Subscribe to GameFromScratch on YouTube Support GameFromScratch on Patreon

9. January 2016

 

If I am completely honest up front, right from the very beginning the HTC Vive was an also ran to me.  The Samsung GearVR was first to market, while the Oculus Rift certainly had the brand recognition and the majority of the press.  Suddenly however with the pre-orders of the Oculus Rift, most of that press is suddenly quite negative.  First because the VR controllers were  delayed, although frankly this talking point is a pretty minor one.  No, the big reason for the negative press is the sticker shock.  Earlier comments from Luckey Palmer (Oculus founder) had people expecting the rift to be around $300 so a $600 price tag was certainly a suprise.  Couple that with the incredibly high system requirements and incompatibility with the majority of high end laptops, suddenly the Rift lost a heck of a lot of momentum.

 

Of course the Rift isn’t the only horse in this race.  Ignoring Google Cardboard and GearVR, the two major players in the space are Sony with the PlayStation VR and HTC/Steam with the Vive.  With the sticker shock, the PlayStation VR had a huge opportunity here as the PS4 requirement is many times cheaper than the PC required to power the Oculus Rift (and assumedly the Vive).  They could have won on the price point alone… then this happened.  If you thought $600 was a painful price point, an Amazon.ca leak had the PSVR priced at $1,125 CDN!  (@800USD).  Of course this is only a leak at this point and I have trouble believing that Sony would actually price it at the same price point as 3x PlayStation 4s but crazier things have happened.

 

This entire process has given HTC a gigantic opportunity.  Does everyone remember the classic Sony “mic drop” price announcement for the original PlayStation?

 

And with the single comment of "$299" at E3 in 1995 the PlayStation won and the Sega Saturn died.

 

Right now, HTC has that exact same opportunity.

Totally Off Topic

5. January 2016

 

Ok, this one is a bit off the topic of game development, but I figured I would share it here for other people struggling with slow renders in Camtasia.  I use Camtasia Studio for all of the video tutorials here on GameFromScratch and while I enjoy the program, rendering speeds vary between awful and OMG!MAKEITSTOPBURNBUUUURRRRNNNN.

 

It pains me to say I never thought about this as a way to speed things up until now.  As of Camtasia Studio 8, they started supporting CUDA rendering on GPU.  Problem is, if you like me are running an Optimus GPU, it uses the wrong one and the results are way slower.  Telling it to run on the dedicated GPU resulted in a 3x increase in speed for me.

 

Simply right click the shortcut or executable and select the high performance GPU:

image

 

This is standard behavior on trying to get all sorts of games to run correctly, but sadly it never occurred to me to try it with Camtasia.  This setting can also be permanently set using the nVidia Control panel, but I’ll leave that as an exercise for the reader, there are a few thousand documents covering this already.

 

If your machine doesn’t have Optimus, it might still be a good idea to try rendering with GPU support off and seeing if you get an increase, simply go to Tools-options and untick the appropriate setting

image

 

I’m amazed that Camtasia support aren’t making this exceedingly to start with.   This little fix is going to save me about 2 hours a week on average!

 

There is a video version of this process available here or embedded below.

Totally Off Topic

15. November 2015

 

We already have motion controls, audio control and of course tactile control, what about controlling a game with your emotions?  It sounds far fetched but it really isn’t, in fact it’s here today.  Just about every single modern gaming device has a front facing camera available in some form or another.  Well, Microsoft Research lab Microsoft Project Oxford just announced the release of the emotion tool which enables you to detect emotions on a persons face.

 

Basically you send it a picture and it returns the probability of various emotions.  For example, I sent it this image here and it returned the following results:

image

 

Basically you feed it an image in URL form and optionally a rectangle selecting the face, and it returns a JSON result with the probability of each emotion.  In this case Microsoft determine with 99.99% likelihood that this baby is sad, with a 0.001% chance that it’s angry instead.  I fed it a handful of pictures and it did a remarkably accurate job.

 

You can use it as a REST API now ( or just play with the playground ) right here.  Otherwise the SDK can be downloaded here.

 

So the tech is actually here already and works pretty well.  The question remains… would gamers embrace having a camera constantly scanning their emotions?  I actually can think of a few genres or tools where they might.  How many “you mad bro?” apps can we expect to flood the market now? If nothing else, it’s a fun tool to play around with on a Sunday afternoon!

