ASUS ROG STRIX GL502VT review — svelte gaming beast
+ Relatively portable at 2.2kg while also quite slim at 23.5mm thin
+ Solid build quality consisting mainly of aluminium
+ Aggressive design cues
+ Bundled ROG Sica mouse
+ Good performance from the CPU and GPU
+ Comfortable keyboard with good tactile feedback
+ ASUS ROG software suite is top-notch
+ Large variety of I/O options
+ Audio pumped out of the speakers is decent
+ 4K IPS display is vivid and super sharp
- Bright orange WASD cluster makes the keyboard look cheap
- Storage is slow for a gaming laptop in 2016
- Cooling performance leaves more to be desired
- 4K display is overkill when paired with the GTX 970M
- 4K display causes annoying scaling issues
- Pascal GPU refresh is definitely in the works
Gaming machines are often big and chunky to accommodate the massive cooling systems needed to keep those high performance parts cool. Some manufacturers give us more portable gaming notebooks by working up feats of engineering to cram the powerful hardware and the necessary cooling into thinner bodies. Ladies and gentlemen, the ASUS ROG STRIX GL502 is a perfect example of such an attempt. Without further ado, let’s take a closer look.
The ASUS ROG STRIX GL502 comes in a grey and black package, with the STRIX logo stylized colorfully. There isn’t any mention of the model name here, and we do hope this will be the only gaming laptop that will come out under the ASUS ROG STRIX series, or else there will be some real confusion later.
Opening up the box, the laptop is wrapped in a white fabric sleeve. The ROG emblem stares at you as you lift the ASUS ROG STRIX GL502VT out of the box. Pretty cool, as few products actually decorate the inner surfaces of their packaging. And since I really like the aggressive look of the ROG emblem, I do like seeing more of it.
Taking out the ASUS ROG STRIX GL502VT from the box, and under it there are a few compartments which stow the included ASUS ROG Sica gaming mouse as well as the usual documentation and power adapter. ASUS even included a cable tie to help you do some rudimentary cable management. Cool.
The charger is capable of supplying up to 180W of power, which is more than enough for the ASUS ROG STRIX GL502VT even when its running at full tilt. The power brick itself is quite chunky, but that is a sacrifice you have to make when you want it to be capable to to feed 180W of power.
This is the first laptop that I have unboxed with a mouse inside, and you can’t say that I am not excited to find one. It is actually quite basic, but how often do you find a gaming mouse bundled with your gaming laptop in the box? Nice touch ASUS, great to have a ROG mouse to match the ASUS ROG gaming laptop.
Starting with the top lid, it is finished in black brushed aluminium, which is a real fingerprint magnet. As you can see in this image, there are quite a few fingerprints along the top edge too. It is not to say they aren’t removable, but they do take quite a lot of effort to buff fingerprints off the surface. Only to get them again the next time you touch the ASUS ROG GL502VT. Bummer. And I dare say you will touch it quite a lot as it felt pretty great to run my hand over the brushed aluminium finishing. The ASUS ROG logo and two accents are backlit, but even with the laptop off they have some kind of fluorescent characteristic, causing me some confusion when I first unboxed it.
The built-in keyboard is flanked by nice engraved lines that gives it a sleeker appearance compared to flat aluminium. The brushed aluminium finishing is continued here, which is quite a bad decision considering how easily it collects fingerprints. The WASD cluster on the keyboard is highlighted in bright orange, but in my opinion it makes it look cheap. They could have gone with the same color but a different texture on the keycaps if they really wanted to make it easier for gamers to find the WASD cluster. A gamer who has to look at his keyboard doesn’t deserve to be called a gamer.
On the under side, lines are engraved into the plastic cover, continuing the theme we saw on the surface surrounding the keyboard. The bottom cover actually seems to share its general look with the ASUS ROG G752‘s bottom cover but it doesn’t have the black glossy plastic panel. The rubber grips are quite sizeable and are bright orange. Little slits serve as vents to keep the innards cool. The bottom looks very cool too, but sadly I can’t see more of it when I was testing it. Perhaps I should get a glass table simply to be able to see more of this…
Just look at how thin this laptop is! It can almost qualify as an ultrabook in terms of thickness! ASUS also did a great job here by coloring the heatsinks orange, making for a very attractive look when viewed from the rear. This is not a view you as the user will get to enjoy, but at least you can make your friends go green with envy.
