Even though I’ve done scores of notebook reviews over the years, I should confess that for the most part, I’d not buy the vast majority of them. Not because they aren’t good or even great, but simply because I’ve no interest in many of the traditional form factors. This is simply because I find them too cumbersome. I imagine that for most people it’s not an issue, but I suspect those of you who’ve had to lug around heavy notebooks at airports and on rapid transit systems know exactly what I’m talking about. [If at this point, you’re thinking to yourself, “Well Neo, perhaps you should spend less time in airports and more time working on your notebook-carrying muscles,” I feel I should point out that Neo has many scary muscles, many of which I’ve never even heard of. Dude spends more time at the gym than I do sleeping. So if he’s got an issue with heavy notebooks, I’m fairly certain you will too. – Ed.]
Somehow, the entire reason for the existence of notebooks and portables seems to have been lost, especially considering that many Steam Machines (however misguided that standard is, or rather, was) are considerably lighter than the average gaming notebook. There’s no reason for this other than that the vast majority of notebook vendors (save for Apple, who perhaps caters to a different demographic/user) have essentially zero creativity, and build notebooks based on parts available and not on what any one demographic needs or wants.
It’s for this reason that I can tell you for certain that the GIGABYTE AERO 14 is, for the most part, a fortunate mistake. Within the seemingly endless notebook hardware configurations that are attempted, this one has come together wonderfully. As such, you should take full advantage of this cosmic incident. To sum it up in one word, the AERO 14 is fantastic. It’s better than it should be by all accounts. In fact, had I to buy a notebook today, right at this moment (or whenever you’re reading this), it would without question be the AERO 14, albeit the FHD version with a couple of changes to the spec.
So, what makes the AERO 14 so good? For one thing, it weighs just 1.9kg. It’s technically 1.89kg, but let’s not get into semantics here. Were you to tell someone who compliments its heft or lack thereof by insisting it’s 1.89kg, you’d come across as pedantic and rightfully so. Either way, the weight alone makes it an interesting offering as it’s rare to find gaming-capable notebooks that are anything under 2kg, with most weighing in over 2.3kg.
Mind you, this isn’t the lightest 14-inch notebook on the block. That honour goes to the MSI GS43VR at 1.82kg. With that said, the GS43VR isn’t as slim and has a few other key differences which would still make me lean towards the AERO 14.
Instead of trying to entice you with mechanical keys (although one could be convinced with the short travel of the MX Speed switches), GIGABYTE has chosen scissor switches for their keyboard. A fair compromise, as they provide solid feedback via a fair amount of resistance. Again, they’re not mechanical in feel, but they’re by far better than dome/membrane keyboards and eliminate the noise of mechanical keys (which may not always be appropriate in certain environments). After all, this isn’t necessarily a gaming notebook. It says as much in some of the press material, stating that this one is “FOR WORK!” Perhaps that’s also what ultimately makes it so aesthetically appealing. Most vendors have no clue who they’re talking about when they mention “gamers”, and their insistence on the rainbows-and-unicorns colour schemes on many gaming notebooks proves this. Being positioned as a work machine allows for a subtler approach and, dare I say it, a more sensible one. Other than the two unreasonably bright colour variants that are available, there’s nothing that would outwardly suggest that this is a competent, capable gaming machine. Much like a Ford, the AERO 14 is better in black.
At its core is a familiar platform featuring the Core i7 6700HQ, 8GB of DDR4 memory, a single 256GB M.2 drive and the usual connectivity options. You’ll notice there’s no secondary storage. The GPU, which in the gaming context is what you care about the most, is the GTX 1060. Much like the rest of the family, the GP106-powered GPU performs exceptionally well, consuming far less power than the 960M/965M models it replaces, and outpacing them by massive margins. That means not only will you have plenty of power on the go, but you’ll also be able to game for longer than 30 minutes without attaching the power supply.
Spec-wise, is this the best GIGABYTE could have done? Not quite. For one, 2,400MHz DDR4 is appreciated, but of no use in single-channel mode. Dual-channel 2,133MHz would be significantly faster without having a meaningful impact on battery life. Secondly, 256GB of storage is nowhere near enough when a single game these days (see Forza Horizon 3) can be as large as 60GB or more. A better option here would’ve been 8GB of DDR4 2,133MHz memory in dual-channel mode and a single SSHD hybrid 1TB drive. The system wouldn’t be as snappy, but you can do a lot more with 1TB than you can with a measly 256GB of storage.
These two configuration shortcomings alone prevent this notebook from a perfect score. As stated previously, I would buy this notebook in a heartbeat, but I’d make a point to add another drive to it along with an additional 8GB of memory, which of course would result in better performance and a lot more storage. These relatively small investments would result in a longer-lasting notebook (and one that is actually “VR optimised”).
The AERO 14 is available in QHD and FHD models for some inexplicable reason. I would strongly suggest sticking to the FHD model. Not only for performance reasons, but simply because the additional pixels are completely wasted on such a small screen. It’s the same as attempting to use a 4K/UHD resolution on a 21-inch monitor, as they would both have 209 pixels per inch. The FHD model gives you 157 PPI, which is the equivalent of using a 4K resolution on a 28-inch panel. It’s not ideal, but certainly more useful as you could avoid using 200% scaling, which is exactly what you end up with on the QHD panel. In short, buy the FHD model if you can and use whatever savings come of this (if any) to add more RAM and secondary storage.
Overall, this is a great notebook that’s come together quite well. It isn’t perfect, but it’s as close as you can get right now in this form factor and at this price. The AERO 14 makes an exceedingly compelling case for itself.