Programming, Totally Off Topic

9. November 2015

 

If you read my recent laptop buyers guide for game developers you may have noticed that the “winner” was the P34 V4 by Gigabyte.  In this case I put my money where my mouth is and purchased one.  After spending the last couple days using it I figured I would create a bit of a review.

Here are the specs for the machine I purchased:

  • Intel Core i7-5700HQ Broadwell CPU
  • 16GB DDR3 RAM
  • 128GB SSD, 1TB 5400RPM SATA HD
  • NVidia GeForce 970M with 3GB DDR5
  • 2560x1440 Display
  • Windows 10 Basic
  • $1950CDN Purchase price
  • 3.5lbs and 14” chassis

 

Please be aware that a number of different versions of this machine exist, the biggest differences being the amount of system RAM and the resolution of the display.  If purchasing off Amazon, this version is a  much better value.  The RAM and drives is easily accessible if you need to make an upgrade after the fact so don’t be overly concerned about RAM or HDD sizes.

 

If you are in Canada like me, and suffering from our recently pathetic dollar valuation, I highly recommend you check with Computers Canada, where I managed to purchase it for less than Amazon but in Canadian currency!  I wont go into a great deal of detail on why I purchased this particular computer as the buyers guide and price tag should make that part clear.

 

Gallery

 

Packaging

20151106_173832

 

Contents and Power Supply

20151106_174201

 

Side View

20151106_174039

 

Relative To Razer Blade 14

20151107_095340

 

Relative to MacBook Air

20151107_094851

20151107_094836

 

Build Quality

 

I have never purchased a Gigabyte system before so my biggest concern was build quality.  My other systems are Razer and Apple, both known for a high level of fit and finish, while I pictured Gigabyte as a more … pedestrian builder.  Fortunately I was wrong here, the Gigabyte has absolutely no faults, in fact the build quality may be slightly better than the Razer ( which had a sub-par trackpad buttons ). 

The main chassis is made of aluminum and there are no obvious gaps.  The back of the screen is made of a high quality plastic, which while not looking as good as the Razer or Macbook, contributes to keeping the weight down.  Speaking of weight, this machine is amazingly light at 3.5lbs.

The keyboard and trackpad are both quite nice, although the auto sensing backlit on the keyboard seems wonky and often doesn’t come on even in complete darkness.  This fortunately can be manually set using Fn + Spacebar so it’s not a huge deal and probably is a software problem in the end.  The hinges seem solid, a point of concern with prior Gigabyte laptops.

In the end I rate the build quality as very good, a pleasant surprise.

 

Fans and Thermals

 

As I don’t review machines very often I do not have the proper equipment for measure thermal or volume emissions.  I can however state my experiences.  Under no load, the machine is completely silent and cool to the touch.  When Optimus switches from integrated to dedicated GPU the fans come on immediately.  Playing a AAA game causes the fans to crank up.  They are certainly audible but not excessive.  In the end the machine is a great deal quiter under load than my Razer Blade.

Under moderate load the temperatures arent too bade.  Once playing games for loading a heavy CAD scene and it gets hot quickly.  All of the heat is centered at the back below the screen hinge and gets uncomfortable to the touch.  The machine itself does not get warm, it is being effectively cooled and you never feel the heat on the top of the machine, but you certainly don’t want the machine to be on your lap.  I would guess that a cooling bad is not a requirement with this machine.

 

Bundled Software

 

The last time I purchased an Asus machine, it was quicker to re-install the OS than to try and deal with all the bloat pre-packaged.  The same was about the Lenova desktop I recently purchased.  This machine however… nothing.  Gigabyte installs just about ZERO extraneous software which was nice to see.   Adobe Acrobat is installed along with the manual.  A utility for creating a USB backup is included as is their control panel for quickly toggling features like the trackpad or Windows key off or on.  Otherwise the only other piece of software installed is an optional update manager.

Gigabyte Smart Manager

image

 

Smart Update

image

Smart update makes keeping your drivers up to date an absolute breeze and supports the ability to install beta drivers which is cool.  However it downloads EXTREMELY slow and has a non-minimizable modal window during the download process.

 

All told it’s nice to see a non-bloated install with the bundled software being genuinely useful.  More manufacturers can learn from Gigabyte!  I would like to see download speeds and the idiotic modal window removed from the Update manager however.

