Mar 22, 2015

Sager NP8651 / Clevo P650SE with GTX 970m

INTRODUCTION

SYSTEM SPECIFICATIONS

APPEARANCE AND STYLING
- Exterior
- Keyboard
- Ports
- Inside the Laptop

COMPONENTS
- LCD
- RAM
- Wireless Adapter
- Speakers and Audio
- Storage
- Software
- CPU i7-4710HQ
GPU Nvidia GeForce 970m

ARTIFICIAL AND GAMING BENCHMARKS

POWER AND COOLING
- Power Consumption
- System Temperature and Noise
- Surface Temperatures
- Battery Life

CONCLUSION




INTRODUCTION

Sager has been known for providing great value gaming laptops in a no frills Clevo chassis with a focus on performance and cooling for years. With the advent of thin and light gaming notebooks making their way into the mass market the last couple of years, Sager is following suit with their own entry into the thin and light gaming arena with the Sager NP8651 based on the Clevo P650SE chassis. Current competition for these sorts of laptops include MSI GS60 Ghost Pro, Gigabyte P35W and P35X, Razer Blade, and Aorus X3/X7. All of these laptops are less than an inch thick but still contain a top end mobile GPU from 870m, 970m, or 980m. This allows for PC gaming on the go with little to no compromise in performance, however with the compromise of soldered CPU and GPU components to package everything in that thin form factor.

LPC-Digital has provided a review sample of the Sager NP8651 which is a 15" notebook running about an inch thick containing a quad core i7 CPU and GTX 970m GPU with 3GB GDDR5 and 1920x1080 TN LCD panel. This machine will be evaluated for overall appearance and functionality as well as performance and cooling with gaming.


SYSTEM SPECIFICATIONS

Sager NP8651 / Clevo P650SE
15.6" 1920x1080 TN Matte LCD (AUO36ED / B156HTN03.6)
Intel i7-4710HQ quad core
Nvidia GeForce GTX 970m w/3GB GDDR5 5000MHz
16GB DDR3 1600 Kingston HyperX
Crucial MX 512GB
Intel 7265 802.11AC Wi-Fi + BT4.0
Windows 8.1 64-bit

Laptop:
Dimensions (Measured): 15.5x10.75x1.0 39x27.5x25.0
Weight (Measured): 5lbs 12oz

PSU (19v x 9.5A = 180W):
Dimensions (Measured): 6.75x3.5x1.5 17x8.5x3.5
Weight (Measured): 2lbs 3oz

The weight and thinness of the laptop compared with comparable performing laptops I've handled in the past is readily apparent. It's not a particularly light laptop, but it is easily handled with one hand definitely a lot thinner 


APPEARANCE AND STYLING

Exterior
The NP8651 has a nice mostly metal black chassis with a brushed aluminum lid with a chrome "Sager" logo placed nicely on the center of the lid. I say mostly metal because there are a couple plastic trim parts on it, predominantly the top/front edge of the LCD lid, but also the bezel surrounding the LCD. The LCD lid dimensions are quite thin as well 

Opening the lid you are presented with a full keyboard with separate numberpad. The keyboard has a white backlight with adjustable two levels of brightness or toggled off completely. Lettering is white and easy to see even without backlighting. Typing pressure exhibits no flex or missed keystrokes, with keys that are very silent when typing. An aggressive finger load on the keyboard tends to flex the full chassis, however, but there is a full metal backplate under the keyboard to minimize flex. Typical function keys are available like touchpad toggle on/off, volume controls, screen brightness, camera on/off, etc but most welcome is the switch of the sleep key at F4 that resided between the volume down and mute key, now moved to the F12 key, and keyboard brightness now sits at F4. This is a benefit for previous Clevo owners that accidentally would sleep their laptop when trying to adjust volume.

Brushed aluminum also adorns the palm rest with a more matte black metal bezel surrounding the keyboard. Onkyo stereo speakers sit above the keyboard under a metal bezel. The touchpad is of substantial size and has two separate mouse buttons with a fingerprint reader nestled between them. The rectangular power button rests on the upper right corner which requires about a two second hold to power on the laptop.

