bright, but unfortunately it does not light up the function keys and that can be a bit frustrating in the dark. I’m not a huge fan of the font choice, plus the WASD keys are bolded which just kills the simplicity or the continuity of the whole notebook in my opinion.

The trackpad is not that great. It’s not a glass surface like what you can find on the Razer Blade series or even the ASUS Zephyrus G14, so it’s not as smooth to navigate around with. Honestly, at this price point, I am disappointed to see GIGABYTE not improve on this area because you can get a better experience with the competition. It does come with Windows Precision drivers, but having good software doesn’t necessarily mean a good experience if you have a really poor trackpad. This one doesn’t meet up our standards, which is especially disappointing since you are paying close to $3,000 for a notebook. The trackpad does come with a fingerprint reader, so it’s there if you are looking for added security. I do want to mention something very important and that is the edges of the Aero series laptops are way too sharp to type on, especially when you are using it for general purposes. Gigabyte really needs to round off the edges a little bit.

The webcam is positioned at the worst possible location. It is also stationary, which means if I need to reposition my frame I would have to physically move the laptop and not the lid, which is absolutely frustrating. It seems like Gigabyte is pretty adamant about their design choice here, and honestly I don’t get the point of bezel-less displays on notebook. What is wrong with having a little bit of space at the top to implement a camera? It just makes no sense. The microphone sounds okay, it’s passable. However, I wouldn’t use this webcam for business conference calls because it’s not your best angle, it is pointing at your nose and you don’t want people looking up your nose for the most part. I’m pretty frustrated with this Gigabyte.

Another bad aspect of this notebook is that during idle scenarios it started to exhibit really bad coil wine. We did confirm with a few other creators who have the exact same sample and they seem to experience the same issue too. This might turn out to be a known issue for the new Aero notebooks, but after speaking to Gigabyte they did mention that you can exchange/RMA the notebook if you are experiencing this issue.

The I/O is loaded on this notebook. In fact, it’s one of my favorite things about the Aero series. On the right-hand side there is power-in, HDMI 2.0, Mini DisplayPort 1.4, Thunderbolt 3 USB Type-C, and a USB 3.2 Gen1 Type-A port. Switching over to the left, you get an RJ45 Jack, UHS-II card reader, a couple more USB Type-A ports, and audio jacks. It’s basically a content creators dream come true. However, I can’t seem to wrap my head around Gigabyte’s implementation of USB 3.2 Gen1 – which is the 5Gbps protocol – instead of using Gen2, which is 10Gbps protocol. The faster protocol was supported on Coffee Lake CPUs, so I’m not sure why they haven’t updated the I/O spec to that. My Razer Blade with the 9th gen CPU has it, so it’s kind of frustrating to see Gigabyte not update the specs.

Moving onto the display, and this is by far the best display that I have encountered on a notebook. Heck, it’s even better than a gaming monitor. You see the model that I have here comes with a 4K resolution at 60Hz, and it’s pre-calibrated by X-Rite right out of the factory. Gigabyte claims up to a 100% Adobe RGB, which is unheard of on a notebook. This panel passed our display quality analysis test with flying colours. Honestly, I didn’t even think about running the display tests in the first place because when I opened the laptop for the first time I was drooling all over it. The colours are just beautiful, with consistent contrast ratios at different brightness levels. The screen also gets really bright, close to 500 nits, so you can easily take this thing outdoors. Plus it’s matte. I mean what else can you ask for? You can count on this display for some serious colour work, and even if you are a photographer this is what you should be looking into. The 4K resolution scales really well in the 17-inch form factor, it’s really sharp, and I honestly can’t complain about it at all. Now if you are thinking primarily about gaming I would step down to the 1080P 144Hz display, because while 4K is great for content creation it’s not so great for gaming.

In terms of upgradability you get instant access to both RAM slots and you can upgrade the memory up to 64GB. There are two M.2 slots, one of which is populated and it has really good read/write performance. The battery on this thing is huge, it’s 94Wh which is a little less than the 100Wh legal limit. As would expect the battery life is really good on this laptop. During our light load tests, which consists of refreshing a Chrome webpage for 15 seconds, the Aero 17 lasted over 7 hours, and during our heavy load test running Real Bench on a loop the notebook lasted for about 1 hour and 40 minutes.