 

Performance, Battery Life and Real World Experience

 

I am not going to bother with benchmarks in this review as I have no other benchmarks to compare it to.  Given the fast GPU, copious RAM and the fact it’s got the second best mobile video card available right now, it performs about as well as you would expect.  I threw a few games at it, Batman Origins, Heroes of Might and Magic 7 and Tomb Raider and was able to hit the v-sync limited 60fps at max settings on all three games.  Even running at native resolution I was able to manage playable framerates (40+) at max settings.  I did experience some oddity in Blender, but I think that’s more Blender to blame than the laptop.  I created a 3mil polygon scene and was able to sculpt with absolutely no hint of lag.  However switching to edit mode brought Blender to it’s knees.

 

Next we should talk about the screen.  Right now I am typing this at a café with sun glaring in my eyes with the screen at 60% brightness and I have absolute zero difficulty with glare.

20151109_145121

At full brightness the screen is a thing of beauty.  It is also the laptops second biggest failing.  Windows 10 has come a long way with high DPI screens but when they fail they fail hard.  Many applications are nearly unusable or extremely ugly when scaled to the higher resolution.  Worse is UIs that can’t be scaled leaving the results pretty much impossible to read.  Fortunately the 2560x1440 resolutions isn’t as extreme as 4K displays but it is still quite difficult to use many applications designed for a 1080p world.  The results look pretty good down sampled to 1080p thankfully.  If it was available I would have probably gone with a 1080p screen to save the hassle, but of course this is a matte of opinion.  Remember though, there is a 1080p option available.

 

Next we come to battery life and this is the Achilles heel of most “gaming” laptops, with machines that struggle to break 2 hours battery life under light load.  Thankfully this is not the case with the Gigabyte machine, in fact it is matching the Razer Blade 14 it is replacing, which is pretty amazing.  It was hard to tell exact battery life during the first couple days as Windows is downloading patches, indexing files and generally just being a bit of a pig.  Now that things seem to be settled I’m getting a pretty good gauge on battery.  Today for example I have been running on battery the last 3 hours with the wifi on, the screen at 60% brightness on balanced battery level with a little bit of 3D work thrown in the mix but mostly writing, surfing and watching a bit of YouTube, and the battery is at 31% with an indicated 1hr 25min remaining.  So 4 1/2 hours battery life under typical load.  I imagine I could stretch the battery out to about 6 hours by dimming the screen, while gaming would be lucky to hit 2 hours.  All told this is an amazing amount of battery life.

 

One minor (to me) problem with the Gigabyte P34w v4 laptop is it just sucks in the fingerprints.  I thought the Razer was bad, but this thing looked filthy within 5 minutes of taking it out of the box.  If you are a neat freak, this is certainly something to be aware of.  Fingerprints and this design… they aren’t friends.

 

Conclusion

 

In all honesty I am absolutely amazed by this laptop.  Great build quality, amazing specs, a 2 year warranty at the low end of the price range all in the 3.5lb 14” package.  It is certainly not a purchase I regret and one that I can easily recommend to anyone that favors portability and power in their laptop requirements.

It’s not completely perfect, but damned close.  The ultra high DPI screen can be EXTREMELY annoying at times, but that is by no means unique to the Gigabyte and unlike many other laptops, it at least has the guts to power that display.  Otherwise the two biggest negatives are the heat under load making it impossible to use as a literal laptop, but given the form factor and power available, this isn’t really surprising.  The other “flaw” is the slow speed of the secondary drive, a 5400RPM SATA drive is an unfortunate choice.  That said having the primary 128GB SSD drive makes this an inconvenience at worse and I rarely notice it.  The drives are easily accessible though should you wish to swap them out.

All told, this is an amazing machine.  When I purchased my Razer it was unique in the category, but as we saw there are now a number of high powered portable machines on the market now.  And with all things considered, price, size, weight, power and performance, the P34 came out a clear winner.

Totally Off Topic

7. November 2015

 

As a developer I switched to laptops ages ago.  In fact I haven't purchased a traditional PC in close to a decade and probably never will.  That said, using a laptop as your primary development machine certainly has it’s share of drawbacks including reduced capabilities, higher prices tags and more.  The process of choosing a laptop certainly isn’t easy these days.

