|In the middle of December, at the beginning of the annual holiday shopping spree, AMD released their latest and greatest graphics cards, the Radeon HD 6970 and 6950. In our review, we noted that the new GPU, code-named "Cayman" is a notable step forward from the previous generation. It incorporates dual graphics engines whereas the previous generation only had one, among other changes, that give the new chip a nice leg up in performance.
Less than a month later AMD had another product to release, the AMD Radeon HD 6970M. Code-named Blackcomb, the Radeon HD 6970M is the mobile counterpart to Cayman. This chip is currently AMD's fastest GPU for mobile applications and it's meant for use in high performance gaming and workstation laptops.
AMD Radeon HD 6790M on a MXM 3.0B module
In terms of its feature set, Blackcomb is similar to its desktop cousin and we have already covered the architectural details in our review of the desktop model. However, as is the case with all mobile graphics cards, the mobile and desktop models aren't the same chip, despite sharing a model number. Where the desktop Radeon HD 6970 is capable of 2.7 TeraFLOPs, the mobile version can only crank out 1.3TFLOPs, a bit less than half. While that may seem unimpressive, consider that this is the case for virtually all mobile processors and is necessary as a result of the need for power efficiency in mobile applications, something Blackcomb does very well, requiring only about 75-100 watts.
The Radeon HD 6970M is a significant improvement over AMD's previous top dog, the Radeon HD 5870M. Whereas the 5870M had 800 shaders, 1024MB of memory and 128-bit memory bus, the new 6970M has 960 shaders, 2048MB of memory and a 256-bit memory bus. This results in nearly twice the memory bandwidth and more overall processing power.
Here are the highlights:
Since we'll be working with mobile cards, we'll need a suitable mobile platform to run the tests on. Our benchmark platform is the Eurocom Panther 2.0. This is a very large and very powerful desktop replacement (DTR) based on the Clevo X7200 whitebook. Before we get down to the raw numbers, let's first take a quick look around the Eurocom Panther 2.0 and see what it has under its hood.
|Eurocom Panther 2.0: Design & Build Quality|
|Suppose for a moment we were to describe a computer rocking an Intel Core i7-980X Extreme processor with three 4GB DDR3-1333 modules in a triple channel configuration for a total of 12GB of memory, dual video cards (SLI or Crossfire, your pick), four hard drives and a HD 1080P screen. You'd swear we were talking about a desktop, perhaps a three foot tall aluminum full-tower.
We would have agreed with you until the Eurocom Panther 2.0 showed up at our door. While we've seen plenty of large Desktop Replacements (DTR) here at HotHardware, we've rarely seen one that takes the concept this far towards its logical conclusion. All told, the Panther 2.0 is packing more desktop grade parts than it has laptop components. The Panther is a beast.
The first thing you'll notice about the Eurocom Panther 2.0 is the sheer size and heft of it. No one will ever confuse this monster with an ultraportable, no matter how blurry their eyes are. At 16.76 inches long, 11.44 inches wide and nearly two and a half inches thick, and weighing in at nearly 12 pounds fully equipped, the Panther 2.0 is a true DTR. For some perspective, you could fit four Macbook Airs inside the Panther's volume and still have space left over for a dozen iPhones. Quite simply, comparing the Panther 2.0 to most other DTRs puts them to shame.
While the Panther's proportions are almost comical, there is nothing funny about its design. The Panther 2.0 exudes quality and purpose, from the rock solid feel of the chassis to the brushed aluminum lid. While there is certainly a lot of plastic here as well, the internal structure is made of magnesium and the entire machine feels extremely sturdy. We suspect the LCD lid is only finished in aluminum and is mostly plastic underneath, but it felt very rigid and wasn't prone to flexing. The lid is attached by a pair of quality hinges with a very nice feel.
