Gigabyte Aero 17 HDR review: A big, bright content creation machine
As usual for Aero laptops, the Aero 17 HDR has tons of ports, including an SD UHS II (but not UHS III) card reader, three USB 3.2 Gen1 Type A ports, ethernet, microphone, headphone, HDMI, USB-C/Thunderbolt 3, mini DP1.4 and HDMI 2.0. They’re all positioned toward the front of the laptop, unfortunately, so cables can get in the way of a mouse.
The keyboard and trackpad are a bit of a mixed bag. The keyboard felt good during gaming and touch-typing, if a little on the spongy side. As you’d expect on a 17-inch laptop, though, the key spacing is excellent for touch typing and productivity work.
As with other Gigabyte Aero laptops I’ve tried, the Aero 17 HDR XB has is offset a bit right from center, so I occasionally mis-clicked or right-clicked instead of left-clicking. Otherwise, however, I found it to be smooth and accurate. It also has an integrated fingerprint reader that’s handy for logging in.
As for other features? Sound-wise, the speakers lacked bass, which I really noticed after testing the ASUS Zephyrus 15 Duo’s excellent audio setup. Naturally, the Aero 17 HDR has a light-up keyboard and macro keys for gaming via Gigabyte’s control center. And finally, there is the webcam — a key component in this COVID-19 era — that is tucked onto the laptop chassis itself because of the tiny bezels. That means it’s pointed up at your face, which is not the most flattering view. It does have a slider that blocks the camera’s view, however, which is a nice touch.
The snappy feel is confirmed by objective tests, with the fastest Handbrake 4K transcoding speeds (eight seconds to encode a 1:02 4K movie trailer into 1080p) I’ve seen, and disk read/write speeds up to 2.93/2.59 GB/s.
If you’re interested in getting the Aero 17 HDR, I’d upgrade the RAM to 32GB and add a second NVMe SSD, as 16GB of RAM and a single SSD won’t cut it for video editing. Luckily, there are free M.2 and RAM slots, so that’s relatively easy to do yourself if taking the back cover off doesn’t intimidate you.
The HDR screen is ideal for entertainment, letting you watch Netflix HDR or Amazon Prime Video movies without the need for an external screen. As I’ve seen before, however, HDR is still extremely broken on Windows 10 — an issue that Microsoft, NVIDIA and Intel need to address if they’re serious about HDR adoption.
Netflix only works in HDR on the Windows universal app or Microsoft Edge, and not on Chrome, Opera or Firefox. I was only able to get Netflix to work properly using Intel’s integrated graphics driver, as HDR video refused to load on the Aero 17 HDR using NVIDIA graphics. Once again, I failed to get YouTube 4K HDR video to play on Chrome or Edge without skipping, no matter what I tried.
Once I finally got Netflix to work, it did look a bit more colorful and brighter with HDR than without. As usual on a PC with HDR 10, however, there’s very little difference unless you’re really looking for it. In sum, while I appreciated the extra brightness of the display for gaming and creative work, the HDR feature isn’t very useful for entertainment as it stands now.
When it comes to gaming, the Aero 17 HDR XB offers very solid performance. Running at 4K, I got 36 fps out of Shadow of the Tomb Raider with everything cranked up, and 65 fps with the same settings at 1080p. Destiny 2 ran at 60 fps at 4K and over 150 fps at 1080p, all at ultra quality. Finally, I saw speeds of about 60 fps at 1080p and 28 fps in 4K on Metro Exodus.
Those figures are obviously less than I saw with NVIDIA’s RTX 2080 Super Max-Q graphics on the ASUS Zephyrus Duo 15. However, the Aero 17 HDR XB is very competitive with other laptops at this cheaper price point — especially if you like gaming in 4K. Also, this is one of the few laptops you can game on in HDR without an external monitor. Unlike with movies, the HDR worked well for Shadow of the Tomb Raider and other games, making them notably brighter, clearer and more colorful.
You’ll never see incredibly long battery life on a 4K laptop, especially one with an 8-core CPU and high-end GPU. Next to other 4K laptops, however, this model does pretty well. In our 1080p movie rundown test, it lasted 6 hours and 30 minutes on a charge. That’s about half what Dell’s XPS 17 with a 4K touchscreen can do, though the Dell model we tested had a less capable NVIDIA RTX 2060 Max-Q GPU. The Aero 17 HDR does beat most pure 4K 17-inch gaming laptops in battery rundown tests because of the larger, 94 Wh battery.
Gigabyte’s Aero 17 HDR XB costs $2,800 as tested, or $3,000 with a 1TB SSD. It’s tricky to compare other laptops, because it’s the rare hybrid that’s well-equipped for both gaming and content creation. For quite a bit more, you could get Razer’s $3,800 Blade Pro 17 with a 4K touch (but not HDR) display, NVIDIA RTX 2080 Super Max-Q graphics and all other specs about the same. Another option is the $3,300 Asus ROG Zephyrus S GX701, which also has a higher-end RTX 2080 Super GPU but a 1080p, rather than a 4K screen.
Dell’s Alienware M17 R3 gaming laptop might be your best alternative bet, as it offers a faster 8-core i9-10980HK CPU, RTX 2070 Super GPU, 32GB of RAM, a 500 Nit display and a total of 1.5 TB of NVMe storage for $2,950. I’d also strongly consider Dell’s $2,850 XPS 17 laptop — though it has less graphics grunt, you get a brighter HDR touch display that’s potentially more useful for entertainment thanks to the Dolby Vision support.
All told, Gigabyte’s Aero 17 HDR XB model has plenty of power for video and photo editing (and some gaming), along with a bright and accurate 4K HDR display. It has a decent keyboard and trackpad, and while it’s a bit heavier and thicker than other similar models, it has a bigger battery that lasts longer than most of them — a tradeoff I’ll take any day. The main drawbacks apart from the size are a poorly positioned webcam and below-average speaker quality. Still, it’s a unique laptop in this category and offers a price and performance combination that’s hard to top.
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