One of the best side-effects to the focus that manufacturers have placed upon energy efficiency and cool running hardware, is that modern laptops have become extraordinarily powerful when compared to their earlier brethren.
Hardcore members of the PC Gaming Master Race will know that personal computers have been long divided upon two clear lines. If you wanted to get anything done in anything approaching a reasonable time-frame, or if you wanted to play a game that didn't come free with your Operating System, you brought a desktop. A huge beige (now black) monolith that took up a space in the dining room and required us all to book time upon it, in case another family member had a database to update or other task that clearly isn't as important as giving a headshot to a stranger. If, however, you wanted to check your Rocketmail on Netscape, update your Myspace or maybe search for something on Altavista, then you used a laptop.
Now, with mobile versions of current gen hardware being surprisingly close to their desktop counterparts, the lines are blurred. The laptop has replaced the desktop in the home, and the Tablet and/or smartphones have replaced the things we used to do with our laptops.
Of course if you still want the very best eye-candy then you still need to own a desktop PC, but how close have laptops become? With the iBuyPower Valkyrie CZ-17 using a quad-core i7 and a GTX675M, we aim to find out.
Looking through the tech specs and one thing becomes clear. The CZ-17 is no netbook. A whopping 17", Full HD display and Blu-ray reader are only part of the story. The big selling points are obviously the Intel i7 processor and the nVidia GTX675M. Now we know mobile processors well enough to know not to expect performance between a GTX670 and GTX680, but we still have high hopes for the CZ-17.
The design of the CZ-17 is, to be fair, a laptop. Of course when it comes to laptops you're limited in getting the hardware into the most effective, small, package possible. Considering this has a 17" screen there is always going to be a certain size beyond which it's impossible to go any smaller.
There are plenty of outputs and inputs available around the Valkyrie, covering all of your needs from USBs to full audio out. As well as a lot of venting holes for the powerful components.
The Blu-Ray DVDW combo is in its usual spot. THX branding advertises how rich and full the sound should be in use, and otherwise, along with the excellent keyboard and webcam, it's everything you expect from a modern laptop. Many of you may now be thinking this shares a lot of similarities with the range of MSI gaming laptops, we you would be right because they both come from the same factory, AIDA test suite even states this is an MSI laptop in its results so it shares the same motherboard too.
Up Close - Inside
Removing the bottom of the CZ-17 reveals a hidden world of extremely compact engineering. Starting with the storage there is the hybrid drive on the top left hand corner, held with a very secure tag. At the bottom is the space where another drive can be installed, the laptop comes bundled with the extra caddy needed to help keep the drive secure.
As with any tightly packed hardware, thermal issues are the biggest hurdle to overcome. The left hand of the two heatsinks is the CPU one, with the GTX675M heatsink at the bottom. The fan seems to push air across the fins, you can actually feel a difference between the front and side port when loading either the CPU or GPU.
For such a small item you would be astounded at how tightly this retains the drive in situ. It's not a very exciting photograph, but the design certainly is clever.
Of course what would a gaming laptop be without some calming blue hues to settle your nerves. With the Valkyrie CZ-17 on in a darkened room you'll be dodging imaginary light-cycles in moments. Its also a great way to show off the back lit Steelseries keyboard. You wont find this on any of the spec sheets but I can confirm it is indeed a Steelseries unit, much to many gamers joy.
Temperatures and Battery Life
Although there is only one fan doing two jobs, the temperatures are good. The back port definitely gets the hottest of the two exhausts, and if you were planning on playing an intensive game for the afternoon we'd definitely recommend a table, unless you have asbestos knees.
The battery life is one of the best we've tested. With hardcore 3D Gaming and all the bells and whistles turned on, we had 2 hours and 10 minutes from a full charge, to the 7% 'please charge' warning appearing. Very good indeed.
Considering that we're dealing with a 2.3GHz default, 3.1GHz Turbo CPU, the results in AIDA64 are certainly impressive enough. The Memory benchmarks are around what you'd expect for a kit of this speed, and it certainly wont slow you down.
PC Mark Vantage
With PC Mark we can see that the inclusion of a Hybrid drive rather than a pure SSD is hampering our results somewhat. Even so, the CZ-17 handles all of the tasks thrown at it without grinding to a halt on any of them.
PC Mark 7
Things are much the same with PC Mark 7. The CZ-17 is a well rounded machine indeed, just needs an SSD to really push it into the next gear.
Managing to push out an aggregate score in the Processor Arithmetic test of around 100 points is right on the money. Don't let the clockspeed fool you, the i7 in this has enough oomph for your needs.
As we'll see on the next page too, it's worth remembering that we're testing at the settings we use all the time for full-on desktop GPUs. Good though the 675M is, it's not quite on a par with the current nVidia range, in Unigine at least.
If 3D Mark is anything to go by, the GTX675M is a 6 series in name only, and closer to the GTX560 in actual performance. Gaming might be different though.
So it is too. Remember this is 1920x1080 with maximum settings and maximum anti-aliasing, so realistically you'll get vastly improved scores just by lowering the settings a little to a level that befits the price-point of the Valkyrie. Still, nearly all of our titles are smooth and playable, with only Arkham City and Metro 2033 proving to be jerk-fests, and both of those are notorious for their poor optimisation.
My goodness do you get a lot of laptop for your money with the iBuyPower Valkyrie CZ-17. It's not even a lot of money either. We understand that UK price conversion rates are sadly not as simple as applying the current exchange rate to a dollar amount, but it's definitely something worth investigating. For our American readers, who need not worry about such things, this represents great value for money.
Looks wise it's very nice, with that big screen dominating proceedings. Every available piece of space has been utilised with USB ports, display options etc etc. You definitely wont lack connectivity with the CZ-17. Of course at such a low price there are a few places where you can tell that this isn't an aluminium-cased wonder, but too much show is for poseurs, and this has the right balance of not making you feel you've picked it off the shelf at Sam's Club, but your wallet feels like you have and your friends will be slack-jawed at how little this thing costs.
Speaking of the price, the only real area we'd like to see improved is the speed of the storage. There were times you could tell that the drive was the weak link in the chain, so we'd definitely advise you splash the little extra to upgrade to a pure SSD drive. The benefits will be noticeable, such is the high performance of rest of the components. You could, if you were feeling particularly flush, fill both drive bays with SSDs and go RAID0. If you are mental and are handy with a screw driver there are two more 2.5" HDD ports under the keyboard too *wink wink*
Back to what is available, that screen is excellent. You really feel the benefits of the size difference between it and the more normal 14 or 15 inch screens found on most laptops in this price range. Equally the keyboard has a lovely feel to it, and the sound quality is excellent for a laptop. Performance is excellent as long as you're aware that at the very highest detail levels, a desktop will always outperform a laptop. But damn this gets close to a similarly priced desktop and in a much friendlier package.
Its also worth remember this comes from the same factory that the MSI's do and there really isnt much to pick and choose between them. Same spec near enough, same motherboard and screen, same cooling, same Steelseries keyboard and even right down to the Dyn-Audio speakers. It may not say about the audio and keyboard on the spec sheet and Id have a guess at that is some contract clause IBP have with the OEM but I had the pleasure of taking it apart just to check and I can confirm they are there!
We like the lighting, we love the looks, we especially love the price and the performance. If you take the money you save between this and any equally-spec'd machine and spend it on the SSD upgrade, you'll be the envy of anyone who didn't do their research. For delivering so much in such a cost-effective package we have to award it our OC3D Gold Award.
Thanks to iBuyPower for supplying the Valkyrie CZ-17 for review. Discuss your thoughts in the OC3D Forums.