With a 240Hz refresh rate, exceptional performance and RGB galore, the Scar III is an outstanding laptop for the uncompromising gamer
- 240Hz refresh rate
- All-out RGB lighting
- Supreme CPU speeds
- Plasticky chassis
- Struggles to stay cool
Asus’ ROG (Republic of Gamers) sub-brand is known for its expensive, high-performing gaming kit and outlandish RGB lighting – and the new Strix Scar III gaming laptop ticks all the boxes. Where last year’s Scar II featured an eye-catching RGB light bar on the front of the chassis, the Scar III ups the ante with lighting that extends all the way around the base of the laptop, and it now features ROG’s Keystone profile technology too.
Far more significantly, it’s also the first laptop we’ve ever seen with a 240Hz display – representing the dawn of a new chapter in portable gaming. Let’s dive into the specifications and see what makes the ROG Strix Scar III tick.
Asus ROG Strix Scar III review: What you need to know
I’ve been testing the top-spec Scar III (part code G531GW), which has a 15.6in FHD IPS display with a refresh rate of 240Hz. It’s backed up by an enormous amount of gaming power, thanks to a 9th-generation octa-core Intel Core i9-9880H CPU and an 8GB Nvidia GeForce RTX 2070 GPU. Asus has also installed a huge 32GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD that’s big enough to store a healthy library of games.
A 17.3in model is available too, but the larger screen is limited to a 144Hz refresh rate – which, to be fair, has until very recently been the industry standard for gaming laptops. It’s clearly on the way out, though: alongside the 15.6in ROG Strix Scar III, HP, Alienware and Razer have also all announced their own 240Hz laptops for 2019.
Asus ROG Strix Scar III review: Price and competition
The Strix Scar III G531GW hit UK stores in June 2019 at a price of £2,800. That’s a lot of money, true, but it’s far from ROG’s most expensive laptop: the Zephyrus S GX701, which I reviewed in early 2019, costs £3,200 and comes equipped with a lesser (though still powerful) 8th-generation Intel Core i7-8750H and 24GB RAM. Even more expensive specs are available.
There are also cheaper ROG Strix laptop options out there. The ROG Strix Hero III, launched alongside the Scar III, is effectively a lower-spec version of the same laptop, and the pricest model is £1,800, a full grand less than the top-end Scar. (Note that that’s a UK-specific distinction: in the US, the Hero III and Scar III differ only in their colour scheme.)
And there are plenty of alternatives outside of the Asus ROG range. Take the Alienware m15, which I reviewed at £2,450. For that money you get an Intel Core i7-8750H, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070 and 32GB RAM; it’s a formidable spec, though it still doesn’t match up to the new Asus ROG Scar III.
Or, if you really want an i9-powered laptop, the 17in Acer Predator Helios 500 costs £2,250 and remains one of the best-performing laptops we’ve ever tested, packing an 8th-generation Intel Core i9-8950HK and 16GB RAM. However, its GTX 1070 GPU doesn’t quite match the gaming prowess of the Scar III’s RTX 2070 – and, like all the other laptops I’ve mentioned here, its screen has a maximum refresh rate of 144Hz, versus the Scar III’s 240.
Asus ROG Strix Scar III review: Design
Since the introduction of Nvidia’s Max-Q “design architecture” in 2017, gaming laptops have been steadily slimming down, and the Scar III weighs a pretty modest 2.57kg. You wouldn’t want to carry it around in a backpack all day, especially not with its accompanying power brick, but for a super-powered gaming laptop, it’s really not bad.
One reason it’s light, however, is that it’s mostly made of plastic, and to be honest, it doesn’t have the sort of premium, sturdy feel I’d expect of such a pricey machine. The design is very busy too, with a variety of textures across the plastic body and an overabundance of eye-catching RGB lighting. It’s almost a parody of a gaming laptop.
One of the most conspicuous bits of lighting is the large, glowing ROG logo on the back of the lid. Asus has also expanded the RGB light bar from the Scar II so that it now wraps around the front and side edges of the base. This and the per-key RGB keyboard lighting can be customised (or turned off) through the Aura Sync control panel.
The slim bezels at the top and sides of the screen look classy, but the trade-off is that there’s no webcam above the display. Instead, Asus provides an optional clip-on camera, as it did for the recent ROG Zephyrus S laptops: apparently, gamers have told Asus that they prefer to have the freedom to place the webcam where they choose.
At the bottom of the screen, meanwhile, there’s a much bigger bezel with an asymmetrical cutaway on the right-hand side. I really don’t like this design choice, because it basically just gives you a view of the cables sticking out from the rear of the laptop. And due to its hefty power demands, this is a machine you’ll probably keep plugged in much of the time.
On that note, there’s a healthy (if unsurprising) range of connectors on offer. On the left edge are three USB Type-A ports and a combo mic/headphone 3.5mm audio jack, while on the rear edge of the Strix Scar III there’s an HDMI 2.0b port, an RJ45 Ethernet jack, a USB Type-C slot (with DisplayPort) and the proprietary power port.
