Part II: AVADirect Clevo P170EM Gaming Notebook with GeForce GTX 680M

We took Clevo’s P170EM for a spin last week, equipped with a Radeon HD 7970M and a variety of other high-end options. Today we have our follow up where we use the same core hardware but with NVIDIA’s GTX 680M in place of AMD’s top mobile GPU. Now that we have an apples-to-apples comparison between the two fastest mobile GPUs, who can claim the mobile gaming crown?

For this second installment, we’ve taken some time to run additional gaming tests, we’ve updated the BIOS and rerun battery life numbers, and we take a detour into discussing drivers and GPU utilization figures. Having spent more time using the P170EM, I’ll also try to reevaluate the overall package in light of the above areas to see if I might have been a bit too harsh with my initial assessment. If you need a fast desktop replacement/gaming notebook, is Clevo the way to go?

Let’s start with a quick recap of the laptop hardware—everything is the same, other than the change in GPU and a slight difference in RAM (the brand, not the speed).

AVADirect Clevo P170EM Gaming Notebook Specifications
Processor Intel i7-3720QM
(Quad-core 2.60-3.60GHz, 6MB L3, 22nm, 45W)
Prolimatech PK-3 Thermal Compound
Chipset HM77
Memory Corsair Vengeance 8GB (2x4GB) DDR3-1600
(Running at 9-9-9-24-1T Timings)
Graphics Intel HD 4000
(16 EUs, up to 1250MHz)

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680M 2GB GDDR5 (Optimus)
(1344 cores at 720MHz, 256-bit GDDR5-3600)
Display 17.3” WLED Matte 16:9 1080p (1920x1080)
(Chi Mei N173HGE, 72% Gamut)
Note: LCD upgrade currently not available
Storage 256GB SATA 6Gbps SSD (Crucial M4-CT256M4SSD2)
Optical Drive DVDRW (Slimtype DS8A8SH)
Networking 802.11n dual-band 450Mb WiFi (Intel Ultimate-N 6300)
Gigabit Ethernet (Realtek RTL8168/8111)
Audio Realtek ALC269
Stereo Speakers
Headphone/Microphone jacks
Capable of 5.1 digital output (HDMI)
Battery/Power 8-cell, 14.8V, 5200mAh, ~77Wh
FSP Group 220W Max AC Adapter (19.0V, 11.57A)
Front Side IR Port
Left Side Memory Card Reader
1 x USB 3.0/eSATA Combo
2 x USB 3.0
Gigabit Ethernet
Mini-FireWire (1394A)
Right Side DVDRW
1 x USB 2.0
Back Side 2 x Exhaust Vents (CPU/Chipset and GPU)
Dual-Link DVI-D
AC Power Connection
Kensington Lock
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Dimensions 16.22” x 10.87” x 1.65-1.79” (WxDxH)
(412mm x 276mm x 41.8-45.4mm)
Weight 8.58 lbs (3.9kg) (DVDRW + Single HDD)
Extras HD Webcam
102-key Keyboard with Standard 10-key
Configurable backlighting for keyboard (7 colors)
Memory Card Reader (MMC/MS Pro/SD)
Warranty Standard 1-year Warranty
$103 for 2-year Clevo Warranty
$211 for 3-year Clevo Warranty
Price Starting at ~$1489 (Oct. 12, 2012)
As configured: $2249 (with 1-year Warranty)

We’ve covered all of this previously, so we won’t dwell on things too much. Note that this laptop has a matte LCD, but when we first received our sample AVADirect listed a high gamut matte LCD option as a ~$150 upgrade. We’re not sure what panel is used for the standard matte LCD, but it's a "free" upgrade from the glossy panel at AVADirect so it may not deliver results quite as good as this panel. In a direct price comparison, the difference between the HD 7970M and the GTX 680M is currently $274, so we’re looking at $1975 vs. $2249 for the AMD vs. NVIDIA matchup; that’s a price difference of just under 14%, so ideally you’d want the GTX 680M to be at least 14% faster to warranty the upgrade.

Second, we noted on the AMD unit that the Kingston HyperX RAM didn’t have a working profile for DDR3-1600 operation on the P170EM, but the Corsair memory addresses that “shortcoming”. In practice, outside of a few specific benchmarks (that are more theoretical than practical in nature), there’s no performance difference between DDR3-1333 and DDR3-1600, but with pricing being the same there’s also no reason I can see to opt for RAM that won’t run at 1600MHz in this particular notebook. In other words, we recommend getting the Corsair Vengeance RAM (or some other RAM that you know will run at 1600MHz).

Subjective Evaluation: Mea Culpa?
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  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, October 16, 2012 - link

    It should be possible, but buying a GTX 680M module on its own can cost $900 or something insane. If anyone has a good link to where you can find just a GPU upgrade for the P170EM, please post. Best I can find right now is on eBay:

    Needless to say, waiting for the Hotfix at this point is reasonable. Barring that, I'd suggest selling your existing system and buying one with GTX 680M rather than just paying for the GPU upgrade.
  • Wixman666 - Tuesday, October 16, 2012 - link

    Don't worry about it.. the difference isn't large enough to upgrade the video or take a bath on selling then buying the other unit.
  • TrantaLocked - Tuesday, October 16, 2012 - link

    Great review Jarred!
  • Jamahl - Tuesday, October 16, 2012 - link

    Fact is this is a very Nvidia-friendly gaming suite - that's why this site consistently scores as an outlier for Nvidia. As a rule of thumb you want to subtract 10% from the overall result to find the true position of the Nvidia card - true as in what the majority of the tech press find.

