Illegear OnyxStarting from RM5499
The Illegear Onyx: the very first bezel-less model from Illegear. Let’s see if looks have brawn to match, especially as a Tech Nomad’s mobile weapon of choice in today’s review.
It’s only been a few months since Technomadica welcomed its first Illegear notebook, the 1070MQ equipped S5X – which was purchased at a rather unfortunate time, as the era of Intel’s Kaby Lake architecture came to an end, with the brand new Coffee Lake coming to replace it at the end of March 2018.
Nonetheless, we here at Technomadica rather liked what we got, as could be seen from the rather positive review of the S5X here. That plus the extremely positive Customer Service we received from the folks at Illegear quickly solidified our preference for the plucky little Malaysian outfit, and when we decided to increase our arsenal of laptops, it was a no-brainer that Illegear is included in the consideration.
Plus, our acquisition needs luckily coincided with the release of what is to become Illegear’s first Coffee Lake, “bezel-less” model: The Onyx. So, after some time considering our options (and with Illegear’s impeccable CS line on point in answering our questions regarding the new model as always), we finally decided to get one.
Based this time on the GK5CN6Z barebones from the Chinese ODM TongFang (which is also being used by a few other brands including the German company XMG as the Neo 15, with a few cosmetic tweaks), the Onyx marks Illegear’s second collaboration with this particular ODM after 2017’s surprise budget hit, the Raven.
So with that little bit of introduction out of the way, let’s dive in head first into the review itself, shall we.
BUILD QUALITY / DESIGN
The Onyx is primarily constructed from a mix of metal and plastic, with the lid, and the top area clad in metal; and the bottom and screen bezel of the unit made out of tough plastic. While this can be considered a step back from the S5X’s full metal construction, the plastic does feel rather durable and the mixed construction does not at all result in a flexy overall chassis (as you would probably expect). Instead, the entire device feels rather strong and rigid, unlike MSI’s GE63 and much better then even the S5X.
In fact, try as we could, it proved to be very hard to make the Onyx’s top area (the palmrest and the area surrounding the keyboard) to flex much at all. And, as a bonus, the insulative nature of the plastic bottom would also mean that you’re probably gonna be able to put the Onyx on your lap more easily then other, metal bottomed competitors.
Moving on, the screen lid proved to be rather resistant to flexing as well, though it’s not as rigid as the top area was (though at least I could not at all disturb the LCD screen in any way by pressing from the center of the lid). More importantly, the extremely thin bezels surrounding the screen itself is pretty much unmistakable, which – possibly more then anything else – is the Onyx’s main party trick. Illegear calls this Infinivision, which is rather fitting, if you ask us.
Coming from a notebook with a conventionally thick bezel, seeing a “bezel-less” screen in person for the first time can be rather unsettling, as the screen seems to pop out as if from nowhere, especially when you use the Onyx in the dark. They’re even thinner than the bezels on a Macbook Pro, and is possibly on par with the current bezel-less champs the Aero 15 v7 and the XPS 15 – which even have their webcam mounted in a weird place to compensate (the Onyx manages to put it fine where it normally is).
Next, we scrutinise the Onyx’s second primary design feature: The per-key RGB mechanical keyboard. Illegear states that the “Geneswitch” keyboard is an improved version from the one on the Raven before it, with better construction and switches. In our hands, it does feel rather nice, with solid feedback and a great response – although the compact layout (more akin to an Alienware notebook then your typical Island or Chiclet keyboards) does lend itself to typing errors if you’re not used to it.
Furthermore, the fully configurable per-key RGB aspect of the keyboard is stunning, with full customisation available from the bundled Control Panel software, plus a few bundled animation options to boot. Of course, if all the lights turn out to be too gaudy for your tastes, you can always choose a single uniform shade at low brightness.
