AVADirect Clevo X7200: Six Cores, SSD RAID, and GTX 480M SLI Yields World's Fastest DTR Notebookby Jarred Walton on October 7, 2010 12:30 AM EST
AVADirect Clevo X7200: Hail to the King, Baby!
About a week ago, I undertook a new exercise and fitness program. It's one of those high intensity workouts that can really burn through the calories, and in just one week I dropped 20 pounds! So what is this new wonder fitness regime and what does it have to do with computer hardware? Let me introduce you to my weight set...
All kidding aside, let's get this out of the way: the Clevo X7200 is an absolute tank, weighing in at 12.1 pounds for a basic configuration with a single 480M GPU. We see little point in buying such a high-end product and only getting the basics, though, so AVADirect loaded us up with what is easily the fastest piece of portable kit this side of 2011. Dual GTX 480M is only the starting point; for the OS and performance-oriented applications, they RAIDed a couple of Crucial RealSSD C300 256GB SSDs together, then tacked on a Seagate Momentus XT 500GB drive for mass storage. All told, we'd put the weight of just the notebook and battery at close to 13 pounds, and then there's the power brick.
How's that for a monstrous power brick? Previously, the biggest notebook power adapters topped out at a "measly" 250W output. This bad boy can put out a full 300W (and perhaps a bit more peak power). It's also heavier than a typical netbook, quite a bit thicker, and brings the total package weight to around 16 pounds. Thankfully, you don't have to worry about finding an appropriate notebook bag, since AVADirect/Clevo is kind enough to include one. It's an inexpensive cloth case, but it will get the job done until you shell out for something nicer.
None of this is surprising, since we're dealing with the new flagship product from Clevo. But some things have changed—and definitely for the better—like the aluminum surfaces replacing the (typically glossy) plastic we've seen in previous models (M98NU, D900F, X8100...). The X7200 manages to pack more performance potential than the previous generation X8100 into a slightly smaller chassis, and it upgrades the build quality and aesthetic at the same time. It's still big, heavy, noisy, and can run a bit hot under load, but this is without doubt the nicest looking Clevo notebook we've ever seen. Let's give a quick overview of AVADirect's test system before we continue.
|AVADirect Clevo X7200 Gaming Notebook|
Intel Core i7-980X
(6x3.33GHz + HTT, 3.60GHz Turbo, 32nm, 12MB L3, 130W)
|Chipset||Intel X58 + ICH10R|
|Memory||3x4GB Crucial DDR3-1333 (Max 3x4GB for now)|
|Graphics||2 x NVIDIA GeForce GTX 480M 2GB(SLI)|
17.3" CCFL Glossy 16:9 1080p (1920x1080)
OS: 2 x Crucial Real SSD C300 256GB in RAID 0
Data: 500GB Seagate Momentus XT 7200RPM Hybrid
|Optical Drive||6x Blu-ray/8x DVDR Combo (HL-DT-ST CT21N)|
JMicron JMC250 Gigabit Ethernet
Intel Ultimate-N Wifi Link 6300AGN
Realtek ALC888 HD Audio
Four audio jacks
|Battery||9-Cell, 14.8V, 5300mAh, 78.44Wh|
|Front Side||N/A (Speaker grilles)|
4 x audio jacks
3 x USB 2.0
9-in-1 Flash reader
(Optional HDMI In)
eSATA/USB combo port
2 x USB 3.0
4 x Exhaust Ports
|Operating System||Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit|
|Dimensions||16.5" x 11.3" x 2.22-2.4" (WxDxH)|
98-key keyboard with 10-key
Flash reader (MMC, SD/Mini SD, MS/Duo/Pro/Pro Duo, xD)
1-year standard warranty
2-year and 3-year extended warranties available
Starting at $2680 Online
Price as configured: $5781
Like we were saying, this is the highest of the high-end for desktop replacements. The CPU is the fastest option around on a desktop; sadly, there's no overclocking support from AVADirect just yet, but that might come later. Even without it, the 980X is easily 50% faster than the top mobile CPU. The i7-940XM is a quad-core Clarksfield clocked at a base 2.13GHz and can turbo up to 3.33GHz; the i7-980X in contrast is hex-core with a base 3.33GHz clock and turbo up to 3.6GHz. If you're after multi-core number-crunching power, this is as good as it gets.
