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14" Gamer Laptop Addons Worth$?

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March 2, 2013 12:43:31 AM

Hi everyone
Could use some laptop performance input, on bang for the buck upgrades
I'm looking specifically at the alienware Alienware M14x. What add-ons are worth the money

Starting Specs:
-3rd Generation Intel® Core i5-3230M (3MB Cache, up to 3.2 GHz w/ Turbo Boost 2.0)
-Windows® 7 Home Premium, 64bit
-14.0" High Def (720p/1366x768) with WLED backlight
-6GB Dual Channel DDR3 SDRAM at 1600MHz
-500GB 7,200 RPM SATA 3Gb/s
-1 GB GDDR5 NVIDIA® GeForce® GT 650M with Optimus

Additional options and cost
CPU:
-3rd Generation Intel® Core™ i7-3630QM (6MB Cache, up to 3.4GHz w/ Turbo Boost 2.0) [Add $100.00]
-3rd Generation Intel® Core™ i7-3740QM (6MB Cache, up to 3.7GHz w/ Turbo Boost 2.0) [Add $250.00]
Memory:
-8GB (2 X 4GB) Dual Channel DDR3 at 1600MHz [Add $75.00]
-12GB (1 X 4GB, 1 X 8GB) DDR3 at 1600MHz [Add $125.00]
-16GB (2 X 8GB) Dual Channel DDR3 at 1600MHz [Add $175.001]
Video Card: 2 GB GDDR5 NVIDIA® GeForce® GT 650M with Optimus™ [Add $80.00 or $2.00/month1]
Display: 14.0" High Def+ (900p/1600x900) with WLED backlight [Add $75.00]

My thoughts/Questions:
-Keep i5, because in gaming I won’t notice i7?
-Keep 6RAM? It’s enough? I can upgrade myself later for less than their cost?
*I have a brand new Samsung 256gb SSD. So I can replace the 500gb with it? Is that correct?
-Increase to 2 GB GDDR5 NVIDIA® GeForce® GT 650M with Optimus ($80 increase)
-Don’t get the higher res display? I’m assuming I won’t notice entertainment difference on such a small screen, and pushing the res up in gaming will be an un-needed sacrifice in gaming frame rate?
Thanks a ton!!!
a b D Laptop
March 2, 2013 1:13:25 PM

The cpu is pretty much uneeded unless you will be running cpu heavy programs (photoshop, adobe, maya, etc). You might notice a slight difference if you plan on running cpu heavy games (gw2, etc) RAM honestly is much cheaper if you upgrade yourself. You can replace the HDD yes. Vram is not worth it. The 650m is not powerful enough to require more than 1 GB vram.

The only thing I would consider paying more for is the screen. 768p screen is one of the run of the mill cheap piece of crap screens with less than 200:1 contrast ratios, poor brightness, colour, etc. The 900p has much better contrast and viewing angles though still poor colour. You are going to be staring at the screen whenever you are using the computer, don't cheap out and get a bad screen you will regret it (if you will be word prosessing, watching movies, browsing the better screen is a must).
The difference between 768p and 900p in frame rate is quite low and often the higher pixel density means that lower settings on the higher resolution screen is just a good quality wise as higher settings on the low resolution screen (900p you might not need AA as much so you may be able to turn it off and get the same frame rates while playing a game and a better screen when not).

I have a 1080p laptop and skyrim at 1080p low looks identical to skyrim on 768p high with 2x AA and gets the same frame rate.


See this review

http://www.notebookcheck.net/Alienware-M14x-R2-Review.7...
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March 2, 2013 1:13:28 PM

thank you whyso

Very through answer indeed! So it really sounds like none of their upgrades are so "necessary".
I'll consider taking your advice with putting the extra in the screen

Still wondering about the vid card. I'm not as knowledgeable as yourself, but since i'll be stuck w it for the entirety of my ownership should i give it a thought?

Will 6gig of ram be good enough out of the gate, or should i order more right away.

Thanks a lot!!!
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a b D Laptop
March 2, 2013 2:57:28 PM

libra21 said:
thank you whyso

Very through answer indeed! So it really sounds like none of their upgrades are so "necessary".
I'll consider taking your advice with putting the extra in the screen

Still wondering about the vid card. I'm not as knowledgeable as yourself, but since i'll be stuck w it for the entirety of my ownership should i give it a thought?

Will 6gig of ram be good enough out of the gate, or should i order more right away.