The right edge hosts only a small illuminated port, into which you can slot a compact orange wedge called a Keystone – a proprietary memory drive that allows you to transfer ROG profile and lighting settings quickly to another laptop.
Asus ROG Strix Scar III review: Keyboard and touchpad
The Scar III’s island-style keyboard is perfectly adequate for typing. There’s a decent amount of key travel, and even though there’s a significant give to the laptop’s plastic base when pressed down, each keypress feels study and elicits a solid clunk. The space bar has an asymmetrical shape that matches the shape of the bottom display bezel – a thoughtful little touch. My only complaint is that I’m not a fan of the tacky gamer font that Asus uses across all its ROG notebooks.
Beyond your typical shortcut keys, there are also two power control buttons, for switching between Turbo, Balanced and Silent modes with a single tap, plus a ROG Armoury Crate key. As on the Asus ROG Zephyrus S, the touchpad on the Scar III also doubles up as a digital numeric keypad: the NumPad, as Asus calls it, is activated by holding a finger on the “NumLk” sensor (in the top right-hand corner of the touchpad) for about a second. To turn it off you simply tap the sensor again.
It’s a clever way to provide a full-sized number pad without squeezing the main keyboard off to the left, and the neon red grid looks pretty cool. But it’s easier to turn on accidentally than I’d like.
Asus ROG Strix Scar III review: ROG Armoury Crate and Keystone
Asus has overhauled its ROG Armoury Crate software (essentially a ROG-branded control panel) to include Keystone support. As I’ve mentioned, this lets you use the Keystone drive to copy your customisations onto another laptop that has a Keystone slot. Right now, however, the only laptops in the world that have such a slot are the Asus ROG Strix Scar III and Hero III laptops. To call it a niche feature would be generous.
The Keystone also enables access to an encrypted “Shadow Drive” that’s embedded into your main system drive. This allows you to hide and encrypt sensitive files, and make them completely inaccessible when the Keystone isn’t present. Of course, if you want to use this feature, you won’t want to leave the Keystone in its slot – so you’ll need to be careful not to lose it.
ROG Armoury Crate also has its own smartphone app, which lets you control your laptop’s CPU, GPU and cooling settings via your phone. It sounds a bit gimmicky, but if you’re mid-game and want to make some changes without disrupting the flow then it could come in handy. Annoyingly, though, every time you launch the app you have to sign into your Asus account, which rather undermines the convenience factor.
Asus ROG Strix Scar III review: Display
Too often, manufacturers ruin otherwise great gaming laptops with glossy, hyper-reflective displays. Thankfully, the Scar III’s 15.6in Full HD (1,920 x 1,080) IPS panel has a matte finish that’s perfectly viewable even under bright overhead lighting. Its maximum luminance of 278cd/m2 is a little on the low side, but it’s adequate for gaming in any indoor setting. More disappointing is the contrast ratio, which I measured at 972:1. That’s a fair bit lower than your typical gaming laptop, and in use, you can clearly see that the gap between dark and light colours isn’t as striking as on some other screens.
Colour reproduction, on the other hand, is very good. The Scar III’s panel covers 94% of the sRGB gamut with a gamut volume of 99%, which means that it overlaps very closely with the sRGB colour space used by all web content and most PC applications. Colour accuracy is even better, with an outstanding average Delta E of 0.94 – one of the best scores I’ve measured on any gaming laptop, and good enough for pro-standard image and video editing. And of course, to top it off, that 240Hz refresh rate promises the smoothest gaming experience that’s ever been seen on a laptop.
Asus ROG Strix Scar III review: Performance and battery life
Needless to say, to drive the screen at anything close to 240Hz requires a lot of power – and the Scar III has it. The CPU is a 9th-gen, octa-core Intel Core i9-9880H with a base frequency of 2.3GHz and a turbo speed of 4.8GHz, and it’s supported by a generous 32GB of RAM.
Thus equipped, the Scar III scored a massive 210 in our 4K benchmarks. That’s the second-best result ever attained by any laptop that’s passed through our labs, and only a negligible hair behind the Acer Predator Helios 500 with its score of 215.
The Scar III did even better in the GeekBench 4 test, with a multi-core speed of 27,778. That’s an unprecedented result that’s well ahead of the Acer Predator Helios 500, and even faster than the 2018 Apple Mac Mini, which scored 27,639.
It’s worth noting that GeekBench focuses solely on the CPU. Our in-house 4K benchmark also stresses the GPU and storage, and puts the thermal management system through its paces – and the smaller gap here between the ROG Scar III and the Acer doubtless has much to do with the fact that the Scar III’s fans don’t dissipate heat that efficiently. During our benchmark, seven out of the CPU’s eight cores hit or exceeded temperatures of 95° Celsius, including one that reached the maximum safety limit of 100°. The plastic chassis doesn’t get too hot, but when the CPU and GPU are running at full tilt the air that pumps out of the laptop’s exhausts is rather toasty.
