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Back in the day, to get any real power in a notebook, you needed to have a massive chassis to house all the most beefy mobile components. But today, with Intel’s smaller, more power-efficient Haswell processor and shrinking mobile video cards, this is no longer the case. The advent of these new parts means it's now possible to get serious performance without sacrificing portability, hence the growing number of capable gaming notebooks measuring 15 inches or less. The trouble is, with so many portable gaming options, which one do you choose?
In an attempt to answer that question, we’ve rounded up four of the more portable gaming laptops we could find: the 15.6-inch Lenovo Y510p, the 15.6-inch Eurocom X3, the 14-inch Alienware 14, and the 13.3-inch Digital Storm Veloce. We're also throwing in the CyberPower Zeus Hercules, which features Intel’s Iris Pro, to see how a gaming laptop with modern, high-end integrated graphics stacks up against the discrete-graphics competition. Which gaming notebook is for you? Read on to find out!
A good idea, but a flawed IdeaPad
When we first reviewed the Lenovo Y500 back in our July 2013 issue, we praised it for being an amazing value. Though it wasn’t a perfect gaming notebook, it did come with two GeForce GT 650Ms, 16GB of RAM, and 1TB of storage for a modest $1,250, which was such an awesome deal that we placed the notebook atop our esteemed Best of the Best list. Fast forward a few months and Lenovo has refreshed the notebook with a new Haswell CPU as well as a pair of beefier GeForce 700-series cards. This new IdeaPad has been rechristened the Y510p, and retails for a fair amount more than its predecessor, at $1,600. The question on our minds, of course, is whether the Y510p provides the same great value.
Lenovo really needs to add dedicated buttons to the trackpad.
Despite its new moniker, the laptop comes with the same chassis as the Y500—a 15.2x10.2x1.4-inch brushed-aluminum enclosure adorned with a bold, red-LED-backlit keyboard that is flashy without being gaudy. It weighs in at a reasonable six pounds, 6.6 ounces—roughly the same as the smaller Alienware 14, although its carry weight is dragged down by a bulky two-pound power brick. It's worth noting that despite the Y510p's fairly thin profile for a 15.6-inch gaming laptop, we never heard its fans spinning loudly.
The Y510p’s 1920x1080 monitor offers a very bright and competent display for a TN panel, but it falls a bit short when compared to the IPS screens in the Alienware 14 and Digital Storm Veloce, which provide much greater viewing angles. Conversely, unlike those two smaller laptops, the Y510p provides a full-size keyboard with number pad, complete with chiclet keys that are quiet and feel good to type on. On the audio front, the Y510p uses the same JBL speakers we know and love; they have plenty of firepower and make everything sound clear. Sadly, the laptop retained the same frustrating trackpad as its predecessor, with integrated mouse buttons. Coupled with the trackpad's oversensitivity, the indistinct buttons often had us making small, accidental swipes whenever we tried clicking links.
Another disappointment is that the Y500's unique, expandable drive bay, which allowed you to swap in a second GPU, fan, HDD, or optical drive, has been neutered to only allow a second, removable GPU, which is the stock configuration.
Fortunately, that configuration consists of two GeForce GT 750GB GPUs in SLI. CPU-side, our Y510p came outfitted with a Haswell-based Core i7-4702MQ processor clocked at 2.2 GHz, and 16GB of RAM. For storage, our configuration came with a 16GB mSATA caching SSD anchored by a 5,400rpm 1TB HDD.
Putting these specs through our barrage of benchmarks, the Y510p produced some mixed results. Its dual–video card setup gave our MSI GT60 zero-point laptop a smack across the face with a 74 percent gain in 3DMark 11, and it even bested both the Alienware 14’s and Digital Storm Veloce’s GTX 765M configs by roughly 10fps across all of our game benchmarks. In the CPU-intensive benchmarks, however, the Y510p fell short. Even our ZP’s Ivy Bridge part was able to trade blows with it. In terms of battery life, the Y510p got hammered, lasting only 154 minutes in our video-rundown test. It turns out that SLI setups don't support integrated graphics through Nvidia Optimus, so we had to remove the second video card—which requires shutting down, removing the battery, and ejecting the second video card—to bolster the Y510p's battery life to 195 minutes.
