There’s a running gag in the original Zoolander movie that’s so charmingly dated that the writers of this year’s sequel couldn’t help but make fun of it. Derek Zoolander’s phone was tiny. To be fair, the first movie was made in 2001, when phone manufacturers were eager to set their products apart from the relatively massive cell phones of the ’80s and ’90s. Even as recently as 2010, Steve Jobs claimed that “no one’s going to buy” a large phone. And yet here so many of us are, gleefully picking among one 5″-or-larger behemoth and the next.
The same can’t be said of the laptop market. Sure, larger machines are always available, but they’ve developed a reputation for being hot, heavy, and loud. These days, full-size laptops have taken a back seat to the thin-and-light options of the world like the Macbook Air and the Surface Pro. After spending a couple weeks with Gigabyte’s 17.3″ P57W laptop, though, I’ve become convinced that some people should consider going big with their next notebook.
The P57W shares a lot in common with the Aorus X3 Plus v5 laptop I took a peek at earlier this spring. (Considering that Aorus is Gigabyte’s gaming brand, perhaps that’s not a surprise.) Both laptops are powered by Intel’s Core i7-6700HQ CPU and Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 970M mobile graphics processor, an impressive combination. The Core i7-6700HQ is a Skylake processor with a 45W TDP. It has a 2.6-GHz base clock and a 3.5-GHz Turbo speed. In the P57W, Gigabyte teams the CPU up with 16GB of Crucial’s DDR4-2133 RAM.
The GeForce GTX 970M employs the GM204 chip used in its desktop siblings, the GeForce GTX 970 and GeForce GTX 980. With 1280 shader processors, 48 ROPs, and a 192-bit path to memory, the 970M is cut down a bit even in comparison to the GTX 970. This time around, GPU-Z reveals that the 1038-MHz boost speed of the GTX 970M in the P57W is about the same as the 1040 MHz boost clock we observed in the Aorus X3 Plus v5. The X3 ships with 6GB of GDDR5 RAM for its GTX 970M, while the P57W ships with 3GB. When all that graphics horsepower isn’t needed, the P57W uses Nvidia’s Optimus technology to switch over to the power-friendly Intel HD 530 graphics processor in the Core i7-6700HQ.
The Gigabyte P57W and the Aorus X3 Plus 5 have some similar hardware, but they don’t command the same price. The version of the X3 that we reviewed commanded a $2200 price tag, while the P57W is available for $1700. Since the processor, memory, and GPU in the P57W are largely the same as those in the Aorus system, how did Gigabyte cut costs by $500?
The first major difference between the X3 and the P57W is their displays. Instead of the 3200×1800 panel found on the X3, Gigabyte chose a 17.3″ IPS panel with a maximum resolution of 1920×1080 for the P57W. Neither model has a touchscreen. While the 970M proved surprisingly capable of powering games at that “QHD+” resolution, it still fell a little short of playable frame rates in demanding titles. Gamers may find a 1080p panel a more natural fit for the performance capabilities of the GeForce GTX 970M.
Second, Gigabyte swapped out the Samsung SM951 NVMe SSD in the Aorus machine for a more mainstream storage solution. Users will find a 256GB LiteOn SATA SSD and a 1TB Hitachi mechanical drive inside the stock P57W. If that isn’t enough storage, the optical drive on the front of the laptop can be easily swapped out for another hard drive using an included adapter.
Finally, while the X3 sported an all-aluminum chassis, the P57W is all plastic. It is quite sturdy, however. I only felt minimal flex under the keyboard and behind the display. I wish that the display hinge was a bit more sturdy, though, and I’d appreciate some kind of mechanism to keep it closed. One benefit of the plastic construction is that this isn’t a very heavy laptop for its size. One similarly-sized competitor tips the scales at 8.8 pounds (4kg), but the P57W is only 6.4 pounds (2.9kg). That weight makes the machine portable enough, and while it isn’t the slimmest laptop on the market, it’s still less than 1″ thick.
