Originally announced at CES 2023 earlier this year, the next generation of gaming laptops with the newest generation hardware has finally hit the market. There are few models available right now that can say they are comparable in terms of performance to the new ASUS ROG Strix SCAR 18, which is equipped with the most powerful processor on the market, and the most powerful laptop graphics chip to date, NVIDIA’s GeForce RTX 4090. Basically, this is the most powerful gaming laptop in the world, and the tests in this article confirm those claims.
ROG Strix SCAR 18 doesn’t compromise
You probably noticed that “18” in the name of this model. As you’ve already guessed, that number describes the diagonal of this laptop’s monitor. If you thought the 16″ models of the last few years were big, well, this year we’re going to see more and more laptops with 18″ screens, and they certainly won’t qualify as laptops anymore.
These, like the ROG Strix Scar will be rather… mobile, in the sense that they can be quickly picked up and moved elsewhere. The size and weight of this laptop limits the possibility of carrying it around day after day for work in a backpack. You’ll have to carry it more like a hiking backpack to accommodate it alongside its by no means small or lightweight charger.
But the large size isn’t a problem for those who wouldn’t move it off a desk too often anyway, and that seems to be the target audience for the ROG Strix SCAR 18. Being such a “desktop replacement”, ASUS made the decision not to compromise when making this computer.
Design-wise, we’re dealing with a pretty good-looking computer, if you like your computers black with few standouts. There are a few details on the screen cover and the ROG logo, but otherwise everything is made of black plastic, a bit of clear plastic in some areas and a little metal here and there. The result is a big, heavy and sturdy computer. Of course, the RGB lights couldn’t be missing, decorating both the front and back of the laptop as well as the keyboard. Fortunately, you can keep the “serious” design of this laptop by disabling these lights. By default, they’re set to “rainbow” mode and can easily light up a room in the dark at full intensity.
The 18″ screen has a very small bezel, suggesting ASUS tried not to waste space when building this computer. The bezel is so thin that the webcam needed a “counter-notch”, which brings that area out a bit. It’s a good thing it exists, as a few years ago ASUS was determined to completely eliminate webcams from gaming laptops.
I was glad to see, however, that ASUS chose a full-size keyboard with numpad on this model, along with a modern trackpad with multitouch and no physical buttons. This isn’t the largest trackpad I’ve seen, with recent Samsung models offering trackpads several times larger in area, but it’s certainly one of the largest on a gaming laptop.
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I was a little disappointed with the connectivity ports on this model. With such large dimensions, the lack of an SD card reader is really odd. We also only get two USB-A ports, both on the right side, two USB-C ports on the left, an HDMI 2.1, an Ethernet port and a 3.5mm combo jack. A few more USBs and a card slot would have been perfect. Also, given that we’re talking about a high-end gaming laptop, a DisplayPort for connecting a gaming monitor would also have been recommended alongside HDMI which is more recommended for connecting office monitors, TVs or projectors. Gaming monitors with high refresh rates generally need a DP port.
Asus has boasted in recent presentations about positioning connectivity ports on the sides, but moving at least some to the back would have been an appreciated decision. Mostly I found the power jack, which is a rather large one with a very thick cable, can be awkward in use and runs right across the front of a permanent vent slot. Moved to the back, centrally with a straight or corner plug would have been a better positioning. Besides, if the computer is still permanently sitting in the socket, there’s not much point in being bothered by the plug that will be permanently attached to it.
The ROG Strix Scar 18 model we tested is one with almost all hardware options maxed out. We were dealing with a model equipped with the most powerful mobile processor on the market, the Intel Core i9-13980HX, alongside an NVIDIA RTX 4090 with 16GB GDDR6 memory, 32GB DDR5 RAM at 4800MHz and two 1TB PCI-Express 4.0 SSDs in Raid0.
This is not only one of the best performing laptops I’ve had the opportunity to test, but also one of the best performing PCs of any kind, including desktops. And also one of the most expensive. At a price of around €4,000 (20,799 lei, to be exact, without the operating system), it includes pretty much all the performance you realistically need for a home computer.
