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Kevin R.

Kevin R.

Joined on 03/21/01

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Most Favorable Review

Fast CPU, fast GPU, fast Wi-Fi, nice display and keyboard, very slow disk

ASUS TUF FX504GE-US52 15.6" IPS FHD GeForce GTX 1050Ti 4GB VRAM Quad Core Intel i5-8300H 8GB RAM 1TB FireCuda SSHD Windows 10 Home Gaming Laptop
ASUS TUF FX504GE-US52 15.6" IPS FHD GeForce GTX 1050Ti 4GB VRAM Quad Core Intel i5-8300H 8GB RAM 1TB FireCuda SSHD Windows 10 Home Gaming Laptop

Pros: There is a lot of computational power in this lightweight laptop. The Intel i5-8300H has 4 cores (8 threads), a large 8.0 MB L3 cache, and it will boost the clock to 4.0 GHz for single-thread workloads. I found it to be extremely energy efficient during light workloads as well. The on-board Intel UHD Graphics 630 handles normal display use including 2D graphics, reserving the power of the NVIDIA GPU for 3D graphics and GPU-specific computation. This processor is more than capable for whatever a power user or gamer is likely to throw at it over the next few years. The GeForce GTX 1050Ti is the highest-end of NVIDIA’s 75-watt Pascal architecture GPU family. It’s a good choice for 1080p displays and rendered very smooth 3D animation at high detail. The Wi-Fi speed is absolutely amazing. I ran an iperf3 server on a fast desktop computer that is connected to an 802.11ac access point with wired gigabit ethernet, and measured 656 Mbit/s with this laptop about six feet from the access point, and 340 Mbit/s two rooms away. The wired ethernet port measured 949 Mbit/s. Both were solid throughout a week of suspend/resume and power cycling. The IPS display is a nice upgrade from TN panels. It’s not glossy, so it doesn’t reflect everything behind you and show every speck of dust. I’m happy with the colors, the black level, and the contrast. The only possible complaint is that it could be a little brighter. I use most laptop displays at about 70% to 80% of full brightness, and this one looks good to me with the brightness set to 100%. In normal use the fans are either off or very slow. At low speeds there is a bit of a variable-pitch whine as the speed changes. At high speeds, the fans sound like a waterfall. That is to say, it’s a nice white noise mostly free of tones. There are three fan modes, selectable by hotkey (Fn+F5): Balanced, Overboost, and Silent. I found little difference between Balanced and Overboost, but Silent is a great option to have. Silent mode keeps the fan speeds low with just a small performance penalty. Unless you’re gaming with headphones on, I’d recommend using Silent mode all the time. I also came to appreciate that the rear exhaust vents keep the warm air flow away from hands and workspace. I used PassMark Performance Test 9.0 to measure CPU and 3D GPU performance in each of the three fan modes, while watching the power consumption at the outlet. Balanced: CPU Mark 9761, max. power 88 watts; 3D Mark 6628, max. power 104 watts. Overboost: CPU Mark 9772, max. power 91 watts; 3D Mark 6676, max. power 107 watts. Silent: CPU Mark 9665, max power 72 watts; 3D Mark 5995, max. power 83 watts. Case temperatures were the highest in Silent fan mode, despite the lower power draw. At 77 degrees F ambient, after running 8 threads for a few hours, I measured 89 F on the left wrist rest and 82 F on the right wrist rest. The hottest key was “U” at 105 F, and the hottest area on the case bottom was 106 F. For comparison, in Overboost fan mode, the wrist rests were the same temperature, the “U” key dropped to 100 F and the hottest area on the case bottom dropped to 103 F. The touchpad is large and very smooth when the laptop is not bogged down (see disk, below). There are no discrete left/right click buttons, but I didn’t miss them. The keyboard feels good, with adequate travel and a light tactile touch. The wider keys, like shift and the space bar, have the same feel all the way across. There are three levels of red lighting selectable by hotkey. I’ll preface the gaming performance review by stating up front that I’m not a gamer. The last game I bought was Portal (in 2007), and unsurprisingly it played perfectly smooth on this laptop with high detail settings. Of course I had to try the bundled games to see how they performed. Age of Empires Definitive Edition (a 17.19 GB download) is a refresh of the 1997 original release. It didn’t seem to be very demanding of the hardware. There were a few visual glitches where objects were drawn offset from where I expected them, but I’m blaming the age of the software for that. Otherwise it played fine and everything was smooth. Gears of War 4 (a 132.3 GB download!) is not my style of game (see Portal, above), but wow, the 3D graphics are just insane. The game defaulted to very high quality settings but everything was perfectly fluid on A/C power. On battery power, there were a couple of small lags, usually at the start of a graphics sequence. The built-in benchmark measured 59.8 FPS on A/C power, 28.7 FPS on battery. The HDMI output worked as it should. There were no problems extending the desktop onto a 2560x1080 external monitor. Audio also redirected to HDMI properly. There is a single 1/8” audio jack. When I plug in my headphones, there is a pop-up prompt to select mic in, headphone, or speaker out.

