Asus is one of a small handful of companies launching new gaming laptops all the time, and it’s a testament to how strong demand is right now that we have so many new models hitting the market even though there hasn’t been any major new underlying hardware to boast of for a whole year now. Intel hasn’t yet launched its 8th Gen high-performance laptop CPUs, and Nvidia’s GeForce 1000 series has been going strong since late 2016. What we’ve been seeing instead are different aesthetic touches such as RGB LEDs, and conveniences such as RGB LED lighting. Manufacturers are also thankfully moving towards using faster and higher capacity SSDs, and in the case of Asus with its new Scar Edition laptop, a variable refresh-rate LCD screen.
We’ve seen screens with a 120Hz refresh rate before, such as with the MSI GE73VR 7RF Raider, but Asus has gone one step further by supporting variable refresh rates up to 144Hz with Nvidia’s G-sync feature. This is exactly the kind of thing that you can’t quantify in terms of benchmark performance scores, but can make a significant difference to the gaming experience. We’re eager to test whether this kind of panel is a luxury or a necessity, and whether Asus can tempt you to spend a lot of money.
Asus ROG Strix GL503 Scar Edition design
While gaming laptops do need to be pretty bulky to accommodate heavy-duty cooling systems, the GL503 Scar Edition is surprisingly streamlined. On the other hand, it weighs 2.6kg (and that isn’t counting the massive power brick) which means it’s definitely in desktop replacement territory. However, this laptop still looks good, and can slip into an ordinary backpack if needed.
The Scar Edition gets its name from the diagonal crease on its brushed-metal lid, which is a surprisingly subtle touch. It makes this laptop look edgy and unique without a whole bunch of red LEDs and garish accents, and we really like this more refined design approach. The mirror-finish ROG logo does light up in red when the laptop is on, and the effect is quite neat. There’s also a cleverly designed angular cutout at the back that lets you see the status LEDs even with the lid closed.
When you flip the lid up, you’ll see the 15.6-inch screen which thankfully doesn’t have a reflective coating. It’s set within a pretty thick plastic frame, which is one aspect of the design that we didn’t really like. The keyboard deck is all dark grey plastic, with a carbon fibre finish and some minor flair in the form of multiple embossed Asus logos and a gun scope design around the trackpad.
The keyboard is comfortable, with a decent amount of travel that works well in games as well as for typing. It is of course backlit with RGB LEDs, and you can control the colours and patterns through Asus’ Aura software. Spacing is good, except for the arrow cluster which is sadly cramped and squeezed into the numeric keypad area. The dedicated volume buttons are nice, but there’s no mute button. We particularly liked the dedicated shortcut on the numpad Enter key to launch the Windows calculator. The trackpad is large and easy to use, but its buttons are recessed a bit too far for our liking.
You’ll find a generous selection of ports on the two sides. There are four USB 3.0 Type-A ports, one Type-C Thunderbolt 3.0 port, Gigabit Ethernet, video out via HDMI as well as a mini-DisplayPort, an SD card slot, and a 3.5mm combo audio socket. There’s also Wi-Fi 802.11ac and Bluetooth 4.1.
Asus ROG Strix GL503 Scar Edition specifications and software
As we started out saying, there’s nothing particularly special about the Intel Core i7-7700HQ processor and Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 GPU at this point in early 2018. Both have been around for at least a year now and are pretty standard as far as high-end gaming laptops go. This also means we’re close to the launch of the next generation from both Intel and Nvidia, which might concern some potential buyers.
The GeForce GTX 1070 might seem like overkill for a 1920×1080 screen, but we need the overhead to keep fresh frames pumping out at up to 144Hz. This laptop is also labelled ‘VR Ready’ and should comfortably be able to power a VR headset.
There’s 16GB of system RAM, a 512GB PCIe M.2 SSD, and a 1TB Seagate Firecuda hybrid hard drive with its own 8GB solid-state cache. Both the SSD and the hybrid hard drive are nice touches; bigger and better than what we’re used to seeing in laptops at any price level. There’s more than enough space to install a few of your favourite games on the SSD, and the hard drive should have a bit of an extra speed kick as well. Oddly, Asus’ website lists a DVD-RW drive as part of the spec, but there definitely isn’t one on this particular variant.
A large flap on the bottom of the Scar Edition pops off after you loosen one captive screw. Beneath it, you’ll find access to the RAM, SSD, and hard drive. You can upgrade them on your own, but Asus warns that warranty claims might be denied if you send your laptop in without all its original parts – that shouldn’t be a problem, you can just swap them back in if you need to.
There’s a 4-cell 64WHr battery but you won’t really be using it a lot. Hardware like this isn’t known for delivering great battery life, and G-sync will only work when you’re plugged in to a power source.
One of the dedicated shortcut buttons above the keyboard launches the Asus ROG Gaming Centre software, which looks pretty cool. You can get an overview of the current CPU and GPU clock speeds, free hard drive space and RAM usage, but there are no overclocking settings as we saw with the massive Asus ROG GX700. Other than that, you can play with the keyboard backlighting, force the fans to spin at their maximum speed, tweak the screen’s colour profile, prioritise network traffic by app, and choose whether the Windows key is disabled in games.
Asus preloads its annoying Giftbox utility, which pops up after every Windows boot and asks you to download tons of unnecessary software, and a 30-day McAfee LiveSafe which also keeps on throwing up popup messages asking you to give feedback and subscribe to a yearly plan.
Asus ROG Strix GL503 Scar Edition performance
Most premium laptops have extremely high-resolution screens to make everything look slick and smooth, but with full-HD 1920×1080 on a 15.6-inch panel, you can see a fair number of jagged edges around the Windows UI. The advantage is that games look great at the native resolution. Similarly, viewing angles are great but colours aren’t really vibrant. This panel can reproduce only 72 percent of the NTSC colour gamut which is fine for gaming, but photos and videos look a bit dull.
