The days of a laptop being something that was mainly useful for checking your email, keeping up with your social media or writing a brief letter whilst on the train are long gone. Modern laptops, whilst not quite up there with desktop performance, are capable of very good gaming performance. We don't just mean World of Warcraft/Worms performance either, but full on frag-fests with the latest game engines.
We don't often review laptops here because the majority are designed for the average user. It takes something a little special to pique our interest and one such laptop is the model we have up for review today, the Vortex IV X780 from PC Specialist.
The downside with laptops is usually that they are locked into the performance, and thus can't go down the incremental upgrade route that most of us take with our desktop machines, and also that the specifications are usually locked down tightly and so you can't always get the exact model you desire. PC Specialist, however, have an extraordinary customisation procedure, allowing you to pick and choose from a large array of hardware to ensure you get everything you need and nothing that you don't. Given the high price of a gaming laptop it's nice to have a company willing to provide you with the best possible value for money.
The particular specification of our review sample is heavily biased towards gaming performance with a Haswell i7-4700MQ CPU at the heart of it, and the Mobile variant of the nVidia GTX780 providing all the graphical heft you could ever require. With plenty of storage and a good amount of memory, it should handle anything we throw at it. As you cast your eye down the hardware list, when you reach the bottom and discover that this particular setup is a frankly unbelievable £1449, it's hard not to find your jaw on the floor. How can they provide such a high specification for such a low price?
Vortex IV X780
17.3" Matte Full HD LED Display (1920 x 1080)
4th Gen Intel Core i7-4700MQ
4GB NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780M
16GB Kingston HyperX 1600MHz
120GB Kingston V300 SSD
750GB WD Scorpio Black SATA III (7,200rpm)
4x BluRay ROM / 8x DVD-RW Combi
Gigabit LAN / Killer 1202 Wireless / Bluetooth
USB 3.0, 2MP WebCam, 9 in 1 MCR, Backlit Keyboard, Display Port
3 Year Silver
£1449.00 inc VAT & Delivery
We often comment that packaging gives an important first impression. Certainly nobody will take out this extremely plain box and be excited to pore over the packaging, but that only makes us more eager to see what is within the box. Two manuals are provided, both of which are unfortunately vague due to the wealth of options that PC Specialist provide and thus the documentation has to cover. It's "this feature is only available on model a,b or d but not c unless you've specifically requested package e" taken to the extreme. Thankfully computers are very easy to follow, and with all the ports being labelled you're unlikely to need to dip into the manual at all.
The first thing to note is that this is a review sample and thus has been around the block. Clearly other websites don't take the same care as we do with hardware and it seems to have been last handled by someone who tested it between pizza slices. With that out of the way there is little else to say. The Vortex IV is a very basic black plastic shell, with no logos, no branding, no colour and nothing more than the minimum possible to contain the hardware.
The battery is a good size which is important on such a powerful system. It would be pointless to have a Haswell and GTX780M combination if you couldn't use it for more than an hour. Drive spaces are easily accessible too, should you opt for a simpler configuration and upgrade at a later date.
The cooling is provided by two fair-sized fans and plenty of copper to help keep things under control. Between the two fans is the 16GB of Kingston memory, far more than you'd find on most other laptops of a similar price.
Up Close Continued
There are a good amount of connection options on the Vortex IV, with audio jacks and a USB 2.0 port on the right hand side. The left side has the majority with a Firewire, GigaLAN, USB 3.0, eSATA and a card reader.
On the rear we have a fullsize Display Port, an HDMI, a mini DisplayPort and the very beefy 4 port power input.
The internals are, initially at least, as plain as the outside. The screen is by no means the sturdiest we've ever encountered. It's not wobbly, but neither does it inspire confidence. Certainly a large proportion of the cost saving is in the shell that contains the hardware.
Once the power is on the keyboard lights up beautifully. There is an application that allows you to control three different zones into any colour that you desire, so obviously we went for the rainbow as it's the most visually arresting and compliments the swathe of black plastic beautifully.
The hyper-threading Core i7-4700MQ runs at a good clip, just shy of 3.2GHz at maximum performance. Certainly enough to give us plenty of CPU heft to keep the nVidia GTX780M running flat out. It's enough to give us a very healthy 6.5 CPU Pts in CineBench, which isn't bad at all for a mobile CPU. The Kingston memory is a zippy CAS9 offering which is nice to see from Laptop RAM, even if it's only 1600MHz the sheer volume, 16GB, will keep disk access to a minimum.
As you'd expect from a 4th Generation Intel CPU there is the integrated HD4600 graphics to help extend your battery life as long as possible in non-intensive applications. For the gaming side of things the GTX780M runs at a fair clip and should provide very good 3D performance.
Crystal Disk Mark
Having established that the CPU and memory are good, and that the graphics options are splendid, the next possible bottleneck is the storage, but the Vortex IV has a Kingston V300 SSD which has great read performance and fairly average write performance.
The three laptops we have reviewed have all had vastly different specifications, so our graphs are largely to show how much of a difference there is between the Ivy Bridge and Haswell CPUs, as well as the improvement in mobile graphics cards.
The CPUs are fairly close in a lot of the tests, although the Haswell based Vortex VI shows the gradual improvement from the 3rd Generation and 4th Generation of Intel CPU's. The Kingston memory in the PC Specialist Vortex VI X780 is a massive improvement over the results we've seen on our previous two reviews and up there with a good desktop at this speed.