The bottom panel is also metal and offers ample slotted vent holes for the dual GPU fans, CPU fan, CPU itself, and SSD. Two screws are labeled with a keyboard icon which when removed allow removal of the keyboard by pushing a screwdriver through another hole indicating its removal. 14 screws in total secure the bottom panel, so it can be a mundane event when accessing the guts of the laptop, but once removed, there is easy access to all the system components.

[IMaGe=500]http://i.imgur.com/pz0lqaH.jpg[/IMaGe]

[IMaGe=500]http://i.imgur.com/dktj1Ga.jpg[/IMaGe]

Ports
Around the laptop on the left side at the back is the vent for the CPU expelling air out the side, with an HDMI port, USB 3.0 port, and two mDP ports towards the front. Ports on the right side include a lock slot, ethernet jack, two USB 3.0 ports, a SIM slot for mobile wireless (great addition), memory card reader and microphone, headphone, and digital audio ports all 3.5mm jacks. On the back side is the power plug and eSATA/USB combo port. The front edge of the laptop has status indicator lights: dGPU, scroll lock, caps lock, num lock, airplane mode, hard drive, battery, and power.

[IMaGe=500]http://i.imgur.com/na5CgYy.jpg[/IMaGe]

Inside the laptop
Once the bottom panel is removed most all components can be easily seen and readily accessed for replacement if needed. Everything looks very well engineered and organized. The battery is internal but easily removed with the turn of four screws. You can opt for two 7.0mm 2.5" SSD's or a single 9.5mm drive, plus two M.2 slots offer storage expansion options. The M.2 slots are adjustable for various length M.2 cards, supporting 42, 60, and 80mm versions. The Wi-Fi card is also M.2, and this particular laptop comes with the Intel 7265.

Cooling system is phenomenal for such a thin laptop, and includes two fans specifically to cool the GPU. One fan cools the embedded CPU. Three heatpipes run off the embedded GTX 970m GPU with three passing over the first fan and two continuing on across the second fan. Two heat pipes offer cooling for the CPU. In traditional Sager fashion, the CPU and GPU heatsinks are easily removable for accessing the silicon for a repaste if desired. It probably takes longer to remove the bottom panel than it would to repaste the CPU and GPU.

[IMaGe=500]http://i.imgur.com/KvyaeYT.jpg[/IMaGe]

Two of four RAM slots are located underneath as well, with the remaining two underneath the keyboard. This may sound a bit disheartening, but for one Sager will place the first two RAM sticks (if you order only two) underneath the keyboard. But removing the keyboard is actually quite easy. There are two screws underneath the laptop with a keyboard logo next to them that need to be removed (which also help securing the bottom panel), and a separate hole to push a screwdriver through to pop off the keyboard which is otherwise held down by clips. A separate metal plate covers the two RAM chips under the keybaord, secured by four screws. But just remove that panel and you have easy access to the other two RAM slots.


COMPONENTS

LCD
The LCD provided is a 1920x1080 (1080p) TN panel, an AUO B156HTN03.6. It is an average panel at best, and would recommend opting for an alternate panel if poor viewing angles and low brightness and contrast bother you. Response times are low enough that it is a good choice for gaming, but everything else about it is a bit disappointing considering the quality feel and appearance of the rest of the laptop. Viewing angles and image of the LCD can be seen below.


[IMaGe=500]http://i.imgur.com/pPHuBE3.jpg[/IMaGe]

[IMaGe=500]http://i.imgur.com/jkaisPX.jpg[/IMaGe]

[IMaGe=500]http://i.imgur.com/RwEm3TH.jpg[/IMaGe]


RAM
Kingston HyperX 1.35V DDR3L-1600 2x8GB RAM modules were supplied with this laptop. They are high quality modules with low CAS (9) and generally no issue RAM.

