PROS: Impressive CPU/GPU, useful back-lit keyboard, 120Hz display, excellent sound, blu-ray burner, solid build quality and finish, price
CONS: unwanted GPU throttling (see update), obnoxious fan noise, high heat exhaust, no support for integrated graphics, cheap mouse buttons, no high-capacity battery
Those familiar with my blog will know that I currently own and use a 17" Toshiba Qosmio X305-Q708. I'll admit I'm very happy with this quad-core SLI notebook, so I'm not exactly in the market for a replacement. Toshiba of course would be happy to change that, and their redesigned X775 continues from where the X305 and X505 left off. The specs for the Toshiba Qosmio X775-3DV78 are as follows:
-Fusion X2 finish
-Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
-Intel Core i7-2630QM 2.0GHz
-1920x1080 120Hz 3D LED display
-nVidia GTX 560M
-500GB hybrid HDD and 750GB HDD
-wireless N with Bluetooth
Intel's mobile Sandy Bridge CPU makes a major splash, improving not only performance but trimming down the entire chassis. No doubt, the nVidia GTX 560M also plays a role here, as it can handily beat the SLI configuration of my X305, but more on that later. Pair these with some good-old harman/kardon drivers and a high-def 1080p display, and you've got a notebook that can do stuff!
One of the first things I noticed on the X775 was how nice Toshiba did the keyboard and chassis. Rather than go with glossy surfaces, the Fusion X2 finish has a grey/red textured look. That means you won't have a finger print magnet and won't need to wipe it after every use. True, the display bezel is still gloss, but that's tolerable. The slimmer size also makes it not only lighter than the old X305 (by a good 3lbs), but easier to carry.
The keyboard is improved over the X305, which already had a great layout. INS and DEL keys are now located above the backspace key, numpad and cursor keys retain the same proper layout (boo hiss Clevo), and now comes with a modern chicklet-style. It is absolutely amazing to type on, is quiet, and exhibits zero flex. This keyboard rocks!
|More than cool, but extremely useful at night|
Likewise, the 1920x1080 display also gets the upgrade to 120Hz refresh. While it may be difficult to see the difference between a 60Hz and 120Hz screen for some, the fact that 120Hz support is included with the GPU driver means that gamers won't be held back by a 60FPS V-sync, at least in theory. It should also help with motion blur and judder when watching HD content.
And while I'm not sold on 3D, the X775 includes full 3D support for graphics titles and HD video. The active-shutter glasses supplied will work with whatever game is in the nVidia database as 3D compatible, while the BD/DVD playback software can upconvert video, both SD to HD and 2D to 3D. Games such as Burnout Paradise looks absolutely amazing with the 3D eye-candy turned on, and the added depth of vision makes FPS titles such as Crysis 2 look better too. Unfortunately, not all games work. As it is at the moment, to really take advantage of 3D you need titles that support it - users should look through their games list to see which ones work, and decide if buying the X775 is worth it.
Finally, on the bottom there's an access panel that gets you to the hard drives and RAM. Unfortunately, as with the X305, cleaning any dust out from the fans or heatsinks will require a full strip-down - a procedure that I'm absolutely NOT in favor of. Notebook fans aren't exactly the most reliable kind out there, and replacing a dead fan can be a real pain when complicated by a poorly designed chassis. I like to be able to remove my fans easily for cleaning - what I don't like is waste four hours of my time to perform what should be a 10 minute routine maintenance.
The Core i7-2630QM may not be the fastest mobile Sandy Bridge, but it is still quite impressive. My VOB to WMV test wrapped up in an amazing record time of just 1 hour 26 minutes - more than a full hour ahead of my X305 with it's QX9300 quad-core extreme processor. In similar style, the WMV to PPC test finished in a scant 47 minutes.
Clocked at 2.0GHz stock, the CPU can boost easily up to 2.6GHz on all four cores for short periods, higher when a single-threaded application is run. When idle, it'll park itself nicely at 800Mhz, and when on battery, work with only four threads active. You don't feel the system slow at all simply because the full performance is there, on tap, whenever you need it.
Multitasking is also perfectly suited here, since the wide 1920 display and 8GB RAM will let you open multiple windows/tabs and jump between programs effortlessly. The large trackpad is usable, but the left/right buttons I will say sound and feel very cheap. At this price/performance level, I don't think Toshiba should be cutting corners, especially when this is being sold as their high-end machine.
1080p HD video looks amazing, and watching movies like Fast Five, Casino Royale and Avatar on Blu-ray in full-quality was quite an experience. Playing back HD content is going to be a major strength of this particular model. With a BD burner built-in, it is possible to view, edit and burn HD video effortlessly, making this a sweet notebook for mobile videographers. Likewise, if you have the software, you can just as easily rip HD content and watch your movies on the go. The roomy 750GB 2nd hard drive is enough to fit well over a dozen HD movies, and substantially more if you transcode to 1080p MP4 or WMV-HD.
