Blistering performance, a great display and in-your-face aesthetic make the Scar 16 the quintessential gaming laptop
- Blazingly fast performance
- Lovely 240Hz Nebula HDR display
- Great audio quality
- Bigger, heavier and pricier than the 2022 model
- No biometric login
- DC port on the side not the rear
Asus’ ROG Strix Scar laptops, of which the ROG Strix Scar 16 is a family member, are the doyens of gaming laptops. Both the exterior design and the cutting-edge components inside can reasonably be regarded as the state of the current art, so you can buy one and rest safe in the knowledge that nothing significantly better is likely to arrive on the scene, at least until the next calendar year.
The big changes for 2023 are the arrival of new Intel CPUs and Nvidia GPUs and displays that have gone squarer. Out goes the 15.6in model to be replaced by a 16in machine, while the 17.3in Scar 17 is joined rather than replaced by a Scar 18.
Asus ROG Strix Scar 16 review: What you need to know
Sadly these next-gen RTX 40-series machines are not cheap. The top-of-the-range 2022 Scar 15 cost £2,399 when we tested it back in March 2022. The new model is £1,000 more expensive, which is one hell of a jump no matter what improvements the new models bring to the table.
As you would have every right to expect given the price, the Scar 16 comes loaded to the gunnels: it has kit beyond the most powerful laptop processor Intel has ever made and the second most powerful mobile GPU that Nvidia has ever made.
Highlights include a conventional MUX switch, as well as Nvidia’s Advanced Optimus GPU switcher, G-Sync support for tear-free gaming and a fast display with a 240Hz refresh rate and 3ms response time.
Asus ROG Strix Scar 16 (2023) review: Price and competition
Configuration tested – G634JZ-NM041W: Intel Core i9-13980HX CPU, Nvidia RTX 4080 (175W) GPU, 32GB RAM, 12GB vRAM, 2TB SSD, 16in 2,560 x 1,600 IPS non-touchscreen; Price: £3,400
Asus is offering two models of the Strix Scar 16 in the UK. Top of the pile and costing £3,400 is the G634JZ-NM041W, which has the the same Mini LED QHD+ Nebula HDR panel that I encountered on the Zephyrus M16 and runs on an Nvidia RTX 4080 GPU and Intel Core i9-13980HX CPU.
For £110 less you can have exactly the same machine (G634JZ-N4003W) but without the Mini LED backlight so it’s just a plain Nebula rather than Nebula HDR display. Whether or not you actually want the zonal lighting that comes with Nebula HDR the price difference is so small that going for the pricier model seems an obvious thing to do.
The obvious competition comes from the 2022 Asus ROG Strix Scar 15. Right now, Asus is selling the Intel Core i9-12900H, RTX 3070 Ti GPU model for £2,500, which is great value. Granted you don’t get the trick Nebula HDR display or a DLSS 3-supporting GPU but, in all other ways, it’s still a very competitive machine and it’s £900 cheaper.
If you want something that looks a little less juvenile but still packs the latest silicon, the Asus ROG Zephyrus M16 (2023) is worth a look. The CPU inside is less potent than the Scar 16’s but its RTX 4090 GPU is as powerful as you can get. The Zephyrus also uses the same Nebula HDR display as the Scar 16. The problem is the £4,000 price tag, which makes the Scar 16 look almost cheap.
My perennial favourite all-AMD Alienware m17 isn’t available in the UK any more but you can still get the Ryzen 9, RTX 3080 version, which has a lot going for it. For £3,224 you can have it with 64GB of RAM, a mechanical keyboard, 4TB of storage and a 2,560 x 1,440 165Hz 17.3in screen, which is a very decent package for just north of £3,000.
Asus ROG Strix Scar 16 review: Design and build quality
If you want a subtle gaming laptop, look elsewhere. What we have here is a smorgasbord of semi-translucent bodywork and LED lights, as well as other non-essential gaming paraphernalia like the replaceable magnetic Armor Caps that sit behind the hinge – these can also be 3D-printed for the ultimate in personalisation. There’s even a line of text on the trackpad telling you that you own a laptop specifically designed for “Those Who Dare”.
Visually, it appeals to the same part of the brain that prefers the aesthetic of a Civic Type-R over the subdued elegance of a VW Golf GTI. It’s a little disappointing, then, that the translucent part of the keyboard deck doesn’t let you see anything even remotely interesting.
Of more practical benefit than the over-the-top visuals is the fact that the Asus ROG Strix Scar 16 is very well-bolted together and feels solid and durable. It’s both bigger and heavier than the 2022 model, though, at 2.5kg, and the 330W power brick is hefty, too.