Accessing top RAM - Remove keyboard and remove plate
[IMaGe=500]http://i.imgur.com/1NfHAv8.jpg[/IMaGe]

[IMaGe=500]http://i.imgur.com/7mGSgad.jpg[/IMaGe]


Wireless Adapter
The Intel 7260 802.11AC wireless card has been available for some time in the mPCI-e form factor, but the NP8651 went all M.2 with this build. So the wireless card featured here is based off the 7260, but dubbed the 7265 and is configured for an M.2 port. General performance is good with 40-50MB/sec sequential transfer speeds about 25 feet unobstructed from the router running at 5GHz. Game performance is still somewhat plagued by occasional ping spikes, although not nearly as prevalent as the original drivers had with the 7260. By ping spikes I am talking about two or three times an hour jumping from 15-20ms to 100-150ms for a few second periods. Otherwise it is a solid card and a lot faster than any 11g card out there.

Also note that there is an option for a 4G/LTE card slot. 

Speakers and Audio
Clevo laptops have been notorious for average to substandard audio quality. This time it appears the NP8651 has improved on the speakers a bit. Still sporting Onkyo speakers, they are a lot more rich and loud than previous Clevo laptops I've trialed. Unfortunately I only have the W230SS at the moment to bench against to validate that claim. But I can state with certainty they are better than the W230SS. Placement of the speakers may have something to do with it also, since the W230SS speakers are located at the sides and underneath the laptop, where the NP8651 offers them front and center. Sound Blaster Cinema 3 app is pre-loaded with this configuration which also does help improve overall audio quality and volume even if tuned properly. 

Storage
As noted this laptop can house a single 9.5mm 2.5" or two 7.0mm 2.5" hard drives or SSDs and two 42, 60, or 80mm M.2 SSD's. The 2.5" drive cage accommodates either/or 9.5mm or 7.0mm configuration, but obviously the 9.5mm thicker dimension will not allow for a second drive to be placed. M.2 PCI-e drives are supposed to be much faster and move the upper performance limit over SATA III, but at this point in time unfortunately very fast M.2 SSD's are hard to come by and the one's available are also expensive compared with mSATA drives. Although there are more budget level M.2 SATA SSD's like the Crucial M550 that can compare with the mSATA counterparts in performance but are still generally a bit more expensive.

The way I understand it, with the M.2 slots, if you get the 3G module, you will lose the M.2 slot closest to the 3G module, because they share the same connection. Also if you use a PCI-e M.2 drive it will consume all four PCI-e lanes, so only one M.2 drive in this case can be used. You can, however used two M.2 SATA SSD's in those two slots, at the expense of losing that very fast performance offered by a 4x PCI-e M.2 SSD.

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This particular laptop for review has been fitted with the 2.5" Crucial MX100 512GB SSD. The performance of this SATA III drive is commendable and you can see it in relation to other SSD's compared by using CrystalDiskMark and AS SSD benchmarks below. LPC-Digital also provided a Samsung XP941 256GB M.2 PCI-e MLC SSD for evaluation and it is remarkable how much faster the SSD sequential speeds can be once you remove the SATA III limitations, although 4k speeds seem to suffer a bit compared to other mSATA and SATA drives. See results below.

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Software
One of the advantages of a Sager notebook is that they come with literally no bloatware. The only thing that they provide are utilities like their Hotkey utility which offers tip of the finger functions like enabling and disabling of the windows key, touchpad and webcam, switching system performance power profile, and provides status metrics like sound volume, screen brightness. But two items of note are the fan profile and macro key programmer.

The CPU fan has a basic configurable profile program allowing the user to set temperature that the CPU fan turns on and what temperature it turns off. The fan profile ramps up slowly and does not burst on like it has on previous Clevo notebooks.

A Macro key editor allows you to quickly and easily program macros for use in games, to launch apps, or send express text messages.

