|Given all the frenzy around ultrabooks, Microsoft's Surface, and the low power potential of future chips like Haswell, you might think that desktop replacement-class laptops had fallen out of favor with modern laptop manufacturers. iBuyPower's CZ-17 "Valkyrie" is proof that they haven't -- and while its size and weight won't appeal to road warriors or anyone who needs a svelte portable, it packs a number of significant features into its chassis, at a price that won't break the bank. It also makes a few compromises along the way; we'll show you where they are.
The spec sheet gives you a good idea of where iBuyPower has focused its attention. The Valkyrie CZ-17 uses a 17" 1920x1080 panel with a matte finish. If you hate glossy panels, this alone should put the system on your radar. 1080p panels are tough to find at this price point -- Dell's 17" Inspirons all use a 1600x900 resolution; Alienware's cheapest MX-17 starts at $1649 for a 1920x1080 panel -- and theirs is still a glossy.
Wireless Ethernet is courtesy of Atheros' KilerNIC, there's multiple USB 3.0 ports, and the system doesn't skimp on RAM or GPU power. The GTX 675M is a rebadged GTX 580M, but as we'll see, it's more than capable of powering a system of this type.
|The CZ-17 is built around MSI's GT70 hybrid metal/plastic chassis. The lid of our review unit had a tendency to creak and crackle if flexed, but while the sounds were disquieting, our flexion tests revealed no problems. This system is far too bulky to ever be classed as svelte, but desktop replacements don't really have to be. We're more concerned with heat, noise, and durability than with whether or not you can slip the Valkyrie into an envelope.
The back of the system is on the left. From the far left: Kensington lock, AC power connector, Gigabit Ethernet, VGA-out, eSATA, HDMI.
iBuyPower opted to include VGA and HDMI outputs rather than a DVI/HDMI or DVI/DP combination. It's a bit odd to see on a brand-new system, but there are still plenty of projectors and other peripherals sold today that rely on a VGA port. HDMI over DVI makes sense, given that the HDMI port takes up much less real estate. You can see the edge of one of the internal heatsinks in the foreground as well.
On the right, we've got the the laptop's ports, from the right-hand side. The integrated Blu-ray drive is here, along with a brace of USB 2.0 ports.
The left-hand side of the system is considerably busier. All three USB 3.0 ports are on the left side, along with the four audio jacks and 4-in-1 card reader.
Again from the right-side, looking across the keyboard.
|Keyboard, Trackpad, & Display|
|Displays are the most difficult component of a system to objectively rate. We ran the CZ-17's panel through the Lagom LCD comparison tests, and compared it directly to the Asus VG278H.
The first feature that stands out is the screen's pixel ratio. At 17", the Valkyrie's 1920x1080 panel has a PPI of 129.5. That's good enough to qualify as a Retina Display at a viewing distance of 27" or more. The Asus monitor, in contrast, has the same 1920x1080 resolution, but a PPI of 81.5. Compared side-by-side, the Valkyrie's LCD is crisper and small text is easier to read.
How much this matters depends on how good your eyes are and the distance between your eyes and the screen. If you've got better than 20/20 vision and you've despaired of finding a non-Apple laptop with a high-PPI display, you might really like the Valkyrie's panel.
Color gradients and black/white banding are about what we'd expect for a TN panel -- decent, in other words, without particularly standing out. SPVA and S-IPS panels have always had better color reproduction than TN panels, but both the VG278H and the Valkyrie are at the upper end of the TN spectrum.
Keyboard and Trackpad
There's a lot of good things to say about the Valkyrie's keyboard. Responsiveness is good, the keys are comfortable, and everything is reasonably sized. One feature of the keyboard that we didn't personally like (but that some users may love) is an omission at the lower-right-hand corner:
That's right. No Windows key.
Whether or not this is a problem is itself a matter of contention. If you hate the Windows key, this is reason enough to mutter triumphantly into your neckbeard. If you like and use it, its absence is jarring. We've seen plenty of gamers note that while it's handy in general, they'd give a tooth to be able to disable it when gaming. Given the CZ-17's focus, we're betting that's the crowd iBuyPower wanted to cater to.
As for the trackpad, it sets a record as the most annoying mouse replacement I've ever tried to use. Mechanically, it's fine, with good button response and reasonable default sensitivity. Multi-touch and swipe gestures aren't supported, but it gets the job done -- until you try to type.
The lack of space between the two is a real problem.
The CZ-17 desperately needs palm detection, and it doesn't have it. The pad immediately picks up even a light brush from the bottom of the palm and promptly transforms from staid icon of productivity to caffeine-fueled Jack Russell Terrier. This wreaks enthusiastic havoc on text and web forms.
Those of you who learned proper wrist position from an overzealous Catholic nun will have no problems. Everyone else is in for a rough time. Mobile gamers almost always use a mouse for playing, but the CZ-17's trackpad drove me to full-time mouse usage. I couldn't leave the trackpad enabled, even when typing a story or comment on the desktop.
|We've compared the Valkyrie against the Alienware M17x equipped with a GeForce GTX 680 and the Alienware M18x, with its built-in Radeon HD 6990M. Both of these systems are substantially more expensive than the ~$1500 Valkyrie, so keep that in mind when perusing the results. For office productivity and general computing tests, we also added a Dell Inspiron 14z to the graphs as well.
