|Introduction & Specifications|
AVADirect should include a bumper sticker with its Clevo P180HM notebook that says, "My desktop replacement beat up your Ultrabook and defiled your MacBook Air." Don't get transfixed on the notion that someone would be silly enough to own both of those ultraslim systems rather than choose one over the other. The point we're trying to make is that the P180HM is big, it's mean, and it makes a complete mockery of the mobile form factor. And you know what? We're totally cool with that.
Let's talk a moment about portability versus mobility. These aren't one in the same, and if that has you scratching your head, follow along, it will make sense in a moment. A Zenbook is mobile. So is your typical 15.6-inch notebook, and even some 17-inch systems. But there's a line in the sand between notebooks and desktop replacements, and once you cross it, your system is no longer mobile, it's portable.
The trade off you're making with systems like the P180HM is far less mobility for a whole heck of a lot more power in a form factor that's still portable. To wit, the customizable P180HM we received rocks a fast Core i7-2760QM quad-core processor, a heaping pile of RAM (12GB), and not one, but two GeForce GTX 560M GPUs configured in SLI. It's built for gaming on the go, and with an 18.4-inch LED backlit display, it's big enough to at least consider using as your main system at home. In fact, the P180HM is better spec'd than most mainstream desktops, and even rivals higher end machines. But unlike your desktop tower, you can have the P180HM packed up and ready to head out and kick some tail at the LAN party across town in under a minute. That's what we mean when we say it's portable. But is it practical to drop over two and a half large on a notebook of this caliber? Let's tackle that question beginning right now.
|Software, Accessories, & First Boot|
We're often critical of vendors who don't include a lint-free cloth with their systems, especially ones as glossy as the P180HM, so we were thrilled to see AVADirect toss one in with the accessories. As you'll discover in a moment, there's a lot of real estate to wipe down, so it's a good idea to keep the cloth handy (and your fingers clean).
What really excites us, however, is the included laptop bag. Remember, this is an 18.4-inch machine that isn't going to fit in your 15.6-inch bag, and will even give some 17-inch laptop bags a workout. Because AVADirect includes one, you don't have to worry about shopping for a compatible laptop bag that's big enough to hide a body inside. Other accessories include:
There isn't much in the way of desktop clutter on the P180HM, and the few items that are there are mostly utilities, not bloatware. One of the icons will disappear as soon as you activate the THX software, and the rest are related to the webcam, Bigfoot Networks NIC, macro key bindings, CyberLink software, and navigating Windows.
It took us 40 seconds to cold boot the P180HM into Windows and load the startup items, and 11 seconds to shut down. Not record breaking, and not too shabby either.
CyberLink Media Suite 8 is a generation behind the latest version, but still packs an assortment of tools for media chores like ripping audio CDs, copying and backing up your data, converting video, and perhaps most importantly, watching Blu-ray movies, whether it be on the 18.4-inch Full HD 1080p display or hooked up to your swank big screen HDTV via HDMI.
For an additional $40 over the base price, AVADirect will upgrade the P180HM's 802.11b/g/n wireless adapter to a Bigfoot Networks Killer Wireless-N 1103 internal PCI-E card. If we were configuring one of these systems on our own dime, we'd skip this dubious upgrade and apply the funds elsewhere, or pocket the cash and stock up on Amp and Funyuns. But if you do spring for the professional NIC, this is what the interface will look like, giving you more fine grain control over your Wi-Fi than what's available with a basic wireless adapter.
|Overall Design & Layout|
Fair warning -- none of our pictures do the P180HM justice. We realize that's a terrible lead-in to this part of the review, but it's not a cop out for lazy photography. It's extremely challenging to photograph a system as glossy this one, which looks incredibly sleek and slick in person, even if it doesn't show up well in pictures when you're constantly trying to battle reflections. That's not a knock against the P180HM, and as far as glossy systems go, this is one of the better looking ones on the market.
The first thing you need to know about P180HM is that it's big. Really big. It has an 18.4-inch LED backlit display with a Full HD 1920x1080 resolution. It's bright and vibrant, although the viewing angle is a little restrictive. There's a lot of real estate on the P180HM, and if you spend a significant amount of time playing with it, like we did, it will make 17-inch laptops almost feel small by comparison.
You should also know that the P180HM is heavy. As we pointed out earlier, this system is portable, meaning you can move it from room to room or across town to a LAN party with considerably less fuss than what's involved with lugging around a desktop tower, but it's not mobile. It weighs more than 12 pounds, is unwieldy considering its size, and the amount of horsepower it's packing requires having a power source close by for any extended computing or gaming sessions.
The entire lid is covered with a glossy finish accentuated with a tribal tramp stamp in the middle of its backside. It glows when the system is turned on, and just like in real life, it means you're in a for a fast and wild ride (don't forget to bring protection if you plan on surfing the Web -- antivirus software isn't installed by default).
That big hole in the center of the grill is for the power adapter, which is flanked by vents on both sides. It takes a bit of cooling prowess to keep a pair of GTX 560M GPUs and a quad-core processor in check, and towards that end, the P180HM is louder than most laptops. It's not to the point of being obnoxious, nor will you hear it over your headphones or speakers, but you'll definitely know when it's turned on.
