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November 26, 2012

Sager NP9150 / Clevo P150EM laptop review

Here is something quite different this time - a notebook review.
Choosing the right one is a time consuming process, at least for a person like me, but as a real tech-freak-geek I love it! hehe :) I hope this review will help someone in a need for a powerful system to choose the right laptop and configuration.

It took me somewhere around a year to finally place my order for this computer as I am very careful choosing right hardware and components (reading tons of expert reviews and user feedback) before buying something. So here are my experiences throughout the whole process.

choosing the right one

As a freelancer I needed a desktop replacement laptop PC, so I can easily bring my work wherever I need. I work with real-time graphics, shaders, simulator and game development so a powerful GPU was the main concern when choosing the right laptop.

Here are the main characteristics I was after when looking for this computer:

- has to be compact, so 15.6"
- has to pack powerful components, especially hold most powerful GPU
- ..while run reasonably cool and quiet
- quality chassis and assembly
- low profile looks
- a good matte display

I decided to get a custom gaming laptop as most ready-made laptops does not really provide the best components I am after. From here it gets quite simple - choose either Alienware, Asus, MSI or Sager. And then I realized that another very important aspect for me is the looks. Immediately I discarded Alienware and MSI because their design, in my opinion, is awful. What I need is a powerful laptop that I am not ashamed to bring to conferences, presentations and workshops. I was down to Asus and Sager. ASUS has max only GTX 670M so my only real choice was Sager/Clevo. Sager laptops especially NP9150 looks tough and solid almost like a business laptop, but in contrast the multi-color backlit keyboard looks badass - adds a premium gaming laptop character to it.

I tried to find a good Sager/Clevo reseller in europe, but I did not have much luck. Well I did register for fortunetechnology.co.uk which are the only distributor for Clevo notebooks, but at that moment they were out of P150EM chassis. So my only option was getting mine from US. I chose gentechpc.com, the customer service is great and if I ever gonna buy a new laptop, I will buy from gentechpc. From order completion to shipment it took exactly a month, so I guess there were some delays with assembly or parts. Shipping from US to France was not very expensive and shipping itself took around a week to get the package at my doorstep.
Oh, and I had to pay an extra 160-ish euros for the customs tax.

components

Not much people are interested what parts they have in their laptops, not me hehe. Each component was carefully selected and are there with a reason.

here are the specs of my configuration, I will briefly review each one of them later:

CPU: Intel i7-3840QM 2.80-3.80 GHz, 8MB Cache
GPU: NVIDIA GeForce GTX680M 4GB GDDR5
RAM: 16GB 1600/PC3 12800 (2x8GB)
HDD: Western Digital Scorpio Blue 1TB 
SSD: Intel SSD 520 Series 240GB
          Mushkin Atlas mSATA SSD 240GB

Display: 1920x1080 Full HD, LED backlit, 95% NTSC Color Gamut, Matte
Wireless: Killer Wireless-N 1103, 802.11a/b/g/n, 450Mbps
Thermal Compound: IC Diamond 24 Carat


CPU
Intel i7-3840QM 2.80-3.80 GHz, 8MB Cache



Second  (or maybe third?) fastest mobile CPU out there. 4 cores and 8 threads. Has integrated Intel HD Graphics 4000 GPU. Nvidia Optimus switches to HD 4000 for easier tasks and therefore drastically saves battery life. My decision was between 3740QM and 3840QM, the only real differences are increased clock speed by 100MHz and 8MB L3 cache (over 6MB).

Compared to desktop CPUs based on the chart HERE, it sits somewhere between i7-2700K, i7-3820 and i7-3770.

I opted for IC Diamond 24 Carat thermal compound for cooler operation and longer lifetime.

GPU
NVIDIA GeForce GTX680M 4GB GDDR5

onboard Intel HD 4000 vs GTX 680M


GTX 680M is currently arguably the most powerful notebook GPU. The performance is almost identical to Radeon HD 7970M. This was a quite hard decision, because 680M was $200 more than 7970M. Here are the reasons why in the end I chose Nvidia over ATI:
- better driver support
- Optimus technology for switchable graphics
- runs cooler thus might last longer

When compared to desktop GPUs, based on the chart HERE the GTX 680M lies between desktop GTX 570 and GTX 580. Or compared to desktop AMD Radeon cards, it sits between HD7850 and HD7870.

