Gigabyte P34G review £1149
25th Feb 2014 | 21:10
For the price, this gaming laptop packs a powerful punch
If you're in the market for a gaming laptop, you're already prepared to spend over a thousand bucks. But what you get for that premium price is key, whether it's a sleek system or a budget-friendly frag machine. Gigabyte falls far on the latter end of that spectrum with its new 14-inch gaming laptop, the P34G.
With a graphite-colored aluminum lid adorned with a Gigabyte logo in chrome, the P34G is off to a solid start, with an understated look. Open the sturdy double hinge, and a base cut from the same metal as the lid – but in a silver hue – shows itself. That's where the design falls apart.
Opening the lid also reveals a thick bezel crafted from a cheap-looking (and feeling) plastic surrounding the matte, 1080p panel. Before I photographed the device, both the palmrest and bezel were riddled with garish stickers.
That said, I was drawn to the spun metal power button beset by chrome fan intake grilles – not speaker grilles – just beneath the screen. Glance lower, however, and you'll see that the mold that fits the rows of keys is not the same as the rest of the keyboard deck. It's not a huge issue, but does make Gigabyte's philosophy with the P34G crystal clear.
Focused on putting forth the best combination of components for the cash, the Gigabyte P34G skimps on looks and splurges on powerful pieces of hardware. In the opposite corner, the Alienware 14 and Razer Blade provide a premium aesthetic and feel that you'll pay a premium for.
Packs a wallop, but not on your wallet
Gigabyte proves that it's possible to craft a powerful mobile gaming PC that doesn't inch toward the $2,000 mark. Naturally, the Taiwanese firm – better known for its own components than laptops in the West – had to cut some corners to make that happen.
You won't get a gaming rig with a frame cut from a single block of aluminum here. What you will get in turn is a 1920 x 1080 display with excellent viewing angles and realistic color reproduction. (The all-aluminum Razer Blade can't say the same for its screen.)
You'll also have to do without an optical drive, a loss for the DVD collector but not bad for gamers with big Steam libraries or and Netflix accounts. In exchange, you get a system that's rather slim at just 0.83 inches thin 3.9 pounds. To make room for its disc drive, the Alienware 14 comes in at 1.62 inches and more than two pounds heavier.
Here's the kicker: I've seen identical, if not better, performance from the P34G when stacked against its costlier competitors. And thanks to a unique cooling system that draws air in just above the processor and GPU and blows it out the back, this gaming rig won't feel like a hot plate under your fingers. (In my experience, the Razer Blade will cook your lap if you so much as play an HD video on it.) Let's see just what Gigabyte managed to cram in the P34G, and for just how little.
With the P34G, Gigabyte seems to be a firm believer of the cheeky phrase, "It's what's on the inside that counts." While it sports an aluminum lid and base with plenty of chrome accents, this laptop's inconsistent aesthetic keeps it from a truly premium look and feel.
No matter, as the Gigabyte P34G more than makes up for its looks with premiere components in an impressively thin and light frame. Measuring 13.4 x 9.4 x 0.83 inches (W x D x H) and weighing just 3.9 pounds, this is one of the thinnest and lightest 14-inch gaming notebooks around. While the P34G isn't quite as slender as the Razer Blade's 13.6 x 9.3 x 0.66 inches, the Blade is a dense 4.2 pounds. On this front, the Alienware 14 doesn't come close at 13.2 x 10.2 x 1.57 - 1.62 inches and a whopping 6.6 pounds.
If you're like me, you're not easily swooned by a good-looking gaming laptop. When I'm already paying a premium for mobile components inside of a system that's built for me, I'm more concerned about those guts and whether they'll supply my PC gaming fix for a few years at least.
We'll get to just that in a bit. (Spoiler: The future looks bright for this machine.) For now, let's dive into just what you'll get with Gigabyte's standard P34G configuration for the U.S. market.
