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Choosing high spec laptop, should GPU be the decisive factor?

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August 8, 2010 10:18:30 AM

Hi All,

I'm choosing between a few hi spec laptops (HP, Acer, Dell & Sony being the front runners). I have a very particular wishlist so the common theme is:

i7 CPU
Windows 7
4GB DDR3 (may add more later if the need seems apparent)
7200 RPM HDD
1920 x 1080 HD display
HDMI output
Blu Ray

The laptop will be primarily used for multimedia (including using as Blue Ray linked to HD tv) with gaming as a secondary activity.

Am I right in thinking that assuming a laptop meets my criteria above then the GPU performance is the decisive factor?

Should I choose between them based on which has the best rated GPU?

Or is there anything else I need to take into account? One thing I've been wondering about is bus speed or motherboard quality. Could either of these result in a laptop that doesn't fully take advantage of a high speed CPU like the i7.

Any advice?

Many Thanks,
Alan

PS the GPU's in scope at the moment (and thier ranking as per Notebookcheck.net's Mobile Graphics Cards Benchmark list are):

ATI Mobility Radeon™ HD 5850 (32nd)

ATI Mobility™ Radeon® HD 5730 (44th)

ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5650 (46th)

NVIDIA® GeForce® GT 330M (63rd)

NVIDIA® GeForce® GT 230M (72nd)

This was a gaming specific list, but is it fair to deduce from those rankings that I want one of the ATI cards over the Nvidia ones and the 5850 should be my first choice?
August 8, 2010 4:55:34 PM

Nothing guys, I thought I had a fairly specific question and had done a reasonable amount of research?
August 8, 2010 5:05:23 PM

In short: GPU should be the most important factor, whether it is deciding is variable depends how reasonable the rest of the system is.

The reccomended card in today's laptops would be the 5650 at a minimum, in your list, the top 3 are what you will see most people using for Laptop gaming and high powered multimedia.

I'd say rolling with an i5 and a 5650 is the most reasonably priced setup and will provide a good 3 years future proofing on your system to handle most things, since most programs and games are bottlenecked in CPU power, and the 5650 will run most if not all modern games on Medium.

If you're really looking to unleash your wallet, a 5850 with i7 would be more than sufficient to handle anything you throw at it.

Don't go with any of those Nvidia cards if your even looking to game.
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August 9, 2010 7:52:52 AM

Thanks Vipers992,

Additional question.

Is my approach wrong. Should I be concentrating on getting the best Graphics card possible for my money and then choosing the configuration that's closest to my wishlist in terms of CPU, HDD and Blue ray etc?

If so what are the best GPU's that I could realistically look to get within my budget (ideally £1200 but would stretch as far as £1500 (for laptop not GPU) if there was enough Wow! factor).

Anyone care to comment on the original question or this one? (Or better still both as it's Monday and you don't really want to be in the office so why not help me out instead!)

Cheers,
Alan
August 9, 2010 12:24:02 PM

With 1,200 - 1,500 pounds you can get a very high end laptop, most laptops within that price bracket have Blu Ray and 500GB's of Memory minimum.

If you're looking to spend over a grand you will want a DX11 GPU since DX10 will be outdated within a year or two, which again, you won't find many high end Nvidia GPU's with DX11 in competition with the 5XXX Mobility series.

That's pretty much the background of things but if you'd like help looking for specific laptops you may want to fill out the buying FAQ guide:

http://www.tomshardware.co.uk/forum/50797-20-read-buyin...
August 9, 2010 12:40:46 PM

Oh and I forgot to add, as to your question on what approach to take when looking for a Laptop, it depends what tasks you aim at completing with your system.
Gaming - Most CPU's are bottlenecked, their power will never reach full potential and some games cap the limit.

Software editting - Architecture, Graphic Design, Video / Photo / Software editting etc. This is what CPU power was primarily made for, and where the most CPU power is demanded, a good graphics card is needed to support.

All graphics are rendered via the GPU, the CPU is just used for scripting code and calculating, the better your CPU, the faster it does this via these 'new' technologies like Hyperthreading, Turbo Boost etc.
August 9, 2010 2:44:45 PM

Thanks again Viper992,

One last questions on this thread.

If I'm planning on using the Blu Ray and hooking the laptop up to a 1080HD tv using HDMI, then can I assume that the GPU's performance on the laptop screen will be replicated on the larger TV screen?

Or to put the question a different way, do some GPU's support HDMI output better than others and should this be a factor as well as looking for the DX11 as you reccomended?

Cheers,
Alan
August 9, 2010 2:59:12 PM

You will be able to play Blu Ray Movies on your Laptop drive via the HDMI Output socket, although you do need a respectable graphics card to handle the full sound and video quality potentially, which may be a problem in the more cheaper Blu Ray laptop systems with say, Pentium Duo and low end GPUs / intel chipsets, but with your budget you'll be fine no problem with the above GFX cards.

