Like many spendy gaming desktops, the ROG Strix GL12CX (starts at $ 3,299.99; $ 3,799.99 as tested) is all-out racked and stacked for folks who take their play very seriously. With this rig, however, Asus targets the most enthusiastic of that lot: professional (or aspiring) esports players. While this jacked-up PC will please any gamer by powering through games at tip-top settings, its design and feature set target those seeking to maximize speed as much as tote-around convenience. That dual focus levies a price premium, but you do get gaming prowess by the bucket: The GL12CX serves as our first look at Intel’s spanking-new Core i9-9900K processor, and it packs a fresh Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 graphics card, too—taken together, a mouthwatering proposition for anyone. If the machine’s look and design don’t grab you, but you have a big budget, high-end configurable options such as the Origin PC Neuron and Velocity Micro Raptor Z55 may pack more punch.
Esports Focused, for Better and Worse
Unlike some desktops brimming with power, the ROG Strix GL12CX is on the compact side, at 18 by 7 by 15.7 inches (HWD). The speediest machines often have the bulk to match; witness the XXL-size Acer Predator Orion 9000, or the slightly downsized Velocity Micro Raptor Z55. The ROG Strix is not truly small-form-factor, like one of Falcon Northwest’s Tiki or MSI’s Trident machines, but more in line with manageable systems like the Dell Inspiron Gaming Desktop or the Lenovo Legion Y520 Tower. The Alienware Area-51 Threadripper Edition is, well, a design that’s almost all on its own.
The tower is a mix of materials. The front face and top are plastic, while the side panels and rear are metal, which makes the chassis surprisingly heavy, at 24.3 pounds. The front panel has a somewhat busy design, with a crisscrossing line pattern on the bottom and a plainer top half accented by customizable LED strips. A magnetic detachable plate covers the top portion of the front face, hiding an optical drive and a hot-swap SSD bay. When you’re not using these, or when you’re done accessing them, you can snap the cover right back into place—which is good, since the chassis looks much nicer with it in place, covering the bay accesses.
The SSD bay is a curious feature for the average user, though I could see a few niche uses for it. According to Asus’ marketing materials, it is included specifically with professional esports players in mind. The bay is a small metal tray for a 2.5-inch hard drive or SSD; you drop in a drive (no tools needed, though you can screw it down, if you like) and slide it right in or out the front of the case. No drive comes installed by default, but you could pull out the tray and swap in a new drive without opening the side panels. While the pros can use it, with a 2.5-inch SSD, to bring their profiles and settings with them between booths at competitions, that scenario doesn’t exist for most other folks. If you do happen to have a different scenario that requires you to switch SSDs frequently, though, take heart: This was built just for you!
Inside the case are much more standard (and useful) design touches. Getting inside is easy enough—either side panel pulls away after you remove its two rear screws. Both panels are opaque metal by default, but Asus also includes an optional clear-plastic door for the left side so you can see into your system, if you like. There’s good reason to do this, because there’s a modest light show going on inside, and some nice parts you might as well be able to see. It’s not much of a tinkerer’s case: Yes, you could swap out really any of the components, since it’s a not a bespoke system, but it’s really designed and pre-built to be plug-and-play.
That said, should you go tweaking inside, you won’t find much room to maneuver, but at least everything is tucked away neatly. A metal bar runs horizontally across the entire interior, serving as a stabilizing brace for the graphics card (important, given this case’s intended luggability) and a holder for an LED strip that shines from its back edge onto the card. A large black shroud covers the power supply and entire bottom portion of the case, funneling cool air in from a dedicated front fan and out the rear, while hiding much of the cable mess. The rest of the case is cooled by another front fan, and a small rear fan.
The Core of the Matter
As for the components packed inside, it’s easy to see what drives this test configuration’s price close to four large. The centerpiece is the Core i9-9900K, Intel’s new flagship processor on its 9th Generation mainstream desktop CPU line. It’s the first Core i9 chip that’s part of the main consumer platform, not the enthusiast Core X-Series family, which by itself may be enough to turn some heads.
It’s a killer chip for multithreaded applications, an eight-core, 16-thread CPU capable of boosting to up to 5GHz, a feature Intel is specifically touting as useful for gaming (and subsequently going so far as to dub it the “world’s best gaming processor”). It’s beneficial not just for gaming itself, but for multi-taskers who may also be streaming while playing or doing other CPU-intensive tasks.
