In this corner, weighing in at nearly eight pounds…

One of the benefits of reviewing desktop hardware is the way PCs tend to come together like a combination of Lego bricks. Individual components are typically fairly easy to test against each other, often requiring as little as a simple swap. While notebooks have made great strides in becoming more customizable, testing mobile video hardware can still be a mess. That's why we're fortunate that Clevo produces a notebook capable of supporting top-of-the-line graphics solutions from both AMD and NVIDIA camps, and we're doubly fortunate that AVADirect was kind enough to send us not one but two of their builds based on the Clevo W860CU.

These laptops are configured absolutely identically except for a crucial difference: one is equipped with NVIDIA's flagship GeForce GTX 285M, and the other with AMD's flagship Mobility Radeon HD 5870. These are the fastest (current) single chip mobile graphics solutions from either vendor. NVIDIA just announced their upcoming GeForce GTX 480M, which will boost performance (and power consumption) and very likely take a clear lead over today's combatants, but we'll hold off on saying more about the 480M until we can actually get one for testing.

AVADirect Clevo W860CU Specifications
Processor Intel Core i7 820QM
(4x1.73GHz, 45nm, 8MB L3, Turbo to 3GHz, 45W)
Chipset Intel PM55
Memory 2x2GB DDR3-1333 (Max 2x4GB)
Graphics ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5870 1GB GDDR5
(800 Stream Processors, 750MHz/4GHz Core/RAM clocks)

(128 CUDA Cores, 576MHz/1.5GHz/2GHz Core/Shader/RAM clocks)
Display 15.6" LED Glossy 16:9 1080p (1920x1080)
Hard Drive(s) Corsair 128GB Nova Series SSD
Optical Drive Blu-ray DVD+/-RW Combo Drive
Networking Gigabit Ethernet
Intel WiFi Link 5300 (a/b/g/n)
Clevo Bluetooth
V.92 56K Modem
Audio HD Audio
2 stereo speakers with line-in, mic, optical, and headphone jacks
Capable of 5.1
Battery 3-Cell, 12V, 42Wh battery
Front Side N/A
Left Side Modem
USB 2.0
4-pin FireWire
MMC/SD/MS Reader
Optical Drive
Right Side Headphones, Mic, Line-In, Optical
1 x USB 2.0
ExpressCard/54 Slot
Back Side Exhaust vents
Kensington Lock
AC Jack
2 x USB 2.0
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Dimensions 14.96" x 10.52" x 1.68" (WxDxH)
Weight 7.26 lbs (with 3-cell battery)
Extras Webcam
103-Key keyboard with 10-key
Flash reader (MMC/MS/MS Pro/SD)
Warranty 1-year basic warranty
Pricing $2477.12 (Radeon HD 5870)
$2555.60 (GTX 285M) as configured from the
AVADirect Gaming Notebook Configurator

While this review will largely focus on pitting the Mobility Radeon HD 5870 head-to-head against the GeForce GTX 285M, credit and attention must still be given to how AVADirect has opted to outfit these Clevo W860CU notebooks. Each retails for roughly $2,500, with a $78 premium for the GeForce GTX 285M; these are desktop-replacement machines through and through, nearly the peak of performance that can be found in a notebook, and AVADirect spared very little expense. For reference, this notebook can be custom ordered at a price starting at $1,580.

As configured, these are indeed mightily powerful. They share an Intel Core i7-820QM processor, a quad-core CPU that ships at a base frequency of 1.73GHz and is capable of reaching a turbo speed of up to 3GHz on a single core. At present it's the second fastest in Intel's mobile lineup, behind only the obscenely expensive Core i7-920XM that adds a staggering $800 to the base cost of the W860CU. Thanks, we'll take the 820QM for $570 less. The i7-820QM comes with all the trimmings: 8MB of L3 cache, Hyper-Threading, and a 2.5 GT/s DMI speed, all wrapped in a 45W TDP. The on-die memory bus connects to a pair of 2GB Kingston DDR3-1333 SO-DIMMs for a total of 4GB of RAM.

The last pieces of the puzzle before we get to the meat of the review—the graphics—are a read-only Blu-ray drive (combination with DVD+/-RW capability) and a Corsair 128GB Nova Series SSD. Anand is a major proponent of using SSDs for system drives, but the Clevo W860CU only has a single drive bay. The trade-off of having to deal with just 128GB of disk space against the substantially faster read speeds finds itself impractical here, where our test suite and the existing Windows 7 Home Premium installation were enough to fill nearly the entire drive. Chances are if you're ordering this notebook you plan to game on it, and with games like Mass Effect 2 taking up close to 14GB of space on their own, the SSD's fast access speed can't make up for its meager capacity. If you're custom-ordering, you have a few options: either go with a higher-capacity mechanical drive (and save money), opt for one of Seagate's awesome new Momentus XT hybrid drives (also saving money), or plunk down a big wad of cash for a larger SSD—the Crucial 256GB RealSSD C300 is certainly tasty, at an upgrade cost of $630.

Our contestants for the graphics royal rumble in the Clevo W860CU are an interesting pair. On the NVIDIA side is the GeForce GTX 285M, a woefully misnamed notebook-binned version of the venerable-bordering-on-ancient G92. Introduced way back at the end of October 2007 on a 65nm process in the form of the GeForce 8800 GT and later 8800 GTS 512, the G92 has since been die-shrunk to 55nm and currently powers the desktop GeForce GTS 250. It sports 128 DirectX 10-only “CUDA Cores,” with a core clock of 600MHz, shader clock of 1.5GHz, and 1GB of GDDR3 memory running at an effective 2GHz. The advancement over its predecessor, the GeForce GTX 280M, is incremental at best, adding just 15MHz to the core, 40MHz to the shaders, and an effective 100MHz to the memory. That said it does include the trimmings we've come to expect from NVIDIA, like support for CUDA-enabled software and hardware PhysX.