While it’s an attractive laptop, it’s by no means a flashy one. My editor will be relieved to learn that the keyboard backlight only glows in one color. Gigabyte’s unassuming logo appears on the P57W’s lid in chrome. Orange accents on the display hinge and along the left and right sides provide a splash of color. As evidenced in our recent system guide, we tend to prefer understated cases that emphasize function over form here at TR. The P57W fits that aesthetic nicely.
The P57W’s ventilation scheme is quite similar to what we saw in the X3. Generously-sized vents along the bottom and back of the machine help ensure that the CPU and GPU stay cool. Gigabyte placed the swappable drive bay along the front edge under the clickpad. That placement isn’t ideal. After accidentally opening the DVD drive a few times, I put in the included drive bracket instead for peace of mind.
|Processor||Intel Core i7-6700HQ|
|Memory||8GB or 16GB DDR4-2133|
|Chipset||Intel HM170 Express|
|Graphics||Intel HD Graphics 530
Nvidia GeForce GTX 970M with 3GB GDDR5 RAM
|Display||17.3″ IPS panel with 1920×1080 resolution|
|Storage||LiteOn L8t-256L9G M.2 SSD, 256GB
Hitachi Travelstar 7K1000, 1TB
Panasonic UJ8G2 DVD-RW
Expansion options: Swappable drive bay for 9.5mm / 7mm drives (if DVD-RW is removed)
|Audio||2 2W speakers|
|Expansion and display outputs||1 USB 3.1 Type-C
3 USB 3.0
HDMI 2.0 with HDCP 2.2
|Card reader||1 SD card reader|
|Communications||Realtek Gaming Gigabit Ethernet adapter
Intel 802.11.ac Wi-Fi
|Input Devices||Backlit keyboard
|Dimensions||16.57″ x 11.42″ x 0.98″ (421 x 290 x 24.9 mm)|
|Weight||6.4 lbs (2.9 kg)|
|OS||Windows 10 Home|
So much for the exterior. Let’s grab a screwdriver and take a look inside.
A look inside
The bottom of the P57W is secured with sixteen screws and a number of plastic tabs along the edges that “pop” it tightly into place.
The system supports up to 32GB of RAM, but it only has two RAM slots. Expect to pay about $130 to max out the P57W’s memory capacity.
Here’s the laptop’s system drive tucked into its M.2 2280 slot. The LiteOn drive shown here uses the SATA interface, but the slot offers four lanes of PCIe 3.0 connectivity for NVMe SSDs, too.
Here’s the empty drive bay in the middle of the laptop’s front panel. Too bad it doesn’t double as a slot for a second battery. Gigabyte’s included adapter converts the SATA connectors for the optical drive to the standard connectors we want for SATA storage devices, so 2.5″ SSDs or hard drives can slip right in.
To test the screen of the P57, we used an X-Rite i1 Display 2 colorimeter and the free-and-open-source DisplayCal. An initial profile of the display showed some problems. At roughly 7000K, the screen’s white point was too cold, and the gamma was 1.97. Ideally, we should be seeing gamma closer to 2.2 with sRGB. Calibrating the screen with DisplayCal adjusted the white point down to our preferred 6500K—at least, in theory. Users without a colorimeter can use Gigabyte’s provided Smart Manager tool to get a similar result.
Unfortunately, the graph above shows some problems that persisted after calibration. The display’s white point still isn’t quite where we want it, and the panel can technically produce more greens and reds than are contained in the sRGB gamut. DisplayCal reports that the screen covers 89.7% of the sRGB gamut, which isn’t spectacular, but it should be acceptable for a mainstream or gaming audience. Professionals looking for higher gamut coverage probably want a higher resolution than this screen provides, anyway.
By another measure, the screen proves to be remarkably accurate. The screen’s average delta-E is only 0.18. We’re happy with any result less than three.
We also want to be sure of peak brightness and luminance uniformity when we test laptop screens. The P57W turns in a 330.36 cd/m² maximum brightness at its center, an excellent result. The screen’s luminance is also quite uniform, deviating from the brightness levels in the center by an average of just 3.4%.
As you’d hope with an IPS panel, the display provides excellent viewing angles. On a more subjective note, I’ll add that this screen is quite bright. I never found the need to have the brightness turned up all the way, especially indoors.
