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.
Beauty has a price
With computing becoming more mobile every day, system builders like Alienware are eager to cram a lot of gaming performance into portable packages. Simply branded as the Alienware 14 in reference to the size of the screen, this new laptop sets out to replace the company's long-running M14x line. While Alienware could have rested on its laurels, this is much more than a simple refresh.
The bezel around this 14-inch screen is pretty sizable, but it doesn't stand out when you're using it.
For one, the 14 looks much bulkier than its predecessor, to the point where one wonders about its portability. While it actually weighs slightly less than the M14x, it still doesn't feel like the kind of laptop you could throw in your bag and lug around town, unless you know a good chiropractor. That said, the build quality feels very solid. The matte-black chassis and its silver aluminum top might not stop a speeding bullet, but it should handle getting knocked around a little.
The illuminated touchpad is also pretty sweet. You don't realize how handy the boundary detection is until you try using it in the dark. But those aren't the only LED lights on the notebook. The Alienware 14 also features a backlit keyboard, glowing logos, and sundry beams of light strewn around the chassis. All of these are controlled with the company's AlienFX utility, which allows you to use presets or customize the colors to your heart's content. Speaking of visual details, the IPS screen also delivers excellent viewing angles. The matte screen takes care of glare without looking grainy or sparkly.
In terms of GPU, the Alienware 14's Nvidia GTX 765M is nothing to sneeze at. In our tests, using the system's pre-installed 326.33 beta drivers, we averaged over 30fps in Tomb Raider at 1080p with everything enabled except TressFX. BioShock Infinite nearly hit that mark as well, maxed out at 1080p. While playing Borderlands 2, we saw a reliable 45–60fps, with ambient occlusion disabled. The 765M has 2GB of RAM and its internal design is closest to the desktop GTX 650 Ti. This laptop should have no problem sustaining playable frame rates and high image quality in the latest games. It also exhausts heat out the back, which helps mask fan noise. In terms of ports, the 14 puts almost all of its connectors on the left-hand side; the right side gets Ethernet, a spare USB 3.0 port, the Blu-ray slot loader, and a media card slot.
The $1,900 price tag for this unit doesn't provide the greatest value, however. For a mid-tier configuration that's roughly $500 less, you can trade the Blu-ray unit for a DVD burner, 802.11ac for 802.11n, 16GB of system RAM for 8GB (still plenty for games), and opt for the caching SSD. Unfortunately, there's no dual-GPU option, or anything beefier than a 765M. Alienware reserves such luxuries for its 17- and 18-inch models. Meanwhile, the Lenovo unit we tested this month comes with dual 750Ms and easily beats the 14 in every game, while costing about $300 less (albeit with its own set of compromises). Another gripe we have is that we had to reboot the computer whenever we wanted to switch between integrated and discrete graphics.
|CPU||2.4GHz Intel Core i7-4700MQ|
|GPU||Nvidia GTX 765M|
|Display||14-inch, 1920x1080 IPS display (matte)|
|Storage||256GB mSATA SSD, 750GB 5,400rpm HDD|
|Optical Drive||Slot-loading dual-layer Blu-ray reader|
|Connectivity||HDMI, Mini DisplayPort, 3x USB 3.0, audio in, microphone, headset, 2MP webcam, built-in Bluetooth, Broadcom Wireless-AC 2x2, Gigabit Ethernet, 7-in-1 media card reader|
|Lap / Carry||6 lbs, 6.4 oz/ 7 lbs, 13.6 oz|
The eye of this storm could be calmer
Since mankind descended from the trees, we have struggled to combine the portability of a laptop with the performance demands of PC gaming. Sacrifices are inevitable. The Veloce crams an Nvidia GTX 765M into a notebook with a small 13.3-inch screen, which not too long ago would have qualified it for netbook dimensions. How does it manage? Not entirely well.
If the Veloce looks familiar, it's because it uses the Clevo W230ST chassis.
But let's start with the basics. The Veloce has Intel's shiny new Haswell mobile CPU, which is purported to bring much-improved battery life over Ivy Bridge–based systems. It also gets an IPS panel, so you don't have to fiddle with your eye level when you open the thing up. The keyboard is backlit with a gentle white glow, and the keys have a little spacing to prevent mis-types. Under the hood, you get a respectable 8GB of system RAM, a 128GB mSATA drive, and a 750GB 5,400rpm drive.
Its 765M averaged a little under 30fps in Tomb Raider, at 1080p with everything but TressFX enabled. We found that during our experiential play test, turning off tessellation and depth-of-field roughly doubled performance, without much of a hit to image quality.