The dual GPUs pack a whopping 4GB of combined GDDR5 memory, with 352 CUDA cores clocked at 850MHz. If you're after a comparison to the desktop world, we'll have that later, but the sad news is we're still substantially slower than the top desktop GPUs. GTX 465 comes with the same 352 cores but clocks them 43% higher; likewise the GPU core is clocked at 607MHz versus 450MHz on the 480M. Finally, memory bandwidth is 102.7GB/s on the GTX 465 compared to just 76.8GB/s on the 480M. The net result is that 480M performance looks to be faster than desktop GTS 450, but slower than GTX 460 and above. And there's the price to consider as well: while desktop GTX 460 starts at around $170, AVADirect charges $756 to add the second GTX 480M. Yes, it's mobile and has been binned for lower power, plus it comes with 2GB of RAM instead of the 768MB on the GTX 460. However, lots of video RAM goes largely unused unless you have the GPU core processing power to back it, and 480M simply doesn't. And we're still looking at a TDP of 100W per GPU...yeah, it's a bit curious to have a 130W TDP processor and two 100W TDP GPUs—plus various other components—all running off a 300W power brick. We'll look at this more in a bit.
So $1000 for the CPU, $1500 for the GPU, and since we want the best of the best, we've got RAID 0 SSDs. Honestly, the Crucial C300 isn't our first choice for SSDs; that honor goes to the SandForce SF-1200 controller SSDs, as they've shown themselves to be more resilient and slightly faster overall. In RAID 0, there's no TRIM support so you're left to depend on idle garbage collection by the SSD. Anand's tests indicate that the Crucial C300could be a lot more aggressive here. Compare that to the SF-1200 garbage collection and you'll see why we prefer the latter. AVADirect tells us the C300 RAID 0 scored slightly higher in their testing than the SF-1200 in RAID 0, but long-term we'd still recommend anyone looking at RAID 0 go with a more resilient drive. The performance drop may not come immediately (we bombard the SSDs with a lot of random writes to get to the degraded performance level), but eventually all SSDs will have enough random writes that we expect them to run like the torture tested "degraded" SSDs. As for cost, Crucial C300 does have an advantage there: 2 x 256GB adds around $1072 to the total price, whereas 2 x 240GB SF-1200 (OCZ Vertex 2) would bump the total price up $1194. But do you really need to save $120 on a $5000 piece of kit?
The sundry extras consist of the usual suspects of networking options, webcam, audio, fingerprint scanner, a decent quality 1080p LCD, and a Blu-ray combo drive. There are also some features we don't see quite as often, like the two USB 3.0 ports on the left side. AVADirect also maxed out the current RAM configuration at 3x4GB for 12GB total DDR3 memory. (They're working to get 8GB SO-DIMMs in the future, though we'd only recommend such an upgrade if you're interested in a mobile server/workstation.) As configured, the system we're reviewing with a 1-year warranty comes to a total price of just under $5800. Again, that's $1000 for the CPU, $1500 for the GPUs, and $1100 for the SSDs. The basic setup with a single 480M, i7-930, 3x1GB RAM, and a 500GB 5400RPM Samsung drive starts at $2700, while if you go for a "reasonable" SLI configuration with a 500GB Momentus XT, Blu-ray reader, and 3x2GB DDR3 you're looking at $3700.
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Candide08 - Saturday, October 9, 2010 - linkSome companies, like mine, are no longer buying workstations. We are issued "desktop replacement" laptops, like HP 88740W with dual i7 quad cores and 8GB of memory. Throw in Virtual-Box and run one or two other VM's and its workable as a full function portable desktop with 1920 x 1200 screen resolution and a 5.9 Win 7 rating.
The 8740W is not quite a spec'd-out as this, but its in the same league.
Yes, its heavy. Yes, the power brick is huge. Yes, I bought a rolling laptop case.
crackedwiseman - Thursday, October 7, 2010 - linkHonestly, why not go for a desktop GPU with those sort of thermals? You could quadfire a mobile Juniper GPU, or use a vanilla, normally binned 5870 and still come in with the same power draw.
Meaker10 - Sunday, October 10, 2010 - linkBecause:
A: It's easier to cool two separate sources of heat.
B: Moduals are of the smaller size are made already with mobile GPUs.
C: Quadfire would take up more space and would suck for efficiency.
D: Desktop drivers do not have some of the mobility options.
