I’ll be honest with you; I don’t really understand the appeal of Steam Machines. Valve’s Linux-based Steam OS is still quite a way from being ripe enough to use for most gaming and its much vaunted, revolutionary controller seems to be stuck in prototype hell.  The perpetual delay in Valve’s Steam OS and its controller haven’t really done much to stem the tide of little, console-esque PC’s equipped to be future Steam Machines from hitting retail. We’ve seen tiny machines from Alienware and iBuyPower with the intent to dominate living rooms and now Asus is joining the club with its Republic of Gamers GR8. We’ve been playing with it, and it’s hard not to be impressed. It’s also hard not to be just a little disappointed.

ROG

It’s certainly a marvel of engineering. What Asus have managed to stuff in to a tiny, sleek and sexy chassis is pretty unbelievable. Its 2.5l, 1.28kg ultra thin chassis sports an Intel Core i7-4510U dual-core Haswell processor and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 750Ti graphics card. Depending on configuration, you’ll either have 8 or 16Gb of DDR3 memory, and the option of a 256GB SSD or a 1TB platter-based drive. Memory and storage are, unfortunately, the only user-replaceable and modular bits; you won’t be upgrading GPU or CPU on this thing. Thankfully, doing the memory upgrades is woefully simple; a little slider on the back of the case allows you to slide the panel off, giving quick and easy access.

The front houses two USB 2.0 ports and standard 3.5mm audio and mic inputs, while at the back you’ll find audio out, audio in, microphone jack, S/PDIF (Toslink), one HDMI, one Display port, an Ethernet port and 4 USB 3.0 ports.  The system also includes a built in WiFi adapter and uses an external, 19V powerbrick to supply power.  With nice angular edges and a distinctly Mayan aesthetic, it’s rather pleasing on the eye. It comes (optionally) bundled with a little mechanical keyboard and a gaming mouse, both of which are wired. This is the first of the system’s odd dichotomies.  You’d imagine that a little, console-like system that’s clearly aimed at being a living room PC would ship bundled with wireless input devices and a gaming controller.

Rogside

The other is the inclusion of the Display port. Yes, they’re selling this thing as a 4K compatible gaming system. I suppose that’s technically true; you’ll be able to run the included Windows 8.1 OS at 4K, but you certainly won’t be able to play any games – at least any modern ones – at anything remotely near that resolutions. There’s also another problem. While you can get 4K using HDMI, you’ll need to use the Display Port to get 4K at 60hz. Yes, even on your desktop. Running at 30Hz, your display just feels unnecessarily sluggish. Here’s the problem; when not using 3D applications (ie: Games), the system defaults to the onboard Intel HD graphics, which aren’t capable of running 4K at 60Hz. The reason Asus went with this decision is twofold; to keep noise and heat down, and to keep power consumption to a minimum.

According to them, the system will produce a maximum of 28dB under full load and will only pull 15 watts from your socket when idle. I believe ‘em. The thing is nearly whisper quiet. It does, however, start putting out quite a bit of heat when used for intensive gaming.  Yes, there are ways to go about changing display priorities, but it’s not the sort of tinkering people who’d buy a console-like gaming PC would be keen to do – and it would drive heat up. So you’re stuck with 30HZ 4K display, or a machine that runs too hot. Don’t even try gaming in 4K; the 750Ti just isn’t up to the task. (As a side note, 3DMark picked the card up as an 860M, which has identical specs)

Roginputs

On that note, the processor itself isn’t quite as fast as you’d want from a high-end gaming machine either. As a dual-core, it’s very much on the lower end of Intel’s i7 range but it certainly does the job without producing too much heat. The balance is off though; I can’t help but feel that the machine would have fared better replacing the i7 with a better specced i5, and switching out the GPU for something with a little more push like the GTX 760. It could have benefitted even further by waiting for Nvidia’s now postponed GTX 960.

It comes with a bit of included software, but none of it borders on bloatware. GameFirst III apparently prioritizes your network for game packets and sets aside more bandwidth for your games to reduce lag. There are four pre-set modes as well as manual settings, and a built-in Network Monitoring tool for testing connection speeds and managing network traffic. It’s handy, I suppose, but I can’t honestly say I noticed markedly improved online performance. Interestingly, it’s got a built-in Miracast for streaming to TVs which is also odd, considering it’s probably meant to be plugged into your TV.