    Even then this particular review is pretty horrible on the 7970, as it has had the best performing games removed (Crysis and Metro). Quite why those are worth removing instead of the complete Nvidia outlier Portal 2 is a mystery (I'm sure we all have our suspicions), but there you go.
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, October 16, 2012 - link

    You include Crysis and Metro and then suggest our gaming suite needs updating? Give me a break. We removed Crysis as a test game for laptops about two years ago... when Warhead was "only" two years old already. When we revise the gaming suite next time, I'm pretty sure we'll drop Civ5, TWS2, and some of the other games. DiRT 3 was originally an AMD game, but NVIDIA has long since caught up. Civ5 was also an AMD game. Total War: Shogun 2 is an AMD title as well. You see the problem with your assertion that we're "NVIDIA-friendly" yet? So here's the full rundown of the fifteen tested games:

    Batman: NVIDIA
    Battlefield 3: NVIDIA
    Borderlands 2: NVIDIA
    Civilization V: AMD
    Diablo 3: Agnostic
    DiRT 3: AMD
    DiRT Showdown: AMD
    Elder Scrolls Skyrim: Agnostic
    Guild Wars 2: Agnostic
    Max Payne 3: NVIDIA
    Portal 2: Agnostic
    Sleeping Dogs: AMD
    Sniper Elite V2: AMD
    Total War Shogun 2: AMD
    Witcher 2: NVIDIA

    Final tally:
    AMD Titles: Six
    NVIDIA Titles: Five
    Neutral Titles: Four

    The problem you're having is that NVIDIA has generally spent more time and effort optimizing for games, which means that some of the neutral and AMD-sponsored games are now running better on NVIDIA hardware than on AMD. Or maybe you think it's unfair that when we sort alphabetically, NVIDIA titles happen to occupy the first three slots and AMD has three of the last four? Going back to run games that few people are still playing just to try to make things "fair" is actually being the exact opposite. Crysis and Metro? Please. Why not Crysis 2 at least -- oh wait, it's an NVIDIA title.
  • Brainling - Tuesday, October 16, 2012 - link

    Crysis and Metro? Seriously? It's almost 2013, we're four full game cycles away from the release of Metro, and much farther from Crysis.

    For that matter, my 670 barely breaks a sweat on Metro at 1200p max everything , why would you test a 680 with it? Is it a yawning test to see how bored the graphics card can seem?
  • silverblue - Friday, October 19, 2012 - link

    I don't think it's NVIDIA's fault as a whole that they offer better support than AMD. It's also worth showing games like Portal 2 and DiRT Showdown which have very high framerates because it's interesting to find out why one architecture might monster through them (6xx series) where another might not (7xxx series).

    I've never actually played Crysis, but from the benchmarks, it looks amazingly inefficient and not a complete representation of what a graphics card can and cannot do.

    I used to defend AMD's drivers quite vehemently; after all, they'd never caused me any issues. However, when I see issues with Enduro, poor and non-existent Hybrid Crossfire scaling, GPU underutilisation, slack support for driver command lists, poor video encoding quality... need I go on? AMD could make the best hardware around (and, in reality, it probably does), but what would really benefit them is shifting resources to the software development side. If they're going to be powering two of the next consoles, it's in their best interests to get software support up to scratch. Hardware is all well and good but if the software support isn't completely there...
  • BiggieShady - Tuesday, October 16, 2012 - link

    On the last page, instead of "I’ve beat that horse enough" there should be "I’ve beaten that horse enough". To Beat is an irregular verb - beat, beat, beaten. You should use past participle here - beaten. Or just stop beating the poor horse :)
  • Tijgert - Tuesday, October 16, 2012 - link

    For starters the GPU IS upgradeable (see eBay) and over time, with the release of newer GPU's, it will make financial sense to do so. Right now if you can get a great deal on a system with a 7970m you still get the second best performing card in the world with a future upgradeability guarantee (MXM is a standard, not proprietary tech).

    I think the reasoning of a relative graphics performance increase equal to the total price increase being reasonable or financial sound is something only a teenager or rich madman would swallow.
    Given that all the other bits don't increase equally you end up paying a lot for a little.
    The screen resolution stays the same, the battery lasts just as long, the CPU doesn't tick any faster, the amount of memory doesn't increase and the Gigs on your SSD don't increase either.

    As long as you can get great visuals (even if not at 4xAA and enough detail to see textured zits) at a very playable framerate, you're doing just fine. Just enjoy it and wait for that 690m or 700m or whatever MXM 3.0b card to come out that's better and just upgrade.

    FYI I'm on the fence on getting a completely tricked out 2200 euro (yes, euro) system that's three months old for 1560 with a 7970m... or saving for a 680m... see, I'm actually a graphics whore too even if may sound sensible at times...
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, October 17, 2012 - link

    If a notebook supports the newer GPU with its BIOS/firmware, you can upgrade to a newer GPU. However, just because MXM is a standard doesn't mean all MXM GPUs will work. Take for example the last-generation Clevo notebooks; I'm pretty sure the P150/170HM received the necessary BIOS update to work with 7970M/680M. However, the generation before that AFAIK can't run 7970M/680M. The cards will fit but they don't work properly. As I note below, you can't buy a P1x0EM without a GPU, though, so there's not a real need to compare pricing of just the GPUs. I'm reviewing the P170EM and looking at 7970M vs. 680M, not talking about "should you try to upgrade your older notebook with a 7970M or a 680M?"

    For your 7970M setup, wait for a week and then maybe we'll know if you should trust AMD's updated drivers.

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