CPU: Intel i7-4710HQ
It's inevitable that with a thin and light form factor, some compromises had to be made. One of them is implementation of a soldered CPU and GPU. The Intel i7-4710HQ is a quad core CPU with hyperthreading, Intel 4600 iGPU, and 6MB cache, running at 2.5-3.5GHz in a 47W TDP envelope. It is comparable to the socketed i7-4710MQ in every way. It has a base speed of 2.5GHz with peak single core speed of 3.5GHz, two cores at 3.4GHz, and three and four cores at 3.3GHz.

There currently is no option for an upgradable CPU other than the i7-4710HQ but for gaming and general computing purposes and even light video editing is more than sufficient.

Intel XTU allows the user to increase the clock speeds by 200MHz up to 3.7/3.6/3.5/3.5 GHz, so a little bit more performance can be eeked out of the CPU if desired. The laptop was benchmarked against an i7-4810MQ in a Clevo W230SS. Results are as expected with about a 10% improvement.

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GPU: Nvidia GeForce GTX 970m 3GB
nVIdia has raised the bar with mobile graphics with Maxwell. The 970m staged in the NP8261 is a soldered GPU with 3GB of GDDR5 5000MHz vRAM. It is based on the same GM204 architecture as the desktop GTX 970 and GTX 980 cards, granted with reduced memory speed and bus width (192-bit vs 256-bit) and fewer CUDA cores, but it still benefits from the speed improvements over Kepler but even more importantly for laptops, the thermal output is significantly less.

Let's take a look at the details of the 970m first before we delve into the performance metrics:

924MHz Base clock speed with 1059MHz Boost
Maxwell 28nm TSMC Architecture
1280 Shader ALU's
80 TMU's
192-bit GDDR5 5000MHz
Support for DirectX 12
TDP ~ 65W

The 970m was run in two configurations:
(1) Stock clocks of 924MHz with boost to 1037MHz, vRAM at 5000MHz
(2) Overclock of GPU limited by vBIOS to +135MHz to 1059MHz with boost to 1172MHz, vRAM at 6000MHz

This was compared with the following other configurations from previous reviews:

(3) MSI GT72 980m Stock 
(4) Sager NP7338 / Clevo W230SS with 860m Stock
(5) Sager NP7338 / Clevo W230SS with 860m +200MHz GPU +400MHzvRAM

Drivers were the latest WHQL at the time of testing 344.60. The performance and temperature results are based on CPU and GPU factory applied IC Diamond thermal paste. A repaste of the CPU and GPU dropped temps no more than 2C on the CPU and was roughly about 1C less on the GPU.

From the benchmark results it is clear that that 970m is a great GPU for 1080p resolution with current generation games running at maximum detail. At stock, it is at least 50% faster than a heavily overclocked GTX 860m, and overclocked comes within 15% of a stock 980m!

Having "only" 3GB vRAM may not have been a concern in the past but with the advent of new console ports, it's looking like they will require 4-6GB to run the highest settings. However, when playing and benching Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor that states it requires 6GB for Ultra textures, I did not notice any stuttering or adverse affects. Maximum vRAM usage never exceeded 3GB however.

A few benchmarks, FPS charts through the run as well as frametime results were provided. Frametimes were varied, and for the most part averaged under 30ms, in some instances there were a few frametime spikes to 80-100ms, otherwise it was overall solid. The GPU clock speeds never varied from the boost speeds either at stock or overclock. In all instances they pegged 1037MHz or 1172MHz.

Below are the gaming performance results:

ARTIFICIAL BENCHMARKS

3DMark 11
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3DMark Fire Strike
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Catzilla 1.3
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Unigine Heaven
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GAME BENCHMARKS

Battlefield 4 64 Player Multiplayer - Ultra
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[IMaGe=500]http://i.imgur.com/nBhZf6H.gif[/IMage]


Bioshock Infinite Ultra + DDOF
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[image=500]http://i.imgur.com/T9oYrhF.gif[/image]


Crysis 3 - Very High
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Final Fantasy XXIV - High Desktop
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Grid 2 - Ultra
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Metro Last Light - Very High, Tesselation Normal
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Resident Evil 6 - High
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Sleeping Dogs - Extreme
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Thief - Very High
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Tomb Raider - Ultra (no Tesselation)
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POWER AND COOLING

Power Consumption
Power consumption measurements were taken at the wall so keep in mind that there is some level of efficiency lost through the power supply, so actual power draw will be some amount less than shown (~ 10%). The included 180W power supply also leaves room for overclocking but also likely less chance of a failure since it won't be taxed to the hilt even when gaming frequently.

