At A Glance
The Big Lebowski
Mobile quad-core rocks; best portable gaming performance; fully equipped for any chore.
Big Momma's House
Size and weight aren't all that portable; poor battery life; costs more than some desktops.
Big size, big performance, big price
In September 2009, we saw AVADirect push the boundaries of portable computing with its honkin’
Core i7-975 Extreme Edition–equipped D900F desktop replacement
. That behemoth was both a back breaker (at 15 pounds) and a benchmark buster (at least in our applications tests).
This month, we’re presented with AVA-Direct’s X8100—a rig that’s similarly monstrous but boasts a completely different character. The X8100 features a Core i7-820QM, a true mobile quad-core part. Intel’s Clarksfield chips have obvious advantages in a mobile platform, including a lower price and a much lower TDP (thermal design point)—45W max vs. 130W—than the desktop Nehalems. There’s also more emphasis on Turbo Boost. So, although the i7-820QM has a base clock of 1.73GHz, it can theoretically reach 3.06GHz in single-threaded apps. Photoshop is our only mostly single-threaded application benchmark, and you can see from the numbers that the X8100 performed 20 percent better in that test than our 3.06GHz Core 2 Duo zero-point rig did. But in the multithreaded tests, where the X8100 didn’t have the full advantage of Turbo Boost, the applications scores were even more punishing—with the X8100 achieving leads in excess of 50 percent—such is the power of those two extra cores, plus HyperThreading, plus a superior microarchitecture.
The X8100's keyboard is bordered by a row of touch-sensitive buttons across the top and eight programmable buttons for gaming macros along the side.
Of course, when compared to the 3.33GHz Core i7-975 in AVADirect’s D900F, the X8100 gets soundly beat in the apps, by 28 percent (in Photoshop) to 39 percent (in MainConcept). Flipping from apps to games though, the X8100 has the upper hand, thanks to its two GeForce GTX 285M videocards in SLI. While this config offsets any power savings achieved by the mobile CPU—this would be a perfect place for Nvidia’s Optimus technology, if you ask us—the config pays off handsomely in games, turning the tables on the D900F’s single GTX 280M with wins of 79 percent and 87 percent in Far Cry Duty 2 and Call of Duty 4, respectively. Naturally, our zero-point’s GTX 260M was even less of a competitor. Even at the X8100’s native res of 1920x1080, with performance set to very high and overall quality set to ultra high, we saw an average 55.4fps in Far Cry 2. Impressive for a notebook.
The X8100’s emphasis on gaming is evident in its other appointments. Whereas the D900F had more of a workstation vibe, the X8100 has some aesthetic flash. The mammoth 17.25x12x2.5-inch chassis has a mirror-black finish inside and out and is accented with LED-lights that cycle through different colors when the “light show” is initiated. The chiclet keyboard is flanked on the left by eight programmable gaming buttons. An HDMI-in port lets you run your game console on the notebook’s glossy 18.5-inch HD screen. Or use the HDMI-out for playing games or even Blu-ray movies on an external display.
Sadly, the X8100 could barely hold its charge for an hour when playing a standard-def DVD in power-saving mode. And this sucker is heavy, topping 15 pounds with its power brick. But if you like to LAN party, this is far better solution than lugging around both a PC and a screen, not to mention peripherals—and it gives you performance commensurate to its girth.