The Fight for Your Mobile Gaming Dollar

At a macro level, there really aren’t all that many viable gaming notebook options. These days, Sandy Bridge processors rule the roost in notebooks, with the quad-core variety handling everything from single-threaded to multi-threaded workloads with aplomb. On the graphics side, you can try to get by with midrange mobile GPUs, but if you’re serious about mobile gaming you’ll want at least something from NVIDIA’s GTX line or AMD’s 6900M alternatives. Take the CPU and GPU; match them up with reasonable memory, storage, display, and other accoutrements; and you’re all set. That all works very well in the desktop world, even if it glosses over many of the finer points that separate the contenders from the pretenders. In the mobile world, however, the little things matter.

Modern computers are very modular by design. We have standards for power, memory, storage, and peripherals and you can generally choose what fits your needs. With notebooks, however, a lot of flexibility gets sacrificed in the name of making a reasonably sized chassis. Not coincidentally, profit margins tend to be quite a bit higher for notebooks than desktops, which is why so many companies want a piece of the pie. While it’s still pretty easy to upgrade memory and storage options, swapping out the CPU for something faster is more difficult and you need to make sure the cooling setup can handle any additional heat. Upgrading your GPU on the other hand is difficult at best, and frequently impossible. The issue with mobile GPUs is that despite MXM being something of a standard, chip locations are left up to the implementation, so there’s no guarantee that, for example, an HD 6770M could be installed in place of a GT 540M. And as far as the LCD, keyboard, touchpad, motherboard, and chassis are concerned, you’re stuck with whatever you buy with no chance of upgrading individual parts in the future. (Okay, perhaps you could upgrade the LCD panel in some cases, but you get what we’re saying.)

The point of all this is that you can’t simply compare notebooks based purely on features, components, and performance. Today’s head-to-head matchup between CyberPower’s Xplorer X6-9300 (aka, the Clevo P151HM) and MSI’s GT680R (also available as the CyberPower Xplorer X6-9400 and X6-9500) is a perfect example of this. On a pure performance and feature level, the two notebooks are very similar. They both came with an i7-2630QM processor and GTX 460M graphics card and 8GB of DDR3-1333 memory. The GT680R comes with two 500GB HDDs in a RAID 0 set while the X6-9300 supports a single 500GB HDD, but that’s the only major difference in terms of performance potential. Elsewhere, you get a 15.6” 1080p LCD, two USB 3.0 ports, and then all the miscellaneous bits like the keyboard, touchpad, speakers, chassis, etc.

If you just sit down and compare specs, MSI comes out on top, mostly by virtue of the second 2.5” HDD bay. In practice, however, determining which notebook is “best” requires a lot more work. Assuming potential buyers will actually use these as notebooks rather than portable boxes that they plug into an external LCD, keyboard, mouse, and speakers, the areas that often get the merest of lip service from the design departments matter most. The build quality and materials are frequently the difference between something that feels good in your lap and can last several years, or a cheap plastic notebook that can start to creak and wear out in less than two years. While I’d like to say LCDs are next in importance, the reality is that many users focus more on price and thus sacrifice quality in the one element that you look at constantly while using a computer. Last, there’s the rest of the user interface, the keyboard and touchpad. As someone who types a lot, this area matters as much as anything else in my day-to-day impressions of a notebook. If a keyboard is unpleasant for me to type on, all of the other elements end up being meaningless.

So with that introduction, let’s meet the two latest notebooks to cross our notebook test bench. Then we’ll investigate performance and other objective test results before wrapping up with our subjective evaluation. Will one of these laptops float to the surface of the mobile gaming ocean, or will both sink together? Perhaps they might be seaworthy, as long as you steer clear of the occasional iceberg or two. (Okay, no more sea analogies, I promise.)

CyberPower X6-9300: Checking Out Clevo’s P151HM
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  • hsew - Friday, May 13, 2011 - link

    Wow, I must have been asleep longer than I thought! Does it support DirectX 47 and come with 24 EB of GDDR29 like they said it would? All while consuming 14nW at full load?
  • JarredWalton - Friday, May 13, 2011 - link

    I could tell you, but then the time travel police would be all over me. Sorry for the spoiler; please check back in 60 years for the full review!
  • hsew - Friday, May 13, 2011 - link

    I second the hopes that you get your hands on a G53SW. Specifically the XN1 model. I am curious as to whether or not it supports dual hard disks.
  • z3r0slugfm - Saturday, May 14, 2011 - link

    The G53SW does support dual hard drives and specifically the XN1 models come with the 2nd hdd caddy already installed.
  • Iketh - Saturday, May 14, 2011 - link

    I've been eyeballing the dell XPS 17" with a GT555M for a few weeks now... you can upgrade to the 2720qm and XFi sound as well as a few other upgrades and it comes out around $1550 (back-lit keyboard is stock)... please, please, PLEASE include results with a GT555M, I'm just not ready to pull the trigger yet (since I'd love to get this laptop with a 6970M instead). Screw optimus...
  • Iketh - Saturday, May 14, 2011 - link

    I'd like to add also that the G73 has superior cooling and may contribute to the higher scores from higher turbo clocks... it vents the entire chassis...
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, May 14, 2011 - link

    True, but in looking at the individual subtest scores, it's the storage benchmarks that are all about twice as fast on the ASUS G73SW and K53E. It makes me wonder if somehow the other laptops are only running the SATA drives in a reduced performance mode. Anyway, nothing I tried improved scores on any of the laptops, but ASUS consistently came out on top. I don't think the U41JF had the same performance benefit, though... I'd have to rerun the tests to verify.
  • DanNeely - Saturday, May 14, 2011 - link

    With the weaker clocks and lower core count the 555 is only going to have above 55-60% of the 560's performance in shader intensive games, and you take a similar sized hit from DDR3. Going the other direction its shading power is only about 20% higher than the 550. On paper it looks rather disappointing.
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, May 14, 2011 - link

    I think you got your numbers a bit mixed up, and you're probably talking about the GTX 460M and not a non-existent (an laptops) 560M. Anyway, the GTX 460M has 52.5% more *theoretical* shader performance than the GT 555M, and if you're looking at the GDDR5 model of the 555M, it has 20% more memory bandwidth. Or the reverse is that the 555M has 65% (worst case) of the 460's core performance. In actual games, you can see that the GT 540M (which is another 20% slower than the 555M) does reasonably well at moderate settings.
  • DanNeely - Saturday, May 14, 2011 - link

    I went off of the table in wikipedia, with a bit of extra googling the 560m appears to've paper launched last month with the first laptops using it expected at the end of this month. The main difference appears to be that the 560m will have shaders 100mhz faster.

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