Make no mistake, this is a gaming laptop. It’s big, heavy (5lb 8oz), has middling battery life, and compared to ultrabooks it’s thick. It has some garrish flares that might scare off the more conservative laptop buyer, and comes with a folder full of stickers with text like “Join the Republic”. But beyond all the gaming hubbub, this is a solid machine and solid value.
The build overall is solid. The lid is nice asymmetrically brushed aluminum finish that while attracting fingerprints, does give a nice appearance. It’s broken up by Asus’s republic of gamers logo, which appears reflective until the screen is on, at which point it glows red.
The top body is made from aluminum, which keeps it from flexing. Because the casing is aluminum it feels quite premium. The materials however, do make the laptop quite heavy, weighting in at 5.5lbs. Even in a 15.6” laptop, this weight is significant.
The keyboard is quite nice. The keys have a decent amount of travel, but are quite quiet without feeling squishy. This translates into a very comfortable keyboard to both type and game on. I was able to easily hit 82 WPM without any adjustment period (high 80s is my best case scenario). Most keys are solid black all the way around with transparent letters for the backlight. The WASD keys are set-off from the rest with translucent sides. The W key as a little nib so as to allow you to easily orient yourself to the WASD quad. The space bar is slightly larger on the left side, as to allow more comfort for long FPS session (it did not interfere with day to day typing). The CTRL key on the left side is the leftmost bottom row key. The top row provides various extra functions, such as media control, fan control, screen brightness, etc. There are 4 dedicated keys above the left side of the keyboard that also control volume and launch the ROG gaming center. The power button is a key located above the number pad. It’s nice that the power button is placed as to avoid the laptop from accidentally turning on while in a bag. The keyboard area is slightly sunken in to avoid the keys touching the screen. There are 4 zones of LED backlighting, which can provide a rainbow effect. I set mine to solid color, but there are also 6 other effects, ranging from breathing to music strobing. The software even allows you to sync with other Aura compatible components to keep you color coordinated.
The power connector is located on the left side (right handers rejoice!) along with an HDMI, 3 USB 3.1 ports and a headphone jack. The right side is much simpler with only a USB 3.1 and USB-C port (Gen 2). The edges of the aluminum unibody are chamfered and finished in a bronze color. The adds just a touch of color while avoiding any sharp edges that would otherwise dig into your wrists.
Essentially the entire back third of the chassis is dedicated to cooling. Fans are adjustable in the ROG software. There are 3 fan profiles out of the box, quiet, standard, and overboost. Standard is a ok balance, but if you’re just browsing or other intermittent load you may as well just switch it to silent. Standard keeps the fans running at a decent speed keeping everything cool. Any profile ramps up in any mode if the CPU and GPU are too stressed. These profiles can affect performance on and off battery. Specifically I found the CPU would stay around its base frequency 2.2GHz on battery with all threads loaded unless you set the power profile to “Best Performance”. Plugged in the CPU would boost up to 3.8-4.2 GHz. Depending on your sensitivity to noise, you may want to default to the ‘silent’ setting and either use the hotkey or software to crank the fans up if gaming.
The highlight of the GU501GM is the new 8th generation Coffee Lake CPU - the i7-8750H. It brings with it 6 cores, 12 threads of processing power that turbos up to 4.2GHz. On battery the default profiles will keep its turbos down, but plugged in this powerhouse CPU can tear through just about anything you throw at it. It eats my work laptop’s (a Surface Book 2 15”) lunch, besting it’s i7-8650u by nearly 50% in many benchmarks. Now the target TDP of 45w is a far cry from the 15w TDP of the ‘u’ series, so the performance difference is somewhat expected, but keep in mind,even compared to the i7-7700hq and i7-6700hq, this is a significant increase in performance.
