Gigabyte Aero 14 GTX 970M Gaming Laptop Review

Final Thoughts


Pricing 

Currently, the Aero 14 is available in two packages with different storage options. The basic model and I use that term loosely, includes a 256GB NVMe M.2 drive and retails for £1449.98 from Scan Computers. If you think this is too limiting, it’s possible to acquire a higher-end variant featuring 512GB of NVMe storage for £1559.99 from Overclockers UK. Judging the value proposition of the Aero 14 in either form is challenging because the only real product which employs a similar form factor and has a bonafide gaming chipset is the Razer Blade Stealth. I’ve seen many comparisons between these two products but there are noticeable differences. For instance, the Razer Blade opts for a 3000×1800 touchscreen and the GTX 970M benefits from additional 3GB of VRAM.

The Razer Blade has some enhanced functionality but this comes with a significant premium. Not only that, it’s extremely difficult to find in the UK and I only encountered stockists prepared to ship the unit at a huge cost directly from the USA. Furthermore, it doesn’t seem fair to criticise the Aero 14’s pricing based on the graphics horsepower of much larger laptops. Gigabyte’s creation isn’t designed as the ultimate in performance to rival desktops; it’s meant to be a sleek, portable device which has good gaming credentials. On the other hand, I’d like to see the Aero 14 modernised with NVIDIA’s latest Pascal chips to become a more enticing product.

Overview

The Gigabyte Aero 14 is based on a minimalist design philosophy which makes it a suitable choice for professional work environments. Unlike many of their rivals, Gigabyte didn’t adopt customisable RGB lighting or implement a two-tone colour scheme which usually appeals to the core gaming demographic. Instead, they decided to stick with a simple black finish and added a stylish section which mimics the look of carbon fibre. The textured portion is absolutely breathtaking and contrasts with the laptop’s default colour tone remarkably well. This evokes such a sense of pride when using the product and it feels like you’re receiving an expensive piece of equipment.

On another note, the laptop is constructed from aluminium and doesn’t use a plastic housing seen on some of Gigabyte’s previous offerings. Once again, this enhances the premium feel and reduces the weight substantially down to 1.8KG with the battery installed. Clearly, this isn’t the lightest ultrabook available today, but it’s much more portable than traditional gaming laptops which usually range between 2.1KG up to 4.5KG on extreme units like the MSI GT80 2QE Titan SLI. Additionally, the Aero 14 is a mere 19.9mm thick and I found myself using it more frequently than other laptops due to the enhanced portability.

Connectivity-wise, the Aero 14 is pretty impressive considering the compact form factor although there are a few caveats. Starting with the positives, the laptop houses a good array of USB ports including three USB 3.0 and a single USB 3.1 Type-C. The USB 3.1 Type-C provides good options for the future when more devices begin to adopt this new standard. Also, the three USB 3.0 ports allow you to connect a USB drive, mouse and a smartphone without running into problems. Interestingly, Gigabyte embedded another USB 3.0 connector directly into the power brick which is a stroke of genius. I have to commend Gigabyte for using the HDMI 2.0 standard which has the ability to output 4K 60Hz. Granted, the GTX 970M doesn’t have the required horsepower to play games on a 4K display while maintaining a high frame-rate, but the amount of high-resolution 60 frames-per-second content on YouTube is growing at a brisk pace.

Sadly, the laptop does have some glaring omissions such as Thunderbolt 3. This is important because Thunderbolt 3 GPU enclosures have the potential to dramatically enhance a laptop’s gaming performance. Of course, it ruins the portability factor and costs a significant amount of money. Despite this, it should have been included to improve the laptop’s flexibility. Another unusual move was to disregard the integrated Ethernet and prioritise WiFi networking. Even though WiFi is ample for many users, others prefer a wired connection because it’s extremely reliable and offers faster speeds. To be honest, it’s not a huge problem because Gigabyte acknowledged the situation and included an RJ45 adapter with the laptop. Therefore, I can’t be overly critical.

The configuration I received for review features a stunning 2560×1440 IPS display with fantastic viewing angles and a rich, warm colour gamut. As expected for an IPS panel, the viewing experience is superb and whatever content you’re watching seems immersive. During the review, I didn’t witness any motion blur, IPS glow or dead pixels. The screen’s high PPI rate makes text look really sharp and Gigabyte has found a good balance between image quality and resolution. If they opted for a 4K panel, it would be impossible to run games at a native resolution and some applications could encounter scaling problems.

