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At Puget Systems, we are constantly updating our products to ensure that what we are offering matches the needs of our customer's. Recently, the 15 and 17 inch laptops in our Traverse line received a slight upgrade from the manufacturer. This new version has better graphics and better battery life, but also includes a small price increase. So while we want to evaluate these new models to ensure they are right for our customers, we also decided to take this opportunity to evaluate a laptop that removes the NVIDIA graphics completely and only uses the Intel graphics that is integrated into the CPU.
By removing the NVIDIA graphics, the price of the base unit is reduced by a pretty large margin. If the lack of NVIDIA graphics was the only difference, we would add this model pretty quickly. Unfortunately, it also has a smaller screen resolution (1366×768), although the lower screen resolution should help improve the battery life of the unit. Overall, it should be a great choice for our customers who want a laptop for work and home, but don't need the gaming power that our laptops traditionally offered.
Laptops are very complex as they are essentially a combination of a chassis, motherboard, video card, power supply, monitor, keyboard, mouse, and many other pieces of hardware that is bundled into a single unit. Because of this, the testing we put new laptops through goes above and beyond even our normal exhaustive testing. Some of the most important additional things we test involves real-world battery life estimates and thermal performance readings, both of which we will be presenting later in this article.
With all this being said, let's take a look at these new models!
The V552i and V752i utilize NVIDIA Optimus technology which lets the laptop choose which video card to use. In most situations, the laptop will use the low-power Intel graphics but will switch to the more powerful NVIDIA graphics as needed. This is a great way to extend battery life when the laptop is not being used for intensive tasks, yet still gives you the power when you need it. One of the nice additions to the V552i and the V752i are the LEDs that show which video card (Intel integrated or NVIDIA GT 660M 2GB) is actively being used. While the previous models had the GPU Switching button that allowed you to either lock the laptop to only using the Intel integrated graphics or allow it to choose between the Intel and NVIDIA graphics, unless you ran monitoring software you would not know which graphics the laptop was actually using. With these LEDs, you can easily see which one the laptop is using.
**Third RAM slot requires a quad core CPU
*Unit has only two antenna, so wifi cards are limited to 300mbps
As far as the specifications go, these units are fairly standard. The V552i and V752i have a slightly updated chipset, faster GPU, and the ability to install a third stick of RAM. For most purposes, the chipset upgrade on the V552i and V752i is not going to be relevant as the HM77 only includes a few minor features over the HM76 including Intel Smart Response Technology, Rapid Start Technology and Small Business Advantage. The only feature that may be useful for some users is the ability to use SSD caching to improve the performance of standard platter hard drives.
The B550i is a bit different than the laptops we traditionally offer as it does not have a NVIDIA or AMD video card. Instead, it simply uses the video processor integrated onto the CPU. In most cases, this has plenty of power for basic tasks like browsing the web, watching movies, or editing documents; but is not great for anything beyond light gaming. Also, to go along with the weaker graphics capability, instead of a 1920×1080 resolution screen like the other units, the B550i only supports a resolution of 1366×768. The tradeoff for losing the NVIDIA graphics and the higher resolution screen is a much more budget-friendly price, and the fact that it is about 37% lighter than the V525i.
|ESATA/USB 3.0 Combo||–||1||1|
Externally, the available ports are very similar on all of these models. The only one that differs at all is the B550i which lacks an ESATA/USB 3.0 combo port and only has 2.1 analog audio out capability. One nice thing for each of these units is that each retains a single USB 2.0 port. That may not seem like a great thing at first since USB 3.0 is backwards compatible with USB 2.0 devices, but what you need to remember is that Windows 7 and older operating systems do not have native USB 3.0 support. So if you have a USB drive with the drivers you need in order to install an OS, you need to have an actual USB 2.0 port available or else the USB device will not even be detected until after you have installed the drivers.
For the V-series laptops we will be using the same hardware for both models. For the B550i we will be using a slightly slower i5 CPU since we would consider that unit to be more of a budget-friendly laptop that will very seldom be paired with a high-end Core i7 CPU. As for the RAM, we simply used as many RAM sticks as possible in our testing (two in the B550i and three in the V552i and V752i) and used both standard Kingston RAM and Low Voltage RAM. The Low Voltage RAM is faster, so we wanted to make sure that these laptops would correctly detect and use the RAM at its rated speed. For our battery life testing, however, we want to test using the standard RAM which uses slightly more power. The Kingston SODIMM DDR3-1600 standard RAM is easily our best-selling laptop RAM at the moment, so using that RAM will provide more realistic battery life measurements for the majority of our customers.
|CPU||Intel Core i5 Mobile 3520M 2.9GHz 35W||Intel Core i7 Mobile i7-3840QM 2.8GHz 45W|
2-3 x Kingston SODIMM DDR3-1600 8GB
2-3 x Kingston SODIMM DDR3-1600 8GB Low Voltage
|Hard Drive||Intel 510 120GB SATA 6Gb/s 2.5inch SSD|
|Wireless||Intel WiFi/Bluetooth 6230|
|Video Card||Intel Integrated||Intel Integrated + Nvidia GT 660M 2GB|
Stability and Compatibility Testing
Our extended testing procedure for motherboards (see below) may at first glance seem short, but in actuality is very extensive. What you need to keep in mind is that the very first item – running the test system through our standard build process – is in itself a 98-point checklist.
