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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  • bennyg - Friday, January 06, 2012 - link

    When I read the headline... nice fancy name there for just a reshuffle of what you already do. And there's enough of that going around already isn't there...

    I skim through AT reviews despite superior production quality.
    I read notebookcheck reviews in full despite frequent editing and translation errors because (aside from much preferring monolithic-single-page-rendering...) they consider so many more aspects to the product in front of them.

    They also take the effort to disassemble and put up a lot more pictures of the unit and thorough screen (incl viewing angle) assessment. If I google a model for reviews, I want to read new stuff (not most of the same stuff as every other review) and NBC gets my browser time most of the time for that reason.

    And please please please incorporate some of the methodology from http://techreport.com/articles.x/21516 rather than just simplistic FPS measures, especially for the SLI/Xfire setups...
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, January 06, 2012 - link

    Fancy headline for a "reshuffle"? How about, I thought it would be useful to open up discussion to see if there's anything we missed that people would like to see us include, along with a detailed list of the benchmark settings we're using for games (so that I don't have to try and put this all into each laptop review)? And you do realize that this is an article specific to laptop testing, so we're not going to go into more detail on gaming performance and we rarely test SLI/CF setups, right? As for the pictures, I'm not sure what more you'd want from us. We do everything you mention -- screen angle shots, pictures from lots of angles, etc.

    Anyway, as I note in the article, we're open for suggestions on what you'd like to see added that isn't already there. Notebookcheck has a rundown of each laptop that's pretty much just regurgitating the spec sheet, so I think we're covered there. We run a standardized set of benchmarks that includes more detailed graphs, though perhaps some would prefer the NBC approach (e.g. just show the scores from the laptop being tested with a "heat map" below showing the spread and frequency of other scores)?

    Consider the scope of the review and by all means let us know which aspects of laptop reviews you'd like us to cover more. About the only major test that NBC runs that we don't have is CrystalDisk, but I'm not sure how useful that really is. SSDs are much faster than HDDs, and the differences between HDDs are largely meaningless by comparison. I generally figure anyone after fast storage for a laptop will be looking to upgrade to an SSD regardless, and if that's the case they'll be reading our SSD reviews after determing which laptop they want. But let me throw this out there:

    Are there others that would like us to run one of these "quick and dirty" storage benchmarks on the laptops we test? Is the PCMark 7 Storage score insufficient in what it reports? I'm not going to add a test because of one request for it, but if a lot of you would like some additional tests let me know.
    Reply
  • kedesh83 - Saturday, January 07, 2012 - link

    You would think most laptop gamers would be either playing World of warcraft, or Starcraft 2. I'm not being a fanboy or anything but why would they not include those in the games list? Most of the kids i see playing games on my campus are playing Blizzard titles. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, January 07, 2012 - link

    They're older games and DX9 titles as well. If the gaming suite we test runs sufficiently fast on a laptop, I can pretty much guarantee SC2 and WoW will run. Reply
  • ananduser - Saturday, January 07, 2012 - link

    When testing the battery please include a moderate amount of FLASH only sites the likes of Tag Heuer or famous car brands flash minisites. Flash is an important part of the web and would make your tests more realistic. Reply
  • signorRosso - Saturday, January 07, 2012 - link

    In hardware or software?
    10-bit is mentioned at the bottom of this AT article page...
    http://www.anandtech.com/show/4380/discrete-htpc-g...
    Reply
  • signorRosso - Saturday, January 07, 2012 - link

    Disregard the previous comment entirely! Reply
  • Paedric - Saturday, January 07, 2012 - link

    I don't know if it is possible to do it, or if it is useful, but what about testing the performance of virtual machines?

    Also, you said you now use IE9 instead of IE8, is there a significant difference in battery life between Chrome/Firefox/IE9/Opera?
    Reply
  • gero9mo - Saturday, January 07, 2012 - link

    " I’m not sure most users would notice the difference between a 2GHz Core 2 Duo or Athlon X2 laptop and a quad-core i7-2760QM. This is why battery life is such an important element, as where many wouldn’t notice the difference between a web page loading in two seconds and a web page loading in one second, they’re far more likely to notice two hours of battery life versus four or eight hours. "

    I can honestly tell you that one second feels for me like a lifetime in computing. If i where to load 100 pages during a surfing-session, if i can call it that (my English ain't the best), I would most certainly prefer those pages to load in 1 second instead of two. And, in the werry moment you get to a bit more complex page, you are without a doubt gona notice a difference between lets say a Intel Sandy Bridge based CPU versus any AMD CPU. Most users also do other stuff than just surf a web-page. They also extract zip,rar and other files, and even here youre gona notice a difference between Athlon X2 and a i7-2760QM. And if youre seeling computers, be shure to look two to three years forward in time. I would prefer to sit with a i5-2310M versus any Athlon X2 laptop.

    So even if most people won't notice a huge difference, a second here and a secongd there still counts.
    Reply
  • PreacherEddie - Saturday, January 07, 2012 - link

    On the third page, third paragraph from the bottom: "We are still early enough in 2011...", I think should be "2012", unless you also have developed that time travel machine. Reply

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