Of course, it's been a while since I looked at the X775 model, and Toshiba has in that time made not one but two refreshes. The latest Qosmio X70 offers up Intel's newest Core i7 Haswell quad core alongside nVidia's most recent GK106 silicon dubbed GTX770M. Does the solution impress? More important perhaps, what in the world would compel me to relegate Toshiba to my Shame File? Read on for the entire story!
PROS: Good performance, overclockable GPU, modern styling, simplified chassis, BD burner, configurable to order, aggressive pricing
CONS: Windows 8 Pro, inadequate heat extraction, lacks latest/proper drivers, average speakers, no subwoofer, horrendous battery life, questionable warranty policy
I was literally about to plunk down on this model's predecessor, the X875, when I saw the X70 appear on Toshiba's website in the last week of June. Needless to say, I was curious to see just how much of an improvement Intel's Haswell and the GTX770M would make, as well as sample the new quad harman/kardon speaker arrangement. My order actually arrived a few days ahead of schedule shipping direct from the factory in China.
The model I have here today is a custom configured model with the following specifications:
-Windows 8 Pro
-Intel Core i7-4700MQ 2.4GHz
-1920x1080 TruBrite LED 17.3" display
-16GB DDR3L 1600 RAM (4x4GB)
-500GB 7200rpm HDD
-500GB 7200rpm secondary HDD
-nVidia GTX770M 3GB GDDR5
-Backlit raised tile keyboard
-Quad harman/kardon speakers
-Intel Centrino 2230 wireless + BT
-MSRP $1615 with Toshiba $400 instant discount applied
As if taking a page out of HP and Dell's book, Toshiba now offers users the ability to custom configure many of their notebook models. This is a welcome change from years past where your only option with the Qosmio line was a prebuilt unit. Now you have a choice of RAM, HDD/SSD, optical drives and a few other options. The X70 is in fact one of only a few gaming notebooks that you can configure with a full 32GB of RAM - something I will talk more about later.
In addition to the two 2.5" storage drives you also have the option to order the X70 with a 256GB mSata SSD ($300) to host the OS. It's wise to go with this option as it not only improves Windows 8 boot and shutdown times, but leaves both your 2.5" drives free to use for storage. The caddies both accommodate up to 9.5mm z-height devices and can be easily accessed via a single screw securing the access panel on the bottom.
|Every notebook should be this easy to access|
I was also surprised to find a Panasonic UJ262 Blu-ray burner installed. Panasonic are known to make the best notebook BD burners on the market so it's a welcome change to find this in lieu of the more common HL-branded drives used in the past. Good to know as well that Toshiba includes BD and DVD playback software on the X70, negating the drawback of Windows 8's inability to natively handle VOB files.
Intel's progress from Sandy Bridge to Ivy Bridge to Haswell has made at best only marginal improvements to IPC focusing more on efficiency. So while moving from SB to IB may not have been worthwhile for notebook owners from a performance standpoint, upgrading from SB to Haswell would perhaps make more sense in both cases. To further explore that theory, I'll be comparing my benchmarks here to the Qosmio X775 I looked at previously.
Indeed, the Core i7-4700MQ delivers on performance. My VOB to WMV conversion wrapped up in just 53 minutes. That's over 30 minutes better than the Sandy Bridge variant, and translates to a better than 3:1 time ratio. My WME test finished in a very fast 14 minutes, almost a third of the time of the older X775. Those doing any kind of video processing or encoding work will see huge improvements moving from SB to Haswell.
Quick Sync is supported, but attempting any MP4 H.264 transcoding using ArcSoft's Media Converter 8 resulted in a "conversion failed" error. I believe it is a Windows 8 glitch, and not an issue with the HD4600. The solution was to use Media Espresso, and with the fast preset using a MPEG2 file as the source, finished the job in a blistering 4 minutes 38 seconds compared to 9 minutes 44 seconds using CPU only. What's strange, however, is that when I applied the quality preset, Quick Sync would actually take LONGER to finish than using CPU only. Media Converter does offer more granular encoding controls than Media Espresso, so I can only think that Windows 8 is to blame here - it's not typical to how I've seen it work using identical source files and the exact same software running on notebooks with Windows 7 as the OS.
Another interesting performance tweak involves the use of a RAM cache. Software included by Toshiba allows you to partition a section of the RAM (upto 4GB) for use as a HDD or SSD cache, greatly improving file access. It's similar to Super Cache software used by Super Speed, except this is free, and definitely makes the argument to configure the X70 with a full 32GB of RAM. Used in conjunction with a persistent RAM disk for your software and Steam library installs, it will also make application load times and game level loads much quicker.
3DMark11 returned a Performance score of P5012, that's almost double from numbers shown by the older model. Of course, a more valid comparison requires bona-fide gaming, so as with the X775, I'm going to start by running the original Crysis.
