A power-packed, value-stuffed gaming laptop.
With the PC returning to the forefront of the games scene, gaming laptops are booming in popularity. Almost every major vendor – Lenovo, Asus, Dell and more – has a solution for what I call semi-mobile PC gaming (I say ’semi-mobile’ since few, if any, gaming laptops can play for longer than an hour on batteries). But few offer better value than Gigabyte, a Taiwanese firm that until recently was better known for components than full-built systems.
The company’s latest, the 15.6-inch Gigabyte P35W v2, cements Gigabyte’s status as one of the leading value brands in mobile gaming hardware. In short, you’re going to get more for less with this machine, even if it looks a little rough around the edges.
Design and build While the Razer Blade and MSI GS60 Ghost Pro 3K offer superior looks and screens, they also come with a premium price tag – and neither can match the amount or quality of components on offer for the price here. That said, the Taiwanese vendor has made some significant advances when it comes to build quality.
At just 21mm thick, Gigabyte has managed to craft a 15-inch gaming laptop that’s slimmer than some Ultrabooks. Even more impressive is that the company did it while stuffing a 2.5-inch bay just below a clickpad that can hold either an additional storage unit or optical drive. Our review unit came with a Blu-ray drive, but the space can also hold a 2.5-inch SSD or HDD.
With the deep grey, brushed aluminium finish on its lid and palm rests, the P35W v2 does offer some of the trappings of a premium machine. Unfortunately, though, its thick black plastic bezel and smooth gray plastic base betray its less-than-fancy roots. It’s almost tragic, given how much is right about this machine, design-wise.
The P35W v2 wins major points for dispersing heat through two rear vents in the base. The dualintake design, with fans located just above the keyboard on the base, manages to help the system keep relatively cool while gaming – ‘relatively’ being the operative word here. It runs cooler than MSI’s latest thin and light gaming notebook, but I still wouldn’t play games with this thing on my lap.
The vent placement leaves the speakers to the front of the base, just underneath the edge. But, as with most laptops, you’ll be far better off plugging in a pair of headphones. The Gigabyte’s 1.5W speakers offer excellent volume, but produce middling bass and a thin register on the higher notes.
Both the keyboard and clickpad are vast improvements upon Gigabyte’s previous offerings. With bright, well-spread white backlighting, the membrane keyboard on the P35W v2 gives a bit of flex, but only under more pressure than you would exert typing. Otherwise, the keyboard offers strong feedback and quick travel – I had no problem tapping through games like World of Warcraftand Titanfall.
While the clickpad won’t get you through any game that’s more intense than Hearthstone, the soft-touch plastic tracking surface serves well for web browsing. The ElanTech-made sensor also tracks right-clicks with brilliant accuracy, though its palm rejection is a bit hit-and-miss.
Under the hood Let’s move on to what really counts in a gaming laptop: the tech inside.
For a 15-inch notebook measuring just 386 x 270 x 21mm (W x D x H) and tipping the scale at 2.29kg (with an optical drive installed), Gigabyte has managed to pack quite a lot into this gaming laptop. By comparison, the MSI GS60 Ghost Pro 3K is slightly thicker at 22mm, but much lighter at 1.98kg (and has no optical drive).
The configuration represents the high end of what’s available from Gigabyte. At the lower end, you can score a P35W v2, though it offers half as much memory, half as large a solid-state drive and loses the IPS screen (still FHD). Given that this seems like a terrible way, go with the model we tested to maximise your money spent.
For just a bit more, the Ghost Pro 3K puts up a 2880 x 1620 IPS panel.
However, this laptop’s GTX 870M only offers half as much video memory and half the SSD storage.
That said, 802.11ac Wi-Fi is a nice touch included on the Ghost Pro that this Gigabyte unit sorely lacks.
Of course, all of these acronyms and numbers are only as good as what they net you in terms of power – and the P35W v2 is no slouch. Here’s how the P35W v2 fared on our suite of benchmark tests. Save for a predictably poor Metro: Last Lightshowing (just 14fps at Ultra in this super-demanding game, which no laptop we’ve tested yet comes close to 30 fps with) you’re looking at a notebook that will handle just about anything from gaming to general computing.
Just don’t count on it lasting longer than four hours doing so.
That said, the P35W v2 proved to be one of the most enduring laptops I’ve reviewed yet. My own testing – a mix of streaming high bit rate audio, watching YouTube at 1080p and working through over a dozen Google Chrome tabs, HipChat and TweetDeck – saw the machine hang on for four hours and three minutes. That was with the power set to Balanced, with the keyboard backlight off, the screen at 70 per cent brightness and a USB mouse connected. Lighter loads and a dimmer screen should yield even better times. By comparison, the Ghost Pro 3K lasted just two hours and 58 minutes in a similar test, though the WQHD+ screen is partly to blame for that.
With 6GB of video RAM behind that GTX 870M inside, the P35W v2 turned out to be a gaming monster.
With Titanfallset to the highest possible settings, 2x anti-aliasing, double-buffered vertical sync and 30 per cent draw distance at 1080p, this rig produced a more than playable 52 fps.
Respawn Entertainment’s mecha-shooter might not be the most demanding game around, but it is representative of online gaming in 2014. With that in mind, I’d predict that the GTX 870M will be able to comfortably handle current PC games at 1080p through the end of 2015 at least. That said, by the second half of 2015, you might find yourself turning down settings.
Under the hood Once again, Gigabyte offers one of the best values you can find in a gaming laptop. Thinner than the competing MSI GS60 Ghost Pro 3K, even with a swappable 2.5-inch drive bay inside, it’s something of a marvel. This laptop doesn’t sport the super premium build of, say, a Razer Blade. But the P35W v2 offers more hardware for the price than its competitors could ever hope to.
An 802.11ac Wi-Fi chip would have sweetened the deal and futureproofed this machine even more, though. It’s a regrettable omission.
If you’re dead set on buying a gaming laptop instead of a desktop system, then you’ll be hard-pressed finding better value than the Gigabyte P35W v2. Simply put, this gaming laptop offers more hardware and better performance than its competitors, for less money.
You will miss out on the niceties of more premium systems, like the attractive chassis and 3K displays of the Ghost Pro 3K and Razer Blade.
You’ll also lack the latest in wireless networking tech, if you opt for this system. Regardless, in terms of pixels pushed per penny, the P35W v2 represents one of the best buys in gaming laptops today.
Of course, you’ll always get even more power for the money in a desktop gaming PC, but in terms of gaming laptops, I’d say the P35W v2 is the one to beat.