Flip open the lid and you'll be treated to more gloss, a sleek trackpad, fingerprint security, and a full-sized keyboard. Along the top of the keyboard are several touch-sensitive media buttons and volume control, each of which glows when the system is on. Over on the left side of the plank are a series of customizable macro keys, further reiterating that the P180HM is first and foremost a gaming machine.
There's a numpad on the right-hand side, though Clevo shortened the zero key and enter key, and moved the decimal button to the top. That takes some getting used to if you're a data entry nerd, otherwise you won't skip a beat the few times you actually use it.
Clevo squeezed a whole bunch of connectivity ports onto the left side of the P180HM, and AVADirect tossed in a Blu-ray reader. From left to right, here's what you'll find:
Turn the P180HM around to the right side and you'll find another pair of USB 2.0 ports (bringing the total number of USB 3.0 and 2.0 ports to six), the power button. Kinsington lock, ExpressCard 54/34 slot, and audio jacks (headphone, microphone, S/PDIF output, and Line-in).
|PCMark Vantage & PCMark 7|
To start things off, we fired up Futuremark's system performance benchmark, PCMark Vantage. This synthetic benchmark suite simulates a range of real-world scenarios and workloads, stressing various system subsets in the process. Everything you'd want to do with your PC -- watching HD movies, music compression, image editing, gaming, and so forth -- is represented here, and most of the tests are multi-threaded, making this a good indicator of all-around performance.
That thunk you just heard is your jaw hitting the floor, just like ours did after we ran this benchmark. At one point while PCMark Vantage was running, we thought we heard the P180HM let out a yawn, as if to tell us, "Is that all you got? I'm bored." And just to be sure everything was kosher, we ran the benchmark numerous times with similar results. A large chunk of the credit goes to OCZ's 120GB Vertex 3 Max IOPS SSD, but there's more to it than just that. Asus' Zenbook is also rocking a solid state drive, and even though it's a much slower one, it's still spunky enough to outpace high-end notebooks built around a mechanical hard drive. The P180HM scored almost twice as high as the Zenbook, which in addition to superior hardware (CPU, RAM etc), it also means AVADirect did a number of things right when putting together this machine.
In PCMark 7, the P180HM showed that it's performance wasn't a fluke. While we don't have a large database of PCMark 7 scores to compare with, this is one of the highest we've ever recorded, and not just for notebooks. The P180HM scored even higher than past desktop systems we've reviewed.
Next we switched gears to Futuremark's 3DMark Vantage benchmark, which focuses squarely on gaming performance. Some of the technologies in 3DMark Vantage are only available with DirectX 10, making this a better barometer of modern gaming prowess than the the older 3Mark06 benchmark. And unlike previous versions, 3DMark Vantage puts a bit more emphasis on the CPU rather than focusing almost entirely on the GPU(s).
Having a second GeForce GTX 560M GPU in SLI gives the P180HM a shot of gaming adrenaline, and sometimes the difference is significant. It scored almost twice as high as the MSI GT683R and Asus G74SX systems, both equipped with a single GTX 560M and comparable CPU. The difference isn't quite as dramatic when compared with systems wielding a higher end GPU, like the Maingear eX-L 15's GTX 485. The reason for this is because the GTX 485 is a much stronger GPU. Let's take a look:
Almost as if taking our above explanation as a challenge, the P180HM turned on the jets in 3DMark 11 and jumped way ahead of Maingear's single GTX 485M equipped system. It was roughly 100 percent faster than systems running a single GTX 560M. It couldn't quite keep pace with the Alienware rig, nor did we expect it to, given the GPU advantages.
Same story with our library of 3DMark 11 Extreme scores, which are in short supply. In case you're wondering, the above score is very good for the Extreme preset setting we ran.
|SiSoft Sandra & CineBench|
|We continued our testing with SiSoftware's SANDRA 2011, the System ANalyzer, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant. We ran four of the built-in subsystem tests (CPU Arithmetic, Memory Bandwidth, Physical Disks).
All of the scores reported below were taken with the processor running at its default clock speeds of 2.4GHz and with 12GB of DDR3-1333 RAM running in dual-channel mode.
SiSoft Sandra wasn't able to uncover any weak spots in the P180HM's main subsystems, and that's because there really aren't any. Between having a quad-core processor, 12GB of fast system memory, and a crazy-fast SSD, the P180HM is ready to rumble. Check that physical disk score on the bottom right. 440MB/s is none too shabby.
Maxon's Cinebench R11.5 benchmark is based on Maxon's Cinema 4D software used for 3D content creation chores and tests both the CPU and GPU in separate benchmark runs. On the CPU side, Cinebench renders a photorealistic 3D scene by tapping into up to 64 processing threads (CPU) to process more than 300,000 total polygons, while the GPU benchmark measures graphics performance by manipulating nearly 1 million polygons and huge amounts of textures.