Cons: The all-plastic build felt a little cheap at first. The thin power cord and small barrel connector reinforce this feeling. After a week, though, what started out feeling cheap started to feel like it was just better optimized for weight. At 5 lb 1 oz on my postage scale, it’s 6 oz lighter than my 14” aluminum HP. There are no dedicated keys for PageUp and PageDown; they are on the numeric keypad’s 9 and 3 keys respectively. I would have liked to see those functions duplicated on Fn+UpArrow/DownArrow, where they are commonly located on sub-notebooks. As it stands, there’s no way to access PageUp and PageDown when num-lock is enabled. Speaking of which, there’s no LED indicator for num-lock. Caps-lock has an indicator on the key itself. There’s no CSM (Compatibility Support Module) option in the BIOS (version 312) to allow booting from older non-UEFI media. This isn’t a big deal but I was disappointed by ASUS support when I contacted them to ask about this, since it’s shown as present in their documentation. They first replied with instructions on how to enable CSM after disabling Secure Boot and Fast Boot. I replied with screen shots showing that there’s still no CSM option in this BIOS after making those changes, and received an unhelpful reply that said to reset the BIOS with F9 (load optimized defaults) and F10 (save). After I did this and reported there was no change, there was no further response from ASUS support. To make matters worse, the downloads and manuals on the ASUS support site for this product repeatedly disappeared for hours at a time during my evaluation. The Seagate ST1000LX015 SSHD is a very poor choice for this laptop and hinders the performance in spite of all the other very fast components. I would expect many customers to return this laptop for this reason alone. This disk frequently causes the entire system to become sluggish, including lags in the touchpad movement. Part of this is due to the way Windows 10 likes to thrash the disk at 100% activity with processes that ought to run at a very low priority, but I have an older model of this disk (ST1000LM014) as the boot drive on another Windows 10 laptop and it’s perfectly usable there. This disk is noisier too, and the frequent seeking is audible and distracting. Seagate’s specifications show the newer disk as having 1 ms slower average access time. Comparing sequential read performance and access time on those two disks with HD Tune reflects this increase: ST1000LM014: 57.2 MB/s min, 114.1 MB/s max, 89.8 MB/s average; 19.4 ms average access time. ST1000LX015: 60.1 MB/s min, 137.2 MB/s max, 105.2 MB/s average; 20.8 ms average access time. Using h2testw to evaluate sequential write-then-read on 900 GB of free space on this disk, compared to the entire 1 TB of the older model, shows a dramatic decrease in write speed: ST1000LM014: 83.9 MB/s write, 87.0 MB/s read. ST1000LX015: 63.7 MB/s write, 86.5 MB/s read. This isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison but it strongly suggests there’s an issue with the disk performance. Fortunately, there’s an open slot for an M.2 SSD so you can move Windows to an SSD while keeping this slow SSHD as a data drive.

Overall Review: ASUS didn’t go overboard with unwanted software. I uninstalled two Candy Crush games, plus LinkedIn, OneDrive, and Skype which I think are bundled by Microsoft. At first boot I had to agree to McAfee’s terms to continue, but it didn’t seem to be installed, which is good. With the discrete GPU and 120-watt power adapter, I expected this laptop to be something of an energy hog. I was very wrong. At idle, with the screen on, it draws only 10 watts from the outlet. While surfing the web, the power would spike to 50 watts while Firefox was drawing a page, then fall back to about 12 watts. During an overnight ping test, the power dropped to just 5 watts after the display blanked. Of course, during CPU or GPU benchmarking or 3D gaming, the power used was much higher. The highest I ever observed was 123 watts while running the Gears of War 4 benchmark and charging a depleted battery. Running 8 threads in BOINC caused the laptop to draw a consistent 43 watts with the display off. It wasn’t long ago that 4 cores / 8 threads were only found in i7 series processors, and with IPC improvements this i5-8300H benchmarks faster than many recent i7 processors. About the only features not enabled on this processor are TSX-NI, which can accelerate certain memory accesses found in large multi-threaded database applications, and Trusted Execution Technology (TXT) which is more of an enterprise-level security feature and unlikely to be useful on a personal laptop. While researching this product I found that the 1050Ti is also considered a good entry-level GPU for those looking to get into “deep learning” (e.g. neural net) applications. The next step up in the NVIDIA family is the GeForce GTX 1060, a 120-watt part, which seems like overkill for a laptop. The built-in speakers have no bass at all, which is expected. A 100 Hz test tone is completely inaudible. The default display settings have scaling set to 125%, which makes text in older applications look blurry. At 100% everything is crisp but tiny. There are occasional loud pops from the speakers or headphones when a sound begins or ends. This is easily replicated with the built-in sample sounds. I don’t see this on my other Windows 10 computers. Web searches suggest that this problem is not specific to ASUS or to this particular laptop. People are blaming the Realtek driver, the NVIDIA driver, Windows fast startup, or some combination. I’d expect that this will eventually be fixed in a software update. Until then, headphone use can be very unpleasant. Although it’s not marketed for Linux use, I had to try anyway, and found that the touchpad didn’t work. Some cursory research indicated that it’s an Elan 1200 touchpad and that there are some workarounds that involve compiling a custom kernel. It may be supported with kernel version 4.19, which was just released. The 8 GB of RAM occupies one slot (mine has a PC4-21300 SK Hynix HMA81GS6CJRBN-UK) . The second slot is open for an easy and cheap upgrade to 16 GB. Other PassMark Performance Test 9.0 scores, in Balanced fan mode: 2D Mark (Intel UHD Graphics 630): 756 Memory Mark: 2206 Disk Mark: 607