We can’t blame Asus too much for this: cooling is always going to be a challenge for a Max-Q laptop like this. Still, it’s a shame to see powerful components held back from achieving their full potential due to heat-management issues.
Of course, what most buyers will care about is gaming performance. This is the first laptop I’ve tested that comes equipped with an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2070 GPU, and it’s certainly a step up from previous-generation graphics chips, delivering a record-breaking average of 123fps in the DiRT: Showdown 720p benchmark. While that’s excellent, it’s nowhere near the 240fps that the panel is capable of, but then even at the lowest possible settings, I was unable to get the frame rate up run any higher than the mid-140s – suggesting that the limitation may be with the game code rather than the hardware.
Indeed, there was much better news in the GFXBench GL Car Chase gaming benchmark. Here the Scar III performed fantastically, maintaining an on-screen average frame rate of 224fps. I have seen laptops that deliver better off-screen results, as the chart above shows, but their 144Hz panels have always put a hard limit on on-screen performance.
I won’t get into the debate about how many frames per second the human eye can actually perceive; let’s just say that 224fps is phenomenal for an on-screen result, indicating that you can be confident of getting decent, very playable frame rates from any game on the market. Even with all the settings cranked up to maximum I was able to run the Forza Horizon 4 benchmark at an average of 76fps, and the SteamVR performance test gave the Strix Scar III a rating of 11/11 for VR-readiness.
As is common, the Scar III’s 1TB PCI-E SSD is perfectly speedy when it comes to reading files, but rather slower at writing them. In fact, it’s unusually unbalanced: in the AS SSD benchmark I saw sequential read speeds of 1,496MB/sec, but sequential write rates of just 220MB/sec. Those read speeds are about average compared to the competition, so games and levels will load as quickly as you’d hope, but the write speeds are below par, so it might feel comparatively sluggish when it comes to saving games and writing large files.
Battery life was never going to be the Scar III’s strong suit, not a with a Core i9 and an RTX 2070 under the hood. Even so, it didn’t do awfully by the standards of gaming laptops. With its 66Wh battery fully charged, the Scar III lasted 3hrs 39mins in our video playback test – over an hour longer than the Predator Helios 500, which fizzled out after 2hrs 27mins. Of course, once you start playing high-end games that tax the CPU and GPU, you can expect the effective battery life to be a lot shorter.
Asus ROG Strix Scar III review: Verdict
If you’re into unusual designs and gaudy RGB lighting then the Scar III might just be the machine for you. It’s one of the most powerful gaming laptops on the market right now, with the fastest raw CPU performance of any laptop we’ve ever tested at Expert Reviews, and enough 3D power to handle any Triple-A gaming title you care to think of. With less demanding settings it can deliver phenomenal frame rates as well, thanks to its 240Hz panel.
I do have a few reservations. I’m not wholly won over by the physical design, for instance, nor the quirky little Keystone drive. Thermal management could be better too – but even when the CPU and GPU are working overtime for sustained periods, performance remains very much top-tier.
In all, the Scar III is an impressive bit of kit, and while it’s certainly expensive, it’s far from the priciest ROG notebook. If you’re eager to get your hands on an exceptional laptop, this one certainly fits the description – although if you can be patient, it’ll be interesting to see how it holds up against the new wave of rival 240Hz gaming laptops that are set to land in the coming months.
Asus ROG Strix Scar III specifications
- Processor-Intel Core i9-9880H, octa-core, 2.3GHz-4.8GHz, 9th Gen
- Additional memory slots-0
- Max. memory-32GB
- Screen size-15.6in
- Screen resolution-1,920 x 1,080
- Pixel density-141.2ppi
- Screen type-LCD IPS
- Pointing devices-Touchpad
- Graphics adapter-Nvidia GeForce RTX 2070
- Graphics outputs-HDMI 2.0b, USB Type-C 3.1 (Display Port)
- Graphics memory-8GB
- Storage-1TB SSD
- Optical drive-No
- Memory card slot-No
- USB ports-USB Type-C 3.1 (Display Port),
- USB Type-A 3.1 x3
- Other ports-3.5mm combo audio jack, HDMI 2.0b, RJ45 Ethernet jack, Keystone
- Web Cam-No (external webcam provided)
- Speakers-4W speakers x2
- 3.5mm headphone jack-Yes
- Wi-Fi-Intel 802.11ac (2×2) Gigabit Wi-Fi
- Bluetooth-Bluetooth 5.0
- NFC-Yes (Keystone)
- Dimensions (WDH)-360 x 275 x 24.9mm (WDH)
- Operating system-Windows 10 Pro
- Operating system restore option-Windows restore partition
- Battery size-66Wh