Gigabyte Aero 15 OLED XD review: powerful, pricey, and flawed

Gigabyte has released a minor refresh to the Aero 15 OLED, its flagship laptop targeting gamers and creative professionals. Like last year’s model, this Aero 15 has a 4K OLED display and a decent port selection with Thunderbolt 4 and HDMI 2.1. Also like last year’s model, it has a somewhat clunky aluminum design, a flashy RGB keyboard, a fingerprint sensor in the trackpad, and a webcam inconveniently located underneath the screen. The big change is that the Aero 15 now includes Intel’s latest 11th Gen processors and Nvidia’s RTX 3070 graphics card.

The performance I saw here wasn’t a massive upgrade from the previous Aero 15, but it’s still some of the best gaming and productivity performance that you’ll find among laptops of this size. The 60Hz screen means you won’t be able to see the impressive frame rates the new hardware is capable of, so many gamers may get a better experience out of a device with a higher refresh rate screen. But if you’ve got your eye on an OLED screen, either because you’re doing color work on the side or you just want your games and movies to look great, this device should get the job done (albeit in a loud and hot manner).

The Aero model I have is $2,099 and includes Intel’s Core i7-11800H, 32GB of RAM, and 1TB of storage, in addition to the RTX 3070 and the 15.6-inch 4K OLED screen. You can upgrade the RAM afterward up to 64GB, and there are two M.2 storage slots. Gigabyte isn’t actually selling this model yet, but it is selling an identical model with 16GB of RAM for $1,999.

Getting straight to the gaming: Red Dead Redemption 2 averaged 80fps on the ultra preset in 1080p, dropping to 37fps in 4K. With all sliders manually maxed, I had to drop to the medium preset in order to get a playable 4K frame rate of 46fps. Shadow of the Tomb Raider ran at 104fps in 1080p with ray tracing off and 81fps with ray tracing on, dropping to 48fps and 29fps, respectively, in 4K. (With DLSS on, 52fps and 38fps). So you could actually play both of these titles in 4K if you wanted to, but you’d need to drop the settings to hit the 60fps sweet spot.

A more recent release, Cyberpunk 2077, ran at 71fps with ray tracing off and 30fps with ray tracing maxed, dropping to 42fps and 19fps, respectively, in 4K (with DLSS on the Quality setting). Note that because the Aero only has a 60Hz display, you won’t be able to see the advantage of frame rates above 60fps.

The cooling system, which includes two 71-blade fans and five heat pipes, did keep the Core i7 at reasonable temperatures. During gaming, the CPU generally hovered below the mid-80s (Celsius) with occasional spikes to the high 80s or low 90s. The chassis itself, though, was often fairly toasty on the keyboard and too hot on the bottom to comfortably put on my lap, even when I was just working in Chrome. The fans are also very, very loud on Gigabyte’s Turbo Mode — someone walking by while I was running a video export asked if the laptop was going to take off.

The Aero logo and webcam on the Gigabyte Aero 15.

Yep, that’s the webcam.

Nvidia’s mobile GPUs can be a bit confusing because the same chip can deliver widely varying frame rates depending on its wattage. The Aero’s RTX 3070 tops out at a 105W power draw, as does the 3070 in the Aorus 15G. But Asus’ Zephyrus G15 caps out at 100W with dynamic boost, and Razer’s Blade 15 Base includes a 3070 with a maximum power draw of 95W. Gaming performance will vary by title, but on the whole, the Aero is pulling comparable frame rates to what we’ve seen both the Blade and the Zephyrus produce in 1440p. They’re even a bit better than the gaming-focused Aorus (which still has a 10th Gen Intel processor). On the other hand, the RTX 3070-equipped Aorus with a 240Hz 1080p display is just $1,799, which emphasizes the premium you’re paying for the Aero’s OLED screen.

The Gigabyte Aero 15 OLED keyboard seen from above, lit up light blue.

You can customize the keyboard colors and effects.