11/15/2018
Most Critical Review

Versatile speaker, but not the best sound

Rosewill IPX4 Water-Resistant Portable Outdoor Bluetooth Speaker, Shock & Dust Protection, Bike Mount, FM Radio, Up to 30 Hours Playback, RW-SF5
Rosewill IPX4 Water-Resistant Portable Outdoor Bluetooth Speaker, Shock & Dust Protection, Bike Mount, FM Radio, Up to 30 Hours Playback, RW-SF5

Pros: There are separate left and right speakers. Looking at it from the front, there is one speaker on the top half of the left side, and another speaker on the bottom half of the right side. The bluetooth range is good. Indoors I got about twenty feet away before the sound started to break up. This was twice as far as my SoundPeats earbuds, and about five feet less than my Oontz Angle 3 Ultra speaker. I like that FM radio is available even if its a challenge to find your favorite station using only the up and down buttons without a display. Since theres no external antenna, only strong stations are usable. Playing music from a micro SD card worked fine. This is another good option if you just want portable music without having to keep your phone nearby. Like the radio, its not very easy to navigate among tracks or folders without a display so I wouldnt put an overabundance of music on the card. In case its not clear from the product details, a micro SD card is not included. The manual states that up to 32 GB is supported, and thats what I used. The power bank function worked well. My phone showed 960 mA of charge current from the speaker, which is close to the specified 1 A. The USB port is recessed but most cables should fit. The honk sounds, available only using the remote, are very good. The remote is useful but limited to next/previous, pause/play, and the horn. The claimed 80 - 20000 Hz response is about right on the low end. I tested with tones from 20 Hz to 100 Hz and found that tones below 70 Hz were totally inaudible, while 70 to 100 Hz were audible but very attenuated. There is a rubber pad included but there are no instructions for how youre supposed to use it. It looks like it fits over the bottom of the bike mount but there are no holes in it for the screws. I presume you cut your own holes and use this pad to protect the finish of whatever is under the mount, or use the pad for friction when using straps to attach the mount instead of screws.

Cons: I found the sound quality to be rather disappointing, like a low-end clock radio. Compared to my Oontz speaker of about the same size and weight, this speaker lacks both clarity and bass. There is also a hiss present while music is playing, clearly audible during a songs fade-in and fade-out. Using a USB connection to write to the micro SD card installed in the speaker was extremely slow. An 88 MB album took 2 minutes 15 seconds to write, for an average speed of 0.65 MB/s. I measured 13.2 MB/s writing to the same micro SD card before I installed it in the speaker, so I know the card isnt the bottleneck. The aux-in port is not a standard 1/8. The same micro-USB port which is used for charging or USB data transfer is also used as the aux-in port, so you cant charge at the same time youre using aux-in. A short micro-USB to 1/8 cable is provided. The speaker makes unnecessarily loud sounds when there are events like power on or off, bluetooth connect or disconnect, or charge port on or off. I found that the port covers needed a small screwdriver to pry open. I was never able to get them open with my fingernails. If you use the remote, the port cover over the remote jack is also what covers the micro SD slot, so I assume this invalidates at least some of the IPX4 water resistance.

Overall Review: If sound quality is important to you, I think there are better choices in this price range. If the features and versatility are more important to you, this speaker has a fairly unique combination and it feels like a well built product.

Writes are so slow I thought the drive was defective

TOSHIBA 4TB Canvio Advance Portable External Hard Drive USB 3.0 Model HDTCA40XK3CA Black
TOSHIBA 4TB Canvio Advance Portable External Hard Drive USB 3.0 Model HDTCA40XK3CA Black

Pros: Sequential reads are very fast, averaging 104.38 MB/s over the entire 4 TB drive.

Cons: Write speeds are very inconsistent. While writing the drive will frequently hang or slow to a crawl for several seconds. I cancelled my first two write tests because I thought the drive was defective and I would have to return it. The average write speed was 15.79 MB/s over the entire 4 TB drive.

Overall Review: I have around ten portable 2.5" drives that I use for on- and off-site backups. Most are Western Digital 1 to 4 TB, with a couple of Toshiba 1 to 2 TB. None of them behave like this. Maybe all the new 2.5" drives are this slow due to SMR? I found myself needing temporary storage and bought this 4 TB on sale without doing any research, and that's my fault, but I'm going to try another WD next time.

