Asus won us over with its ROG Strix Hero Edition earlier this year, so color us surprised that the computer maker released a sudden follow-up to its MOBA-centric gaming laptop called, simply, the ROG Strix Hero II ($1,699.99, as tested). This new model packs a thin-bezel 144Hz screen and a full-power Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 graphics processor, as opposed to one of the tempered Max-Q modules popping up in some laptops of this stripe. Topping off the changes: Intel’s eighth-generation “Coffee Lake” microarchitecture, here in the form of a six-core Core i7-8750H CPU. This all makes for a powerful machine, but one that costs a bunch, doesn’t impress on battery life, and will be MOBA-overkill for many buyers.
This Republic Stands for Style
The ROG Strix Hero II is a handsome machine with a premium feel to the chassis. If you enjoy the at-times-ostentatious Asus Republic of Gamers aesthetic, but prefer a dialed-down version, the look will appeal to you.
Black and gray dominate the body. So many budget and midrange gaming laptops that have passed through PC Labs of late have been peppered with red accents that it’s refreshing to see a machine that doesn’t scream “gamer geek” in the local coffee shop or a conference room. Apart from the glossy-inlay ROG logos on the lid and on the bezel under the display, the ROG Strix Hero II bears a tamer design than most clamshell gaming offerings. Considering that adults with careers are the likely majority of buyers able to shell out $1,700 for a gaming laptop like this, the mature design is appreciated.
Excepting the trim screen bezels and the underside of the machine, the ROG Strix Hero II features a metal chassis, which is atypical for a gaming laptop in this price range. It’s thin, too, measuring 1.03 inches thick, with a 14.2-by-10.3-inch footprint. That’s not quite as thin as some of the Nvidia Max-Q laptops we’ve seen (such as the 0.68-inch-thick Razer Blade in its latest incarnation), but it also doesn’t mean slightly suppressed performance, a side effect of most Max-Q laptops, as testing will show.
The biggest design difference-maker in this machine is the thin screen bezel. It rims the display on three sides and measures just 0.42 inch thick. That meant, consequently, that Asus could make the chassis footprint smaller, but the ROG Strix Hero II doesn’t extend that to a lighter carry weight. The machine weighs 5.29 pounds, which is a lot more than, say, the 3.9-pound MSI GS65 Stealth Thin or the 4.63-pound Razer Blade, both of the same 15.6-inch screen size. That said, while those two laptops focus on portability, the ROG Strix Hero II prioritizes on-the-go performance that starts with the keyboard and touchpad.
The first thing you will notice about the keyboard is that the QWER keys are set apart by transparent keycaps. Whereas a mainstream gaming machine’s keyboard might highlight the WASD keys for movement, Asus went with QWER because of those keys’ usual associations with the MOBA genre. In League of Legends, for instance, your four abilities are mapped to these keys by default. (More about the keyboard in a moment.)
The touchpad, meanwhile, tracks with decent accuracy, but what stands out is the implementation of discrete left and right click buttons. Most users will find this solution better than two-fingered tap-to-click. With the ROG Strix Hero II, the physical mouse buttons eliminate the need for this gesture.
A Panel, and More, Prepared for Battle
The ROG Strix Hero II’s screen measures 15.6 inches diagonally. It has an anti-glare coating that makes it viewable under diverse conditions. The core panel tech is in-plane switching (IPS), which allows for viewing at wide angles off to the sides. The 144Hz refresh rate is an uptick from the 120Hz-refresh-rate panel of the original ROG Strix Hero Edition, and it puts the screen on a level with the likes of the Razer Blade and the MSI GS65 Stealth Thin. (The Razer Blade has the option for a 144Hz panel, while the MSI GS65’s display is 144Hz in all of its variants.) The screens in most gaming laptops, such as the Acer Predator Helios 300 and the Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming 7000, support a refresh rate of 60Hz; this is also the refresh rate of an ordinary laptop screen or usual stand-alone LCD monitor.
