If you’re looking for the absolute most powerful gaming hardware out there … Well, you do not want the Asus ROG Strix Scar 15. You want a desktop or a laptop that weighs seven pounds, requires more power, and is basically a desktop. But if you still want something you can realistically carry around, the Strix is about as strong as it gets.
We’ve reviewed a number of Asus laptops this year that are members of the ROG Zephyrus gaming line – powerful while still being portable and attractive. You buy a Zephyrus if you want decent game results, but also want an everyday machine that you can bring into the office or class. The Strix line avoids the last role. These are gaming laptops. They are for games only. They are not cheap, they are not subtle, and they hold nothing back.
This is where Strix Scar 15 stands out. Every aspect is designed with the gaming enthusiast in mind and there are a number of unique features for these customers. Of course, they also come with a few compromises – and people who may need to use their machine for tasks besides gaming should consider other options.
The Strix Scar 15 starts at $ 2,199.99 at the Asus Store. The base model comes with a Core i7-10875H, an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2070 Super, 1GB SSD storage and a 240Hz screen. The model we are looking at today is a major step up from that: it costs $ 2,799.99 and is powered by Intel’s eight-core Core i9-10980HP and an RTX 2070 Super that comes with 32GB of RAM, 2 TB storage space and a 1920 x 1080 300Hz screen (3ms response time). The 10980HP is a workhorse – it is one of the most powerful mobile chips on the market – and 300Hz is the fastest display you can get on a 15-inch laptop.
If you clicked on this review, you are probably most curious about the frame rates that this laptop uploads. Suffice it to say: they are good.
On CS: GO at maximum settings, the Strix Scar averaged 248 fps. Thanks to this model’s 300Hz screen, the chips not only reproduce 248fps; you actually see 248 fps. You see a frame rate difference between this system and one identical to a 240Hz screen, albeit a small one. (But for people who play a lot of esports and first-person shooters, a small difference can make a difference.)
Overall, CS: GO was a smooth experience. The scar only dipped below 100 fps once as I ran through a thick river of dust.
Not all titles are able to take full advantage of the 300Hz screen unless you plan on encountering the quality settings. Strix put on 67 fps Shadow of the Tomb Raider‘s highest beam radiation settings on Ultra. On Red Dead Redemption II (one of the most demanding games out there) rose up to Ultra, Scar averaging 54 fps. Both games were quite playable on these settings without the trunk or slowdown. These results are on par with the MSI GE66 Raider (which put 50 fps on Red Dead and 70 fps more Tomb Raider) and beat the smaller Zephyrus G14 by a significant margin.
It’s worth noting that while I let the Scar rip in Turbo mode (the highest power profile available), the 10980HP got pretty hot throughout my gaming session and spent some time in the mid 90’s and even hit 99 degrees Celsius a few times. When I switched to the regular performance profile, the CPU spent more time in the mid 80’s and I only saw a difference of 1-2 fps as a result. So if you are worried about frying your hardware, you will not miss much if you stay on the Performance profile.
Move on to other portable items. Aside from its chips, what sets Strix Scar 15 apart as a gaming laptop is the design. It has an RGB keyboard that can be adjusted per key, a luminous logo on the lid and a bright LED strip around the three front sides. A glowing stripe may seem disgusting, but this one is actually more muted than strips you might have seen on gaming rigs like MSI’s GE66 Raider. It wraps around the underside of the tire so you do not see it fully; the effect is less exciting gamer than GE66 Raider and more fancy nightclub. (Of course, you can turn off all RGB stuff. But what’s the point?)
Another cool thing is the tire design, which is printed with what Asus calls “Cybertext.” Basically, Republic of Gamers is written all over the place in an urban-chic kind of font. It’s subtle and far from distracting, but it gives the whole product a subtle sci-fi vibe.
Speaking of the keyboard cover: The palm rests are coated with a unique “soft-touch paint”. It is much smoother than your typical wrist rest (you can feel the difference when you touch the rest of the cabinet) and is quite nice to put your hands on.
Asus keyboards are often among my favorites, and the Strix Scars keyboard is no exception. I love writing on this. I feel like my fingers are flying while I use it. There is a satisfactory click with very little resistance. And I especially appreciate the convenient array of keyboard shortcuts at the top, which include volume control, a microphone-silent, one that changes the performance profile, and another button that brings up the Armory Crate (Asus’ app, where you can adjust various settings and functions).
