Valkyrie CZ-17 gaming laptop Review

Aug 24, 2012
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Normally when I hear the words “gaming laptop,” I roll my eyes. It isn’t that I find the idea absurd, it’s just that I much prefer desktops because laptops more often than not end up being a letdown when it comes to gaming. iBUYPOWER has a new gaming laptop available – the Valkyrie CZ-17 – but the question is: can the Valkyrie CZ-17 deliver the gaming goods, or is this laptop just another one you should skip? Read on, because I think you might be pleasantly surprised with the answer.

Hardware

We simply have to begin with the Valkyrie’s screen. You’ve got 17.3-inches to work with on this bad boy, it’s LED backlit, and it’s capable of resolutions up to 1920x1080, which obviously means that we have 1080p resolution at our disposal. The screen is nice and bright (though as with most laptops you can adjust the brightness), but even better is that it sports a matte finish instead of a glossy one. Glossy finishes look nice, that’s true, but for gaming they can cause some headaches. Reflection and glare were never fun to begin with, but when you lose a game because of them, things get frustrating really fast. Thankfully, the Valkyrie doesn’t suffer from this problem, which makes this screen a winner in my book.

The build I received comes with an Intel Core i7-3610QM quad-core, eight thread processor. Clocked at 2.3GHz, it provides some significant processing power. Yes, there are other, better processors out there, and indeed if the 3610QM doesn’t meet your needs, iBUYPOWER will let you switch it out for a different processor when you go to purchase the Valkyrie. Still, the 3610QM gets the job done, and it delivers good results when gaming (or doing anything else on the computer, for that matter), so going with it over some more expensive processors might not be a bad idea.

As far as graphics go, iBUYPOWER has included a NVIDIA GeForce GTX 675M with 4GB of GDDR5 video RAM. Though this card isn’t the absolute best graphics card NVIDIA makes for laptops, it is one of their best (and one of the best period), and as a result makes the Valkyrie a delight for gaming. Make no mistake, you’re working with some serious graphics power, especially for a laptop, and that can’t be understated given the fact that many of us are used to seeing underpowered “gaming laptops.” It should also be noted that iBUYPOWER offers a Valkyrie model with a GeForce GTX 680M, so just in case you want to squeeze a little more power out of your graphics card, you have that option available. Like the processor though, the 675M will meet the needs of most who want to use the Valkyrie specifically for gaming, so jumping up to the 680M is not required by any means.


With RAM you’ll have a full 8GB of G.Skill DDR3-1333 at your disposal, so you’ll be set for the time being. Though some may prefer a little bit more RAM, 8GB is sufficient for any game around these days, and probably will be for a while yet. When you aren’t gaming, the 8GB of RAM keeps the Valkyrie CZ-17 moving along at a nice, quick pace, and when coupled with the processor, you’ve got a laptop that’s plenty fast for pretty much anything you need to do.

The speakers on this beast are actually quite good, though they would have to be considering how disappointing it would be to have a laptop packed with excellent hardware and then some crappy speakers. Using a good pair of headphones will still probably be preferred by most, but if you decide to let the speakers get a little work out, you won’t be disappointed with the sound they put out. Included on the hard drive is THX TruStudio Pro, which will allow you to tinker around with your speaker settings and get them to precisely the levels you want them at.

The keyboard the Valkyrie CZ-17 comes equipped is nice, and due to the laptop’s size, it’s comfortable to use. You’ve got a full keyboard, numerical pad and all to work with, and above the keyboard we have a row of special buttons. Surrounding the power button, these buttons let you do things like change the power profile, put the screen to sleep (instead of the entire unit), and turn Wi-Fi on or off. The keyboard comes with an adjustable backlight, and though it looks nice, it’s rather unnecessary. The screen is bright enough to light up the keyboard when you’re playing in the dark, meaning that the backlit keyboard will just end up draining battery life. Luckily, you can turn the backlight off completely, so if it isn’t your cup of tea, you don’t have to deal with it.

There aren’t any gripes with the touch pad either. It isn’t as sensitive as most, which is definitely a big plus, and it’s stationed off-center of the unit so it’s in the perfect place for your thumbs while you’re typing. The touch pad lights up when you power on the unit as well, but unlike the keyboard light, this one actually comes in handy, as with it you can see the left and right mouse buttons easily.

On the outside, there are a total of three USB 3.0 ports, two USB 2.0 ports, and jacks for line-in, line-out, headphones and microphone. The Valkyrie CZ-17 comes with a 6x Blu-ray, 8x DVD+/-RW optical drive, which increasingly seem to be disappearing from laptops these days. There are full HDMI and VGA ports available if you want to use the laptop with a bigger display, but with as nice as the screen is, you don’t really need to. There is an also an eSATA port and a Gigabit Ethernet jack to take advantage of. This particular model came with a 750GB HDD, which will be large enough for most, but there are of course additional options, meaning you can choose the hard drive (or SSD) that suits your needs.

As you can probably see from the pictures and hands-on video, this isn’t necessarily a small unit. The Valkyrie weighs in at 6.9 pounds, measuring 16.9-inches wide and 2.2-inches thick. It has a considerable size to it, but thankfully it’s still easily portable. It’s also worth noting that an increase in size is inevitable when it comes to gaming laptops, and with all of that hardware under the hood, the Valkyrie was doomed to be a little on the bulky side from the start.