E: Mobile 480M crossfire is faster than a single desktop 5870.
rsgeiger - Thursday, October 7, 2010 - linkI forgot if you guys ever got a review unit from Alienware, or are going to in the near future, but a comparison of the dual GPU notebooks out there would be fun to see.
Otherwise great review! I really read closely this time the Powerdraw, heat, and noise comparisons. This always the most important buying decision I have when buying DTRs.
JarredWalton - Thursday, October 7, 2010 - linkWe looked at the previous generation M980NU with QX9300 and SLI GTX 280M, which is pretty similar to the older M17x. Now M17x is doing up to i7-940XM, with either HD 5870 CF or GTX 285M SLI. (5870 CF is going to be faster than 285M SLI by around 20-25% I think, but no PhysX or CUDA.) Anyway we updated our gaming benchmarks and don't typically have the opportunity to rerun new tests on previous reviews, which is why we focused on comparisons to desktops.
You can always get a rough estimate by comparing 3DMarks, but it's pretty safe to say the M17x needs a new revision before it's going to come anywhere near the performance of the X7200. Pricing for a maxed out M17x is currently $3900 without the RAID 0 C300 SSDs, so $5000 total with 5870 CF and 8GB RAM. But you have to look at what you're missing: 480M SLI is quite a big jump from 5870 CF, and the i7-980X is, as I mention in the text, about 50% faster than even the i7-940XM. Alienware does have a much nicer LCD panel, though: 1920x1200 with RGB LED backlighting.
Rasterman - Thursday, October 7, 2010 - linkCPU wise the 980x is 136% faster than the 940xm.
5150Joker - Thursday, October 7, 2010 - linkIt's not "much faster" than an M17x with 5870m Crossfire + 940xm. If you look at NBR, you'd see that the 480M SLi barely outpaces the 5870s by a mere 500-800 3dmark vantage points. That's basically nothing. When both are overclocked, the X7200 again does not surpass the M17x, they are about even.
The biggest advantage the X7200 has is the desktop processor but there's a program called ThrottleStop that allows end users to manipulate TDP/TDC + multiplier settings for the 940xm in the M17x. I've gotten the 940xm as high as 3.8 GHz on all 4 cores (8 threads) so again, the X7200's desktop processor advantage is diminished even if it is 6 cores.
You have to keep in mind the X7200 is severely limited by it's 300W PSU as you discovered so there's no real room for overclocking. One of the first users to purchase the X7200 on NBR discovered that his 480m SLI + 980x setup was shutting off during the Mafia 2 benchmark and he was running the system at stock!
JarredWalton - Thursday, October 7, 2010 - linkI'm out of town now so I can't test other scenarios, but I ran every benchmark several times and the only thing to ever overload the power brick was Furmark. All the other tests I saw topped out at power draws of around 310W, but it's possible some combination could get that higher. I'd like to know exactly what others have seen overload the PSU, though. Note that I did get beta drivers from NVIDIA for testing (260.80 I think -- the WHQL drivers should release "soon" according to NVIDIA), and that might be why I didn't experience other overloads.
As for performance comparisons, you can't cite 3DMark Vantage as a meaningful item. I include it as a quick point of reference, but it's not a game and it doesn't really behave like most games. Simply getting GPU PhysX to work should boost the score I posted by 1000 or more, but it's ultimately the games that matter.
For gaming, the X7200 with 480M SLI beats the tar out of everything else in the notebook world. If you had a similar X7200 with HD 5870 CF, the difference would be smaller (thanks to having a fast CPU), but with a large cross section of games it's pretty clear 480M is faster. It's also more power hungry by a large amount, though, so I can understand going the 5870 CF route. It's too bad that the only way to do get 5870 CF is the M17x or Clevo X8100, since that also gives up the desktop CPU and you get areas where you're CPU limited.
Meaker10 - Sunday, October 10, 2010 - linkPhysX scores are not valid results for comparisons.
The original intention of the test was for 3rd party physX cards at showing the potential in the future, even then the scores were not valid.
Nvidia twisted this and while it has not been removed, PhysX scores will not appear in comparison searches unless you specifically choose them to. They will never appear in the hall of fame.
Futuremark recommends that reviewers keep PhysX off when using 3dmark to review graphics cards.
silverblue - Thursday, October 7, 2010 - linkOuch... :) I'd be surprised if mine is over 25lb, though it's hardly a power machine. I'd love to have a play with a 50lb desktop... see if the power/weight ratio is favourable. ;)