This is the P34G configuration sent to TechRadar:
- CPU: 2.4GHz Intel Core i7-4700HQ (quad-core, 6MB cache, up to 3.4GHz with Turbo Boost)
- Graphics: Nvidia GeForce GTX 760M (2GB GDDR5 VRAM), Intel HD Graphics 4600
- RAM: 16GB DDR3L
- Screen: 14-inch 1920 x 1080 LCD with Advanced-Hyper Viewing Angle
- Storage: 128GB mSATA SSD with 1TB, 5400 rpm HDD
- Ports: 2 USB 3.0, 2 USB 2.0, HDMI, D-sub, RJ45 Ethernet, SD card reader, headphone/mic jack, security lock slot
- Connectivity: Intel dual-band 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0
- Webcam: 1.3MP
- Weight: 3.9 pounds
- Size: 13.4 x 9.4 x 0.83 inches (W x D x H)
The Gigabyte P34G would be enough to throw the first round of a The Price is Right game into disarray. For this setup, Gigabyte calls for $1,399 (about £839, AU$1,561), a pittance in comparison to what Alienware and Razer demand for similarly configured systems.
However, Gigabyte doesn't offer much in the way of options in the U.S., going through online retailers like Amazon to get its laptops stateside. For instance, while the P34G I tested packs 16GB of RAM, Amazon only offers units with 8GB of RAM as of this review. That's more than enough memory, regardless.
At $1,799 (around £1,079, AU$2,007), the Razer Blade offers a 128GB solid-state drive, a similar CPU and slightly superior GPU – a 2.2GHz Core i7-4702HQ and GTX 765M, respectively. However, this svelte rig's 1600 x 900 LED screen can't match the P34G's 1080p panel. Oh, and you won't score a 1TB hard drive and 16GB of RAM (just 8GB) here.
On the other hand, the Alienware 14 requires $1,699 (about £1,019, AU$1,895) to match Gigabyte's 14-incher head on. That gets you a 1TB HDD and 80GB SSD combo, the GTX 765M, a 2.4GHz Core i7-4700MQ chip, and an equal 16GB of RAM and 1080p WLED display. This configuration does get one over on the P34G with its DVD-RW drive. Be honest with yourself though, when was the last time you bought a PC game disc?
For another $100, the Alienware 14 offers a Blu-ray drive and 802.11ac Wi-Fi. Faster networking sweetens that deal, but if you have a massive Blu-ray collection, you already have a PS3 (or Sony PS4) for that.
The P34G doesn't sport the focused aesthetic or premium build quality of its competitors, but it's focused on what counts most: performance and poundage versus price. Save for burning the occasional Blu-ray, there's little, if anything, that Alienware or Razer's laptops can do that this system can't.
Speaking of which, I was delighted – but not surprised – to see the P34G run laps around 3DMark and Cinebench. The system produced even better numbers when I cranked up the GPU frequency using Gigabyte's Smart Manager software. Here's how it performed:
- 3DMark: Ice Storm: 84,618; Cloud Gate: 12,068; Fire Strike: 2,203
- 3DMark (GPU overclocked): Ice Storm: 87,464; Cloud Gate: 12,647; Fire Strike: 2,370
- Cinebench - Graphics: 83.55 FPS (GPU overclocked: 86.06 FPS); CPU: 642 points
- PCMark 8 Battery Life: 1 hour, 53 minutes
With its simple overclocking tool (more on that later), the P34G closes the gap between its GTX 760M and the GTX 765M found in the Alienware 14 and Razer Blade. While I've seen much better numbers from Alienware's rig, these readings are right up there with Razer's clamshell. That is, of course, excluding battery life.
Before getting to the elephant in the room, it's worth noting that, with internals like these, you'll be hard pressed to wear this system down. From graphics-intensive apps to streaming video and playing the latest PC games, the P34G will handle pretty much everything you throw at it with little issue.
