- Editor's Rating
Overview and Introduction:
This review covers the highly anticipated Clevo D901C model, featuring up to three hard drives, two video cards, and a dual core processor (though we had hoped it would be a quad core) which ended up being a dual core as you can see from the discussion. The machine is definitely in the desktop replacement category, and we will see that it even outperforms desktops in certain ways. While not for the faint of the heart with its substantial weight and size, this machine does offer incredible performance – and exactly in the crucial areas that count in real world, day to day use.
17″ 1920×1200 Glossy WUXGA
Core 2 Extreme x6800 2.93 GHz, 1066 MHz FSB
Dual NVIDIA 7950 GTX MXM IV 512 MB in SLI MODE
4 GB DDR2 SDRAM at 667 MHz
Triple 160 GB SATA 300 7200 rpm in RAID 0 MODE
Intel 4965 AGN Wireless, 1000Mbps Ethernet, Bluetooth
Reasons for Buying:
This is actually my second NVIDIA SLI powered review. When my first review came out (http://www.notebookreview.com/default.asp?newsID=3464), I was asking why anybody would ship a computer with the most powerful graphics cards (dual NVIDIA 7950 SLI) and the least powerful processors (AMD Turion X2). The combination did not make sense to me, and the benchmark results were underwhelming. I guess *somebody* listened, as now we have what I would call my “dream machine” in the body of this Sager NP 9260. I have been waiting for this machine a long time – a Core 2 Duo part in laptop form factor with NVIDIA SLI video cards.
I might have considered an Alienware or other better-looking version compared to the Sager, but Alienware’s website features barely 3 laptop models at the time of writing, and their promised Core 2 model with SLI is still not there (even though it was announced all the way back in March). I was also burned by RAID controller failures with my old Alienware in the past, so I didn’t really mind.
Where and How Purchased:
What I truly love about Sager…is how fast they ship this stuff to you. On any website you go to, you are signing up for a two to four week wait, if you custom configure your machine. Not so at Sager. Just drop the friendly folks an email, and they literally rush the system out. Of course, it also helps that the system is in great condition when it arrives 🙂 Ever since receiving a brand-new HP laptop with cracks in the battery compartment, scratched screen, and a few other “production artifacts”, I am a little scared of ordering online; so I really appreciate being able to receive a system so quickly *and* in top notch condition.
Build & Design:
While I have previously expressed concern about the aesthetic value of Clevo/Sager systems, and those concerns are still valid compared to the latest “designer laptop” lineups, I have to say that things have improved. The system no longer ships in “industry gray” glory but actually has a pleasing, shiny, crisp “jet black” look. I really appreciated the improved looks of the machine, and while it still feels a little wobbly as you handle it, this is a generational improvement over any other previous Clevo model I have tested. The screen frame twists more than you would like to see, but all in all, this is not bad at all.
There were no dead pixels on this screen, which is wonderful. Nothing irritates me more than receiving a laptop with dead pixels – Toshiba, HP, among others, have served me those – thankfully, Sager has never failed in this regard. And while the screen does not have anywhere near the view angles or the crystal clear quality of the 20″ Sager system (that screen was definitely better than any desktop display I have seen), it is still a great 17″ screen, with nice colors, and no noticeable light leakage. You do want to be careful while opening and closing the lid, because the hatches are very flimsy and easily break – to date, I have not had a Sager system survive with both hatches, lets see how long this one lasts 😉
There are four speakers, which work in a surround-sound fashion. The sound driver includes a nice applet that tests each of the four speakers, and you can see each surround speaker activate in turn. The sound quality is very satisfactory and the surround effect is very nice to see in a laptop; of course this is not to say that you get awesome bass or professional sound system quality out of the machine. However, if you are used to carrying around flimsy portable laptop speakers – no need for those, as the D901C takes care of it for you.
Processor and Performance:
The BIOS cycle takes longer than the actual booting of Windows on this machine 🙂 Suffice to say this machine is extremely fast. It will chew up anything you throw at it for lunch and then come back for more in way of dessert.
The processor is the fastest GHz offering available from Intel today in the Core 2 microarchitecture, offering two cores at 2.93 GHz each and a desktop FSB speed of 1033 MHz. The newly released Santa Rosa platform has an FSB of 800 MHz, and the initial Core (2) Duo platform features a 667 MHz FSB – so its safe to say that this laptop won’t be matched by other Centrino machines any time soon. However, the processor is not the full story.
Hard drive performance is the most amazing part of this laptop. Combining three 7200 rpm hard drives in RAID 0 should approximately triple hard disk performance. As you can see from the following benchmarks, this laptop performs extremely well especially in hard drive performance. This is very important because most of the time, your laptop is waiting for hard disk IO to complete. Any time you launch a program, surf the Internet, install something new – IO is often your bottleneck (just open Task Manager, and see how rarely your CPU hits 100% in your day to day use).
