Don't be fooled by its slim 0.9-inch profile. The Asus ROG Strix GL502VT is a miniature behemoth. This gaming laptop delivers a high-end Nvidia GeForce GTX 970M graphics performance despite its svelte frame. Starting at $1,399 ($1,599 as tested), the Strix also sports a vibrant 1080p display, a fast SSD, and battery life that puts most other gaming rigs to shame. But scorching temperatures during gameplay and a lackluster sound system prevent this rig from being the best we've tested.
Design: The Nuclear Option
I've been fairly vocal about how bored I am with gaming laptop manufacturers doing the typical black-and-red-edge gamer color motif. Asus listened -- sort of. Instead of black and red, the company took the nuclear option and went with black and neon orange. Am I back in the '90s? Are fanny packs and snap bracelets about to make a comeback, too?
The majority of the lid is constructed from black brushed aluminum with a pair of orange darts drawing attention to the fluorescent Republic of Gamers emblem in the center. Toward the bottom of the lid, you'll see another more subtle reference to the ROG brand. You'll want to have a cleaning cloth handy once you're finished touching the Strix GL502VT, as the lid is a magnet for the oils in your hands.
Lifting the lid reveals a black plastic palm rest with striations mimicking the metal lid. More of that eye-searing orange adorns the deck in small accents along the touchpad and another ROG emblem. The keyboard isn't immune to the glow, sporting orange lettering on the black keys. However, the WASD keys have inverse coloring that makes them look like ground zero of the Manhattan Project.
The Strix weighs 4.8 pounds and measures 15.3 x 10.5 x 0.9 inches, which is lighter than both the Aorus X5s V5 (5.5 pounds, 15.4 x 10.7 x 0.9 inches) and the Alienware 15 (6.6 pounds, 15.2 x 10.6 x 1.3 inches). However, it's heavier and thicker than the Digital Storm Equinox (4.2 pounds, 15.4 x 10.5 x 0.7 inches) and the latest Razer Blade (4.2 pounds, 13.6 x 9.3 x 0.7 inches).
Asus outfitted the Strix GL502VT with a variety of ports to support a nice gaming battle station. There are two USB 3.0 ports on the right with an SD card reader, a headset jack and a Kensington lock. Along the left, you'll find another USB 3.0 port along with a USB Type-C port, a mini DisplayPort, HDMI, a Gigabit Ethernet port and a power jack.
MORE: Best Asus Laptops
Display: Matte is Beautiful
Usually, I prefer glossy displays, as they tend to deliver the vividness I crave. However, the Strix's 15.6-inch matte panel does make a powerful case to jump ship. The 1080p display served up rich color, deep contrast and sharp details during the Star Trek: Beyond trailer. Uhuru's jet-black hair looked gorgeous as the cascading light played up its warm brown highlights. I also got an up-close-and-personal look at the navy blue and white alien menacing her, complete with its raised facial ridges topped by round, white nodules.
The full-HD screen even made hell look good as I blasted and cut my way through demonic infestations during Doom. I could see the intricate details in the Praetor armor as I reached out and ripped the gooey, beating heart out of a pulsating gore nest. The pinkish-gray sac trembled in my hand before I crushed it, releasing a nauseating splash of viscera.
Like most Asus notebooks, the Strix GL502VT comes preinstalled with the Splendid utility that offers four profiles (Normal, Eye Care, Vivid and Manual) and adjusts the panel's color temperature. I settled on the Vivid setting, as it delivered the best-looking results.
The screen registered a strong 109 percent on the sRGB color gamut. That beats the Alienware 15 (98 percent). However, it couldn't overcome the Blade (120 percent), or the Equinox and the Aorus X5S, both of which notched 111 percent.
The Strix's hues are also quite accurate, as the display netted 0.49 on the Delta-E test (0 is ideal). The X5S scored 0.5, while the Blade notched 0.95. The Equinox and Alienware 15 were slightly less precise at 1.1 and 1.3, respectively.
When we tested the display brightness, the Strix averaged 273 nits, beating the 247-nit category average. However, the Equinox, X5S, Alienware 15 and Blade were brighter at 293, 308, 311 and 338 nits.