The touchpad is rather decent as well, except for the initially sticky surface (which breaks in quickly enough into a nice micro-matte surface after a few minutes of use) and the fact that it’s a click pad with integrated buttons, which we don’t exactly fancy. Nonetheless, it does runs out of the box with Windows Precision drivers and supports the full range of Windows 10 gestures, which is a plus. There’s also tiny little illuminated dot in one corner that turns the the touchpad on and off with a double tap, which is another nice touch.
As for ports, the Onyx has got you covered with a wide selection of ports, all spread over the back and the sides of the unit:
- 1x USB 2.0 (charging optimised)
- 2x USB 3.0
- 2x Mini Display Port
- 1x Type-C USB 3.1
- 1x HDMI
- 1x Headphone/Mic jack (saperate)
- 1x Kensington lock slot
- 1x AC in (Clevo/MSI/Asus type)
- 1x Ethernet port
Lastly, in terms of maintenance, the Onyx gets it right from the get go. Accessing the internals (at least the ones you normally want access to) only requires you to undo the bottom screws and that’s it. Also, unlike the competing MSI GS series, the motherboard ISN’T mounted upside down (which greatly simplifies access). Not only that, Illegear as a company is pretty “self-upgrade” friendly (they don’t slap void stickers all over screw holes)… as long as you know what you’re doing and you don’t break anything of course.
(Oh and if you guys are wondering, that cloth is there to cover up the serial numbers)
Now, with all that done with, let’s move on to cons in terms of Build and Design, as yeah, we’re pretty aware that there will be drawbacks somewhere or another.
Firstly, we have a few qualms about the Onyx’s keyboard. Given the Onyx’s compact frame, we would have probably preferred losing the NumPad in exchange for a little bit more space between the keys. In its current, condensed form, it necessitates a bit of “familiarisation” to get up to speed with the Onyx’s Geneswitch, which is further exacerbated by the the rather long travel of the keys.
Not that it’s a bad keyboard per se, it’s just that you’ll have to spend a little time and effort in having to get used to how it works and how it’s laid out.
Also, it’s rather clicky… noticeably so. Even though that’s probably to be expected from a “fully mechanical” keyboard (at least ones that is not based on “low-noise” type switches), it does catch you off guard the first time you try it, and makes the Onyx a little less suited for library research stints (and other noise sensitive applications) then other notebooks. That said, if you like audible feedback while typing (as in typewriter writing), you’ll probably be thrilled by the sheer clickiness of the keys.
To clearly illustrate just HOW clicky the keyboard is, we have even recorded a video on this very subject, with a bonus of hearing just how loud the fans can get with Fan boost engaged (the Onyx had been put on a rather flexible plastic container, so don’t mind the apparent wobbliness in the video):
Secondly, while we appreciate the variety of ports and connections provided, the lack of a ThunderBolt 3 port is sorely missed. Sure, it might not be of use for everyone, but having it is almost universally better then not having it at all.
Thirdly, and I’m pretty much nitpicking at this point, is the fact that the bottom is not metal. Sure, it’s very durable plastic and all, and it doesn’t detract to the rigidity of the notebook by much – if at all – but it’s not metal anyway.
Finally, if there is ONE weak spot on the Onyx, it would have to be the plastic back ports panel, which feels slightly less well anchored and less seamless as the rest of notebook. But again, it’s pretty much a nitpick just like the point above.
After getting through the build quality and design aspect of the Onyx, let’s move on to the bread and butter of any “gaming” laptop: The performance.
But first, lets look at the specs that my Onyx comes with, which is rather important as Illegear allows for full customizations before purchase (like Dell used to do), and the specs I have might not correspond with the units available in the Illegear store.