You may remember that this game ran comfortable on high settings at 30FPS at the native 1920x1080 resolution. On the X70 that performance is 38/44/52 min/avg/max FPS. That would appear to be a very fine set of numbers, but you need to keep in mind this is 2013 hardware running a 2007 game. Remember as well, last year's Alienware M18x hit better numbers on ultra-high settings.
While I didn't have the chance to run Crysis 2 due to time constraints, I would have to make the educated guess based on prior testing that the game would offer slightly higher frame rates and run even smother. I did have the chance to run Civilization V in DX10 mode, which as I would expect looks and runs amazing with all it's eye candy settings turned on maximum. Think the GTX770M has what it takes?
My final gaming test involved running X-Plane 10. At it's default settings at native resolution, the flight simulator managed to churn out a smooth 45 FPS. But turn all the dials up to 11, and the fun slows to an awful 5 FPS. Compare to the M18x which ran at 30 FPS under the exact same conditions - now you see why two more powerful GTX680M cards in SLI still hold their own.
Toshiba ships the Qosmio X70 with nVidia's 311.41 drivers. Attempting to install the newer 320.49 WHQL drivers from nVidia's website failed to load, meaning that the drivers Toshiba are supplying are proprietary for the X70. That's both a pro and a con, since while you are guaranteed a working system out-of-the-box, any games that may require newer versions of drivers in the future may fail to run, since you cannot easily override the drivers already installed. Installing the GeForce Experience software also fails to override the settings, as it too will come back with a message saying the 311.41 driver is "up to date".
Of course, if it's any consolation, Toshiba made sure to keep the firmware completely unlocked, allowing you to easily overclock your GPU using tools such as MSI Afterburner. The stock core/memory clocks used on the GTX770M are 702/1002 MHz, which I was easily able to bump up to 801/1097 MHz. Going any higher caused a driver crash while running 3DMark11. The improvements help bump up the 3DMark11 score to P5591, giving you a roughly 10% performance boost.
HEAT AND NOISE:
Windows 8 presented yet more issues when trying to use HWMonitor Pro - the software would hang upon initialization at the storage scan. I've used HWMonitor Pro for years as my go-to temperature and battery monitoring tool, and being without it would leave me amiss of a key set of benchmarks necessary to complete my testing. Fortunately, HWiNFO64 picked up the slack, is not only completely free, but provides far more detailed system parameters, can be configured as desktop gadgets and runs on the X70 effortlessly.
My definitive "test" as always is to load up both F@H SMP and GPU clients to see how well (or bad) a given notebook's cooling system performs. With a 28C ambient the X70 measured CPU temps between 89-93C among the four cores while the GTX770 hummed along nicely at 77C. F@H is a brutal real-world workload, and getting these temps actually required turning Intel's Turbo mode off and locking the CPU at 2.4GHz. Leaving Turbo on caused the CPU to constantly throttle down to 800Mhz as temps reached 98C as soon as it hit 3.2GHz.
The fan used with the X70 isn't terribly loud even at full tilt. While the temperature coming from the vent will be warm during load, you can comfortably use the X70 on your lap as the base stays relatively cool. What IS very disappointing and extremely uncomfortable is the heat coming up through the right palm rest. This is the area directly above where the GTX770M's heatsink resides, and while a series of heat pipes is there to move the heat away, a tremendous amount gets radiated through the outer plastic.
It's unfortunate that I don't have an IR thermometer to measure with, but my crude guess is this area will heat up to around 110F. Put your hand in 110F water and you will get an example of what I'm talking about. You cannot rest your hand on the palm rest at all for this reason, and I'm thinking some kind of insulation should have been utilized or a more effective heatsink and heat pipe devised. It wouldn't hurt to use an all-aluminum body either, as the extra metal will dissipate heat evenly away from the source.
Remember the pathetic battery that came with the X775? Toshiba supplies the X70 with a very similar 8-cell 47Wh 3000mAh battery. Even for the most ultra-portable 11" notebook, this capacity is barely adequate and severely limits what you can do with the X70 away from the mains.
I'll start with the most simplest of battery tests - playing back a WMV source from the hard drive. With all wireless off on max battery settings, battery at 100%, brand-new and properly conditioned, I saw just 75 minutes of run time, or 1 hour 15 minutes.
Considering that your average movie runs around 94 minutes, a result like that is nothing short of a crying shame.
Turning on wifi and attempting to watch content on Hulu turned out to be just as painful. I got as far as 1 hour 20 minutes before the system would shut down. I didn't even attempt to start streaming a movie with Netflix, or try to watch a Blu-ray disc using the included playback software.
