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Digital Storm x17 Notebook Review: Radeon HD 7970M And Enduro, Again

Digital Storm x17 Notebook Review: Radeon HD 7970M And Enduro, Again
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The last time we looked at a notebook with AMD's Radeon HD 7970M in it, we stumbled across a problematic bug. Digital Storm's x17 employs the same graphics module. Do updated drivers cure what ailed the configuration previously? Let's find out!

While the contest between mobility and performance rages on, most enthusiasts will probably be fairly satisfied with some of the mid-size solutions out there. A combination of Intel's Ivy Bridge and Nvidia's Kepler architectures first took us by surprise in Eurocom Racer 2.0 Review: Intel's Ivy Bridge Meets Nvidia's Kepler, where those two worlds collided to give us stunning performance and reasonable portability.

But what would happen if a company combined the moderate thickness and weight of a mid-sized notebook with the larger screen of a desktop-replacement? And how might buyers respond to such a configuration, packed with high-end 3D graphics, at mid-market pricing? Digital Storm thinks it found a winner in Clevo’s P170EM.

Part of the value in Digital Storm’s custom-built x17 notebook comes from its reliance on AMD’s high-end Radeon HD 7970M graphics, a part that exhibited fairly strong performance in Xotic PC NP9150: Striking Back At Kepler With Radeon HD 7970M. But some folks rightly mentioned in the comments section that the graphics module's performance in a few games appeared weak, purportedly an issue with the company's Enduro technology.

We approached AMD about the issue and got the full story: its drivers were afflicted by a bug that bottlenecked the GPU, keeping it from being fully-utilized, particularly in situations where high frame rates were expected. The company promised a hotfix, but shied away from putting a date on it.

The company sort of fulfilled its promise by rolling the hotfix into its Catalyst 12.11 Beta release (now up to version 8)...on the desktop. We still haven't seen an official update on the notebook side, though, so part of today's story is going to require Digital Storm proving that AMD's Radeon HD 7970M was the right GPU to put in its x17 as the Pitcairn ASIC goes up against Nvidia's GK107 and GF114 parts. The company is off to a good start with a less expensive Ivy Bridge-based processor, but will AMD pull its weight in this competition, too?

Digital Storm x17 (Level 2) Standard Component List
PlatformIntel FCPGA988, HM77 Express, MXM-3 Discrete Graphics
CPUCore i7-3610QM (Ivy Bridge): 4C/8T, 2.3 GHz Base Clock Rate, 3.3 GHz Maximum Turbo Boost, 6 MB Shared L3 Cache, 45 W TDP
RAM4 x Samsung M471B5273DH0-CK0 (4 x 4 GB) DDR3-1600 SO-DIMM, CL11
GraphicsAMD Radeon HD 7970M: 850 MHz, 2 GB GDDR5-4800
Display17.3" FHD 16:9 Glossy LED Backlight LCD, 1920x1080
Webcam2 MP
AudioRealtek Integrated HD Audio with THX TruStudio Pro
SecurityKensington Security Slot
Storage
Hard DriveSeagate Momentus ST9750420AS: 750 GB, 7200 RPM, 16 MB Cache, SATA 3Gb/s
Optical DriveLite-On DS-8A8SH: 8x Slim Internal DVD Burner
Media DriveRTS5208 DSD/MMC/MS Flash Media Interface
Networking
Wireless LANRealtek RTL8723AE 802.11n PCIe Combo Card
Wireless PANIntegrated Bluetooth Transceiver on Wireless Combo Card
Gigabit NetworkRealtek RTL8168 PCIe 10/100/1000 Mb/s Ethernet
IEEE-1394None
TelephonyNone
Peripheral Interfaces
USB1 x USB 2.0, 3 x USB 3.0
Expansion CardNot Available
HDD1 x eSATA/USB 3.0 combo port
AudioHeadphone, Microphone, Digital Out, Analog In
VideoDisplayPort, HDMI, DVI-I
Power And Weight
AC Adapter220 W Power Brick, 100-240 V AC to 19 V DC
Battery14.8 V, 5200 mAh (76.96 Wh) Single
WeightNotebook 8.4 lbs, AC Adapter 2.6 lbs, Total 11 pounds
Software
Operating SystemMicrosoft Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit Edition, OEM
Service
WarrantyLifetime Tech Support, Three-Years Labor, One-Year Parts
Price$1777


Digital Storm’s x17 is available in four basic configurations, and each can be further customized based on your needs. We received the $1777 configuration, which is a step up from the baseline build, with no further customization.