We would be inclined to dismiss the Y510p’s shortcomings if it still came at the same great price as the Y500, but it's over $300 more for not much extra performance. Luckily, multiple configurations are available, so if you want a good IdeaPad, it’s probably best to customize the Y510p to fit your needs.
|CPU||2.2GHz Intel Core i7-4702MQ|
|GPU||2x Nvidia GeForce GT 750Ms in SLI|
|Display||15.6-inch, 1920x1080 LCD (matte)|
|Storage||16GB mSATA SSD, 1TB hard drive (5,400rpm)|
|Connectivity||Ethernet, VGA, HDMI, 2x USB 3.0, 1x USB 2.0, audio in, headphone, mic, 1MP webcam, built-in Bluetooth, 802.11n|
|Lap / Carry||6 lbs, 6.6 oz / 8 lbs, 1.7 oz|
Lenovo IdeaPad Y510p
Don’t judge a gaming notebook by its cover
The Eurocom X3 might look familiar, as it uses a Clevo chassis that's similar to the Eurocom Scorpius we reviewed in our March 2013 issue, sharing the same dull-looking, black, boxy design. But there are some key distinctions, with the biggest difference being its smaller size. At 15x10.7x1.8-inches, the X3 features a 15.6-inch screen compared to the Scorpius’s 17.3-inch screen, and weighs seven pounds, 10.4 ounces, which is about three ounces lighter than our 15.6-inch MSI GT60 zero-point laptop. It won’t break your back, but you won’t want to lug it in your backpack all day.
In between the trackpad’s buttons is a fingerprint scanner.
The X3 uses a matte TN panel for its display that features decent viewing angles but still can’t compete with the Alienware 14's and Digital Storm Veloce’s IPS offerings. In addition, compared to the other notebooks in this roundup, we noticed a more ruddy cast to the X3's screen, lending people a sunburned-looking appearance. Considering that our particular configuration costs $3,300, it’s a shame an IPS panel, which can offer more accurate colors, wasn’t included.
On the plus side, we didn’t have any issues with the full-size keyboard, which, like the Lenovo Y510p's, was quiet, easy to type on, and includes a numpad. Unfortunately, also like the Y510p, we weren’t super enamored with the trackpad. Although it's light years better than the Scorpius’s trackpad before it, you’ll definitely want to tweak the sensitivity settings. The trackpad also supports two-finger scrolling, though it often couldn’t tell if we were trying to scroll down a page or pinching to zoom. Another gripe we have is that the speakers are a little underwhelming. While it comes with a built-in subwoofer underneath the chassis, the X3 doesn’t have the greatest volume firepower and can easily get drowned out in a noisy room.
So far, the X3 probably sounds like it’s not worth its high asking price, but it's redeemed by what it has going on under the hood. This bad boy is equipped with a Core i7-4930MX Extreme Edition chip clocked at 3GHz with a Turbo Boost of 3.9GHz, 16GB of RAM, and Nvidia’s new, leading laptop GPU, the GeForce GTX 780M. All in all, it’s got enough juice to make Tim the Toolman howl. Our only real complaint with the specs concerns the SSD. The included 128GB storage isn’t necessarily small, but for the price, we’d expect a 256GB drive. Even the much more affordable Alienware 14 in this roundup includes one.
That quibble aside, the X3 managed to slaughter every gaming laptop in this roundup. As a matter of fact, Eurocom’s laptop won in every single performance benchmark by significant margins, be it in the CPU-intensive applications or, more punishingly, games. Its only performance shortcoming came in the battery test, where it lasted a mere 167 minutes, shy even of our Ivy Bridge zero-point system's score. Unfortunately, with great power comes great battery loss.
When you take into consideration that the X3 costs twice as much as both the Lenovo Y510p and the Digital Storm Veloce, it should come as no surprise that Eurocom’s notebook mops the floor with them all. It’s only disappointing that it has to make some compromises along the way.
|CPU||3GHz Intel Core i7-4930MX|
|GPU||Nvidia GeForce GTX 780M|
|Display||15.6-inch, 1920x1080 LCD (matte)|
|Storage||128GB SSD, 1TB hard drive (7,200rpm)|
|Connectivity||Ethernet, HDMI, 2x USB 3.0, 1x USB 2.0, S/PDIF, headphone, mic, line-in, 2MP webcam, built-in Bluetooth, 802.11n, DisplayPort 1.2, Mini Display 1.2, 1x eSATA, FireWire-400|
|Lap / Carry||7 lbs, 10.4 oz / 9 lbs, 13.4 oz|
Click the next page to read about the Alienware 14 and Digital Storm Veloce.