On the other hand we have the equally inappropriately-named ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5870. AMD, no longer content to name its mobile hardware appropriately to its desktop parts, has opted to employ a Juniper core—not a Cypress—for the Mobility Radeon HD 5870, citing heat and power issues. This gels, but only just; the desktop Radeon HD 5870's TDP is within just a few watts of its predecessor, the RV770-based Radeon HD 4870, and that chip made it into notebooks (albeit in limited numbers). Opting to use Juniper turns the Mobility Radeon HD 5870 into nearly as incremental a bump over the Mobility Radeon HD 4870; each chip has 800 shaders, 40 texture units, and 16 ROPs. The 5870 brings DirectX 11 to the table, reduces the memory bus width to 128 bits, and pairs the chip with GDDR5 instead of the GDDR3 the Mobility Radeon HD 4870 wound up shipping with. The 5870 comes clocked at 700MHz on the core and an effective 4GHz on the GDDR5 memory; sporting the clocks of a desktop Radeon HD 5750 with the shader count of the HD 5770, it should perform somewhere in that neighborhood.

AVADirect Clevo W860CU Overview
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  • SlyNine - Thursday, June 3, 2010 - link

    I've been waiting for this, Could you throw in a 5730 for another video card.

    Also I think the I7 620 would out perform both the 720 and 820 in games.
  • crackedwiseman - Friday, June 4, 2010 - link

    "Thanks, we'll take the 820QM for $570 less. The i7-820QM comes with all the trimmings: 8MB of L3 cache, Hyper-Threading, and a 2.5 GT/s QuickPath"
    i think you mean DMI
  • JarredWalton - Friday, June 4, 2010 - link

    Fixed, thanks.
  • cacca - Friday, June 4, 2010 - link

    Frankly is disheartening to see a good opportunity to compare 2 notebooks identical except for the GPU being wasted like in this review. I am not looking at the results but on the complete mess of the tables and the methodology.

    If you want compare them first you do a round at directx 11, after you do a directx 10 and if you really want you do the directx 9. Is complete nonsense to use all the 3 different Directx in the same table.

    It really seem cherry picking of results, for me is exactly t he same who is the best, what i want to know is the difference in power. Comparing the notebook to other in the same table adds even more confusion.

    I hope that the next time there is a similar opportunity you will think the methodology before.
  • Ninjahedge - Friday, June 4, 2010 - link

    At present it's the second fastest in Intel's mobile lineup, behind only the obscenely expensive Core i7-920XM that adds a staggering $800 to the base cost of the W860CU. Thanks, we'll take the 820QM for $570 less.

    Um.... If the 920 adds $800 to the base, how is NOT using it only saving $570?

    Also, the $2500 you listed in the beginning, is that the LIST price? The price you say you got it for (1500-something?) is quite a bit less and hard to believe even with the known disparity between MSRP and Online Discount Prices......
  • JarredWalton - Friday, June 4, 2010 - link

    The base price of ~$1500 at AVADirect includes 2x1GB DDR3, HD 5870, a Seagate 500GB 5400RPM drive (I think that's right), and an i7-720QM. So the $800 extra for the 920XM is only $570 more than the 820QM. The upgrades to the memory and SSD add a lot to the price as well, giving the test configurations a cost of $2500.
  • Ninjahedge - Friday, June 4, 2010 - link

    Sorry, just read the section again.

    It is hard to use a price for "reference" when you have nothing to go on. Could you list the added components to be able to index the test model to the "base" system?
  • Kaboose - Friday, June 4, 2010 - link

    With the Asus G73jh-X1 at about $1600 on newegg almost $1000 less then your two champs I feel it does extremely well in most categories and anyone thinking of buying a notebook with a budget but still looking for high end performance i would think that it would be a no brainer. No offense to your clevo w860cu but really for price vs. performance i think the Asus wins.
  • JarredWalton - Friday, June 4, 2010 - link

    Which is why the ASUS got a Gold award and these just got a "nice laptop" declaration at the end. If you were to put an i7-820QM and SSD in the G73Jh, it would affect the price (about $450 more give or take). But the ASUS certainly has the better overall design, provided you don't mind the 17.3" chassis.
  • mod_to_odd - Tuesday, June 22, 2010 - link

    When it comes to quality gaming laptops, I dont think any body comes even close to Alienware and Sager. They have amazing customization options which no other brand offers.

    I had almost bought the Asus G73jh but after reading thousands of horrifying issues on the net regarding the customer support and faulty components even after RMA, i dint want to take any chances. In fact, one of my own friend who recently bought the G73jh is in a state of depression as he is dealing with new issues since the very day his notebook arrived.
    The most ridiculous of all is that when you are all excited to unbox the G73, u realize there is no windows7 dvd, you actually got to make backup discs of the Operating System. Asus does not provide you with a windows7 dvd along with such an expensive notebook, instead they fill up your laptop with loads of bloatware. Way to go ASUS...
    Asus needs to really improve big time on quality and customer satisfaction.

    It rather makes sense to buy a gaming notebook from a reputed company even if the price is a bit on the higher side. But then again, to each his own.

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