Because MOBA games tend to run at a fast pace and offer less graphical challenges than other game genres, the high refresh rate can come in handy. In essence, if you’re running a not-too-demanding PC game (MOBA or otherwise) at 1080p with a powerful graphics card, you’re likely to churn frame rates well in excess of 60 frames per second (fps). When you do, a 60Hz display panel is only able to show up to 60 screen refreshes per second; in a certain, simplified sense, the excess frames are “wasted.” (In a more practical sense, very high frame rates might ensure that your minimum frame rate doesn’t fall below 60fps.) A 144Hz screen, in contrast, lets you show the full fruit of your GPU’s efforts with games that your laptop can run at such high frame rates.
A display suited to games of that sort needs a keyboard to match, evidenced here by the QWER highlighting that I mentioned earlier. According to Asus, the keyboard features a 0.25mm-deep curve on all the keycaps, though in real-world use, the tops felt flat to my fingertips. The key switches are rated for 20 million key presses, and the layout features four zones of customizable RGB lighting that you can tweak in an Asus utility called ROG Aura Core.
Asus claims that the keyboard supports N-key rollover, as well, meaning all keypresses should register no matter how many are pressed at once. I tested for this in OTD’s Aqua Key Test; it did the job in a 10-key mashdown, as evidenced by the screenshot below…
Forward of the function keys on the keyboard, the speakers on the ROG Strix Hero II sound crisp and clear. At their maximum level, though, they don’t crank up quite as loud as the speakers on some other gaming laptops I’ve put my ears on of late, such as the Asus TUF Gaming FX504 and the Acer Predator Helios 300.
The port mix on this machine is on par for its size and price, which is to say it is armed with a big arsenal of connections. On its left side, the Hero II has an Ethernet jack, a mini DisplayPort output, an HDMI-out, two USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A ports, one USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C port, and a headphone/mic combo jack, as well as the power-adapter connector…
On its right side is a single USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-A port, an SD card slot, and a Kensington-style security-cable notch.
As for the onboard storage, the ROG Strix Hero II carries a two-drive arrangment in the model I am testing: a flash-memory-based boot drive, and a mass-storage hard drive. A 1TB FireCuda solid-state hybrid drive (SSHD) is the latter, paired with a 256GB solid state drive (SSD) using the PCI Express bus and hosting Windows 10. Because this smaller-capacity drive is your boot drive, you can use it to store your go-to MOBAs, while the slower hybrid drive does the heavy lifting for the rest of your PC game library.
Other connectivity facets of the ROG Strix Hero II include an HD webcam placed on the lower right-hand side beneath its screen. For video conferencing, this angle is not ideal, given that the camera is positioned under your chin rather than being closer to eye level, a common compromise in thin-bezel notebooks. (It affects the Editors’ Choice Dell XPS 13, too.) Wireless connectivity comprises Bluetooth 5.0 and 802.11ac Wi-Fi.
The Asus ROG Strix Hero II comes with a one-year international standard warranty, which is standard fare for its class.
Powerful But Short-Lived
Although it’s marketed as a gaming laptop for the MOBA set, the ROG Strix Hero II packs internal components that suggest this laptop should ace running titles from other, more demanding game genres, too. For starters, beyond the GeForce GTX 1060 GPU, it has a 2.2GHz six-core Intel Core i7-8750H processor and 16GB of RAM, and the PCI Express-bus boot SSD drive should prove to be a screamer.
Look first at the productivity test scores. PCMark 8 is a test that rewards fast storage (it simulates day-to-day program launches and operations, for which a fast boot drive helps a bunch), and this laptop netted a healthy 4,414 points in its Work Conventional subtest.