The body of the machine feels like a single solid block of plastic coated magnesium. The chassis has a structural rigidity rarely seen in consumer electronics. The overall feel of the machine is probably most comparable to a unibody Macbook Pro, it is that solid. The fit and finish of the Panther 2.0 is excellent as well. As previously mentioned, the top of the LCD lid is covered by two pieces of brushed aluminum separated by a shiny plastic insert that displays a blue LED backlit Eurocom logo. While most of the inside of the laptop like the LCD bezel and hinges are covered by shiny plastic, the entire palm rest is finished in brushed aluminum.
Taking a peak under the hood reveals a total of four blower style fans used to keep the components cool. Each blower sits on top of a copper heatsink with integrated heatpipes. The two units on the left of the image above are for the two graphics cards. The two units on the right are for the CPU and motherboard. At the top, above all this cooling hardware, are two banks of hard drive bays, as well as the battery and slim optical drive. The hard drive bay in the center supports two hard drives and the secondary bay in the corner sits above the optical drive. While the Panther 2.0 is capable of supporting up to four hard drives, equipping it with a fourth hard drive replaces the optical drive.
The battery is located on the opposite corner. The Panther 2.0 sports a 88.8 watt-hour battery, which would be pretty respectable for an ordinary laptop, or even an ordinary DTR. However, in the Panther, with its full-power desktop components, the battery barely manages over a half hour of battery life under medium load. Considering the Panther 2.0 is a "desktop replacement", you are better off thinking of the battery as a built-in UPS, in which case 30 minutes is quite reasonable. This machine simply shouldn't be used unplugged.
For such a well spec'd machine, you would expect the Panther to have a lot of connectivity options and it delivers in spades. All of the connections and ports are placed along the left and right sides except for the AC power connector which was wisely placed on the back. Along the left side of the machine are two USB 3.0 ports, HDMI-out, HDMI-in, DVI, eSATA, IEEE1394b, S/PDIF, RJ-45 Ethernet and an all-in-one card reader. Along the right side of the machine are three USB 2.0 ports, headphone port, microphone port, line-in and audio-out. Of particular interest is the HDMI-input. This allows you to plug in an HDMI device to use the Eurocom's LCD screen as a standard monitor. The bank of four audio connections along the right side can also be used to output full surround sound.
|Eurocom Panther 2.0: Usage Experience & Verdict|
|As we've seen, the Eurocom Panther 2.0 gets top marks for build quality. We also had a pleasant time using it. For the most part, the build quality continues to all of the controls and keys. Located along the top of the keyboard are a set of LEDs which indicate volume, wireless and bluetooth connectivity, web cam, caps lock, num lock, scroll lock and hard drive activity. The volume, wi-fi, bluetooth and camera LEDs are actually touch sensitive and will act as controls. The wi-fi and bluetooth LEDs actually indicate activity and will flash when data is being transmitted. The AC power and battery status LEDs are located on the front of the machine and the power LED is set into the power button.
Keyboard & Trackpad
The Panther's keyboard is very pleasant to use. The keys feel good to type on and the keyboard has minimal flex. Eurocom offers the Panther 2.0 with 14 different keyboard layouts. There are at least two different English keyboards, the US International and UK version. Both have problems in terms of layout. The US International keyboard is the most standard layout but the numpad has been rearranged to accommodate the arrow keys. The numpad's arrangement is somewhat awkward and seemingly unnecessary since there appears to be plenty of room to either side of the keyboard. It should have been possible to fit a standard keyboard layout.
US International Keyboard Layout
The trackpad is without any real usage flaws. However, its on the small side considering the amount of room available. The two keys also make mouse-like click sounds when pressed which might be an annoyance for some. Set in between the two keys is a fingerprint reader. It's worth noting that the trackpad surface and the keys are separated by a clear plastic bar that lights up blue when the system is on, but is otherwise unnoticeable. A nice aesthetic touch that also helps you find the trackpad keys in the dark.