A Blu Ray drive in a Laptop will never be as good as that of a standalone Blu Ray player however, since as far as i know you can't hook up a surround sound home theater system, also be wary that although you may see advertised 1080p laptop displays etc, they will never be as good as say a television with 1080p.
August 9, 2010 10:37:52 PM

Great thread guys! Definitely hit the spot for some of my burning questions.

Viper, when you said most programs/games are bottlenecked in CPU power, what did you mean? You also mentioned that most gaming processing is done by the GPU, so I'm assuming the GPU is the real bottleneck when it comes to gaming?

I'm looking for a solid performance laptop that can be future proofed at least 3 years and doesn't weigh like a brick and has 2.5+ hr battery life. I was actually looking at i7 chips but you said an i5 will be more than enough for 3 years future proofing?

The main use will be for school/work but I used to be a pretty hardcore gamer, so I'm going to be doing mild gaming on this laptop.

These are my top choices so far:

1. Dell XPS 16 (my favorite because of its classy look and sexy screen, but a little pricey)
- i7 + HD 5730 + 1080HD + 4-6gig RAM
- $1500 USD

2. ASUS G51J X1 (I'm definitely more comfortable with $1200-$1300 price range, but hate the childish look, GTS 360M is better ranked than 5730 but it doesn't have DX11 so not very future proof )
- i7 + GTS 360M + 1080 + 4 gig RAM
- $1200 USD

I am definitely opened to suggestions, did a good amount of research and I think the big picture is ASUS makes good performance laptops for good pricing. But their look & feel can be better.
August 9, 2010 10:58:01 PM

PC Games only take advantage of a certain amount of CPU power, there's only so much CPU power a game needs to run.

Or in some cases, the game places a cap on the CPU power it utilises, for example, until the last year or two, even though we had quadcore processors, most games never took advantage of them.

Games extensively utilise graphic power however, since, like i said, CPU and GPU run in completely different ways, one calculates and 'processes' information. The other renders, creates, and stores graphic data, therefore the better/faster your GPU the more graphic data it can take in and the higher your FPS/quality of graphics.

The i5 will handle any games on high settings providing you have the GPU to support it, but if you want to splash the cash out on a laptop then if you want an i7, get an i7.

Futureproofing laptops just means your specs are good enough to take whatever the future may hold, since CPU and GPU demand for games will go up as their complexion in code and graphical quality increase. But for all we know some science d00ds at Intel could make a breakthrough and make a 10 times better processor next year so there's no gaurantee.

If your looking to spend alot of money on a laptop, your going to want your moneys worth to last so i personally would feel more comfortable on getting newer modelled Laptop GPUs than older ones, however there is no harm in getting a DX10, it will run any games in the next several years, but DX11 cards will perform better with DX11 capable games.

Try looking into any laptops with an ATI Mobility 5850, thats a pretty radical card and may handle some new games on high - ultra, since my IP is British i won't really be of much use finding you an American laptop.

If i was American, i'd definetly like the look of this however:
http://www.anandtech.com/show/3766/msi-gx640-speedy-dx1...
August 9, 2010 11:42:27 PM

Hey there Alan

If your still looking I would like to recommend The Asus G73jh a3 It meets/ exceeds all your criteria, plus comes with a 5870 which is a monster, should play most current games at high settings. I dont live in Europe a quick currency conversion brings it to about 1350 Euros
August 10, 2010 9:41:55 AM

Hi Vipers992 - dude once again, thanks for the feedback.

Hi Scione - Thanks, yeah the G73jh had caught my attention but two things are going against it. Firsly the one I looked at was £1,800 GBP. Suspect this is a consequence of 'rip off Britain' where we generally get charged the same USD amount regardless of the exchange rate. In this case an $1,800 laptop costs £1,800 despite the fact the currencies are different.

The other factor is that I'll use the laptop I buy for business and once in a while will take it on business trips. Whilst this is not stopping me pursueing a 17 inch desktop replacement that won't be the most portable, the Republic of Gamers G73 that (whilst looking very cool) is described as looking like a stealth bomber is probably not ideal for business. In terms of sheer specs though it's a mouthwatering machine and I appreciate the tip.

Thnaks,
Alan
August 10, 2010 12:33:37 PM

Thanks for the speedy response Viper!

Looking at the fact that the GX640 only has an i5 430M, CPU really don't matter as much as a good GPU. So I'm guessing any i7 is a luxury now and the i5's will suffice.

Any thoughts on the Lenovo Y560?
August 10, 2010 2:20:23 PM

It's on par with the XPS with a lower price tag, Lenovo isn't really a major Laptop brand over here so i can't give much advice on them, though for the price you're paying i definetly feel you should get yourself a 5850.

If the i7 is a luxury you feel you'd like to treat yourself to, alot of websites, including MSI's, have the option to customise the model and add any additional features including an i7.

http://www.xoticpc.com/msi-gx640260us-p-2766.html?wconf...
!