Gaming Notebook Design Thoughts: GPU/Screen/Capability

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Zjonni
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Gaming Notebook Design Thoughts: GPU/Screen/Capability

Post by Zjonni » Sat Dec 10, 2005 6:23 pm

Well, first post here. I've read through the numerous threads on roll-your-own notebooks using whitebox chassis, but noone I know owns a notebook utilizing the newer (x800) geForce or ATI graphics cards, so I haven't been able to actually see what one can do. I am hoping those of you out there with more experience with high-end gaming notebooks will be able to give me some insight.

I'm interested in building or buying (depending on what turns out to be most effective) a heavy-notebook that will serve mostly as a LAN-party gamebook. This means my spec includes up front the concept that it will be 'portable' only in the sense that a backpack can hold it, it will primarily be played while plugged in (so battery life won't be so much of an issue) and it will primarily be used for 3d gaming, so comments saying things like 'This will weigh a ton and only have an hour of battery life.' while true, will not be particularly helpful to me in making my decisions.

I've done a lot of performance work with cars, and typically the more you want to ramp the horsepower up, the more you pay for each successive increment; it is cheap to get the first twenty horsepower, but the next thirty get more and more expensive, and when you try to go past fifty to fifty-five horses over the engine's baseline, you're paying a lot more 'per horse'. Cost-effectiveness changes as you reach higher. This has also been my experience with desktop computers (I've built a few, but am no expert). The difference, performance-wise, between the #1 and #2 graphics card by a given manufacturer seems slight, but the cost difference can be huge. The jump from #2 to #3 often will be a few hundred dollars. I've got about $3K to spend, but if the difference between $2500 and $3000 won't be terribly noticeable, then I'm not inclined to spend the extra money.

So what my questions come down to are the following:
1) Is it worth the extra money to get the latest/hottest 7800 graphics cards? I favor geForce, in my experience ATI doesn't do nearly as much driver testing work with game developers and as a result Nvidia cards nearly always have higher reliability/compatibility with newer games.
2) Is it worth the money to shoot for WUXGA? Will a 7800 equiv card drive a WUXGA screen at max resolution without slide-showing a game such as WoW or SL, or will I find myself 'downgrading' my screen in order to achieve good framerate? Because if so, then I see no point in the higher-res screen.
3) Is a WUXGA/7800 combination even feasible at $3K or am I kidding myself? Most of the numbers I've come up with browsing sites linked to from these forums seem to be a little over $3K to over $4K. Obviously that isn't including gougeland shops like Falcon NW.

Barebones WUXGA chassis seem few and far between, and extremely high-priced right now.

I would appreciate answers from folks who own higher-end gaming laptops and have played around extensively with them.

Thanks for your time.

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Post by Apoptosis » Sun Dec 11, 2005 11:55 am

Welcome to the forums!
Is a WUXGA/7800 combination even feasible at $3K or am I kidding myself?
I believe you should be able to hit this mark with ease for under $3k. I'm guessing you are okay with a 17" widescreen notebook? Because that is what 99% of the notebooks are that come with a Geforce GO 7800GTX graphics card.

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Post by Zjonni » Sun Dec 11, 2005 4:17 pm

Apoptosis wrote:Welcome to the forums!
Thanks!
I believe you should be able to hit this mark with ease for under $3k. I'm guessing you are okay with a 17" widescreen notebook? Because that is what 99% of the notebooks are that come with a Geforce GO 7800GTX graphics card.
Yes, I am interested in a 17" widescreen WUXGA. I should have mentioned that. As I said, this will be 'portable' only in the sense that I will be able to carry it from place to place without throwing my back out and having to drag along external monitors, cables, and all that rot that comes with a 'Langamer briefcase'...In the days of the first portables we called such things 'luggable'. :6 :)

Since I posted my message last night, I looked at a few more links to various companies making high-performance notebooks, and saw a few posts advocating the ProStar 5722 series. With the WUXGA screen, 2.26 GHz Pentium M, 1 Gb of RAM, and an 80/5400 GB SATA drive, XP Pro, the usual networking gear plus Bluetooth, and a spare battery, this comes in at $2899 plus shipping and seems like it would easily surpass my needs. My big concern is, by going with the big screen, will the 7800 still be able to drive things like WoW, Doom3, et al. at a very high frame rate? As I have never had my hands on a laptop with that sort of graphics card (or screen for that matter) and so am sort of twitchy about buying into it 'sight unseen'.

