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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  • DannyH246 - Sunday, June 6, 2010 - link

    The review concludes with - "Unfortunately, AMD squanders a grand opportunity here"

    So AMD have a faster, cheaper, and less power hungry card - but they've squandered a good opportunity and we should wait for an architecture that is both known to be hugely power hungry and dissapointing performance wise.

    An NVIDIA marketing employee couldnt have said it better. Nice unbiased review, well done!
  • whatthehey - Sunday, June 6, 2010 - link

    Some people... Let's look at the facts: AMD saves you $78: stated. AMD is overall faster: stated. NVIDIA's old part is very competitive: yup. NVIDIA has a new part coming this month: yes. AMD's latest and greatest uses less power: yes, but there are bugs that cause the "higher power" 285M to get better battery life. AMD doesn't support CUDA or PhysX, while DirectCompute and OpenCL aren't used enough to matter yet. So a part that has been out less than four months can't clearly dominate a part that has been around (more or less) for well over a year. AMD should have increased the power envelope of the 5870 and given it more shader cores and bandwidth; then NVIDIA would have something to fear. As it stands, I agree that this is a "missed opportunity". But then, AMD/ATI GPUs have been tough to recommend in laptops for a long time, and only in the past four months (with the new drivers) has that changed.
  • Hrel - Monday, June 7, 2010 - link

    If someone could do a review on the laptop that I currently suspect is the best "bang for your buck" out there. It's made by compal, and available on who's machines you've reviewed before. If you'd like it configured like I did, which I think is the best bang for buck, do this: Go to the website. mouse over 15.6" Laptops and click on the $999 Xplorer X6-8500. It has a 1080p screen. (I'm not sure why the people who run this site do this, but even though the other configurations use the same chassis when personalized they come out to cost more than this one; annoying since it makes me configure all 3 or 4 machines built on the same base chassis to figure out which one is cheapest/best for me.) Then I configured it with the Core i7-620M CPU. (to get it over 1K so I can take advantage of the 5% off.) 4GB 0DDR3-1333, hopefully 7-7-7-21, probably not, but hopefully. ATI MR HD5650 1GB GDDR3 320GB 7200rpm HDD (I did this cause I'm gonna take that HDD out and use the Seagate Momentus XT 500GB, thanks for that review!!) Everything else on that page I left untouched. The only thing I did on page 2 was switch to Intel wifi with bluetooth; Though I'm curious if the MSI option is equal/better; 17 bucks isn't nothing. It has HDMI out and a fingerprint reader. This page says 3 USB ports, the specs sheet says 4USB ports; not sure which is true. (I do wish they were USB 3.0 ports, but I was hoping you guys would test some stuff and tell me if that even matters for use with an external hard drive, mechanical disk 7200rpm. Transferring large files like movies and games mostly.) On page 3 I select "none, format only" for the OS. And select "LCD perfect assurance" cause even 1 dead pixel is unacceptable to me. This brings the total to $1008.90 after 5% off, or $992.75 if you get the MSI network card. So yeah, I really hope you guys can get a hold of one of these for review; as a loner or given as a review unit or maybe someone will just buy one and review it cause it's really tempting me right now... like a lot! If you're review is good I'm gonna start saving up and hopefully be able to buy it around Christmas. Thanks guys! A loyal reader. - Brian
  • lappyhappy - Monday, June 7, 2010 - link

    Nice review Dustin. I've seen and love your articles that you have written on I know some have been critical of your article but if they look at some of your work at notebookreview they will see that you are not bias at all, and are quite good at stating the facts. Everyone, check out Dustin's articles and he does a great job of explaining laptops and how they work. This guy really does know his stuff.
  • Dustin Sklavos - Tuesday, June 8, 2010 - link

    Hey, thank you for the kind words! It's really cool to see someone follow me between sites and actually recognize my work, very gratifying.

    What's funny is that I know that I do have a personal bias, but the fact that my bias is being read as favoring Nvidia reassures me that I'm doing a good job as a writer. :)
  • lappyhappy - Tuesday, June 8, 2010 - link

    I almost put that from what I've seen you actually have an AMD bias so yes you did a great job of putting it the other way. In all honesty though I think your reviews from what I've seen have been quite neutral and you always go with what is best but do know that you really want for AMD to be competitive.
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, June 8, 2010 - link

    NVIDIA has released their reviewer's guide for GTX 480M. Obviously, there's the potential they cherry picked some of the tests, but in general I'm guessing most of the scores are realistic. After all, if you use the DiRT 2 built-in benchmark, you can't really change the settings. Here's the guide for the interested:
  • coldwave007 - Tuesday, June 8, 2010 - link

    Hi There,

    After reading the article, I read through the comments and was very surprised by the negativity. I just wanted to say that I thought it was a very fair and balanced review, andthat you did an excellent job.
  • 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.
  • whenamanlies - Saturday, July 24, 2010 - link

    Very nice review since I'm right in the middle of configuring a laptop for myself.
    Want to switch from G51J (i7-720QM + GTX 260M) to something more powerful (and lower resolution).

    Now it all clear regarding which GPU to get, but what about CPU? I'm little bit disappointed with 720QM so I'm wondering if i5-540M or i7-620M would be a better option? My feeling that higher frequencies would be a better option for games. Heck, even TF2 suggesting me to disable multicore rendering :)

    You thoughts?

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