Mar 22, 2015

Sager NP6110 / Clevo W110ER First Look & Review

INTRODUCTION

When it comes to Clevo gaming notebooks, usually people expect a 15" or 17" form factor. There have been a few exceptions from other manufcturers in the past, with the Alienware M11x coming to mind. Until recently there really was little to compete with the M11x until now. Unfortunately Alienware decided to discontinue their M11x and about the same time, Clevo releases their 11.6" gaming notebook, the W110ER. It packs features that are usually only found in 15" or larger notebooks. I'll be putting the machine through its paces in this review, and hopefully giving users a good reference to gauge whether or not its a good buy for you!


SPECIFICATIONS:

The machine variant that I have is the Sager branded NP6110. Specifications are as follows:

11.6" 1366x768 Glossy AUO
Intel Ivy Bridge i7-3610QM quad core mobile CPU
IC Diamond Thermal Paste
nVidia GT 650m 2GB DDR3 with Optimus switchable graphics
8GB (2x4GB) DDR3 1600MHz Samsungf
Western Digital SiliconEdge Blue 256GB SSD
Intel 6235 Advanced N Wi-Fi Adapter, with Bluetooth
Windows 7 x64 Ultimate with all stock drivers from SagerNotebook.com
1.3MP Camera
6-cell 65WHr battery



That i7-3610QM is a full power 45W quad core mobile CPU in an 11.6" form factor coupled with a GPU that is nearly comparable to a GTX 560m. Regarding the CPU, even though it is 45W, there is a "brother" CPU the i7-3612QM that is the same silicon running 200MHz slower but is binned as a 35W TDP CPU. At the time of the original release of this laptop, 3612QM's are a rare option and quite expensive, about $200, over the 3610QM. The 3612QM is apparently hand picked from the 3610QM silicon so it runs cool enough for 35W TDP. At this time, Ivy Bridge options in this laptop are limited to the quad core CPU's: i7-3610QM, i7-3612QM, and i7-3720QM, since dual core Ivy Bridge CPU's have a release date later this year. If you are interested in a lower watt dual core, then you can choose from a Sandy Bridge CPU which is compatible with the Ivy Bridge socket and chipset.

I bought my machine from LPC-Digital and many people have asked why I bought through them over other vendors. The answer is simple: cost and courtesy. Larry at LPC-Digital, known at NBR as 'babyhemi' (recently changed to 'Larry@LPC-Digital') was very prompt, professional, and courteous during the whole process. He also was able to manage to offer a reduced cost below other vendors, and also helped expedite my delivery of the laptop. Obviously I can't guarantee what cost or level of service he can offer, but my experience was very pleasant.

SYSTEM OVERVIEW

The Clevo W110ER at first look is very plain, simple, yet elegant. Nothing about it screams *gaming* computer either. So if being inconpicuous is your goal, this machine will definitely meet your needs. The lid of the LCD and top cover around the keyboard is a rubberized finish. This rubberized finish carries across the touchpad, and has a "perforated" type texture pattern. There are two individual touchpad buttons with distinct and solid clicks. Status lights are above and to the left of keyboard, easy to see, with power and battery lights on the lower left front edge. Several stickers adorn the palm rest surface if you like that kind of thing: "Intel inside - Core i7", "nVidia Optimus", "GeForce GT 650m - 2GB", "THX TruStudio PRO". As far as I'm concerned it's advertising, but if it helps drop the cost of the parts by a little bit, as long as it's passed on to the customer I'm ok with it. The LCD bezel isn't too wide at any given spot, and is made of a lightly textured plastic. The lid folds back probably about 45 degrees past vertical, and the hinge feels quite robust with decent friction.

Ports around the perimeter consist of:

left side, back to front: gigabit LAN, VGA, HDMI, headphone, mic, two USB 3.0 ports
front: card reader
right side, back to front: AC power jack, USB 2.0 port, Kensington lock slot

There are no ports on the back, and the fan vent is just below the HDMI and headphone/mic jacks on the left side.

Underneath the laptop there are two latches to release the battery, which also disengages the access panel, no screws. Everything a user needs access to is there under the access panel: memory, hard drive, wi-fi card, CPU/GPU heatsink assembly, and system fan. The CPU and GPU share a common heatsink assembly, although different heat pipes to the same copper radiator. It takes all of ten minutes to remove the bottom panel, remove the heatsink, clean the old thermal paste, and repaste the CPU and GPU.

From a general spec hardware standpoint there are two disappointing aspects; lack of a backlit keyboard, and the LCD display. However, the chiclet keyboard is very comfortable to type on, no missed keystrokes that I can tell, and very little flex, just backlit would have been a nice feature. The LCD is a 45% gamut with 500:1 contrast, but apparently that is about as good as they come in an LVDS 11.6" unfortunately. Up and down viewing angles are quite narrow, but side to side are decent.