The Veloce's exterior doesn't fare so well. Specifically, the keyboard area flexes a little as you type, especially in the middle. Right above the keyboard is an embedded plastic strip that wasn't quite flush against the surface. It's minor, but enough to mar our overall impression. The rubberized lid also smudges easily.
The ergonomics are also kind of disappointing, at least considering the $1,600 price tag. Almost all the external connectors are on the right-hand side, which is where right-handed people will be using their mouse. The left-hand side has only a headphone jack, mic jack, and a single USB 2.0 port. Meanwhile, USB 3.0, HDMI, VGA, and the AC power input make it awfully crowded on the other side of the table, unless you're primarily using the touchpad. But since the Veloce is billed as a gaming laptop, that scenario doesn't seem likely. Also, the fans frequently cranked up for 10–20 seconds when the system was idle or minimally loaded. It's distracting if you're just trying to watch a YouTube video or write an email. The system also uses the left-hand side to exhaust heat, unlike the Alienware 14 which pushes heat through the back; this means the fan noise can get pretty grating. One of the fans also rattled occasionally, sounding like a mechanical hard drive moving data around.
While the Veloce is definitely the thinnest and lightest notebook in this roundup, it may have too much power for its own good. Unfortunately, this meant the battery wasn't able to last that much longer than the zero-point MSI GT60, even with the more power-efficient CPU. If you don't mind a heavier laptop, the Alienware 14 can be configured with mostly the same specs for not too much more while yielding better durability and less noise.
|CPU||2.7GHz Intel Core i7-4800MQ|
|GPU||Nvidia GTX 765M|
|Display||13.3-inch, 1920x1080 IPS display (semi-gloss)|
|Storage||128GB mSATA SSD, 750GB 5,400rpm HDD|
|Optical Drive||Not included|
|Connectivity||HDMI, VGA, 3x USB 3.0, USB 2.0, audio in, microphone, 2MP webcam, built-in Bluetooth, Intel Wireless-AC 7260, Gigabit Ethernet, 6-in-1 media card reader|
|Lap / Carry||4 lbs, 4.4 oz/ 5 lbs, 12.8 oz|
Click the next page to see how the laptop equipped with Intel's Iris Pro graphics compared and to read our overall conclusion.
If only we could take the best parts of all these rigs and roll them into one
We wish we could declare a clear winner in this roundup—one that offers the complete package of performance and portability, but unfortunately, each notebook has different strengths and weaknesses, and none comes out as being particularly impressive.
Sure, the Eurocom X3 mopped the floor with the others in the performance benchmarks, but it's also the most expensive laptop by a long shot, offers weak battery life, is the heaviest, and features an unimpressive TN panel. On the flipside, the Lenovo Y510p is much more affordable and bests both the Alienware 14 and Veloce in the graphics department with its SLI setup. But it has a relatively lackluster CPU, a frustrating trackpad, and also goes the less-than-desirable TN route. While the highly portable Veloce is equally affordable to the Y510p despite an upgrade to an IPS panel and offers impressive performance for its size, its build quality feels cheap and its fans are annoyingly loud. Then there’s the Alienware 14, which has the best battery life out of the bunch, offers the slickest aesthetics, but is on the pricey side and its overall performance is a bit lacking.
These are all respectable products, but it looks like the gaming laptop mountain doesn't have a king just yet.
|Lenovo Y510p||Eurocom X3||Alienware 14||Digital Storm Veloce|
|Stitch.Efx 2.0 (sec)||1,092||1,118||856||962||981|
|ProShow Producer 5 (sec)||1,786||1,769
|x264 HD 5.0 (fps)||12||9.7||14.9||13.5||12.8|
|STALKER: CoP (fps)||32.8||40.8||89.1||40.7||39.3|
|3DMark 11 Perf||2,979||5,194||7,967||4,170||4,319|
|Tomb Raider (fps)||N/A||45.3||69.8||32.6||32.6|
|Hitman: Absolution (fps)||N/A||24.3||35.6||14.3||14.9|
|BioShock Infinite (fps)||N/A||39.7||58.6||28.1||29.2|
Best scores are bolded. Our zero-point notebook is an MSI GT60 with a 2.3GHz Intel Core i7-3610QM, 12GB DDR3/1600, two 500GB Seagate 7,200rpm hard drives, a GeForce GTX 670M, and Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit. STALKER CoP tested at 1920x1080 with Ultra settings, Tessellation, and contact hardening. N/A denotes that benchmarks were not run on the zero point.