The case of the ProStar looks to be the Clevo M570A that you reviewed in late October, and which I have found on RJtech.com. The chassis itself is pretty pricy: $1600 for the chassis with the WUXGA screen, the 8x24 combo drive and the GeForce Go 7800, before adding anything else in. With a spare battery it chunks up to $1740. If I try to 'build' the ProStar using their customization features, the total comes out to $2974. Ouch!!! A seventy-five dollar un-savings...

Looking around at the various suppliers I have found links to here, it looks like RJTech is the sole source for the M570A at this time, and has been for a couple of months. :( Also, searching the suppliers I found very, very few alternatives for WUXGA-screened barebones systems.

It appears that the WUXGA screen, plus the GeForce 7800 GPU, is at this time a big price jump beyond the WXGA+ screen barebones laptops. I guess I have to sit down and decide if the extra screen real-estate is worth the extra grand or so over a 15" WXGA or WXGA+ screen.

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Post by TK421 » Mon Dec 12, 2005 8:43 am

Here's a site carrying the barebones M570A that was displayed in an Oct 29th thread and given away at BlizzCon (I was there, it's a screaming machine)

It's got nearly everything you've listed above and on the site you can choose to have them build it or you can purchase your parts and DiY if you choose.

Link Intsc.com

$1430.00 for the barebones M570A 17" chassis including the 7800 GTX 256MB WUXGA 1920x1200.

Priced out with specs comparable to your above = $2642.00 from the same site.
2.26 Pentium M
Hitachi 80GB HDD 5400 RPM
1GB RAM
DVDRW
Wireless a/b/g card
Windows XP Pro

PM me if you need more info or links.
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Post by TK421 » Mon Dec 12, 2005 9:07 am

My big concern is, by going with the big screen, will the 7800 still be able to drive things like WoW, Doom3, et al. at a very high frame rate? As I have never had my hands on a laptop with that sort of graphics card (or screen for that matter) and so am sort of twitchy about buying into it 'sight unseen'.
There's a laptop store near me that has a 17" chassis (ASUS) I believed it to be, with a 7800 GTX 256MB on display. It ran the Demo of FEAR, FarCry, and DOOM III without hitch.

They also played the same demos on an ASUS 15.4" WXGA Z71V sporting a 6600 128MB video card and they even ran great (at a lower resolution). Seeing how a 6600 128MB card performed vs. the 7800 GTX 256mb card and their price differences, I couldn't justify the cost.

I've priced out systems with the 6800 256MB and 6600 256MB card and you can build a machine that can still run those games greatly for literally 1/2 the cost of the ones you're looking at. Now I'm not telling you how to spend your money, but in your example of cars in the OP, computers are exactly the same way. If you're a LAN gamer, I suspect you want the best for bragging rights, so that's up to you, but for a machine that still purrs for 1/2 the cost, I'm the 'budget gamer'.

GL with it, sorry for double posting, but I really had 2 separate ideas I wanted to share and I hope they have given you and others some insight on your future builds/purchases.
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Post by Zjonni » Wed Dec 14, 2005 12:17 am

TK421 wrote:There's a laptop store near me that has a 17" chassis (ASUS) I believed it to be, with a 7800 GTX 256MB on display. It ran the Demo of FEAR, FarCry, and DOOM III without hitch.

They also played the same demos on an ASUS 15.4" WXGA Z71V sporting a 6600 128MB video card and they even ran great (at a lower resolution). Seeing how a 6600 128MB card performed vs. the 7800 GTX 256mb card and their price differences, I couldn't justify the cost.

I've priced out systems with the 6800 256MB and 6600 256MB card and you can build a machine that can still run those games greatly for literally 1/2 the cost of the ones you're looking at.
Ah, now that's exactly the kind of feedback I need. I know about the price difference, as I said above that's what I was worrying about. Was it that much prettier/faster? Evidently not. Sure, the 'price break' distinction will be different for different people, but not having had the advantage of seeing such games run on such a system, this is just the sort of thing I was looking for.

I will read back through the various ASUS builds folks have been posting lately and re-evaluate.

Thanks!

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Post by TK421 » Wed Dec 14, 2005 3:30 pm

Zjonni wrote:Was it that much prettier/faster?
The differences from the GeForce 6 series and the 7 are mostly shaders. (Mostly shadows, reflections and lighting) However, most games that will be supporting these features are still in development and won't hit shelves till most likely next holiday season.