I've become more fickle about my displays over the years, but I believe part of it is that the average consumer laptop screens get the bottom of the barrel for specs just to save money. I understand the business reasons for this, but as an enthusiast, it irritates me that I don't have options. And this Clevo is no exception. Sager offers a single 11.6" glossy 1366x768 display. Clevo rebuilders like Mythlogic offer a matte version of the same screen, and its apparently the best LVDS 11.6" screen that's available. Hopefully there will be some genius users out there that can find a better option for us in the near future.

The CPU is socketed and backwards compatible with Sandy Bridge. But the GPU is soldered on the mainboard so no hope for an upgrade to that later if something more significant comes along, well other than swapping out the entire mainboard. But honestly, if the GT 650m in this tiny package isn't enough for you, it would behoove you to investigate larger laptop options.

Even though I won't really discuss it, this machine supports SATA III, so throw in a fast SSD if you'd like.

In any case, the quality is overall very good. No rattles, gaps, loose hinges, or glaring annoyances. HDMI works like a dream, plug it in and away you go. I haven't spent much time with the audio except for games and it is plenty loud and doesn't sound tinny or anything, but that's all I'll say at the moment because I haven't really spent much time to assess it properly.

Images of the system in the spoiler tag:


NOISE and HEAT

Performance of this laptop is the most interesting aspect. Boasting two new technologies, Intel Ivy Bridge 22nm process with tri-gating, and nVidia Kepler 28nm, should offer significant performance increase with reduced power consumption and less heat. I guess that's how Clevo is able to pack so much power in such a small package. We'll see how well that pans out. Additionally, the Intel HD 4000 integrated GPU is supposed to prove a solid 40-50% improvement over the Sandy Bridge HD 3000, or nearly equivalent to the AMD Llano 6620G GPU performance. I will put that to the test as well.

First, the CPU. A quad core mobile chip in an 11.6" form factor is quite a feat. However that comes at a cost in both heat and power consumption. Even though the 22nm manufacturing process and Intel's tri-gate technology are supposed to reduce heat, a mobile quad chip rated at 45W TDP can still crank out some pretty significant temperatures. However, the W110ER's cooling system is up to the task. At first look, the idle temperatures are quite shocking, hovering around 60C. In part, I believe this is by design of the system to minimize noise.

The fan is completely silent until temperatures reach about 65C then the fan slowly ramps ups. Air being pushed out by the single side vent is quite toasty, but it is the only spot on the laptop that gets even remotely warm. The rest of the laptop on top and bottom remain remarkably cool/warm to the touch even at full load. Currently I have no way of accurately measuring the temperature or noise of the fan, but temperature is absolutely a non issue as far as comfort level. The noise of the fan is a lower tone whooshing sound with no audible high pitch or squeal.

During gaming, the CPU can run quite warm, typically in mid to upper 80's if not low 90's. So far however, I have not noticed any signs of throttling, even during Prime95 testing, the CPU will run to 92C or so, but using HWInfo64, the cores are showing pegged at 3.1GHz (although the 3610QM is *supposed* to run at peak 3.3GHz according to Intel). In any case, the remarkable part is that the temperature span is only from 60-90C between idle and load, so in all honesty, I think the cooling system is doing an excellent job at keeping it cool.


POWER CONSUMPTION

With a 45W CPU and 45W GPU under the hood, it's no doubt that the NP6110 can draw a serious amount under load. The stock Sager machine comes with a 90W power supply, however if you order with a quad core Ivy Bridge CPU you get a 120W power supply. I checked the power draw from the wall both at stock 720p and 1080p hooked to an external monitor and the laptop typically drew less than 90W from the wall. The only time it drew more was with the Prime95 and MSI Kombustor running together, where it peaked at about 105W. The CPU also throttled some during that heavy load scenario.

Power draw was measured from the outlet at idle and during testing and noted the peak sustained power draw. The average draw was typically 5-10% less than the peak. Note that this is *from the wall* and not the actual power consumed by the laptop due to the efficiency factor of the power supply. See the power draw below:


BATTERY LIFE AND PORTABILITY

Having a small laptop makes it more portable and easier to carry around, and typically this size laptop sports a lean power sipping CPU with integrated graphics offering a solid 6+ hours of battery life. Well, one thing to consider with this little guy, is the power supply is either going to be a 90W or 120W beast, and not the 45W or even 65W PSU's you're used to. Additionally battery life tests showed it to range from 3.5 to 4.0 hours of useful life for browsing and general use whether in balanced or power saver mode. This is a bit disappointing considering the NP6110 has a respectable 65WHr battery attached. Even with locking the CPU to its minimum speed of 1200MHz, reduced brightness to 20-30%, wi-fi at power saving, it will still draw 13-14W idle, and 15-16W with some actual activity. The lowest brightness of the display is nearly unusable, and realistically only reduces battery consumption by a few tenths of a watt at best. Turning off the Wi-fi may gain you an extra 10-15 minutes of useable life.