The Eurocom Panther 2.0 is equipped with 5.1 surround sound, in the sense that there are five speakers and a "subwoofer" placed around the laptop. Three speakers used for the front, left and right channels are located directly under the LCD and two more for the rear channels are located at the front of the laptop, under the palm rest. On the bottom of the laptop is a tiny "subwoofer" unit.
Overall, the sound quality is acceptable compared to other laptops, but nothing special. The surround sound is largely a gimmick and there is no real spacial positioning. While the sound is free of the shrill highs that plague laptop speakers, they are lacking in the midrange and bass departments. The subwoofer unit is completely useless for producing bass, as you would expect from a 1-inch driver. The "subwoofer" is not on a crossover and as a result works as a kind of mid-range driver. The rest of the speakers don't produce much midrange so the majority of the mid to lower frequencies come from the "subwoofer" unit, located on the underside of the laptop. This has the very unfortunate effect of making the sound seem hollow and distant since most of the frequency range is coming from underneath the laptop. It's as if the speakers are being smothered by pillows (or several layers of magnesium, plastic and silicon).
The main attraction, in terms of sound, is the Panther's set of surround sound hook-ups so you can use a proper sound system.
We initially thought the Eurocom Panther 2.0 was equipped with an IPS panel. Side-by-side comparisons with S-IPS professional monitors showed that the Panther's screen is quite good for a laptop. After some digging we discovered that the screen is actually a TN model like most laptops. Except unlike most laptop TN panels, this one isn't terrible. The back-lighting is even and strong, although we did notice some slight bleeding along the edges. The image quality is excellent and the viewing angles are acceptable. Color reproduction is fair but not quite comparable to a real IPS panel. Overall, the screen is quite good and should be sufficient for all of your multimedia needs as well as basic image production.
Heat & Noise
The Panther 2.0 is well behaved. Even after several hours of heavy benchmarking the laptop did not feel hot to the touch. Since the hard drives are located under the palm rest and not the processor bits, the palm rests remains cool and pleasant to touch. The keyboard gets lukewarm and stays that way as long as the machine is on.
Unfortunately the Panther does make quite a growl, as you might expect from the array of four blower fans needed to cool the components. The fans are noticeable even when the machine is idling at the desktop. The sound level is very comparable to a typical desktop system.
The Clevo X7200 chassis that the Panther is based on has been known to encounter overheating issues when fully equipped with a top-end processor such as the Intel i7-980X in our review unit. We have encountered this problem with a different Clevo X7200 based system in the past from another manufacturer. Unfortunately we did not have the time to investigate this further since this article is not a review of the Panther 2.0. However it's worth noting that our Eurocom Panther 2.0 system performed normally during our benchmarking and we did not experience heat related problems.
Who Should Buy This?
The Eurocom Panther 2.0 is an interesting, unique product that will pique the interest of many, but only be owned by a few. The Panther 2.0 is definitely a niche product aimed at those of you who need serious workstation and server grade computing power in a small, easy to transport form factor for use in locations where you have access to an AC outlet. For all intents and purposes, the Panther 2.0 is a portable desktop, not a laptop. The battery is nothing more than an integrated UPS. You get the benefits of high-end desktop computing performance in a laptop-like form factor but without most of the advantages of a laptop, except for the heavy peripheral integration and easy transportability.
As for what it costs, if you must ask then you probably don't need a Panther in your life. Suffice to say, a decked out Panther 2.0 with all the trimmings, like the one we are using for this graphics comparison, will have a price well north of $7000. Although it is possible to configure a Panther with less features and a lower cost, you need to ask yourself if you really need a Panther 2.0 in that case. You might be better off looking at one of Eurocom's many other, lighter, smaller and more energy efficient laptops. The Eurocom Panther 2.0 is made for scenarios where no desktop can go and an ordinary laptop just isn't enough.