It seems to be this way each and every year. The hardware drives the software developers, not really the other way around... which is wrong. That means that game developers are letting the hardware determine what they can and cannot do graphically in their games... anyway, that's another issue.

Truth is, very few games will even support the increased shader technologies in the 7 series until they've got an 8 series (which is currently in the works) So basically you won't get top framerates from your 7800 GTX 256MB video card until a few games come out that actually utilize that those technologies, but the human eye cannot detect a difference once past 30FPS physically, but mentally, the 'flow' of the motion on the screen, with a trained eye, can be detected on up to 60FPS with just the naked eye! Ideally, you'd want you games to run at 30-60FPS to get the most fluidity, but graphically (shaders, anti-aliasing, reflections, lighting, particle effects) are only effected by the engine of the video card, or the generation (4, FX, 6, 7 series of nVidia cards).

To get the best of both worlds without sacrificing more than $300.00, you'd almost always want a card that is 1 generation behind. The new gens hit and reach ever increasingly high prices ($750), but one generation behind and you find a 6800 Ultra at about $250-300 that will support a few less graphical options (that also need to be programmed into the game's engine) but still push your framerates at 40+ on nearly every game with near/close to max settings.

Does it look prettier? Not at a glance, no. I'm not really sure if even staring at it I noticed anything majory difference.

I was able to play FEAR at a 1680 x 1050 on a 17" monitor with great framerates and a few more shader options, and again on the 15.4" monitor at a resolution of 1280 x 800 with fewer shader options with great framerates.

So, if framerates or smoothness is your priority, you're good to go with a nVidia 6600, 6800, or ATI x700, or x1600. (more cost effective)

If shadows, shading, anti-aliasing (more life-like) is your priority (remember these won't really be seen from games until perhaps next year as these games are currently in development), get the latest gen cards: nVidia's 7300 or 7800 series, or ATI's x1800.
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Post by Zjonni » Thu Dec 15, 2005 8:26 pm

Well, I got to eyeball a 17" WUXGA laptop after all, and after some soul-searching...Yeah. I'm not willing to pay an entire extra grand for the extra surface area...And the reduction in battery life and portability.

So in the end run after reading and re-reading a few dozen threads, it appears I'm following the herd.

Just ordered a Z71V with the GeForce 6600/128Mb for $725 from Directron (Thought I'd hunted up good savings, but then saw DeusEx's thread...As soon as you put money down, someone finds a better sale. It's a rule!) with the optical drive and intel wireless card, 2Gb of Corsair RAM, XP Pro, a WD Scorpio 80GB notebook HDD and a Pentium M 780.

I've disassembled and reassembled a few laptops on the job previously, and the Sonoma article here makes it look like a piece of cake compared to, say, a Macintosh Kanga. I've done a complete case-swap on my TiBook after it kamikazed onto a tile floor, and that was a total disassembly. I'm going to see about doing a deeper disassembly on the Z71V and airbrushing it.

Thanks for your counsel and guidance, everybody.

Here's hoping for few to no dead pixels...

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Post by Zjonni » Tue Dec 20, 2005 1:12 pm

Laptop arrived, and I was right...The instructions here made assembly a piece of cake. Very happy with it so far, and feel like you guys definitely guided me to a good machine.

I am having some stuttering problems in WoW and Second Life, and the heat seems pretty intense, so I guess I will have to get to work on hacking it in the various ways suggested here...Silver-soldering the heat sink, removing the pads and replacing them with proper CPU temperature conductive goop, etc.

I am not sure I want to go the distance of lapping my CPU. If I do though, I'm curious...Do people lap their GPUs? Also, for the life of me, I can't see how the GPU is getting any advantage at all from the CPU's heat sink, nor can I see where it has a heat sink of its own...? It seems to just be sitting there...Unless I'm seriously confused and looking at the wrong board. I was assembling it late last night after a long day at work...

Thanks again for the sweet writeups and counsel.

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Post by kenc51 » Tue Dec 20, 2005 1:18 pm

Zjonni wrote: I am not sure I want to go the distance of lapping my CPU. If I do though, I'm curious...Do people lap their GPUs?
You only lap the heatsink, NEVER try an lap the cpu or gpu core!!!!
I'm not sure if you need to either, Apoptosis, TK421 and others can help more... (I don't know laptop hardware, yet)

Can we see some pics?