I ran four battery life tests:


(1) Low usage test with a word and excel document open, set to auto-save, along with a single browser tab with a web page with just images and text, to be refreshed every 15 minutes. Power saver mode, hard drive shut down after 5 minutes, brightness at 30%, Wi-fi set to power saving, shutdown at 5% battery life left. 4hrs 2mins

(2) Browser test with four Firefox tabs running light flash, and refreshed in 1 to 10 minute intervals, using balanced power profile, brightness at 40%, shutdown at 5% battery life left. 3hrs 31mins

(3) Movie viewing test power saver mode, 40% brightness, wi-fi off, hard drive off, viewing .mkv 5GB 720p video with stereo output.

(4) Battlefield 3 with GPU fixed @ 30FPS, CPU @ 1200MHz, Balanced Mode, GPU and GPU RAM clocked 100MHz slower than stock.


[​IMG]


On a brighter note, at least we have Optimus. I hate to see the battery life without it. Those times would likely be cut in half. Optimus is new to me, but it seems pretty straight forward. For the most part any 3D app will automatically run with the dedicated card, but it can be configured from the nVidia control panel.

GAMING (BF3) ON BATTERY

Additionally with this being a gaming machine, I figured I'd give this machine a test on battery with one of the more resource hungry games out there, Battlefield 3 multiplayer. Battlefield 3 is basically unplayable using the Intel HD 4000 which is quite disappointing considering I could easily maintain 30fps or higher using the AMD 6620G integrated GPU at 720p with low settings. So we are required to use the dedicated and power hungry GT 650m. If you just load up BF3 and run with it on battery, you will drain your battery dead in no time, like an hour or less, so power saving measures are needed.

Although I haven't been able to get far yet with testing, I was able to get to the point where I was able to play BF3 for 30 minutes and only lose 30% of battery life. The key is to reduce power draw while maintaining performance. There are three things I did to help with this:

(1) Undervolt/underclock. Unfortunately at the moment, there is no way to undervolt or underclock the Ivy Bridge CPU's. The best we can do is lock the multiplier at its lowest value of 12x, fixing the CPU at 1200MHz. This can be done either using unclewebb's ThrottleStop, or just go into your windows power options advanced settings and set minimum and maximum processor state at 0%. I created a new profile based on the "balanced" profile and modified it as such.

(2) Reduce GPU and GPU RAM clocks. I used MSI Afterburner and set it to 735MHz GPU (-100MHz) and 800MHz RAM (-100MHz).

(3) Limit your frames! Wish I could find the person here that introducted me to DXtory, I'd like to thank them again. DXtory is a full featured program for recording video and doing other video related stuff. But one thing it also does is it will limit your frame rate which should reduce power consumption. I fixed it to 30fps.

The result was 30% battery drain after 30 minutes which equates to about 38W/hr drain, and realistically should allow one to game with a resource intesive game for over an hour and a half on battery. I'm hoping to better that if we can ever undervolt and reduce clock speed even more.


GAMING AND GPU PERFORMANCE

One of the primary reason's for this machine's existence is gaming, obviously. So let's take a look at what this thing can do!

This Sager NP6110 sports an nVidia GT 650m clocked at 835MHz, built off the new Kepler technology and 26nm manufacturing process, accompanied by 2GB DDR3 video RAM clocked at 900MHz. Despite everyone's woes about DDR3 video RAM, the GPU clock is significantly faster than the GDDR5 variant to make up some ground in performance. At the native resolution of the 11.6" screen of 1366x768, the overall performance is way more than adquate for any current released game even at high detail.


[​IMG]


See the benchmark section for all the detailed benchmarks I completed on this machine. Aside from benchmarks I have played Battlefield 3 and Skyrim a decent amount both at 720p and at 1080p and the GT 650m handled this admirably at both resolutions. BF3 was run at "high" default setting at 720p resulting in an average of 65fps, at 1080p, settings were set to low but allowed it to perform at about 79fps. Skyrim was run at high settings in both instances, and the game was very playable with an average fps of 42 at 720p and 39 at 1080p.

Following are the FPS graphs for these two games to see how it performs below. Click on each graph to enlarge if desired:


For the other benchmarks, I included the Radeon 6750m in my graphs only because I had the data available. I think it's a good testament and gage as to how well the components in the Sager NP6110 can easily outperform 15" notebooks released in the last year. Plus at 720p (768p whatever), the native screen resolution, any newer games will have zero issue running at highest or near highest settings. It even fares well at 1080p if you drop settings a bit.