As we previously mentioned, the CZ-17 makes a few compromises to deliver high performance at a sub-$1500 price point. One of these is the system's conspicuous lack of an SSD. It's a decision we disagree with, particularly given that the Valkyrie has dual drive bays. In a situation like this, where substantial BTO options are available, the solution is simple: Add an SSD. The increasing popularity of SSD cache drives makes it even easier to offer a simple solution that presents like a single drive to the end customer while offering vastly improved performance.
We'll start off with the general performance suites:
Futuremark’s PCMark 7 is a well-known benchmark tool that runs the system through ordinary tasks, including word processing and multimedia playback and editing. It's designed to test overall system performance, but is particularly sensitive to the presence or absence of an SSD.
In PCMark 7, the Valkyrie's lack of an SSD is painfully apparent, and it's out-classed by the Inspiron 14z and Alienware M17x. To give you an idea of how much the SSD matters, consider the fact that the Inspiron 14z is powered by a 1.7GHz dual core, compared to the Valkyrie's 2.3GHz non-turbo quad-core.
Next, we ran Cinema 4D’s content creation benchmark, Cinebench. Being graphics-oriented, this is an entertaining benchmark to watch. For the CPU test, it generates a complex image.
In CPU-centric tests, the CZ-17's Core i7 CPU pulls nearly to the front of the pack. The Inspiron 14z and its Core i5 is left far behind everything else.
|3DMark 11, Metro 2033|
|Now we turn our attention to gaming benchmarks, which is where the CZ-17 is designed to succeed. The GTX 675M in the laptop is a rebranded GTX 580M, which means the card should still offer strong overall performance even if it's not quite in the 680M's league.
The Valkyrie's 3DMark performance ties the older Alienware M18x, which is exactly where we'd expect the GPU to land.
Metro 2033 isn't a great showcase for the GTX 675M. While the card's framerate is playable, the 6990M and 680M are significantly faster. Bumping the resolution down a few notches has a major impact on frame rate in all three laptops, suggesting that this is a relatively simple way to improve FPS in firefights or larger scenes.
|Far Cry 2, Lost Planet 2, Just Cause 2|
The Valkyrie's Far Cry 2 performance is actually slightly faster than the Radeon 6990M. All three machines are eminently playable.
Lost Planet 2's performance is another decent showing for the Valkyrie. The iBuyPower machine's GeForce GTX 675 outperforms the Radeon 6990M in the M18x and turns in a playable frame rate at ~30 FPS.
Again, another good showing for the CZ-17. It's not the fastest solution, but it beats out the Radeon-powered Alienware M18x and turns in solid numbers.
|Battery Life & Temperatures|
|Battery life in desktop replacement notebooks is never a high point, but we wanted to measure just how effective the Core i7-3710QM and the GTX 675M + Intel integrated graphics were at handling workloads but managing power consumption. Our Battery Eater Pro test and web-browsing benchmarks measured how things look. Brightness was set at 50%.
The Valkyrie's battery life won't break any ultrabook records, but for a system of its type, it's solid enough. Web browsing life was a bit better than the overall Battery Eater Pro test, but the 17" 1920x1080 screen draws a significant amount of power, no matter what you're doing with it.
Thermals are worth a mention in and of themselves. One of my particular pet peeves with high-end laptop designs is that all too often, manufacturers build super-powered laptops crammed into chassis that can't dissipate their own heat. A system that can't run full-bore when hooked to AC power due to internal temperatures is a badly designed system, no matter how high (or low) the price tag.
I'm therefore pleased to say that the Valkyrie's temperatures under load are downright excellent. We tested the laptop in real-world extended play sessions on an actual lap, looped a few games, and hit the CPU with Prime95 as a worst-case scenario.
80'C might not seem like a great temperature, but for a full-load instance of Prime 95 on a mobile CPU, it's actually wonderful. GPU temps were similarly good; 74'C isn't particularly warm by modern standards. Best of all, the Valkyrie doesn't sound like a wind turbine under load. iBuyPower has put the large chassis to good use; there's no need to wear headphones under intense gaming conditions and your roommate won't need earplugs either.
The Valkyrie's performance matches its price point and its features deliver the right blend of power, capability, and function. The only thing we'd change from the stock configuration is the omission of an SSD. Especially for gamers, speedy load times and quick reboots make a difference, though cost would be affected proportionally. |
The only external caveats are the machine's chassis flexion and the ridiculously sensitive trackpad, neither one of which is a deal breaker. This is a great system for someone who wants a capable gaming laptop that won't leave you on a Ramen Noodle budget through January, should you decide to spring for an early holiday gift. iBuyPower's upgrade options are flexible enough that customers who want to swap for an SSD or upgrade to a GTX 680M rather than older 580M/675M re-badged GPUs can do so.
iBuyPower's Valkyrie hits what matters. It delivers the features gamers are going to care about the most, and where it compromises, the compromises are understandable. The matte 1920x1080 display is a particularly nice touch, especially if you've got better than 20/20 vision and are often frustrated with low pixel densities on other laptops. With good thermals and a fairly quiet acoustic profile, we definitely recommend giving it a try.