PC Specialist Optimus IV £800
11th Nov 2012 | 09:30
Zen and the art of laptop component balancing
PC Specialist was the worthy winner of our full system group test a couple of months back, and fresh from its desktop success, it's looking to woo us once again with this laptop offering.
Now, as PC Specialist is a straight system integrator, we're not looking at a bespoke design or an all-new laptop here. This Transformer-sounding Optimus IV machine features a rather basic, chunky Clevo chassis design. The benefit of that, though, is the ability to drop in whatever mobile components PC Specialist sees fit, or whichever you prefer via its system configuration options.
So while it's not going to win any design awards with its plain grey lines and capacious girth, you should be able to fit out a laptop with exactly the components you want.
Balance of power
PC Specialist's hallmark in the recent group test was balance, and the specification it's offering with the Optimus IV shows that it has the same goal in mind here. As a sub-£1,000 gaming laptop, it's tough to argue against this setup.
Its proper quad-core CPU (with Intel's HyperThreading technology stretching that out to eight threads) and Kepler-based GTX 660M give it just enough gaming performance to drive the 17.3-inch 1080p panel.
When we compare the Optimus IV to the wee Scan 3XS machine, things look pretty bad. But these benchmarks are at each machine's native resolution - which means essentially 1080p vs 720p.
This shows the difficulty of powering a high-end screen with a mid-range GPU. Drop these high settings down a bit and you'll quickly hit reasonable gaming frame rates without too much sacrifice.
DirectX 11 gaming performance
Max Payne 3: Frames per second: Higher is better
PC SPECIALIST OPTIMUS IV: 25
SCAN 3XS GRAPHITE LG5: 34
DirectX 11 gaming performance
Sleeping Dogs: Frames per second: Higher is better
PC SPECIALIST OPTIMUS IV: 19.2
SCAN 3XS GRAPHITE LG5: 28.3
DirectX 11 tessellation performance
Heaven 3.0: Frames per second: Higher is better
PC SPECIALIST OPTIMUS IV: 15.2
SCAN 3XS GRAPHITE LG5: 18.1
You won't be gaming at the highest settings using your native resolution though. Realistically, such post-processing goodies as multi-sample anti-aliasing are going to be out of reach if you want to have games running at 1,920 x 1,080 at a decent frame rate, but with the dot-pitch of modern laptops, there's an argument as to whether you really need anti-aliasing on laptop panels anyway.
With software layers, such as FXAA offering a decent balance of image fidelity and performance, it's a sacrifice that's easy to accept. Using high levels of FXAA, we were able to get very playable frame rates from both Sleeping Dogs and Max Payne 3 on high graphics settings.
Ideally, you'd want a more powerful GPU to drive that 1080p screen, but for the money the GTX 660M isn't a bad option if you're willing to sacrifice a few pretties.
Outside of the GPU and CPU combo, PC Specialist's zen-like obsession with balance shows itself in the storage setup. As with the Scan machine, there's a small SSD as a boot drive, but PC Specialist is able to back it up with a 500GB HDD thanks to that larger chassis. With 90GB of speedy SSD storage (less than 84GB formatted capacity) you won't get your entire Steam catalogue on there, but you will be able to store a few of your favourites.
There's a generous 8GB DDR3 RAM in there too, so if you're looking for a more rounded machine than just a gaming laptop, this setup will be good in productivity terms too.
That 17-inch panel may well be difficult to power in-game, but as a general computing experience, that much screen real estate is very pleasing to work on. You're not going to be turning any heads with this functional, grey plastic slab of a laptop machine, but it's got a decent balance of power under the hood.