I am extremely pleased that we are able to have laptops today with triple hard drives in RAID 0 configuration. You won’t find that on most desktops, and I believe the hard drive performance of this laptop exceeds that of most desktops today. Take it from Vista: the hard drive performance index is 5.9, which I believe is the maximum rating Vista gives a system. Yep, its the best.
I really cannot sufficiently stress how big a difference this triple hard drive RAID 0 configuration makes – far more noticeable in day to day use than raw processor power. The same way you would never realize the full benefits of a fast processor when you have too little system memory (causing Windows to keep swapping data to and from main memory), most of the time you use any computer, you are just waiting for your hard drives to catch up with your processor. The only exceptions are processor intensive tasks like compression, and you don’t spend most of your time doing that anyways. But imagine if you had incredibly fast IO…this would help you max out your CPU and utilize your system at its full speed!
I have been using this laptop for quite a while now, and the hard disk is stuffed with data – normally by now you would expect to see the “new system” effect fading off, with Windows getting incrementally slower on each bootup, as the disks and the system registry get more and more (and irreversably somehow, despite hours of defragmentation sessions with you hypnotically staring at the screen) fragmented. The hard drives are so powerful that the machine is still breezing through any kind of disk I/O, and all I can say is, this does more to improve machine responsiveness and performance than any kind of CPU clock rating. This translates to immense satisfaction with machine performance!
I strongly recommend that when ordering this machine, you get 3 identical hard drives and configure them in RAID 0. Although you will lose all data if any hard disk fails (meaning, there is 3 times more chance of data loss, since 3 hard drives are involved), as long as you back up your data regularly, you will be thanking me for this tip 😉
I compiled various benchmarks under several operating systems, including Windows XP, Server 2003, and Vista. Server 2003 is actually my favorite operating system – even though I do not use it as a server, its essentially a newer version of XP, can be configured as a workstation, and lacks many frustrating Vista-isms. I strongly recommend it to anyone who is hesitant to move to Vista, but is looking for something newer than Windows XP.
One thing worhty of mention in the benchmark scores is that SLI support is available only for Windows XP at this time. This reflects very clearly in the 3DMark scores. We’ll blame NVIDIA on that one. I wasn’t surprised that Vista made it difficult to support SLI, but Server 2003 should have worked. For some reason NVIDIA thinks my Server 2003 OS comes with DirectX 3, when its the latest 9.0C version. And this hadn’t happened on the 20″ Sager I previously reviewed (which was also running Server 2003), so it appears to be a driver issue.
The amazing hard drive performance is demonstrated by the HDTune screenshots. I have never seen a constant HDTune performance graph without major downward spikes…until now. Oh, there was that guy at CeBIT this year who was showing me his new Flash hard drive, which had similar performance. So think of RAID 0 in three drive configuration as giving you the equivalent of advanced Flash drive technology, today, without the additional cost of true Flash drives. I can extrapolate that the drive performance would go off the chart if this system was actually equipped with Flash drives! I believe the largest laptop capacity for Flash hard disks is 64 MB at this time, and if anybody knows where I can get some of those, I would be more than willing to try it out. Even though storage capacity would fall – performance would be out of this world!
The SuperPI results speak for themselves, this processor is extremely fast – earning the Core 2 “Extreme” designation in its name. Until we get a quad core processor in a laptop chassis, this is the best we have, and its definitely something to be happy about. This was especially a major relief for me, after my misadventures with the “overclockable” Dell system (http://www.notebookreview.com/default.asp?newsID=3650), which still by the way insists on putting itself at below-spec corespeeds any time it gets warm. None of that horsing around with this Clevo machine! You get smooth as silk performance all the way – from disk IO to raw computation power.
Heat and Noise:
While heat and noise is generally a given for laptops of this caliber, its great to see that that’s not always the case with the Clevo. When the system is under heavy stress – CPU peaked at 100% – the fan does come on and is certainly noisy. But its still not as loud as the “turbo” fan of the overclockable Dell XPS, and quickly dies down as soon as the system load lightens up. I never noticed the system get too hot either – the palmrest remains comfortable, although you may not want to use the system on your lap. Overall, I must say I am very surprised that the machine maintains a very quiet noise level most of the time, as that was not the case with previous generation Clevo’s. Once the fan kicked in, that was it! This fan knows how to cool the machine; and it gets out of your way, turning itself off, as soon as its done its job.