So without further ado, here’s the specs of my unit:
- 15.6 inch 16:9, 1920 x 1080 pixel 60Hz VA Screen (Chi Mei N156HCA-EA1 – CMN15D7)
- 8th Gen “Coffee Lake” Intel Core i7-8750H (6 core, 9MB cache, 2.2-4.1GHz)
- Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 6GB GDDR5 with Optimus (Max-P)
- 16GB Micron DDR4 2400MHz RAM (2x 8GB)
- 2TB Seagate Firecuda SSHD
- 512GB Samsung PM951 M2 NVMe SSD (provided by us for Illegear to install)
- Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 9560 2×2 M.2 (WLAN & Bluetooth 5)
- Windows 10 Home Single Language 64-Bit Edition
- Carry-in Warranty with 3 Year Parts and Labor & Lifetime Technical Support
- Optional 180-day warranty against dead pixels
- Free Screen Calibration (part of Illegear’s Birthday offer)
- Free Repaste with Thermal Grizzly Kryonaut for CPU and GPU (part of Illegear’s Birthday offer)
- Free Illegear Fang Mouse (part of Illegear’s Birthday offer)
- Free Illegear Sleeve and Bag
So yeah, besides the processor (CFL-H) , the graphics (1060 6GB), and the RAM (we chose a 2x 8GB configuration this time for the benefits of Dual Channel right out of the gate); it’s pretty close to the specs on the S5X we purchased previously, so the performance should be in the same ballpark, right?
Well, let’s just move on to the benchmarks, starting with Crystal Disk Mark for the SSD and the SSHD.
So yeah, pretty good scores across the board, in line with the type of interface and disks used.
Next, we move on to your standard Futuremark/UL benchmarking tools… and we start seeing something interesting:
- 3DMark 11: Performance – 12964, Graphics – 13475, Physics – 11938, Combined – 11216
- PCMark 8: Home Accelerated – 4147, Creative Accelerated – 5315, Work Accelerated – 5277
Well, let’s compare that to the S5X’s scores:
- 3DMark 11: Performance – 12576, Graphics – 18155, Physics – 6550, Combined – 6535
- PCMark 8: Home Accelerated –3549, Creative Accelerated – 4441, Work Accelerated – 4763
So, besides the obvious (yes, the S5X has a superior 3DMark11 Graphics score, owing to that 1070MQ), it seems that the Onyx is besting the S5X over both benchmarks – probably due to the combination of the i7 CFL-H processor, the dual channel RAM and the faster Samsung SSD.
Let’s corroborate that with a little gaming action, shall we. For comparison’s sake, we’ll run the same two games we did for the S5X, plus the wildly popular Far Cry 5 just to widen the roster by a bit:
- Ghost Recon Wildlands – 38 FPS average (1080P, Ultra Settings)
- Wolfenstein 2: TNC – 60 FPS (1080P, Mein Leiben Settings, Limited by VSync)
- Far Cry 5: 75 FPS average (1080P, Ultra Settings).
So yeah, that drop in average Wildlands FPS (compared to the S5X) is pretty much within expectations, considering the GPU “downgrade”. It also pretty much confirms that while CFL-H processors do provide a certain amount of boost to multi-threaded, multi-core aware applications, it doesn’t really make much of a difference for more GPU-heavy, less multi-core optimised programs like your typical shooter game.
And yes, Far Cry 5 is quite optimised for what it is TBH, looking at how it handled the 1060 with aplomb.
And now, finally, let’s run Cinebench (R15) for good measure.
- CBR15 OpenGL – 111.07 FPS
- CBR15 CPU – 170CB (Single-core), 1114CB (Multi-core)
It should be clear here that, besides the 1070MQ on the S5X having a 5-10% advantage over the Onyx, the two units are otherwise toe-to-toe in performance, with general computing scores tipping over to the Onyx’s favour.
Yes, apparently CFL-H is worth waiting for, considering its superiority in general computing tasks. For games however, it does bring *some* improvement, but it’s clear that the old adage that states “GPU more than CPU” still holds true here.
And under all that load, the Onyx posted respectable internal temps, as can be seen from the data collected below:
- Gaming/Heavy Load (Wildlands) – 72c (CPU), 82c (GPU)
- Light Load (Waterfox) – 44c (CPU)
- Idle – 34c (CPU)
We also ran two additional tests to see if the Onyx would throttle under heavy load:
- Multiple automated loops of Cinebench – Average score of 1050-ish points with no discernable dips.