In addition to the flexibility Digital Storm allows on its parts list, the company also offers three warranty levels. An extra $126 gets you four years of labor and two years of parts protection, while a $247 premium secures five years of labor and three years of hardware coverage. The firm’s labor plan also honors manufacturer-backed component warranties above and beyond the plan you purchase.

Display 16 Comments.
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  • 7 Hide
    joytech22 , December 12, 2012 3:22 AM
    FAR OUT. I JUST.. JUST got my M17X and I see this review posted on a laptop with almost the same specs and half the price.

    The only differences were that mine has a Blu-Ray drive, 1TB Hard drive, HDMI In, all USB ports were USB 3.0 and the CPU was a 3630QM..
    My M17X set me back $2500 ON SALE from $3000 AUSD. I don't even know why since the Australian dollar is a lot bloody stronger than the U.S dollar.
  • 7 Hide
    dudewitbow , December 12, 2012 3:29 AM
    joytech22FAR OUT. I JUST.. JUST got my M17X and I see this review posted on a laptop with almost the same specs.The only differences were that mine has a Blu-Ray drive, 1TB Hard drive, HDMI In, all USB ports were USB 3.0 and the CPU was a 3630QM..My M17X set me back $2500 ON SALE from $3000 AUSD. I don't even know why since the Australian dollar is a lot bloody stronger than the U.S dollar.

    probably the difference between laws, importing cost. market size and such. as a smaller non relevant analogy, its similar to the situation between the U.S and Canada when it comes to oil. Canada has more oil(and i believe has a stronger form of currency) but oil none the less is cheaper in the U.S due to it having the processing and purification plants that Canada does not have as much of, so canada's oil goes across the border, and back again causing a higher price.
  • 2 Hide
    shikamaru31789 , December 12, 2012 3:57 AM
    Nice to see some laptop benchmarks here on Tom's. I've been considering getting a gaming laptop and I must say I'm pretty impressed with the 7970m's performance. I wonder how it compares to the newer 675mx?
  • 3 Hide
    amuffin , December 12, 2012 5:18 AM
    shikamaru31789Nice to see some laptop benchmarks here on Tom's. I've been considering getting a gaming laptop and I must say I'm pretty impressed with the 7970m's performance. I wonder how it compares to the newer 675mx?

    Here ya go.
    http://www.notebookcheck.net/NVIDIA-GeForce-GTX-675MX.82580.0.html
  • 1 Hide
    army_ant7 , December 12, 2012 5:48 AM
    I'm wondering if that port to the left of the ethernet port is a small 1394 port. I don't think it was noted in the article, but the specs listed said there wasn't a 1394. Just wondering though... :) 

    This might sound funny, but is there still thermal paste between the CPU and GPU and their heatsinks? I'm just wondering if they're lapped to a point that they don't need it (and maybe because they're copper heatsinks). I know that the Atom CPU of this netbook I use didn't have any, though that might just be because it's such a low power CPU.

    Pretty neat that 2 drives are allowed. For a moment, I thought that you'd have to get rid of the ODD to add an additional HDD or SSD, but it was just "under" it. Is the mo-bo RAID capable with these two ports? :) 
  • 1 Hide
    army_ant7 , December 12, 2012 5:54 AM
    Also, Thomas, I hope you reply personally to this one.

    Do you use geometric means (instead of plain arithmetic averages) with your performance and efficiency charts, just like how Adam Overa does the Web Browser Grand Prix? I have approached Chris about this and also posted it in the feedback forums. In the feedback forums, the moderator told me that he/she would relay it to you editors.