Outside the world of gaming, the Aero was more of a mixed bag. The laptop comes preloaded with a new proprietary Control Center application, which is powered by Microsoft’s Azure AI. In theory, this function allows the computer to automatically swap between color, power, and performance profiles (Creator Mode, Gaming Mode, Meeting Mode, etc.) based on the application you’re using. This was a cool idea, but having my screen brightness change and a notification pop up every time I jumped in and out of Chrome or Steam was more of a nuisance than a help, so I ended up turning it off.

On the productivity side, the Aero breezed through my usual workload, which includes around a dozen Chrome tabs, Slack, Spotify, and some occasional photo work. It strangely didn’t do as well as its predecessor on our Premiere Pro test, which involves exporting a five-minute, 33-second 4K video; this year’s Aero took four minutes and five seconds to complete the task, where its predecessor (the Aero 15 OLED XB) took just over two and a half — Gigabyte says this may have to do with Nvidia’s drivers. It’s still one of the fastest times we’ve ever seen from a laptop; the Aorus 15G and the Blade 15 Base, with this same GPU, both took over six minutes, while the Dell XPS 15 with a GTX 1650 Ti took 4:23.

The Gigabyte Aero 15 open on a piano. The screen dispalys a shot of Night City from Cyberpunk 2077 from inside a high office window.

The display covers 100 percent of the sRGB gamut, 100 percent of AdobeRGB, and 100 percent of P3.

Premiere Pro exports aren’t an apples-to-apples comparison, of course, as different versions can produce different results. On the Puget Systems benchmark for Premiere Pro, which tests both live playback and export performance with media at 4K and 8K resolutions, the Aero scored an 824. That’s one of the highest scores I’ve ever seen from a test unit, and it blows away the competition, soundly beating the Zephyrus G15, the Blade 15, and the Aorus 15G, as well as the Aero XB with an RTX 2070 Super Max-Q. It’s more than twice the score we’ve seen from the Dell XPS 15.

That’s quite an impressive result, but you will need to make a few tradeoffs for that power. First, the battery life is a serious disappointment. Gigabyte claimed up to eight hours, but even on the Power Saver profile, the first Aero 15 unit I was sent only gave me around two. On a second unit, I was averaging three hours and four minutes of continuous work. That’s fine if you plan on never taking this thing anywhere (the 230W power brick is also quite hefty) but for someone like me who often works on the go, that life span isn’t great— especially around the $2,000 mark. We got five hours and 45 minutes from the XPS 15, and over six hours from the Aorus 15G, so that’s worth considering if you’re a mobile user who likes the Aero’s look.

There are a few other things. The webcam does have a convenient physical shutter, but it’s also located right above the keyboard, directly under the Aero logo on the bottom bezel; it gives anyone you’re video chatting with a great view of your nostrils. There’s a fingerprint sensor in the top left corner of the touchpad, which is handy, but my finger also ran into it a number of times while I was navigating. Finally, the keyboard is comfortable (it’s got a NumPad and a bit of a soft click), but the flashy RGB lights are quite, well, visible, and won’t necessarily be what everyone wants to have in an office or coffee shop.

The Gigabyte Aero 15 OLED open on a piano seen from above, angled to the left. The keyboard is lit up light blue. The screen displays a desktop with a gray and white background.

I just wish it lasted longer.

All in all, the Aero is a decent option for you if you’re looking for a powerful OLED laptop with lots of pizzazz. But its downsides — particularly the battery life and the nosecam — are significant, and it’s worth considering whether you’ll be taking full advantage of the chips and the 4K OLED in return.

For example, none of the popular titles tested here are ideal to run in 4K at their maximum settings. And while the Aero 15 is getting better frame rates than the Aorus in 1080p, you’ll still only be seeing 60fps on the Aero, while the higher refresh rate screen on the Aorus will show you more. And there’s also a litany of QHD laptops out there, the Zephyrus G15 and the Blade 15 included, that can run games very well at that resolution — and they can certainly break 60 on some of the titles here.

That leaves content creators and other professionals who plan to use the Aero as a work driver, as the real audience for this device, and while this is certainly one of the most powerful laptops for that sort of workload, I do wonder how many of these folks are okay with the short battery life and the nosecam. Those may be sacrifices worth making for some people, but they’re certainly a lot to ask.

Photography by Monica Chin / The Verge

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