Audio gets a similar high-end touch with the harman/kardon speakers. These sound very similar to the karman/kardon drivers on my old HP zd7000, except Toshiba includes a subwoofer with the X775 for a 2.1 speaker arrangement. While the sound is still not as good as the 4.1 speaker setup on my X305, as an audiophile I have to say this is without a doubt the best-sounding notebook I've gotten my hands on in many years. I honestly don't think there is anything else on the market right now that will beat the X775 for audio quality, so if good speakers are important to you, you know where to go!
|Run Cool Edit Pro like a champ|
Heat and noise were at odds with each other. The X775 was noticeably cooler than my X305, but was also considerably louder. You won't hear the fan on most of the time, but as soon as you fire up a 3D shooter or tax all 8 CPU threads with a transcoding job, the single fan will definitely make itself heard. Worse, the jet of hot air pouring out the left side will effectively keep that coffee mug sitting next to your notebook very warm. For actual numbers, however, GPU/CPU temps reached 70C/80C while running F@H SMP and GPU client, taken with a rather balmy 28C ambient temperature. The actual heatsink reached a temperature of 60C (140F), and that is how hot the air is coming out the side. You cannot put your hand next to it as it is simply uncomfortable. Anyone sitting to your immediate left will get slammed with hot air along with the obnoxious fan noise, and WON'T be happy.
The GTX560M easily beats the SLI setup on my X305, as can be seen by the 3DMark scores. 3DMark06 came in with 15,344, or about 30% better than the dual 9800GTS. For those looking for 3DMark11 scores, I ran the performance benchmark and obtained P2059. Of course, the real proof of the pudding comes from actual game play, and for that I loaded up the original Crysis to start things off.
On my X305, Crysis runs at 30FPS on high settings at 1680x1050. However, that extra 30% GPU performance boost allows the game to now run on those same settings at 1920x1080 on the X775. It's a trade-off at this point - you can dial your settings down and maintain native resolution or go back to 1600x900 to eek out more FPS. I'd say the GTX560M is more suited for 1600x900, since if you really want to game at 1080p on a notebook with today's titles, you're better off shopping for a more powerful GTX580M or going the SLI route. There's a reason why people buy the Alienware m17 and m18x...
Other games look gorgeous as well on the 1920x1080 display. Civilization V running on DX11 with all the eye-candy turned on looks and plays silky smooth. The same is true for Cyrsis 2 with the DX11 patch and high-res textures. Of course, both games get the added boost of nVidia's 3D vision, adding noticeable depth to your field of view. The actual 3D effect depends heavily on what games support it, but for games such as Burnout Paradise, you will never want to play in 2D again - the experience is taken to a whole other level!
One great advantage of the GTX560M is it's ability to be easily overclocked with tools such as MSI afterburner. The stock core/shader/memory settings of 776/1552/1250MHz can easily be boosted as high as 975/1950/1525MHz without any adverse temperature effects, display artifacts, driver crashes or stability issues. Likewise the stock Toshiba 268.51 drivers can be replaced with the newer nVidia beta 285.38 variant for game testing. I say testing because I found them to be unstable for running F@H over a 24 hour period. The 268.85 drivers on Toshiba's support website solved that issue.
Toshiba supplies the X775 with an 8-cell, 47WH battery that's rated to do 2.5 hours. My usage times were considerably less than that, offering just 1 hour 36 minutes of VOB playback and 1 hour 55 minutes surfing the internet. Both those times were taken with ECO mode turned on, a feature Toshiba touts as maximizing unplugged run time.
Unfortunately, I was unable to measure any unplugged gaming times due to an issue with the GTX560M (see below). Toshiba doesn't offer a high-capacity battery for the X775, which is extremely disappointing considering the huge benefit this would have. Truth be told, the physically smaller 6-cell battery in my 10" netbook has more juice in it.
Oh my, where do I start! I was upset to find numerous problems with this particular notebook, some of which were obvious, and some not-so. First off the bat was the inability to use the integrated HD3000 graphics of the CPU. In theory, nVidia's Optimus technology should disable the GTX560M and switch to the HD3000 graphics when discreet GPU performance isn't required, such as when on battery power. Unfortunately, Toshiba decided to disable HD3000 support on the system board, making use of the Intel graphics impossible.