Fast, capable, and energy-efficient gaming laptop

ASUS FX705GM-NH74 17.3" IPS Intel Core i7 8th Gen 8750H NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 16 GB Memory 256 GB SSD 1 TB HDD Windows 10 Home 64-Bit Gaming Laptop -- ONLY @ NEWEGG
ASUS FX705GM-NH74 17.3" IPS Intel Core i7 8th Gen 8750H NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 16 GB Memory 256 GB SSD 1 TB HDD Windows 10 Home 64-Bit Gaming Laptop -- ONLY @ NEWEGG

Pros: This laptop has a lot going for it. It has a powerful CPU and GPU, a fast M.2 NVMe SSD, a large 2.5" disk drive, a great keyboard, and a beautiful display. A bouncy touchpad and defective key lighting on my sample are the main detractors. The Intel i7-8750H has 6 cores (12 threads), a large 9.0 MB L3 cache, and a maximum TDP of 45 watts. In this model ASUS has enabled the Optimus Intel/NVIDIA hybrid graphics for energy efficiency. This means the on-board Intel UHD Graphics 630 is used when the more powerful NVIDIA graphics processor is not required, which saves power and reduces heat. The downside is a small performance penalty in memory access when the system RAM is shared between the on-board graphics and the CPU. The NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 is a significant upgrade from the 1050 or 1050Ti, with 1280 CUDA cores (vs. 640 to 768) and a 192-bit memory interface (vs. 128-bit). However, it has a maximum TDP of 120 watts (vs. 75), which results in a a fair amount of heat when running the GPU flat out in 3D games or other GPU-accelerated applications. The 17.3" IPS display has a matte finish that doesn't show reflections. The colors look very true. It has an excellent brightness range; I was happy with the default brightness of 50%. Note that this is a 60 Hz panel, some FX705 models have a 144 Hz panel. The horizontal viewing angle is good; the display gets dimmer as you move off-center but the colors stay reasonably true. The vertical viewing angle is even wider and more forgiving. The case is attractive, with a gold backlit ASUS logo on the aluminum lid. Most of the laptop has a brushed finish which does a great job of hiding fingerprints or smudges. Windows is installed on the 256 GB NVMe drive, leaving the 1 TB disk free. The NVMe drive is a Western Digital model WDC PC SN520 SDAPNUW-256G-1002 (2280 form factor, PCIe Gen3 x 2 / NVMe 1.3). The sequential read performance is a little variable but extremely fast on average. HD Tune 2.55 showed a minimum of 111.2 MB/s, a maximum of 721.4 MB/s, and an average of 567.3 MB/s. Using h2test2 to write 150 GB of the remaining free space resulted in a sequential write speed of 341 MB/s. The 1 TB disk is a Toshiba MQ04ABF100 (5400 RPM, 128 MB cache). I found the performance to be reasonably good except for a consistent very slow read about 15% of the way into the disk. HD Tune reported sequential read speeds as 3.1 MB/s minimum, 134.5 MB/s maximum, and 107.9 MB/s average, with a 18.8 ms average access time. After installing games and other software, using h2testw to write 800 GB of the remaining disk space resulted in an overall 63.2 MB/s sequential write speed. The WiFi speed is good but much lower than the ASUS GL703GM-NS73 with the same Intel Wave 2 WiFi. I ran an iperf3 server on a fast desktop computer that is connected to an 802.11ac access point with wired gigabit ethernet, and measured 326 Mbit/s with this laptop about six feet from the access point (vs. 645 Mbit/s on the GL703), and 84.9 Mbit/s two rooms away (vs. 251 Mbit/s on the GL703). The wired ethernet port measured 946 Mbit/s. Both were solid throughout a week of suspend/resume and power cycling. The keyboard feels good, with adequate travel and a light tactile touch. The wider keys, like shift and the space bar, have the same feel all the way across. There are three brightness levels selected by hotkey. The default is maximum brightness, which is pleasant and not overly bright. Unfortunately, there is only a single color zone for the entire keyboard, with no possibility to assign different colors to individual keys or key regions. Keyboard colors and effects are configured using the Aura Core application. There are four effects available: static, breathing, strobe, and color changing. All but the latter allow you to choose a single RGB color. The keyboard lighting turns off after a minute of inactivity. The 16 GB of RAM occupies one of two slots. My sample has a Samsung M471A2K43CB1-CTD; according to the Samsung data sheet this is PC4-21300 DDR4 2667 MHz 2Rx8 1.2 V with CAS latency 19-19-19. MemTest86 V7.5 measured 13.55 GB/s, which includes the penalty for the shared memory used by the Intel graphics. For comparison, I measured 14.79 GB/s on the similar ASUS GL703GM-NS73, which does not use the Intel graphics. The HDMI output worked as it should. There were no problems extending the desktop onto a 2560x1080 external monitor. Audio also redirected to HDMI properly. Battery life was surprisingly good for a laptop of this size. Thirty minutes running a 3D aquarium depleted the battery from 100% to 95% (showing 6 hours 27 minutes remaining); a further 3 hours 40 minutes of streaming Netflix took the battery from 95% to 35% (showing 2 hours 3 minutes remaining). That's over four hours of light use with about 1/3 battery left.