Thanks a lot!!!


Yes, dell charges a lot for their upgrades so avoid them when you can.
6GB should work though you might notice a slight difference in memory sensitive games (F1 racing game) with 8GB. If you are going to be replacing the HDD with the SSD then it might be a good idea to change the memory then. But no its not strictly required (for HEAVY multitasking you should though).

I would still recommend 1GB as the sweet spot for the 650m. yes it can use more than that (say BF3 on ultra) but those settings will not be playable anyway (less than 30 fps). Demanding games on the settings that can be achieved on the 650m at 900p will use at most 700-850 mb vram making 1 GB perfectly fine (perhaps a heavily modded skyrim might use more than 1GB). Only exception is if you are running professional applications that require a gpu with more than 1 GB (which I don't think you are).
Example of vram usage with my 660m (about 15-25% faster than 650m)
Games at playable settings (generally 40-55 fps) 1080p

Metro 2033-700-900mb (normal tessellation, no AA)
cysis 1 (500-600mb) (medium-high no AA)
skyrim (vanilla version) 500-600 mb
gw2 (high, no reflections, aa) 500 mb
So 1 GB should be fine.

Note: Also the m14x is not the best bang for the buck gaming machine out there but I'm assuming that its the one you like the most.
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March 2, 2013 3:35:55 PM

Nothing is necessarily tying me to the m14.
I'm looking for portability first, then gaming 2nd - as I can game on my pc, but like to on my laptop well.
Thus my choice of 14" for portability. That size has served me well in my asus of 2 yrs - though I think weight and form factor size this m14 will likely b biggger :/ 

Any thoughts of a marriage of portability and gaming, let me know!!
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a b D Laptop
March 2, 2013 5:06:15 PM

How about
http://www.newegg.ca/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E1683...
Basically has all the upgrades of the alienware (should be in your price range)

Its significantly lighter than the m14x (5.24 pounds vs 6.45 pounds). Its also thinner and shorter though longer. I'd say portability is similar.
Alienware
Height: 37.8 mm (1.49 inches)
Depth: 258.36 mm (10.16 inches)
Width: 337.00 mm (13.27 inches)

MSI notebook:15.09" x 9.83" x 1.27"-1.46"

Stronger gpu and cpu, more ram, better screen (1080p good contrast, colours, etc-- great for movies, word processing)
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a b D Laptop
March 2, 2013 6:40:39 PM

I would suggest checking out the Lenovo Y400.

http://www.lenovo.com/products/us/laptop/ideapad/y-seri...

It is a 14" with a 2gb GT650m, and Core i7 3630qm for $750.

I've had mine for about 3 months and absolutely love it. Excellent build quality and the performance to weight and size ratio is amazing. It also has the ultrabay so you can add another 650m for sli if you feel like you need it.

I put a 256 GB Samsung SSD in mine and it is amazing. Also, battery life is great when you are only doing basic tasks on the go. I average around 5 hours.
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March 2, 2013 6:52:55 PM

Thank you both so much.
JD88 - wow, what a build for the price. And seems to be as portable a size as can be!
Only nitpicking thing I see on the reviews are heat. Have you exprienced a heat prob? I'm wondering if u can use the ultrabay for a fan
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a b D Laptop
March 2, 2013 7:03:10 PM

Heat has not been an issue for me. The CPU sometimes reaches 80C under heavy gaming but that is well within its tolerance as mobile CPUs are designed to handle higher temps. The GPU never goes above 70C and I have mine overclocked substantially.

It never feels hot to the touch or anything and that is something I couldn't tolerate as my last laptop would burn my lap sometimes. No issues with this one there.

I really can't say enough about how impressed I am with this machine. It looks amazing and certainly better than its price suggests. The back lit keyboard really makes it stand out and look beastly.

The screen is only 1366x768, but it doesn't look bad at all on a 14" screen. Plus at that resolution the 650m can really shine. I play games like Planetside 2 and Battlefield on Med all day long at good frame rates. Games like Starcraft, Diablo 3, and League of Legends all on High.

With your budget, you could easily add the second 650m for even more performance if you felt like you need it.