If you would rather connect your own peripherals, you have a good port selection at your disposal. There are three USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A ports and an audio jack on the left side, while the back houses a USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C port (which supports DisplayPort but not PD charging), the charging port, a LAN RJ 45 and an HDMI 2.0. That’s most of what you need, but there’s an obvious omission: the Thunderbolt. Lots of people may not care about this, but it’s a port I’m disappointed not to see on a $ 2,799 laptop.
On the right is a Keystone II reader. A Keystone II is a physical key on which you can store personal settings. You can also use it to access a private storage space, which Asus refers to as a “shadow drive.” This can be encrypted if you have Windows 10 Pro. (Only this model comes with the operating system. You will need to upgrade from Windows 10 Home if you purchase the base configuration.)
Keystone II is a nice idea considering how many settings and profiles there are to keep track of on the Strix. In the ROG app GameVisual you can choose between color settings for different types of games (FPS mode improves brightness and contrast, RPG mode prioritizes vibrant colors, etc.). In Aura Creator you can customize the keyboard colors and animation. In GameFirst VI, you can prioritize bandwidth between the programs you run; there are presets like Gaming First, Live Streaming First and Multimedia First.
One more thing I like: the speakers. Music sounded good with a nice surround quality. Strix does not replace a good external speaker, and percussion was a bit thin. But the vocals were pretty clear, and at maximum volume I never heard distortion. The laptop fans get pretty loud during games, but I had no trouble hearing the sound of my games over them. (You can also switch to the Silent profile if the whine bothers you.)
There are many good things on Strix that you can see. But there are also compromises. Most of them are not super relevant for gaming (and thus forgivable on a laptop like Strix), but they are still worth keeping in mind.
First: there is no webcam. It’s not a deal-breaker – streamers still use their own equipment – but it’s a big minus for anyone who would otherwise use Strix for an occasional work meeting or virtual gathering with friends.
I also have a few issues with the trackpad. It has discrete clickers that require a little more glitter to press than integrated buttons. I like these particular clickers more than most, but they are still easy to miss and I have sometimes found myself hitting a chassis when trying to click. Overall, I found it less responsive and less accurate than I would have it. Occasionally, it thought I was clicking when I was not, which caused me to accidentally drag things everywhere.
The touchpad also has a flexible function where it can be turned into an LED numeric keypad if you press an integrated NumLock button in the upper right corner – but I hit this button with my palm while typing and activating the Numpad by an accident several times. Unlike Asus’ ZenBooks, which also have this feature, you can not navigate with the touchpad while the Numpad is up, so I kept interrupting my workflow to disable it. (You can disable the touchpad itself with the F10, but there is no easy way to disable the NumPad without disabling the touchpad.)
The biggest drawback, however, is the battery life. I averaged two hours and 28 minutes of continuous multitasking and office work with the Strix on the Battery Saver profile with the screen around 200 nit brightness. (With all the battery-saving features turned off and a slightly heavier load, I was all the way down to an hour.) The Strix is a gaming laptop, so I did not expect hours of juice. Still, many competitors do better: the MSI GE66 Raider (which also runs an LED strip and RGB keyboard) did it for four hours with the same workload.
Battery play is possible, but not great. Red Dead ran mostly in the high teens and low 20s. I got an hour and 15 minutes of play for a fee, but I started to see the strain when Strix was down to 60 percent (about half an hour inside) and the game became unplayable at 10 percent. Realistically, if you plan to bring the scar everywhere, bring the massive 280W adapter and spend some time charging the device. (It took 45 minutes to charge up to 60 percent under very light Chrome use.)
Overall, these nitpicks underscore Asus’ priority with Scar. It’s not a laptop meant to double as a travel companion or a home driver – do not buy it to be your primary PC.
But that doesn’t mean the scar isn’t great for what it should be great for, which is game. Its results are on par with the best 15-inch rigs on the market, and it offers useful customization software with a uniquely colorful design to boot. If you need the best frame rates and the fastest screen, the Strix Scar 15 is a great buy.
Photos by Monica Chin / The Verge