Dell Studio 14: Defining Solidby Dustin Sklavos on August 19, 2010 2:49 AM EST
Studio 14: Gaming in Practice
We've recently revised our gaming benchmark suite to make things more consistent and hopefully clean up the data we present to you. We're also adding StarCraft II to the suite and it's hard not to make a convincing case for it: the game is immensely popular, but also stresses a system fairly evenly, capable of being limited at both the CPU and GPU levels. If it has one fatal flaw, it's poor threading: StarCraft II doesn't take advantage of more than two cores, potentially leading to severe CPU-limited situations on quad-core processors that operate at slower clocks. We'll be looking at this more in an upcoming article, but here are some preliminary SC2 results (subject to change if we modify our test sequence). Because of the change in benchmarks, we won't have quite as few systems listed for comparison, but we will be adding more laptops to the mix over the coming weeks and months.
And here's where the HD 5470 gets dicey. You would think by 2010 that a dedicated graphics part should be able to handle any modern game at 720p (technically 1366x768 or 768p), at least at the lowest settings. After all, the Xbox 360 is nearly five years old, and 720p is the target for that console. But the Mobility Radeon HD 5470 can't: Mass Effect 2 and Battlefield: Bad Company 2 are basically unplayable. You can probably make a case excusing Bad Company 2 (or drop it to DX9 mode to get frame rates up another 20%), but Mass Effect 2 uses an extremely common engine—Unreal Engine 3—and a fairly well-optimized implementation at that. If you bump the resolution down, you can get these games playable, but we're of the opinion that you shouldn't have to. If you're a glutton for punishment on the other hand…
Midrange Gaming? Not Hardly…
Bumping up to our new "Medium" test settings on the same set of games is pain inducing. Literally, the slideshow that was BFBC2 nearly caused me to toss my cookies. Obviously, these settings are not playable, though the 5470 does manage to put paid to NVIDIA's similarly anemic 310M. Less taxing titles might break the 30 FPS mark, but you'll definitely encounter games where even minimum detail is out of reach at the native resolution. The M11x from Dell's Alienware brand manages significantly better gaming performance, although there are instances where games may be CPU limited (i.e. StarCraft II)—we'll be looking at another laptop with a faster CPU and the same GPU soon to see if that's the case.
Paying an extra $160 just to get to this point is extremely difficult to justify; if you mean to do light gaming on the go and are willing to turn down settings, we're comfortable recommending going for the Mobility Radeon HD 540v instead. The 540v should perform very close to the 5470 while reducing the overall system price. If you'd rather get something that can actually handle gaming at medium detail, you might want to check out the ASUS K42JV and N82JV (a review of the latter will be posted in the next couple of weeks).