Dual graphics cards deliver impressive gaming performance, even at 4K. Sturdy build. Per-key backlit keyboard.
Standard SLI complications apply. Unsatisfactory mechanical keyboard. Dismal battery life.
- Bottom Line
It may have some design shortcomings, and the Aorus X9 certainly isn't cheap, but the power of two graphics cards in a fairly slim gaming laptop is an appealing prospect.
Laptops with two graphics cards are few and far between, but they tend to catch the eye when they enter the scene. Such is the case with the Aorus X9 ($3,799), a high-end gaming laptop carrying dual Nvidia GTX 1070s. It's expensive, but slimmer than similarly powered laptops, and has some high-end features like a 4K display, mechanical LED keys, two SSDs, and 32GB of memory. It's certainly not the most cost-effective option, and I have some qualms about the keyboard, battery, and two-card complications, but it's extremely effective for 1080p and 1440p gaming, and can do the job in 4K as well. The Alienware 17 R4 is a more sensible, fast high-end buy if you have money to spend but don't want to go to the very top of the range, but the X9's performance is up there with the best.
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Fly Like An Eagle
17-inch laptops are traditionally bulky, hefty affairs, and that's even more true for dual-card systems. The single most impressive aspect of the X9, then, is its relatively slim form considering the power inside. It's 0.9 inches thick at its slimmest portion (the front end, where it tapers off) and 1.18 inches thick at the back, while measuring 16.9 inches wide and 12.4 inches deep. It weighs 7.9 pounds, which is respectable for a 17-inch laptop and especially good for a two-card setup. The Alienware 17 is 1.18 inches thick and weighs 9.77 pounds (which makes the X9 look slim and light), while the Origin EON17-X is 1.6 inches thick and weighs 8.6 pounds. The dual graphics version, the EON17-SLX, cranks up to 1.9 inches and 12 pounds, to give you an idea of how well the Aorus does in this respect.
Design- and build-wise, the X9 is solid, and even though the deck is plastic, it doesn't feel cheap or flimsy, while the aluminum lid has a premium feel. The Omen 17's busier design isn't for me, while the EON17-X is, conversely, very plain. There's often a battle between show-your-power aesthetics and too much restraint in laptops of this class, and the X9 is somewhere in between. It has some personality in its design, but isn't over the top with it, even if there are several influences going on. The lid evokes the hood of a sports car, as do the vents, but the touchpad bears bird imagery, and the bottom ventilation is also cut out in the shape of a bird spreading its wings. The black and gray coloring keeps it relatively muted, as opposed to the common and more aggressive red and black color scheme, but the lid and deck have some angled edges and line work to keep it interesting. The corners are trimmed with LEDs for a splash of color, and there's a bar of skinny LED lights below the display as well. The Alienware 17's lighting is a bit classier, and the build more premium for a pricey laptop, but the X9's design earns a thumbs up overall.
Aorus touts the X9 as the thinnest laptop with a true mechanical keyboard, but I don't love the result. It has some tactile feedback and fairly deep key travel, but offers a strange typing experience overall, as the keys have a plastic feel and are somewhat mushy when pressed. It's not overtly bad per say, it's just not very satisfying and doesn't feel especially high-quality. The keys are individually backlit, and included software allows you to fairly easily alter the effects and colors of each, as well as the chassis lighting. The LED bar can be used to show the battery level, as well as the GPU and CPU usage or temperature, a novel (if not the most useful) feature. There are preset effects for the whole keyboard, including a music mode that will pulse the chassis lighting to the beat of any music playing out of the laptop. The laptop's quad speakers (two speakers and two woofers) are up to blasting those tunes, with loud and clear audio quality.
The 17.3-inch screen is a 4K, In-Plane Switching (IPS) panel with solid clarity and color vibrancy. It's not an especially eye-catching screen, and the matte finish dulls the picture somewhat, but it's still sharp. In most laptops, a 4K screen is something of a waste for gaming as the graphics hardware can't achieve smooth frame rates at that resolution, but the X9 can make decent use of it with the dual cards, as you'll see in the testing section below. Outside of gaming, you get a 4K screen for watching movies or TV (as long as you have the native 4K content), which is one reason other laptops include it in the first place.
Internal storage is fast and plentiful in the form of two 512GB NVMe SSDs. They're not arranged in a RAID setup, showing up instead as two separate drives. Additionally, you can remove the X9's bottom panel and insert your own hard drive to an open bay, keeping the speedy storage but adding a few terabytes of room, if you need it. That should put gamers concerned with large installation sizes at ease, since the included 1TB may fill up faster than you think. This model is a Newegg exclusive, but it will be available with one 512GB SSD and a 1TB hard drive from other retailers for $3,649.