The majority of the other checkpoints are designed to verify that the motherboard will function properly with a wide range of hardware. For that reason, we test using the largest quantity of RAM (either 2 x 8GB or 3 x 8GB) and with the fastest SODIMM RAM currently offered by Puget Systems (DDR3-1600MHz).
|Run test system through the Puget Systems build process|
|Review Device Manager to ensure all drivers loaded correctly|
|Loop test system through >50 reboot loops|
|Loop test system through >50 standby loops|
|Verify standby functionality using supported GPUs|
|Run 3D graphics testing using supported GPUs|
|Test all internal SATA ports|
|Verify stability with the largest quantity/size of RAM available|
|Verify stability with the fastest RAM offered by Puget Systems|
Test battery life under various loads
See following section for results
|Test thermal performance in multiple environments|
|Review Event Log for any unexpected warnings/errors|
|Verify basic functionality with latest version of Ubuntu (12.10)|
Overall, all of these units did very well in our testing with only a few hardware issues coming up. Most of the issues were related to the units not being able to properly handle our very intense stress testing (a combination of Prime95 and Furmark). Due to the size restrictions found in laptops, the cooling capability of modern laptops is often not quite up to par with the performance of modern day CPUs and video cards. In our testing, we found the cooling to be completely adequate for everyday use and even gaming, but when we performed our stress test, we saw temperatures that were much higher than we are comfortable with (as high as 96C!). Unfortunately, this is a problem that you will find with almost any laptop when it is paired with this high-end of hardware, so it is not something we can hold against these units.
|Temperatures well below threshold||May have issues in some situations||Above acceptable temperature ranges|
As disappointing as this is, we need to make it clear that this is not at all uncommon for laptops. The whole point of our stress test is to put an abnormal amount of load on the system and frankly laptops are just not built to handle these insane loads. We have had these issues in the past, and every manufacture we have spoken to has simply told us to not run that combination of tests. Thankfully, outside of our stress test, these units all performed perfectly.
The other problems we found were all due to various issues with Ubuntu. Hardware compatibility in Ubuntu has greatly improved over the years, but driver support still lags just a bit behind the latest hardware. For example, it is not unusual for Ubuntu to not support 100% of the hotkeys found on laptops, and these units are no exception as the hotkeys for display output switching and screen brightness simply do not work. Since automatic GPU switching for Nvidia Optimus is not natively supported in Linux, the GPU switching button found on the V552i and V752i is also non-functional. You can get GPU switching to work, but it requires installing and configuring your software using Bumblebee.
The other issue we had was with the webcam in all three models. On the V552i and V752i, we managed to get it to work by installing the latest NVIDIA display driver and changing the display manager to GDM instead of the default LightDM display manager. On the B550i, however, we had to load unreleased versions of the kernel in order to get the webcam to function. Both of these are likely to be implemented in a future update, so we are not terribly concerned about them. The rest of the basic functionality of these units (including standby, audio, WiFi, Bluetooth, USB 3.0 and any hotkeys not previously mentioned) worked with no issues and no special driver installations.
On mobile devices, the expected battery life is often advertised in terms of unrealistic scenarios. Usually the device is configured in some way that improves battery life, but renders it unusable in normal situations. For this reason, we ran a set of battery tests under three different real-world scenarios to get an idea of the actual battery life that can be expected of these units.
Since the V552i and V752i laptops feature Nvidia Optimus technology, they will switch between using the Intel graphics found on the CPU and the NVIDIA graphics card depending on the amount of graphical power needed. This feature extends battery life in light load situations by switching the power-hungry NVIDIA GPU into a low power mode when it is not needed and using the more power efficient Intel graphics instead. This is great way to help you get the most out of your laptop, but it makes measuring the battery life a bit more difficult since we will need to run the units at various levels of graphical load to test the battery life with both the Intel and NVIDIA graphics.
To accomplish this, we first simulated a light workload with the screen operating at 75% brightness. This will cover very light tasks such as web browsing or word processing which utilize the Intel graphics. Next, we looped a 1080p video to see how long the battery lasts when watching movies. The Intel graphics has plenty of power for video playback, so this test also uses the Intel graphics. Finally, we ran Unigine Heaven with the settings optimized for the unit to find the battery life while gaming. For this test, the V525i and V752i will switch to the NVIDIA graphics, so we expect the battery life to take a pretty big hit due to the higher power draw of the NVIDIA GPU.
All three of these units easily passed our testing process, so we are excited to update our Traverse line of laptops to the V552i and the V752i as well as adding the B550i. The performance of these new V-series laptops is quite a bit better than the models they are replacing, although they are slightly more expensive. If powerful graphics are not needed, the B550i is a great way to get great performance at a great price as it removes the NVIDIA graphics entirely and instead uses the graphics built into the CPU.
In addition to the more powerful graphics on the V525i and V752i, all three of these laptops have a huge increase in battery life in light to medium load situations compared to previous generations. Four hours of battery life is very good for this size and speed of laptops, and much better than the current laptops we are offering. The battery life when gaming is still not great at roughly an hour for the V552i and V752i, but that is to be expected as they use the fairly powerful NVIDIA GT 660M. Overall, we feel that these laptops will be great for our customers. The V552i and V752i are a great option for those that want good battery life combined with decent graphical capability, while the B550i is great for those on a tighter budget.
Whenever we are qualifying new products, we first and foremost want to meet our customer's needs. To aid in future qualifications, we would like to present you, the reader, with a question: what do you look for in a laptop? Low cost, great battery life, cutting-edge performance, high resolution screens, or something else? Let us know in the comments below.