    Also, what are the base (100%) numbers for your charts on the last page? That 100% performance number that comes up for the Xotic laptop? :) 
  • 3 Hide
    Marcus52 , December 12, 2012 6:28 AM
    Very nice...

    but why do I have to buy an Apple to get a decent display? Enough with TN panels! If Apple can put an IPS Retina Display in a 15" and sell it for $2200, surely someone like Digital Storm could at least offer the option.
  • 4 Hide
    alterecho , December 12, 2012 6:45 AM
    joytech22FAR OUT. I JUST.. JUST got my M17X and I see this review posted on a laptop with almost the same specs and half the price.The only differences were that mine has a Blu-Ray drive, 1TB Hard drive, HDMI In, all USB ports were USB 3.0 and the CPU was a 3630QM..My M17X set me back $2500 ON SALE from $3000 AUSD. I don't even know why since the Australian dollar is a lot bloody stronger than the U.S dollar.


    Well, you can comfort yourself with the fact that the m17x looks meaner and premium.
  • 4 Hide
    cats_Paw , December 12, 2012 7:22 AM
    Things that should be in this review: There are no temperature readings, no information on if done in clean install of OS, version of OS, no ambient temps, no mention about if the CPU/GPU can handle a 100% load without throttle.
    Also, contrast, black levels, garmut color cover, viewing angle... Just check a review at notebookcheck.net and try to do them like that :D .
  • 2 Hide
    Crashman , December 12, 2012 8:37 AM
    army_ant7This might sound funny, but is there still thermal paste between the CPU and GPU and their heatsinks?
    Yes. As for additional options, Digital Storm has quite a few that you can check through. Or, for that matter, any other vender of the P170EM
  • 1 Hide
    Pyree , December 12, 2012 8:39 AM
    Quote:
    FAR OUT. I JUST.. JUST got my M17X and I see this review posted on a laptop with almost the same specs and half the price.

    The only differences were that mine has a Blu-Ray drive, 1TB Hard drive, HDMI In, all USB ports were USB 3.0 and the CPU was a 3630QM..
    My M17X set me back $2500 ON SALE from $3000 AUSD. I don't even know why since the Australian dollar is a lot bloody stronger than the U.S dollar.

    dudewitbowprobably the difference between laws, importing cost. market size and such. as a smaller non relevant analogy, its similar to the situation between the U.S and Canada when it comes to oil. Canada has more oil(and i believe has a stronger form of currency) but oil none the less is cheaper in the U.S due to it having the processing and purification plants that Canada does not have as much of, so canada's oil goes across the border, and back again causing a higher price.
    No, it's just Dell Australia overcharging people (like Dell Alienware everywhere). The Clevo in AUS is not a lot more expensive than in US, in machine price. In fact it is cheaper to buy in AUS in total if you are in AUS. Same config P150EM (i7-3630qm, W8, 8GB RAM, 750GB HDD, 7970m) in US is $1580, in AU is $1700. If you include shipping, GST and custom duty, buying from US is going to be more expensive.
  • 0 Hide
    Yuka , December 12, 2012 10:20 AM
    I got my Sager that's better and for less... USD$1458+tax. Funny thing, they use almost the same body/chassis.

    Core i7 3630QM, GTX675M, 2x500GB 7200RPM HDD. I got it with just 8GB DDR3 1600 instead of 16, but that's not worth a USD$300 difference =/

    Cheers!
  • 5 Hide
    cjnlstntxs , December 12, 2012 12:19 PM
    hmm got a MSI GT70 with the 670mx and i7 3630qm (was on sale for 1500). kinda wishing I went 7970M route... ahh well.
  • 0 Hide
    alexthager , December 13, 2012 4:18 AM
    Marcus52Very nice...but why do I have to buy an Apple to get a decent display? Enough with TN panels! If Apple can put an IPS Retina Display in a 15" and sell it for $2200, surely someone like Digital Storm could at least offer the option.


    They probably can't to be honest. A resolution that high is unheard of in the laptop industry, and most displays are TFT/TN. Digital Storm doesn't have enough money to invest.
  • 0 Hide
    dweezled , December 13, 2012 5:22 PM
    If you want a high-end laptop with the 7970M better off with the MSI GX60 @$1200

    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16834152372&Tpk=msi%20gx60

  • 0 Hide
    whhussain , December 26, 2012 10:06 PM
    Nice to see some laptop benchmarks here on Tom's. I've been considering getting a gaming laptop and I must say I'm pretty impressed with the 7970m's performance. I wonder how it compares to the newer 675mx? to chk more laptop technology....

    http://mobileshunt.com/