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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  • strikeback03 - Tuesday, May 31, 2011 - link

    One of the grad students I work with just bought an XPS 17 with the 3GB 555M for doing CUDA work, it has the 144 shader/DDR3 version of the 555M. Also, there don't seem to yet be proper drivers for using CUDA 4.0 with Optimus
  • Bolas - Saturday, May 14, 2011 - link

    I'm waiting for a high end gaming notebook with a sandy bridge core i7 quad core cpu, dual high end gpu's, and a 120 Hz IPS screen. Is that so much to ask?
  • tmacfan4321 - Saturday, May 14, 2011 - link

    Is the Alienware M18x not good enough for you?

    BTW, 120Hz IPS displays are rare in monitor form. You're dreaming if you think that laptop manufacturers are going to be able to pull that one off.
  • Bolas - Saturday, May 14, 2011 - link

    and of course, a backlit keyboard.
  • Gnarr - Saturday, May 14, 2011 - link

    holy jeebus MSI GT680R is one ugly computer... :S

    And on that note, I really like the simplistic and clean "no design" of the Cyberpower's case. If they had only skipped the glossy besel and had a backlit keyboard and maybe a little bit bigger touchpad, it would have been a really nice computer.
  • tmacfan4321 - Saturday, May 14, 2011 - link

    If I owned an HM150, I'd probably take out the LCD and sand down the bezel. It would make the laptop a lot more aesthetically pleasing.
  • jefeweiss - Saturday, May 14, 2011 - link

    Looks like there's a missing paragraph under the photo gallery on the first page
  • jefeweiss - Saturday, May 14, 2011 - link

    Oops, sorry it's on the Doing the time warp page....
  • kevith - Saturday, May 14, 2011 - link

    Why is it, that RAID 0 constantly is referred to in reviews like this, when every article or test I have ever read - your own here at Anandtech inclusive -ends up stating, that it has only theoretical effect, if any.
  • tmacfan4321 - Saturday, May 14, 2011 - link

    The Lenovo W520 hits on about all of those features that the author wants in a laptop with the exception of the price and sound quality. I ordered a heavily discounted W520 for $1500. The specs were as follows: i7-2720QM, NVIDIA Quadro 2000M with Optimus (GTX 460M with 128-bit bus), matte FHD screen with 95% color gamut (same panel as the RGB-LED Dell LCD), 4GB of RAM, 500GB 7200RPM HDD.

    The backlit keyboard isn't there, but there is the ThinkLight on the top of the display. The GPU is slightly slower than the GTX 460M because of its 128-bit bus and its Quadro BIOS. The battery life is awesome, due to Optimus. The build quality is stellar because it's a Thinkpad.

    Normally that config will run you around $2000. That's the only problem.

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