Benchmarking the Matrix

With the updated test suite, we’re also losing some points of reference to our back catalog of laptops. Obviously, the biggest change is in the gaming results, and we decided to take one of our recently reviewed laptops for a spin using the new benchmark suite. (We may look at adding a couple more lower end laptops from late 2011 to the charts as well in the near future.) ASUS was kind enough to let us hang onto the G74SX until the new suite was complete, and given the reasonably high-end hardware and continued availability, it makes for a good starting point for our 2012 laptop results. We updated to the latest NVIDIA drivers (290.56 at the time of testing) and ran through all of our gaming tests. You can find the complete results in Mobile Bench, and the games are all grouped under the Mobile Gaming 2012 category; since we only have one laptop tested right now, we’ve summarized the gaming scores below.

In our 2011 gaming suite, the ASUS G74SX—and NVIDIA’s GTX 560M—proved capable of handling the majority of games at our Enthusiast settings and 1080p while still breaking 30 FPS. With some of the latest titles at similar “maxed out” settings, frame rates now drop below 30FPS in five of the seven titles, but remember that our new Enthusiast is equivalent to last year’s “Ultra”. There are certainly other games that will tax the GTX 560M, and our recommendation is that you consider disabling antialiasing or dropping the quality down a notch if you want higher frame rates, but in general the GTX 560M is still a good solution for notebook gamers.

Closing Thoughts

As a sci-fi buff, it’s pretty exciting to see the rapid pace of advancement over the last few years. Today’s smartphones pack about as much power in a small portable device as the PCs we used less than a decade ago. If you’ve ever dreamed of real-world tricorders and holodecks—or maybe cyberspace and Ono-Sendai decks—they’re getting tantalizingly close. Maybe we won’t have exactly what the sci-fi writers of 20 or 30 years ago envisioned, but we’re definitely shedding the wires and I look forward to seeing where we will be in another ten years!

Back on topic, no benchmark suite can ever (reasonably) contain every performance metric, and we do understand that mobile gaming is still a small piece of the larger mobility pie. Even so, it’s still important to consider mobile GPU performance, and with the improving nature of integrated graphics we felt it was time to finally ditch the 2006-era graphics quality settings and shoot for something more visually appealing. Our mobile gaming suite now represents some of the latest DX11 titles, and even at our Value settings all of the games look quite good. If you’re looking for basic gaming capabilities, all you really need is a mobile GPU that can hit 30 FPS at our Value settings in all seven titles and you should be set. If you’re after higher quality and higher resolutions, you’ll want something more than midrange GPUs, but be prepared to pay the price—both in terms of cost as well as in terms of notebook size.

With the updated laptop benchmarks now in place, we’re still early enough in 2012 that if you can make a good case for other benchmarks that we haven’t included we’re willing to consider adding a couple more tests. Remember that the goal is to provide a reasonable test suite from which you can estimate performance in other similar benchmarks, so adding three more video encoding tests isn’t really going to add much; on the other hand, if there’s a class of application you don’t feel our test suite adequately covers, sound off in the comments.

As a final thought, I’ve been the head laptop tester at AnandTech since early 2006. While we have frequently heard about the increasing importance of laptops in the overall computer market, the past two years have really shown tremendous growth. We had seven mobile articles on AnandTech in 2006, 15 in 2007 and 2008, and 32 in 2009. That’s pretty reasonable, but then in 2010 we had a whopping 107 mobile articles and 2011 eclipsed that with 166 articles. Wow! Granted not all of the articles in the past two years are about laptops, and we've had a lot of shorter articles in the past two years, but however you want to view it one thing is eminently clear: mobile devices are now well and truly established and our increased coverage reflects that. It’s also worth noting that Intel’s Sandy Bridge and AMD’s Llano launches were both more about the mobile sector than about desktops, and the upcoming Ivy Bridge, Trinity, and Haswell appear to continue that trend.

Here's looking forward to another awesome year in the mobile space, kicking off with CES next week. Hint: besides the usual plethora of large displays and 3D demonstrations, CES is all about smartphones, tablets, and laptops. (I almost feel sorry for Brian...almost.)

All New Gaming Test Suite
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  • Ryan Smith - Saturday, January 07, 2012 - link

    Brink's really not any better. It's a multiplayer game that no one plays (and I say that as an owner), and because it's a MP game there's no practical way to structure a repeatable benchmark.

    We would have definitely liked to include an OpenGL game, but even I have to admit that OpenGL just isn't very important right now. Maybe Doom 4 or Prey 2 will change that, but with id not licensing Tech 5, OpenGL is quickly becoming an API that's only applicable to id games.
    Reply
  • jjj - Friday, January 06, 2012 - link

    "as where many wouldn’t notice the difference between a web page loading in two seconds and a web page loading in one second"

    That's not all that true,there are some actual numbers from Google and Amazon about how page loading time relates to sales/searches:
    -Amazon : every 100 ms increase in load time of Amazon.com decreased sales by 1%
    -Google: a change in a 10-result page loading in 0.4 seconds to a 30-result page loading in 0.9 seconds decreased traffic and ad revenues by 20%.
    In the end it might be a more usefull test than some synthetic tests already on the list.