- Screen: 18″, 2,560 x 1,600 pixels (16:10), IPS, 240 Hz, G-SYNC, HDR
- GPU: NVIDIA GeForce RTX 4090 16 GB GDDR6 (TDP 175W)
- Processor: Intel Core i9-13980HX (8+16 cores, boost 5.6 GHz)
- RAM: 32 GB DDR5-4800 MHz
- Storage: 2 X SSD 1 TB NVMe PCI-Express 4.0, RAID0
- Ports: 1 x Thunderbolt 4 (USB-C), HDMI 2.1, 1 x USB 3.2 Gen 2 (USB-C), 2 x USB 3.2 Gen 2 (Type-A), 3.5mm combo jack, Ethernet 2.5G
- Wireless: WiFi 6E, Bluetooth 5.2
- Battery: 90 Wh, 330W power supply
- Sound: 4 speakers, Smart Amplifier, Dolby Atmos
- Other: RGB illuminated keyboard, HD webcam
- Weight: 3,1 kg
The screen is very powerful, but not the best on the market
The ROG Strix SCAR series 18″ model in 2023 is a 240Hz IPS model with QHD resolution in 16:10 aspect ratio. I wish I could have tested the 16″ model, which has an even higher performance mini-LED panel display with 1000 dimming zones. However, I can’t complain about this model either.
On the one hand, it’s significantly larger, 2″ bigger, but also faster. While the 16″ comes with refresh rate at 165 Hz, this one is more suitable for eSports games, and offers a higher refresh rate. It also helps that many competitive games can run at full detail and native screen resolution at full refresh rate.
Being an IPS panel, we can’t expect local dimming, but the panel is compatible with modern HDR formats like HDR10 and Dolby Vision. The HDR effect will be more noticeable in very bright sequences, not in darker ones. On the one hand, this is one of the brightest screens on a gaming laptop, on the other hand, the fact that there’s also a mini-LED model suggests that it’s not the best, that one can display higher impact HDR content, which can display deeper shades of black and detail in both shadows and lit areas of the screen. These things are less important in competitive games, but very important in single player titles where graphics and art direction are much more important, or, why not, in HDR movies.
The ROG Strix SCAR 18 comes with many advantages, but it also has small disadvantages
The ROG Strix SCAR 18 is, as I originally said, a “desktop replacement”, so I don’t expect it to run too much on battery power. For that reason I haven’t even tried this. With a 90Wh battery, the laptop certainly won’t be able to provide much battery life. The graphics card alone can consume at full load 175W by itself, and the processor another 65W. So when the laptop is not plugged in, its performance is limited a lot to run on battery power and thus it becomes a kind of “ultrabook” in terms of performance. If you take a computer that powerful to use at a coffee shop or in the park, you’re doing something wrong. The battery lasts long enough to move the laptop from place to place or leave it on standby until the next power outlet, but you can’t expect more than a few hours of office productivity on an economy consumption profile.
However, you can definitely use this laptop for more than just gaming. With so much power on board, the ROG Strix SCAR 18 is one definitely suited for creative fields, where processing power and a fast graphics chip are needed to speed up tasks like photo or video editing. Unfortunately, the display doesn’t come with a calibration sheet, so you’ll have to calibrate it at home to ensure the most natural colours. Fortunately, the Armoury Crate app comes with such dedicated features on this model, as well as pre-configured sRGB and DCI-P3 color profiles for the most natural colors. You’ll have to buy a compatible X-Rite calibrator for calibration yourself, though. Also in the creative area, an SD card slot would have been most useful, eliminating the need to use an external card reader for transferring photos or videos from cameras.
I had a few adjustment issues with the keyboard on this model, mainly because of the function buttons. On a normal keyboard, F1 is either perfectly above the 1 key or half a key to the right. On the Strix SCAR 18, F1 is above key 2, thus moving all the buttons one box to the right. Thus, shortcuts like F2 for renaming or Alt + F4 for closing applications became real efforts to memorize key positions, as I was either pressing F1 which opened a web page for “help” (a shortcut that should be completely removed in 2023 from Windows) or Alt + F3, which did nothing. Otherwise, the keyboard is very good, with well-spaced buttons and very satisfying travel for both typing and gaming. I also appreciated the inclusion of a numpad, as I often use that area of the keyboard, especially when performing performance tests and entering results into Excel.
