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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  • htwingnut - Friday, October 05, 2012 - link

    Wait wut? Work for Sager? Hardly. That's not a very fair comment. I've owned and used most every major brand laptop under the sun. I just happen to own two Sagers at the moment, and over the years has become my laptop of choice due to cost, performance, configuration, and ease of maintenance/upgrading.

    I don't disagree there could be some things improved, or think that Sager is perfect, but I was countering some issues you brought up that were either incorrect or perfectly personal opinion/bias is all. I even mentioned the keyboard isn't that great, the touchpad is average, and

    Sure I would like a magnesium alloy construction, but I understand the cost implications. And as stated there is nothing wrong with the durability of the materials as it stands.

    Regarding warranty, I don't think 1 year is great, but it's also pretty standard with most laptops. It's like slamming Ford, GM, or Chrysler for only offering 3/36 warranties on their cars when VW offers 4/50. If you want more, buy more, and at a very reasonable cost compared to competition.

    My bad on the battery, it is 79WHr..

    I wouldn't consider Sager a "boutique" laptop, it's really a rebranded Sager that they add the components too. There are some really great "boutique" Clevo based laptops, Mythlogic for one, that offer superb support and and great warranties.

    In any case I digress.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, October 05, 2012 - link

    Sorry... I just thought I saw something where you said "our [something]" when discussing Sager. I didn't mean it as an attack which is why I put a question mark. If someone officially works for a company and wants to engage in a dialog, that's more than welcome -- we just appreciate knowing who a person is and whom they work for.

    And in the interest of full disclosure, I believe you do write for Notebookreview -- or is that an unpaid hobby? Anyway, I know my review ruffled some feathers over there, but you know what they say about opinions....

    I have edited/toned down/clarified some of the commentary on the keyboard and other elements. My discussion of the build materials was also perhaps not entirely clear. I note that the highest end in terms of materials quality (though it has drawbacks like weight) is doing a machined aluminum build, and that such a design would likely jack up the price $500. But I do feel the addition of brushed aluminum veneers is still "putting lipstick on a pig" -- you can dress up the exterior all you want, but underneath there's nothing special.

    Incidentally, I personally find the aesthetic of the P150EM far better than the P170EM, even though it's still mostly plastic. The keyboard still feels the same, but at least there it matches the chassis size nearly perfectly. Because the chassis isn't as large, the plastic doesn't feel as flimsy (not that it's flimsy per se, but everything has more give on a larger chassis), and the soft touch coating is nice -- I'm a sucker for that, but I'm not sure how it holds up long-term.

    Finally, regarding boutiques, I basically use that as a somewhat generic label to mean, "They're not a huge OEM and offers more customization options than you can get from a Dell/HP/etc." Some might consider Clevo to be a "large ODM", but for me they're basically a smaller whitebook vendor that targets a market niche, and nearly all of the resellers fall into the "boutique" category. I don't mean this as a bad thing either; I think most boutiques are able to offer a far more personal level of service than what you get from the big guys.
    Reply
  • htwingnut - Saturday, October 06, 2012 - link

    My reviewing is an unpaid hobby, purely. There's no money in reviewing (well you likely know), at least not enough to support a family on unless you get one of the few lucrative positions out there.

    I guess we can agree to disagree. Would I like a solid metal chassis? Sure. Is it necessary or practical strictly imho? No.

    I find Asus and MSI comparable as far as materials. Alienware is one step up in that regard, but I find the rest of the flashy nature a distraction and unnecessary IMHO.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Sunday, October 07, 2012 - link

    No, I don't think we disagree too much... that is about how I feel about the various options in terms of build quality. I guess the disagreement is: would you pay more for it? If I could get a Clevo with a mag-alloy frame for $100 more, I'd say that would be worthwhile; $200 more would be questionable, and at $300+ more they'd need to have build quality every bit as good as mobile workstations. It could certainly be done, but you may be right: the target market may simply now be willing to pay for it. Reply
  • TrantaLocked - Thursday, October 04, 2012 - link