I plan on offering more "real-world" gaming feedback as I get time, with newer games like Starcraft 2, DiRT 3, Witcher 2, and possibly Diablo 3, but that will probably get more than enough feedback.

As far as how it "feels" for gaming, personally I have had no issue playing BF3 for a few hours already on this machine using the screen and keyboard. The keyboard feels no less responsive than my desktop keyboard and don't feel I'm at a disadvantage due to the keyboard or the screen. And actually, it feels more fluid than when playing on my desktop with 1920x1200 screen powered by an i5-2400 CPU and GTX 460 GPU.


CPU PERFORMANCE

I don't think much has to be said about the CPU that hasn't already been said. It's fast, it's a quad core, and it runs hot. But just for giggles I threw some benchmarks in the benchmark section for CPU performance. It's probably a bit overkill even for gaming, but if you want or need an Ivy Bridge or a quad core for other reasons, it's here and available. Personally, I will be closely looking to the dual core Ivy Bridge CPU's when they finally get released to see if their battery life and heat offer a significant improvement, and if so, likely will upgrade to that.

Here's CPU-Z info on the CPU and mainboard for those of you interested:
[​IMG]

Of course with this being a miniscule gaming powerhouse, I thought I'd put the integrated GPU HD 4000 to the test. Unfortunately I don't have a laptop with HD 3000 to compare it with, but I do have an HP DV6z with an A8 Llano CPU which houses the 6620G integrated GPU. I have already done some extensive testing on the 6620G, and the HD 4000 was supposedly supposed to compete with it. But based on my testing, the 6620g is still the king of integrated GPU's. The HD 4000 is still good for older games but unfortunately it won't give you any BF3 love. That being said it should run most older games reasonably well at 720p and low settings. It should also be able to manage Skyrim at low settings without much issue.

See the HD 4000 benchmark results in the post below.


GENERAL USE

This *IS* a laptop, so besides gaming, this machine is also a great productivity powerhouse. I haven't spent much time watching movies on it, but I've typed most of this review on it as well as managed the images and browsed YouTube and NBR extensively with it and I like it. Obviously that's a very subjective comment, but in general I find the system responsive and a pleasure to work with. Being used to a 1080p or 1200p screen, it is a bit difficult to get used to the "cramped" 1366x768 screen, but it's workable. Then again if you want to do lots of productivity on this laptop, consider an external monitor. I used it for running the 1080p tests, and did some work using it that way as well. It works great with the Logitech laptop tray too.

CONCLUSION AND FINAL THOUGHTS

The Clevo W110ER came out of the blue offering performance that challenges most 14" and larger notebooks, at least on paper. This machine can deliver when it comes to gaming. Although I do question Clevo's decision on opting for an 11.6" over a 13" notebook, since a 13" they could likely have housed GDDR5 video RAM and offered a much better selection of LCD displays. It's also questionable about the portability factor of this notebook considering the meager battery life not to mention the 120W power brick that weighs in at 1.5 lbs and is fairly substantial in size.

All that said, from a positive standpoint, it is always nice to have something as compact as possible for ease of toting around and minimizing space taken in your backpack, briefcase, whatever. Being able to have the performance of Clevo's own NP8130 in something that is about half the size and weight is a feat that impresses even us uber geeks. Is the performance worth the tradeoff of a substandard screen and large power brick? I guess that's up to you to decide. Battery life as a plus or minus is questionable. The larger machines like the NP9130 and NP9150 likely will get similar battery life, but at a higher price tag and weight, albeit with a better and larger screen.

I think with a little tuning we'll be able to game for at least two hours on battery and drop the heat by a bit. This is but a newborn child just needing some tender loving care.

POSITIVES:
+ Small and lightweight
+ Gaming power only reserved for 15" laptops just a year ago
+ Easy Accessibility to all swappable components
+ Excellent heat management especially for such a hot running CPU

NEGATIVES:
- hot and high power consumption CPU
- battery life
- average quality LCD screen

NEUTRAL:
o 90W or 120W power brick
o supports 35W/45W dual or quad core Ivy Bridge and dual core Sandy Bridge
o rubberized texture finish
o better than average keyboard and good touchpad with separate quality mouse buttons
o USB 3.0 - although would prefer more than 3 total USB ports.

1 comment:

  1. When it comes to a laptop, I, first of all, recall how it downloaded the latest ATI Video driver http://driverscenter.com/manufacturers/ati/video so that my videos are played in the best way possible. I`ve never heard about Clevo and my 17 inch laptop is quite suitable for work. But I'll think about buying Clevo for my daughter. Thanks for the review, it's very detailed.

    ReplyDelete