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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  • mrhumble1 - Wednesday, October 03, 2012 - link

    Dood, you are a little too harsh on the design of the Sager/Clevo chassis.

    I own a NP9150 and will be the first to admit it's no looker. However, we (gamers) do not buy these things for their looks. We want to impress people by quoting specs, not be showing it off in a coffee shop.

    Also, you complain about the HDMI port being on the back. So you think it would be better placed on the side?? Really?? I plug my laptop into my entertainment center via HDMI (like a console, but much better visuals) and I would find it very cumbersome if the port was on the side.

    Finally, the keyboard. I seriously think you got a bad one. I think the keyboard is just fine, and I am not alone.

    So you end up saying "it's really fast so if that's what you are looking for then it's a good option". Huh?? If it IS what one is looking for then it's a total winner.
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, October 03, 2012 - link

    HDMI port on the side would be preferable in my book, yes. Reaching behind the notebook to plug in a display is cumbersome, and if you close the display then the system goes into hibernate/sleep mode (unless you disable that, but then when you forget it's disabled and you close the lid and nothing happens you get irritated that you disabled the option).

    My conclusion is more correctly stated as: P170EM is really fast and it's less expensive than an Alienware and about the same price as an MSI. All three are still expensive, however, and if you can try them all out in person you may find you really like one more than the other. You also need to make sure you really want a top-end gaming notebook, as there are other notebooks that cost less and can still deliver a good gaming experience (though not with all settings cranked to 11).

    Personally, I would take the M17x R4, even though it costs more. I'd probably buy the cheapest model other than the GPU, and I'd upgrade the RAM and storage on my own since it would be less expensive that way. But if you prefer a matte LCD, I'd probably go for the MSI (better keyboard than the Clevo IMO, and better LCD than the glossy mirror on the M17x). And if you don't care about the keyboard the Clevo is fine.

    It's okay to buy a laptop that doesn't look awesome; the most important aspect is how you think the laptop feels. Buying to impress people with specs, on the other hand... well, people do it but I certainly don't condone e-penis contests! For me personally, the Clevo keyboard doesn't feel good. And for the record, I have two P170EM units as well as a P150EM undergoing testing. I guess the keys aren't necessarily loose... they're just flat with horrible key travel. It feels as bad to me as typing on the first generation Ultrabooks, which is unbelievable for a chassis that's nearly two inches thick.
  • mrhumble1 - Wednesday, October 03, 2012 - link

    Yeah my point wasn't very well made regarding "impressing with specs." I meant it's a lot easier to forgive a laptop for being ugly when you note that it's much more powerful than any other laptop. Mentioning this is not bragging, but noting the point of owning this laptop is so it can play games with settings maxed out.

    The typing experience really boils down to personal preference. I am typing on the NP9150 and I actually prefer this keyboard to the one I have at work. I have always liked tight laptop keyboards though, so it's right up my alley. You might want to just state your opinion and note that "your mileage may vary". You might hate it, but it's certainly not BAD.

    Finally, you spend a lot of time comparing it to other laptops and not focusing on its own merits. The advantage of the Clevo chassis is that you basically get to build your own. 15", 17", hard drive vs optical vs empty bay, memory options, GPU options, etc. I just checked, and Dell doesn't even offer a 15" model. If you want the most options for a reasonable cost (yes it's expensive but you get a LOT) then Sager/Clevo is really the best way to get exactly what you want.
  • hulawafu77 - Wednesday, October 03, 2012 - link

    So when you look for a gaming machine, you are more concerned about it being metal (heavy/hot) and looking pretty, and the keyboard than getting the most performance for your money and the best available choices on LCD? There is only one component that I look at 100% of the time when I'm using my laptop and that is the LCD. The keyboard is not a big deal since if I'm gaming, I'm plugged in to A/C, I can easily just attach an external keyboard is it's that big of a deal, but it isn't. For the majority of people buying a Clevo, they won't have problems with the keyboard. Reply
  • TrantaLocked - Wednesday, October 03, 2012 - link

    I personally do not buy a laptop to impress AT ALL (responding to both mrhumble and Jarred). Buying to impress is for self-centered, materialistic fools. I buy electronics for actual reasons. I bought the Sager NP9150 because it offered the best available hardware in a decent frame at a relatively good price. To get what I wanted in an Alienware would have costed me an extra $300-$400, while if I had gone with an MSI or Asus I would have sacrificed not being able to get the 7970m. Reply
  • htwingnut - Wednesday, October 03, 2012 - link

    First of all, good review. I know what it can take to write an extensive and exhaustive review of a product. But I do have a few nitpicks mainly as a long time Sager/Clevo user and owner of many Sager notebooks. Many of them nitpicks, but that's just how I am.

