Part II: AVADirect Clevo P170EM Gaming Notebook with GeForce GTX 680M

We took Clevo’s P170EM for a spin last week, equipped with a Radeon HD 7970M and a variety of other high-end options. Today we have our follow up where we use the same core hardware but with NVIDIA’s GTX 680M in place of AMD’s top mobile GPU. Now that we have an apples-to-apples comparison between the two fastest mobile GPUs, who can claim the mobile gaming crown?

For this second installment, we’ve taken some time to run additional gaming tests, we’ve updated the BIOS and rerun battery life numbers, and we take a detour into discussing drivers and GPU utilization figures. Having spent more time using the P170EM, I’ll also try to reevaluate the overall package in light of the above areas to see if I might have been a bit too harsh with my initial assessment. If you need a fast desktop replacement/gaming notebook, is Clevo the way to go?

Let’s start with a quick recap of the laptop hardware—everything is the same, other than the change in GPU and a slight difference in RAM (the brand, not the speed).

AVADirect Clevo P170EM Gaming Notebook Specifications
Processor Intel i7-3720QM
(Quad-core 2.60-3.60GHz, 6MB L3, 22nm, 45W)
Prolimatech PK-3 Thermal Compound
Chipset HM77
Memory Corsair Vengeance 8GB (2x4GB) DDR3-1600
(Running at 9-9-9-24-1T Timings)
Graphics Intel HD 4000
(16 EUs, up to 1250MHz)

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680M 2GB GDDR5 (Optimus)
(1344 cores at 720MHz, 256-bit GDDR5-3600)
Display 17.3” WLED Matte 16:9 1080p (1920x1080)
(Chi Mei N173HGE, 72% Gamut)
Note: LCD upgrade currently not available
Storage 256GB SATA 6Gbps SSD (Crucial M4-CT256M4SSD2)
Optical Drive DVDRW (Slimtype DS8A8SH)
Networking 802.11n dual-band 450Mb WiFi (Intel Ultimate-N 6300)
Gigabit Ethernet (Realtek RTL8168/8111)
Audio Realtek ALC269
Stereo Speakers
Headphone/Microphone jacks
Capable of 5.1 digital output (HDMI)
Battery/Power 8-cell, 14.8V, 5200mAh, ~77Wh
FSP Group 220W Max AC Adapter (19.0V, 11.57A)
Front Side IR Port
Left Side Memory Card Reader
1 x USB 3.0/eSATA Combo
2 x USB 3.0
Gigabit Ethernet
Mini-FireWire (1394A)
Right Side DVDRW
Headphone
Microphone
Line-Out
Line-In
1 x USB 2.0
Back Side 2 x Exhaust Vents (CPU/Chipset and GPU)
DisplayPort
HDMI
Dual-Link DVI-D
AC Power Connection
Kensington Lock
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Dimensions 16.22” x 10.87” x 1.65-1.79” (WxDxH)
(412mm x 276mm x 41.8-45.4mm)
Weight 8.58 lbs (3.9kg) (DVDRW + Single HDD)
Extras HD Webcam
102-key Keyboard with Standard 10-key
Configurable backlighting for keyboard (7 colors)
Memory Card Reader (MMC/MS Pro/SD)
Warranty Standard 1-year Warranty
$103 for 2-year Clevo Warranty
$211 for 3-year Clevo Warranty
Price Starting at ~$1489 (Oct. 12, 2012)
As configured: $2249 (with 1-year Warranty)

We’ve covered all of this previously, so we won’t dwell on things too much. Note that this laptop has a matte LCD, but when we first received our sample AVADirect listed a high gamut matte LCD option as a ~$150 upgrade. We’re not sure what panel is used for the standard matte LCD, but it's a "free" upgrade from the glossy panel at AVADirect so it may not deliver results quite as good as this panel. In a direct price comparison, the difference between the HD 7970M and the GTX 680M is currently $274, so we’re looking at $1975 vs. $2249 for the AMD vs. NVIDIA matchup; that’s a price difference of just under 14%, so ideally you’d want the GTX 680M to be at least 14% faster to warranty the upgrade.

Second, we noted on the AMD unit that the Kingston HyperX RAM didn’t have a working profile for DDR3-1600 operation on the P170EM, but the Corsair memory addresses that “shortcoming”. In practice, outside of a few specific benchmarks (that are more theoretical than practical in nature), there’s no performance difference between DDR3-1333 and DDR3-1600, but with pricing being the same there’s also no reason I can see to opt for RAM that won’t run at 1600MHz in this particular notebook. In other words, we recommend getting the Corsair Vengeance RAM (or some other RAM that you know will run at 1600MHz).

Subjective Evaluation: Mea Culpa?
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  • Zodiark1593 - Monday, October 15, 2012 - link

    Think we can get a comparison of the GTX 680M SLI vs the Radeon 7970M Crossfire?

    Also, do Clevo laptops that come equipped with dual GPUs also rely on a muxless design?
    Reply
  • sabot00 - Monday, October 15, 2012 - link

    "That’s a cost increase of 15% for a typical gaming performance increase of around 20% at high quality settings"

    I disagree with this reasoning, as a laptop also does many other things, many of which (CPU, HDD, RAM, internet performance) don't increase with the price.

