Senin, 01 September 2014

Gaming laptops

Sales of desktop PCs have fallen significantly in the past couple of years, however, one segment of the PC industry that’s still doing well is the market for gaming laptops. 

Despite competition from next-generation games consoles and mobile gaming in iPads and the like, the sales of dedicated gaming laptops have increased by 50 percent since 2011, according to the graphics gurus at nVidia. And, of course nVidia has a lot to do with that success, as its GeForce range of graphics cards almost completely dominates the gaming industry, dazzling users with super-fast framerates and ever more spectacular 3D eye-candy.

And nVidia’s domination looks set to continue with the arrival of its latest generation of graphics cards for laptops, the GeForce GTX 800M series. These new GPUs are faster than ever – that’s only to be expected – but this improved performance means that prices of gaming laptops have finally begun to drop quite significantly. High-end laptops with true gaming potential we’ve reviewed in the past typically costed £1,500 to £2,000. And you can certainly still spend that sort of money on a top-of-the-range gaming rig. However, as we discovered, the enhanced performance of the 800M series GPUs means it’s possible to get respectable gaming performance from more mid-range machines in the £1,000 to £1,500 category. In fact, Chillblast’s Defiant 2 and Scan’s 3XS Graphite even manage to come in under £900, yet still maintain great gaming credentials thanks to the strong performance of a mid-range GTX 860M graphics card.

The new 800M series bring another shift in emphasis, too. Like Intel’s Haswell-generation chips – the fourth generation of the Intel Core series – they are now starting to focus more on energy-efficiency and portability. Gaming laptops have traditionally been big, heavy and noisy, with large air vents and cooling systems required to cope with the heat output of their powerful GPUs. And, of course, the power requirements of these GPUs meant that battery life was always pretty poor.

Many gaming laptops still follow that pattern, especially the 17in monsters. However, better power efficiency means it’s possible to cram some serious gaming potential into smaller, lighter designs. We’re seeing more 13- and 15in gaming laptops that are small enough to fit into a backpack without giving yourself a hernia. The Chillblast Defiant 2 fits easily into a bag, while the 15in P35W v2 from Gigabyte Is an Ultrabook-esque 20.9mm thick. This means that there’s now greater choice in the gaming market than ever before, so read our reviews to see which laptop is right for you.


This latest version of the Alienware 17 isn’t radically different from its predecessors, but it adds a new GeForce GTX 880M graphics card that provides high-end gaming performance at a more competitive price than we’ve seen before. The design is essentially unchanged – it’s built like a tank, measuring a full 48.5mm thick and weighing 4.2kg. And like all Alienware laptops, it’s bedecked with customisable coloured lights that smoulder from beneath the keyboard, trackpad and various other sections of the matt-black chassis.

One advantage of the laptop’s size is that there’s plenty of space to include useful stuff. There’s a built-in DVD drive along with gigabit ethernet, four USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI port that provides both input and output options, and Mini DisplayPort. Battery life isn’t outstanding, but switching to integrated graphics did allow the Alienware 17 to manage four hours, 20 minutes of streaming video from BBC iPlayer. That’s not bad for such a powerful machine, and should allow you to watch a few episodes of Game of Thronesbefore you need to charge it up again. The 17.3in screen is as attractive as ever, with 1920x1080 resolution and a bright, colourful image that provides excellent all-round viewing angles. The speakers sound a little tinny at higher frequencies, but they produce a full sound, with enough volume to handle explosions in games and films.

That combination produced a score of 5600 points when running the general-purpose PCMark 7 tests; and 3100 points and 3300 points respectively in the Home and Work suites in PCMark 8. Those are strong scores, although a dedicated solid-state drive would enhance performance even further here. However, we couldn’t fault the GeForce GTX 880M when it comes to gaming performance. Running Tomb Raider 2013 on its default setting – 1920x1080 with Normal quality – produced a strong 60.1fps, and this barely wavered when we stepped up to High. Cranking the settings up to Ultimate did have more of an effect, dropping to 46fps, but that’s still strong enough to satisfy even hard-core gamers.


The Alienware 17 isn’t perfect – a laptop costing this much ought to include an SSD. However, it provides top-of-the-range performance that would previously have cost you £2,000 or more.


The G759JZ makes a good impression right from the start. The 17in machine may be big and bulky, weighing in at a hefty 4.5kg and measuring a mighty 58mm thick, but the build quality is excellent. The matt-black chassis has an attractive ‘soft-touch’ finish, while the keyboard has a nice, firm feel to it. It’s based around a quad-core Haswell-generation Intel Core i7 running at 2.4GHz, backed up by a top-of-the-range nVidia GeForce GTX 880M with 4GB video memory. There’s a healthy 16GB of system memory, and the G750JZ boots from a 256GB SSD, with a conventional 1TB hard drive included to store games, music and videos. There’s also a Blu-ray drive for HD fi lms, a 2.1 speaker system, and a Thunderbolt interface for high-speed backup drives.