Along the front edge are three status LEDs, one each for the power status, battery status and HDD activity. I wonder why ASUS didn’t try to make this edge more interesting with grilles or more orange accents, as this is the view you see the most of anyway.
|CPU||Intel Core i7-6700HQ @ 2.6 GHz (up to 3.5 GHz Turbo Boost)|
|RAM||16GB (1 x 8GB SODIMM + 8GB on-board) 2133 MHz DDR4|
|GPU||Intel HD Graphics 530|
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970M 6GB GDDR5
|Storage||256GB Sandisk X300 M.2 SATA3 SSD|
1TB 5400RPM SATA3 HDD
|Software||Microsoft Windows 10 Home|
372.70 WHQL NVIDIA Game Ready Driver
ROG Gaming Center
|Connectivity||Intel(R) Dual Band Wireless-AC 8260|
3 x USB 3.0
1 x USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type C (5 Gbps)
SD card reader
|Display||15.6″ FHD IPS (1920 x 1080) anti-glare display|
1 x HDMI
1 x mini Display Port
|Audio||2 speakers by ASUS SonicMaster Premium Technology|
1 x 3.5mm combo audio port
|Power||180W AC adapter, 4-cell battery (non-removable)|
|Dimensions||390 x 266 x 23.5 mm|
So we all know now that the ASUS ROG STRIX GL502VT is a svelte gaming notebook at 23.5mm. But it can’t be a true gaming laptop if all it does is look good. So let’s get down to performance.
The ASUS ROG STRIX GL502VT features an M.2 SSD slot which supports M.2 PCIe SSDs, but the one we are testing was supplied with a M.2 SATA3 SSD. M.2 SATA3 SSDs are usually just as fast as 2.5″ SSDs, as the Transcend MTS800 256GB M.2 SATA3 SSD has proven, but sadly the one here is actually pretty slow. It was nice that ASUS packs a 256GB SSD in the ASUS ROG STRIX GL502VT, but the write speeds here are actually pretty dismal. Read speeds are fine though, and as read speeds influence the gaming experience more than write speeds, this is somewhat forgivable.
Does ASUS have a fetish with slow storage? This is one of the slowest hard disk drives I have tested. I made the mistake of installing my Steam games in the hard disk instead of loading them into the SSD, and I was the last person to load into a public game of DOTA 2. Considering that the other players most probably do not own a ROG laptop, this is totally unacceptable. How can we proudly proclaim to be a member of the Republic of Gamers when our system loads the game slower than non-ROG setups?
CPU performance is about normal for an Intel Core i7 6700HQ, and the cooling system kept it pretty cool.
NVIDIA’s GeForce GTX 970M may not be the latest mobile GPU out there right now, but it is still a pretty capable little chip.
Starting off with the newest game in my library, Overwatch is not exactly graphically intensive but it is surely fun to play. At the native resolution, gameplay was quite bad, and tearing was apparent on the display. 1080p is where the ASUS ROG STRIX GL502VT is more comfortable at, delivering more than 60 fps for a proper gaming experience.
DOTA 2 is quite easy on the hardware, with even lower mid-range hardware capable of playable frame rates. The GTX 970M is capable of pushing a nice average of 53 fps at 4K, which is pretty playable actually. Not great, but playable. However the CPU began to throttle at 93°C, not really something I expected to see on an ASUS ROG laptop. Dropping the resolution to 1080p yields more than double the frame rate.
Yet another popular title which doesn’t really need that much graphics horsepower to play, the ASUS ROG STRIX GL502VT shows that the GTX 970M inside is quite capable of pushing playable frame rates even at 4K in CS:GO. At 1080p we get 153 fps, along with a serious reduction in temperatures for both the CPU and GPU.
The Witcher 3 is where the GTX 970M is barely capable of a good experience. With all the graphics turned up, it only delivered 24 fps. At 1080p. So don’t ask me why didn’t I test 4K, because I am not interested in sitting through a slideshow. I think we would need the next-gen Pascal notebook GPUs to be able to play this game on a notebook with all the graphics options turned on and also enjoy a smooth frame rate. Reducing the graphics should yield better results, but then this is a game that really deserves to be experienced in all its graphical glory.
After noticing that it throttled in DotA 2, I opened up the bottom cover. After removing all the screws, all I had to do was carefully pop off the fastening clips that hold the bottom cover together. The cooling system seems to be more than adequate with two heatpipes running from end to end with the dual fan system. ASUS’ claims their Hyper Cool Duo-Copper cooling system keeps the GPU and CPU cool independently, but it doesn’t seem effective enough. Maybe ASUS just didn’t manage enough of an engineering feat to pack a high performance GPU like the GTX 970M into a 23.5mm thin chassis?
The premium aluminium build of the ASUS ROG STRIX GL502VT is great to look at and also caress when not doing anything. The lid does flex a little when you attempt to twist it, but it does not sink in like certain MSI laptops. Despite featuring a solid build, the ASUS ROG STRIX GL502VT is also the lightest gaming laptop I have reviewed at 2.2kg. This makes it pretty portable and considering the performance it packs, I can’t complain.