As far as getting any serious work done unplugged, my web surfing attempt ended at just 1 hour 29 minutes. Ever sat at a desktop box in the middle of a power outage with a beefy UPS attached? Even with THREE spare notebook batteries (four total!!!), Toshiba guarantees you will be nowhere near an 8-hour workday with the X70.
Gaming performance with the X70 on battery? I fired up Civilization V in DX10 mode at native resolution with it's default eye-candy, max battery settings and all wireless off. How far did I go?
I got all of 32 minutes.
Would you pay $107 for a spare 32 minutes of juice? That's how much Toshiba is charging for an extra 8-cell battery with their Qosmio X70.
And that doesn't even account for cell wear that will naturally occur, reducing your unplugged gaming time to as little as 15-20 minutes over the course of 2-3 years.
I'm trying hard to think of a bad joke right now that's worse than this notebook's battery, but I can't.
Unfortunately, attempting to locate a more powerful external battery pack is impossible since the AC connector used on all Qosmio notebooks is not a regular 19V barrel connector, but a 4-pin broken out into individual 12/5/3.3V voltages. Had Toshiba even remotely considered the genius of offering a CAR ADAPTER accessory with this 4-pin power tip, you could at least jury-rig a 12V battery. Instead, you are forced to drag the AC brick with you every time you move around! For those that happen to have an inverter in their car, make sure it can handle 180W.
The take-away? Toshiba intentionally designed the Qosmio X70 notebook to require the user sit near an AC outlet. It's battery is nothing more than a novelty solution, and a built-in UPS for when the power goes out.
If you thought the battery issue wasn't bad already, let's move on to the X70's encore performance.
My very first readers here at lgpOnTheMove will recall my run-in with the Gateway P-7811FX. Toshiba's Qosmio X70 promises a similar less-than-spectacular experience. With all the negatives I've encountered, it will be a wonder if Toshiba sells any of these notebooks at all, and not scrap their Qosmio line altogether.
The first major negative is the decision to put Windows 8 on a gaming notebook. Reread that sentence again if you missed the punch line. Every gaming notebook manufacturer you look at online, from boutique builders selling Clevo/MSI/Asus hardware to Alienware, still offers Windows 7 as an OS install option on it's current shipping models. I'm fine with manufacturers promoting Windows 8, but gaming systems are a different animal, and as an enthusiast, I have certain software requirements that I need met. The issues I encountered on the X70 with various benchmarking software such as HWMonitor Pro and OCCT along with several multimedia applications could have been avoided altogether had I been welcomed with the familiar Windows 7 desktop.
Those hoping to formally downgrade via the Windows 8 Pro route will be up the creek, since Toshiba fails to offer any drivers for Windows 7 whatsoever. In my attempt to do a custom Windows 7 install on the X70 I was able to obtain LAN and HD4600 functionality, but nothing else would work. Access to the nVidia GPU was blocked because even with the proper nVidia drivers I didn't have a Windows 7 driver for the HM86 chipset necessary for opening up the PCI lanes. That in turn also ruled out wifi functionality and a few other key hardware bits included with the system.
Even if Toshiba refuses to ship Windows 7 with it's other consumer notebooks this year, the Qosmio line should be made available for purchase with Windows 7. That's my first serious recommendation to Toshiba. Microsoft allows manufacturers to sell systems with Windows 7 Pro installed as a downgrade from Windows 8 Pro. Or just offer Windows 7 in it's Home Premium, Professional and Ultimate flavors without a Windows 8 license. I would have cheerfully paid Toshiba that $50-60 extra to see Windows 7 Ultimate x64 SP1 installed on my X70. This is America - consumers welcome choice!
My second recommendation to Toshiba is to make a complete set of Windows 7 drivers for the X70 available for download from their support website, so that end-users can comfortably tackle a custom install. That should also include Windows 7 variants of the various software tools Toshiba is using on the X70. Third, I would expect registered X70 owners had access to Windows 7 rescue media that included the various Toshiba software utilities, saving the hassle of manually installing each piece of
I'll give Toshiba some slack though, because the CPU throttling issues are more a problem with how Intel implements their Turbo Boost feature. Rather than jump between ONLY 800MHz and 3.2GHz, it would work better if the CPU were designed to stay at a single frequency, say 2.6, 2.8 or 3.0GHz, and cap that speed based on a temperature threshold. Fortunately, Windows offers a workaround by letting you adjust the power plan settings to keep the Core i7-4700MQ pegged at it's default speed of 2.4GHz and not overheat excessively.
|Not cool - no line-in and stereo mix|
|Why have a line-in jack if it doesn't work?|
Adding insult to injury, Toshiba's standard warranty on the X70 does not include software support for driver issues. The rep I spoke with wanted to charge me $150 for a 1-year advanced warranty subscription in order to troubleshoot my sound driver issue. Oh, and to quote his exact words, he "could not guarantee a fix". Other manufacturers include such support with the factory warranty, and will sincerely help fix driver-related issues over the phone.
