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Asus ROG GX700 is a water-cooled gaming laptop with primo graphics power (hands-on)

We don't know when it'll arrive or how much it'll cost, but the water-cooled Asus ROG GX700 sounds like a monster gaming PC.

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Every year, gaming laptops get more powerful -- but never powerful enough to satisfy the demands of the most discerning gamers. Even the most muscular mobile graphics processors can't play the newest games on the highest levels of detail on 4K monitors. So with the new ROG GX700, computer company Asus decided to do something mostly unprecedented: cram components you usually only see in a desktop gaming PC into the body of a laptop.

The Asus ROG GX700 gaming laptop. Josh Miller/CNET

Key components

  • An overclockable processor. Historically, gaming laptops typically don't let you overclock their components, but the ROG GX700 has a 2.7GHz quad-core Intel Core i7-6820HK, one of the first mobile CPUs that you can overclock. It also happens to be one of the latest Intel Skylake processors.
  • Up to 64GB of DDR4 memory. Obviously, that's a lot.
  • An Nvidia GeForce GTX 980 graphics chip with 8GB of GDDR5 memory. Not a GTX 980M mobile graphics processor -- this laptop has the same graphics chip you find inside one of the most powerful desktop graphics cards that gamers are currently buying to place inside their PCs.
  • A 1080p or even a 4K-resolution G-Sync display, like the one we recently enjoyed using in the Asus G751 gaming laptop. G-Sync tries to smooth out the picture quality during gaming by reducing screen stutter and tearing.
  • The piece de resistance: a giant external water-cooling system that actually pipes liquid coolant through the guts of this laptop to help cool those components down.

Though the GX700 does have a pair of traditional blower fans to help it exhaust hot air and should be able to use those components without the dock attached, Asus claims it'll let the GX700 run cooler, quieter, and overclock much better. Asus engineers have allegedly seen the GX700's graphics chip run up to 43 percent faster, the CPU up to 48 percent faster, and the memory up to 31 percent faster with the liquid cooling unit attached.

(What do those high-end components mean for this laptop's battery life? Asus won't say.)

A look inside the GX700's liquid cooling system. Asus

Hands-on impressions

Make no mistake, this is a giant behemoth of a gaming PC, and with a bug-eyed metal backpack to boot. Depending on your aesthetic sensibilities, you might well find it butt ugly, instead of edgy and cool. (Personally, I'm the kind of person who doesn't flinch at taking a giant gaming laptop on a camping trip, so I'm OK with that.)

But without that water-cooling module, the GX700 actually doesn't look any bigger, bulkier or much different than your typical large gaming laptop. It's actually reasonably slim and light as such things go, with the current prototype laptop tipping the scales at 7.9 pounds (3.6kg) compared to, say, an 12.1-pound (5.5kg) Alienware M18x.

Josh Miller/CNET

And Asus claims you can use it undocked -- even pull the machine out of its liquid-cooling dock while it's running -- and only suffer a modest dip in performance. Asus claims the desktop-grade GTX 980 graphics inside will drop down to the level of a laptop-grade GTX 980M when that happens. Since the machine runs around 40 percent faster when the dock's connected, that's definitely a dip.

Sadly, Asus didn't actually have any games running on the GX700 during our demo, so we couldn't see what GTX 980 performance in a laptop form factor actually looks like.

The dock seems simple enough to use: you place the laptop on a set of large pins, and then push down on a large metal lever at the rear of the external module. As you push down, five ports slide into the back of the laptop in unison, and a pair of locks click into place to secure the rest of the machine. You can press a single clearly marked button to undock it again.

How the GX700 docks with the liquid-cooling module. Josh Miller/CNET

Since there's liquid running through a radiator that you actually physically remove from the laptop, you might be wondering: does any leak out? Well, it didn't happen when we docked and undocked these demo units repeatedly, but Asus says it can happen. The liquid-cooling module does try to suck the coolant back into the radiator when you undock it, and there are rubber O-rings that try to keep the fluid in too, but occasionally you might see a little bit of liquid. That's definitely something we'd want to test. Asus says the coolant is non-conductive, so it shouldn't fry your system either way.

Oddly, the GX700 will actually come with two power supplies: a lighter, smaller 180-watt unit that you use to power the laptop itself, and a larger 330-watt brick that's the size of an Xbox power adapter for when you're using the liquid-cooling module. The 330-watt one powers both, so you should be able to leave it attached to the dock, and throw the other into a backpack.

The ports on the GX700's liquid-cooling dock. Josh Miller/CNET

Availability

Even if you're sold on the idea of this bulky, likely exorbitantly priced laptop-desktop hybrid, you can't order one yet -- and that's a good thing because it's not ready for primetime. Asus says it hasn't actually finalized the design of this computer, to the point where we don't actually know the exact size, weight, or pricing yet. "The ROG GX700 concept is undergoing fine-tuning and will ship later this year," reads the company's press release.

You can be sure we'll have a full review on CNET when the GX700 is available.

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