Thursday, April 14, 2011
Eurocom Racer: Why the Radeon HD 6970M Rocks
I hate to do this to Eurocom, but I’m going to get this out of the way right at the start. Eurocom is quick to point out that they offer many specialized features that you can’t get elsewhere, making their Clevo-based offerings something more than you’ll get from other vendors. That’s true to an extent, but at the end of the day this is still a Clevo P150HM chassis, the smaller version of the Clevo P170HM we looked at a couple weeks back. They asked us not to compare with pricing from other vendors, but we know our readers are smart enough to put two and two together, so there you have it. With that messy subject dealt with, let’s discuss some of the extras that Eurocom likes to tout.
First, most of Eurocom’s laptops fall more into the category of mobile workstations rather than pure notebooks. If you saw dollar signs flash when I said “workstation”, you’re not alone. So what makes for a “mobile workstation” as opposed to a regular notebook? In this case, Eurocom gives users the option to equip their Racer notebook with Quadro graphics cards, which make even the GTX 485M seem affordable. How much of the extra testing and validation is done by Eurocom and how much comes from Clevo I can’t say, but there’s definitely more involved in qualifying a notebook for use with a Quadro 5000M than just stuffing a GPU into the chassis and hoping for the best.
Extra features don’t end there. Eurocom also lists support for 8GB SO-DIMMs, something few other vendors even think about; each 8GB DIMM will set you back over $850, though, so you’d better have a really good reason for going there. And just for the record, that price isn’t all that unreasonable—Dell lists 2x8GB as an option on the Precision M6500, and it’s a $4280 upgrade. Ouch! Eurocom also supports the use of a second HDD/SSD in place of the optical drive via a caddy, or just buy the caddy on your own for future use as a $125 upgrade. As a final incentive to go the Eurocom route, they offer the P150HM/Racer with one of three LCDs: 1080p matte, 1080p glossy, or 768p 120Hz glossy 3D. We received the cheapest option, which also happens to be the best: the matte 1080p panel. In a word, it’s beautiful!
The bottom line, as you’ll see below, is that Eurocom offers some extras that you can’t get from most Clevo resellers, but it will cost you a bit more. Here’s the setup we received for review.
Eurocom Racer Specifications
Processor Intel Core i7-2720QM
(4x2.2GHz + HT, 32nm, 6MB L3, Turbo to 3.3GHz, 45W)
Chipset Intel HM65
Memory 4x2GB DDR3-1333 (Max 32GB)
Graphics AMD Radeon HD 6970M 2GB
960 Stream Processors, 680/900MHz Core/RAM clocks
256-bit GDDR5 Interface, 3.6GHz effective RAM clock
Display 15.6" LED Matte 16:9 1080p (1920x1080)
(AU Optronics B156HW01)
Hard Drive(s) 500GB 7200RPM Hybrid HDD
(Seagate Momentus XT ST95005620AS)
Optical Drive DVD+/-RW (HL-DT-ST GT32N)
Networking Gigabit Ethernet (JMicron JMC250)
802.11b/g/n WiFi (Intel Advanced-N 6230)
Bluetooth 3.0 (Intel Advanced-N 6230)
Audio Realtek ALC892 HD Audio (2.1 speakers + sub-woofer)
Four audio jacks (Microphone, Headphone, Line-In, Line-Out)
Capable of 5.1 and digital output
Battery 8-Cell, 14.8V, 5.2Ah, 77Wh
Front Side IR Receiver
Left Side Memory Card Reader
1 x USB 2.0
2 x USB 3.0
Optional TV Input
Right Side Optical Drive
1 x USB 2.0
Back Side 2 x Exhaust vent
1 x eSATA/USB 2.0 Combo
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Dimensions 15.04" x 10.24" x 1.4-1.72" (WxDxH)
Weight 6.98 lbs (with 8-cell battery)
Extras Optional HDD/SSD Tray for Optical Drive Bay
Flash reader (SD, MMC, MS)
98-Key keyboard with 10-key
Warranty 1-year warranty standard
2-year and 3-year extended warranties available
Pricing Estimated Starting Price: $1135 (i5-2520M, HD 5870, 2x2GB, 250GB)
Estimated Price as Configured: $2161
If you go play around with Eurocom’s online configurator, you’ll find a wealth of upgrades and other options. Some of the customizations are appreciated, but others make you feel like they’re milking you for every dime they can get. Let’s start with the bad areas first.
By default, you don’t even get wireless; to add insult to injury your choices are $57 for generic AzureWave 802.11n, $101 for Intel WiFi Link 6300, or $127 for Intel 6230 with 802.11n and Bluetooth 3.0. All of those prices seem to be about twice what we’d expect to pay online. Memory upgrades are another area where you’re fleeced; 2x2GB comes standard, but if you want 4x2GB it’s a $298 upgrade. Really? You mean adding another set of 2x2GB DDR3-1333 modules will cost 3.5 to 7 times what I’d pay online? Validation does not cost that much, and upgrading RAM is such a trivial task that even a trained monkey should be able to do it (no offense to the monkey). Hard drive and SSD pricing is also more than you’d pay if you want to do it yourself.
Other areas aren’t so bad—take the CPU and GPU upgrades for example. The i7-2720QM is probably the sweet spot, but you can move up to the 2820QM for $175, or drop to a dual-core 2540M and save $132. Going from a GeForce GTX 460M to a 485M results in a $482 price increase, which is also less than several other vendors charge for the same upgrade. Even more interesting than the GTX 485M however is the HD 6970M, which costs all of $66 more than the 460M. When you’re looking at well over $1500 for a typical configuration, an extra $66 is chump change—especially when you see just what the 6970M brings to the table. And if you don’t want/need Windows 7 on your new notebook, you can also save some money by getting the Racer without an OS, which is certainly useful if you plan on making a Linux mobile workstation.
Something worth noting is that pricing may still be in flux, since the Racer is not yet available for order. While our system as configured lists a final price of $2161, if you drop to a standard 500GB HDD and 4GB RAM you can get it for as little as $1828. Such a laptop easily wipes the floor with other gaming notebooks sporting NVIDIA’s GTX 460M. Sorry ASUS and MSI, but the G73SW and GT680R are looking very long in the tooth right now. In the meantime, check Eurocom's product page and wait for the Racer to show up.
In short, yes, there’s a price premium on Eurocom laptops. Whether their support, features, and validation are worth the extra cost is something you’ll have to decide. If you want Sandy Bridge with a Quadro FX 5000M, especially in a 15.6" notebook, perhaps you can make a case for them. More importantly, looking at competitive pricing from other vendors, it looks like the Racer will run about $200 more than a P150HM with standard components (2x2GB RAM, 500GB HDD, Win7 Home Premium, WiFi 6230, DVDRW), but with some interesting extras like a matte LCD (actually less than a glossy 1080p LCD if you can believe it) and the HD 6970M. So far, we haven’t found any other vendors offering the P150HM with the HD 6970M, so as of today Eurocom is your only choice for such a notebook. Would I be willing to shell out an extra $200 to upgrade from the GTX 460M to the HD 6970M and get a good matte panel thrown into the deal? You bet I would! Eurocom also has a 10% student discount, in case you qualify, which would bring the price down to within spitting distance of other resellers. Just watch out for some of the upgrade prices.