Now that we've seen what our benchmark platform is made of, let's get back to our head-to-head mobile graphics comparison between the Radeon HD 6970 and the GeForce GTX 470M.
|Test Setup & Unigine Heaven|
How We Configured Our Test Systems: All of our tests were run using the Eurocom Panther 2.0 laptop. In order to let the graphics cards shine and remove bottlenecks in other parts of the system, the Panther 2.0 was outfitted with an Intel Core i7 980X six-core processor and 12GB of DDR3-1333 RAM in triple-channel. This should remove the processor and memory sub-systems as potential bottlenecks in the benchmarks.
Unigine's Heaven benchmark gives us our first taste of what these two mobile graphics cards can do. The Radeon 6970M and GeForce 470M perform similarly in single-card configurations, posting scores less than 1 fps apart, on average. However the gap widens noticeably in dual-card configurations, where the Radeon 6970M in Crossfire clearly has the edge over the GeForce 470M in SLI.
|FutureMark 3DMark 11|
The Extreme preset settings for 3DMark11 is punishing for even the most well equipped desktop rigs and the graphics cards in our test definitely felt the strain. We see that the lead that the Radeon 6970M had over the GeForce 470M in Unigine is even more pronounced in 3DMark11. The GeForce 470M falls behind the Radeon 6970M in dual-card configuration by nearly 30% and 26% in single-card configuration.
|Aliens vs Predator|
The Radeon 6970M continues to dominate the GeForce 470M in our Alien vs. Predator test. It's worth noting that both of these cards are producing high-end desktop-like performance numbers thanks in part to the Eurocom Panther 2.0's extreme specifications.
The Radeon 6970M performed very well in the F1 2010 benchmark. The Radeon 6970M produced benchmark results nearly twice as high as the GeForce 470M in both single and dual card configurations. This is especially impressive considering that the GeForce 470M's performance was far from poor. The 6970M CrossFire configuration suffered from a performance anomaly that locked the FPS at 50, however.
|Far Cry 2|
Far Cry 2 is the only DirectX 10 benchmark we used in this comparison. While the Radeon 6970M still posts the highest scores, its lead is significantly smaller than in the other games in this test. This indicates that the two cards are more evenly matched in older titles but the Radeon 6970M benefits in DirectX 11 titles thanks to its improved tessellation performance over previous Radeons, larger frame buffer, and architectural efficiency.
|Just Cause 2|
The two cards produce similar scores in Just Cause 2. It's worth noting that the game supports several CUDA enhancements that, when enabled, allow NVIDIA GeForce cards a slight edge over their competitors. We left these settings disabled to level the playing field to get a sense of the two card's baseline performance, but with the new CUDA processing enabled the performance relationship between the two cards reverses, with the GeForce 470M pulling ahead.
|Lost Planet 2|
Lost Planet 2's Test B benchmark is a heavy-duty stress test that makes very heavy usage of tessellation. While the Radeon 6970M's architecture features vastly improved tessellation performance over the previous generation, it isn't enough to catch up to the GeForce 470M's massive lead. While the two cards score similarly in single-card configuration, the GeForce 470M beats the Radeon by nearly 15 fps, or 25% att he lower resolutions when two cards are used. At the higher resolution, though, the Radeon is right back on top.
Our final benchmark, Metro 2033, doesn't hold any new surprises. The Radeon 6970M beats the GeForce 470M by a comfortable margin in both single and dual card configurations. The Metro 2033 benchmark results are a decent summary of the overall performance differences between the two cards.
|Summary & Conclusion|
|Performance Summary: The AMD Radeon HD 6970M performed extremely well in our tests. It was able to upstage the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 470M in nearly every benchmark, often by a significant margin. However, some will note that the GeForce GTX 470M isn't the fastest mobile card NVIDIA has to offer. Indeed they also have a GeForce GTX 480M and a 485M which is even faster. While we didn't have a GTX 480M or GTX 485M on hand for comparison, judging by their specifications in relation to the GTX 470M, the 480M is likely to be similar in performance to the Radeon HD 6970M while the GTX 485M should be a bit faster. This puts the Radeon between the GTX 470M and GTX 485M in terms of performance.
