Gigabyte P2742G £999
24th Jun 2013 | 08:08
Pitched as a high-end gaming portable, this better have some grunty graphics
Graphics. It's the final frontier for mobile computing. We'll come to the reasons why momentarily. But the bottom line is that it means going after a laptop with 3D grunt is going to cost you. And that makes the new Gigabyte P2742G actually look like something of a bargain for around £1,000.
It's a big, brash 17-inch portable gaming rig with a full-HD screen, a quad-core CPU and - critically - a dedicated graphics chip.
The problem for mobile gaming goes something like this. CPU performance is stagnating. In fact, Intel bases most of its desktop CPUs on mobile designs these days, so the performance gap is tolerable.
Storage performance has gone stratospheric of late, too. And here again it's the 2.5-inch form factor traditionally associated with laptops that now dominates in the shape of solid state drives. So you can have desktop-rivalling hard drive performance in your lappy, too.
Which really just leaves the graphics. What you need is a dedicated graphics chip and that's going to cost you in more ways than one. It makes a laptop more complex and costly. It uses more power, which does bad things to battery life and demands more cooling.
That in turn means you need a bigger box to put everything in and portability takes a knock on the head. Yup, you've got to make compromises if you want to get some serious gaming done on the go.
That said, Gigabyte has done some legwork to minimise the pain. Most critically, you get instant access to both integrated and discrete graphics, which on paper gives you the best of both worlds. It's not quite as simple as that. But it's a damn site better than having just one or the other.
As for which laptops make up this Gigabyte's competition, it depends on what exactly you're after. There are traditional monsters like the PC Specialist Vortex III 680, which cost well over £1,200 but packs even more powerful graphics.
Then there's the intriguing MSI GX60 and its AMD APU combined with Radeon HD 7970M graphics. It's pretty close on price but shifts the balance decisively away from the CPU and towards graphics in terms of where the money's been spent.
Just to shake things up, another option is the burgeoning market for gaming orientated Ultrabooks. Indeed, Gigabyte itself is in on that game with the U2442F. It's not as powerful as its bigger brother. But it's miles more portable.
The first thing we need to dispense with is any expectation that the Gigabyte P2742G has one of Intel's latest Haswell CPUs. It doesn't.
While the prospect of spending £1,000 on yesterday's tech may be offputting, in this case it's not a major issue. Haswell doesn't bring big improvements in CPU performance, and its really major contribution is towards battery life involves ultra-low voltage processor models - not the sort of quad-core beastie served up by Gigabyte here.
So, the Ivy Bridge-era Intel Core i7-3630QM with its four cores and top turbo frequency of 3.4GHz is plenty of processor.
OK, its integrated Intel HD Graphics 4000 has now been thoroughly eclipsed by Intel's new Iris graphics. But that's no biggie when you consider there's an Nvidia Geforce 660M dedicated GPU on board. It's clocked at 835MHz, which is extremely healthy and has 2GB of graphics memory humming along at 5GHz data rate.
However, what it doesn't have is a huge number of Nvidia's graphics processing shaders. Just 384 shaders is less than spectacular in the context of Nvidia's top mobile GPUs that now offer up to 1,536 of the little floating-point blighters.
Indeed, the PC Specialist Vortex III 680 has just such a top-flight Geforce GTX 680M chip. Of course, something has to give to keep the price down. But we know from the get-go that the Gigabyte P2742G isn't going to top the tables for raw graphics performance.
Question is, is that GTX 660M chip good enough? Or it is a false economy on a laptop that must deliver decent gaming to make any sense?
Still, at least Gigabyte hasn't skimped on storage. There's a 128GB solid-state drive from Liteon providing proper desktop-class performance for the main boot and operating system. That's backed up by a full 1TB of additional storage from an old-school Toshiba magnetic disk. It's a combo that makes a lot of sense.
And while we're on the subject of drives, the optical item is a Blu-ray ROM and DVD burner. So the Gigabyte P2742G could also double as the basis of a pack-away home cinema rig.
As for the battery, it's a fairly meaty 76-watt-hour item. To put that into context, Apple's current 15-inch MacBook Pro sports a 95-watt-hour battery. It's not a direct competitor, of course. But it does provide a reference point.
Nobody makes big laptops that last quite like Apple's. And the smaller screen on the MacBook is only going to increase its advantage. While we're speaking screens, Gigabyte has gone for a 17.3-inch item full-HD panel with a 1,920 by 1,080 pixel grid and TN technology.
Cinebench 11.5 4.7pts
Battery Eater 135 minutes
When it comes to CPU performance, the Gigabyte P2742G doesn't serve up any surprises. The Intel Core i7-3630QM is a bit of a beast and there's little to nothing available as an alternative that will subjectively feel much faster in a laptop PC.