For a better frame of reference, I played the recent beta release of Titanfall on the highest possible settings – save for anti-aliasing and V-sync buffering, which were bumped up half way. I witnessed zero slowdown, lag or stuttering as I tore into robots and pilots alike with a variety of roaring rockets and blazing bullets, thanks again to overclocking the GPU.
Plug it in - seriously, plug it in
I won't dress it up: this is an abysmal showing in endurance. While we run PCMark 8 in the system's "High performance" setting and with the screen at its brightest, I bring things down a bit in my anecdotal battery test.
To run down the P34G's battery, I ran Mozilla Firefox with over 10 tabs open, TweetDeck, Spotify streaming high bitrate audio and a chat app. This was with the power setting fixed at "Balanced" with the screen at 50% brightness, the keyboard backlit and the volume at 30%. That only netted this laptop another 40 minutes for a grand total of 2 hours and 33 minutes.
On the less forgiving PCMark 8 run, the Alienware 14 lasted 4 hours, a respectable number for a gaming notebook. While the Razer Blade conked out at just 84 minutes on the Battery Eater test, I unfortunately wasn't able to run PCMark 8 on this laptop.
I can't imagine that any of these machines would last even half as long while playing games. But that's not the point of a mobile PC gaming rig, is it? If you're waiting for a gaming laptop that will hold a decent charge, then you better hold your breath.
Stingy with the touchpad
If it wasn't already obvious in the bezel, Gigabyte had to cut corners in some areas to keep costs down. One of those, sadly, was the P34G's touchpad. Foregoing the superior clicker supplier, Synaptics, the Taiwanese firm slapped an ElanTech touchpad on this laptop.
What you get is poor palm rejection at times, inconsistent scrolling speeds on web pages, and a click bar with a dead area in the center. Not to mention that multi-touch gestures are a bit of a bust, lacking the fine control found in more premium touch interfaces. But hey, at least it's spacious and positioned well.
Since you're going to plug in a gaming mouse as soon as you set this rig down on your desk, what matters most is the keyboard. While it does land on the squishier side of the spectrum, I did enjoy typing on the P34G keyboard. Brilliantly bright backlighting and excellent spacing helped in that regard. If this system were to be a permanent installation in your gaming den, I would recommend a dedicated gaming keyboard.
Power made easy
Gaming laptop buyers aren't just those that a want a machine that's easier to take to the tournament or play session at a friend's place. These systems also eliminate the intimidating hassle of building your own rig from the PC gaming equation.
To that end, one advantage that gaming PCs have always held over consoles is the ability to "overclock" the hardware, or run it at higher frequencies for better performance. This was once a complicated affair, sending players into the BIOS settings of their motherboard. Gigabyte has reduced overclocking to a single click with the Ultra Boost tool in its Smart Manager app.
Clicking the "Extreme" icon under Ultra Boost ramps up the GPU frequency, and automatically speeds up the laptop's two cooling fans to compensate for the extra heat. The result is a safe, stable and simple (albeit loud) way to get more oomph out of the P34G that – clearly, based on those 3DMark numbers – produces results.
Competitors offer similar tools, like MSI's Afterburner and Alienware's Accelerator, but none I've seen are as plain and simple as Ultra Boost. Serious overclockers will undoubtedly sneer at such a solution, but this isn't for them. This is an easy way for the P34G to keep up with the latest games for possibly three years instead of just two.
Save for a now-defunct GameSpy app, bloatware is nonexistent on this device. One odd observation: Gigabyte not only placed every app, but a number of shortcuts to basic Windows tools – like Control Panel – on the Windows 8 desktop. (It's actually quite helpful, killing a few steps in getting to more advanced tools through Windows 8.) Here are some of the more notable inclusions:
- AmCap: A video capture tool that allows you record from a variety of sources through the integrated webcam or other devices; likely included to support game streaming for Twitch users.
