A couple weeks ago we looked at Intel's new Clarksfield mobile CPU. The short story is that it's the mobile equivalent of Lynnfield, except at lower clock speeds and higher prices. We provided a first look at Clevo's W870CU and compared it with a couple other high-end offerings: the AVADirect Clevo D900F and the Eurocom M980NU XCaliber. We didn't have time in our initial article to run all of our usual benchmarks, so today we want to look at the rest of the story and finish out our benchmark suite. We will also be providing detailed commentary on the design and features of the three notebooks -- something we omitted in the first article.

Taken as a whole, these three notebooks represent the high water mark for mobile performance for the next several months -- and perhaps longer. The AVADirect D900F is the pinnacle of "mobile" processor performance… not by using the fastest mobile processor, but by using the fastest currently available desktop processor. Clocked at 3.33 GHz, the Core i7-975 outperforms any Core i7 mobile CPU by a sizable margin. With one core active, Turbo Boost on the i7-920XM can reach 3.2 GHz, but that's as close as you can get (and the i7-975 can still Turbo up to 3.60GHz). Considering the two processors have the same price tag of $1000, the only reason to go with an i7-920XM is if you want lower power requirements.

On the other side of the table, the Eurocom M980NU represents the best of what we can achieve in mobile graphics performance. It pairs two of NVIDIA's GTX 280M GPUs in SLI. Needless to say, the two graphics chips can consume quite a bit of power, so the trade-off is that SLI is only practical right now when using mobile CPUs, and at present GTX 280M SLI is only available with Core 2 platforms. A similar notebook in terms of performance is Alienware's M17x, although the chassis and design is substantially different from the M980NU. Thus, you can choose between maximum processor performance (D900F) or maximum graphics performance (M980NU/M17x), but you can't get both.

The odd man out is the Clevo W870CU. In terms of graphics performance, it can match the D900F, but it's never actually faster. It can exceed the M980NU in CPU performance at times, but it can't keep up with the SLI gaming performance (unless the M980NU is CPU limited). What it does have is the ability to consume less power, sometimes quite a bit less. Unfortunately, this is counteracted by battery sizes. Where the D900F ships with a 12-cell battery, the W870CU only comes with a 4-cell battery. The model we received is rated at a paltry 42 Wh, although it appears that a high-capacity 65 Wh battery is an option at some vendors. Interestingly, the Eurocom M980NU also lists a 4-cell battery, so potentially we could see an 8-cell version offer nearly twice the battery life. Considering the size of the battery compartment, what we'd really like to see is something closer to the 95 Wh battery available in the D900F. The only reason to avoid such a large battery appears to be weight, and the W870CU is 3 pounds lighter than either of the other notebooks if that matters to you -- but it still weighs almost 9 pounds.

Besides performance, there are obviously differences in terms of chassis, features, and pricing. The W870CU is the cheapest of the three notebooks, starting at around $2150 and coming with moderately high-end options for around $2900. The D900F and M980NU both start at closer to $2500, with typical configurations ranging from $3000 up to $3500. If you want to start putting in multiple SSDs, you can of course get prices that scale into the $5000+ range.

As usual, if you're not in the market for a heavy, high-performance notebook it's unlikely you will be interested in any of these offerings. Battery life is horrible, typically lasting around one hour for moderate usage scenarios. As such, the mobility aspect should be viewed more as a UPS/battery backup instead of something that you will be able to use to go mobile. (Note that we'll look at the Alienware M17x separately in the near future, as it has slightly different mobility aspects.) These notebooks do have the ability to function as desktop replacements for many people, but again performance is going to be lower than what you can get in a similar cost desktop. The benefit is that you can easily pack up a notebook and carry it with you, and there are people that do exactly that, using these as mobile workstations. Now let's take a closer look at these three notebooks and see where they excel and where they may fall flat.

AVADirect Clevo D900F Specifications
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  • JarredWalton - Thursday, October 15, 2009 - link

    I think LAN party goers is a far smaller market than CAD/CAM companies that need a mobile workstation, personally. I'd also say military gamers that are deployed would be more than LAN attendees (though that might be close). I've also heard of professional athletes getting something like this, but they're a VERY small niche. LOL Reply
  • kagey - Monday, October 19, 2009 - link

    I appreciate the review and like to see these plus other laptop ODMs rather than just Sony, Dell, HP, etc.
    You have hit it right on the head, it's a niche market. They are DTR machines, that are portable but not without a plug-in sooner than later (within 45-60 mins).
    Having a Sager NP9850 and the 3000 price tag that goes with it, I can say it has its pro's and con's but for what it's used for it was worth it. It could of been cheaper (always)!!! Buying a desktop or mATX was not an option for the portability that's necessary. Who'd lug around an LCD, not I. Build quality compared to other laptops I've owned is hands down better. Swaping CPUs (which I've done cause I had a better one), GPUs or HDD, ram, without taking the who machine apart is a 1000 times easier. All MFRs are getting better but some are there already.
    As far as the LCD (glossy), yes there's glare at times and it can be a pain. I do like the LCD more than any other laptop I've owned to date plus the 18.4 inch screen is huge. I haven't owned an LED LCD yet though, maybe next. This laptop does fit into a Targus backpack XL617 as well plus you do get a workout carrying (i.e. lugging) it around.. lol. Yes it's about 15 lbs all said and done carrying it.
    I don't regret the purchase as it's serving the purpose. .02 cents
    Reply
  • FXi - Thursday, October 15, 2009 - link

    Very, very pleased that you included a mainstream desktop machine in the tests. It really is important that people get a sense of perspective before they spend this kind of money. You have to "need" or "want" portability badly for the cash to performance outlay.