Similarly to our AIDA64 testing, the three different CPUs appear to be evenly matched as you move through the benchmarks. Once me move from the Arithmetic tests to the MultiMedia tests though the Vortex IV moves further and further ahead until, by the time we reach the 32x test, it's 70% more capable. Impressive stuff from the mobile Haswell CPU.
Futuremark's PC Mark test suite is where the cumulative benefits of these faster components begins to have a massive effect, almost doubling the score of the iBuyPower and 33% better than the MSI, which was no slouch at all. Even PC Mark 8, which is made up of less constituent parts than PC Mark 7, still gives the nod to the Vortex IV X780.
Both the Valkyrie and the MSI Dragon had a GTX675M GPU, and we can see how much of a difference the Kepler architecture makes in 3D Mark. The Vortex IV X780 has enormous 3D performance whether we're running at the low resolution performance tests or the more realistic 1920x1080 Extreme presets. The clear demonstration of how much power is available to the GTX780M is to be seen in the difference with the Ice Storm results. Ice Storm is about 100000 points shy of the better scores we've seen, yet as we move through the tests the gap between the highest desktop results and what we see here, lessens considerably. Sure a mobile GPU will never match an equivalent desktop one, but it's not bad by any means.
Vantage and 3D Mark 11
Both Unigine benchmarks are extremely demanding but they are a nice indicator of the frame rate you can expect just by adjusting your level of anti-aliasing. Despite incredible improvements in recent years, anti-aliasing is still the quickest way to kill your frame rate. The Vortex IV X780 makes a great fist of things though, giving over 30FPS in all scenarios, even at 1080P with ultra detail and 8xMSAA.
The extra performance that showed itself in the 3D Mark and Unigine tests shows up clearly here, with only Metro 2033 not giving us a huge improvement, but we know how poorly that was optimised anyway. The more recent titles, Far Cry 3, Hitman and Bioshock all perform very smoothly, and certainly if you're more conservative with your settings you'll have no problem getting a buttery smooth gameplay experience.
Brand identity is an important thing to the average consumer, after all how else can you explain the endless demand for the iPhone when it's clearly inferior to the Android offerings? The PC Specialist Vortex IV X780 is almost the antithesis of that quest for something which will elicit knowing nods from passers by. That's why we're here, to give you the information to ensure that at the very least you nod in appreciation
This devotion to internal brilliance at the expense of external flair appears the moment you take the box out of the packaging. A plain brown cardboard box greets you with nothing beyond the "Notebook Computer" text to hint at what lays within. Once you free the Vortex IV X780 from its packaging you're even less likely to jump for joy. Completely devoid of any branding or stickers, the plain black plastic shell is restrained to the point of asceticism. Normally we don't mind the understated and there is some kudos to be given to the company for taking the stealthy approach, except the case is also bordering on flimsy. We're not suggesting that it would break, but every time we lifted the display our heart was in our mouth. It doesn't inspire confidence, although it works perfectly well.
The only thing as meagre as the outward appearance is the price. So whilst the externals are sombre, the internals are stunning. There is no doubt that every last penny of the relatively tiny asking price has gone towards the hardware, and what a collection it is. The i7-4700MQ is a 4th Generation Intel Haswell CPU, and has plenty of grunt. That's backed up by 16GB of very quick CAS9 Kingston RAM, with 25GB/s of bandwidth. Storage is handled by a Kingston V300 SSD which is more about read speeds than write speed, but still doesn't bottleneck the system, and finally the graphics are handled by the GTX780M which was relentless in every benchmark we threw at it. Even the stern image quality settings we tested with weren't enough to phase it, and anything that can give nearly 60FPS in BioShock Infinite has to make you sit up and take notice.
The cooling worked well under these heavy loadings too, with the Vortex IV X780 no warmer than similar gaming laptops, and the fans aren't deafening either. The sound quality from the Onkyo speakers is great in the midrange, although we found them a little lacking in crisp bass, but by no means intolerable. The keyboard is a joy to type on. Not only is the customisable lighting fun to play with and, because of the all-black case you can use any colour you like and it will look good, but the actual tactile typing feel is very good too. The screen on our review model was the matte option which we greatly prefer, and the colour definition was good with little ghosting in games, except in very rare extreme contrast scenarios.
Of course the other attractive part of the Vortex IV X780, after that low price and high performance, is the amount of customisation you can do to the hardware. There are a massive amount of options from PC Specialist, and you can configure it with anything from a i5-4300M dual-core and GTX770M up to i7-4930MX and a nVidia GTX780M and everything in-between. This truly is a laptop that would suit all pockets, but we think that the setup of our review sample is the sweet spot of price and performance. It's considerably cheaper than anything with an equivalent specification, and the performance is exceptional in every scenario.
This is unquestionably a laptop that is more enjoyable to use than to look at. Once it's open and on your lap the modest and rather cheap casing ceases to be an issue and you can bask in the power that's on tap. You're paying a very reasonable price and in return getting very definition of a plain looker with a Nobel Prize brain. For the jaw-dropping performance at a cost that makes your bank manager happy, the PC Specialist Vortex IV X780 is a very worthy winner of our OC3D Performance Award.
Thanks to PC Specialist for supplying the Vortex IV X780 for review. Discuss your thoughts in the OC3D Forums.