I do take issue with one design element. While the black-painted metal lid is immune to greasy fingerprints, the plastic keyboard deck is most certainly not. Every time I sat down at the Scar 16, I spent a few moments polishing away to try to remove grease marks.
Still, the 2023 Scar 16 has a good array of physical ports and these are arrayed along each side, instead of on one side and the rear as they were in last year’s Strix Scar laptops. I’ve no issue with Asus moving the data ports to the side but, personally, I prefer the power jack to be out of sight at the rear instead of midway up the left edge.
That gripe aside, you get a decent selection of two USB-A 3.2 Gen 2 ports, an HDMI 2.1 FRL video output, a Thunderbolt 4 port and a USB-C 3.2 Gen 2 socket that also supports USB PD 1.4 and 100W charging. A 2.5GbE Ethernet port rounds things off.
For this 2023 model, Asus has also moved the RGB lights from the bottom panel to the main body of the laptop so you can remove the base without having to disconnect the cables linking the lights to the motherboard. That makes it easier to get inside, where there’s easy access to the two SODIMM RAM slots and two SSD mounts, should you wish to upgrade to the quoted maximums of 64GB of DDR5 RAM and 4TB of storage. The fans, battery and Wi-Fi card are also readily accessible for upgrading or spring cleaning.
Wireless communications are handled by an Intel AX211 Wi-Fi 6E card, which also supports Bluetooth 5.2. And my review machine came fitted with two 1TB Samsung SSDs in a RAID0 configuration, recording impressive sequential read and write times of 7,207MB/sec and 4,043MB/sed respectively.
Asus ROG Strix Scar 16 review: Keyboard, touchpad and webcam
The keyboard is similar in layout to that on the Zephyrus, except that it has full-size cursor keys. The square chiclet keys have a very nicely calibrated action, the 1.7mm of travel is spot on and it’s all underpinned by a very solid base, displaying even less give under hard pressure than the Zephyrus.
The trackpad is a large (130 x 85mm) glass-covered affair that features Asus’ virtual numeric keypad and I found it to be entirely reliable, with a well-damped and quiet click.
The webcam is a pretty basic 720p unit, unfortunately. It does its job reasonably well and video isn’t overly noisy or washed out, even in dim lighting. That said, considering the cost of the Scar 16 a better 1080p camera that also supports Windows Hello facial recognition (there’s no fingerprint scanner either) would surely not have been too much of an ask.
Asus ROG Strix Scar 16 review: Display and audio
The display fitted to the Scar 16 is one of Asus’ new Nebula HDR affairs, which means it’s a 240Hz 2,560 x 1,600 IPS panel with a Mini-LED lighting array, divided into 1,024 zones for improved HDR performance. It’s an impressive performer and, since the Mini-LED model only adds £100 to the cost of the laptop with the non-Mini-LED screen, it’s definitely the one you should opt for.
You can switch between single and multi-zone lighting in the Asus Armory Crate software and immediately notice a difference in brightness. In single-zone mode, brightness peaks at 480cd/m², in multi-zone at 795cd/m² and with Windows HDR enabled it jumps to 1,010cd/m², which is how it gets its VESA Display HDR1000 certificate. While multi-zone HDR works wonders for brightness and contrast it plays merry hell with the colour accuracy, so I conducted all our usual quality tests in SDR with the single-zone backlight.
There’s plenty of colour on hand, with 103.8% DCI-P3 gamut volume in Vivid mode. You can also pick from one of three pre-calibrated colour modes: sRGB, DCI-P3 and Display P3. Measured against the sRGB profile the display’s Delta E colour variance was a very impressive 0.94, while against DCI-P3 it was only marginally worse at 1.11. Those are excellent results for any laptop, let alone a gaming machine.
The contrast ratio of 1,210:1 in SDR was healthy enough but, as you would expect, that increases to infinity:1 when you engage the multi-zone backlight and the black level becomes true OLED-level black. Gamma was pretty much bang on at 2.19.
Switch Windows into HDR mode and the multi-zone backlight triggers automatically. It’s here the display really hits its stride. Games such as Halo Infinite look superb on the Scar 16 in HDR with much improved contrast and tremendous colour saturation. We could argue until the sun falls out of the sky whether or not a multi-zone backlit panel can ever match an OLED unit for HDR quality but, in gaming, the Scar 16’s panel comes so close the argument is moot.
As well as the VESA HDR certificate the display is also TÜV Rheinland-approved for low blue light emissions, Pantone Color validated for colour accuracy and has the Dolby Vision seal of approval.