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Post by Zjonni » Tue Dec 20, 2005 3:30 pm

Actually, lapping your CPU and smoothing the upper surface seems to be done by a great many modders. The theory seems to be that stripping the coating of the CPU down to the copper plate beneath, then lapping that to a smooth surface to mate with the smooth surface of the heatsink, is a more efficient heat transfer than using thermal paste.

That said, I do not personally KNOW anyone who laps CPUs, and while I play around in my head with the idea of lapping my M 780, the cost of replacing it if I screw up keeps showing up in big, red neon letters.

As far as 'only lap the heatsink'...The point of lapping is to establish a flush surface fit with no surface irregularities. While cast heatsinks often have extremely visible surface irregularities, it turns out that lots of CPUs also have them. Any irregularities you can get rid of will increase the surface area contact.

The question is, 'is it worth the risk'. And the answer is up in the air. I've seen articles by people who showed very little result (I.E., 1-2 degrees C) and others who got major results (I.E., 5-10 degrees C). I daresay the difference between 'prelap' and 'postlap' temperature depends on how irregular your particular chip surface and heatsink surface are...And this varies tremendously even between two consecutive chips/heatsinks off the same assembly lines.

Personally, I don't consider a degree or two worth risking such a costly component...But if I can't get my temp down to what seems 'normal' for similar laptops by doing all the other tricks, then that would seem to point to surface irregularities as being the most likely remaining culprit that is in my power to solve. Then I'd have to weigh the option VERY carefully.

But it's a final option, 'going the distance' to the end. I'll try every other trick I can, first, to see how far that takes temperature down.

I've done a fair bit of machining and polishing in my life, but all on steel, bronze, brass and copper. Never on copper with silicon finery beneath it. The rule of thumb is to go gently. You can take more off if you don't take enough...You can't put it back if you go too far.

I'll take some pics once I find my cam. It's been missing for a few weeks in holiday clutter.

(BTW, I now realize the bulge on the bottom of that strip is meant to be the GPU heatsink...It sure isn't making contact!!!)

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Post by kenc51 » Tue Dec 20, 2005 3:39 pm

I thought you were talking about a mobile cpu?
They don't have a IHS, so lapping them will kill 'em!

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Post by Zjonni » Tue Dec 20, 2005 4:25 pm

...I was...

Glad you told me that! :shock: :rolleyes:

As I said, I hadn't lapped any kind of CPU before. I've lapped a lot of other things, ranging from gems to metals. But yeah, if there's no copper block on top of a mobile CPU...

Glad you mentioned it. :lol:

That would've been an un-fun discovery to make the hard way.

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Post by TK421 » Wed Dec 21, 2005 9:52 am

I've never felt the need to lap a stock CPU. The hardcore modders and overclockers have results to show that it does inprove temperatures, but again, not worth the risk IMO. I'm not an overclocker though. I don't need to push that last 5% of performance out of my parts to sacrifice its logevity and warranty.

If, however there is an obvious dent, groove, bump or other deformation of the surface of the CPU or GPU, I would recommend the thermal greases. Although proven less effective for cooling solutions, thermal grease fills in the deformities, creating a larger surface area that you would otherwise not have due to the deformity, yet still allow for better cooling than without.

I have yet to see any MAJOR deformities on GPU's or CPU's that would REQUIRE lapping, and if that were the case, I'd RMA the product and wait for a new one to arrive rather than taking the risk.
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Post by Zjonni » Wed Dec 21, 2005 10:44 am

If you had read what I wrote en toto, you'd know that I look at it in much the same way. Not worth the risk of damaging an expensive component to save a degree or two, but only a 'court of last resort' issue if I was having thermal troubles.

Now this last bit I find odd. You do NOT normally use thermal grease?

As it happens, I am still having (I think) thermal issues. I've gotten the temperature down (even that thick hunk of tape that came attached to the heatsink over my GPU wasn't making good contact. I ended up shimming it), but I'm still having trouble playing WoW...Which I notice you also play. I keep getting hesitation/stutter...Not -bad-. It's playable. But certainly not -good-. The freaky thing is, I'm showing framerates in the 50s!!! But it is stuttering anyway.