Runs most of the games at highest settings fluent on Full HD with anti-aliasing enabled.
I opted for IC Diamond 24 Carat thermal compound also for GPU for cooler operation and longer lifetime.

RAM
16GB 1600/PC3 12800 (2x8GB)
Got the model number in CPUID - SuperTalent W1600SB8Gx

Well RAM is quite cheap nowadays, so I got it more than I really needed, although video editing software like After FX and Premiere can squeeze every megabyte of your RAM. When rendering in After Effects (64bit) I noticed 95% usage of all 16GB, nice!

HDD&SSD
Western Digital Scorpio Blue 1TB
I recently realized that I do not use CDs or DVDs anymore so I opted for an optical drive bay caddy where to put a HDD. But I bought an external BluRay drive in case I need to install stuff, write stuff or want to watch a movie. So anyways there are not much 1TB 2.5'' drives to choose from here so I got the WD Scorpio Blue. It t is not yet installed though :D, so benchmarks later.

Intel SSD 520 Series 240GB
I am an SSD fan throughout since I got my old Intel X-25 80GB few years ago. Why Intel 520? It is fast and Intel is known for very reliable SSDs. Win7 boots up fast - without even finishing the welcome logo. Software opens almost instantly, Photoshop in around 2 seconds, Lightroom and Blender in less than 1 second. Photo directories reload thumbnails instantly. Totally worth it!
If you get a SSD, get a reliable one. Speed does not matter anymore, you just will not feel the real world difference between most of the SSD drives. The only difference is in the benchmarks, hehe.

Mushkin Atlas mSATA SSD 240GB
It is a miracle - in a size half of a credit card it packs a performance similar to top-end SSDs. Unfortunately the mSATA port in Sagers are 3Gb/s instead of 6Gb/s so it does not utilize full potential of its capabilities, but nonetheless it is awesome. I am storing my frequently played games there.

Display
AUO B156HW01 V4
I chose a matte display just because reflections of surroundings or myself are very distracting while I work. Especially for graphic design and digital painting the reflections might render the colors inaccurate. And matte display is usable in outdoors while for glare type screen you have to look for a shade. And I go outside to paint stuff digitally.
The display itself is one of the best I have seen in laptops. It is bright, vivid with a great contrast. One thing that surprised me a bit - the pixels are very tiny because of the Full HD resolution packed in 15.6''. It might be difficult for other to get used to it as text appears very crisp and thin, but for me - it is now hard to get back to a normal display :)
Viewing angles are great for TN panel, could not expect more.
There is a slight back-light bleed (as expected), but not distracting at all.
One tiny fault in otherwise perfect display is a small stuck pixel in left middle side of the screen. I would not notice it if it would not have a bright halo around it, it is really annoying one. A proper idiom (in my country) for it would be "a drop of tar in a barrel of honey".

Wireless
Killer Wireless-N 1103, 802.11a/b/g/n, 450Mbps
Well I am not sure how much difference this will make from a standard wireless cards, but if I have a top-end components why not have a top-end gaming wireless card :)
Reviews praise this network card so I will give it a shot.

Sound
This laptop comes with Onkyo stereo speakers and a "subwoofer" on the other side of the chassis. Onkyo is a known brand making a quality sound systems and the laptop is Dolby THX certified. I do not expect much from tiny laptop speakers, and that exactly is what it delivers. I am using an external speaker setup or headphones anyway.

Temperature and fan noise
This laptop packs top-end components which, of course produce a whole lot of heat and it is all squeezed tightly in 15.6" chassis. To keep a system like this cool Sager uses separate heatsinks and dual fans for CPU and GPU. Behind laptop there are two exhaust vents much like in ASUS ROG laptops. This highly effective cooling system not only keeps the laptop cool but also adds some room for overclocking.

