Mar 22, 2015

Sager NP8652 / Clevo P650SG with GTX 980m Review


INTRODUCTION

SYSTEM SPECIFICATIONS

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

COMPONENTS
- LCD
- RAM
- Wireless Adapter
- Speakers and Audio
- Storage
- Software
- CPU i7-4720HQ
GPU Nvidia GeForce GTX 980m

ARTIFICIAL AND GAMING BENCHMARKS

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

CONCLUSION


introINTRODUCTION

Sager is making a shift in their product lineup, adding laptops that are much thinner and lighter than their predecessors, although at the expense of integrating the CPU and GPU as part of the motherboard. This means no user upgradability for those components. However, they have retained the ease of user accessibility and replacement of other components like RAM, storage drives, and wireless adapters. The NP8652 based on the Clevo P650SG is one of these several new laptops in their lineup, and it contains the new i7-4720HQ CPU and Nvidia GeForce GTX 980m GPU based on the Maxwell architecture. LPC-Digital has provided the NP8652 laptop used for this review.

I recently reviewed the Sager NP8651 which is really the same line of laptops and share a lot of the same components with the NP8652 so I will reference that review where applicable. However the critical components that differ are the CPU and GPU with some minor component differences. If interested, the review for the NP8651 with i7-4610HQ and GTX 970m can be found here:


specsSYSTEM SPECIFICATIONS

System specifications of the laptop being reviewed:

Sager NP8652 based on Clevo P650SG
15.6" 4k (3840 x 2160) Samsung IPS LCD
Intel i7-4720HQ
Nvidia GeForce GTX 980m with 4GB GDDR5
512GB Crucial MX100 2.5" SSD
2x8GB Kingston RAM
Intel 7265 802.11AC wireless adapter
Windows 8.1 64-bit

Measured Dimensions:
Laptop: 15.5x10.75x1.0 in / 394x275x25.0 mm / 5lbs 10.5oz

Power Adapter (19v x 9.5A = 180W):6.75x3.5x1.5in / 170x215x35mm / 2lbs 3oz


appearanceAPPEARANCE AND STYLING

Exterior
The NP8652 has a 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, and bottom panel. 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 black plastic with a matte/grained appearance 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=800]http://i.imgur.com/pz0lqaH.jpg[/IMaGe]

[IMaGe=800]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 active, scroll lock, caps lock, num lock, airplane mode, hard drive, battery, and power.

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Inside the laptop
Once the bottom panel is removed most of the 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. A single 2.5" SSD slot and 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.

The 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 GTX 980m GPU and video RAM 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. One noted difference with the NP8652 over the NP8651 is that the GPU heatsink is permanently attached to the dual fans, so those need to be removed with the heatsink for a repaste should one care to do so.

[IMaGe=800]http://i.imgur.com/3VkUJ4Y.jpg[/IMaGe]

[image=800]http://i.imgur.com/R1RANhB.jpg[/image]

Two of four RAM slots are located in the main compartment as well, with the remaining two underneath the keyboard. If one would like to access the RAM modules, 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.


componentsCOMPONENTS

LCD
4K LCD's have been added to this lineup of laptops. There are a couple options to choose from if you order from Sager, and the Samsung 4k Glossy IPS LCD was offered with this NP8652. It has a native resolution of 3840x2160 at 60Hz. The brightness is very good, and at max brightness, there is no noticeable glare with interior lighting. Granted on a dark screen, there is the potenital for reflection, just the nature of the beast. I was unable to locate the exact specs for this screen but the model is FL156FL02-P01.

Some users are haunted by the stories of Samsung pentile screens, but honestly, I see zero issues or concerns with this screen, and it is unknown if it is even a pentile screen at all. In any case, any user except the most meticulous would be hard pressed to tell the difference between this LCD and an IGZO. Thankfully the LCD is also 60Hz where many 4k LCD's run at a maximum 48Hz.

The clarity, brightness, contrast, and viewing angles are all phenomenal and when running at 4k is completely stunning. Albeit dealing with Windows scaling has its own set of issues, but that's not the fault of the LCD. Setting Windows 8.1 to use 200% scaling seems to set everything up so it is easily readable.

4k with 200% Windows scaling:
[image=800]http://i.imgur.com/nAHbitD.jpg[/image]

Samsung 4K LCD Viewing angles
[image=800]http://i.imgur.com/lhmHz8Y.jpg[/image]

Despite having the 4k screen, gaming was best run at 1080p resolution however, for best performance and ability to maximize all the details. While 1080p gaming looked near perfect without any anti-aliasing applied, A conservative 2xMSAA cleaned up any hint of jaggies that even a videophile might pick up on, resulting in only a modest hit to performance. There was no ghosting or anomalies noticed due to the LCD either. It is an LCD users can gladly game on without issue.