 

The last time I went through this process it was actually quite easy.  My requirements in a laptop are, in order:

  • portability
  • power
  • battery life
  • price

Truth of the matter is, if any of those first three are missing, a machine is completely useless to me.  Getting all three at a good price… good luck with that!  If you don’t care about portability or battery life, there are a TON of excellent options available to you.  If on the other hand, you like me require power, performance and battery, the list shrinks a lot.  If you are on a budget, the list shrinks into a number you can count on one hand.  Let’s talk first about the GPU requirements.

 

The actual performance requirements of a game development machine vary massively from game developer to game developer.  If you are creating 2D games, or relatively simple 3D games, a basic discrete GPU or even a high end Intel HD chipset will work fine for you.  In fact, this might be a great choice, as it is representative of the “average” user machine.

 

However, once you start talking 3D games, especially if you are running an engine like Unreal, or content creation tools like 3D Studio Max, ZBrush or Maya, then your requirements go up a great deal.  In this case you need a discrete GPU at a minimum.  In the mobile space this means nVidia.  Outside of the MacBook Pro’s basically NOBODY uses AMD GPUs for whatever reason.

 

Laptop GPU choices

 

So now that we decided you need a GPU, we need to look at the major options out there.  Here’s the trick of understanding nVidia processors.  First off, the m designates a mobile chip, so lower power and thus lower power consumption.  As a general rule, expect the m version to run about 20% slower than the equivalent desktop version.  Also be aware, some laptop manufacturers put desktop GPUs in laptops.  Expect these to get extremely hot and to have battery lives counted in minutes, and that’s not hyperbole.

 

When looking at the naming convention of an nVidia gpu, the first number is series or a chronological marker, and the second number indicates the performance.  For example, you might think that a 940m would outperform a 880m right?  I mean it’s 60 better!  You would be horrifically wrong!  In fact my current laptop’s 765m would absolutely trounce the 940m in any benchmark.  So when looking at GPUs it’s the last two digits that are by far most important.  However that first digit can still be important as designs can shrink and become more efficient in their power usage.  The major differences between versions is the clock rate the chips run at, the amount of memory available, the memory bandwidth and the number of CUDA cores available.

 

The GPU Options

 

920/930m

You might as well go with a good integrated GPU and experience similar performance with better battery life and often lower cost or better form factor.  These GPUs may be able to run demanding games on low to medium settings at non 1080p resolutions at somewhat playable framerates.  You will struggle running a game engine like Unreal on this class of GPUs.

 

940/950m

These are in my opinion  the entry level of dedicated GPUs.  If you are looking at a sub-1000$ USD laptop with a dedicated GPU in it, this is probably the best you will find in a reasonable form factor.  You aren’t going to be running cutting edge AAA games at the highest settings, and it will struggle with higher end  or complex 3D content creation, but it’s still a big step up from even the best of the Intel integrated GPUs, even though those are improving greatly.  One of the big difference is nVidia can write good display drivers, Intel, not so much.

 

960/965m

I have been running a 765m now for several years and it’s still a pretty solid GPU.  At this level you will find you can run every game released in medium to high levels.   Personally this was my cut off when searching for a new machine.  The power to power consumed ration is quite good and it’s got enough power for today, if perhaps not for tomorrow.  The big caveat here is, this GPU is *NOT* able to power a 4K or 3K display, even though manufacturers really want to try.  The 965m is about 10% faster than the 960m. 

 

970m

This is in my opinion, the sweet spot for performance.  It runs a great deal faster than the 960 series, while not sucking battery and generating the heat of the 980m.  You are going to be *just* able to power a 4K display with this GPU, depending on the title or graphic settings.

 

980m

This is as of writing, the fastest GPU you can get in a laptop.  It is also the most power hungry.  This GPU is capable of eating any game or application you want to throw at it and often at 4K resolutions.  The 980m has 100W power consumption to the 970m’s 81W.  This is by far the most future proof of the GPU options.

 

Comparisons on GPU Boss:

If you browse those results you will see that the most profound jump was from the 960 to the 970 series.  A difference of more than twice as much as any other jump.

 

Now keep in mind there are going to be several older models with last years chip, often for a very good price.  You will often find that performance is quite similar, but power consumption is not.  If you don’t care about battery life, the 880m for example, might be an exceptional bargain for you.

