If 3D Vision stereoscopic games and movies appeal to you, the Clevo W850CU is worth a look, but the bulk, LCD viewing-angle issues, and price are barriers.
As graphics chips and CPUs become more capable, laptops start to offer gaming experiences that may not be quite as robust as dedicated desktop gaming PCs–but they can come close. AVADirect’s Clevo W860CU tries to walk the line between the massive gaming laptops that are really luggable desktop systems and the thin-and-light units with discrete GPUs that can’t quite deliver robust frame rates in games.
Certainly the base specs look attractive: a Core i7 820QM quad-core CPU delivers robust processor performance, with the native clock speed of 1.72GHz pushing up to 3.06GHz in single-core Turbo-boost mode. The graphics chip is nVidia’s last-generation GeForce 285 GTX mobile unit, but it’s still a capable mobile gaming GPU. The inclusion of the nVidia GPU facilitates the use of that company’s 3D Vision stereoscopic 3D technology, which is discussed in more detail below.
The display is a 15.6-inch glossy screen offering a somewhat anemic 1366-by-768 pixels, which seems a little on the low side for a 15-incher. The lower resolution helps 3D Vision performance, since the frame rate needs to effectively double in stereoscopic mode. The key enabler here is the supported refresh rate that maxes out at 120Hz–much higher than in most laptop displays. Rounding out the specs are 4GB of system memory, a 500GB, 7200-rpm hard drive, and a Blu-ray ROM / DVD recordable drive. That positions the W860CU for the coming generation of stereoscopic 3D movies.
The downside of the display, however, is its relatively poor viewing angles. This was particularly noticeable when using 3D Vision. Since the use of shutter glasses effectively cuts the brightness in half, even minor shifts in the viewing angles would result in severe visual dimming of the image. When playing Blu-ray movies (normal, “flat” movies), color and brightness shifts were also visible with relatively minor changes in horizontal viewing angles. Tiny changes in vertical viewing angles would make the movie unwatchable.
The overall sound quality is fairly neutral, but lacking in bass–a perennial problem with laptop audio. However, the real problem is that volume levels are quite low. Using headphones for audio created a much more robust audio experience.
The keyboard and trackpad are pretty typical of today’s laptops. The keyboard offers a separate numeric keypad, but the keys are intermingled somewhat, creating some confusion when trying to touch-type. For example, the right arrow key looks like its part of the numeric keypad. The PgDn/PgUp/Home key cluster is activated by using the Fn key, which is a minor annoyance.
Gaming performance in standard (nonstereoscopic) mode is quite robust. That’s helped by the maximum 1366-by-768 resolution. STALKER: Call of Pripyat posted a frame rate of 32 frames per second, and Far Cry 2 cranked along at 52.7 FPS. Even the demanding Just Cause 2 Concrete Jungle test managed 37.6 FPS–with 4X antialiasing enabled.
Gaming using the 3D Vision glasses was, as expected, a mixed experience. When it works–and when the game is designed for it–the effect is extremely immersive. Batman: Arkham Asylum looked fabulous in stereoscopic 3D, and frame rates were more than adequate. Borderlands also looked pretty good, as did Just Cause 2. On the other hand, Mass Effect was a mess, despite nVidia’s rating of “very good.” Polygon flashing proved distracting, and the 3D effect was minimal. The stereoscopic effect didn’t kick in at all with Bioshock 2. 3D Vision remains intriguing, given the possibilities as newer games come out, and the impressive look and feel 3D Vision imparts to Arkham Asylum. But be aware that your experience may vary substantially from one game to the next.
While no 3D movies were shipped with the unit, AVADirect does bundle Power DVD Blu-ray edition, which will support the upcoming generation of stereoscopic 3D movies as they emerge on the scene.
All this gaming goodness comes at a price. As configured, the Clevo W860CU costs over $2200. Add a weight of over 9.25 pounds with the power brick and 8.1 pounds without, and you have a pretty bulky and pricey package for a 15.6-incher with only 1366-by-768 resolution. You’ll have to decide if the 3D Vision stereoscopic effect is worth the extra bulk and lower number of pixels.