I've always been partial to harman/kardon speakers, and their implementation on various notebook models that I have looked at in the past has been exceptional. With the Qosmio X70, however, audio quality is no better than the weak altec lansing drivers HP used to use on their old dv models. Midrange and treble is fine, but bass is totally lacking due to the omission of a separate subwoofer. The driver size has also been shrinked, and these units are physically smaller than those used on previous models. The DTS software does offer some tweaks with sliders for sound shaping including a 10-band EQ. This makes the experience somewhat bearable for gaming and movies except that the digital processing is far too aggressive and fails to provide a natural sound. Audiophiles will most definitely be resorting to their favorite set of high-end cans to appreciate music on the X70 and turning the fake digital processing off.
Could the speakers be improved? Adding a decent subwoofer would certainly help the quad harman/kardon drivers, and I would recommend reverting back the larger units used previously. I was disappointed Toshiba dropped the subwoofer from the Qosmio design and don't like the evident backward step in audio quality. If this is the direction notebook audio is heading, I would very much hate to let go of my X305 now.
As for the battery performance, well you saw the results. In the days of Core 2 Duo I would have been more forgiving, but that was a solid FIVE YEARS ago. Back then even the old 14" HP dv4 I looked at could be configured with a 12-cell battery that ran it's power-hungry T9500/G105M combo for 5-hours. And notebooks have improved battery times considerably in that half-a-decade across multiple newer generations of hardware.
The irony with the X70 is that this is a Haswell system with Optimus enabled - translation: low power consumption! Intel, nVidia and the mass storage guys aren't to blame here, this is squarely a Toshiba problem. Selling a notebook with a battery of such laughable capacity? Who benefits from this? At minimum Toshiba should be providing 3 hours of actual unplugged run time, with the option of a HIGH-CAPACITY 12-cell battery for users looking to do real work and get proper enjoyment from their notebook purchase.
And yet, as we are made to believe with the Qosmio line, this is Toshiba's ultimate high-end notebook.
This is Toshiba at their best?
In my summary of the X775, I mentioned the Qosmio could be a killer sub-$2000 notebook, provided Toshiba fix the GPU throttling issue, add Quick Sync support and provide a more substantial battery. Looking at the X70 today, I cannot help but think that two out of three ain't bad... if it weren't for yet more bad news! The lack of Windows 7 availability, horrendous battery life, hot temperatures, half-baked drivers and poor warranty support are very serious concerns. Compounded together, it makes for an extremely negative user experience. How could Toshiba not be aware of the impact this would have?
When was the last time you used a notebook to watch a movie where it's battery would die BEFORE the movie finished? When was the last time you were asked to pay a premium fee to troubleshoot a driver issue on a brand-new notebook? Does Toshiba offer any working audio drivers at all for the X70? Why does the X70 have a line-in jack if it's useless? Why doesn't their support website include drivers for Windows 7?
The performance of the Core i7-4700MQ is OK, as is the GTX770M. Including disc playback software is welcome with Windows 8, and I also like the tools Toshiba includes such as the RAM disk and simplified UEFI access. Kudos as well for supplying a quality BD burner. With the numerous tweaks users are forced to make to Windows 8 to make it behave more like Windows 7, the machine becomes far less frustrating to use. But that's it for positive feedback.
I'll be even more critical - if Toshiba wants to tout the Qosmio line as their best, then offer it with Intel and nVidia's best! After all, a proper hard-core gaming notebook should come with nothing less than a Core i7-4930MX Extreme and GTX780M. Add a subwoofer, make it a few mm thicker for better cooling, call it the Qosmio X80, price it at $2799, sell it alongside the X70... does it really need any more explanation?
I guess it does, because I'm certain even Mr. Hisao Tanaka's latte stays warm longer than this notebook's battery lasts.
Unfortunately for me, lack of any stereo mix and line-in functionality in the sound driver is a major deal-breaker. It would be interesting to pose the question on Toshiba's support forum and see if they can provide any details. What upsets me most, however, is that they have the audacity to charge $150 to troubleshoot something that came broken from the factory - an issue resolvable via a simple driver update, and something any basic system warranty SHOULD cover without question. Safe to say, Toshiba have lost me as a return customer, and I doubt I will look at any of their notebooks again.
Having gone through yet another consumer ordeal, I cannot give the Toshiba Qosmio X70 a recommendation. It's biggest limitations being the user's need to constantly hug a wall outlet and it's broken audio. Talking about it's performance, styling, build-quality and hardware configurations options, even at it's attractive price point, becomes a MOOT point. I've jumped through enough hoops as it is by the end of the day dealing with Windows 8. But asking the consumer to cough up $150 for Toshiba to look into THEIR mistake? Forget it!