The GPU is the venerable Nvidia GTX 1060 6GB. While aging, it still represents the upper mid-range market for gaming laptops, and is on par with a desktop GTX 970 and performs quite close to its desktop brethren. I say aging, because the first GTX 1060 laptops came out late 2016, but with Nvidia Volta still off in the horizon, it’s the only option that blends a sleek chassis and great performance. And make no doubt, it does perform great. With the included 1080p screen, a workable framework will almost always be achievable even with most of the goodies turned up. The GTX 1060 pared with a 1080p screen will have many years of use in it.
It should be said that the fan profiles can really affect performance here. Comparing the silent and overboost profiles, it’s clear that overboost allows the GPU much more headroom. A 3DMark run of Fire Strike yielded 8713 on stanard and a whopping 10353 on overboost. It’s very encouraging to see the cooling solution perform so well, allowing it to break 10k in Fire Strike.
So this is a Best Buy exclusive model, and one of the places that is cut compared to the GM501 model (found at other retailers) is the screen. This model is a AHVA IPS screen at 120Hz (panel is: AUO45ED). It’s only 72% NTSC color gamut, and it’s brightness is limited. It also lacks G-Sync capabilities and 144Hz that the GM501 models have. Now, this is still an upgrade from many a mid-range laptop, which only include 60Hz panels. Overall the screen does 120Hz quite well. If you’re into e-sports shooters, this will be a killer feature. Response time is seems adequate and I noticed no ghosting. One thing you may notice is that by default, the Intel GPU will switch refresh rates on battery down to 60Hz. This appears to be another battery optimization.
In a word, the sound is nice. It’s not amazing, but it’s one of the more solid thin gaming laptop I’ve heard. Bass drops off quickly at a distance, but if you’re sitting close, the sound is pretty well balanced. It’s excellent for gaming session, but a bit more limited if you’re listening to music. The speakers are downward facing on each side and this arrangement works pretty well due to how the bottom is angled.
The GU501 includes a 55 Wh battery. While nothing to sneeze at, it won’t keep the 45w CPU and 80w GPU fed for long. That said, due to the various battery optimizations, out of the box it can pull at least 3-4 hours of web browsing, perhaps more if you turned the screen brightness down. Given the laptop’s performance focus I believe this is a tradeoff the target market can live with. Gaming on battery can work, but I saw faster than 1% a minute drop - even w/ 30FPS/downclocked OOTB settings.
The GU501 model only includes a 128GB SATA M.2 SSD. The model included was a Kingston RBUSNS8154p3128, and while only being SATA, it performed admirably. I’m not sure how, but the drive was able to sequentially read at 1400+ MB/s (limit should be around 550MB/s). Write speeds were definitely in line with SATA at around 400MB/s. The biggest limiting factor here is the size. At only 128GB, it’s probably best left as the OS drive. Also included is a 1TB Seagate Barracuda hybrid drive. The hybrid drive has 8GB of NAND to serve as cache, but performance is as you’d expect from a spinning drive. This setup is certainly workable, but with NAND prices finally falling, I’d probably consider an upgrade. Which leads me to…
The GU501 has 13 Torx T-5 screws on the back plastic cover. Once the screws are removed, the back cover can be gently pried (I used a small flat head screwdriver) up around the plastic hinge. Once the initial ‘pop’ of the plastic clip by the hinge occurs, the backing comes off with almost no effort. Underneath the cover you’ll find access to all major replaceable components: WiFi card, RAM, SATA drive, M.2 2280 slot, and even easy access to CPU/GPU if the time comes for a repaste. It was encouraging to see warranty void stickers on certain components (like the CPU cooler), but nothing impeding you from upgrading RAM/Storage. In fact, the GU501GM has 1 RAM slot populated, and another open, ready to receive another 16GB stick to become a 32GB monster. The M.2 slot should accept PCIe NVMe, just like it’s GM501 brother. All in all, this makes this laptop quite future proof in my opinion.
If you’re looking for a solid gaming laptop under $1500, then look no further. You get a great combination of performance, build quality, and customizability. What faults I can find, are rectifiable through later upgrades to storage.