    First of all I feel like a little bit of bias towards Alienware in general. As far as cost, if you price our a system with GTX 680m, i7-3720QM, 256GB SSD, blu-ray, 16GB RAM, the cost difference is around $700. Fairly significant. While base prices aren't too far off, AW tends to gig the customer with any add-ons. There is a little added value in an AW over a Clevo, but imho not close to $700 worth. Plus you don't have the options for decent screens or more configurability like you do with a Sager.

    You mentioned about "GPU being held back by CPU". Just note that the i7-3610QM is way more than adequate to fuel any mobile GPU, 680m SLI included. I recorded CPU useage during gaming and benchmarks using a Sager NP9370 with 680m in SLI and average CPU use was typically 30-50%, with peak use less than 80%. Just something for users to be aware of that a faster CPU isn't needed for gaming.

    Now RAM. You likely received XMP RAM, not RAM with JEDEC timings for 1600MHz. Sure the Clevo BIOS has its limitations, but it can also be circumvented using Intel's XTU software. Secondly, RAM speed is irrelevant when gaming. I've done numerous benchmarking using different CAS timings, speeds, and even single sticks and it made zero difference in most case. Most of the speed sensitivity is with the GPU.

    Your complaint about the warranty is unfounded. ASUS and MSI offer 2 year warranties, and Alienware only 1. But adding any additional time on it is very expensive compared with +$79 for 2 yr and +$149 for 3 yr with the sager. I don't find issue with this at all. One thing that is beneficial with Sager/Clevo notebooks is the configurability. You only spend what you want, configured how you want, not forced into something you don't want or need. Plus Sager's warranty work turnaround time is quick.

    I agree the keyboard isn't the best, but it isn't that bad. I can still easily crank out 80+WPM error-free when needed. It does have occasional missed keys, but many keyboards I've used do that. The backlighting isn't intended to be a trans siberian orchestra light show, it's there to see the keys. I guess if you want lots of configurations or control over it AW is the only way to go, but not worth the $700 up charge as noted earlier.

    The touchpad isn't the best, but it's more than sufficient. This kind of laptop most users use a mouse with it. It's not the most portable machine so users aren't likely going to use the touchpad much so why invest in something that is low priority for users.

    Your comment "as long as the components hold up" is also unfounded. You rarely ever hear of a Clevo machine "falling apart" because of the materials chosen. Again, it gets back to the purpose and intent of Clevo, it's performance over form, and they make form perfectly robust to last 3-4 years at least. There is nothing wrong with the materials or construction.

    Comment that you want "HDMI on side instead of back" is purely personal preference. I prefer my video connections on back so they aren't in the way of my other cables. It is unfortunate though that there is no dual link DVI.

    Regarding the BIOS and comment "BIOS isn't something Clevo generally supplies" is not true. While they don't post them on their site, just a quick email to support they will provide you with the latest. They update frequently and fix issues and add support for other hardware and add features. I guess it's their way of preventing too many bricks. Why not email AVADirect or Clevo for an updated BIOS and I bet you get a response with an updated file in 24 hours (business days of course).

    A couple other nit picks, you note battery is 77WHr, it's actually 89WHr unless AVA Direct skimped on the battery . And the note about a $75 blu-ray add-on is superfluous considering it's a $100 add-on through Alienware. Again, users have the option to even remove the optical drive completely. Something AW doesn't let you do.