I mentioned Armoury Crate earlier, the app has long been the one that controls ASUS gaming systems. Here you find settings for lights, macros, programmable buttons and display profiles for the screen or audio profiles. This is also where you’ll find performance profiles. We have a silent profile, which can turn off the fans completely under certain temperatures, a performance profile and a Turbo profile. Of course, there’s also manual overclocking, but the laptop is already performing well enough that there’s no need to change such parameters for the CPU and GPU. ASUS puts an extra 50 MHz at frequencies on the Turbo profile anyway. There is the possibility to increase up to 200 on the manual one, but also the possibility of instability increases.
Gaming testing I did on the Turbo profile, and temperatures were kept in check by ASUS’ cooling system. This is almost double the size of last year’s generation and uses a three fan system: one for the CPU, one for the GPU positioned for exhaust on the left and right, along with a centrally positioned “system” fan that pulls cool air into the case from the bottom. Both the CPU and GPU are treated with liquid metal instead of a traditional thermally conductive paste, which can reduce the temperature by up to 15 degrees Celsius compared to other solutions.
In practice, temperatures on the Turbo profile are around 70-80 degrees for the CPU and 80 degrees for the GPU in gaming. These can be lower in certain situations, however. Games that don’t demand so much of the CPU can drop the CPU temperature as low as 50-60 degrees in some situations, while the GPU can go as high as 82 degrees when using all NVIDIA technologies (DLSS, Ray-Tracing, Frame Generation, etc.). However, these temperatures are below the maximum allowed for optimal operation, and thus, this computer does not go into throttling. It’s not every day that you come across a laptop that achieves such performance.
In terms of noise output, in Turbo mode, the laptop ramps up to around 5600 revolutions per minute on each fan and puts out a sesisable 50 db of noise. This is quite low compared to other comparable laptops, but still quite noisy. The sound will need to be covered with a pair of headphones during gaming sessions.
I must mention though that while hardware-wise the laptop is very close to “perfection”, software-wise I encountered a few issues. These seem to be related, most likely to that MUX Switch, which allows the use of the NVIDIA graphics card permanently, in all situations. It seems that that Switch doesn’t have drivers or firmware well enough worked out and sometimes fails to turn on the video signal when entering or exiting stand-by. Sometimes the laptop would completely refuse to go into standby, other times it wouldn’t wake up until I held down the power button for a full reboot.
Furthermore, when first set up, the laptop, while correctly reporting the level of performance in games in frames per second, everything on the screen looked jerky and was also noticeable in gameplay when moving the mouse. I had to completely reset the laptop by restoring the original partition image to fix these issues, and at some point, they popped up again. We’re talking about a 4,000+ euro laptop, brand new, just with up to date drivers, Windows updates and games installed, with no software other than ASUS bloatware. And speaking of bloatware, let’s say I can understand why we have apps like Armoury Crate and MyAsus, as they are needed for controlling certain components and for software updates, but why you get software shoved down your throat that is more like “malware”, like McAffee “antivirus”, I can’t understand. At that kind of money, it doesn’t make much sense to see such pre-installed software “ads”.
I should mention that I had a “sample”, not necessarily a computer sold in stores, for testing, but I can’t guarantee that these problems were due to unfinished hardware or that problems may not occur on store versions. Certainly I did not expect such problems from such an expensive computer.
The ROG Strix SCAR 18 is one of the best performing computers on the market, both in the laptop and desktop area
And while we’re on the subject of this model’s performance, it’s the gaming tests that prove its capabilities. We used the usual suite of games, which we tested in all the modes it offers and in the three most common resolutions. Even though the laptop only offers 16:10 QHD panel from the factory, I decided to run the tests in “standard” resolutions on 16:9 format, to be more easily comparable with other laptop models or even regular resolution desktops. I ran the tests in games on the highest profile settings, both with and without ray-tracing, with or without DLSS and with or without Frame Generation where the option is available. Where only FSR, AMD’s DLSS-like technology, was available, we used this option.
This gave us one of the “thickest” performance charts to date, with 18 tests on Cyberpunk 2077 alone, which supports all NVIDIA technologies.
You can check out the data in the table on your own, but the bottom line is that this is without a doubt the best performing laptop we’ve tested so far in gaming. The performance jump from the RTX 30 generation isn’t huge in “traditional” games without ray tracing, but the efficiency has doubled, allowing it to run at full performance without throttling, something that occurred in most last generation computers. Then, improvements to the RT and AI cores led to better performance especially with ray tracing enabled and DLSS.
