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Clevo P170EM 7970M Gaming Performance

We’re looking at over $2000 worth of gaming notebook here, so there’s not much point in bothering with the Value gaming charts—though you can find them in Mobile Bench if you’re interested. As we noted earlier, we have several driver versions that we’ve tested. First, there’s the initial driver dating back to May 2012 in red; we had a couple crashes to desktop with this driver (specifically in Batman and DiRT 3), and overall performance at lower settings is less than stellar with GPU underutilization issues clearly present. Next we have the recently released Catalyst 12.9 Beta in dark green, but that driver is mostly focused on separating the AMD driver updates from Intel driver updates and GPU underutilization is still a concern. Finally, we have a hotfix driver building off the 12.9 Beta that AMD hopes to have available for the public in the next week.

We’re seeing clear improvements with the Hotfix for many titles, with some games showing improvements of 50% or more at lower detail settings. I’m still not certain AMD has completely fixed the GPU underutilization issues, and there are at least a couple titles where performance at certain settings has decreased slightly relative to the initial drivers, but the improvements seen in the 12.9 hotfix preview driver give us hope that they’ll get things sorted out. At present, the hotfix driver is undergoing testing and packaging preparation (e.g. our test driver came with a bunch of extra files and required booting into safe mode to replace a couple of DX9 DLLs before it was fully functional). Once AMD is done with their testing and packaging, though, the driver installation process should be the same as a normal AMD Radeon driver.

We’ll start with our “Mainstream” settings, which are more likely to see GPU underutilization since they’re not as demanding, and then we’ll look at Enthusiast performance. After that we’ll have a closer inspection of the various drivers and how performance has changed. We have Alienware’s M17x R4 with a GTX 680M in our charts, but we’ll have a more detailed look at GTX 680M vs. HD 7970M performance when we get to part 2 of the P170EM review, as we’re throwing a bunch of other recent releases at the two notebooks to see how they fare on a wider selection of benchmarks.

Batman: Arkham City - Mainstream

Battlefield 3 - Mainstream

Civilization V - Mainstream

DiRT 3 - Mainstream

Elder Scrolls: Skyrim - Mainstream

Portal 2 - Mainstream

Total War: Shogun 2 - Mainstream

At our Mainstream settings (which are actually quite demanding), the 7970M acquits itself quite well—at least with the Hotfix driver. AMD consistently places third in our charts, behind the GTX 680M and 680M SLI—and the latter isn’t really a fair comparison. There are even a couple titles (Portal 2 and Skyrim) where AMD takes a slight lead over NVIDIA, though we’re looking at two different laptops. In terms of percentages, just to spoil Part 2 where we’ll look at the P170EM with GTX 680M, NVIDIA does sweep the Mainstream settings on P170EM. The lead ranges from as little as 2% in Shogun 2 to 55% in Civilization V, with an average performance lead of 14%.

Batman: Arkham City - Enthusiast

Battlefield 3 - Enthusiast

Civilization V - Enthusiast

DiRT 3 - Enthusiast

Elder Scrolls: Skyrim - Enthusiast

Portal 2 - Enthusiast

Our Enthusiast settings are what most people considering the P170EM are going to focus on, since it comes with a 1080p display and costs a pretty penny. Things are a bit different this time, as the Hotfix actually offers the worst performance out of the three drivers tested in Batman. Other than that one title, however, the Hotfix continues to be the fastest Enduro 7970M driver we’ve tested. All of the games we tested are still very playable at >40 FPS, though Shogun 2 won’t let us use the “Very High” settings. Looking at the NVIDIA comparison (and again using my non-yet-published results), the 7970M is actually tied with the 680M in DiRT 3 and Battlefield 3, while NVIDIA maintains a healthy 30-35% performance lead in Batman, Civilization V, and Portal 2. Overall, NVIDIA nets a 20% average performance advantage over the six titles we tested at our maximum settings; we’ll revisit this topic again with additional games next week.

Clevo P170EM 7970M General Performance AMD Mobility Catalyst Driver Analysis
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  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, October 02, 2012 - link

    Hey, whaddayaknow! I totally missed those. I couldn't figure out why Clevo wouldn't have such keys, but for some reason the shortcuts on the 10-key area just never registered. Text updated. Thanks! Reply
  • junky77 - Tuesday, October 02, 2012 - link

    Wouldn't it shed some light upon the issue of under utilization? Reply
  • junky77 - Tuesday, October 02, 2012 - link

    Also, according to the notebookcheck review of the m17x-r4, the performance gets much much better without the Enduro problem, even besting the 680m in many cases. Are their results really so out of course? Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, October 02, 2012 - link

    We have not been able to test non-Enduro 7970M yet; I'm hoping to get the M17x R4 + 7970M in some time in the near future. At that point we can get a better view of the performance with/without Enduro. (And we might have another driver updated from AMD by then as well.) Reply
  • ThreeDee912 - Tuesday, October 02, 2012 - link

    Looks like somebody forgot to add in the battery life charts...? Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, October 02, 2012 - link

    Fixed, thanks! Reply
  • halbhh2 - Tuesday, October 02, 2012 - link

    It was very interesting to me to see the excellent battery life of the Samsung 7. So I know which I'd get if I suddenly needed a new laptop in that price range. Really enjoyed this article, and mostly for the detail/nuances. Reply
  • transphasic - Tuesday, October 02, 2012 - link

    Hey Jarred. Is this a realistic solution to this Enduro nonsense?
    It would seem like this would be a better solution to this problem than by cobbling together a patchwork of drivers month after month for specific games in a seemingly vain and futile attempt to bypass these Mux design/Enduro problems in order to increase FPS scores.
    Since AW users have a physical switch to turn it off completely, AMD should just create
    a software patch to shut the stupid Enduro thing off and disabling it, and thereby solve the problem that way.
    I am at a point, like a lot of 7970m owners, where I am wondering if I would be just better off spending the extra $800 for a Nvidia 680m upgrade, or just waiting for the rumored soon to be released 7990m GPU upgrade that SUPPOSEDLY has no Enduro issues. I really cannot believe that even with some supposedly better AMD drivers on the way be the end of the year that it will even come close to closing the enormous gap in gaming performance between our 7970m and the 680m.
    Your thoughts?
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, October 02, 2012 - link

    This won't work. To turn Enduro off (like on the Alienware M17x), you need actual hardware muxes on the motherboard to route the video outputs to the iGPU or the dGPU. The P170EM (AFAIK) only has the outputs connected to the iGPU, so it will always be in Enduro or Optimus mode. Sorry! Reply
  • Harmattan - Tuesday, October 02, 2012 - link

    I've owned both p150em and p170ems and generally agree with the assessment, albeit I felt it a bit harsh. The keyboard was not as bad as described, neither was the build quality. The p150em is, IMO, the best 15" gaming laptop available in terms of performance and size.

    But yes, AW has it all over Clevo on build even with a 2-year old design.

    On the bright side, they did finally listen to people (after 3 years) and put back-lit keyboards on their new line.
    Reply

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