As discussed earlier, the laptop’s keyboard is comfortable to use and feels very satisfying. In particular, the ergonomic chiclet design allows you to automatically position your fingers on the correct key and mistakes didn’t happen that often after I adjusted to the layout. Furthermore, the keys have a good amount of travel react well to various degrees of pressure. Also, the backlighting is another treat and helps you to work late into the night. The lighting is bright without being too over-the-top and makes the key caps easy to see. Personally, I would have preferred the option to cycle through various colours and transitional effects in a similar vein to MSI’s gaming range. The trackpad is just as comfortable to use and features a soft cushioning finish which reduces hand fatigue.

The Aero 14’s speakers are another major selling point and greatly exceeded my expectations. To be fair, speakers within a small frame are usually quite tinny and sound quite flat, so the initial predictions were low. Rather surprisingly, the laptop’s dual 1.5-watt speakers can output good volume levels and provide an excellent tonal balance. As a result, there isn’t a distinct lack of bass which leads to an enjoyable listening experience. The laptop’s battery life is exemplary and wasn’t far off lasting 5 hours while running a relatively strenuous benchmark. Therefore, I’d expect the battery life to reach at least 6 hours in normal usage scenarios. This is fantastic for a slimline laptop and showcases the Aero 14’s abilities as a portable workhorse.

Unfortunately, the laptop’s cooling solution isn’t good enough to maintain the CPU’s maximum 3.5GHz turbo frequency throughout testing. According to my results, the CPU constantly hits the 95C mark and throttles back down to 2.5GHz as a way of preventing possible hardware failure. To be clear, this was the case when using the AIDA64 stress test and the gaming thermals were much better. On the one hand, I expected the CPU to reach at least 90C because of the slim construction. The frame doesn’t have the room to insert loads of thick heat pipes or utilise large fans. A similar problem exists on the Razer Blade which signifies why the surface area is so important when it comes to cooling. Not only that, the laptop is loud under stress and easily exceeds 50dB. The one saving grace is the idle noise output which is phenomenal and virtually silent.

In terms of performance, the Aero 14 is a great package and excels in the storage department. More specifically, the high-end NVMe boot SSD is capable of wonderful read speeds and maintains commendable write rates. I do think a secondary drive using non-NVMe speeds would be advantageous and help to store larger games without worrying about the limited space. Saying that, this would affect the price and perhaps it’s better to deploy an external large capacity SATA drive instead. Also, it’s easy enough to remove the back cover and manually insert a second M.2 drive. The system’s processor has a good reputation and it’s well deserved as demonstrated by the narrow gap to the i5-6600K.

The unit’s GTX 970M is capable of decent frame rates in a wide variety of games providing you are prepared to select moderate graphical presets. This particular graphics chipset isn’t designed for high-resolution gaming or tackling advanced forms of AA. Even though it’s now been superseded, the GTX 970M can offer a good gaming experience at 1920×1080 or 2560×1440. I wouldn’t personally use the Aero 14 at its native resolution because you’re going to encounter stutter and some sudden frame dips. However, it’s achievable on medium settings on current titles, but I wouldn’t expect this to be the case for future releases.

Now that the mobile Pascal variants have arrived, it almost seems counterproductive to invest in a new system sporting the older generation of hardware. This is especially true with Pascal because there’s no longer a massive performance divide between the desktop and mobile chips. Essentially, new laptops with Pascal GPUs perform within 5-7% of the desktop counterparts and have revolutionised the current market. Subsequently, the sensible choice would be for Gigabyte to update the Aero 14 with the GTX 1060. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that the product isn’t just about gaming performance and targets a different kind of user, but it’s something which is bound to deter some people from investing.

Pros

  • Aluminum construction
  • Comfortable keyboard
  • Decent gaming performance when using medium settings
  • Excellent battery life
  • Fantastic speakers
  • Gorgeous slimline design
  • Light and portable
  • Premium packaging
  • Responsive touchpad
  • Superb networking
  • Supports USB 3.1 Type-C
  • Vibrant display
  • Wonderful NVMe storage speeds

Cons

  • Cooling hardware struggles to keep the CPU running under 95C at 3.5GHz
  • Emergence of Pascal mobile GPUs can make the system seem outdated
  • Very loud under load

Neutral

  • Storage fills up quickly but this is easily resolved with an external HDD

“The Gigabyte Aero 14 is a sleek, sophisticated ultrabook which has enough horsepower to uphold an enjoyable 1080p gaming experience when using sensible settings. Not only that, the stellar keyboard, lightweight construction and thin frame makes the Aero 14 a complete joy to use whether you’re at home or in a busy public place.”

Gigabyte Aero 14 GTX 970M Gaming Laptop Review

Thank you Gigabyte for providing us with this sample.

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John Williamson

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