Audio: Where's the Bass?
Asus outfitted the Strix GL502VT with a pair of Bang & Olufsen speakers disguised as a pair of neon-colored darts embedded into the palm rest. Although the audio filled my bedroom, it lacked any real oomph when it came to the lows. The bass was noticeably absent on Beyonce's "Party" and 2 Milly's "Millie Rock," despite my tweaking the settings in the ROG AudioWizard. I eventually settled on the Multimedia setting out of the six choices (War Room, Battlefield, Multimedia, Action, Soundscape and Off), as it gave consistently warm highs and mids.
The speakers had a better showing when I started playing Doom. The angry moans, growls and hisses of hell's denizens filled the room, nearly driving me to distraction. The chainsaw roared to life, droning on happily as it cut through demon hides. Too bad the explosive weapons, such as my frag grenade and shotgun, didn't deliver the boom I was expecting.
Keyboard and Touchpad: Put a Spring in Your Stroke
The Strix's island-style keyboard delivers clicky, springy feedback, which made for a really comfortable typing experience. The 1.6 millimeters of key travel made sure my fingers didn't bottom out while the 55 grams of actuation provided the necessary bounce. I hit my typical 60 words per minute on the 10FastFingers typing test with no difficulty.
I was surprised to learn that while the keyboard sports a number pad, it lacks the row of macro keys I'm accustomed to seeing on a gaming laptop. Another oddity is the power button, which looks like it's part of the number pad, inconspicuously located between the PgDn and hyphen keys. The keyboard is awash in red backlight, which seeps out from the corners of the keys, providing just enough illumination to see in a dimly lit area.
The 4.1 x 2.8-inch touchpad is spacious, with enough room for my fingers to comfortably navigate websites and documents. Multitouch gestures, such as pinch-zoom and two-finger scroll, were quick and responsive.
Gaming and Graphics
To ensure gamers get the high frame rates and smooth graphics needed for triple A titles like Witcher 3 or Rise of the Tomb Raider, Asus paired the Nvidia GeForce GTX 970M GPU with 6GB of VRAM -- that's double the normal configuration. The Strix GL502VT proved its mettle during my Doom play-through, delivering a heaping helping of blood and guts at 42 frames per second on high as my chainsaw chewed through a demon's sternum. Knocking the settings down to medium caused the frame rates to jump to 51 fps.
When we ran the Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six: Siege benchmark on low at 1080p, the Strix achieved 128 fps, matching the Blade (Nvidia GeForce GTX 970M with 6GB VRAM) and topping the 80 fps mainstream average. The Equinox, which also has an Nvidia GeForce GTX 970M with 6GB VRAM, hit 126 fps, while the X5S (Nvidia GeForce GTX 980M) obtained 121 fps. Switching the settings to high dropped the Strix's frame rate to a still-strong 69 fps. The X5S and Blade were slightly better at 70 fps and 72 fps, respectively.
The Strix GL502VT stayed the course on the notoriously taxing Metro: Last Light test, hitting 78 fps on low. That was enough to topple both the 66 fps average and the Alienware 15's 64 fps. However, the Equinox, Blade and X5S achieved 98, 103 and 119 fps, respectively. Pushing the settings to high caused the Strix's frame rate to fall to an unplayable 23 fps, but that still beat the 19 fps average. The X5S and the Alienware 15 were the only systems to deliver acceptable rates at 56 and 41 fps.
For those moments you'd rather Netflix and chill, the system switches over to its Intel HD Graphics 530 GPU.
Performance: Holding Its Own
The Strix GL502VT packs a 2.6-GHz Intel Core i7-6700 HQ processor similar to the Blade, Equinox and X5S, so I expected good things, and was not disappointed. I ran a full system scan while watching "Hunter x Hunter" on Hulu with 12 additional tabs open in Google Chrome. The laptop only started to show some lag once I launched Doom in another window.
On the Geekbench 3 test, which gauges overall performance, the Strix obtained 13,348, which puts it on a par with the competition. The laptop strutted past the 7,784 mainstream average and the Alienware 15's (2.9-GHz Intel Core i5-4210 CPU) 6,321. The Blade narrowed the gap with 13,268, while the Equinox and the X5S surpassed it with 13,525 and 13,536.