    This is analogous to saying that one can purchase a 256GB 830 SSD for $160, which is only around a $40 premium over a 1TB laptop HDD. Then claiming that this new laptop has 600% more performance in random 4K reads for only a $40 (2% increase for a $2000 laptop) premium.

    While important to many people, especially buyers of these laptops, it's ultimately up to the buyer to decide, and as such, the premium for a purely graphical upgrade should not be weighed against the total cost of the laptop.

    The 7970M is ~$450, in terms of OEM price, the GTX 680M is $650, truly, it is a 44% percent increase in price of the graphics subsystem for a 20% increase in graphics performance.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, October 15, 2012 - link

    I'm speaking to people shopping for a gaming notebook. Since you generally can't purchase just a GPU upgrade (you can try, and in some cases it might even work -- some older Clevo units at least have managed to run multiple generations of GPU hardware), you have to buy the whole package. Yes, it's 40% more for 20% more performance when just looking at the GPU, but unlike desktops you can't just look at the GPU upgrade cost. Also, anyone buying HDDs without an SSD for the OS/apps just doesn't know what it's like to have a system boot and load apps quickly. Once you go SSD, you'd definitely pay double the price for one fourth the capacity and count yourself lucky. Reply
  • krumme - Tuesday, October 16, 2012 - link

    Going by your logic, every gamer should buy a faster gfx for their rig. As total cost always will make the faster gfx a better choice. When does it end?

    You can explain all you want, but your reasoning stands as one of they most idiotic this year, and makes this look like a commercial.

    Man even Nvidia nor AMD would ever come up with such an argument.

    Think about applying this logic to rest of your purchases. Damn.
    Reply
  • cjb110 - Tuesday, October 16, 2012 - link

    I think if your looking at laptop gaming then yes the logic of buying the fastest gfx is sound. Laptops still have more of a mismatch between the capability of the cpu and the gpu. i.e. the CPU isn't the bottleneck.

    I don't think any one at AnandTech would apply the same logic to desktop gaming. In desktops its more even, so making sure the two are matched will save you money.
    Reply
  • krumme - Tuesday, October 16, 2012 - link

    No ssd, 768 15 pathetic screen, lousy build quality?

    274 usd brings you a long way of improving your rig.

    Its the first time i hear the argument in 20 years on the www, and for a good reason.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, October 16, 2012 - link

    No, it's not the first time the argument has been made. We frequently discuss the value of upgrading to a faster GPU in our desktop GPU reviews. If you look at an HD 7770 GPU that costs $125 and compare that to a 7870 at $240, is there value in the upgrade? Yes: it's substantially faster (nearly twice as fast), which opens up the possibility for 1080p gaming in most titles. Then we look at the HD 7970 and it's $410 but is only 20-30% faster. It's no longer a stellar upgrade.

    Here, we're looking at the total cost with gaming as the main purpose for buying a gaming laptop. It's okay to think people buying gaming laptops have more dollars than sense, but assuming someone wants a high performance gaming laptop, they're going to be shelling out minimum $1800 for something with HD 7970M or GTX 680M. So, if you have to pay $200 more to swap out AMD for NVIDIA hardware, is there value there?

    The answer is a resounding yes. Sure, the 20% performance increase is nice, but it's about more than the performance. I specifically note the driver situation (twice in the conclusion alone). Given the option between Enduro and Optimus, right now you're shooting your gaming laptop in the foot if you go with Enduro. AMD has to fix this, and I think they will fix things, but that doesn't change the fact that they've been selling 7970M for four or five months with a major lack of driver support. Talk to me in another month, and hopefully I can say that it's no longer a major sticking point, but today? Nope, AMD's solution is hamstrung.
    Reply
  • krumme - Wednesday, October 17, 2012 - link

    The argument about driver and the quality of optimus is completely valid in my world. I have good experience with the optimus gaming laptop i have, and would always favor stability. Enduro is not working yet. Its very simple for my personal preference.

    But when buying a rig, you are always torn between where to put your money.

    Do you prefer a gaming rig with an ssd and better screen to a faster gfx? - its not up to the reviewer to be the judge here. And present it as the truth. The reviewer can present the facts, and then the consumer, can make the right choises based on his own needs. The reviewer should be the guide.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, October 17, 2012 - link

    You're reading a review, which inherently has subjective opinion -- a full page of it earlier, obviously, but the conclusion has a lot of subjective stuff as well. It actually *is* a reviewers job to be a judge; otherwise I should just run the benchmarks and post graphs and I could be done with a review in a day or two rather than spending a couple weeks running and evaluating. It's not a laptop review if all you're doing is showing performance and the price. You need to evaluate how the whole package comes together.

    People can certainly disagree with me and say, "I don't personally need or want to spend the money for an SSD." Or, "I think the 7970M is the better graphics card [because...]" That's fine. But my opinion is that when looking at the cost to buy a well equipped P170EM for gaming purposes, the additional money required to go from 7970M to 680M is definitely the way to go. If the extra $275 at AVADirect for that particular upgrade is "too much", you should NOT be buying a gaming notebook that costs $1500+ in the first place.
    Reply
  • krumme - Wednesday, October 17, 2012 - link

    The recommendation of the more expensive alternative is wrapped in numbers, presenting it as objective fact.

    When what happens is comparing total cost to a single benefit, albeit the most important one. Its inconsistent, and presented the wrong way imho. Its very simple just to say its say 15-20% faster, then the buyers can make up for themselves.
    Reply

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