That includes Intel's new Haswell CPUs. They're not dramatically quicker. For the record, the 3630QM cranks out 4.7pts in Cinebench 11.5. To get an idea of just what that means, consider that the MSI GX60 with its own quad-core AMD A10 chip isn't even half as fast.
Another strong point is storage performance. The Liteon M3S solid-state drive Gigabyte has gone for isn't one we're familiar with, but it sports the generally well regarded (if slightly elderly) Marvel 9174 controller chipset.
Anyway, our testing spits out sequential read and write performance of 483MB/s and 187MB/s respectively. Not world-beating numbers, admittedly, but miles faster than a conventional magnetic drive would produce.
If anything, that's even more true of the 4K random access read and write performance. For a current SSD, 17MB/s and 30MB/s are merely respectable. But those numbers annihilate the sub-1MB/s performance you can expect from a magnetic drive.
Then there's battery life, which comes in at 135 minutes in Battery Eater. Far from shabby for such a big beast. We also had a look at what you can expect from the battery while streaming web video via Wi-Fi, and the result is around four hours.
That's fairly impressive for such a powerful portable and means battery-powered operation is a genuine, usable feature, not a hypothetical that has you gasping for the mains almost as soon as you power up.
All of which just leaves the most important aspect of all: gaming. That starts with the 17.3-inch HD LCD panel. It may be based on TN technology. But it's still a decent panel. There's none of the washed-out and feeble appearance that the worst laptop screens still suffer from.
The viewing angles betray some pretty obvious colour inversion. But the basics, including contrast and colour saturation, are good. It's a nippy panel, too. All in, it's a nice choice for gaming.
We only wish we could say the same thing for the Nvidia GTX 660M graphics chip. If that seems an odd thing to say about a dedicated GPU designed for gaming, the problem involves expectations.
Gigabyte unapologetically pitches the P2742G as a high-end gaming laptop. And the simple fact is that the 660M does not deliver high-end gaming performance. Crank up the details and anti-aliasing on a mainstream game like Dirt 3, and the result is occasionally choppy frame rates.
Try something really demanding like Metro 2033 and things get really ugly. You'll be barely into double-digit frame rates at high detail and anti-aliasing settings running native resolution.
As for the more physical aspects of the Gigabyte P2742G's bearing, two things are worth noting. Firstly, it's big and heavy. Over three kilogrammes heavy to be precise. Portability isn't a strong point.
Finally, the keyboard merits some praise. It includes a number pad and has a really nice, firm base. It's lovely to type on.
There are no easy outs here. What you always have to remember with a laptop is that there's no going back. Unlike a desktop, you can't upgrade the graphics six months down the road when you realise you've made a mistake.
Gigabyte itself describes the P2742G as a high end gaming laptop. The problem is that it needs a more powerful graphics chip to deliver on that promise. And that would cost more money., which would compromise the value proposition. Like we said, it's not easy.
All is not, however, lost. Ditch the high-end gaming tag and the Gigabyte P2742G suddenly hangs together. As an all-round desktop replacement system, it makes a lot more sense.
The 17.3-inch full-HD LCD panel is a decent display that will turn its hand to everything from movies and web browsing to trigger-happy gaming.
There's tons of storage on offer from the 1TB magnetic drive and plenty of punch from the 128GB SSD boot drive. The quad-core Intel CPU is competitive which just about any mobile processor of the moment.
Then there's the decent battery life. No, it's not going to worry the latest all-day Ultrabooks for mains-free longevity. But an afternoon unplugged is a realistic prospect. The solid-of-base and tactile keyboard is another plus point.
Ultimately, the Nvidia Geforce GTX 660M graphics chip is a false economy. It's barely good enough today for enthusiast gaming.
Things are only going to get worse as a new generation of more demanding game titles spring out of the newly minted games consoles from Sony and Microsoft.
It's also a fairly big, heavy brute. You're definitely going to know about it if you're lugging this 3.2kg beast around with you. But that's 17-inch desktop replacements for you. If portability is your primary concern, you're reading the wrong review.
Put it all together and you have a system with no performance weak points that can turn its hand to just about anything. Video encoding on the go. Web browsing in the airport lounge. A machine you occasionally use to power a home cinema rig. And yes, gaming.
What it's not, however, is satisfying as a pure gaming machine. If that's what you want, it's simple. Buy something with better graphics.
On the other hand, if you're after a great all-round desktop replacement, stick the Gigabyte P2742G on your shortlist. It's well worth a look.