There are a variety of ports on the system, as you'd expect for a larger laptop that has the real estate to not exclude anything important. On board are three USB 3.0 ports, one USB-C port, a USB-C port with Thunderbolt 3, a mini-DisplayPort connection, an HDMI port, an SD card reader, an Ethernet jack, and a headphone jack. Other connectivity includes dual-band 802.11ac wireless and Bluetooth 4.1. Aorus supports its laptops with a two-year warranty.
In addition to the two GTX 1070 graphics cards in SLI (Nvidia's dual-graphics term), the X9 packs a 2.9GHz Intel Core i7-7820HK processor and 32GB of memory. In other words, it's quite fast. Its PCMark Work Conventional score, which measures general productivity, is high, generally speaking, but especially so when you consider the demanding 4K display, which consistently lowers scores on this test. Its multimedia test results were equally quick, better than average for gaming laptops, which are already superior to more standard machines. When you're not gaming on the X9, you can comfortably complete media work and side projects without being frustrated its speed is costing you time.
Obviously with dual graphics, all eyes will be on 3D and gaming performance. Its scores on 3DMark's Cloud Gate and more demanding Fire Strike Extreme were among the highest we've recorded for laptops, if not just by virtue of dual-card laptops being fairly uncommon. Recently, only the EON17-SLX and MSI GT83VR 7RF Titan SLI, both with two GTX 1080s, were able to top its numbers. On the Heaven and Valley gaming tests running at ultra-quality settings, 1080p was unsurprisingly a breeze, averaging more than 100fps (frames per second) on each.
4K is where it gets interesting, as the dual cards are still not quite capable of consistently hitting 60fps. Given that, there's a good argument to be made that a single GTX 1080 may be more cost effective if you can't reach that peak anyway, but it was able to land in the 50s consistently. That's a high, smooth frame rate, it's just not the ideal and becomes noticeable with fluctuation. In comparison, the EON17-X's single GTX 1080 averaged just 29fps and 37fps on Heaven and Valley in 4K, so the difference is clear. The two cards will serve you well if you decide to play at 1440p, too, and all of this was backed up in some real-game tests. The Division ran at 53fps on Ultra at 4K, while Rise of the Tomb Raider (DX12) even broke the mold at 66fps. So, while dual cards may not always reach 60fps and are certainly not the most cost-effective option, two 1070s is a performance-effective option.
I would be remiss not to mention the complications of SLI in the current market, as well. Support for two cards between games is inconsistent at best, and getting machines to always activate and use both properly can be a pain. To its credit, the X9 had a better time of it than some systems and didn't give me many issues on the games I tested, but that can change depending on specific titles and with software updates. Because of the complications, manufacturers (and even Nvidia itself) have been shying away from SLI of late (when it once seemed the next logical step for most systems), especially when the newest single cards are so powerful. As I said, it wasn't especially bad on the X9, but some new games simply don't have support for SLI at launch, and sometimes it never arrives.
Where the components really killed the laptop was battery life. The Aorus X9 only lasted for 1 hour and 8 minutes on our video-playback rundown test, which is one of the shortest results we've recorded. With a 4K display and cards in SLI draining power, it's hardly surprising, but working off the charger is far from this laptop's strong suit. The EON17-SLX ran for 2:06, the EON17-X for 2:17, and the MSI GT83VR 7RF Titan SLI for 2:15, so the X9 is last among some very short-lasting laptops. It may be somewhat slimmer and lighter than others for taking with you when traveling, but you're not going to be able to use it for long while in transit.
Solid Gaming Performance for Enthusiasts
The Aorus X9 is not a mass-appeal laptop, and will likely attract only a small niche of enthusiasts. That's true for most expensive gaming laptops, but especially so here, where SLI laptops have some complications that many prefer to avoid. Plus, the benefits versus the cost are debatable. All of that said, the X9 does what it does well, and is fairly nicely designed. I wouldn't put this laptop up for best value, but it is very effective for 1080p and 1440p gaming, and one of the best options we've tested at 4K too. The keyboard could be better, and the battery life is almost nonexistent, but if you have the money for all but the most expensive laptops out there, the Aorus X9 is worth a look.
Matthew Buzzi is a Hardware Analyst at PCMag, focusing on laptops and desktops with a specialty in gaming systems and games. Matthew earned a degree in Mass Communications/Journalism and interned for a college semester at Kotaku, writing about gaming before turning it into part of his career. He spends entirely too much time on Twitter (find him @MJBuzzi), with which he has a complicated relationship. When not gaming or writing, the rest of his time is spent on the emotional rollercoasters known as Chelsea FC… More »
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