While much of the public discourse about laptops and mobile PCs is taken up with ultrabooks, hybrids, and other ever-slimmer devices, there's still room for the traditional 17-inch gaming desktop replacement.
As it happens, we tend to see an influx of such systems just after Nvidia (or AMD) introduces a new generation of mobile graphics cards. In this case, it's a new GeForce 800M series from Nvidia, and we've almost simultaneously seen new gaming laptops from Asus, MSI, Razer, and others.
The very first gaming laptop with Nvidia's highest-end GeForce GTX 880M card that we've tested is the Asus G750. The specific model number for our configuration is the G750JZ-XS72, which in our random-model-number-to-English dictionary means this is a $2,999 configuration that includes twin 256GB SSDs, a Blu-ray burner, and a whopping 32GB of RAM, on top of the already high-end CPU/GPU combo. For $2,499, you can cut the SSD and RAM, and downgrade to a simple Blu-Ray read-only optical drive.
In either case, it's a lot of cash for a device with a 1,920x1,080-pixel non-touch display and an industrial design that feels locked in the past. That said, performance, especially in games, is fantastic. This system easily beat similar models from 2013 with that year's high-end GeForce GTX 780M GPU.
No one, aside from Razer, really makes a gaming laptop with modern aesthetics, but Asus has invested heavily in its gaming line for years, with included overclocking and audio tweaking software and rear-vented exhaust ports, plus some very high-end configurations with plenty of ports and connections. It's about as specialized as a gaming laptop gets without going to a build-to-order boutique such as Origin PC or Maingear.
|Asus G750JZ-XS72||Alienware 17||Maingear Pulse 14|
|Display size/resolution||17-inch, 1,920x1,080 screen||17-inch, 1,920x1,080 screen||14-inch, 1,600x900 screen|
|PC CPU||2.4GHz Intel Core i7 4700HQ||2.7GHz Intel Core i7 4800MQ||2.6GHz Intel Core i7 4702MQ|
|PC memory||32GB 1,600MHZ DDR3 SDRAM||16GB 1,600MHZ DDR3 SDRAM||16GB 1,600MHZ DDR3 SDRAM|
|Graphics||4GB Nvidia Geforce GTX 880M||4GB Nvidia Geforce GTX 780M||4GB Nvidia Geforce GTX 760M|
|Storage||(2) 256GB SSD + 1TB HD||256GB SSD + 750GB HD||(2) 128GB SSD + 1TB HD|
|Optical drive||None||BD-ROM||External DVD-RW|
|Networking||Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.0||Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.0||Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0|
|Operating system||Windows 8.1 (64-bit)||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)|
Design and features
Even big, bulky gaming laptops now have brushed-metal lids and keyboard trays, matte chassis, finger-friendly keyboards and touch pads, and other nods to minimalist design (and thankfully, a lack of chrome accents or flashing multicolored lights). That's not to say that these sort of systems -- not to single out the Asus G750 -- look like truly 2014-era products.
In this case, you get a big black box with a massive desktop footprint. The chassis angles down toward the front, but the front lip is still one full inch off the desktop (and nearly two inches high in the rear). Exhaust fan ports, which use internal copper tubing to direct heat away, are on the rear edge panel, which is preferable to the side edges, where they can blow hot air on peripherals, cables, and so on.
The overall look, while not garish, is largely the same as the last several generations of Asus gaming laptops. Few do better, but that's a low bar. Razer is one of the only companies doing anything really innovative with gaming laptop design, but those slim systems include their own trade-offs.
The keyboard is a standard island-style model, easily fitting in a full number pad, thanks to the large keyboard tray. The main concession to gamers here is deep key travel, with hefty keys offering satisfying tactile response. The keyboard is also backlit, but offers no game-centric specialty keys or macro keys.
The large touch pad feels dated, with its separate left and right mouse buttons, while most other laptops have moved to clickpad-style touch pads. For PC gaming, one could argue that clickpads are suboptimal, but most gamers will be playing with a mouse or game pad in any event, so your touch-pad interaction will generally be for Web surfing and productivity tasks.
Of course, any gaming laptop lives or dies based on its display. In this case, you get a 17.3-inch 1,920x1,080-pixel screen that works well, but doesn't distinguish itself from the competition. On the plus side, the screen has a matte antiglare finish, which I've always thought added realism and immersion in games. Off-axis viewing is decent for a non-IPS screen.
However, laptop displays are in a far different place than they were just a couple of years ago. Touch is practically standard and finally showing up in systems with discrete GPUs (but still not really in desktop replacements). And higher resolutions are showing up at lower and lower prices, such as the 13-inch Yoga 2 Pro, which hits 3,200x1,800 pixels for under $1,000. In the gaming department, the upcoming 14-inch Razer Blade has a 3,200x1,800-pixel touch screen for $2,199, and the new Lenovo Y50 gaming laptop promises 4K resolution in a 15-inch display.
|Video||HDMI, VGA, and mini-DisplayPort|
|Audio||Stereo speakers plus subwoofer, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||4 USB 3.0, Thunderbolt, SD card reader|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth|
|Optical drive||Blu-ray burner|
Connections, performance, and battery
One of the fun things to do with a big gaming rig is hook up multiple external monitors, and with the HDMI and mini-DisplayPort jacks on the right edge, you can do just that, with the high-end GPU allowing you to drive each one at HD resolutions.