 

Choosing a CPU

 

I might be somewhat controversial on this one, but this area I think matters the least.  Simply put, if you buy a machine with a good GPU you will almost always get a good enough i7 or possibly i5 processor.  There are of course a few choices here and mostly come down to when the laptop was manufactured.

A very common CPU in gaming laptops is the i7-4720, which is a very solid choice.  The newest laptops will be probably be running an i-7 6700.  If the laptop came in the middle of the year it may be running something like an i7-5700.  So what is the difference.

On the one hand you have clock speeds which should be immediately obvious in meaning.  The next two most important aspects are the architecture and the size of the chip.  Smaller chips generally use less power, so size does in fact matter.  Architecture is going to be one of four things, in order of age (oldest first): Ivy Bridge, Haswell, Broadwell or Skylake.

As a general rule of thumb the newer the chip the less power it consumes, although you will often find the older chips in the previous series out perform the newest chips in the new series.  For example, the best Broadwell CPUs today are generally faster then the newest Skylake CPUs.  Of course over time this becomes less true. 

As mentioned earlier, size is a big part of power consumption.  Skylake chips are made of 14nm transistors while the Haswell is a 22nm chip.  To make things even more confusing, Broadwell is a transitional chip, it’s a Haswell architecture made at 14nm.

Generally what this means when shopping for a laptop, if it was made in the last 4 or 5 months and it’s running a Broadwell or Skylake processor, it will probably get great battery life.  That said, if it’s not a Ivy Bridge chip you are probably good to go and even that shouldn’t be a deal breaker.  In benchmarks thus far, I have actually seen almost zero difference between Skylake and Broadwell CPUs in both processing power and power consumption.

At the end of the day, the CPU is rarely the bottle neck and Intel has been making really good chips since they started the i3/i5/i7 series, so you can’t really make a huge mistake here.

 

HOWEVER.  If you are going with an integrated GPU you want to be very aware of which iteration you use, as the capabilities of the integrated GPU have changed massively from release to release.  For an idea of the various integrated graphics from chip to chip, refer to this handy chart.

 

RAM, Storage and Everything Else

 

Next there is all the other stuff that goes into making up the laptop.  The keyboard and trackpad style are obviously going to be personal tastes, as are the design esthetics.  This was actually a big point for me, as I simply wont buy a “gaming” styled laptop.  I don’t want glowing logos, or bullet holes or bite marks in my laptops design!  Of course your opinion will vary.

 

For RAM, I think the reasonable limit is 8GB, although you could get buy with 4GB and quite frankly, I don’t think most people would use 16GB.  32GB is just a waste for the vast majority of users.

 

For storage, this one is critical.  A 5400 RPM drive as a primary hard drive is an absolute non-starter.  Seriously don’t do it.  Your boot times will suck, your machine will be sluggish and all that other hardware will be wasted.  Increasingly these days a SSD drive is a must, at least for your system partition.  The difference between an SSD and non SSD drive is 3 second boot times verses 30 seconds or worse.  If your machine starts using swap instead of memory, this will becoming even more glaring.

 

What I am saying here is, get an SSD.   I pretty much consider it mandatory in this day and age.

 

How big, that’s up to you.  I lived for the past several years with only a 256GB drive for storage and with solutions like DropBox, Github, Google Drive or One Drive basically giving away online storage, I never really found this a major hindrance.  Frankly if I didn’t install Steam or any games, I would probably never use more than 100GB or so.  That said, more is always nice.  Another common option is a small SSD drive for your OS install and a larger slower SATA driver for storage and non-performance critical applications.  Nicely in this day and age, swapping the hard drive out of a laptop normally requires zero technical ability and the removal of a screw or two.

 

The final, and critically important decision is the screen.  Many people are jumping on the 4K or 3K display train and this is certainly an option.  That said, if you have less than a 970m GPU or a dual 960 series, don’t even consider it.  Honestly don’t.  That GPU cant power that screen.

 

The choice of an ultra high def screen also leads to a ton of legacy apps being almost illegible.  A higher resolution screen is also a greater draw on battery life.  On the other hand, they look really really really nice and greatly reduce eye strain.  Personally if the option existed, I would go FHD (1080p) regardless of the GPU I selected, but that’s of course personal opinion.