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System Temperatures and Fan Noise
Temperature measurements were taken during testing for the CPU and GPU and results are displayed below. For the most part the NP8651 was able to keep temperatures remarkably low, well below 65C, and in most cases below 60C at stock speeds. Overclocking resulted in a sharp climb in temperatures however, especially with the CPU, but still well below what most users are used to in a gaming notebook that isn't a desktop replacement. Fans can also be set to full speed in traditional Sager fashion by using the Fn+1 combo key. But even with the overclock it really wasn't needed. Perhaps a larger overclock with an unlocked vBIOS it may help.

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Fan noise was non existant during regular desktop work sessions, and the introduction of CPU fan control, it keeps the CPU in check without random bursts or loud fan noise in a quiet environment. Even while gaming, the low CPU temperatures kept the fans from barely spinning up too much. The fans did not exhibit any annoying high pitched hums or ticks while operating either, just a steady whoosh.


Surface Temperatures
Since the system temperatures were so low, this also translated into a cool to the touch surface on the laptop even when highly taxed for extended periods of gaming. There were no hot spots noted, and a surface temperature map can be seen in the image below after a 30 minute run of Grid 2's "Attract Mode" in a loop with GPU overclocked. CPU was at 73C, GPU at 67C during surface temperature measurements.

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batterylifeBattery life
The NP8651 comes with a 4-cell battery, but more importantly it has a 60WHr rating which with Optimus should translate into at least 3-4 hours of usable battery life, which was tested for movie and wireless browsing. Nvidia GeForce Experince also allows for gaming on battery by limiting the FPS to greatly reduce power consumption, this was also tested.

The three battery life tests that were completed:

(1) Movie loop Avengers 1080p in VLC media player, power saver mode, 50% screen brightness, keyboard backlight turned off, wireless off
(2) Light wi-fi surfing, power saver mode, 40% screen brightness, keyboard backlight off, wireless on
(3) Nvidia BatteryBoost @ 35FPS, Battlefield 4 high settings, balanced mode, 80% brightness, wireless on

Results are as follows:

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CONCLUSION

It is clear that Clevo opted to enter the thin and light market with a solid engineering design with cooling in mind over just a laptop as thin as it can get. It's not quite the lightest or the thinnest, but it is thinner than other Clevo gaming laptops, and definitely provides some of the best cooling of any thin and light with a high end mobile GPU, even compared with much beefier systems for that matter. The styling is elegant and the all alloy chassis is a nice touch as well. Expansion options are plentiful, as is ease of swapping components. The package overall is well worth the bargain price they are selling for at a base price of only $1269 with an i7-4710HQ, GTX 970m 3GB, 8GB RAM, 1TB Hard drive, adding Windows 8.1 will bump the cost up another $80. Compared with the competition, the Blade 14, MSI GS60, Gigabyte P35w v3, this thing is an absoulte bargain.

It's hard to find much fault in this package other than the LCD. I find it disappointing that Clevo or Sager couldn't have sourced a better LCD, or at least offered an upgrade option for an improved TN panel or IPS even. There is supposed to eventually be a 4k option, but there still should be a better 1080p option available. Soldered components may be a concern for some, but for the most part, if you're ready to upgrade your CPU or GPU, you'll likely also be ready to upgrade to the newer features that a newer laptop can offer. Just go into the purchase knowing that you're buying a system without upgradeable CPU and GPU but other parts are easily upgradable.

In any case if you're looking for gaming on the go without breaking the bank, something a little smaller and lighter than your traditional laptops, this is absolutely the best bang for your buck laptop at the moment.

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