Also worth noting: It’s the only chip among the initial 9th Generation Core releases supporting Hyper-Threading. With the launch of 9th Generation on the desktop, Intel removed that feature from the Core i7 and inserted it only at the Core i9 level, which may leave some shoppers disgruntled. For many more details on the chip and Intel’s current lineup, read our deep-dive Core i9-9900K review. For how it performs in this particular system, I’ll get into some specific benchmark numbers below. To keep it running cool, a Cooler Master MasterLiquid Pro 120mm closed-loop liquid cooler is installed, with a nifty clear cover over the CPU heat sink. If you’re a hardware tweaker, you’ll want liquid cooling on a system using this chip; the reviewer of the Core i9 found that for any kind of aggressive overclocking, liquid was a big help.
Alongside the chip is the still-fresh Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 graphics card, an Asus version. While these new pieces of hardware may offer an only moderate upgrade for those already rocking a GeForce “Pascal” card, they are still downright powerful in their own right. (More on that below.) Asus also packed 32GB of DDR4 memory in our build, alongside a 512GB M.2 solid-state drive and a separate 2TB platter-based hard drive. The M.2 SSD is configured in unusual, Asus-specific fashion: It’s mounted vertically in what Asus calls a “DIMM.2” slot next to the memory slots, much like a stick of RAM. This vertical arrangement makes it easier to access and helps the module run cooler. (Most of the time, M.2 SSDs get installed flat against the motherboard, and often in the shadow of a hot graphics card.) The housing for the DIMM.2 module is also equipped with some low-key mood LEDs, rounding out the system glow. (That said, the RAM modules themselves, living next door to the DIMM.2 assembly, are curiously utilitarian green PCBs.)
The case, being the size it is, doesn’t have much room for many more additions. In total, you have one M.2 connector for Wi-Fi, two more for M.2 SSDs, two DIMM slots, and the empty front-face SSD tray. As configured, you have no RAM slots free, and a single PCI Express x16 slot means no physical room for two graphics cards. This is the lay of the $ 3,799 test model I have on hand; Asus also sells a $ 3,299 base model with a ticked-down Core i7-9700K CPU, half the memory (16GB), the same GeForce RTX 2080, and a half-size (256GB) SSD with the same 2TB hard drive.
On-Point Ports, Superior Peripherials
For all the peripherals an enthusiast gamer needs, on this ROG Strix you’ll find plenty of ports for a chassis this size. On the front panel are four USB Type-A ports (two each of USB 2.0 and 3.1), an audio jack, and an SD flash-card reader…
Around back are two more USB 2.0 ports, four USB 3.1 ports, and two USB 3.1 Gen 2 ports (all Type-A). Also here are an HDMI-out connection (for the Core chip’s integrated graphics, unused in favor of the RTX card’s outputs), an Ethernet jack, and the usual surround-capable audio lines and S/PDIF. The GeForce RTX card supplies three DisplayPort outputs and one HDMI.
The ROG Strix also comes with a gaming mouse and a mechanical keyboard, both Asus-branded, getting players ready to go out of the gate. Both are a cut above the usual and RGB-lit. The keyboard included is the ROG Strix Flare Mechanical, a nice metal keyboard adorned with per-key LED lighting, true Cherry MX key switches, and a glowing underbelly, as well as media controls. It feels nice to type on, certainly much better than the average PC pack-in peripheral. The mouse, the ROG Gladius II, is a bit more basic but still much nicer than average. It features a 12,000dpi sensor, interchangeable switches, and plenty of LED bling.
The mood lights on both peripherals, as well as the case’s mood lighting, can all be synchronized using Asus’ Aura lighting via the included Armoury software. The lighting scheme here also has a special connection with the blockbuster title Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, in that the RGB can automatically display unique hotkey lighting and indicators. This isn’t exactly useful, but it’s a neat gimmick that doesn’t have any downside.
On the whole, between the prime-cut components and the better-than-your-average-bear peripherals, the ROG Strix levies a cost premium. The CPU and GPU are obviously pricey, and the rest of the components are no slouches, but it’s still a little expensive considering the whole package. The chassis isn’t especially luxe, at least not to the point that you’d expect this rig to be so costly just by looking at or touching it. The pre-built nature will please shoppers seeking such simplicity, but it, too, amps up the cost. The target buyer here is not the average shopper or gamer looking for top value. You should be a gamer seeking a compact desktop that can game all-out, and right now, please.
i9 Plus RTX Equals…Well, It’s Very Fast
With this tantalizingly high-end hardware, all eyes are on performance. It should be no surprise that by any objective measure, the Core i9-9900K is lightning-fast. Whether you should specifically opt for one to center your build around for best value is a question better answered by our standalone review of the chip. (TLDR: It’s superfast and won’t be a bottleneck for your games, but the last-gen Core i7-8700K is no slouch, either.) But I’ll happily talk about the speed it demonstrates for this system.