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March 2, 2013 7:09:53 PM

Excellent! Reassuring to hear!
I think I'll order it without a 2nd gpu at first and see how it does!
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a b D Laptop
March 2, 2013 7:48:07 PM

Good luck!
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March 2, 2013 8:09:26 PM

The i5 vs i7 argument doesn't pertain to the laptop chips; those i5s are hyper-threaded dual cores, unlike desktop i5s, so you WILL want to get an i7 as it'll be a quad core and will last you longer as games become more cpu-intensive.
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March 2, 2013 8:30:44 PM

Thank you doubletake, I had no idea! Def valuable info
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a b D Laptop
March 3, 2013 1:46:13 AM

doubletake said:
The i5 vs i7 argument doesn't pertain to the laptop chips; those i5s are hyper-threaded dual cores, unlike desktop i5s, so you WILL want to get an i7 as it'll be a quad core and will last you longer as games become more cpu-intensive.


I recommended a dual core mainly because the 650m is not powerful enough to need a quad core. 650m is weaker than a 7750 desktop chip (by about 30%). 7750 pairs will with a pentium/low level i3 without any problems.

650m SLI however may need a i7 to perform optimally.
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March 3, 2013 1:50:22 AM

Check out notebookcheck.net You will see a ton of reviews. For gaming the only thing worth while you'll need to upgrade early is to the quickest CPU you can grab and the fastest video card (not the same card with more ram). The benchmarks on that site will show you just how much the I7 in a laptop gains over the I5. On a desktop it is another story altogether.
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a c 463 D Laptop
March 3, 2013 7:51:46 PM

Gaming wise, if you know you are buying games that can make use of more than 2 cores, then it would be best to take the i7-3630QM for the additional $100. For example, if you plan on playing Crysis 3 or any game based on the CryEngine 3, then you will get better performance with a quad core than a dual core CPU. I'm am talking about in the single player campaign mode. Battlefield 3 does use more than 2 cores, but only in multi-player mode.

In the case of Crysis 3 there is a significant performance difference between a quad core and dual core CPU; like 50% assuming both CPUs are of similar clockspeed. I will need to dig up the performance graph which I posted in the CPU section a few days ago.

The 6GB of RAM should be good enough. You should be able to upgrade the RAM yourself for less than the $75 they are asking for as long as you are fine with opening up your laptop. Doing so will not break your warranty.

2GB of VRAM for a graphic card/chip is a waste of money on a 1366x768 resolution laptop. You do not need more than 1GB of VRAM unless you go above 1920x1200 resolution.

I would go for the higher 1600x900 resolution screen. But not specifically for gaming purposes. My 14" Lenovo Y470 has a 1366x768 resolution screen which I think is fine for playing games. However, outside of games like even for simple browsing prefer a higher resolution screen so that I can see more on the screen w/o having to scroll around. The downside would mean lower gaming performance.

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a c 463 D Laptop
March 3, 2013 8:21:18 PM

This is the CPU performance chart for Crysis 3 in desktop CPUs. The Core i3-3220 and the Core i5-3570k both have similar clockspeeds; 3.3GHz vs 3.4GHz. Of course the main difference is that the i3 is a dual core CPU (with Hyper Threading) and the i5 is a quad core CPU (no Hyper Threading). The i5 is only 100MHz faster, yet the performance difference (1280x720 resolution) is 18.8FPS. That shows Crysis 3 can and does take advantage of a quad core CPU.



Source (German): http://www.pcgameshardware.de/Crysis-3-PC-235317/Tests/...


However, generally speaking, the vast majority of games released only use at most 2 cores. But that includes ALL games, not just one's you are interested in playing (unless you are looking forward to the next installment of Nancy Drew Mysteries or whatever crap Barbie doll game that's gonna be released). The actual number of games that can make use of more than 2 core is relatively small, but in general it can be said that a fair number of popular first person shooters can take advantage of more than 2 cores. I think Hitman: Absolution can also take advantage of a quad core CPU. Skyrim is an example of a very popular game that only uses 2 cores.

Off the top of my head the following are current game engines that can make use of more than 2 cores. Therefore, any games using them can potentially use more than 2 cores.

Real Virtuality 3 - Used in ARMA 2. I think up to 6 cores can be used.

Frostbite - Currently used in Battlefield 3 and Need For Speed: The Run. Supposedly it will be used in Dragon Age 3, Mass Effect 4 (for lack of a better title) and Command & Conquer (forgot the full title). However, so far it seems only more than 2 cores are used only in multiplayer mode.

CryEngine 3 - Crysis 3. Up coming games potentially using that engine are:

- Tour Golf Online - I'm not joking.
- God Slayer
- Enemy Front
- Star Citizen
- Sniper 2: Ghost Warrior
- State of Decay
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