That kind of explains the poor battery times, as the GTX560M essentially down-clocks to 203/405/324MHz on core/shader/memory, rather than power down completely. Paired with a rather wimpy 47WH battery, I can see how in some cases this notebook will shut down after just one hour of use. I have to genuinely ask what was Toshiba thinking? They place such a great emphasis on ECO mode, yet equip the notebook with a battery of such laughable capacity and fail to turn on a key power-saving feature found in the CPU, it's integrated graphics.
Lack of HD3000 support also means that there is no Quick Sync support for video transcoding. Fans of Sandy Bridge that do heavy video work and have the right software will swear by the time this key feature saves when it comes to queuing up multiple encoding jobs. True, the GTX560M can do GPU-based encoding, but output quality has been shown to be sub-par compared to the Intel solution. Videophiles will be disappointed for sure.
I was also unable to burn any DVD+R DL discs with the BD burner on this notebook. I don't think the problem was with my media (HP) since these discs burn perfectly fine on drives I've used before from Sony, LiteOn and HP. Slimline internal BD burners are as rare as hens teeth nowadays, so getting a replacement for the HL-branded unit in the X775 won't exactly be easy or cheap. Rather than shop around for a drive that works with your media, I'd recommend shopping for media that works with the drive used in the X775.
Other minor nags I have to mention include the lack of an eSata port, DisplayPort and Express 54 slot - connectivity that Toshiba does have on the X305. Some folks may need these - I don't. I am, however, extremely partial to the digital volume dial on my X305, as any serious audio guy will attest to.
|The culprit - unwanted GPU throttling|
What's strange is that I had Windows power scheme set to high-performance, I had the nVidia control panel settings set to performance mode and was running on AC power. Those three variables should prevent any GPU throttling whatsoever, yet at just 60C the GTM560M was randomly turning itself down, and back up, and down...
I cannot put my finger on the issue, since the kicker was that F@H GPU client ran perfectly fine, at full load with much higher GPU temps, and never once throttled throughout a full 24 hour run.
And before you ask, this was all happening on stock settings - no GPU overclock involved. Manually tweaking the nVidia driver power settings in the registry and disabling the ECO mode power service could not remedy the problem either. I even tossed my Zalman ZM-NC3000S notebook cooler underneath to chill the underside - no luck.
nVidia has always reserved it's GTX moniker for high-end parts, and therein lies the irony. High-end parts don't throttle at 60C - they work at 80C and beyond!!! My X305 has on more than one occasion hit 90C on both CPU and GPU without so much as a 1MHz slowdown - it runs any game I throw at it fluidly. Not so the X775. Why the GTX560M is behaving in such an erratic manner will need some explanation from Toshiba if they want to successfully pitch the X775 towards gamers.
Is it possible that I just have a bad unit, having not seen this mentioned in any other of the X775 reviews circulating online? Is it possible that the GTX560M has a firmware issue similar to the GTX460M? Is it a driver problem or a power management issue on Toshiba's end? I wish I knew, but the sad fact is with a GPU doing such unexplained and random throttling as this, it makes the Qosmio X775-3DV78 a total failure as a gaming notebook. End of story.
Overall I find the X775 a great improvement over the X305 and X505, but it's execution is deeply flawed. The GPU throttling issue is a serious and major problem preventing the X775 from performing as a gaming machine. The constant jerking between 15-50FPS throughout game play is just unacceptable. Likewise, the lack of Quick Sync support is also a turn-off for users hoping to do some serious video work, given the inclusion of a BD burner and 120Hz 1080p display.
Of course, the number of video transcoding applications that actually harness Quick Sync is still so few that one could make an exception. I admit the video applications I myself use don't offer Quick Sync support, but if the feature WERE AVAILABLE in the processor, I would jump for the new software and definitely use it.
Adding insult to injury, Toshiba has also introduced a newer model since I took delivery. The Qosmio X775-3DV80 packs the upgraded Core i7-2670QM processor, giving a 10% boost in CPU speed for the same $1899 price. Want more bang for your buck?
It's hard for me to slam Toshiba more than I have. Firstly, because the X775 is so very close to being perfect, and second, because they did such a great job with the X305 I personally own and use. But a notebook that cannot do what it is primarily built for - in this case gaming - is useless. All told, if Toshiba can fix the GPU throttling problem, enable HD3000 graphics and offer a more substantial battery, the X775 would be a killer sub-$2000 notebook.
UPDATE: Toshiba recently released a new BIOS (v1.60) for the X775. Gauging by the feedback I'm seeing online (I no longer have my unit to verify), this looks to have put an end to the GPU throttling issue combined with a newer 290.53 driver update from nVidia. While I'm still critical of the poor battery life and lack of HD3000 support, this important fix at least allows me to give the Qosmio X775-3DV78 a recommendation. Kudos to Toshiba for addressing the problem and not letting it's customers down!