Cons: The touchpad is very smooth but there is a tactile tap-to-click underneath that makes the whole pad feel bouncy. This tactile click is annoyingly loud. The surface of the touchpad shows every touch as a smudge unless your hands are recently washed. My review sample has defective key lighting. Two keys have no lighting at all and two keys are lit only on their left or right sides. This would require a return and exchange if I'd purchased this laptop, which is a significant inconvenience. While the laptop case feels sturdy in general, there is significant flex in the center of the keyboard that is not present on other laptops I've used, including those from ASUS. It didn't bother me while typing though. There are no dedicated keys for Home, End, PageUp, and PageDown. Those keys are only present on the numeric keypad and as such they are only available while num-lock is off. To make things more difficult, there’s no LED indicator for num-lock, you just have to try one of those keys to see what happens. I would have liked to see an SD card reader; surely there is room along the right or front side of the case. There is significant coil noise, particularly during disk access. The coil(s) are louder than the disk. The built-in speakers are not very loud and there is no bass. A 100 Hz test tone is inaudible. Speech is clear though. I found 60% to 80% volume to be comfortable for streaming Netflix with the laptop directly in front of me with some ambient noise, and 40% volume to be good while the house is silent. On two occasions, upon startup, there was a popup notification stating: "This scheme higher performance and more power savings. Recommended to keep default settings. (YES) (NO)" That's not valid grammar and it's not at all clear what changes would be made by selecting YES or NO. Connecting or disconnecting the power cable causes the screen to go blank and audio to drop for 1 to 3 seconds. I don't know what is happening during that time. I worry this could interfere with a running process if I should unplug in one room, move elsewhere, then plug in again. The 720p webcam is adequate for Skype but the image is grainy unless you are in good light. I think there is something not quite right about the BIOS' handling of the NVMe drive. In the "NVMe Configuration" screen the BIOS shows "No NVMe device found." However, the boot configuration correctly shows the Western Digital NVMe drive as the first choice. I don't know if this is related, but the two bootable Linux-based media that I tried (Knoppix and an Acronis rescue disk) both failed to detect the NVMe drive. At the time of writing this model costs $30 more than the ASUS GL703GM-NS73, which has a smaller NVMe drive but offers a 120 Hz display, faster WiFi, better sound, a USB-C port, two display outputs, higher memory performance (no shared memory), and a better touchpad.

Overall Review: ASUS didn’t go overboard with unwanted software although I'd prefer not to have McAfee pre-installed. There's no need to reinstall Windows to avoid software bloat -- and it was easy enough to uninstall McAfee WebAdvisor, McAfee LiveSafe, and McAfee Security. The cooling fans exhaust hot air mostly to the rear, with a small flow to the right side. At low speeds the fans make a pleasant soft sound with a faint midrange tone. At fast speeds there is a definite high-pitch whistle. There are three fan modes, selected by hotkey (Fn+F5): Balanced, Overboost, and Silent. Silent mode keeps the fan speeds low but imposes a significant performance penalty on the GPU. Overboost generates a lot more fan noise than Balanced for just a tiny bit more performance. I used PassMark Performance Test 9.0 to measure CPU and 3D GPU performance in each of the three fan modes, while watching the power consumption at the outlet: Silent: CPU Mark 11579, max power 68 W; 3D Mark 3288, max power 75 W. Balanced: CPU Mark 11922, max power 122 W; 3D Mark 8999, max power 132 W. Overboost: CPU Mark 12300, max power 123 W; 3D Mark 9081, max power 133 W. I used the Gears of War 4 built-in benchmark to evaluate GPU gaming performance in each of the three fan modes while watching the power consumption at the outlet, using the default quality settings (almost all set to ULTRA or HIGH): Silent: 28.7 fps, max power 78 W. Balanced: 59.5 fps (just under the panel refresh rate), max power 134 W. Overboost: 60.0 fps, max power 148 W. The case temperatures were a little high after running the Gears of War 4 benchmark for 30 minutes in Balanced mode. On the top side, the wrist rests were 80 F to 88 F, the left home keys were 97 F, the right home keys were 116 F, and around the power button was 121 F. On the bottom of the case, the hottest area was the corner near the right side exhaust vent at 130 F. The power consumption is much lower when not running performance tests or 3D games. Here are some power measurements for a variety of lighter loads, all with balanced fan mode: 86 watts running twelve BOINC CPU threads. 16 watts running h2testw sequential read/write test on the 1 TB disk. 15 watts running Marine Aquarium 3D. 12 watts idle in Windows desktop. 7 watts idle in Windows desktop with the display off (power saving). Other PassMark Performance Test 9.0 scores, in Balanced fan mode: 2D Mark: 793 Memory Mark: 2463 Disk Mark, C: 11941 Disk Mark, D: 931 The Western Digital NVMe did very well in the CrystalDiskMark test, using 1 GB chunks: Seq Q32T1: 1717.0 MB/s read, 1300.6 MB/s write 4KiB Q8T8: 780.9 MB/s read, 671.7 MB/s write 4KiB Q32T1: 315.1 MB/s read, 272.7 MB/s write 4KiB Q1T1: 40.10 MB/s read, 101.2 MB/s write