Keyboard and clickpad
One of the joys of working with a 17″ laptop is having a full-size keyboard along for the ride. I do enough spreadsheet work that I appreciate having a real, full-size numpad to work with. The main keys on the P57W are 0.63″ (16 mm) wide with 0.06″ (1.5 mm) of space surrounding each key. I’m not sure what all the fuss over keyboard backlighting is about, but this keyboard has it in cold blue-white. Gigabyte says the machine features 30-key rollover, so it seems unlikely to miss a stroke even under the heaviest typing.
The keyboard has its faults. Like most laptop keyboards these days, the F-keys serve double duty as controls for many of the laptop’s functions. To fit in the function key in the bottom row, the Alt key and Windows key are both a bit smaller than usual. I haven’t hit the “fail” button—the Windows key, that is—so many times during one gaming session in years. Thankfully, Gigabyte’s SmartManager software provides a tool to disable the Windows key. More troubling is the feel of each keystroke. The key activation distance is very shallow, leading me to consistently overpress on too many keystrokes. For what it’s worth, I found this short travel to be less of a problem while gaming than typing long documents.
To get some numbers on this keyboard’s performance, I went over to typingtest.com and did a few test runs. For comparison, I did the same tests on my trusty Rosewill RK-9000V2. My adjusted words per minute was, on average, 4.4% higher when using my mechanical keyboard rather than the laptop’s keyboard. On one test, I had 7% higher WPM using my mechanical keyboard.
The clickpad sits a bit left of center below the keyboard. The bottom section of the clickpad provides right- and left-click functionality, and pushes in with a tactile bump to do so. Additionally, quick taps anywhere on the surface function as clicks. I’d prefer to have the bottom section marked out with something tactile, perhaps a different texture. Instead, the bottom click area is only distinguished by a thin gray line between the right and left clicks. When the laptop is turned off, user can push the right click button to check battery life. The five status lights on the front edge of the laptop will glow briefly to indicate how much power is left.
We’ve advocated for a long time in our system guides that our readers should consider investing a little in a sound system. The familar Realtek integrated chip handles audio duties in the P57W, but Gigabyte also built in Dolby’s Digital Plus system. Part of that package is the Surround Virtualizer, which purportedly creates a “virtualized sound system” even through headphones or the laptop’s built-in speakers. The virtualized surround sound is a pleasant extra to have for movie watching, and it makes playing first-person shooters a bit more immersive.
The laptop’s built-in speakers are also a pleasant surprise. A pair of 2W speakers sits underneath the front edge of the laptop, and while they’re not particularly loud, they offer decent sound quality. While they don’t offer much in the way of bass, they avoid the tinniness so common with cheap, small speakers. They’re a good fit for my favorite music for work and study.
All of the P57W’s ports and jacks are located on the left and right sides. On the left is the Realtek-powered Gigabit Ethernet port, two USB 3.0 ports, an SD card reader, and jacks for a headset and microphone.
On the right side, Gigabyte provides a third USB 3.0 port, a USB 3.1 Type-C port, an HDMI 2.0 port with HDCP 2.2, one VGA connector, and one Mini DiplayPort. The power cord plugs in on this side back by the display hinge. The USB 3.1 port unfortunately doesn’t support Thunderbolt 3, but on a positive note, the HDMI port is capable of handling 4K video at 60Hz.
Gigabyte provides access to the P57W’s laptop-specific functions through its Smart Manager software. Here users can adjust display settings, power modes, and fan speeds. They can also toggle a few of the laptop’s features on and off.
The Smart Dashboard, accessible through the Smart Manager, provides a quick look at the status of the laptop’s hardware. The window can be minimized into a thin, movable overlay so that users can track important information while running other programs.
Memory subsystem performance
As with our review of the Aorus X3 Plus v5, we used data from our reviews of AMD’s A10-7800 and FX-8370 as a point of comparison. This allows us to get a sense of how the hardware in these laptops matches up against the competition. Additionally, we have an opportunity to compare the performance of the two laptops. The Aorus X3 and the Gigabyte P57W have fairly similar hardware. As we’ve noted, both laptops employ an Intel Core i7-6700HQ CPU and DDR4-2133 memory. Both have a GeForce GTX 970M providing graphics muscle, but the unit in the Aorus X3 has access to 6GB of GDDR5 RAM, while the GPU in the P57W has access to 3GB.