Finally, let’s get into performance. Gigabyte has added various performance modes on the Aero 17, and you can easily access them through their Control Center utility. We ran all of our tests in the High Performance setting. Starting with synthetics, the new 8-core/16-thread Core i7-10875H is a good 35% to 40% faster than the 6-core/12-thread Core i7-9750H. Now keep in mind that I’m comparing this to the Razer Blade Pro, which is another slim gaming laptop like the Aero 17, whereas the Legion Y740 is a brick running at crazy high clock speeds. Single core performance has improved and that kind of makes sense since this laptop didn’t have a problem maintaining clock speeds of 4.5GHz to 4.8GHz. However, under heavy multi-core workloads clock speeds dipped all the way down to 3.0GHz to 3.2GHz.

The results were respectable, but not great, especially when compared to the Ryzen 9 4900HS. As you can see from our Blender test, it just can’t quite keep up with AMD. The same story applies to our Handbrake test transcoding a video, that 4900HS is simply wicked fast. With regard to our WinRAR test, a lot of the performance has to do with the SSD speeds along with single-threaded performance. The Aero 17 does really well, but that Y740 from Lenovo has one of the fastest SSDs and it’s clocked really high, so that’s why it takes the lead here. Moving on to Adobe Premiere, this program certainly favours Intel thanks to QuickSync, but there is no difference whatsoever compared to the i7-9750H, even with 4 extra threads on the new CPU. I think this might be an optimization thing, but if you really think about it it’s the same architecture. Switching to DaVinci Resolve, I think the RTX 2070 Super deserves the credit here, since it has more cores and this program loves GPUs so the new Intel CPU doesn’t have to make much of an effort.

Gaming performance was outstanding. That new RTX 2070 Super Max-Q is noticeably faster than the non-Super variant, and it almost reaches RTX 2080 Max-Q levels. We ran all of our tests at 1080P at the high settings. Keep in mind if gaming is your priority, I would get the 1080P 144Hz display option for the most fast and fluid experience.

Temperatures are really good, and I expected that for a 17-inch notebook. On the CPU, temperatures initially spike to 80°C when clock speeds boost to 4.8GHz, but over time it averages to about 63°C as clock speeds start to decrease. Even with really good internal temperatures the surface temps were quite high, especially at the bottom during gaming workloads. I wouldn’t put this thing on my lap for any of those GPU or CPU intensive workloads.

The acoustic performance on the Aero series was actually pretty impressive. During idle the system is pretty much dead silent, but there is that coil whine issue that I talked about earlier, so that’s something to be aware. During heavy load scenarios it’s actually not that bad, it doesn’t sound like a jet fan, so that’s nice.

To conclude, let’s go over some of the pros of the Aero 17. The first thing that comes to my mind is that display, it is absolutely gorgeous. I think it’s one of the main highlights of this laptop. The colours are just beautiful, and it’s colour accurate, so if you are a content creator, colourist or photographer, this is what you should be looking into. The performance differences or the performance improvements are respectable, especially if you are someone who is using a program that runs a multi-core workload. You will notice a difference with the extra 4 threads. However, if you are using DaVinci Resolve or Adobe Premiere, there is absolutely no reason to upgrade to the new 10th gen CPUs, because there is no performance difference whatsoever as you saw with our results. The RTX 2070 super is really fast, it actually reaches RTX 2080 Max-Q levels of performance, so I can’t wait to see what the RTX 2080 Super Max-Q you can offer. That is something that I really want to get my hands on. Going back to the CPU for a moment, what is really interesting is that I never saw this laptop hit 5.1GHz, yet according to Intel’s official marketing slides this CPU can technically achieve 5.1GHz. Given the solid cooling on the Aero 17 this is obviously disappointing.

Here is the million dollar question: Would I spend $2,800 on this laptop? The answer to that is a simple no, because there are far more negatives with this laptop then there are pros. The first thing is obviously the design, it’s way too sharp, super uncomfortable to type on or just generally use. I feel like Gigabyte should have refined the design a little bit, but they didn’t do that. The trackpad is really, really bad. I really wish they would offer something like what the Razer Blade has with their glass surface trackapds. So far Gigabyte hasn’t been willing or able to do, which sucks when you are spending this kind of money. The webcam is in the worst possible location, it’s just pointless, I wouldn’t ever use it. Lastly, there is the I/O, it’s really weird to Gigabyte go with USB 3.2 Gen1 instead of Gen2. It’s not up-to-spec, even though you can pick up an older laptop with a 9th gen processor that comes with USB 3.2 Gen2. Overall, I can’t recommend this laptop. While the display is great, the rest of it just fails to meet my expectations for the price point.

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