The Radeon HD 6970M is very quick in a single-card configuration. It is easily capable of smoothly rendering any currently available game without image quality compromises. In a dual-card CrossFireX configuration, the Radeon HD 6970M is able to just about match its desktop cousin, the Cayman-based Raden HD 6970. When paired up in CrossFire, the Radeon HD 6970M will have a lot of longevity as a gaming setup and should be able to keep up with the latest games for quite some time.
Combined with the Eurocom Panther 2.0's impressive specifications, the dual-card CrossFireX setup is the fastest mobile platform we've benchmarked to date. For those seeking serious graphics mobile performance, the AMD Radeon HD 6970M is an excellent choice. Unfortunately the relatively high thermal and power requirements for the card (as well as its competitors) will limit it to larger laptops capable of providing the necessary cooling and power, such as the Eurocom Panther 2.0. However, this is the price we pay for bleeding edge performance and that's unlikely to change anytime soon.
Update, February 3, 2011 – This article has sparked some discussion between HotHardware and a few of the companies involved, whether directly or indirectly. NVIDIA has taken issue with the comparisons made in the article and voiced concerns regarding Eurocom’s current price structure as it relates to their GPU configurations and to competing notebook offerings. So, we’re posting this update to make some clarifications.
As for the performance comparisons--which pit AMD’s current top-of-the-line mobile GPU against NVIDIA’s third-best performing GPU--it is exceedingly rare to have the opportunity to test a single notebook platform with multiple GPUs. In the vast majority of circumstances, different notebooks are used to test different GPUs, and it’s rare that the different notebooks have the same specifications. It’s also uncommon to have the notebooks in-house at the same time, outfitted with the same software and drivers, etc. Presented with the opportunity to test a single notebook with multiple GPUs, plain and simple, we jumped at the chance. We clearly state that NVIDIA has two higher-end mobile GPUs currently available (the GTX 480 and GTX 485) and know HotHardware readers are smart enough to understand that a GTX 480 or GTX 485 will likely perform better than the GTX 470.
NVIDIA also voiced some concerns regarding Eurocom’s current pricing. If you price out similarly configured Eurocom Panther 2.0 machines with Radeon HD 6970s, GTX 470s, or GTX 485s, the Radeon-equipped machine will be the least expensive (at least currently) option. Where NVIDIA takes issue, though, is that Eurocom’s GeForce-equipped configurations are significantly more expensive than some competing offerings built around a similar chassis, to the tune of hundreds of dollars. For example, the Eurocom Panther 2.0 with GTX 470 SLI comes in around $4,811, whereas a Sager machine built around a similar chassis with the same CPU, memory and drive configuration comes in at $3,849. Similar price differences were noted between machines from Origin, AVA Direct, and some others. Unfortunately, no price comparisons can be made between Eurocom’s Radeon HD 6970 CrossFire-equipped configurations because it is currently the only company to offer the setup. Origin PC, however, offers the option for a single 1GB Radeon HD 6970, and the price difference between it and the identical machine with a GTX 470 is only $22 in the GeForce’s favor. Just for reference, moving to a GTX 480 at Origin PC’s site adds $275 to the price, over and above the price of the GTX 470. And the GTX 485 adds $235. (Yes, the 485 is currently less expensive than the 480 at Origin)
We got on the line with representatives from Eurocom to discuss their current pricing structure and were told that the additional engineering and qualification done on their machines, the additional features, and the additional costs involved with supporting more configurations results in higher prices. While others sell notebooks based on Clevo’s X7200 chassis, the additional engineering done by Eurocom and their partners currently makes Eurocom’s product unique in the market. The Panther 2 offers a more capable cooling solution, support for up to 4 drives (others support 3), embedded HDMI input, and component level changes that reportedly enhance stability and longevity. Eurocom has also done work to customize various BIOS and firmwares and offers support for XP, Linux, and Win7 whereas some others do not support as many OSes.