During the File Transfer Test, the Strix's 128GB SSD (paired with a 1TB 7,200-rpm hard drive) duplicated 4.97GB of mixed-media files in 37 seconds, which translates to a 135.9 MBps transfer rate. The result skates past the 131.5 MBps average and the Alienware 15's (128GB SSD with 1TB 5,500-rpm hard drive) 103.9 MBps. Outfitted with 256GB PCIe SSDs, the X5S and the Blade notched 335.2MBps and 359.2MBps, respectively. However, the Equinox's 256GB M.2 SSD was the fastest, with a searing 424.1MBps.
The Strix paired 20,000 names and addresses in 3 minutes and 39 seconds, defeating the 5:15 category average as well as the Blade (3:55) and the Alienware 15 (4:14). The X5S and the Equinox were only a second apart at 3:36 and 3:37.
Battery Life: Not Bad for a Gaming Rig
For a gaming laptop, the Strix GL502VT has great battery life. The notebook lasted 5 hours and 56 minutes on our battery test, which consists of continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi, skirting past the 5:52 mainstream average. The Blade, X5S and Equinox clocked times of 5:42, 4:00 and 3:09, respectively. However, the Alienware 15 was the close winner at 6 hours.
Heat: Gird Your Loins
The Strix GL502 is lap-averse when gaming. After 15 minutes of blasting my way through Doom, the bottom of the notebook measured a scorching 132 degrees Fahrenheit. The touchpad and space between the G and H keys were significantly cooler at 80 and 95 degrees.
The laptop's undercarriage overshot our 95-degree comfort threshold on relatively easy activities such as streaming a full-screen Hulu video, hitting 101 degrees. Again, both the touchpad and space between the G and H keys were much cooler at 80 and 86 degrees, respectively.
The test images I took with the integrated 720p webcam produced fairly accurate color, including my purple locks and the ruby red microwave. It even did a solid job of capturing me and my boyfriend's contrasting skin tones. Details were lacking, however, as everything in the shot had fuzzy edges with a blown-out halo effect.
Software and Warranty
The Strix has a healthy amount of software pre-installed that's designed to improve your gaming experience. The ROG Gaming Center has four separate profiles to choose from, with specific settings for Splendid Theater, and Audio Wizard with options to prioritize memory usage and check system diagnostics.
If you own an ROG mouse, you can customize it with the Configurator. There's also GameFirst III, which tests bandwidth speed and configures the optimal upload and download speeds to prioritize games and other chosen programs.
Third-party gaming software includes XSplit, a recording and live-streaming program, and Nvidia GeForce Experience, which offers a suite of game-optimizing utilities. Other apps include Flipboard, TripAdvisor and Music Maker Jam.
The Asus Strix GL502VT ships with a one-year warranty. See how Asus fared in our Tech Support Showdown and where it falls on our Best and Worst Brands list.
The $1,599 iteration of the Strix I reviewed has a 2.6-GHz Intel Core i7-6700 HQ CPU with 16GB of RAM, a 128GB SSD with a 1TB 7,200-rpm hard drive, a Nvidia GeForce GTX 970M GPU with 6GB of VRAM and an Intel HD Graphics 530 GPU. For an additional $350, you can upgrade to an Nvidia GeForce GTX 980M with 8GB of VRAM and a 256GB SSD.
The $1,399 base model features a 2.6-GHz Intel Core i7-6700 HQ CPU with 16GB of RAM, a 1TB 7,200-rpm hard drive, an Nvidia GeForce GTX 970M GPU with 3GB of VRAM and an Intel HD Graphics 530 GPU.
For the size and the price, the $1,599 Asus ROG Strix GL502VT is definitely a keeper. Garish color accents aside, the 15.6-inch is fairly portable and packs a wallop. Even better, if offers a captivating 1080p display, a comfortable keyboard and nearly 6 hours of battery life. We just wish the GL502VT ran cooler and brought more bass.
If you're looking for a gaming system with a lighter profile and a 4K display, you should take a gander at the $1,999 Razer Blade. However, the Strix is a great choice for gamers who want big-rig power but not big-rig prices.