As for sound, that’s pretty good, too. There are four speakers buried inside the Strix Scar 16: two woofers at the back and two tweeters at the front. Asus doesn’t quote a power output but the maximum volume produced playing a pink noise source of 72.7dBA (measured from 1m distance) is pretty respectable.
More importantly, the sound the speakers produce is very nicely balanced: there’s ample bass, plenty of detail and a nice sense of space. I’m writing this while listening to the debut album from The Delines, Colefax, and the job the speakers are doing highlighting the vocals and brass is just as impressive as when they’re dealing with the screaming guitars and thundering drums of Metal: Hellsinger.
Asus ROG Strix Scar 16 review: Performance and battery life
The CPU inside the Scar 16 isn’t your average Intel CPU. The Core i9-13980HX is a 24-core monster with eight performance and 16 efficiency cores that support a total of 32 threads. Flat out in Turbo mode it can run at 5.6GHz. It’s the most powerful laptop CPU Intel has ever made.
When I ran the usual Expert Reviews 4K multimedia benchmark test, I achieved a result of 632. That was so high I re-ran the test, assuming something had gone wrong, but no, that was the true result. That’s 124 points higher than the previous best (the 2022 ROG Strix Scar 17) and sets a new standard for laptop performance. In general use, the Scar 16 is brutally, blindingly, blisteringly quick.
Across a multiplicity of graphics tests, it’s impossible to say which is the outright better performer, the 150W/16GB RTX 4090-equipped Asus ROG Zephyrus M16 or the 175W/12GB RTX 4080-equipped Scar 16.
In some cases, the extra GPU cores and vRAM in the Zephyrus give it the edge; in others, the higher TGP and faster CPU of the Scar 16 nudge it front. Of course, the big difference is the Scar 16 is cheaper and, therefore, delivers more frames per second per pound spent.
Here are some examples. In the Wolfenstein: Youngblood benchmark it’s victory to the Scar 16, but in the Metro Exodus test the Zephyrus has the edge. In Hitman 2 it was a dead heat. The Scar 16 ran those three benchmarks at 135fps, 58fps and 59.5fps respectively, all at 2,560 x 1,600 at the highest detail settings and without DLSS, while the Zephyrus turned in scores of 120fps, 65fps and 59fps with identical settings.
The performance gap between these new RTX40-series machines and their RTX 30-series forebears increases further when it comes to DLSS 3-supported games such as A Plague Tale: Requiem, which with DLSS Frame Generation engaged can easily run at 120fps at 2,560 x 1,600 with detail settings at their highest. The good news is that DLSS 3 support is spreading quickly (Nvidia reckons uptake is seven times faster than with DLSS 2), with Forza Horizon 5 recently getting a compatibility update.
Synthetic benchmarks told a similar tale, with the Scar 16 faster in some and the Zephyrus faster in others. For instance, the SPECviewperf 3ds max 3D modelling test favoured the Zephyrus by 195fps to 175fps, while in the CPU-intensive multicore Cinebench R23 test, it was a victory to the Scar 16 by a crushing 30,309 to 19,269.
Given the presence of a 175W GPU and a processor with a base power demand of 45W, I expected more of an issue with heat dissipation than I encountered. Yes, the back of the casing gets a little hot under stress and the fans are quite loud when running full tilt in Turbo mode, but nothing that I would describe as out of the ordinary for a high-performance gaming laptop.
Both the Zephyrus and Scar use the same 90Wh battery so, unsurprisingly, returned pretty similar figures in our run-down test: we loop an SD video using VLC with the screen brightness turned down to 170cd/m² until the lights go out. The Scar 16 actually did slightly better than the Zephyrus, running for 5hrs 27mins compared with 5hrs 13mins.
Neither score is all that impressive but machines like this are not designed to be used away from a power socket for extended periods; gaming can easily drain either battery in well under an hour.
Asus ROG Strix Scar 16 review: Verdict
There’s no denying the essential excellence of the Asus ROG Strix Scar 16. It’s stunningly fast when it comes to both games and productivity, the display is superb, as is the sound system, and it comes loaded with all the extras and refinements you could ask for from a top-tier gaming laptop.
But as with the Zephyrus M16 and indeed many of the 13th Gen Intel/RTX 40-series machines currently being launched, it’s extraordinarily expensive. Is the range-topping 2023 Strix Scar 16 a better laptop than the equivalent 2022 Strix Scar 15? Yes. Is it £1,000 better? That’s a tougher question to answer but, ultimately, the answer has to be no.