On the PCMark 8 Work Conventional test, the ROG Strix GL12CX scored a wildly high 4,224 points, one of the loftiest showings we’ve recorded. The Velocity Micro Raptor did outscore it here despite being built around a slightly older Core i7-8086K Limited Edition CPU, which says more about how this particular test doesn’t take full advantage of the slightly superior chip.
The multimedia tests do better at flexing the Core i9-9900K’s muscle: Its Handbrake, Cinebench, and Photoshop results are topped or matched in this group only by counterparts using Core i9 X-Series Extreme Edition or AMD Ryzen Threadripper 1950X chips. As you can see, the Core X-Series contender still outclassed the Core i9-9900K in a few other areas. The results in the chart really tell you what to need to know on their own, with a Core i7-8700K and a GeForce GTX 1080 included for context courtesy of the Acer Predator Orion 5000. The Core i9’s performance is no doubt better than this, but whether enough to be worth the added cost is a different question. As I said, though, that’s a discussion better fitted for the individual chip reviewed, tested in the same testbed rather than in differently configured systems.
The 3D capability of this system is also worth special attention. While not quite as minty-fresh as the processor, Nvidia’s late-2018 “Turing” platform is still the very new kid on the block in the graphics-card world, and we’re still getting a sense of what to expect from the new hardware. I mentioned earlier that the 20-series cards may be of questionable value to those already running a GeForce GTX 10-series model, but there’s clearly an uptick in performance, and both the GeForce RTX 2080 and the truly elite-level RTX 2080 Ti are objectively powerful. The ROG Strix’s GeForce RTX 2080 card handily bettered the GeForce GTX 1080 on our tests, from the synthetic 3DMark benchmarks to the game simulations Heaven and Valley. It’s worth noting that a lot of the head-to-head comparisons are a bit unfair to the ROG Strix, as the pricey competitors that had comparable processors were dual-card systems, whereas the Strix has only one RTX card.
This is the first opportunity, though, that we’ve had in PC Labs to see what the GeForce RTX 2080 can do in a pre-built system, so I ran the tests at the full range of popular resolutions. Its 1080p numbers are, of course, stratosphere-high. If you’re only playing on a 1080p/HD monitor and prioritize frame rates over all else, the results of 163 frames per second (fps) and 161fps on Heaven and Valley at Ultra quality settings show that the GeForce RTX 2080 is way more than capable—it’s frame-rate gluttony. When I bumped up the resolution to 1440p (2,560 by 1,440 pixels), those frame rates dropped to 99fps and 104fps, respectively. Not bad, even if you’re running a high-refresh-rate monitor in excess of 60Hz.
Playing at 4K (3,840 by 2,160 pixels), as always, is an entirely different animal. The ROG Strix only managed 45fps and 48fps on the same settings. Heaven and Valley were a bit harsher than some real-world tests, possibly due to lack of DirectX 12 support. So I fired up a couple of late-model, demanding AAA games.
On Far Cry 5 and Rise of the Tomb Raider, with each game set to the maximum detail preset and 4K resolution, the ROG Strix scored 54fps on each—better, but still short of the ideal consistent 60fps. There’s a reason few gamers even bother aiming for 4K gaming, as it’s simply too demanding for all but the priciest hardware or dual-card systems. Full HD (1080p) and 1440p are much more common gaming resolutions for a reason, and the ROG Strix handles them with aplomb. Popular esports titles (namely MOBAs and shooters) are less concerned with sky-high resolutions and extreme fidelity, anyway; in competitive games like these, it’s all about smooth performance in the form of high frame rates. On that front—for its target audience—the ROG Strix excels.
An “A” for Esports Pros; Others, Shop Smart
The ROG Strix GL12CX does what it says on the tin: It’s a cutting-edge, fully featured gaming desktop aimed at close-to-the-edge enthusiasts and serious esports players. That means it is very fast, it is very expensive, and it has some features the average user simply doesn’t have much use for.
You can find more economical (and honestly, spiffier- and flashier-looking) ways to spend $ 3,800 on a computer, so we would suggest comparison-shopping even if you’re smitten. If you do fall into the target audience, such as being a buyer of a passel of PCs for an esports team, play facility, or tournament, the ROG Strix GL12CX will prove to be an effective plug-and-play solution that also looks great when the cameras pan over it. Alternatives in this costly range come in the form of highly configurable boutique systems, meaning it largely comes down to which case design you like the most. As such, if you’re considering the Strix, also do your due diligence: Take our exact review configuration’s prices with a grain of salt, and pick the right parts for your budget and needs from among our favorites, such as the Origin PC Neuron, the Falcon Northwest Talon, the Velocity Micro Raptor Z55, and the Origin PC Genesis. See which one delivers the best balance for what you actually need. The answer may surprise you, and it will differ depending on what kind of situation you’re buying for.