Hands-On And First Impressions
[Editor's Note: The following content is intended to be a first look, with some hands-on impressions and a few benchmarks.]
Over the past year, we saw a renewed interest in desktop replacement laptops, which were made more practical and powerful by Intel's sixth-generation Core (Skylake) host processors and Nvidia’s Maxwell-based GPUs. The announcement of the GeForce GTX 980 MXM module was met with skepticism, but the benchmarks we've run demonstrate that the mobile component packs as much performance as its desktop counterpart.
Companies like MSI and Asus offer desktop replacements of their own design. Other brands purchase a common laptop shell and outfit the internals with their choice of storage, memory, graphics, and more. One such barebones platform is Clevo's P870DM-G. AVADirect doesn’t even pretend to call it something else; the company maintains that model name with its Avant P870DM-G.
We’ve seen the P870DM-G once before (or at least something very similar to it). The first massively powerful (and equally expensive) desktop replacement I tested was Origin PC’s beastly EON17-SLX. On paper, that's the same laptop I have in front of me today. However, AVADirect comes about as close to the stock Clevo configuration as you can get. It simply adds a company logo to the chassis.
The real stars of this show are the Avant's desktop-class components. A Z170-based motherboard hosts an Intel Core i7-6700K processor and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 980 8GB module, offering the kind of horsepower only rivaled by dedicated gaming desktops. In comparison, the other subsystems are rather mundane.
The M.2 slot in this particular configuration is populated with a 250GB Samsung 850 EVO SSD running at SATA 6Gb/s data rates. Enthusiasts will likely groan at the lack of NVMe-based storage, and AVADirect’s product configurator doesn’t even give the option for PCIe/NVMe SSDs. A 1TB SSHD still provides plenty of space for user data.
AVADirect's Avant P870DM-G came with 16GB of DDR4, which seems a little entry-level for a desktop replacement. However, there's an option to upgrade to 32GB if you'd like. The stock memory featured exceptionally tight 13-13-13-35 timings. We don’t typically see laptop vendors stray from the standard DDR4-2133 CAS 15 SO-DIMMs (although there are a few exceptions, such as EVGA), and the lower latency yields a welcome speed-up for anyone working in throughput-sensitive applications.
The P870DM-G’s five USB 3.0 ports provide plenty of connectivity for peripherals and external storage. You can even connect a VR HMD (this configuration is VR-ready, after all). The USB Type-C port features Thunderbolt 3 connectivity with up to 40 Gb/s transfer rates in addition to USB 3.1 Gen 2 (10 Gb/s) data rates, but it lacks video output. For that, there are two mini-DisplayPort outputs and an HDMI 2.0 interface.
This isn't the lightest laptop at 10.6 lbs. You won't want to carry it on your back or set it on your lap for long. At least its weight is supported by the sturdy construction you'd expect from a premium device, with firm hinges and a solid chassis.
The on-board speakers in the hinge and underneath the cover provide clear sound thanks to built-in Sound Blaster X-Fi MB5 audio. The experience is decidedly above par compared to other laptops I've tested.
The Avant P870DM-G features a 17.3-inch IPS display with Nvidia’s G-Sync technology, smoothing out graphics performance by synchronizing the panel's refresh rate to the GPU's output. This lets you increase detail settings, even if it means pushing frame rates below 60 FPS, without experiencing screen tearing or stutters.
With a GeForce GTX 980 inside, the P870DM-G’s 1920x1080 panel is slightly underwhelming. The GPU would be a better match to a QHD display. After all, Nvidia's GM204 processor is known for its ability to drive 2560x1440 desktop monitors deftly. Still, you can imagine that the Avant's frame rates are unreal, even in the latest AAA games at their highest detail settings. And if you really want to get the most from this laptop's graphics subsystem, try connecting an external monitor or two to its HDMI 2.0 port and mini-DisplayPort interfaces.
The multi-color backlit keyboard is comfortable for a gaming laptop. Creating profiles, recording macros and changing the LED colors is made easy with bundled Flexikey software, which can also record keystroke statistics.
Although most of us seldom game on touchpads, it's hard to avoid them during daily use. Fortunately, this one is fairly responsive, and its buttons react to minimal pressure. The fingerprint scanner between the left and right mouse buttons becomes increasingly obtrusive when you're using the touchpad, though.
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