Highly capable desktop replacement or portable gaming rig

ASUS ROG Strix Scar Edition 17.3" 120 Hz GTX 1060 6 GB VRAM i7-8750H 16 GB Memory 128 GB PCIe SSD + 1 TB SSHD Windows 10 Home VR Ready Gaming Laptop - ONLY @ NEWEGG
ASUS ROG Strix Scar Edition 17.3" 120 Hz GTX 1060 6 GB VRAM i7-8750H 16 GB Memory 128 GB PCIe SSD + 1 TB SSHD Windows 10 Home VR Ready Gaming Laptop - ONLY @ NEWEGG

Pros: The powerful CPU and GPU, dual video outputs, and both M.2 and 2.5" storage bays make this a true desktop replacement. The Intel i7-8750H has 6 cores (12 threads), a large 9.0 MB L3 cache, and a maximum TDP of 45 watts. The on-board Intel UHD Graphics 630 are not used, which provides additional thermal headroom for turbo boost. Although the base clock is 2.20 GHz, under load the frequency was always at least 2.63 GHz, and that was after eight hours running 12 threads in Silent fan mode. I observed a maximum of 4.07 GHz in a single threaded application. The NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 is a significant upgrade from the 1050 series, with 1280 CUDA cores (vs. 640 to 768) and a 192-bit memory interface (vs. 128-bit). However, it has a maximum TDP of 120 watts (vs. 75), so expect some heat when running the GPU flat out in 3D games or other GPU-accelerated applications. Forgoing the Optimus Intel/NVIDIA hybrid graphics allowed ASUS to provide HDMI 2.0b which supports 4K @ 60p. (The on-board Intel GPU supports only up to HDMI 1.4.) The build quality is very good. It's a noticeable step up from the ASUS TUF FX notebook that I reviewed previously. The hinge is solid and the power, Ethernet, HDMI, and USB connectors feel very secure. The 17.3" display has a nice matte surface so it doesn’t reflect everything behind you and show every speck of dust. The colors are vivid and the black is deep. The brightness range is good; I found 75% of maximum brightness to my liking. I was skeptical that a 120 Hz refresh rate would be a noticeable change at all from 60 Hz and was surprised to see how much clearer 120 Hz is with moving objects. This is easily shown using the "UFO motion test" web page to scroll a fast-moving object at 120, 60, and 30 fps. At 30 fps the individual steps are perceptible so the motion is not smooth at all. With both 60 and 120 fps the steps are imperceptible and the motion appears equally smooth, but there is a lot of blur at 60 fps while the moving image is very sharp at 120 fps. Windows is installed on the 128 GB M.2 drive, leaving the 1 TB disk free. The M.2 drive is a Kingston RBU-SNS8154P3/128GJ (2280 form factor, PCIe Gen3 x2 / NVMe 1.2). After applying updates, Windows showed 58.4 GB free out of 118 GB total. After using Windows Storage Sense to remove previous versions of Windows, the free space increased to 84.4 GB. The sequential read performance is incredible. HD Tune 2.55 showed a minimum of 396.7 MB/s, a maximum of 504.1 MB/s, and an average of 480.0 MB/s. Using h2testw to write to 80 GB of the remaining free space resulted in a sequential write speed of 127 MB/s. Booting from power off to the Windows lock screen takes about 8 seconds. The 1 TB disk is a Seagate ST1000LX015-1U7172, which I'd previously panned for slow performance. I didn't have any problems with this one though, aside from the audible chatter when seeking. HD Tune reported sequential read speeds as 61.8 MB/s minimum, 134.3 MB/s maximum, and 105.4 MB/s average, with a 19.6 ms average access time. Using h2testw to write over the entire disk resulted in an overall 87.0 MB/s sequential write speed. The Wi-Fi speed is very good. I ran an iperf3 server on a fast desktop computer that is connected to an 802.11ac access point with wired gigabit ethernet, and measured 645 Mbit/s with this laptop about six feet from the access point, and 251 Mbit/s two rooms away. The wired ethernet port measured 948 Mbit/s. Both were solid throughout a week of suspend/resume and power cycling. The touchpad had some lags during the first three or four iterations of updates and reboots but it was perfectly smooth after that regardless of load. The keyboard feels good, with adequate travel and a light tactile touch. The wider keys, like shift and the space bar, have the same feel all the way across. There are dedicated keys for volume up, volume down, microphone mute, and the ROG Gaming Center application. There are three brightness levels selected by hotkey. The default color is a rainbow color shift, which ended up being my favorite despite the many other possibilities. Keyboard colors and effects are configured using the ROG Aura Core application. I expected the key colors to be individually programmable, but the finest control for static colors is four broad keyboard zones, with the colors blended from one zone to the next. The most fun effect is Music, where the lighting pulsates to the volume of the sound. The HDMI output worked as it should. There were no problems extending the desktop onto a 2560x1080 external monitor. Audio also redirected to HDMI properly.