Keyboard and Touchpad:
The touchpad buttons can be a little stiff, but the keyboard is just great without any flex. A full numeric keypad is included, as ought to be the case with all 17″ laptops – but its still really easy to come by laptops that do not have numeric keypads, wasting plenty of space. Toshiba, Dell, anyone? Kudos to Clevo for getting it right. Since the palmrest is cool all the time, even while the hard drives are heating up like crazy, the keyboard and touchpad remain comfortable at all times – again an improvement over earlier designs. A few extra buttons are available to perform your custom tasks (such as launch custom applications when they are pressed).
Input and Output Ports:
The machine offers a decent selection of ports. 4 USB slots are available, which certainly could have been more, but suffices. CRT, dial up modem, ethernet, IEEE, PCMCIA, and 7-in-1 card reader complement the offering; along with line in, SPDIF out, mic in, and headphone out jacks for sound. Of course, a DVI port is also available for digital video output.
The machine is equipped with the latest N-wireless card from Intel. One oddity was that the driver CD’s which shipped with the product contained Intel drivers for their previous generation (3XXX), and not this latest generation with N support (4XXX). So I had to go to Intel’s website and download the drivers manually, but everything was smooth thereon. The N-capable wireless card is definitely what you want to have in your system, especially when shelling out a substantial amount of dough. Compared to my XPS M1710 system with draft-N wireless, the final N series included in Clevo picked up a lot more wireless networks – which we can happily attribute to extended range.
In all honesty, I didn’t even benchmark the battery. I think of it as a UPS, rather than a real battery. I wouldn’t want to be dragging this machine under my arm anywhere…I think of it as a highly portable desktop, so power is not a concern. There has got to be some trade-off at some point with systems this far ahead of the general “laptop feature curve”, so I don’t mind the battery (and honestly, the online store option to order an additional battery just seems funny to me – does anybody ever do that?).
Operating System and Software:
The unit shipped with Vista 64 bit. I am really not a fan of Vista…too many apps won’t run, UAC is just plain silly, and every time I pop in a burned disc, Vista asks me how to “format” it. Saying “no dammit, that disc is already full of my data” makes it impossible to view the disc contents in Explorer, my only recourse being the command line. Painful! So Vista went out the door as soon as I took the impressive performance ratings screenshot and some benchmarks. As I explained earlier, SLI mode is unsupported in Vista, so that’s another strike against it. All the same, it was very satisfying to see Vista rate the system 5.5 (the lowest score being memory speed), with two 5.9’s (graphics and hard drives), one 5.8 (gaming graphics), and one 5.6 (processor).
After rashly kissing Vista goodbye, I installed XP 32 bit, as that is the only other officially supported operating system for this hardware (the driver CDs cover only 32 bit XP and 64 bit Vista). XP was great – fast, slick, and with SLI support. The only catch was that 2.75 GB was total accessible memory, instead of the total 4 GB, for which one ordinarily needs a 64 bit OS. So then I installed my favorite operating system…
…Server 2003. As I said before, Server 2003 can be configured as a workstation, and is really a newer version of XP (Windows 2000 is NT 5.0, Windows XP is NT 5.1, Server 2003 is NT 5.2, and Vista is NT 6.0 in Microsoft’s official version numbers for Windows). Most drivers on the XP CD installed just fine, with the notable absence of SLI support in the NVIDIA driver, unfortunately. However, the good news is that Server 2003 was able to utilize all of my 4 GB of memory, despite being a 32 bit operating system! I was very pleasantly surprised by that, and decided to wait for NVIDIA to release fixed drivers, before enjoying SLI under Server 2003. 4 GB RAM is more important in my day-to-day work than SLI support, so that was an easy choice to make.
I contacted the friendly folks at Sager about the driver issues I ran into. Unfortunately they were not able to offer any solution for the Server 2003 SLI driver problem, given that its NVIDIA’s driver issue, I’m not sure if I could expect more from them. To their credit, service was prompt and knowledgable, so I know I can count on them if something really goes wrong.
This is really a great system. It competes with most desktops on a level playing field thanks to its desktop class processor, desktop grade FSB, and even outperforms them at their own game thanks to its triple hard drive RAID 0 combination. I have not been pleased like this with any system I purchased in a really long time (and those of you who have read my previous reviews will be privy to my concerns). I am very pleased that the Sager unit delivers on each front. I will not even complain about the size or weight, because when you are talking three hard drives on a laptop, that has simply got to be a given! To me, that’s not even a con, and the same goes for the battery. The only real possible areas of complaint are price, and lack of quad processor support. A quad processor on this machine…that would simply be, in a word, priceless 🙂
Dual SLI graphics
Extreme Core 2 CPU
Triple hard drives with RAID 0, 1, or 5
Improved chassis design
No quad processor option
And oh…if anyone out there is wondering if the unit can run Flight Simulator X…guess what, it actually can 😉 Even with maxed out graphics, almost across the board 😉 That in itself should say more about this system than everything I have written above!