    Clevo has no issue with battery life management. The W110ER is the BEST performing per watt-hour, and it has the same GT 650m and 45W i7 processor as the Samsung. Simply put, the EM series laptops are designed not to save energy as they are targeted at gamers. It won't clock down as much, and the 7970m still needs a lot more energy to run. The Alienware models are based on the 680m, which is quite a bit better with power than the 7970m. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, October 05, 2012 - link

    W110ER is best according to what, our charts? That's why I mentioned the SECOND W110ER that I tested, which got battery life as follows:

    Idle: 217 minutes
    Internet: 209 minutes
    H.264: 187 minutes

    Notice the similarity to the P170EM numbers? And I ran those tests myself (twice on each test, listing the higher result for each). I even tried with two different drives, one an SSD and one a Momentus XT. I couldn't figure out why the battery life was so much worse than what Vivek got with the Eurocom Monster 1.0, though we talked about it later and it's possible the improvement was because he did a clean install of Windows whereas I used the supplied install from Clevo.

    Speaking of which, that's an interesting idea: maybe I need to try a clean install of Win7 on the P170EM and see if battery life is the same, better, or worse?
    Reply
  • htwingnut - Friday, October 05, 2012 - link

    No, battery life using stock Clevo BIOS sucks, period. Latest EC/BIOS helps, getting about 5 hours with basic wi-fi use on W110ER though. So there are improvements being made.

    The Monster 1.0 battery life is curious at best. But I guess with proper tuning in the BIOS and settings I guess it's possible to exceed 5 hours.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, October 05, 2012 - link

    Realistically, with a properly tuned BIOS and a 62Wh battery, the W110ER ought to be able to last 8+ hours. Look at the Samsung Series 7: 77Wh battery and a 17.3" LCD and it manages over seven hours idle and six hours Internet. There's no reason an Intel-based laptop can't come close to the numbers put up by AMD's Trinity, especially in light use scenarios. I've actually got a dual-core IVB laptop in now, so I'm going to be interested in seeing what sort of battery life that gets (Dell Latitude E6430s if you're curious). My bet is it will be about equal to Trinity in efficiency. Reply
  • htwingnut - Saturday, October 06, 2012 - link

    Part of the issue in the W110ER is how it handles Optimus. Until recent drivers the GPU never fully shut down (so we think based on some anecdotal evidence). 305.53 and latest driver seem to do it properly. Where system was draining 14-15W with wi-fi on, 40% brightness, it now draws 11-12W. For a 45W CPU, I find that about normal. The latest ME, EC, BIOS updates do help quite a bit. I am getting over 5 hours just casual use with a dual core i5-3360m that I'm testing at the moment. Will compare against the i7-3610QM when done.

    For 8 hours battery the W110ER would have to consume no more than 7.5W. That means 7.5W total for wi-fi, lcd, CPU, RAM, HDD/SSD. Not very realistic. That's about the power drain of the M11x R1 with a 10W ULV CPU. The LCD in the W110ER also has a high power draw for such a small screen.

    The Samsung Series 7 is quite spectacular for sure. I'm curious however if Samsung employed some voltage reduction measures and dropped CPU speed to achieve that power draw. Can you check voltage and CPU speed at idle unplugged on that machine? Using Throttlestop I can drop speed to 800MHz, but voltage is same so it doesn't really matter. Samsung are also masters a optimization. Not an excuse for Clevo or any other manufacturer, but in the end, it also does affect cost. A 17" with low end quad core and GT 650m for $1350 compared with laptops for $400-$500 cheaper with similar specs.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Sunday, October 07, 2012 - link

    With an 11.6" LCD, I think 8W idle is perfectly realistic with Ivy Bridge. M11x actually isn't that awesome on power savings either; I've seen quad-core Sandy Bridge draw only 10W idle with a 17.3" LCD, though.

    As for the Samsung Series 7, idle clocks are 1.2GHz, just like they should be. Voltage on the CPU is apparently 0.826 to 0.846 at those clocks; I assume there's some "luck of the draw" there, but I don't know what normal is supposed to be.

    Anyway, you're probably right: with the latest drivers and firmware updates, the W110ER should be doing much better than the second unit I tested, and hopefully close to what we measured on the initial Monster 1.0 review.
    Reply

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