You might not immediately realise that the screen is refreshing itself at 144Hz but when you use an ordinary laptop side by side with this one, little things jump out at you. For example, when doing something as simple as grabbing a window and moving it across your desktop, you can still see its contents perfectly clear. Animations seem to pop a little more, and everything feels a little sprightlier. What it comes down to is that the system is much more responsive and there’s less lag between taking an action and seeing the result. It might not be much when measured and quantified, but it feels different.
There are two speakers on the sides of the Scar Edition, and while they do get loud, the sound is scratchy and tinny, with almost no bass or dimension of any kind. Other laptops of this class often boast of multiple speakers and dedicated subwoofers, but this is one area in which this laptop is disappointing.
But of course, what we really want to get to is overall system performance and gaming. Starting with PCMark 8, we got scores of 4,696, 7,243 and 3,562 respectively in the Home, Creative, and Work test runs. Cinebench gave us 158 and 731 points respectively in its single-threaded and double-threaded runs. SiSoft SANDRA measured the SSD’s performance at a consistent 470-480MBps for sequential reads and writes, which is pretty good.
Starting with Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, we ran the built-in benchmark using the High preset and got an average of 72.6fps. More importantly, the minimum didn’t drop below 50.7fps, and the entire scene was buttery smooth. We’re used to seeing this particular benchmark stutter, and just watching it play without the slightest hiccup was a revelation. Stepping up to Very High, the average and minimum scores dipped to 63.7fps and 44.1fps respectively, but there was still no stuttering or tearing. We had much the same experience with Metro: Last Light Redux, with an average of 71.97fps at its Very High preset.
We then moved on to GTA V, another game that can really look bad if you try pushing the settings up and your hardware can’t handle it. We had to manually switch to 144Hz in the settings panel, but we were able to push pretty much every slider up to its maximum level and still achieve an average of 111.3fps in the built-in benchmark. Running and driving freely through the city, we found the gameplay smooth and free from stuttering and tearing.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is one of the most demanding games in our collection. We used FRAPS to log frame rates while running freely through the landscape using the High quality preset, and managed 90fps with an average delivery time of 11.1s and a tight distribution of frames. Switching to Ultra dropped the average frame rate to 58fps and the average frame time to 17.3ms. Both settings were very playable, and there was predictably no tearing. The much less demanding Rise of the Tomb Raider ran very well, giving us an average of 105.14fps at its Very High setting which was smooth as expected, and not much different to how we’ve seen this game run before on similar hardware.
Far Cry 4 at its Ultra preset gave us an average of 108fps, with brilliant frame times averaging just 9.23ms. Regardless of G-sync, performance like this is bound to be incredibly smooth. Similarly in Doom, even using its Ultra setting, we averaged between 160fps and 180fps measured using the in-game diagnostics. There was no question of stuttering at all.
While these experiences were all positive and the scores were all impressive, we discovered the true cost of the Scar Edition’s thin body as soon as we fired up our first game. In order to cool all these top-end components, Asus had to use fans than spin up like jet engines. This laptop gets ridiculously loud from the moment you begin playing any game, and stays that way throughout. It can be heard all the way across a large room and is distracting to the point that it will even drown out a lot of game audio unless you’re wearing a headset.
Battery life was also quite poor as expected. The ROG Strix GL503 Scar Edition lasted only 1 hour, 9 minutes in the Battery Eater Pro test. With ordinary use such as Web surfing, it still needed to be plugged in halfway through a workday. It also took several hours to charge fully when not in standby. All in all, this is definitely not a road warrior’s laptop.
The Asus ROG Strix GL503 Scar Edition is extremely expensive, and its value proposition all comes down to the 144Hz G-Sync screen. A lot of gamers swear by variable or at least high refresh rates and loudly proclaim that they could never go back to a normal 60Hz monitor. We aren’t quite as militant, and maybe that has to do with the relatively low immersiveness you get with a 15.6-inch laptop screen, but it’s still a luxury we could get used to. If you spend a lot of time in competitive esports, you’ll get more mileage out of such a laptop. If you’re used to it on your desktop and want the same experience on the go, you don’t have many other options.
Very few other companies sell laptops with G-sync, let alone such portable ones. We’ve seen a tiny number of gaming laptops with non-variable but high-refresh-rate panels, such as the MSI GE73VR 7RF Raider which costs just as much as the Scar Edition. That model has a 17-inch 120Hz panel and per-key RGB backlighting, but also has just half the SSD capacity.
Another reason to find the Scar Edition laptop appealing is that it’s compact and convenient to carry around. You could spend this kind of money on more powerful gaming desktop instead, but not everyone has the space for that. You won’t find any standalone G-sync monitors smaller than 24 inches in the market, and prices start at Rs. 45,000.
That aside, Asus has done a great job with aesthetics, and this laptop will definitely appeal to those with an understated style who don’t want buy into gamer clichés of red accents and sharp angles. Gaming performance is excellent as well. What we don’t like is the noise.
Intel and Nvidia most likely have fresh hardware coming up in just a few months, and a laptop like this would benefit a lot from more power efficient components that need less aggressive cooling. If you’re going to spend nearly Rs. 2,00,000 on a laptop, we’d suggest waiting just a little while.
Price (MRP): 1,84,990
- 144Hz screen with G-Sync
- Relatively portable
- Lots of connectivity
- Large SSD plus hybrid hard drive
- Looks good
- Incredibly noisy fans
- Weak speakers
- Poor battery life
- Annoying bloatware
Ratings (Out of 5)
- Design: 4.5
- Display: 4
- Performance: 4.5
- Software: 3.5
- Value for Money: 3.5
- Overall: 4