    That said Intel really kind of did Clarksdale a bit backwards.
    The quads should have come next spring and been 32nm and the dual's should have been 45nm and introduced first. I'll never understand why they reversed that.
    They really needed to hit basic clock parity with the QX9300. Yes the 920 is faster, but it doesn't set enough distance between itself and it's older cousin. That leads to comparisons like this article and a lot of soul searching between "new" vs "old" design purchase decisions.
    It is also almost unfathomable why they didn't include USB 3.0 in the PM55 spec. Intel is a founding member of the coalition the developed the spec. USB changes come around every 5-10 years, so getting 10x the speed of USB 2.0, lower CPU utilization in the process, makes this a kind of must have item. In desktops it doesn't matter as much because you can just throw in a pci-e card and get USB 3.0 whenever you feel like it. But for a laptop, USB is THE way it does most of it's communicating with the outside world. How fast and efficient (and how numerous) those USB ports are is a really big deal on notebooks. To have introduced a "high end" Quad core system and to have foregone this basic 10x increase in outside world communication is like delivering a Ferrari with 70 series tires on it. Great engine, great looks but missing a key component of how it talks to the road. It really is a feature that should not have been left out, no matter what delay it took to get it included.

    Faster 32nm Clarkdale, at least 2.53 base speed on all 4 core operation.
    USB 3.0 IN the Intel chipset, not as an add in chip.
    SLI designs and hybrid Intel IGP or low end integrated GPU for power savings when simply surfinng.
    M6400 designs, not M17x garrishness or Clevo "chicklet" keyboards we got rid of in the 80's.

    These are a few of the things that "should" have been in systems aimed at the audience that can afford these things. What we got isn't the above. And lack of sales will be blamed on the economy rather than the real issue, "a failure to successfully innovate".

    $.02
    Reply
  • Pirks - Wednesday, October 14, 2009 - link

    It's like four times cheaper to build a mATX box and throw it in your car with a nice 22" LCD monitor whenever you gotta go somewhere. Same "mobility" as these behemothbooks, but with better hardware, and less money wasted.

    I mean if you're rich these are totally normal ones, why not waste a few grand here and there, but for practical not rich middle class people who look for price/performance/mobility balance these are poor choices.

    I wasted almost $2k on an Alienware M17 and probably will never do it again. It's working great and everything, games are flying light speed and all, but every time I think I could get much better hardware for $1k I feel uneasy... with the same mobility as this box, that needs power outlet anyway... nah, these gamebooks are a mixed bag, I'll probably go for cheapo 17" Dell next time + my own mATX box, that's for me is as portable and "mobile" as all these Alienwares, Clevos and similar fat bricks
    Reply
  • InternetGeek - Wednesday, October 14, 2009 - link

    These are DTR machines. You buy them because you don't want to have the big clunky box and what not anymore.

    I for one gave up desktops after buying my DTR. At work I have the work provided workstation and they allowed me to use my own keyboard (ergonomic) and trackball. At home I use my DTR and I'm quite happy with it. When on the move I just use my WinMo and OneNote. That's it. No need to keep hauling stuff around when you realize there's a lot of free services that will let you keep all your PCs synchronized.

    I for one use "My Phone" for backing up my info, and the let live have my calendar and emails. Same goes for contacts.
    Reply
  • Pirks - Wednesday, October 14, 2009 - link

    mATX slim cases are pretty far from being "big clunky", they are somewhat bigger than 12 pound DTR we're talking about, but when you stuff 'em in a bag with 22 incher and K/M there's not a huge difference in weight/size compared to DTR + its humongous power brick + mouse + carrying bag for all that, trust me. Reply
  • InternetGeek - Wednesday, October 14, 2009 - link

    Well, just the pic of someone hauling their entire pc around along a 22incher makes me lol. So, if you think that's practical for you go ahead and knock yourself out :).

    I agree those Clevo machines are huge to the point of missing the point of a laptop. 3 Harddrives, SLI, 18inches. Crazy. You can still get good performance without going all that way in adding crazy hardware like that.
    Reply
  • Pirks - Wednesday, October 14, 2009 - link

    What's the difference between hauling around huge 12 pound Clevo with its 6 pound power brick versus very small mATX slim desktop case, 22" LCD and K/M? Answer: none or very little. Got my point now? Reply
  • InternetGeek - Wednesday, October 14, 2009 - link

    Bluntly put, a DTR is designed to be carried around. The entire set up is made so it can be carried around in a bag. Laptop bags can also play the role of your backpack so you can put books, magazines or whatever you want in them.

    Carrying around a Desktop PC is done for LAN parties. And even then you try to minimize what you haul. Again, I do think seeing someone carrying around their PC because they can get the Desktop performance/Experience wherever they are funny. I'd love to see that during a Tech event. Pic of the year for sure.

    In any case, DTRs have their purpose which I think they cover quite well. Until I got mine I built every single system I had (I built my first PC when I was 12), and to be honest, I think it's an awesome path to try. I would only ask for upgradable GPUs.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, October 14, 2009 - link

    Technically, the power brick weighs in at two pounds. I'd say that's a pretty big difference between DTR laptop (15 pounds including a backpack and mouse) and LCD + mATX + backpack + keyboard + mouse. A 22" LCD will weigh about that much on its own, and you need a good backpack for carrying such a display... I don't even know where you'd find one.

    This is not to say that people should go but DTRs, but if you know the limitations and are okay with that they fulfill a need. I don't think anyone would actually want the task of carrying around a complete mATX system with peripherals if they could avoid it. The only reason to go that route is for performance at the cost of mobility.
    Reply

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