The P180HM scored about as well as we're ever going to see in Cinebench, or at least that's the case for the foreseeable future. Cinebench has a tendency to knock systems around and then kick them while they're down, but in this case, the P180HM put up a heck of a good fight.
|Far Cry 2 and Lost Planet 2|
We like to ease our test systems into having a raucous, unadulterated good time, kind of like prom night. A good way to do that is to start with Far Cry 2, a relatively lightweight benchmark, and also one that provides us a large database to compare with. It also shows us how systems can scale. At the P180HM's native resolution of 1920x1080, the two GPUs approach the 100fps mark, which is almost twice as high as systems with a single GTX 560M GPU. What that tells us is that there are at least some cases where a second graphics chip in SLI pays gamers big dividends.
Lost Planet 2 is considerably tougher on systems, especially the way we run it (on high with 4x Anti-Aliasing). In this case, having a second GTX 560M is the difference between being playable at 1920x1080 and being a slide show.
|Metro 2033 and Just Cause 2|
Metro 2033 serves as further proof that having a second GPU isn't wasted. The P180HM pushed pixels at nearly twice the rate as the G74SX system from Asus at its native resolution of 1920x1080, and as we saw with Lost Planet 2, the difference in frame rates suddenly makes the game playable without having to sacrifice eye candy.
Just Cause 2 is one of those games that will run smoothly on relatively any modern system, the P180HM included. It didn't even break a sweat in this one.
|Consider our battery life test a formality, and not much else. The last thing you should expect from an 18.4-inch laptop packing two GPUs, and quad-core CPU, two storage devices and gobs of RAM, is a long life battery. That said, we wanted to see what the P180HM could muster with a constant workload. Here are the results from our Battery Eater Pro tests.
The P180HM wore itself out after 68 minutes, which isn't very long for a notebook, but far from the worst we've ever seen. In fact, in falls in the middle of the pack compared to a mix of high end notebooks, and that's pretty good when you consider the artillery the P180HM brings to the battleground. It's also about 20 percent longer than the Clevo X8100 could muster that we reviewed last year.
We should also qualify these results. Batter Eater Pro feeds a constant workload. These results are about as bad as things are going to get if you plan on using the P180HM as a daily workhorse. Your actual battery life can end up being worse or a lot better, depending on how you use the system. With both GPUs firing on all cylinders in SLI, you're not likely to squeeze an hour or more before needing to tether the P180HM to a wall socket. But if all you're doing is surfing the Web and sending out emails, you can expect no less than an hour of run time and likely a lot longer.
|Performance Summary & Conclusion|
Performance Summary: AVADirect's Clevo P180HM opened a can of whoop-ass in Futuremark's PCMark Vantage benchmark and never lost momentum until the battery test portion of this article. Even then it wasn't as disastrous as you might expect for a system spec'd like this one. Having a second GTX 560M GPU in SLI proved the difference maker on more than one occasion, in terms of getting playable framerates at the P180HM's native 1920x1080 resolution, versus watching pretty graphics stutter sadly across the screen. That's before dialing down the eye candy, which means it's going to be awhile before you need to think about upgrading this notebook.
Outside of gaming, the P180HM ran like a thoroughbred, with much of the credit being owed to the OCZ Vertex 3 Max IOPS solid state drive. But it wasn't the SSD alone that drove the P180HM, credit also goes to AVADirect's selection of parts and overall build quality, all of which was top notch.
AVADirect's Clevo P180HM is a desktop replacement that chomps at the bit for LAN party gaming, but let's not pigeonhole what this system can do. With a super large 18.4-inch display, Blu-ray drive and CyberLink software, all the parts are in place for an entertainment powerhouse, and that's what AVADirect put together. A heaping pile of RAM, smoking fast solid state drive, and quad-core processor form a fierce foundation for all types of power user tasks. Don't even bother trying to find a chink in the armor, because one doesn't exist. AVADirect left no stone unturned.
Let's talk price. At over $2,500, the P180HM's price tag is as big and burly as the notebook itself, and that's certainly a deal killer for cash-strapped folks. But what you get in return is a great looking desktop replacement machine, stuffed with high end hardware, so we're not going to knock the cost of entry just because few will be able to afford it. We'll just mention that yes, it's expensive, as you'd expect for a machine configured as such. It's also customizable and there are several ways to save some scratch and still end up with a respectable machine. You can opt for a slower processor, trade the SSD for a mechanical hard drive, and ditch the Bigfoot Networks NIC, for example. Likewise, if you hit the jackpot or just inherited a ton of cash, you can build a ridiculously spec'd (and ridiculously expensive) system with even more bells and whistles than we tested.
While on the topic of price, we headed over to Alienware to see how much it would cost to configure a similar setup built around the M18x, and the total came to $3,239. It's not a complete apples to apples comparison; the Alienware's SSD was twice as big and the amount of RAM was 4GB less, but otherwise the two systems were virtually identical. Either way, that's a $700 premium and puts AVADirect's price tag in perspective.
Here's the bottom line: The Clevo P180HM from AVADirect is an impressive machine inside and out. It's well spec'd, well assembled, and easily deserving of our recommendation.