Like a bat out of (a slightly cooler) hell: ASUS ROG GL552V review

I need to give a disclaimer off the bat (there it is again): I haven’t played a PC game in well over 2 years, since before the birth of my daughter. The little tyke just sucks up so much time! I love her to bits but, free time is not something I have a lot of. I’ve been able to sink a fair bit of time into mobile games and have managed to finish a console game here and there (looking at you Assassin’s Creed Syndicate) but, PC gaming has eluded me.

No, my friend, I put this beast through its paces and it just smiled and asked for more

So, it was an absolute delight when my friends at threesixoh gave me the opportunity to review one of ASUS’s new gaming laptops, the ASUS GL552V. This is not just a laptop with a fancy shell and a few stickers that could squeeze a few playable pixels at a decent framerate in modern games, it forms part of ASUS’s ROG line, Republic of Gamers. That means proper gaming on the fly, not trying to make a machine play games it wasn’t meant to which means you end up with games looking like something from the 90’s.

No, my friend, I put this beast through its paces and it just smiled and asked for more. It’s not without a little niggle here or there, but we’ll get to that. First up, design.

Good bone structure, but a lot of make-up

You can see the designers put a lot of thought into the detail. Small things like the WASD keys which have red edges, the mouse USB dongle that is shaped angularly to resemble the mouse itself and the Mayan-inspired line graphics that adorn the top third of the base above the keyboard.

These guys wanted to make the machine look the part, and for the most part, they succeeded admirably. It looks fantastic in a darkened room when the keyboard lights up in an ominous red glow with the ROG logo pulsing ever so slowly on the back end of the mouse.

These days in design, however, touch is as important as looks. Thank Apple for that. Visually the laptop looks great when you start using it however it becomes clear the materials used are of a more common variety. Regular plastics with a little soft touch finishing is as good as it gets, the machine doesn’t have a premium feel to it and there is no metal used in the casing (was hoping for a little carbon fibre!). You do have the option to spec your machine with a gray metal chassis, but unless you want your machine to feel like an F-22 fighter jet (which ASUS says was the inspiration for this design), the makeup does the trick!

Guts and glory

This bad boy packs a punch with only 2 niggles that I’ll address. The GL552V comes armed with an Intel Core i7 Skylake CPU and a dedicated Nvidia GTX960M GPU (2GB or 4GB flavours, my machine was fitted with the 2GB model) that provide the grunt you’ll need to play any current game at its highest graphical settings. You’ll be able to run a game, an open browser with a few tabs and just about any other app you can think of and it wouldn’t break a sweat. In terms of pure processing and graphic shunt, it won’t disappoint.

Now for this review, I purchased Dark Souls III, From Software’s latest sadistic action RPG, as well as Game Workshop’s seminal Warhammer-inspired Total War iteration, developed by Creative Assembly. I chose these games specifically because they would push both the CPU and GPU so I could get a good feel for what you’d get for a large wad of cash.

These two games totalled an install size of just over 60GB, enormous! Here’s where the first niggle came in, my machine was specced with the 1TB mechanical drive (a normal hard drive as we’ve known them for decades). To install these two behemoths took almost 4 hours, excluding the required downloads through Steam to update and patch the games. Sure, Steam does allow you to start playing prior to full installation, but you will take a hit on performance if you do that. My suggestion would be to spec your machine with the optional SSD (solid state drives) and go for the 256GB to ensure you have enough space for game installs and get an external drive to make back-ups and store photos, documents and videos.

The second frown-inducing moment came when I fired up Dark Souls. I went through the initial setup, which basically entailed slamming the sliders to Max, Ultra or whatever the highest graphic settings were and then jumped into the intro video sequence and finally, the introductory tutorial. Something didn’t look right. I couldn’t put my finger on it for a few minutes and then it came to me. It was the screen, I had set the brightness and contrast but everything was a little fuzzy.

Now, day-to-day, I work on a 2015 MacBook Pro with a Retina screen. So this is on me. I have gotten so used to ultra-sharp screens, that a screen with a matte finish looked dim. Now this screen is no slouch: Full HD 15.6” IPS panel with a 178-degree viewing angle. The matte finish is supposed to eliminate glare, and it does, but to my eyes, it looked a little… off.

So I’m probably the wrong guy to comment on the screen, it’ll come down to personal taste and most of the time the laptop will be hooked up to an external screen for optimum gaming. I did just that and hooked up the laptop, through the HDMI port, to a 32” screen which was more to my personal preference.

A nice surprise was the built-in speakers. Normally laptops suffer from a rather tinny sound, while you’ll not rattle the windows with bass, these puppies provide good sound that won’t distract or irritate.

To fill out the CPU, GPU, hard drive options and screen you can add up to 32GB of RAM (mine was specced with 8GB which is more than sufficient), a DVD-drive (you can opt for Blu-Ray writer or Blu-Ray/DVD combo drive), HD webcam, wi-fi and Bluetooth, a card reader and enough USB’s (including a USB type-C to futureproof your purchase) to power the average home.

Talking about futureproofing, ASUS made it dead easy to upgrade your purchase through neat slide-off upgrade panels to reach the hard drive bay and RAM easier.

Crunching numbers and pushing polygons

On to the pudding then. All I can say is that you won’t have any issues with current generation games. I threw the kitchen sink at this machine and it didn’t flinch.

Dark Souls is the graphics card punisher and it was buttery smooth through vast open sections, cramped dungeons and epic boss battles and handled it all with ease. With all the settings on Max and the bells and whistles turned on, I didn’t see a single frame skip or hitch.

My second choice of game, Total War: Warhammer, was chosen for the stress it would place on other hardware, not just the graphics card. With hundreds of enemies on-screen and a lot of zooming in-and-out from ground-level to overseeing the battle map, again this machine proved its mettle and didn’t stutter even once.

What this means for you is that any game to be released this year, or the past 2 years, won’t pose any problems for the ASUS GL552V. I looked at the recommended specs for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt as well, seeing that it was THE graphics card basher in 2015. This laptop would’ve handled it with ease as its recommended specs were just below that of Dark Souls III.

Nvidia and AMD are releasing a slew of new cards this year, with the first King of the Pixels, the GTX 1080, already available at the price of a desktop rig. The GTX 1070 seems to be a good buy at a more wallet-friendly price point and the soon to be released (at the time of writing this review) GTX 1060 seems will be the perfect price-performance buy.

With the GL552V you should be good for a number of years, even as graphics card manufacturers churn out their latest and greatest.

Verdict

As someone with a lot of desktop and console gaming under my belt, I was mightily impressed with how this laptop performed and can with confidence recommend this machine to anyone that’s looking to have the duality of a portable productivity and gaming machine in one setup. While not a light load, it’s easier than lugging your desktop to a LAN or on holiday.

It’s relatively future proof on the processing and graphics sides and includes USB Type-C connectivity and the easy upgrade panels will allow you to beef up your machine to give it more legs.

Now if you’ll excuse me, the little one is asleep and my army general has upset a noble who’s looking for a fight. I’m happy to oblige…