 

The Options

 

Two and a half years ago, the decision was extremely simple.  In fact there was only one option, the Razer Blade series from Razer.  Well that’s not completely true, there was also the MacBook Pro… sorta.  Those were the only two machines in 2013 that were truly portable while packing good internals.  The MacBook Pro unfortunately, and true still to this day, packed a sub-par GPU especially for the sky high price tag.   Not that the Razer Blade is what I would refer to as cheap.  It has however served me well these past two and a half years and had the battery not started failing I would probably continue to use it.

 

These days however, more and more manufacturers are making capable while still portable laptops that are ideal for game developers on the go.  Let’s take a look at the leading options.  To make this list you needed to meet the following criteria:

  • around 5lbs or less
  • 15” or smaller
  • dedicated GPU, preferable 960 or better
  • i7 processor
  • 8GB or more RAM
  • SSD

 

Name

Asus G501JW

MSRP

2200USD

Weight

4.5lbs

Features

Asus makes a whole series of laptops worth considering, but the 501 series is certainly the most portable.  This laptop ships with a respectable 960m processor but unfortunately pairs it with a 3840x2160 display.  There are several models available but I link to the J for a very specific reason.  This is the only version that doesn’t ship with a completely useless battery.  4+ hours are possible with this version, while others in the series will struggle to get 2hours.

i7 4720HQ

GTX 960M w/ 4GB DDR5

16GB DDR3 RAM

512GB SSD

This version without an SSD and with a much more sane FHD (1080p) display is instead listed for a much more reasonable $1050USD.  Be aware however that the battery life is terrible.  There are several different versions of the same model, just be aware that the American J version if the only one with a good battery choice right now.  There is also the 551 series which are cheaper with similar components but a fair bit heavier.  Too heavy to make this list.

 

Name

Asus UX501

MSRP

2075USD

Weight

5lbs

Features

i7 4720HQ

3840x2160 Display

GTX 960M w/ 4GB DDR5

16GB DDR3 RAM

512GB SSD

 

This is the same machine as the G501, just marketed to business consumers instead of gamers.  It comes in a brushed aluminum chassis and is a very nice looking machine.  Like the G501 series, you want the J series if battery life is important to you, however if it is not, much cheaper versions exist.  This machine has similar build quality and superior specs to the MacBook Pro for half the price.

 

Name

15” MacBook Pro w/ Dedicated GPU

MSRP

2300USD

Weight

4.5lbs

Features

i7 2.5GHZ

16GB DDR3

512GB SSD

Radeon R9 M370X with 2GB

Of course the MacBook Pro is also an option.  The internals are certainly not cutting edge compared to others in this list, and Apple’s refusal to use nVidia GPUs really hurt it.  On the flipside you get MacOS and can run Windows either in Parallels or dual boot.  Build quality is generally quite good although the design is really waiting for an update.  Not a great gaming machine but certainly a flexible one and the only Macbook really even capable of running games at all.  You can raise or lower the price slightly by changing the RAM and storage requirements.  Has by far the best battery life of machines on this list.

 

Name

MSI GS40 or GS60

MSRP

1500 – 2200USD

Weight

4.2lbs

Features

i7 5700 CPU

970m GPU

16GB DDR3 RAM

128GB SSD + 1TB SATA

There are several variants of the the GS60 Ghost Pro laptop from MSI and every single one of them has the interns you need.  Packed in a lightweight chassis for a reasonable price.  If we stopped there this would be the easier winner on the list, but sadly we can’t.  The battery life kills this model.  Depending on the review you read the battery life is anywhere from abysmal at 1hr to just kind of bad in the 2.5hr range.  Sadly unlike the Asus line, there isn’t a model with a superior battery available.

The GS40 is a similar machine packed into a 14” chassis, otherwise all the interns are pretty similar.  The range is available in a variety of SSD sizes and with differing processors for obviously differing prices.

 

Name

Aorus X3 / X5

MSRP

2300USD

Weight

5.5lbs

Features

i7-5700

2x GTX 965m in SLI

16GB DDR

512GB SSD + 1TB SATA

This laptop certainly stretches the portability and weight values but is otherwise a powerhouse with a SLI setup.  However a 2hour battery life and a high price tag certainly hinder it.  The Aorus X3 is a beastly machine that is lighter and smaller, but with equally horrid battery life and a higher price tag.  If battery and budget are no issue, it’s got some amazing specs.