The SSD wasn’t quite as speedy as we might have hoped, though, letting the laptop fall almost 100 points short of the 6000-point level that we’d anticipated for our general-purpose PCMark 7 tests. There was no problem with gaming performance, either. Stalker: Call Of Pripyat was quickly dismissed with an average framerate of 135fps, even at its maximum resolution and with Ultra graphics settings. Tomb Raider produced a consistent 60fps on both its Normal and High settings at 1920x1080 resolution, and still maintained a strong 47.7fps even when we stepped up to its Ultimate setting.

Scores like that put the G750JZ among the most powerful gaming laptops we’ve seen so far. It even managed something close to respectable battery life, lasting for four hours, 30 minutes of streaming video when using integrated graphics. We do have a couple of small complaints, though. The 17.3in screen has 1920x1080 resolution, and the image quality is enhanced by its anti-glare matt finish. But while the horizontal viewing angles are very good, the vertical viewing scope is more limited, and we did find ourselves needing to nudge the screen to improve visibility.

And, despite its decent volume, the stereo speaker system sounded annoyingly tinny at times. Those aren’t fatal flaws by any means, but they do stand out on an otherwise impressive piece of gaming kit.


You can find similar performance at a lower price, but features such as its Blu-ray drive, 2.1 speakers, and Thunderbolt interface mean that the G750JZ is well-equipped for other types of entertainment, as well as demanding tasks such as video editing.


Like its predecessor, the Defiant 2 puts strong gaming performance into a highly portable design. It’s a little chunky, measuring about 32mm thick, but a weight of 2.1kg means that it’s still light enough to carry around in a backpack.

This model improves battery life, as switching to integrated graphics gave us five hours, 33 minutes of streaming video, so it’s better suited to life on the move than many gaming laptops. We were pleased to see another improvement, in the form of an IPS display with full-HD resolution. It provides a bright image with almost luridly bold colours and excellent all-round viewing angles. It’s a shame, though, that the speakers are feeble – barely audible even at maximum volume when listening to the news on BBC iPlayer.

More important for gamers, though, should be the step up to a new nVidia GeForce GTX 860M graphics card, replacing a GTX 765M. There’s a minor CPU speed bump for the fourth-generation Haswell Core i7 processor, stepping up gently from 2.4- to 2.5GHz, while the 8GB of memory and 1TB hybrid hard drive remain unchanged from last year’s model. That hybrid drive can’t match the performance of a solid-state drive, which means that the Defiant’s score with the general-purpose PCMark 7 test is a mid-range 4456 points. For some reason it refused to run the Home and Work tests in PCMark 8.

However, its GTX 860M graphics card more than lived up to expectations for gaming performance. The 860M may not be top-of-the-range, but in many of our gaming tests it still managed to rival the 880M GPU found in some of its more expensive rivals. In fact, with Batman and Tomb Raider on their default settings, the Defiant produced framerates of 53- and 60fps, that were almost identical to more expensive laptops equipped with the 880M. The same was true when raising graphics settings on both games to High, and it was only when we took the final step to maximum settings with those games that the Defiant slowed down a little.


It’s a shame that you don’t have the option of specifying the graphics card in the Defiant 2, but it’s hard to argue when this sturdy little laptop provides such strong performance for just £899. And, unlike most gaming laptops, it’s small and light enough to carry around in a backpack, making it a great choice if you need a powerful laptop that can also cope with life on the go.


The Gigabyte P35W v2-CF2 may have a clumsy and unwieldy name, but at just 20.9mm thick it’s the slimmest, most elegant gaming laptop we’ve ever tested. We found it weighed 2.5kg, though, rather than the 2.16kg listed on Gigabyte’s website. Battery life isn’t great, at just four hours of streaming video when using integrated graphics, but that should let you watch a couple of films on a plane.

There’s a lot of power crammed into that slim unit, too. It includes a quad-core Intel Core i7 running at 2.5GHz, along with 16GB of memory, and an nVidia GeForce GTX 870M on graphics duty. The storage system is a little unusual, as the boot drive consists of a pair of 128GB SSDs arranged in a striped RAID 0 configuration, joined by a conventional 1TB hard drive for extra storage. That setup delivered excellent performance, with a PCMark 7 score of 6226 points that ranks among the highest we’ve ever seen. That score is particularly impressive given Gigabyte’s £1,399 price tag.

To keep in budget, the GTX 870M graphics processor is not the best available, but it does come close to matching the performance of the GTX 880M used in some more expensive rivals. When running Tomb Raider and Batman: Arkham City at their default settings, the P35W v2 achieved framerates of 60- and 56fps respectively – matching the 880M cards that we’ve seen elsewhere.