The ASUS ROG STRIX GL502VT sports orange backlit keys, with a 1.6mm travel. Despite the colorful stylized STRIX text, the keyboard does not feature RGB backlighting. It also features a little nub on the W key to help you easily find the WASD cluster by touch. Typing on it was comfortable, but it doesn’t feel all that different from any other laptop’s keyboard. The keyboard also doesn’t heat up to uncomfortable levels during gaming, which is really great considering the temperatures we saw during the gaming tests. As you can see here, the power button is also a part of the keyboard, with the same tactile scissor switch as the other keys. The ROG key is a shortcut to the ROG Gaming Center overlay, which aims to enhance your gaming experience.
From here you get to check system information, set up hotkeys for faster in-game commands, adjust audio settings, or record gameplay, all from from a single dashboard. It looks really cool and also offers shortcuts to the other utilities like Splendid which allows you to adjust your display according to your usage, ROG Audio Wizard which is a great piece of software allowing for extensive tuning.
At first glance it doesn’t offer much, with the different modes offering a different sound signature to enhance your experience, but when you click that little gear up there in the right corner, what you get is a different ball game altogether.
With the ability to adjust every frequency you want, even applying high and low shelving, high pass or low pass modes. I didn’t spend too much time here, but I am very sure if I spent more time on this, I could get the perfect sound signature for my pair of headphones.
GameFirst IV is ASUS’ own network priority manager. This is done in-house, while most other manufacturers turn to Killer and their suite for this. You can apply speed limiters, set higher priorities to games and other software for a smoother online gaming experience.
Audio is pumped out of these little slits located on both sides of the laptop. Do not be fooled by their diminutive size, as the audio output is decent. While ASUS didn’t include a subwoofer, the lower frequencies are not totally non-existent.
Regarding the I/O, the ASUS ROG STRIX GL502VT offers up a nice variety. On the right, you get the round charger port, Gigabit LAN port, a mini DisplayPort, a HDMI port, a USB 3.0 Type-A port and also a Type-C USB 3.1 Gen 1 port that offers up to 5 Gbps bandwidth. This is not a ThunderBolt 3 port, so you won’t be able to add an external GPU.
Two more USB 3.0 ports are located on the right, flanked by a 3.5mm combo audio jack and a SD card reader. The Kensington slot is also here on the right. With everything ranging from a USB Type-C port to a mini DisplayPort, it is difficult to ask for more. Perhaps a USB Type-C port with support for the ThunderBolt 3 standard?
The 4K IPS display is pretty great, with deep colors and dark blacks. Wide viewing angles are standard on any IPS display, so we do not need to highlight it anymore. However as usual for 4K displays on Windows 10, you are bound to run into some kind of scaling issue.
Right here we have Dukto R6 and the ROG Armoury which is the driver software for the ROG Sica mouse that is bundled with the ASUS ROG STRIX GL502VT. Both have user interfaces that are unbearably small to use. While I understand this is neither ASUS’ nor Microsoft’s fault, 4K gaming really isn’t all that viable yet. Especially not on a NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970M. It looks good when surfing and navigating through Windows, but that’s about it.
The ROG Sica gaming mouse is an ambidextrous gaming mouse. It is pretty basic in terms of features, with no side buttons or DPI switch button. The cable is non-braided while the USB connector is gold-plated.
The ROG emblem on its butt is illuminated in none other than the signature red of the brand. Mayan patterns adorn both sides of the mouse, offering aesthetics while being nice to touch as well. While it looks pretty basic on its outside, it actually sports easy-swap switch sockets to easily replace the Omron switches when they die out, or if you desire a different click sensation. The sensor is the pretty ubiquitous 5000 DPI PMW3310 optical sensor, that’s adjustable in increments of 50 DPI for fine-tuning your preferred sensitivity.
Despite the rather basic mouse, the ROG Armoury driver software is about as comprehensive as it gets, even allowing you to change the button assignment and customize the ROG emblem’s lighting too.
The ASUS ROG STRIX GL502VT is a very appealing gaming laptop. Aside from the impractical 4K display and the limited cooling performance, it is actually perfect for those who need an actual portable gaming laptop and not a desktop replacement. While the storage built into our sample was some of the poorest we have seen, the ASUS ROG STRIX GL502VT actually supports M.2 PCIe NVMe SSDs, so if you really want more speed, you can go down that route. The ASUS ROG STRIX GL502VT has an SRP of RM6999, quite a sum considering it is now packing a past-gen GPU. Perhaps wait for the Pascal-refreshed GL502?