A few times in this review, I’ve mentioned that you can swap out components and hardware when you purchase the Valkyrie CZ-17 from iBUYPOWER. That’s true for pretty much everything – you can change the processor, upgrade or downgrade the graphics card, increase the amount of RAM, switch out the optical drive the Valkyrie comes equipped with, and choose different storage devices as well. For instance, if the 750GB HDD this model comes with doesn’t float your boat, you swap it out for a larger one, add a second one for more storage, or add a SSD to make things even faster. If you wanted, you’d be able to ditch the HDD entirely and go for a dual SSD setup. The point is the Valkyrie can be whatever kind of laptop you want it to be, so if for some reason talk of this model leaves you unimpressed, that can be changed.

[sgbenchmark id=176 show=system]

Battery and Eco Environment

Next we come to the battery, which as you may have guessed by reading through the hardware section, leaves something to be desired. The removable lithium-ion 9-cell battery is quoted for 3 hours of continuous use, but when gaming, don’t expect it to last nearly that long. Playing Civilization V with medium settings and the Valkyrie’s Eco Environment turned on (more on that later), I was only able to get about 1 hour and 30 minutes of use before the battery quit. It’s a shame, but it isn’t all that surprising – with all of this high-end hardware and that beautiful screen, it’s inevitable that battery life is going to take quite a hit.

We get some help with battery life from the aforementioned Eco Environment. With Eco Environment, we have a number of different power profiles we can pick from, like gaming mode, office mode, movie mode, and presentation mode. When unplugged from a power source, Eco Environment automatically kicks in, attempting to extend all-too-precious battery life. Game performance takes a significant hit with this power-saving mode on, so you’ll probably have to lower your settings quite a bit. You can turn the power-saving mode off entirely by just switching to gaming mode, but that isn’t recommended, as doing so will probably make the already short battery life even shorter and the end to your session even more abrupt.

The good news is that this battery is removable, meaning you can buy one or two extras to have on hand at all times. It isn’t the most desirable situation, but it’s a hell of a lot better than having a battery that you can’t remove and being tethered to a wall plug all the time. Another perk is that the battery charges very quickly. Obviously, this won’t be the case if you plug in the computer and begin gaming with screen brightness at max and your game settings ramped up, but if you leave the computer alone for a bit, you can expect a recharge time in the area of 45 minutes to an hour.

Benchmarks

Unsurprisingly, the Valkyrie CZ-17 posted some strong Geekbench numbers. These numbers would be good enough for most desktops, but they’re excellent by laptop standards. Essentially, the Geekbench results confirm what the high-end hardware promises – that this is very powerful as far as laptops go, and a considerable gaming laptop to boot. Testing in Cinebench 11.5 gives a similar result – with a CPU score that sits at 6.22 and an OpenGL frame rate of 41.39 fps, the results may not be the best we’ve ever seen, but they are still pretty impressive.

[sgbenchmark id=176 show=score]

Gaming

Now it’s time to talk gaming, because after all, the benchmarks can say all they want, but if the Valkyrie can’t handle gaming, then those results don’t matter very much. Luckily, that isn’t the case, as the Valkyrie is capable of delivering some impressive gaming performance - at 1920x1080 resolution no less, which is a huge plus (all games tested were tested with 1080p).

Playing Batman: Arkham City with Extreme settings (High FXAA, MVSS and HBAO, High DirectX 11 Tessellation), I was able to get a frame rate that ranged between 25 fps and 35 fps. The high end on that was around 43, while the low end was around 22. If you don’t mind playing a game around 30 fps, then you can play Batman: Arkham City with nearly all of the settings maxed. Playing at 30 fps shouldn’t be a problem for most gamers – even though 60 fps does look noticeably smoother, 30 fps is usually what console games are locked at, and those are typically smooth enough. When playing Batman: Arkham City on the Valkyrie, you’re essentially getting a console-quality frame rate, but you also get to enjoy much better graphics. That isn’t a bad trade-off by any means, especially when Batman: Arkham City looks so good with the graphics settings cranked up.

With Battlefield 3, the results were much the same. Putting all of the settings on Ultra, which includes 4x MSAA, high antialiasing post, motion blur on, 16x anisotropic filtering and HBAO on, I got a frame rate of 30 to 40 fps, with the frame rate staying around or above 30 fps more consistently than Batman: Arkham City. Once again, you’re sacrificing a full 60 fps for all the bells and whistles, but I don’t really see a reason why that would be a major issue.

I was able to squeeze a little bit more out of Skyrim than I was with Arkham City and Battlefield 3. Playing with the settings on Ultra – including 8x antialiasing, 16x anisotropic filtering, and Bethesda’s HD texture pack – produced a frame rate between 40 and 50 fps, only rarely dropping down below 40 fps. That definitely isn’t bad, and there really isn’t much to complain about when you get play with maxed settings and still have a frame rate between 40 and 50 fps.

Wrap-Up

So no, you’re not going to be able to get a full 60 fps with the graphics cranked up at the same time by using the Valkyrie CZ-17. Unless you take frame rate extremely seriously, that probably won’t be a problem. After all, enjoying games with max settings at 30 fps is just as easy as enjoying them at 60 fps. If frame rate is important to you, just bring the graphics settings down a notch, and then you can still enjoy excellent visuals while getting a frame rate that sits right around 60 fps.

It’s also important to keep in mind that this is a laptop, and even though the results when gaming aren’t perfect, they’re excellent by laptop standards. This is one of the best gaming laptops on the market right now, and the $1459 price tag bit easier to swallow than some pre-built desktops that will only deliver a marginal improvement when it comes to gaming.

Really, the only big drawbacks are the battery life and the size of the unit. As stated above though, those are to be expected in a gaming laptop, and concerning the size specifically, it isn’t as if the Valkyrie isn’t portable. It’s slightly more bulky than other laptops that are on the market, but that 7 pound weight isn’t terribly huge. All in all, if you’re looking for a laptop that hold its own when it comes to gaming, you won’t be disappointed by picking up a Valkyrie CZ-17.


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