Beyond that, because it packs the same processor, the ROG Strix Hero II comes closest to the Acer Predator Helios 300 and the MSI GS65 Stealth Thin in our CPU benchmarks. It surpasses the Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming and the Razer Blade, since Dell and Razer’s laptops tote older, seventh-generation Intel Core i5 and Core i7 processors, respectively. And while it doesn’t come out on top in every multimedia test, the ROG Strix Hero II proves itself a hardy worker when you’re not gaming.
In our graphics benchmark testing, the Hero II’s performance paralleled the Acer Predator Helios 300’s, predictable given that both laptops use the same full-fat GeForce GTX 1060 graphics chip and six-core processor. The Hero II emerged victorious in the low-end Cloud Gate subtest of 3DMark (this test is typically CPU-limited, so the six-core chip stood it in good stead), and it came up just short of topping all of its GTX 1060-based rivals here in the Heaven test at Ultra quality. In Valley at Ultra quality, the Hero II beat out the GTX 1060 lot but lost to the Max-Q-equipped/GTX 1070 MSI GS65 Stealth Thin by 11fps.
Also, the Hero II came in second, just behind the Acer Predator Helios 300, in 3DMark’s Fire Strike Extreme subtest, a GPU-intensive benchmark that stresses dedicated graphics chips like the GTX 1060. (The MSI machine did not contend on this test, possibly for thermal reasons.)
Real-World Gaming, and Draining the Battery
I also gave the Hero II a workout with a couple of popular game titles, and it performed right-on for an unconstrained GeForce GTX 1060. In the popular game title Far Cry 5, at Normal settings and 1080p, the ROG Strix Hero II managed an average frame rate of 70fps; at the more stressful Ultra preset and 1080p, it dialed in 62fps.
Next up, I tried the slightly older game Rise of the Tomb Raider, and the Hero II fared similarly. At 1080p, it delivered average frame rates of 76fps and 58fps at the Medium and Very High graphics presets, respectively. To take advantage of the 144Hz display and its high-refresh characteristic in harsh games like these, you’ll need to knock down the graphics settings a few pegs.
Off the charger, the Asus ROG Strix Hero II lasted 4 hours and 4 minutes (4:04) before it ran out of juice. That’s about average for a big, beefy gaming laptop, a machine that’s meant to be plugged in during intensive use. However, seeing as our battery test is a passive looping of the trilogy of The Lord of the Rings, most any full-size modern laptop ought to last more than four hours.
Competitors like the MSI GS65 Stealth Thin lasted 7:14 in our battery rundown, and the Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming lasted a whopping 11:01. It’s evident that the Asus ROG Strix Hero II is geared toward power users, not power savers.
More Than Just a MOBA Machine
Despite the MOBA-friendly gestures—the transparent QWER keys, the 144Hz screen—you might deem the Asus ROG Strix Hero II overkill for a laptop designed for games like those. And depending on how serious you are about your MOBAs, you might well be right.
This laptop is quite powerful, with its six-core processor, 16GB of RAM, and GTX 1060, a component mix more for mainstream gaming and moderate media-crunching, than for simply playing League of Legends or Dota 2. That said, if those games are your tipple, you’ll be able to power through them smoothly given the GPU, and see the fruits of all that power on the complementary high-refresh screen. On GTX 1060-based machines with a 60Hz screen, those frames would pass into oblivion.
But it all depends on whether you are a competitive or a casual player. For basic, non-competitive MOBA play, a $1,699.99 asking price is tough to justify, unless you can use the souped-up specs for other games, or for work/prosumer tasks. And that’s the key takeaway here: For demanding media-creation tasks, such as full HD or 4K video editing, or playing full-fledged AAA games like Far Cry 5, the Asus ROG Strix Hero II is going to serve you well. The MOBA-specific flavor and pumped-up screen are fine extras that are mainly relevant only if you mean to go esports pro. Otherwise, for the same price or close to it, you can get a machine like the latest Razer Blade (our latest Editors’ Choice in this class) or MSI’s GS65 Stealth Thin, with longer battery life and a thinner, lighter chassis.