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=800]http://i.imgur.com/1NfHAv8.jpg[/IMaGe]

[IMaGe=800]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. There is a possible fix/workaround for this however, and you can read about it here: http://forum.notebookreview.com/sag...651-np8652-owner-s-lounge-49.html#post9862399

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
This laptop can house up to four HDD/SSD's in total between 2.5" and M.2 form factor combinations. There is a 2.5" drive bracket which can house one 7mm or 9.5mm drive along with a 7mm drive below it, unlike the NP8651 which can only house one 9.5mm or two 7mm height drives. This is thanks to the slightly thicker lower panel of the NP8652 to accommodate that added thickness. Two 42, 60, or 80mm M.2 SATA SSD's or one M.2 PCI-e drive (x4) can be installed as well. M.2 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 SSD's like the Crucial M550 that can compare with the mSATA counterparts in performance but are still generally a bit more expensive.

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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 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 restuls 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 i7-4720HQ
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 i7-4720HQ is a quad core CPU with hyperthreading, Intel 4600 iGPU, and 6MB cache, running at 2.6-3.6GHz in a 47W TDP envelope. The i7-4720HQ is a new product that as of this writing hasn't even made it into Intel's databas yet. It is basically just a 100MHz speed increase over the i7-4710HQ. It has a base speed of 2.6GHz with peak single core speed of 3.6GHz, two cores at 3.5GHz, and three and four cores at 3.4GHz. Although four core speeds tended to be in the 3.2-3.3MHz range when taxed.

There currently is no option for an upgradable CPU in the NP8652 other than the i7-4720HQ 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 3.8/3.7/3.6/3.6 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 and the i7-4710HQ in the NP8652. The performance difference between the three CPU's is marginal, but measurable.

Cinebench 11.5
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wPrime 2.10
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x264 5.0
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980mGPU: Nvidia GeForce GTX 980m 4GB
nVIdia has raised the bar with mobile graphics with Maxwell. The 980m staged in the NP8652 is a soldered GPU with 4GB 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 but carries a 256-bit bus witdth. It also has 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 980m first before we delve into the performance metrics:

1038MHz Base clock speed with 1129MHz Boost
Maxwell 28nm TSMC Architecture
1536 Shader ALU's (CUDA)
96 TMU's
256-bit GDDR5 5000MHz
Support for DirectX 12
TDP ~ 95W

The 980m was run in two configurations:
(1) Stock clocks of 1038MHz with boost to 1129MHz, vRAM at 5000MHz
(2) Overclock of GPU limited by vBIOS to +125MHz to 1163MHz with boost to 1254MHz, vRAM at 5600MHz

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

(3) MSI GT72 980m Stock 
(4) NP8651 at stock: 924MHz with boost to 1059MHz, vRAM at 5000MHz
(5) NP8651 at overclock: +135MHz to 1059MHz with boost to 1194MHz, vRAM at 6000MHz

Drivers were the latest WHQL at the time of testing 344.60. The performance and temperature results are based on CPU and GPU with a self applied IC diamond repaste. The CPU temperatures were running to high as pasted from the factory that it required a repaste.

Benchmarks were taken running at each game's "ultra" or highest settings at both 1080p and 4k resolutions. There was no way I could tell to run at 3K resolution since the LCD did not support it and Intel's custom resoluitons would not allow the change to take place. It would be good to see the results at 3k since I feel the 980m would be a great fit for that resolution, since 4k burdens the 980m too much at highest details. Although several games were also run at 4k with medium details and any anti-aliasing removed to see if 4k was still a realistic gaming option for some of these newer titles.

A couple newer games were added to the benchmark list, Dragon Age: Inquisition and Far Cry 4. These are tough games to benchmark because it is hard to come up with any repeatable sections in the game due to their open environments. Dragon Age: Inquisition does have a built-in benchmark, but it's very quick and not sure it necessarily represents the actual gaming performance. Also, actual full screen mode does not work with DA:I with Optimus machines so it had to be run at full borderless window mode which is known to hinder overall performance. The results from the benchmark are provided for reference but take them with a grain of salt until the game is patched to work properly, and also temps and power were not taken because the benchmark is really too quick to make it useful.