In the end, it all comes down to how well it performs as a game playing machine. Running the GeForce 344.75 WHQL drivers, here’s the sort of numbers we got:

Crysis

Older, last gen games like Crysis 3 are certainly playable in 1080p resolutions, though the engine itself seems to have pretty varying, fluctuating framerates.

Oranges

The UE3 based Arkham Origins is playable right in to resolutions exceeding 1080p, but that’s to be expected. At 1080p, you can expect a pretty smooth almost constant 60fps – provided you don’t try use PhysX. Looking at more modern games though, and you’re starting to edge on to things becoming less than playable.

FarKraai

While Ubisoft’s open world shooter is mostly playable at console resolutions, it’s not nearly as smooth as you’d like from a gaming machine that’s out to replace a console – and one that costs R13 000. That’s the system’s biggest problem. For that money you could pick up a PlayStation 4 and an Xbox One and have a better gaming experience. That said, I’m in love with the thing. It’s beautiful, and takes up nearly no space on my desk – or right next to my TV. It’s quite a powerful machine for its size and is ideal for those who want a little system for LANs or people who can’t stand the very idea of consoles and want a living room PC.

Here are the specs, for people who like numbers at a glance.

ASUS ROG GR8 Specifications

  • Processor: Intel® Core™ i7-4510U Processor
  • Graphics processor: NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX 750Ti Graphics w/ 2GB GDDR5 VRAM
  • Operating system: Windows® 8.1 or Windows® 8.1 Pro
  • Memory & storage: 1600MHz DDR3L memory (up to 16GB) 2 x SO-DIMM. SATA 6Gb/s; 1 x 2.5? 1TB 7200rpm HDD, or 2.5? 256G SSD, 1 x 2.5” extension bay for HDD/SSD, Free 100GB of ASUS WebStorage for 12 months
  • Networks: Intel® Gigabit LAN, Wireless Dual-band 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi
  • Connectivity: Front 1 x Headphone, 1 x MIC-in, 2 x USB 2.0 (1 with USB Charger)
    Rear 3 x Audio jacks (LINE_IN/LINE_OUT/MIC), 1 x S/PDIF optical out, 1 x HDMI (support Ultra HD 4K), 1 x DisplayPort (support Ultra HD 4K), 1 x LAN(RJ45), 4 x USB 3.0, 1 x 19V DC-in, 1 x Kensington lock
  • Power consumption: 19V DC, 6.32A, 120W Power Adapter, 0.4W when off, 13W at idle, 70 to 77W at full 3D loads
  • ROG-exclusive features: SupremeFX Audio, Sonic SoundStage, Sonic SenseAmp, Sonic Studio, Sonic Radar II, GameFirst III, Miracast Receiver
  • Bundled software: Kaspersky Anti-Virus (1-year full license), AiSuite III, ASUS HomeCloud with Wi-Fi GO!/Media Streamer, DTS Connect
  • Accessories: M801 gaming mechanical keyboard (optional), ROG Gladius gaming mouse (optional), 120W AC adapter, Power cord, User Manual, Quick Start Guide, Warranty Card
  • Size: Max. 238 x 245 x 60 mm (2.5-liter chassis)
  • Weight: 1.284kg
  • Price : R12,999 (Configuration dependent)

 

Last Updated: December 2, 2014

Asus ROG GR8
Summary
It’s sleek and sexy, but don’t be fooled by the 4K marketing claims. The GR8 will play last gen’s games well enough at 1080p resolutions but struggles at anything higher. It’s a bit of a confused system, too. Though it's Inspired by consoles, it comes bundled with (admittedly lovely) wired input devices, and not a gaming controller. Unfortunately, for its price, it just doesn’t  perform as well as you’d expect.
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Geoffrey Tim

Editor. I'm old, grumpy and more than just a little cynical. One day, I found myself in possession of a NES, and a copy of Super Mario Bros 3. It was that game that made me realise that games were more than just toys to idly while away time - they were capable of being masterpieces. I'm here now, looking for more of those masterpieces.

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