Gigabyte Aero 16 review: A workstation that can (sort of) game

Gigabyte’s Aero is a model the company has long touted as a maker-specific line. I’ve always been a bit skeptical there. Gigabyte is widely known as a gaming company, and Aero models, despite their branding, don’t look too different from the company’s Aorus gaming range. Outside of Dell’s XPS line, Windows-based “creator laptops” are typically known as gaming laptops in a slightly smaller and less RGB-laden chassis.

This particular Aero makes sense as a device best bought by workers who have heavier tasks in their workload or who want to play games here and there. Sure, it has a nice OLED display that reaches 400 nits of brightness and covers 100 percent of the sRGB gamut, 98 percent of Adobe RGB and 98 percent of P3. The understated aluminum chassis is suitable for the office. But it also has Intel’s flagship processor, which is quite capable when it comes to creative work, and Nvidia’s best mobile GPU. That’s a setup best used by people who want the best CPU they can get, but may not need the GPU as often.

Now here’s the problem: the model I got is $4,399. This device is nearly $2,000 more expensive than the most expensive model of the ROG Zephyrus G15, my current top recommendation for gaming laptops. It’s even slightly more expensive than a comparable 16-inch MacBook Pro, a common choice for creative professionals.

So, spoiler alert: makers who buy the MacBook Pro will find it better than the Aero in many ways (mainly battery life and fan noise). But beyond its powerful Alder Lake processor, which is certainly competitive with the M1 chips in raw CPU performance, there’s one key area where the Aero is way ahead: gaming. If you’re looking for a device that can approach MacBook productivity while also serving as a gaming option, the Aero is one place to turn your attention.

The Aero model I got has a Core i9-12900HK, a GeForce RTX 3080 Ti (with 105W TDP, which is on the low side), 32GB RAM, 3TB storage, a 99WHr battery, and a UHD AMOLED screen. This is the most expensive model I could find. I’ve also seen a Core i7/RTX 3070 Ti/16GB/1TB SKU floating around for $2,349.99. I can imagine there are many people for whom Aero will be a better deal, but as is my consistent policy I will only review the configuration I have.

Chassis-wise, the Aero is 5.07 pounds and 0.88 inches thick. It’s pretty well built, with little flex to be found and a nice silver finish that doesn’t smudge or scratch easily. While it’s nowhere near as thin as build-quality titans like the Razer Blade 17 or the MacBook Pro, it feels more portable than the average bulky 16-incher you’ll find in the gaming world.

The lid has a bit of a lip where the front camera resides, an area where Gigabyte has gone in a different direction than notch-loving companies like Apple. While this lip may look odd in photos, it quickly faded into the background during my Aero testing and didn’t affect my life in any way.

Gigabyte Aero 16 keyboard seen from above on a black table.

The body is CNC aluminum alloy.

The Gigabyte Aero 16 speakers.

The Aero includes “virtual 7.1-channel surround sound innovation”, per Gigabyte.

So how well does this game do exactly? At native 3840 x 2400 resolution, unsurprisingly. Shadow of the Tomb Raider 26, 34 and 38 frames per second on average with ray tracing on ultra, medium and off respectively. Cyberpunk 2077 would basically not work with ray tracing on ultra, averaging seven frames per second; enabling DLSS brought this to 32 frames per second, and disabling ray tracing (but not using DLSS) brought it to 29. For some reason, Red Dead Redemption 2 wouldn’t even give me the option to run it in 4K. Not sure what was going on there, but red death can be picky at times.

Everything was, of course, much more playable in 1080p and maxed out the 60Hz screen with no problem. Tomb Raider get 80, 104 and 115 frames per second with ray tracing on ultra, medium and off, while red death 70 average on the built-in benchmark. The Aero still had a rough time with the ray tracing in cyberpunk, averaging just 38 frames per second with DLSS disabled, but up to 63 frames per second with DLSS on automatic. With ray tracing turned off, it averaged 66 frames per second. (All games were run on the highest possible settings.)

These results are fine and, unsurprisingly, miles better than what we’ve seen from Apple’s M1 Pro machines. They’re not, however, head and shoulders above what we’d expect from a well-cooled, well-powered RTX 3070, underscoring that what you’re really paying for with the Aero 16 is the CPU power (and the OLED display). For example, last year’s Aorus 15G with an RTX 3070 and a Core i7, which was thousands of dollars cheaper than this Aero, was only about 5 to 15 frames per second slower in all titles.

The Gigabyte Aero 16 opened on a black table.  The screen displays The Verge's home page.

The thermal design has been updated since the last generation, with two 59-blade fans and five heat pipes.

The other thing I have to point out is that this device is noisy† I had the Turbo fan profile on (which is what you would want for the maximum possible performance). The fans were making so much noise that I struggled to hear a video on another computer right next to me, even with the volume all the way up. The cooling seems to be doing its job: The CPU occasionally hit the low 90s, but generally avoided throttling temperatures. However, the keyboard and palm rest were also often warm (even outside of the benchmark tests), and were just shy of getting uncomfortably warm.

The unit was much quieter in my general purpose tests, when I mostly used the Normal and Eco cooling profiles. (It was still often audible, though.) In these cases, Aero was able to easily run my normal heavy Chrome load and power an external display with battery saver turned on. It also fared much better in Premiere Pro tests than we generally see in gaming laptops. This is expected because the Aero uses Nvidia’s Studio drivers (aimed at creative use cases) rather than the GeForce drivers found in gaming rigs. It completed our Premiere Pro 4K export test in two minutes and 15 seconds, which is better than the M1 Pro MacBook models (but not the M1 Max models, which are slightly more expensive). The Aorus took more than seven minutes to complete that task. The Aero also got a solid score of 941 on the Puget Systems benchmark for Premiere Pro, which also beats many of the gaming systems in our database and isn’t too far off the M1 Pro.

The Gigabyte Aero 16 half open on a cafe table, away from the camera.

No fingerprints on this lid.

All of this comes with a pretty big caveat, though: battery life. Historically, we didn’t expect Windows workstations to last all day, but I had faint hopes that Intel’s move to big-little architecture with Alder Lake would herald an efficiency revolution. Unfortunately, the Aero 16 only lasted about two and a half hours on a battery saver charge, the screen on medium brightness and the GPU turned off. That should be an important consideration for anyone planning to use this on the go.

The power button of the Gigabyte Aero 16 seen from above.

No fingerprint sensor, but Windows Hello facial recognition.

One more thing to note: while this device looks like it has some USB-A ports on the sides, those are actually vents. Actual port selection is limited to two Thunderbolt 4, one USB-C 3.2, one DC-in, and one audio jack. Those with USB-A and SD needs will be in dongle land, which is a shame. You may also want to connect an external camera, as this webcam is mediocre and noisy (although it supports Windows Hello biometric logins).

The Aero 16 is an effective combination of a color-accurate OLED display, impressive CPU power and portability. That combination doesn’t come cheap though, and the price combined with battery life can make it a tough purchase for many people to justify. Those who like what the Aero offers but hope to spend less can consider Razer’s Blade 17, which is available with the same GPU and a 4K display for $100 cheaper, or a QHD display for several hundred dollars cheaper. Those who like the look of the Aero but want better gaming chops might want to check out Gigabyte’s various Aorus laptops, which are gaming oriented and can get you a 3080 for much cheaper.

The main argument for the Aero is that its CPU can deliver MacBook competitive performance in creative applications while being much stronger than those MacBooks in gaming. Of course, an M1 Pro MacBook has several other advantages over the Aero: it lasts more than six times longer on the battery. But if you want a laptop to make an occasional game and stay at your desk, the Aero has a legitimate business.

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