- Furmark + Prime95 torture test for 45m – 80c (CPU), 85c (GPU), sustained 2710MHz on all 6 cores with a gradual dip to 2509MHz before going back up to around 2710MHz.
From the above, its pretty clear that the i7-8750H inside the Onyx performs rather similarly to it’s brethren in other Coffee Lake H equipped rivals (the MSI GS65, Asus GM501 and the Gigabyte Aero 15 to be exact).
The Torture Test also proves that the cooling system on the Onyx is up to par with the other Coffee Lake machines, being able to sustain respectable clockspeed while remaining well below 90c for both CPU and GPU – a good indicator of the lack of thermal issues.
Furthermore, this also shows that the i7-8750H in the Onyx – while not being able to hold higher Turbo speeds for as long as we would have liked – is at least not overly throttled under load as can be seen from it never going below its Base clockspeed of 2.2GHz. Not to mention, the nVidia 1060 chugged through the “Torture Test” at a steady 1430MHz without any serious drops, which is evidence of no serious GPU throttling as well.
Below are the external temperature map during the “Torture Test”, as measured with an IR thermometer (with an ambient temperature of around 27c), showing a worse case scenario in regards of external temperatures (top and bottom):
With that bit out of the way, we continue on with screen performance. Being the very same unit used by the 2017 Aero 15/15X V7, you can check for more detailed information on the performance of the unit at Notebookcheck’s review of the Aero 15 V7 HERE, though as always, LCD screen performance does differ from unit to unit so do understand that there will be sample variance.
Wireless performance is also pretty solid with the Intel 9560 card, as can be seen from data on Notebookcheck’s review of the Asus Zephyrus M GM501 (which uses the same WiFi card) HERE.
So, yeah, the Onyx performs well, stays respectably cool, doesn’t throttle (too much anyway) and has a relatively decent performing screen panel. What about the cons, performance wise?
Well, for one thing, while the fan noise is rather acceptable (for a thin-and-light) at 30-50dba under load (reaching a max of about 60dba with Fan Boost engaged), the fan CURVE is pretty weird out of the box, as it seems to “overcompensate – for the lack of a better word – and it turns way too hard for the temps it responds to. Tweaking the fan curves manually does help to tame this, and Illegear has assured us that things will get better with future EC/BIOS updates.
For another, while we applaud TongFang for putting the webcam in the right place (compared to the weird position it’s in on the Aero and the XPS 15), it being JUST a 720p cam doesn’t really sit all that well with us, considering most of the competitors come equipped with a 1080p camera instead. It is of decent quality however, so this is pretty much a quibble if nothing else.
Next, unfortunately, is battery performance. Where the S5X packs a 60Wh battery and gets criticised by us for the 5+ hours battery life that you get out of it (for WIFI surfing), the Onyx (in the reviewed configuration) packs ONLY a 47Wh battery – and gets about 4 hours maximum, under a similar load (under the Power Saving power plan, with screen brightness at 25% and the keyboard lighting turned off). While this isn’t the shortest battery life we’ve seen from a notebook like this (the Asus Zephyrus clocks at an even shorter 3h average for surfing), it’s certainly not amongst the best of them (the Aero 15 averages about 6-7 surfing hours). This seriously limits the mobility of the Onyx, and is a huge impediment if you plan to use it untethered for long period of time.
However, there is a cure for this malady looming over the horizon, with Illegear poised to offer a bigger battery option in a few more months that sacrifices the 2.5 inch bay for a larger, 62Wh battery that should extend the battery life of the Onyx to around the same 5+ hours of WIFI surfing you get out of the S5X (which is still not much but is at least decent).
Whether or not an extra 1-1.5 hours is worth losing the 2.5 inch bay over is entirely subjective, however.