Any suggestions? My CPU is constantly showing 100% usage and my GPU temperature rises up into the mid to high 90s when playing WoW...And these problems are occuring with all my video settings in-game turned all the way down. Asuz Z71V, Pentium M 2.26 MHz, 2 Gb RAM, 80 GB 5400rpm HDD, XP Pro sp2...I've updated Windows for security but so far have made NO other changes. No overclocking, no nothing. What is confusing me is that I'm getting this insanely high framerate...AND stuttering. I'd expect the two not to go hand in hand.

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Post by TK421 » Thu Dec 22, 2005 8:31 am

Zjonni wrote:If you had read what I wrote en toto, you'd know that I look at it in much the same way. Not worth the risk of damaging an expensive component to save a degree or two, but only a 'court of last resort' issue if I was having thermal troubles.
Yes, I read what you had posted, I was just agreeing with you. No offense taken.
Zjonni wrote: Now this last bit I find odd. You do NOT normally use thermal grease?
Yes I use thermal grease or equivalent on ALL my desktop builds (yet to build a laptop) but I was just emphasizing the purpose of the thermal grease in your given scenario.

Now, concerning your WoW studdering issues, be sure you have the lastest video drivers from nVidia.com. Other causes could include having too many active programs in the background that are using all your RAM and I can confirm that WoW is a RAM hog and needs all it can get its grubby little hands on. If you use any User Interface (UI) Mods, be sure to try playing the game with those turned off to see if you still receive the same results. (Some of my 60+ UI mods have caused me problems in the past and just deleting them or disabling them helped tremendously).

Run full spyware and virus scans to ensure you're free from bugs and unwanted applications. For Spyware tools, I'd reccommend Windows Anti-Spyware Beta downloadable directly from http://www.microsoft.com. (only for Windows XP users) Any Anti-Virus program should work so long as its updated and/or able to be updated.

You could also test your connection speeds by visiting a testing site such as DSLReports.com. Make sure you're getting the speeds you're paying for.

If you haven't already, install AT LEAST 1GB of RAM. The new article on the news page reccommends even 2GB, so you really can't ever have enough RAM.

Anyway, those are a few things off the top of my head. Some of those seem pretty basic, so don't take offense if you've already done all those. Perhaps this thread is helping someone else as well. Some other questions that would help troubleshoot your issue:

Do you experience the same issues with other games or software?
Any other quirks on the machine that you notice that could be related to your WoW issue?
How many processes do you have running if you Ctrl+Alt+Del > Processes? (Lower left hand corner)
Have you tried playing with your protection turned off? (Spyware, Anti-Virus, Firewalls)
What nVidia driver release are you using?
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Post by Zjonni » Thu Dec 22, 2005 10:54 am

Thanks for the thoughs.

Latest video drivers...No. I tried with the original drivers that came with the ASUS kit, then again with 77.77, then again with the latest GO 6600 drivers (release # escapes me and I'm at work). All had stuttering.

No other active programs except for speedfan (mandatory as long as overheating is a risk, IMHO). 2GB of RAM.

No UI mods.

No spyware, no viruses. The system has just been built and I have only used its browser to download drivers so far, but I ran a scan anyway.

My connection screams. I frequently support two other PCs playing WoW with no issues. On the possibility that two was the limit, though, I have tested with no other WoW or internet connections active.

Yes, I do experience the hesitations in Second Life (another graphics intensive MMORPG).

I have tried playing with all defenses down. Same issue.

Process-wise, I have run WoW after a clean (no protective software) boot and seen the same issue.

Current speculation is that heat is still being a problem. Playing WoW for more than a quarter hour results in the GPU occasionally breaking 100C and the CPU being well into the 70s. I'm going to be working on improving conductive efficiency of the shim and the 'heat trough' over the GPU (calling a hunk of unfinned aluminum channel a heat sink is being generous) as well as conductive connectivity between the CPU heat sink and the adjoining heat pipe using silver solder.

It somewhat disturbs me that I'm doing this much hardware modding to get temperatures down without having done any overclocking!

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Post by TK421 » Fri Dec 23, 2005 8:17 am

With heat though, you should see little to no problems at start up and see the problem significantly increase in symptoms. From the sound of it, you don't seem to fit that scenario. Correct me if I'm wrong.

I'm out of suggestions unless you'd like to reformat. I'm not too familiar with what a CPU and GPU should be running at heat-wise, but I feel bad that you have to put up with that kind of gameplay in such a great game. :)

Wish there was more I could do.
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