    Ok, sounds like a lot of negative, but the review is good. Look forward to 680m benchmarks. I do hope AMD fixes the Enduro issues because I hate to keep having to fork over an exorbitant sum of cash for top end nVidia hardware with my next laptop.
  • hulawafu77 - Wednesday, October 03, 2012 - link

    Well done. And I've created a thread asking feedback about the approach AnandTech took regarding this notebook. I'd like to note another reviewer of AnandTech cannot praise the Razer Blade enough even though the special CPU Razer claimed was customized for them is 50% slower in some benches and the 660M is slower in nearly every single game, sometimes 15 less than a 11" Clevo with a 650M. If you have to gimp and throttle so much because the cooling can't handle it, that's not a gaming machine. It's a pretty decoration. Also note the reviewer is a MacBook owner. Yeah true hardcore notebook gamer. Razer wants to say that is the only true gaming laptop? Yeah I disagree, I'd call that a shameless MacBook clone.

    I'd also like to stress to anyone reading, yes the Clevo is made of plastic, but I see no issues with it. I've owned Asus, Thinkpads, Dell, Compaq, Acer, AST, Packard Bell, HP notebooks in the past, and I have more confidence in this Clevo lasting 5+ years more than any other laptop I've owned. Also FYI to others, a plastic casing doesn't get as hot as a metal case, and it's a lot lighter. Ever touched a MacBook under stress? I have, I thought I burnt my hand.

    As for CPU, I also saw a thread in which a desktop owner with a GTX 680 decided to upgraded to Ivey 3770K from his first gen i7 870. On average his improvement in FPS was .5-1 FPS. That shows how much CPU matters for games these days. Any quad core Intel i7 is not likely to be bottleneck, and we're talking about a beast GTX 680 here.

    I agree with the ram. My G73JH has 1333 CL11 ram, and the P150EM I got CL9 1600 ram. Just for fun I put in 2x4GB 1600 CL9 in the G73JH. There was ZERO FPS improvements. Although it's fun to say I have the fastest ram allowed in my machine, it wouldn't make any difference, luckily ram is so cheap. A lot cheaper FYI than buying from Razer or Alienware, Alienware charges $250 for the ram upgrade I did for $68.

    I agree about the touchpad. I'd say even on the go, a lot of Clevo owners have posted they just buy on the go wireless mouse, and prefer them like the Razer Orochi. I personally love my Logitech Performance MX which can be used on any surface wherever I am. Touchpad is more than adaquate if I need to use it. Double tap, zoom in, zoom out, two finger scroll, no issues.

    I'd also like to add, AnanTech is constantly complaining about IPS display. This is not necessary. The TN 95% gamut matte display in the P150EM outperforms some IPS displays, as found by some Lenovo owners, to their surprise, after calibration of course. Sure it doesn't have as good viewing angles, but you have to be looking at extreme angle to see a problem. But for color accuracy, brightness, contrast, it can beat many IPS displays, even desktop ones. So I think AnandTech should just stick to asking OEM's to provide more options on high quality panels, doesn't have to be IPS. Actually the best panels are not IPS. Samsung and AOU both have panel tech (currently not available for laptop), that are much better than LG's IPS displays, using different, newer, better tech.

    Like I said before, I think the perspective of this article is different from that of those who bought a Clevo. And I hope it stays that way. I do not want to pay extra just because Clevo decided to emulate Alienware or become another Apple clone, that would be awful.
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, October 04, 2012 - link

    You guys are taking this as though I've crucified Clevo and made them out to be the worst thing ever. I don't feel I did that, and it certainly wasn't my intention; I've merely pointed out what I perceive as flaws or shortcomings. I've modified the language a bit on the keyboard just to make it clear where I'm coming from, but there's no way you can convince me it's more comfortable than other options when my hands and carpals are yelling at me.

    Obviously, some of this is entirely subjective: what I think about the keyboard is entirely based on my opinion as someone typing on said keyboard. I don't have any meaningful way of benchmarking keyboards because it's entirely personal, but you can read my other reviews and see what I like/dislike and go from there. It's not even about typing speed; with practice I can type fast on just about any keyboard, but I find certain keyboards are fatiguing to use and cause me physical pain after a while. Actually, all keyboards cause me pain after enough typing, but some bring on discomfort far earlier than others -- the Clevo keyboard is among them.