Finally, it has to be said that while the fact that the Onyx comes with a memory card reader is a nice bonus (the Asus Zephyrus GM501 AND the MSI GS65 has already done away with readers entirely), the fact that it ONLY runs at USB2.0 speeds (30MB/s max read/write) is rather lamentable, considering that the Onyx with its power and potential media capacity for the size makes it rather well-suited for photo and video editing on the move. A faster, USB3.0 card reader would have been a much better fit here.
So, how do you judge the value preposition of a machine like this. Back during the S5X review, we pondered the same thing, and decided that the best way was to pit the machine against its local rivals, which is exactly what we’re going to do here.
As specced above, my Onyx came down to a rather lush RM7581 (about USD1927), which is still a tad less then what we got the S5X for (RM8595 with the flexible payment charges put aside). So, how does that compare with its current local competitors, the Nvidia 1060 versions of the MSI GS65 and the Asus Zephyrus GM501?
Let’s see shall we:
- Illegear Onyx (2x8GB RAM, 2TB SSHD, 60Hz display) – RM7581
- MSI GS65 (1x16GB RAM, 512GB SSD, 144Hz display) – RM9999 (MRSP)
- Asus Zephyrus GM501 (1x16GB RAM, 256GB SSD + 1TB HHD, 144Hz) – RM7999 (MRSP)
Yeah, it’s a pretty telling list indeed, with the Onyx clearly besting both it’s competitors outright, though it has to be said that Asus did do rather well in pricing the Zephyrus GM501 1060 version, which cannot be said for MSI and their rather steep GS65 (1060) price premium over the other two.
Of course, at the price stated above, the Onyx only comes with a 60hz screen, with the upcoming 144Hz screen upgrade possibly adding another RM200-300 on top of that – but even with that extra cost included, it would still narrowly beat the GM501 and leave the GS65 far in the dust, cost-wise. Sure, the GS65 has a 144hz IPS screen and much larger battery included, but the price difference is still very significant. Plus, being fully customizable, you can adjust the specs of the Onyx to match your needs to a perfect T – similar to the S5X – which is an option NOT available to both the GS65 or the GM501.
And this is not even considering the frequent offers that the folks at Illegear often holds, granting you all sorts of freebies to sweeten the deal even more.
So yeah, Illegear is still holding on to their crown as the current value leaders in the local market for sure.
Additionally, Illegear’s Customer Service and After Sales are as top notch as they have ever been – with their sterling performance during the few episodes I had with the S5X still pretty fresh in my mind. It has to be said though, being a small boutique brand does mean that they can sometimes get overwhelmed by service or sales loads (which add to service or sales turnaround times), but besides this little niggle, you can really count on them to come through at your moment of need.
With that, let’s see if there any cons in terms of Value?
Well, we probably only have one issue to point out here and it’s the fact that other than the “normal” freebies you do get with the notebook (the Sleeve and the Bag), the lack of Manuals, Driver CDs, screws and other “new-notebook” tidbits within the Onyx box stands in stark contrast to the otherwise premium-looking packaging.
Of course, most people don’t really need those things anyway and this is very much yet another nitpick against the Onyx, but it must be mentioned just the same.
Well, putting the Onyx through its paces has proven to be quite the pleasent experience indeed. The fact remains that while the Onyx is not a perfect machine, the machine does seem rather well thought of as a package at least.
That is, especially once the issue of the short battery life is addressed when the 60Wh battery upgrade option comes along. Then, this svelte little slice of power could be a very potent weapon indeed for the globe-trotting Tech Nomad – either it be for work or for play.
But as it is right now, the rather short battery life will force us to deck some points off the review total due to the reduced mobility, though the laptop still gets a rather respectable score for everything else it DOES get right.
So, with all that considered, we feel that it is apt that the Illegear Onyx – as it is specced here – be awarded an 8.5 over 10 and a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED tag to go along with it (keeping in mind that with the battery extension, it might have scored even higher).