In my room where ambient temperature is around 23-24°C
CPU idles at 50°C
GPU at 38°C (because of Nvidia Optimus, GPU only kicks in when needed for some serious action)
Full load (with prime95) the CPU temps reach up to 83°C
Full load (with FurMark) the GPU temps reach maximum of 84
°C

While gaming the keyboard surface remains comfortaby warm. On my older Acer laptop the keyboard got quite hot and my palm started to sweat making gaming experience quite unpleasant.

I bought this laptop knowing that is not meant to be silent, but for my surprise it is idling very silently. Sometimes a CPU fan becomes more noticeable when onboard GPU has more load. At nights when ambient noise from street or apartment is gone the laptop seems a bit more audible, but still it is a soft hissing sound.
When on partial load and gaming the GPU fan kicks in only then the laptop gets fairly noisy. On more demanding games with both fans throttling the noise can get quite distracting, but I, honestly, respect that - fan noise is the sacrifice to get that much performance in a laptop of this size. When I have headphones on I do not notice the noise at all anyway.


Battery life
I will be working at my desk for the most of the time with AC power adapter plugged in, so battery life is not an important issue to me. In balanced performance mode with internet browsing etc. I was able to use the laptop for around 3 hours which is not bad at all.


BENCHMARKING

Some brief benchmarking with most common bench tools. If you have any requests of testing I can post them here.

Overall system bechmarks

Windows 7 Experience Index
So first of all something a real PC enthusiasts does not consider a real benchmark.



not bad, considering my old quad core desktop gaming PC is 5.9

CPU benchmarks

Cinebench R11.5




Geekbench 2.4



GPU benchmarks


3DMark Vantage



3DMark 11




BMW Benchmark scene by Mike Pan in Blender 2.64 - Cycles Render



CPU: 4 minutes 18 seconds

GPU: 1 minute 15 seconds


SSD bechmarks

Note: Mushkin drive is connected through SATA 3Gb/s port, so the scores are lower than they should.

AS SSD
Intel SSD 520 Series 240GB



Mushkin Atlas mSATA SSD 240GB



CrystalDiskMark

Intel SSD 520 Series 240GB



Mushkin Atlas mSATA SSD 240GB



GAMEPLAY VIDEOS
And here are screen captures from games played at highest possible settings.

Rage
vsync was enabled so it does not show actual frame rate
sound is messed up at 2/3 of the video, sorry.


Crysis
max settings, no AA, Full HD


Crysis Warhead
max settings, 4x AA, Full HD

(uploading)

Crysis 2
Ultra, DX11 enabled, high res textures on.



NFS Hot Pursuit



Images of the laptop itself are on the way. Till then you can see pics from another user review HERE

edit May 29 2013

So.. after 6 months of intensive use everything is nominal. 2 months ago I noticed some increase of the heat, so I cleaned it from from the dust which fixed the issue, so I suggest a regular maintenance every 3 months.

display
To get most of the display, I bought Spyder3Pro display color calibration tool. Here is the ICC profile.
https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/11542084/P150EM_Spyder3Pro.icm
drop it in: C/Windows/System32/Spool/Drivers/Color

GPU
GTX680M performs really well, it still holds up well against all recent games at FullHD with High graphics settings. Optimus GPU switching works without any issues.

The sad news - no Nvidia 3D Vision on this laptop :(
I was very disappointed that "Optimus" thing is preventing any possibility to enjoy 3D stereoscopic movies and games... and I need this feature for my job. The thing is that due the architecture of GPU switching the video output from GTX680M is routed through integrated HD4000. Nor Sager/Clevo, nor Nvidia advertise this issue, but it would be nice if I knew it before buying Nvidia 3D Vision set and a 120Hz display. I will try to find a workaround or something.

Images of laptop yet to be made

November 16, 2012

BGE Candy - Area lights

I have a new PC computer and this is a milestone for the development for BGE and my racing game. Finally I can to some more quality screen capture, and the first ones to show you are - area lights!



As soon as I saw Arkano22`s implementation of area lights in gamedev.net forums I knew Blender must have it in GE! This is a slightly modified version of Arkano22 technique, the biggest differences are the smoother light falloff and specular reflection glossiness variations based of the reflecting surface properties and distance, and of course - the texture support!

video showing how to set-up them:



win32 build: https://dl.dropbox.com/u/11542084/Blender246AreaBuild.zip