Conclusion: NVIDIA Retains Their Title, But Barely

We had a hunch that NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 580M would continue to be the fastest single GPU available in notebooks, and that turned out to be accurate...mostly. In a couple of games the 580M is a slam dunk, while in others it trades blows with AMD's Radeon HD 6990M. Once multi-GPU solutions are brought into the equation, things tend to veer more in favor of NVIDIA's solution, but we remind you that two isn't always better than one: it may look better on charts, but benchmarks don't tell the stories of micro-stuttering and sometimes inconsistent performance. There's a reason none of our editors would recommend a multi-GPU solution in a desktop, and so I personally can't really recommend it in a notebook either.

What are we left with? Well, once again my recommendation at the end of the first part of the M18x review applies: the M18x feels like too much, especially compared to the M17x R3. That's doubly true when you realize the M18x's only single-GPU solution is a GTX 560M; everything else is SLI or CrossFire. So when you bounce down to the M17x R3, you can get a single 6870M, GTX 560M, 6990M, or GTX 580M, and unfortunately for NVIDIA, this is where AMD steals the show.

Simply put, the 580M just isn't worth the $300 premium over the 6990M. The two are comparable enough that situations where NVIDIA's part leads just don't justify the massive difference in price. Those of you still itching to configure an M18x will have an even easier time with it: a pair of GTX 580Ms is a staggering $700 more than a pair of 6990Ms. If price is of no consequence to you then by all means go for NVIDIA's solution, but if it matters even in the slightest, AMD wins the value competition hands down. Think it's just Alienware? A visit over to AVADirect reveals the same kind of price difference in a custom configured X7200.

Ultimately both of these solutions are more than adequate for getting your mobile game on, but AMD really does win the value proposition by a landslide. The GTX 580M is a fantastic GPU and I've certainly gotten a lot of mileage out of mine, but I also need the support for CUDA. If you don't, your answer is a simple one, and the M17x R3 with a Radeon HD 6990M may just wind up being the best balance of price and performance for mobile gamers. The M18x remains, as before, too much for most users.

Heat and Noise
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  • Alexvrb - Sunday, October 16, 2011 - link

    Meaker is right. You can overclock it 100% and it doesn't mean beans if its throttling the heck out of it. Reply
  • Meaker10 - Friday, October 14, 2011 - link

    You have the 6990M coming out behind the 6970M results.... Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, October 14, 2011 - link

    There are several factors at play. First, different drivers -- newer may not always be better, but without having both laptops and retesting, we can't say for sure. Second and more important by far is that the X7200 has a hex-core i7-990X. Even overclocked, the i7-2920XM can't always match it. Third, there's a difference in chipsets; the X7200 uses the X58 while the M18x uses the HM67. The X58 has tri-channel memory with two full x16 PCIe slots, where the mobile platforms go with dual-channel and two x8 PCIe slots.

    While individually, each of these seems minor, taken together it's not too surprising to see the X7200 win some of the gaming benchmarks. Also notice that in more GPU-limited tests (Metro 2033, Mafia II, and STALKER at our Ultra settings), the 6990M CF setup outpaces the 6970M CF by a fairly large margin. Most of our other titles, even at max settings, may not completely saturate the GPUs.
    Reply
  • Meaker10 - Friday, October 14, 2011 - link

    While I agree for the most part, if we were CPU limited we would see a hard wall, the CPU utilisation is close between AMD/Nvidia so that while there can sometimes be gaps they are not large.

    Well looking at the highest setting Dirt 2 benchmarks we see:

    580M in the lead on the back of the 2920XM over the x7200 setup by 15%, a lead that suggests no GPU bottleneck.

    Now looking at the M18X the 6990M crossfire is getting 77% of the FPS of the 6970 setup. Usually crossfire is less limited by PCI-E lanes than SLI.

    Usually drivers can alter results, but if we project where the 6990M crossfire results should be then they are underperforming by around 30%, not something you would expect in newer drivers.

    Have you checked the card's were not throttling during this run? Looks a bit suspect to me.
    Reply
  • Meaker10 - Friday, October 14, 2011 - link

    Sorry I meant to say it indicates no CPU bottleneck. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, October 14, 2011 - link

    I'll ask Dustin to check on the clocks and thermals of the AMD 6990M, as well as the i7-2920XM -- both could potentially throttle. I'll ask him about AMD driver version as well. Also, while on the desktop the SLI and CF results are often similar in terms of CPU utilization, on notebooks all bets are off. Every time I've played with an SLI or CF laptop, I've always felt like performance was never quite where I'd expect for the given hardware.

    For instance, SLI and CF scaling on desktops compared with scaling on notebooks seems like it usually doesn't do nearly as well on notebooks. I'd have to go analyze some hard numbers, but it's just been my impression. Another example is when you launch a game on an SLI or CF notebook, the display usually seems to flicker on and off for 10 seconds. Maybe that's been fixed now, but the last time I tested it I seriously thought, "WTF is going on!?"

    In theory, everything should be the same, but when you go mobile it rarely feels that way. Yet one more reason to recommend the M17x or ASUS G74SX over the M18x.
    Reply
  • Meaker10 - Saturday, October 15, 2011 - link

    I have a 16F2 barebone myself (GT683R based).

    It would be interesting to face the x7200 and M18x against each other. Recording a baseline one card performance and looking at the mobile vs desktop chipset scaling with the same drivers and cards.
    Reply
  • ik9000 - Saturday, October 15, 2011 - link

    re your comment that the premium for a single 580 isn't worth it over the 6990. While dual GPU set-ups don't offer optimus, with a single card isn't this an option? Would Optimus give a single GTX580 machine a better battery life than a single 6990? Reply
  • iamlilysdad - Saturday, October 15, 2011 - link

    It appears that Dell now lists a 256gb + 750gb option for custom configuration for the M17X R3. Guess that's another plus in the column for the "little" brother. Reply
  • Akv - Sunday, October 16, 2011 - link

    Another "gaming laptop". Yawn...

    Sorry to repeat that every six months, but I am part of the population who have all the necessary large gaming equipment at home (screens, cases, fans, mice, keyboards...) and who use their laptop when traveling.

    In that sense the prospect of gaming with a laptop seems to me appalling compared to what my desktops can offer, and the prospect of using a low-power, low-noise, light-weigth laptop with excellent screen and excellent speakers seems highly appropriate.
    Reply

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