Intel’s Iris Pro integrated graphics steps it up
We’ve long used the analogy that if Intel is Lucy and integrated graphics is the gaming-capable football, we’re all Charlie Brown. Yup, that bald-headed kid who just keeps thinking that every time Intel says its integrated graphics are capable of playing games, we believe it and throw our back out trying to kick that football to the moon. Well, listen up, blockhead: Lucy is in front of you once again, dangling that pigskin, and this time, she’s really serious that she’ll let you kick it.
To find out if that football will stay in place or be snatched away again, we took CyberPower’s new Zeus Hercules—a $1,300, 14-inch portable equipped with an Intel Core i7-4750HQ and its highest-end Iris Pro 5200 graphics with embedded DRAM—and benched it against an Ivy Bridge graphics–equipped HP Spectre Ultrabook, as well as an older Acer Timeline M3 Ultrabook. The Timeline M3 has an aged 32nm Sandy Bridge CPU but it also has an Nvidia GeForce GT 640M discrete card on board.
The results? First off, the Intel HD4000 graphics in the HP Spectre are not even in the running. We’ll remind you that when Ivy Bridge came out, ol’ Lucy touted its graphics as being substantially improved. Um, yeah.
Against the GeForce GT 640M, the Iris Pro 5200 proved surprisingly comparable in most of our tests. When it was introduced, Nvidia said the GeForce GT 640M was capable of playing Battlefield 3 at
Ultra—quite a feat in 2012 (of course, playing at Ultra meant settling for less than 30fps). Still, that Intel’s Iris Pro 5200 integrated graphics can offer performance close to or better than that discrete part is finally proof that Intel won’t always pull that football out from under our feet.
Of course, looked at another way, the GeForce GT 640M is a pretty old GPU at this point. We believe current midrange discrete graphics would easily step away from Iris Pro 5200. However, Iris Pro 5200 is actually capable of playing a lot of games at 1366x766 resolution with very satisfactory frame rates. In addition to our benchmarks, we played Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, Left 4 Dead 2, and Minecraft with no complaints. Moving up to Battlefield 3, we had to turn down the settings a few notches, but the playability was far better than we’ve ever before experienced with integrated graphics.
One other performance metric we looked at was OpenCL computing. Since the Iris Pro 5200 features that massive 128MB of L4 cache we’ve been chattering about since Haswell launched (Intel, give us a socketed version, please), we wanted to see if the top-end IGP has it where it counts in compute. It does. It destroyed the Spectre’s HD4000 graphics in the OpenCL benchmarks we ran and came pretty close to the GeForce GT 640M in the OpenCL 1.1.3 benchmark. In LuxMark 2.0, it crushed both the HD4000 and the discrete part.
There are two things to take away from this: The first is that the high-end discrete GPU has absolutely nothing to fear from Iris Pro 5200—we didn’t even bother to compare it to the gaming notebooks in this roundup because it would be embarrassing for integrated graphics. They’re that much faster in gaming. The second is that for a lot of people who just want a “normal” notebook, the Iris Pro 5200 is good enough, and a hell of a lot better than anything that has come before. Let’s just say the next time Lucy approaches us with that football, we may not be so cynical.
|Acer Timeline M3||HP Spectre|
|GPU||Intel Iris Pro 5200||Nvidia GeForce GT 640M||Intel HD4000|
|CPU||Core i7-4750HQ||Core i7-2637||Core i7-3517U|
|3DMark 11 Extreme Overall||X637
|3DMark 11 Extreme Graphics||568
|3DMark 11 Performance Overall||P2,054||P1,840||P611|
|3DMark 11 Performance Graphics||1,811||1,750||532|
|3DMark New Firestrike Overall||1,310||1,213||512|
|3DMark New Firestrike Graphics||1,310||1,297||544|
|3DMark New Cloudgate Overall||9,513||5,248||3,302|
|3DMark New Cloudgate Graphics||11,585||9,044||4,344|
|3DMark Ice Storm Extreme Overall||52,958||55,600||30,406|
|3DMark Ice Storm Extreme Graphics||60,474||84,990||35,192|
|Unigine 4.0 13x6 (fps)||22.3||24.9||7.7|
|STALKER: CoP Day (fps)||56.3||67.8||21.7|
|STALKER: CoP Night (fps)||63.2||70.1||19|
|STALKER: CoP Rain (fps)||70.1||74.1||22.4|
|STALKER: CoP Sun Shafts (fps)||43.8||44.8||13.7|
|OpenCL 1.1.3 Physics: SPH Fluid Simulation||1,434||1,515||525|
|OpenCL 1.1.3 Vision: Optical Flow||1,389||1,649||302|
|LuxMark 2.0 Sala (score)||462||101||67|
|LuxMark 2.0 Room (score)||325||47||33|
Best scores are bolded.