Asus ROG Strix Scar III gaming laptop review

Intel Core i7-9750H @ 2.6GHz
Nvidia GeForce RTX 2070 8GB GDDR6
17-inch IPS (1920 x 1080) @ 144Hz
1 x USB 3.0 (Type-C), 3 x USB 3.0 (Type-A), 1 x HDMI, 1 x DisplayPort, 1 x RJ45 ethernet, 1 x 3.5mm audio

A few years ago, I made the expensive but glorious decision to move away from console gaming, returning to my PC roots. In doing so, I was faced with the choice of building a desktop from scratch, or opting for a pre-built gaming laptop. At the time it was an easy choice. Gaming laptops were unjustifiably expensive, ran hotter, and performed worse compared to desktops with similar specs. The decision practically made itself. Today if you asked me to make that same choice… well, I’m not entirely sure it would be as easy.

Enter the Asus ROG Strix Scar III, a premium gaming laptop aimed at high-end gamers and esports athletes. I’m no stranger to the Republic of Gamers branding – my personal build has motherboard and graphics card courtesy ROG. From the Mayan-influenced, borderline over-designed aesthetic, to the factory-overclocked performance that commands a premium asking price, I respect what the ROG badge brings to the party.

The Scar III is no exception to this rule. The smaller brother of the previously-reviewed Zephyrus S – though still an absolute unit in its own right – swaps out the larger battery and G-sync functionality in exchange for a cheaper price tag, and more RGB, with an additional LED lightbar spewing rainbows along the bottom, complementing the per-key lighting on the low-profile keypad.

Elsewhere, specs are much more similar. It’s got the same 9th-gen Core i7 CPU, the same GeForce RTX 2070, and the same 16 GB of DDR4-2666 RAM. This is more than enough to hit at least 60 FPS on most modern games at high settings. The 512 GB NVMe SSD is also lightning-fast, though Call of Duty: Modern Warfare players are panicking as it’s a bit of a squeeze if you want to play more than a handful of games at a time. Consider additional storage. The 144 Hz IPS display with its 3 ms response time is the star of the show. Even without G-Sync, the display is silky smooth, ensuring games plod along swimmingly.

As it’s no slouch in the gaming department, the Scar III runs expectedly hot. Not as hot as the Zephyrus S, but definitely toasty enough that the BMW-designed cooling system (I know, I said the same thing!) was regularly put through its paces when gaming. I measured GPU temperatures in the high 70s (celsius), and CPU temperatures in the high 80s, during gameplay. This inevitably led to mild thermal throttling on the CPU. While under this load, the fans ran at a loud but not intolerable level, mostly cancelled out by plugging in a headset.

Another thing that made gaming sessions suffer a bit was the battery life – it’s not the best, but maybe that’s okay for a gaming laptop, especially one with these high-end specs? Handicapped somewhat by the reduced capacity from the Zephyrus S, as well as the RGB lightshow, the Scar III will do an hour of gaming, and around three hours of productivity, or five in power-saving mode. While this is not terrible for these specs, it’s probably not going to beat Eskom.

There’s also a lot of traditional laptop stuff missing here. No optical drive (who even uses these anymore?), no webcam, no SD card reader, no Thunderbolt port, and no HDR either. Instead you get wifi, Bluetooth, some USB-3 ports, HDMI 2.0, and a combo audio port. While definitely arguable, I feel this is acceptable given the use case. I mean, are you really buying a gaming laptop to edit photos? If so, what are you doing?! If not, you’re still getting USB ports for add-ons, as well as one of the most spectacular IPS panels I’ve ever beheld, albeit at 1080p. Let’s call it “the potential for productivity” then.

The final piece of the Scar III puzzle is the fittingly named Keystone, a tiny NFC key introduced by Asus for security purposes that touts “custom user profiles” and a “shadow drive” but is just ROG’s version of Bitlocker, so you can chalk this one up to ROG being extra, and safely ignore it.

At this point you may be wondering if the entire review is a series of concessions, and you can be forgiven for thinking so. There are indeed concessions in play here, but you must understand that for the asking price of this laptop, there is just so much value on offer here.

If I can elucidate with a personal anecdote, I’ve been helping a friend put together a desktop PC recently, with specs very similar to this laptop. I am not exaggerating when I say that the desktop PC with the same specs costs more than this laptop does. Take a second to really absorb that information. There are definitely trade-offs in play here. Yes. And so I return to my initial sentiment, that if you gave me the same choice to make today, whether to go with a desktop or a gaming laptop, I don’t think the choice would have been as easy.

The ROG Strix Scar III from Asus is a confoundingly value-for-money high-end gaming laptop, and I never thought I would use those words in that particular order, unironically, within a single sentence. It somehow achieves competitive pricing and performance to a desktop with similar specs in a much smaller – though still quite substantial – package. A sexy package, at that. Rawr.
Absolutely beautiful to behold
Solid gaming specs
Gorgeous IPS display
Battery life is basically non-existent
Runs hotter than a Durban summer
Keystone is a pointless accessory
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