Let’s start off with a look at the Stream memory benchmark.
Both laptops comport themselves well in this benchmark. They unsurprisingly lose out to Intel’s Extreme Edition Core i7 processors, but they lead the rest of the pack. For some reason, the P57W takes a notable lead over the X3 in this bnechmark, too, despite their similar specs on paper.
Next up is a suite of some desktop-style applications.
In these benchmarks, there’s very little daylight between the performance of these two laptops. The biggest delta between the two appears in the Sunspider tests, but these machines take the same relative position to the other processors we tested. As we observed in the review of the Aorus X3, the Core i7-6700HQ provides striking performance for a 45W CPU.
In the Handbrake benchmark, the the Gigabyte P57 crosses the finish line just a hair before the Aorus X3. It’s close enough that we really should call it a tie. The processor fares signifcantly better than many desktop processors drawing a lot more power, and scores within hailing distance of some powerful hardware.
Cinebench tests a processor’s performance by rendering a 3D scene without the GPU’s help. It also provides options that allow us to compare single-threaded versus multithreaded performance.
Compared to the Aorus X3, the Gigabyte P57W scores about 6% higher in the single-threaded test, and over 8% higher when the test uses all available threads. That’s interesting. Even though the laptops use the same processor, they’re not showing the same results in every benchmark. Perhaps thermal or power constraints are to blame.
The Aorus X3 commands a premium price, and it ships with an equally premium SSD: Samsung’s SM951 M.2 drive. The P57W costs significantly less, and part of those savings come at the expense of its storage package. Instead of one large SSD, the P57W ships with a 256GB LiteOn SSD. Like the SM951, this drive fits into an M.2 slot, but it doesn’t leverage the speedy NVMe interface. The P57W also ships with a 1TB mechanical hard drive for extra storage, and the optical drive bay can be repurposed into a bay for a second hard drive. We tested the sequential read speed of the SSD in the P57W, and compared it to a few competitors.
The LiteOn drive posts numbers just shy of Samsung’s mainstream 850 EVO SSD. Those numbers are significantly lower than what the SM951 accomplishes in benchmarks. This is a synthetic benchmark, however. In practice, the drive is responsive, even when loading large levels in games. Speaking of games, the latest Doom game requires 55GB of hard drive space. That’s over 20% of the SSD devoted to just one game. A large library of modern games just isn’t going to fit on a 256GB drive. The P57W’s M.2 slot is ready for a bigger SATA or PCIe SSD, though, and that should be an easy upgrade for folks who want a larger storage device to work with.
Time for the fun and games. At the risk of losing out on some comparative analysis between this laptop and the Aorus X3 Plus V5 I reviewed earlier this spring, I updated my testing suite of games. My last list was missing a true first-person shooter, so I turned to the recently released Doom. Second, I switched from Fallout 4 to The Witcher III: Wild Hunt, mostly because the game has some very demanding graphics options, and partly because I like it better.
We’ll start by pulling out the bow and arrows to play the 2013 reboot of the Tomb Raider franchise.
To test the P57W’s performance in Tomb Raider, I turned to the game’s built-in benchmark. Here, I’m able to compare the performance of the P57W to the Aorus X3 Plus v5.
The game’s ultra graphics preset employs tesselation, 16x anisotropic filtering, and FXAA. Dropping down to high turns off tesselation, lowers the anisotropic filtering to 8x, and lowers the texture quality. The normal preset dials back anisotropic filtering even more, and the game lowers the settings for shadows, overall level of detail, and hair quality. The difference between the ultra and high presets isn’t that dramatic, but there’s noticeably less eye candy at the normal preset.
As expected, the P57W performs well in this game, churning out frames well over the monitor’s refresh rate even with the settings turned up. At any of these presets, there’s headroom to turn on TressFX. While the two laptops perform similarly at the ultra preset, the P57W takes a commanding lead when the settings are turned down to normal. Considering that both laptops have the same processor, that’s a noteworthy result.