Far Cry 4 is about a 60-70 second auto-drive from one place to the next. Due to the open nature of the game, and the way the auto drive tends to have a mind of its own, it's not 100% repeatable but close enough to give one a sense of general gaming peroformance.

benchmarksGPU BENCHMARKS

ARTIFICIAL GAMING BENCHMARKS

A new benchmark was added, the Blender test. Special thanks to user mgi (blog is here: http://blog.render.st/) for providing me with a repeatable and reliable benchmark for testing rendering performance of the system, using the GPU (980m) as the CUDA rendering device. It's more of an application performance metric than a gaming one, but more or less tests the system, but more importantly, the GPU CUDA performance. CUDA 5.2 was used for this benchmark.

Blender 2.72b Pavillon Barcelone Cycles
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3DMark 11
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3DMark Fire Strike
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Catzilla
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Unigine Heaven
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GAMING BENCHMARKS

Bioshock Infinite - Ultra + DDOF
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Crysis 3 - Very High
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Dragon Age Inquisition - Ultra
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Far Cry 4 - Ultra
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Final Fantasy XIV - 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
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powercoolingPOWER 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 leaves little room for overclocking with the 980m, since you can see the mild overclock resulted in power draw in the 170-180W range for most games. Although the power supply was more than sufficient for any stock speed gaming. 

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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. While the NP8652 ran the GPU about 4-8C higher than the NP8652, they were still reasonable running under 70C for the most part. Overclocking resulted in a minor increase in temperatures, however with a sacrifice in added fan noise. 

Fans can also be set to full speed in traditional Sager fashion by using the Fn+1 combo key. With an overclock, the max fan speed setting did help drop the temps a few degrees C, so that could be used for future overclocking if temps become a concern.

With gaming, the CPU ran well within reasonable temperatures under 75C for the most part. However with CPU specific benchmarks, the CPU temps skyrocketed to the upper 90's. The i7-4710HQ in the NP8651 ran much cooler. I am not sure the reason for the very high temperatures since gaming temps they seemed to be in check. Fan speeds were also higher than when running games and much higher than compared with the NP8651.

CPU Temperatures - CPU Benchmarks
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CPU Temperatures - Artificial Game Benchmarks
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CPU Temperatures - Game Benchmarks
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GPU Temperatures - Artificial Game Benchmarks
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GPU Temperatures - Game Benchmarks
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Fan Noise
Fan noise was generally higher than its sister NP8651 laptop, but non existant during regular desktop work sessions. Plus with the introduction of CPU fan control in the Clevo Control Center, users have some control on when the fan kicks in and have never expereienced 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 gaming session of BF4.

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Battery 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 Experience also allows for gaming on battery by limiting the FPS to greatly reduce power consumption, this was also tested. Games like BF4 tended to stutter periodically even while limiting the FPS, likely because the GPU was running at only 800MHz and GPU at 1600MHz, but other games like Tomb Raider, Minecraft, Half-Life 2, etc worked fine on battery.

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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I attribute the less battery life of the NP8652 vs the NP8651 due to the 4K LCD They apparently draw quite a bit more power, and with a 60WHr battery, 2-3W more can make a significant impact on battery life. The NP8651 would draw 13-14W with light load, where the NP8652 would draw 15-17W.


#conclusionCONCLUSION

The Sager NP8652 has a lot of value for the dollar for a portable gaming machine. It has plenty of user expansion for storage and RAM, a quad core Intel CPU, top of the line GTX 980m mobile GPU with excellent cooling, and a great 4k LCD, all in a package thinner and lighter than competing 15.6" notebooks. Even as a thin and light laptop, Sager managed great cooling and easy access to internal components, granted after removing the bottom 14 or so screws securing the bottom panel.

Gaming performance is exceptional at 1080p and keeps cool thanks to both Nvidia's Maxwell architecture and the dual fan setup. Scaling games at 1080p on the 4k screen also is not an issue. The 980m can handle older games just fine at the native 4k resolution, and even newer games with reduced detail and turning off anti-aliasing, which really isn't necessary with that high resolution on a 15" screen. Performance of the 980m is also a solid 25-30% faster than the 970m model. Users can also be happy with the overall construction and build quality. General computing and movies were pleasant with the solid keyboard and high quality LCD and speakers which are actually quite decent compared to previous generation of Clevo laptops.

Battery life could be a bit better, but it can still manage through a movie followed by some office work or light browsing if need be. The power supply is sufficient for stock speed gaming, but borderline for any overclocking a user might attempt. Otherwise the package as a whole is a solid design, performance, and build quality that is sure to please even the most peculiar mobile gaming enthusiast.

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