Ultra High End Gaming Notebook Roundup
Gaming notebooks have gone from brick-like, underperforming duds to platforms that can rival all but the most powerful of desktops in a relatively short amount of time. Much of this change has been brought about by new graphics, storage and processor architectures that put an emphasis upon efficiency without sacrificing high level performance. The result is some increasingly blurred lines between desktops and more mobile platforms.
No other category personifies this shift better than the high end gaming notebook category and that’s exactly what we’ll be focusing on in this roundup. While all of the usual players like ASUS, Origin, Eurocom, Gigabyte, Acer and MSI are present and accounted for in this market, there’s not all that much variation from one product to another. AMD has for the most part been pushed out of every $1500+ price point since their processor and GPUs just haven’t been able to compete on the efficiency against alternatives from Intel and NVIDIA. We’re actually starting to see fully-enabled desktop components make their way into the portable space.
The performance delta between desktops and notebooks may have shrunk but that doesn’t mean high end gaming laptops are what I would call inexpensive. The price / performance ratio still lies very much upon the shoulders of desktop PCs and you’ll still need to make some pretty large financial sacrifices if you want to combine portability with high in-game framerates.
Competitors for this roundup come from two different categories: a prebuilt MSI system that doesn’t allow for customization along with options from Eurocom and Origin, both of which offer a large variety of options for personalizing components.
Before I get too far ahead of myself the commonalities between these somewhat disparate notebooks need to be discussed. First and foremost, they’re all set up with a primary 256GB M.2 SSD that’s backed up by a 1TB HDD for storing game files and other data-heavy items. Samsung has a stranglehold on the solid state storage for most notebooks but not every product here is equipped with their drives. However the EON is equipped with the Samsung 950 Pro while the SKY X9 has the newer but slower SM951 SSD. The MSI on the other hand uses Toshiba NVMe’s THNSN5256GPU7 which is known to be one of the fastest drives available right now.
It also looks like Killer Networking has made some massive inroads with their 1535 Wireless AC solution and dual e2400 Ethernet since both are included on every one of these notebooks. Those make up the components for Killer’s Double Shot Pro setup.
Starting with the lowest price we have MSI’s new GT72S Dominator Pro in its Dragon Edition form. It boasts an enviable set of specifications like a desktop GTX 980 8GB, 32GB of memory and a 17.3” IPS screen that runs at 75Hz while also supporting NVIDIA’s G-SYNC. While MSI hasn’t equipped it with a desktop processor like the Origin and Eurocom options have, that i7-6820HK provides eight threads, high clock speeds and substantially better efficiency than the standard voltage parts. Now the GT72S isn’t a lightweight by any stretch of the imagination, it also happens to be the lightest here at a relatively svelte 8.4lbs and includes the longest warranty.
The Origin EON17-SLX is a pure desktop replacement with an unlocked and overclockable i7-6700K, a GTX 980 8GB (which can also be overclocked) and the same 17.3” 75Hz G-SYNC panel which MSI is using. Perhaps the largest two differences between Origin’s entrants and the other competitors here is their 16GB of memory and hard drive selection which is actually a 1TB SSHD from Seagate. With all of that taken into account, I initially had a tough time justifying the $460 price tag this thing commands over the MSI but the EON does have a significantly faster processor, its warranty won’t be voided if you want to upgrade the memory and Origin has a much more personalized experience. Our sample also game with Origin’s Professional Overclocking which boosted the processor to 4.5GHz and about a 10% GPU speed increase, all while retaining the original warranty.
Eurocom came into this roundup with a sledgehammer in an effort to demolish the competition. The SKY X9 not only packs an i7-6700 desktop processor (unfortunately not the K-series iteration), a whopping 32GB of fast 2400MHz memory and two GTX 980M 8GB GPUs working together in SLI. Perhaps the crowning –or pointless- addition here is the 4K IPS panel. We also have a stand-alone desktop-class GTX 980 with on an MXM 3.0 add-in card so we can test framerates with what amounts to a less expensive option in Eurocom’s extensive setup page.
For all of the SKY X9’s impressive specifications, as configured its price reaches absolutely face-bleeding heights. We’re talking about nearly cool five grand with dual GTX 980M’s and about $400 less with a single GTX 980. For that kind of money, I could have bought two of my first cars. That 4K display is a $624USD option at the time of writing and not only costs as much as an entry-level 4K UHDTV but it also kicks G-SYNC compatibility to the curb. Meanwhile, the upgrade to 32GB of Hyper-X Impact 2400MHz memory goes for a cool $344 and the NVMe version of Samsung’s SM951 is $120 more expensive than the AHCI alternative. This all leads to Eurocom’s price being horribly high but quite justified since they simply threw the option book at our sample.
Another thing to note about this roundup is that two of our entrants –Eurocom and Origin- use a generic Sager-sourced chassis / motherboard combo upon which they install components. This means both will likely have the same limitations or strengths when it comes to things like the keyboard, trackpad, speakers and build quality.
So there you have it, three notebooks with a total retail value of just north of eleven grand. They’ll be pitted against one another and a gaming desktop with a value of about $1800 consisting of an i7-6700K, 32GB of DDR4 memory, a compact ASUS Maximus VIII Impact motherboard a GTX 980 and a 480GB Kingston Hyper-X SSD. It should be interesting to see whether or not MSI, Origin and Eurocom will be able to hold their own against a significantly less expensive dedicated gaming system?
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