This game was an absolute blast to play while I benchmarked the P57W. I wasn’t a big fan of Doom 3, largely because of that title’s never-ending jump scares in tight corridors. This year’s reboot puts you on a non-stop, blood-soaked rampage through Mars and Hell instead. The pacing and level design are quite excellent—now, if it had only shipped with an equally engaging multiplayer mode…
I used Fraps to record average frame rates while playing through the first Gore Nest sequence at three different graphics presets. The scene doesn’t take place in an open environment, but it involves plenty of zombies, demons, and flaming projectiles.
There are many, many dials to twiddle in Doom‘s graphics menu, so I’ll keep things simple for the sake of benchmarking and repeatability. Most settings, like Lights Quality, have four different quality levels. Other settings are a binary toggle, simply turning an effect on and off. Dropping down from the high preset to the medium preset drops most settings down a notch while turning off every binary toggle. On the low preset, everything drops down as far as possible.
The P57W is more than up to the task of running Doom, though not at maximum settings. One thing to notice is that the average FPS isn’t all that different between the high preset and the low preset. In my relatively brief experience with the game, I’ve found that the primary way to dramatically increase FPS in Doom is to lower the resolution.
The Witcher III: Wild Hunt
I’ve listened to praise heaped on this action role-playing series since The Witcher debuted in 2007, but the tone of that discussion changed for 2015’s The Witcher III: Wild Hunt. People aren’t just calling it a great game—popular opinion seems to indicate it’s one of the best games ever made. That’s high praise, and now that I’m done endlessly replaying the griffin fight in the first village to benchmark the game’s performance, maybe I’ll have time to find out.
Like Doom, The Witcher III has many graphics settings to adjust, most of which are on sliding scales corresponding to the four presets. One of the main switches that gets turned on and off between the presets is the game’s use of Nvidia’s HairWorks tech. On the high preset, the game only uses HairWorks for your main character, Geralt. On medium settings, HairWorks is turned off entirely.
To benchmark the game, I played through an early battle with a griffin multiple times, using Fraps to record average frames per second.
A fairly significant drop in performance appears between the normal and high presets. There’s a price to be paid for Geralt’s pretty hair.
Despite their relatively simple graphics, MOBA games like Dota 2 are quite popular. While these games may not have the prettiest eye candy, they need to run at high frame rates. Gamers need to be able to respond quickly and decisively at critical moments, or risk being flamed by their teammates.
Dota 2 has a slider in its graphics menu to quickly adjust settings. I started at the “best looking” preset, and then did some runs at the second and third best presets.
The results cluster very close together around 100 FPS. As expected, the P57W handles this game quite well at 1920×1080.
To test the Gigabyte P57W’s battery life, I ran down the machine in two different situations. To simulate regular usage, I used the tried-and-true Tech Report BrowserBench. BrowserBench reloads an old version of our site’s home page (ah, the nostalgia) and cycles through content every 45 seconds.
For the BrowserBench run, I changed the power setting to “balanced,” and used a Wi-Fi connection.
All told, the P57W survived for 5.8 hours of our BrowserBench test, compared to the X3 Plus v5’s 4.6 hours. The P57W has a larger battery than the Aorus X3 Plus—75.81Wh versus 73.26Wh—so the difference probably comes down to that capacity boost and the P57W’s lower-resolution screen.
To mimic gaming on the go, I ran Unigine’s Heaven benchmark until the system automatically shut down. As with the BrowserBench run, I used the “balanced” power setting.
The tests demonstrate that the P57W has significantly better battery life than the X3. Now, to be fair, it only provides twenty extra minutes of gaming time. The laptop is really meant to be plugged in when it’s being used for gaming. However, extra web browsing time is always appreciated.
Cooling and noise
Gaming laptops need to effectively handle the heat they produce. Maintaining high performance while keeping temperatures and noise levels down isn’t easy, however. I tested the performance of the P57W’s cooling system under normal gaming conditions and in a worst-case scenario.
During light web browsing, the P57W is a quiet machine. Gigabyte’s Smart Dashboard reports fan speeds around 2,200 RPM, and the CPU stays close to 34° C. The fans spin constantly, but they’re quiet enough that the ambient noise drowns out what little noise they make.