Frame Generation is still a new technology that has both advantages and disadvantages. But the results obtained with this option enabled, especially in higher resolutions, provide an even greater jump in performance from one generation to the next. Basically, you can run Cyberpunk 2077 on a laptop with all options enabled, including Ray Tracing, in 4K at nearly 100 frames per second. Two years ago, when Cyberpunk was first released, no desktop hardware could match this performance.
But Cyberpunk is just an extreme example and demonstration of “Frame Generation” capabilities. Many other games can achieve around 100, or even more frames per second just with “standard” DLSS 2, or even without. It’s important to note that all DLSS or FSR tests used the “balanced” profile for ease of testing and consistency between tests. However, NVIDIA recommends using the Performance profile in 4K, so there may be even greater performance advantages under such conditions. And the games are all set to the highest profiles (Highest/Very High/Ultra/Epic, etc., depending on the game). With a little tweaking of the settings, the values obtained in these tests can be even higher, with minimal visual compromise.
I was most impressed, however, with the performance I got from the Intel Core i9-13980HX processor. It benefits from 24 cores (8 performance and 16 efficient), with 32 threads of execution in total. While it can boost frequencies up to 5.6GHz, in reality, these are somewhere between 4 and 4.8GHz in gaming. Overall, such a processor is “overkill” for today’s games, with none of those tested being demanding enough to stress the processor to the max. In fact, many don’t even know how to use all those cores, or how to tell the difference between P-Cores and E-Cores. However, Watch Dogs Legion still finds the CPU to be the weakest component, and the reason you can’t get more frames per second. I’m going to blame the game, not the hardware.
For productivity, however, this processor is a real “monster”. With over 30,000 points in the Cinebench R23 multi-core test and over 2000 points in Single-Core, it’s more powerful than many high-end desktop processors today. It even outperforms chips considered professional, such as the Threadripper series, with 32 physical cores and 64 threads of execution. I’ve never seen a laptop processor finish a Cinebench R23 run in less than 30 seconds, but this model did it flawlessly.
- Cinebench R23 – Multi-Core 30,357 / Single-Core 2,123
- CrystalDiskMark SEQ1M Q8T1 – Read: 11.793 MB/s / Write: 9.277 MB/s
- CrystalDiskMark SEQ1M Q1T1 – Read: 4.954 MB/s / Write: 5.025 MB/s
And the storage is pretty “overkill”, but I would have preferred it not to come configured in Raid0 format. Even though two M.2 slots are populated with 1TB SSDs on the PCI-Express 4.0 bus, they are combined into a single 2TB Raid0 drive. The transfer speeds are indeed impressive, but also useless in gaming. There are few situations where the 11 GB/s read and 9 GB/s write will be used. I would have preferred separate drives, especially since you have the option to upgrade. If you only want to swap one of the two 1TB drives, the entire Raid0 partition will be destroyed, and even if you want to swap both, you’ll still have to destroy the boot partition. Of course, you can always drop Raid and partition your SSDs as you wish.
Fortunately, you have the freedom to put in whatever SSDs you want, as only a few screws on the bottom cover stand in the way of an upgrade. The two M.2 slots can be quickly accessed for upgrades. The RAM can also be swapped out for higher speed RAM. ASUS only ships 4,800 MT/s memories, but higher speed memories are already available on the market in SO-DIMM format.
The ASUS ROG Strix SCAR 18 is a true show of strength from ASUS and certainly won’t disappoint gaming enthusiasts who want top performance from a laptop. Those enthusiasts, however, must also have deep pockets to afford such a gaming beast and be aware that top performance comes with certain conditions. One is that we’re dealing with a big, heavy laptop. Another would be that despite being one of the quietest high performance gaming laptops, those 50 db are still noticeable and can be annoying during gameplay if you want to play without headphones or just with the laptop speakers.
I can say though that I’m particularly impressed with the cooling capabilities of this model, but also with what Intel and NVIDIA have managed to deliver on their new generations of laptop hardware. While NVIDIA seems to have moved in the direction of efficiency, with lower power consumption than previous models for higher performance, Intel is still making incremental steps in that direction. In the boost, the i9 processor is capable of pulling up to 150W from the socket, something not exactly to be commended in the mobile area. Fortunately, it will never attempt this on battery due to software limitations, and when it’s plug-powered, it probably won’t need to, as there are no games yet that demand it that much.