That performance held up with both games on High graphics settings, and it was only when we took the final step to the very top settings that the 870M slowed a little. Tomb Raider in Ultimate detail produced an average framerate of 40fps – about seven frames slower than the 880M – while Maximum Batman came in at 42fps, which was just four frames slower than the 880M. The laptops we’ve seen with the 880M tend to be around £300 more expensive, so the P35W v2 certainly provides excellent value for money.

Our only complaint concerns the display – the 15.6in display is darker than we might have liked. And the limited brightness doesn’t help the limited viewing angles. A laptop costing £1,399 deserves more than a budget screen.


It’s impressive to see a gaming laptop as slim and as light as this, especially one that provides such strong graphics performance. The poor screen has room for improvement, but the P35W v2-CF2 provides high-end gaming performance at a more accessible price.


It’s starting to look as though the real star of nVidia’s new GTX 800M series is the mid-range 860M graphics processor. It enables laptops, such as Scan’s 3XS LG156, to provide strong gaming performance at more competitive prices than ever before. It isn’t terribly exciting to look at. Its dark grey 15.6in casing is decidedly generic, and lacks the glowing lights and go-faster stripes of gaming rivals such as Alienware and Asus. Compared to some, it’s not so heavy, weighing in under 3kg, but at a still uncomfortable 2.7kg and 42.7mm thick. The build quality is good, and we liked the firm feel and travel of the keyboard. The trackpad’s a bit small, but gamers will often use it with a mouse, so that’s not a major issue.

The 15.6in screen provides 1920x1080 resolution and is bright and colourful. Its viewing angles aren’t what you’d find from an IPS display but we’ve seen worse on laptops costing more than this. The speakers have a bit of a metallic edge to their sound, but they’re reasonably loud and adequate for playing games or music without needing external speakers. Scan also includes some useful bonuses, such as up-to-date 802.11ac wireless for high-speed Wi-Fi, and an S/PDIF interface for digital audio output.

It’s good value for money too, costing just £899 with a Haswell-generation Intel Core i7 running at 2.5GHz, 8GB of Corsair Vengeance gaming RAM, 1TB hybrid drive; and of course, the GTX 860M for graphics. That hybrid drive isn’t ideal, but it’s an acceptable compromise to keep price down. The Graphite’s score of 4846 points in PCMark 7 is about as good as you’ll get without a dedicated SSD.

The mid-range GeForce GTX 860M graphics processor also provides very good gaming performance. As we’ve seen before, the GTX 860M can hold its own against top-of-the-range rivals when running games such as Batman: Arkham City and Tomb Raider at their default settings, and also when we step up to High settings on both games. It’s only when you push Batman to his Maximum that the GTX 860M slows down a little to 38fps, while Tomb Raider’s Ultimate setting dips to a smidgen under 30fps.


The design of the 3XS Graphite isn’t anything to write home about, and at 2.7kg it’s probably not going to leave home very often either. However, it’s good value and provides the sort of gaming performance that not so long ago would have cost £1,200.


The XMG P504 certainly isn’t going to win any awards for elegant design. The generic black-plastic casing is sturdy, but it’s chunky and heavy, measuring a full 45mm thick and weighing 3.5kg. The keyboard feels firm and comfortable, but its layout includes a half-height US-style Enter key and puts the Fn key over on the right of the spacebar – both of which took some getting used to.

But if good looks aren’t a strong point, then the P504 does come up trumps on performance. Prices start at around £1,100 with a Core i5 processor, though, we reviewed a top-of-the-range model that costs £1,544 with a Core i7 running at 2.4GHz, 8GB memory and nVidia GeForce GTX 880M with 8GB of video memory. Windows boots from a 240GB solid-state drive and a secondary 750GB hard disk.

That setup worked well, allowing the P504 to just edge pass the 6000-point mark when running the general-purpose PCMark 7 tests, and we saw similarly strong scores in PCMark 8. The GTX 880M proved consistent in our gaming tests, and the P504 produced scores virtually identical to other laptops using the 880M in conjunction with the Intel Core i7 processor. It breezed through Stalker for casual gaming, and hit a smooth 60fps on Tomb Raider’s default settings at 1920x1080 resolution. There was a drop to 46.6fps when Tomb Raider is set to Ultimate graphics, but that’s the case with all the 880M-based gaming laptops we’ve seen so far.

The P504 has other flaws, though. Battery life is poor even by the standards of gaming laptops, giving us just three hours of streaming video when using integrated graphics. That was a weakness in last year’s P503 model as well. The P504 also seems to use the same screen as its predecessor. 

Its matt finish and 1920x1080 resolution provided good image quality, with wide horizontal viewing angles so we could sway in the heat of battle during gaming sessions. But the vertical viewing window is limited and the image darkens quickly when you tip the screen back. The 2.1 speaker system also sounds tinny, although it did provide a fair amount of volume, so we could play games or music without needing to plug in external speakers.


The P504 is big and heavy, and combined with the poor battery life it’s essentially confined to indoor activities. But what it lacks in elegance it makes up for in performance.


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