To test the cooling system’s performance while gaming, I ran Unigine’s Heaven benchmark for twenty minutes. With tesselation and anti-aliasing turned up in the benchmark, Gigabyte’s Smart Dashboard quickly started reporting 99% GPU usage. The P57W’s cooling system was more than up to the challenge of keeping its hardware cool. The highest GPU temperature I recorded throughout the run was 75° C, and the highest CPU temperature was 72° C. When the temperatures were highest, the fans spun just shy of 3,700 RPM. At this speed, the fans make about 41 dBa of noise. Using AIDA64 Engineer, I kept a close eye on the CPU and GPU clock speeds throughout the test to make sure that no thermal throttling occured. As I hoped, the clocks all remained stable. The GPU clock was pegged at 1,037 MHz, and the GPU memory clock remained at 1,252 MHz.
Next, I tested the laptop’s cooling performance in a worst-case scenario. I ran the Prime95 Small FFTs test and the Unigine Heaven benchmark at the same time. Just to be on the safe side, I turned up the fan speed to 100%. With all the CPU cores running flat-out and the graphics chip under full load, the laptop heated up quickly. CPU temperatures reached 90° C. At full speed, the P57W spun its fans up to 4,600 RPM. I measured noise levels over 55 dBA during this time, which is loud enough to be a serious annoyance.
Remember that most users of this machine will never stress out the system this way, though. Even though the fans are capable of a lot of noise, they typically don’t. While using the “gaming” fan speed preset, I found myself thinking that I wouldn’t mind the fans being a little louder, and used a custom level instead. Users who value quiet operation will find that the laptop stays appropriately cool and quiet during regular usage.
With its professional aesthetic, speedy performance, and considerable gaming prowess, there’s a lot to like about Gigabyte’s P57W. It’s reminded me that 17″ laptops don’t have to be heavy, clunky devices. The extra real estate on the display is worth a little bulk and weight, as is the full-size keyboard.
The laptop’s design is also refreshing. In a world where everything meant for gamers has to be festooned with garish lights, giant windows, and neon colors, the P57W stands out for looking more like a professional workstation than an arcade machine. (Laptop manufacturers: please don’t start making windowed laptop cases.)
The P57W isn’t without its flaws. The keyboard is better for gaming than typing. The display is bright and offers good viewing angles, but its colors don’t quite conform to the sRGB gamut. It’s also a bit disappointing to see an all-plastic build in a $1700 laptop.
Given the excitement this summer about new GPUs from AMD and Nvidia, some might also question the wisdom of buying a gaming laptop with a GeForce GTX 970M right now. I understand the sentiment. There are a lot of exciting rumors flying around about Nvidia’s next laptop GPUs. The trouble with these rumors is that they’re just rumors. Besides, how much more performance should we demand for a laptop with a 1080p screen? The P57W already runs Doom on high settings at frame rates close to 60 FPS. A more powerful GPU might not change the experience much.
Plastic build and slightly off-color display aside, the P57W provides a solid combination of hardware. The pairing of Intel’s Core i7-6700HQ and Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 970M is potent enough to deliver excellent frame rates in today’s games at the display’s resolution, and that CPU is no slouch when it comes to productivity tasks, either. The P57W cools its hardware effectively and quietly. Add in a balanced storage solution, excellent battery life, and a generous two-year warranty, and you have a compelling laptop.
So how about the price? A quick look around the field suggests that Gigabyte positioned the P57W in about the right price range. A similarly-specced competitor from Alienware costs $100 more, and it’s two pounds heavier. MSI has some compelling options for about the same amount of scratch, like its GS70 Stealth Pro. There are a lot of laptops out there with the Core i7-6700HQ and the GTX 970M, to be honest, and the P57W has a lot of competition. That may be why it’s marked down to $1,399.99 right now at Newegg. At that price, this machine’s flaws are a little easier to overlook.
All told, we think that anyone shopping for a gaming laptop this summer would be wise to keep Gigabyte’s P57W in mind. ‘Tis the season for back-to-school laptop sales, and if you find it at a healthy discount, we think the P57W is a good value pick for the gamer on the go.