    For the other items with build quality, let's just take the plastic construction aspect. I would rather have a mag-alloy frame under the exterior on a high-end notebook. You can use plastic on the outside if you want, but I feel a sturdier frame is desirable. Injection molded plastic is what you find on everything from $200 netbooks to $1000 consumer notebooks, all built with the goal of keeping costs down. Granted, some use thicker plastic than others (Clevo certainly does), but it's basically a cost saving measure done instead of going for higher quality. That doesn't mean build quality is horrific, but it's not really above average either. I'd rate Clevo's chassis as being roughly at the same level as the ASUS G-series, the MSI G-series, and certain Toshiba notebooks.

    I do note that the customization options are good with Clevo whitebook vendors, and that's one of the major reasons to go with them over an Alienware or other OEM build. In fact, that's the major reason to go with them I'd say, though you can find companies that offer similar configurability on MSI and ASUS chassis.

    Regarding warranties (this is for htwingnut, who it sounds like works for Sager?), I know that other big OEMs offer 1-year standard warranties. I'm saying I want the boutiques to do better than the big guys. Be nimble and put your support behind a product. If my motherboard goes out after 13 months for some reason, it should be replaced. The same goes for fans, hard drives, LCDs, etc. If I drop a notebook, that's a different matter, but in general use I would like some guarantee that a high-end notebook should be trouble free for three years. Is that asking too much?

    Also, the battery:
    I'm not sure why some people seem to think that I just guess at some of this stuff and don't do any research.

    It's the BIOS stuff as well; I know there are ways to get BIOS updates, and I disagree strongly with Clevo in how those should be provided. I want the manufacturer to provide every single user with a BIOS and manufacturer explanation on how to flash. I want them to update the BIOS for the public when there are problems. I don't want to have to send an email to the vendor asking for a BIOS update, or go to a forum for Sager/Clevo users where I can find official but not officially supported BIOS versions.

    I asked AVADirect about this and got the response, "Clevo does offer updated BIOS versions, but on a very limited basis. They're not very open to provide BIOS updates to the public. Even as a Clevo reseller, we have to request specific notebook BIOs versions to obtain access." Either AVADirect is lying/exaggerating, or Clevo is unwilling to do what every single other notebook manufacturer I can think of does: provide public BIOS updates on their web site. Yes, it's a problem, and if you're okay with this sort of "awesome" support I guess that's your decision. If you have an ASUS, Samsung, Dell, HP, Acer, etc. laptop and you need a new BIOS, you go to the site and get it (granted, assuming there is one). Again, in my opinion, Clevo as basically a boutique notebook supplier should again be doing better here than the large OEMs.
  • ckevin1 - Thursday, October 04, 2012 - link

    I own the last generation of this Clevo series, a sager 151 with the 460m. I think Jared is on the mark with the criticisms of this line, and the tradeoffs you make. The point is that it can still be a good buy (even a very good one) but everyone should go into the purchase fully aware of the tradeoffs.

    In my experience, the weight, performance, and screen were all absolutely top notch -- that was what sold me. And I've been very happy with it, despite its faults. I still prefer it for gaming over my MBP, thanks to Apple's idiotic crusade against the right mouse button and crappy BootCamp drivers that make right click dragging impossible.

    The negatives definitely include the keyboard -- mushy, causing me to miss keystrokes until I adapted to the greater pressure required. I was disappointed at first, but it became a non-issue over time. On the other hand, the lack of home and end keys in the new model is so mind-numbingly stupid that it probably would have been a deal breaker for me.

    The plastic is another negative. My laptop is about a year and a half old, and generally stays on a desk at home, but somehow it still got a crack in an internal standoff in the back right corner. The result is that the tabs on a small 3/4" x 1/4" corner piece next to the hinge will no longer stay in place, and it keeps falling off. I'm going to have the chassis apart and epoxy the standoff, probably, to get rid of the flex that allows the tabs to keep popping out.

    It sounds like improvement has been made on the touchpad at least; aluminum has to be better than the rough plastic texture from last generation, which started showing wear almost immediately.
  • mrhumble1 - Thursday, October 04, 2012 - link

    I can also verify the battery I have in my new NP9150 is 76.96Wh (5200mAh). I would LOVE to get an upgraded battery. I only get a few hours out of it. Reply

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