    Intel low power CPUs choke when both GPU and CPU are active and maybe the 17W Trinity SKUs will too.Maybe there should be a test that reflects that,besides the gaming ones since it's a rather important piece of info.

    Finally,the most important test that is missing is WIFI perf,it is a mobile device after all.
    Reply
  • Conficio - Friday, January 06, 2012 - link

    It's so funny that Google knows about the numbers and does even provide tools to measure the load times and make suggestions how to improve. However when I run the performance analysis against one of my websites, some of the suggestions to improve are for the Google Analytics, and Google Adsense scripts (like not allowing caching of the script, or only allowing for less than a week, or scripts loaded from redirections, etc.).

    I also see many web pages waiting for serves that load google AdSense or analytics.

    Is it just me, or should Google start to eat it's own dog food?
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, January 06, 2012 - link

    What would you like us to test with WiFi? Maximum throughput? Part of that will be determined by the chipset, a larger part more than likely will come from the choice of router, and the rest is noise and interference between runs. I do make a point of listing the WiFi chipset, which tells you about 90% of what you need to know.

    (Hint: 1x1:1 MIMO solutions are the bottom of the barrel and come in most laptops; the 2x2:2 solutions are okay, and if you have a 5GHz router that can really help remove interference. I've only tested about three laptops with 3x3:3 MIMO over the years, and sadly my current router can't even support the maximum throughput.)
    Reply
  • jjj - Saturday, January 07, 2012 - link

    You guys are already testing WIFI for phones and tablets,it's easy to just apply the same methodology.I do have a hard time understanding why do it there and not here and this internet thing is something that tends to be used a lot.
    I guess testing notebooks started by doing the same thing as on desktops and it didn't seemed obvious that this should be tested. Listing the part used helps only folks that know what it means and you get what you expect only if the OEM does things right. I don't have a laptop example but look at Asus Transformer Prime and it's WIFI and GPS problems, can you be sure that there aren't a bunch of laptops that offer a lot less than they should? Poor WIFI perf could also be a deal breaker for many,if they knew about it and maybe,just maybe,some manufacturers would pay more attention to it.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, January 07, 2012 - link

    For smartphones, you're looking at 1x1:1 2.4GHz solutions with a very small device that can easily run into connectivity problems if, for instance, the casing is all aluminum. For laptops, it's usually not much of a concern (e.g. they're plenty large to route wires in a sensible fashion for the antennae). WiFi speeds usually aren't a concern unless you're transferring large files. If you're doing that, then you're going to typically be at the limits of the chipset, not the laptop, and you'd be far better off with Ethernet regardless.

    Anyway, there are other problems with trying to test laptop wireless speeds. One is that we have at least two different test locations, so that necessitates getting identical hardware on both sides -- router for sure, and testing location won't be identical. Even with the right hardware, outside interference (from neighboring networks) is a potential problem.

    The better solution IMO is a separate review of wireless chipsets. I tried to do that with the Killer Wireless-N review a while back, and Brian is working on a more complete roundup of wireless chipsets. Outside of that review, I'll see what Anand thinks about getting us equipped with the necessary hardware to test wireless.
    Reply
  • jjj - Saturday, January 07, 2012 - link

    maybe this helps http://www.smallnetbuilder.com/wireless/wireless-f...
    Anyway design matters here too and ofc it impacts range too not only throughput.For using Ethernet,you don't always have it,maybe you use your laptop mostly as a desktop replacement but in the end that's not it's main purose for many.
    The differences are there and i don't know how many folks wouldn't care at least about range.
    Reply
  • jalexoid - Friday, January 06, 2012 - link

    Please, please, please add OpenGL benchmarks for professional users. OpenCL would be quite good also, specifically data transfer between the main mem to graphics memory. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, January 07, 2012 - link

    We generally run SpecViewPerf on workstation GPUs (Quadro FX), but is there really a desire to see those tests run on consumer graphics as well? Even a basic Quadro FX will generally outperform the fastest consumer cards in professional OpenGL testing, simply because of the drivers/firmware.

    For OpenCL, Ryan tests that on GPUs to some extent, but I'm not sure how many people are seriously looking at OpenCL performance on laptops. Would you suggest using the same tests as Ryan is using, or do you have some specific OpenCL benchmark you'd like us to run?
    Reply
  • ltcommanderdata - Saturday, January 07, 2012 - link

    PowerDirector 10 uses OpenCL to render it's video effects. Video editing seems like a good use case that most users can relate to rather than say fluid simulation or Monte Carlo calculations.

    PowerDirector 10 also supports AMD APP Acceleration (which is OpenCL I suppose), nVidia CUDA, and Intel QuickSync for final encoding so could be useful to compare each platform's ideal accelerated encoding method.

    The upcoming WinZip 16.5 is supposed to be OpenCL accelerated for compression, decompression, and encryption making another benchmark with a use case that is applicable to most users.
    Reply

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