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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  • 7Enigma - Thursday, October 15, 2009 - link

    Not to mention a person buying one of these expensive monsters probably doesn't think twice about having a spare (or 2) extra charged batteries lying around. Another $100-200 for double/triple the battery life at little extra inconvenience turns these rigs from "only near a power outlet" to "1-2 hours of heavy work".

    Everyone complains about the pitiful life on a single charge, but DTR's more than any other laptop probably fit into the multiple battery pack club as what's an extra couple pounds when it's already a pig?
    Reply
  • Pirks - Wednesday, October 14, 2009 - link

    If you haul this mATX in your car, not on foot, then you won't feel the difference. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, October 14, 2009 - link

    The two areas where these sort of systems make the most sense are:

    1) Businesses where they want to have a mobile workstation. Yes, companies do use stuff like this. I've heard examples of construction and oil companies that can fly out and stay at a site, doing all the computer work locally using something like a D900F. It's far easier to pack that around and plug in than to pack mouse + keyboard + mATX + LCD.

    2) People with very limited space that move around frequently. The prime example for this is military personnel. I've heard from quite a few that say, "I wish I could get a desktop, but it's just not practical in the military." Still, you really need to be a dedicated gamer to plunk down $2500+ on a notebook that will be slower than $1500 desktops, and it can't be upgraded (outside of RAM and HDD).

    I'm sure there are a few other instances where these sort of systems make sense, but for typical users I'd strongly recommend a moderate laptop and a desktop if possible.
    Reply
  • Marcel17 - Wednesday, October 14, 2009 - link

    Yeah , thanks for the review but you shouldn't have...
    Myself , Ill gust replace my aging inspiron 8600 with a sweet 16 ,XPS 16 that is once it's available with W7 , I guess another month or two .
    Reply
  • InternetGeek - Wednesday, October 14, 2009 - link

    Are you guys aware that the 3 laptops you're reviewing in this article are actually made by Clevo themselves? AVADirect and Eurocomm sell Clevo laptops made to order. Reply
  • InternetGeek - Wednesday, October 14, 2009 - link

    Not at all. I like Clevo laptops, but I would call out the fact you're reviewing products coming from the same manufacturer a bit more strongly and not as a fact about just one of the companies. They deserve credit for the job they do. But as you guys used to do with GPUs, that is tell us who's using the reference design and who isn't, I think you should do the same with these laptops.

    I liked the part in which you contrast the different platforms. One uses more desktop parts, the other uses more mobile parts. That was good. Same as with SLI. It really doesn't make sense for a laptop to use SLI given the limited resolutions they run at.

    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, October 14, 2009 - link

    Page 2: TITLE: "AVADirect Clevo D900F Specifications"

    "Unlike some companies, AVADirect doesn't try to hide the fact that they are using 'whitebook' notebook/laptop designs -- the name of the ODM is visible in each of their laptops. We appreciate the fact that they are willing to disclose what sort of chassis they use."

    So yes, I am fully aware of who makes the base notebook chassis. I would have called it a Clevo roundup, but Clevo isn't the company actually sending these systems for review so I give credit AVADirect and Eurocom. Does it matter that they're Clevo units? Like any ODM, Clevo has good designs and bad designs, so I review the product rather than the source company.
    Reply
  • rmlarsen - Wednesday, October 14, 2009 - link

    Nobody would buy these ugly behemoths except for a very small number of users with specialized needs, (e.g. engineers needing to run simulators or CAD programs in the field). I cannot understand how you serve your readers by continuing this article series. Maybe you have become a little too cozy with Clevo? Or you are letting your own fascination with the biggest-most-bad-ass-computing-machine-in-a-lug-able-box-with-monitor cloud your judgment of what is worthy of publication?

    And while I am ranting, please no more articles about almost identical Atom & Intel 945 based netbooks.

    You are really diluting the authority of Anandtech's (mostly excellent) reviews with these semi-irrelevant articles.

    -RML
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, October 14, 2009 - link

    AnandTech, as you might have noticed, covers more than just CPUs, GPUs, and motherboards. I agree that few people are interested in buying these, but they do represent a market and I think it's useful to at least periodically look at the high-end DTR segment. I'm pretty much done with $3000+ notebooks for a while (just need to finish one other review), but as the mobile reviewer it's actually my job to review... laptops and notebooks and netbooks.

    So, if you don't want me to review Atom netbooks, or Intel 945 laptops, that just eliminated about 90% of the mobile market. How exactly does a review like this dilute AnandTech? Do you disagree with the commentary (i.e. these are expensive systems that we don't recommend for most people, but yes they're the fastest notebooks)?

    I'd be more than happy to hear suggestions on what you want me to review in the mobile segment. Keep in mind that actually acquiring the laptops is often more difficult than writing the review, sadly. I spend a fair amount of time just trying to get new laptops sent my way, and several companies that I'd like to review haven't shown any interest. As such, I'm working to grow the mobile section in any way I can, including putting together roundups of Clevo based notebooks on occasion.
    Reply
  • 5150Joker - Saturday, November 07, 2009 - link

    I very much appreciate the fact that you wrote the article. Don't let these idiots make you think otherwise. There is a large market out there for these gaming laptops and contrary to what the uninformed people posting here think, they're not nearly as heavy as they think. I ordered a W860 a few days ago and it weighs 7 lbs yet it comes packed with an i820qm, 4 gb ddr3, gtx 280m gpu and a beautiful display. Reply

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