The most powerful gaming laptops will blow your mind, but they'll also wallop your wallet. Fortunately, you can get a really great mobile rig for a lot less money. For $999, the 15.6-inch Asus ROG GL552 combines strong performance with a sexy, stealth-fighter-themed chassis, vibrant display and snappy keyboard. While we wish its battery life were longer and its left side stayed cooler, this is the best sub-$1,000 gaming laptop you can buy.
Despite a slick aluminum lid that Asus claims was inspired by an F-22 fighter plane, the ROG GL552 doesn't look as sleek as some of its competitors. At 15.1 x 10.1 x 1.3 inches, the system is a little chunkier than similar 15-inch gaming notebooks, such as the Acer Aspire V15 Nitro Black Edition (15.4 x 10.3 x 0.9 inches) and Dell's Inspiron 15 7000 (15.1 x 10.4 x 1 inches). However, weighing 5.6 pounds, the GL 552 sits between the lighter 5.1-pound Acer and the heavier 5.9-pound Dell.
Inside, Asus added some silver patterning, which helps bring a little flair to the GL552's black metal deck, along with the sinister red backlighting. The detailing on the left vent helps reinforce the GL552's red-and-black color scheme, and is also a good reminder to keep your hands and legs away from that area, which can get pretty hot.
Unfortunately, like grungy black sneakers on a gymnasium floor, the Asus GL552's rubber feet leave streaks on any surface. So try to prevent dragging it across tables and desks.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The ROG GL55s's keyboard oozes sinister red light and features an extra band of red highlights along the bottom of the W, A, S and D keys. Typing on the black plastic keys felt snappy, thanks to a pretty standard actuation weight of 60 grams and typical 1.87mm of key travel. Asus also managed to squeeze a 10-key numpad on the right side of the keyboard, but since space is at a premium, the keys on the numpad have been shrunk to about half size.
On 10fastfingers.com's typing test, I hit a speedy 83 words per minute after just a few minutes spent getting familiar with the keyboard. That's pretty impressive, since my usual typing pace ranges from 75 to 80 words per minute.
While it doesn't get the same backlighting treatment as the keyboard, the 4.1 x 2.75-inch touchpad features a similar level of responsiveness. The pad accurately and immediately registered my swipes, clicks and multitouch gestures, such as two-finger scrolling.
The GL552's 15.6-inch, 1920 x 1080 screen delights with great accuracy, spot-on colors and top-tier brightness. It makes both gaming and watching movies a pleasure, and since the non-touch screen also features a matte coating, you're never forced to stare back at your own reflection. When I watched the trailer for The Nice Guys, the GL552's display nailed Russell Crowe's turquoise blue suit in a way that screamed 1970s even louder than the teaser's retro font.
At 272 nits of brightness, the GL552's screen fell barely short of the display on the Acer's V15 Nitro (289 nits), and performed significantly better than 222 nits we saw on Dell's Inspiron 15 7000. With a color range that spanned 116.2 percent of the sRGB spectrum, the GL552 topped the V15 Nitro's mark of 115 percent and easily surpassed the Inspiron 15 7000's range of 70 percent.
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And with a Delta-E error rate of 0.7 (0 is perfect), the GL552 was more color accurate than the V15 Nitro (1.0), but a tiny bit behind the Inspiron 15 7000 (0.4).
The GL552's stereo speakers feature SonicMaster tech that's supposed to provide rich, high-fidelity audio, but in my experience, both music and games sounded a little shallow. When I listened to Ratatat's "Cream on Chrome," the twangy guitars and thumping bass didn't have the same depth and impact that I heard from other systems. Switching to the battlefield preset in the AudioWizard app offered a slight improvement to the bass, but still didn't do enough to help the overall audio experience.
On less demanding tasks like streaming HD video from Hulu, the ROG GL 552 strayed just 5 degrees over our typical 95-degree comfort threshold on its bottom. The space between the G and H keys and touchpad were cooler at 92.5 and 90 degrees.
The problem is that while gaming, temps near the vent on the left side of the system shot up to over 125 degrees. On its bottom, temperatures rose only a couple of degrees, which means you can still get in some laptop gaming; you just have to be careful to stay away from its super-hot left side.