 

Name

Gigabyte P34

MSRP

1500USD

Weight

3.5lbs

Features

i7 5700HQ

8GB DDR3

128SSD + 1TB SATA

970m GPU

By far the lightest machine on this list and loaded with hardware it’s hard to go wrong with the P34.  There are a variety of versions available with more RAM and higher resolution and obviously a higher pricetag.  The secondary drive unfortunately is 5400RPM, the only major strike against this machine.  Battery life is a respectable 3-5 hours daily use, also among the best on this list.

 

Name

Razer Blade 14

MSRP

2000-3000USD

Weight

4.5lbs

Features

i7-4720HQ

16GB DDR3

nVidia 970m

256GB SSD

A number of different configurations exist, mostly varying the SSD size and screen resolutions.  The chassis is basically unchanged since the original model, simply receiving a spec bump each year.  Battery life is third on this list behind the Macbook Pro and Gigabyte P34.  Build quality is as good or better than any other machine on this list.  Sadly the same can be said of the price tag.

 

 

Name

Acer Nitro

MSRP

1000USD

Weight

5.3lb

Features

i7-4720HQ

8GB DDR3

nVidia 960m

1TB 5400RPM Sata HD

The bargain on this list, hamstrung with an absolutely stupid choice in hard disks.  If you buy this machine budget some money for a HD replacement or that will drag the entire system down.  With a respectable 4 hours battery life and a somewhat heavy 5.3lb weight, it’s a solid economical choice.  With a really stupid hard drive.  Keep in mind however that fit and finish may not be the best on this machine at that price level.

 

 

 

Name

Lenova Y50

MSRP

1050USD

Weight

5.3lbs

Features

i7-4720

16GB DDR3 RAM

GTX 960M

256SSD HD

Another budget choice like the Nitro, with a similarly stupid decision to pack a 5400RPM drive.  This one does however ship with a 8GB SSD drive for swap partition optimizations.  How much of a difference this makes is unknown to me.  For the price however, a solid portable system similar in all respects to the Nitro.

 

 

Name

HP Omen

MSRP

1400USD

Weight

4.7lbs

Features

i7-4702

8GB DDR3

nVidia 860m

256GB SSD

Not traditionally the company you would think of for gaming laptops, but this one is quite solid if a bit underwhelming from a spec perspective. 

 

Honorable Mentions

 

Dell XPS 15  A high quality, great form factor machine, a serious price tag with excellent specs and a horrifically outdated GPU.  Update the GPU to a 960/970 and you instantly have a contender.  With this GPU at that price, sadly I have to pass.

MSI GS30 This one is an interesting concept.  It’s a portable and capable 13” laptop that lacks a dedicated GPU.  That said, it ships with a Gaming Dock, that contains a desktop class GPU.  So a portable machine when you need it, a gaming machine when you take it home.  If you only need the power when you are at home, this is certainly something to consider. 

Alienware 13  This 13” option from Alienware is certainly worth considering as well.  It packs a 960m GPU and solid internals into a 13” chassis.  Also like the MSI it has a desktop GPU docking option available.  It clocks in at under 5 lbs, so it certainly meets the criteria set above.  It is however horrifically fat, at 1.14”.  If it’s girth isn’t an issue to you it’s a solid option for 1200-1500USD.

Microsoft SurfaceBook  When it was announced that the Surface Book would have a dedicated GPU I stood up and took notice.  The price tag was extremely steep, but you were essentially getting a tablet and high end laptop in one, so perhaps it would be worthwhile.  Then it was announced that the GPU was a 1GB custom nVidia chip on par with the 940M and it’s place on this list was lost. 

Origin EON-15x  This machine is amazingly powerful in a 15” chassis.  It’s also amazingly expensive with horrid battery life.  Plus it weighs more then some 17” laptops.  It’s fun to drool over though, so I’ve included it.

 

The Verdict

 

Looking at the list there seems to be one clear cut winner when it comes to size, performance and price.

The Gigabyte P34v4.  The lightest, one of the highest specs at one of the lower non-budget price points with a 2 year warranty makes it hard to say no.  I’ve put my money where my mouth is and purchased this machine, so expect a review soon.

Totally Off Topic

Month List

Popular Comments