- CPU-Z: This lightweight tool offers detailed monitoring of several of your computer's components, from CPU to RAM to GPU and more.
- LAN Optimizer: Through this tool, you can prioritize network traffic incoming and outgoing for specific tasks, namely gaming and streaming apps.
- GeForce Experience: Easily update your drivers and optimize your games for your Nvidia GPU with this app.
- Smart Manager: This is where you'll find Ultra Boost, the easy overclocking tool, along with control over a number of other pieces of hardware and software.
- Smart Update: While it may look chintzy, this app will prove invaluable in pulling driver updates for all of your components from their respective servers into a simple interface.
The Gigabyte P34G won't earn oohs and ahhs at the local Counter-Strike tournament or from your friends. But it will when you tell them what the laptop is packing – and how much you paid. That's the point of this machine, after all. This editor is impressed, especially considering the competition.
Let's make no bones about it: While Gigabyte has come a long way in build quality, the P34G still doesn't stack up to the likes of Alienware and Razer in terms of style. And despite the fact that gaming notebooks aren't known for their lasting power, the weak battery life on display here is tough to ignore.
Regardless, the competition simply cannot offer this level of performance for the price. This setup costs hundreds more in competing gaming laptops. And some competitors aren't even able to match the components on offer from Gigabyte here. Between that and fantastic software features like Ultra Boost, there's a lot to admire in the Gigabyte P34G.
Let's start with the obvious: the price. A similar combination of components costs another $300 in the Alienware 14. And, to even get remotely close, Razer will charge $400 more. The value here is undeniable, but of course comes with its trade-offs. Regardless, if your number one concern when buying a gaming laptop is price, the P34G is largely unmatched.
That you can easily overclock the P34G through UltraBoost is a major plus. Many competing gaming rigs offer similar solutions, but few, if any, are as simple. With one click, you're running at max GPU frequency with no worry of bricking your system. PC gaming purists might cry foul at the lack of fine control, but who cares? There are plenty of solutions available for those folks – this is the fast lane to upping the texture detail or anti-aliasing.
The P34G can play Titanfall, which hasn't even been released yet (as of this review, I sampled the beta), at its highest settings and 2x anti-aliasing. That said, the future looks quite bright for this mobile gaming rig. That's an important piece of knowledge when you're purchasing a gaming PC that isn't as easy to upgrade as a desktop.
It's a concession that shouldn't surprise you, given this laptops price and guts, but be prepared for a machine that doesn't feel as luxury as the boutique vendors'. While Gigabyte slapped an aluminum lid and base on the P34G, it's nowhere near as sleek as the Razer Blade.
The inputs available here aren't the best of the best, either. The keyboard deck clearly isn't a single cut of aluminum, and the touchpad isn't what I'd call a quality experience. While brightly backlit, accurate and well-spaced, the keys aren't as snappy as I'd like. And returning the to the touchpad: multi-touch gestures leave much to be desired.
Finally, battery life is basically nonexistent on this device. While it shouldn't be a terrible concern, given that gaming laptops aren't built with endurance in mind, it's definitely worth noting. At just 2 hours and 30 minutes, the P34G won't keep up with you even outside of your games. Basically, fight for that outlet adjacent table at the coffee shop.
The Gigabyte P34G might not look or feel all that luxurious, but after a week with this power-packed gaming laptop, I felt spoiled by its performance. When it comes down to parts for pennies, this system goes uncontested. And that the P34G can play Titanfall at the highest settings with no problem makes me confident in its lasting power.
While you won't get the flashy lights of the Alienware 14 or the slick build of the Razer Blade, you'll pay less for the same gaming experience and then some, framerate wise. You'll want to use a mouse, even when you're just poking around the web, and having a nice mechanical keyboard waiting for it on your desk wouldn't hurt either.
This notebook offers great portability without sacrificing power or ports. All considered, the Gigabyte P34G is an amazing value and a portable beast of a gaming rig.