Cons: The display looks great head-on but it has a narrow viewing angle, with noticeable color shifts appearing soon after moving off-center in both the horizontal and vertical planes. At idle there is an audible coil whine. It disappears under any load. While editing I was able to hear mouse movements in the coil which was a little annoying. There are no dedicated keys for PageUp and PageDown; they are on the numeric keypad’s 9 and 3 keys respectively. Surely on a 17" notebook there is room for a few more dedicated movement keys around the numeric keypad. As it stands, there’s no way to access PageUp and PageDown when num-lock is enabled. Speaking of which, there’s no LED indicator for num-lock. Caps-lock has an indicator on the key itself. The palm rest looks textured but in reality it's perfectly smooth and kind of a fingerprint magnet. The 720p camera images are a little grainy in indoor lighting, although perfectly adequate for Skype.

Overall Review: In normal use the fans are either off or very slow. The speed doesn't wander so it's easy to get used to the sound. At high fan speeds, there is a definite jet-engine whine with different tones from the CPU and GPU fans. The rear exhaust vents keep the heat air away from hands and workspace. There are three fan modes, selectable by hotkey (Fn+F5): Balanced, Overboost, and Silent. Silent mode keeps the fan speeds low with just a small performance penalty. Unless you’re gaming with headphones on, I’d recommend using Silent mode all the time. Overboost results in a significant increase in fan noise compared to Balanced for just a tiny bit more performance. I used PassMark Performance Test 9.0 to measure CPU and 3D GPU performance in each of the three fan modes, while watching the power consumption at the outlet and recording the maximum CPU temperature with CoreTemp: Silent: CPU Mark 11657, max power 116 W, max CPU temp 86 C; 3D Mark 9278, max power 101 W. Balanced: CPU Mark 12106, max power 122 W, max CPU temp 91 C; 3D Mark 10344, max power 131 W. Overboost: CPU Mark 12127, max power 124 W, max CPU temp 88 C; 3D Mark 10443, max power 136 W. I used the Gears of War 4 built-in benchmark to evaluate GPU gaming performance in each of the three fan modes while watching the power consumption at the outlet: Silent: 71.7 fps, max power 114 W. Balanced: 85.5 fps, max power 153 W. Overboost: 85.8 fps, max power 158 W. For comparison, a similar laptop with the GTX 1050 Ti benchmarked at 59.8 fps. The power consumption is more reasonable when not running performance tests or 3D games. Here are some power measurements for a variety of lighter loads: 84 watts running twelve BOINC threads at 3.10 GHz (Overboost fan mode). 81 watts running twelve BOINC threads at 3.00 GHz (Balanced fan mode). 65 watts running twelve BOINC threads at 2.63 GHz (Silent fan mode). 54 watts running two BOINC threads at 4.00 GHz. 42 watts running one BOINC thread at 4.07 GHz. 31 watts running Marine Aquarium 3D (silent fan mode). 22 watts idle in Windows desktop (processor at about 1.0 GHz). 10 watts idle in Windows desktop with the display off (power saving). Case temperatures were slightly higher in Silent mode than the others. After running 12 threads in BOINC overnight at 68 F ambient temperature, the left wrist rest was 73 F, the right wrist rest was 69 F, and most of the keyboard was between 85 F and 90 F. The hottest key was "F5" at 104 F and the hottest surface was the top vent at 115 F. The case bottom was remarkably cool, with most areas between 77 F and 84 F, reaching 93 F around the intake vents. Battery life is as expected for a laptop of this size and performance. One hour of editing in LibreOffice took the battery from 97% down to 70%, with Windows showing 2 hours 13 minutes of battery life remaining. Gaming sound is very good. As one might expect, the built-in speakers are mediocre for music, although there is more bass response than many other laptops. A 100 Hz test tone is very attenuated relative to higher frequencies but is audible without distortion. Music at 30% volume is about conversation level loudness. Movie dialog is clean and fills the room at 80% volume but the overall sound is treble-heavy and a little thin. There are no clicks or pops when audio starts or stops. There is a single 1/8” audio jack. When I plug in my headphones, there is a pop-up prompt to select mic in or headphone. The sound quality is excellent. I found 20% volume to be plenty loud with my over-the-head headphones. ASUS didn’t go overboard with unwanted software although I'd prefer not to have McAfee pre-installed. There's no need to reinstall Windows to avoid software bloat -- and it was easy enough to uninstall McAfee WebAdvisor, McAfee LiveSafe, and McAfee Security. The 16 GB of RAM occupies one slot (mine has a PC4-21300 DDR4 2667 MHz SK Hynix HMA82GS6CJR8N-VK). The second slot is open for an easy upgrade to 32 GB and dual channel speed. MemTest86 V7.5 measured 14.79 GB/s which is very good for a single channel. For comparison my i5-3360M with two channels of DDR3-1333 measured 15.07 GB/s. Although it’s not marketed for Linux use, I booted into a Live distribution just to see. Everything I tried worked as expected: the touchpad, display, storage, USB ports -- all fine. Other PassMark Performance Test 9.0 scores, in Balanced fan mode: 2D Mark: 832 Memory Mark: 2485 Disk Mark, C: 7965 Disk Mark, D: 734