Ports and Webcam
When it comes to connectivity, the ROG GL552 provides an unusual feeling of having one foot stuck in the past while the other boldly strides toward the future. That's because the GL552 sports an archaic dual-layer DVD tray while also pushing things forward with a USB 3.1 port with a Type-C connector. There are also three traditional USB Type-A ports (two USB 3.0 and one USB 2.0), HDMI, Ethernet, SD card slot and separate microphone and headphone jacks.
The GL552's 1.2-megapixel webcam takes a pretty poor picture, even among laptop cameras that usually fail to impress. In our well-lit office, a selfie I took with the Asus' webcam featured a lot of noise and grain and turned my hair and eyes into a dark, indistinct mess.
Graphics and Gaming
In this price range, you're not going to get a better graphics card than the GL552's Nvidia 960M GPU with 2GB of vRAM, which puts Asus's laptop on the same footing at its competition. On 3DMark's Fire Strike synthetic graphics test, the GL552 scored 4,095, which is similar to numbers from the V15 Nitro (4,069) and the Inspiron 15 7000 (3,929).
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When we played Metro: Last Light on low settings at 1920 x 1080, the GL552 notched 59 frames per second. That was slightly behind the V15 Nitro's 67 fps and about the same as the Inspiron 15 7000's 58 fps. But when we pumped up the graphics to high, all three systems fell below 20 fps, which is not playable.
However, on a less demanding game such as Dota 2, the GL552 easily hovered between 70 and 80 fps on max settings. It's only for graphics-hungry games such as Metro or GTA 5 that you'll need to step down the settings if you want to reach a stable 60 fps.
Featuring a 2.6-GHz Intel Core i7-6700 HQ CPU, 16GB of RAM and a 1TB HDD, the GL552 is similarly equipped to other thousand-dollar gaming machines. However, since the GL552 features a 7,200 RPM HDD versus the 5,400 drives in the V15 Nitro and the Inspiron 15 7000, its storage speeds were three times faster. The GL552 moved a DVD's worth of mixed media files in 51 seconds for a transfer rate of 98.59 MBps, as opposed to speeds of 33.97 MBps and 34.62 MBps for the V15 Nitro and the Inspiron 15 7000, respectively.
This advantage also showed up on Geekbench 3, which measures overall system performance. The GL552 scored 13,554 versus 12,577 for the V15 Nitro, despite the Nitro having the same CPU and amount of RAM. Dell's Inspiron 15 7000 (8,880) was even further behind, as its Intel Core i5 CPU simply didn't provide the same level of swiftness.
As expected, when we used OpenOffice to sort a spreadsheet with 20,000 names and addresses, the Core i7-powered GL552 (3:44) and V15 Nitro (3:46) finished with almost exactly the same time, while the Inspiron 15 700 trailed behind with a time of 3:58.
With a time of 4 hours and 43 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test (continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi at 100 nits of brightness), the GL552 fell between the endurance numbers turned in by Acer and Dell. It lasted nearly 2 full hours longer than the anemic 2:40 mark of Acer's V15 Nitro, but fell short of Dell's Inspiron 15 7000 (6:45) by around the same margin.
If you're willing to go above $1,000, there's a $1,249 version of the GL552 that bumps up storage with a 128GB SSD + 1TB hybrid and an Nvidia 960M GPU with 4GB of video RAM, instead of the 2GB you get in the base model.
Software and Warranty
The Asus ROG GL552 comes pre-loaded with Windows 10 Home and a handful of useful utilities, including Asus Live Update for keeping your system current, the Splendid Utility for customizing your display, and the Game First III app that helps prioritize network traffic to make sure you don't lag while gaming.
The system also comes with a standard one-year warranty, which also includes one year of accidental damage protection.
With a faster hard drive, more colorful display and better-looking chassis than its direct competitors, the Asus ROG GL552 is the sub-$1,000 gaming laptop to beat. If you're looking to save money, the $800 Dell's Inspiron 15 7000 provides similar frame rates and longer battery life, but slower overall performance and a less-vibrant display. Asus could make this laptop even better by improving its heat management and power consumption. But if you're looking for a gaming laptop under $1,000, the ROG GL552 should be at the top of your shopping list.