11/26/2018

Fast and nearly silent high capacity laptop storage

Toshiba L200 2TB Laptop PC Internal Hard Drive 5400 RPM SATA 6Gb/s 128MB Cache 2.5 inch 9.5mm Height - HDWL120XZSTA (RETAIL PACKAGE)
Toshiba L200 2TB Laptop PC Internal Hard Drive 5400 RPM SATA 6Gb/s 128MB Cache 2.5 inch 9.5mm Height - HDWL120XZSTA (RETAIL PACKAGE)

Pros: This drive arrives nicely cushioned in small retail box. It's very quiet. In open air there is a barely audible tick when seeking. When installed in a laptop, it's nearly silent. Temperatures are very reasonable. SMART indicated a maximum temperature of 43 degrees C reached during testing in open air. After a week of use in a laptop, this maximum remained 43 degrees C. While evaluating this drive, I ran the same tests on a few other drives for comparison: Seagate 1 TB 3.5" SSHD 7200 RPM / 8 GB, model ST1000DX002 Seagate 1 TB 2.5" SSHD 5400 RPM / 8 GB, model ST1000LM014 Seagate 1 TB 2.5" 5400 RPM, model ST1000LM024 Samsung 500 GB 2.5" 7200 RPM, model HM500JJ Toshiba 160 GB 2.5" 7200 RPM, model MK1656GSY Sandisk 500 GB SSD, model SDSSDH3-500G For sequential read/write evaluation I prefer benchmarks that measure the entire surface of the disk. HD Tune's min/max results show the difference between the faster (outer) tracks and the slower (inner) tracks of the disk while reading: This drive: 66.7 MB/s min, 150.3 MB/s max, 115.7 MB/s average. Seagate 1 TB 3.5" SSHD: 93.7 MB/s min, 195.4 MB/s max, 162.0 MB/s average. Seagate 1 TB 2.5" SSHD: 57.2 MB/s min, 114.1 MB/s max, 89.8 MB/s average. Seagate 1 TB 2.5": 50.8 MB/s min, 112.7 MB/s max, 86.7 MB/s average. Samsung 500 GB 2.5": 53.6 MB/s min, 99.4 MB/s max, 79.0 MB/s average. Toshiba 160 GB 2.5": 36.0 MB/s min, 74.1 MB/s max, 58.1 MB/s average. Sandisk 500 GB SSD: 313.1 MB/s min, 401.6 MB/s max, 335.2 MB/s average. This drive outperformed all the other 2.5" spinning disks by a considerable margin, with average speed over 25 MB/s higher than the second fastest. The average access time across the entire disk as reported by HD Tune: This drive: 15.6 ms. Seagate 1 TB 3.5" SSHD: 14.0 ms. Seagate 1 TB 2.5" SSHD: 19.4 ms. Seagate 1 TB 2.5": 19.5 ms. Samsung 500 GB 2.5": 15.5 ms. Toshiba 160 GB 2.5": 16.7 ms. Sandisk 500 GB SSD: 0.1 ms. Although this drive spins at 5400 RPM, the average access time nearly matched the fastest 7200 RPM 2.5" drive in this test.

Cons: To evaluate write performance I wiped the disks and ran h2testw, which writes and reads all available space and reports the average speed of each: This drive: 68.7 MB/s write, 111 MB/s read. Seagate 1 TB 3.5" SSHD: 153 MB/s write, 152 MB/s read. Seagate 1 TB 2.5" SSHD: 83.9 MB/s write, 87.0 MB/s read. Seagate 1 TB 2.5": 79.0 MB/s write, 82.8 MB/s read. Samsung 500 GB 2.5": 72.2 MB/s write, 76.6 MB/s read. Toshiba 160 GB 2.5": 53.7 MB/s write, 55.6 MB/s read. Sandisk 500 GB SSD: 276 MB/s write, 290 MB/s read. Again we see the this drive's read performance is much faster than the other 2.5" spinning disks, but the write performance is a little worse than most. The two-year warranty is underwhelming for a laptop drive at this price point. For comparison, the 2.5" Seagate FireCuda SSHD carries a five year warranty.

Overall Review: Just a note of caution, be aware that the anti-static bag isn't sealed or even taped shut. At least I was able to catch the drive before it hit anything solid. :-)

10/15/2018