- Can easily run every game available
- Awesome mobile graphics muscle
- Powerful, configurable specifications
- Good, Full HD screen
- Stays cool and quiet
- Same laptop for less elsewhere
- Poor battery life
- No keyboard backlighting
- Glossy screen finish
- Review Price: £1577.00
- 17.3in 1920 x 1080 glossy screen
- Dual GPU AMD Radeon HD 6990M graphics with 2GB RAM
- Dual or quad-core Core i7, 4-16GB RAM, SSD plus HDD
- USB 3.0, HDMI, HD webcam
- Optional Blu-ray reader/writer
Well, then there’s Wired2Fire. Like many other large gaming-focused PC assemblers, the company offers a range of customisable laptop systems alongside its desktop contenders. We’re looking at its £1,577 Vector Elite, a massive 17in gaming laptop with a Full HD screen, quad-core Intel Core i7 CPU, 8GB of RAM, 160GB SSD plus 500GB hard drive, Blu-ray drive, excellent connectivity and, most impressive of all, an AMD Radeon HD 6990M graphics card with two GPUs in CrossFire and 2GB of dedicated RAM.
All this goodness is crammed into a Clevo P170HM chassis which is used by quite a few other integrators, so if you’re planning on buying a laptop based on it, read on. The Vector Elite will also give us our first proper taste of the Radeon HD 6990M, which is currently AMD’s top single-chip graphics solution. Will Wired2Fire be able to work the same magic as it did with its HellSpawn ALC desktop system back in the day?
If you’re into your bling, the Vector Elite is probably not for you. Clevo’s P170HM is an understated chassis that has more in common with the Medion Erazer X6813 than the Alienware M14x, thanks to a total absence of lighting effects. No floodlights, no illuminated logos, no glowing fenders and, the only real negative, no backlit keyboard.
It’s not exactly the most attractive body we’ve seen either, though there are plenty of nice touches. The rather thick lid sports a brushed metal top panel, though glossy plastic does remain around its edges. Fingerprints will be visible on either finish though.
Opening it up, the screen and bezel are glossy, followed by a matt keyboard surround and more brushed metal for the palm-rest. We wish Clevo had just kept the entire inside matt – after all, it worked beautifully for the Asus G73. But then, at least the P170HM isn’t a super-glossy disaster like the Rock Xtreme.
As far as looks go, the most complimentary way to describe the Vector Elite is ‘understated’. Thankfully, build quality won’t be dividing opinions, as it’s sturdy throughout. There’s just a little more flex than we might have liked in the lid, but otherwise we have no complaints, and the Elite will hold up well to the ravages of LAN party transport.
Speaking of transport, anyone purchasing a powerful gaming laptop will know not to expect a machine that’s particularly portable. Wired2Fire’s Vector Elite keeps this trend intact with a weight of 3.97kg, though considering what’s inside that’s not bad at all.
Wired2Fire certainly hasn’t skimped on the connectivity or features. On the left you’ll find a CATV antenna jack to go with the optional TV tuner, a Gigabit Ethernet port, twin USB 3.0 ports, a single USB 2.0 connector, mini FireWire (!) and an SDXC card reader.
The front houses an IR receiver – handy for Windows remotes – while the right offers a tray-loading optical drive (a DVD writer or Blu-ray reader/writer, depending on your choice), no fewer than four 3.5mm audio jacks for analogue or digital 7.1 surround sound, and a second USB 2.0 port.
Finally at the laptop’s rear you’ll find a much appreciated eSATA connector, plus HDMI and DVI video outputs. All this makes the Vector Elite the best-connected laptop we’ve seen this year, though few potential owners will still use FireWire and the eSATA market is diminishing since USB 3.0 came out.
On the wireless side of things, we have the usual suspects of Wi-Fi N and Bluetooth 3.0, while a 2megapixel HD webcam and fingerprint reader (for those who loathe remembering passwords) round out the feature list.
As is inevitable these days, the Vector Elite’s keyboard is chiclet/isolation. Though keys are very well spaced, the 41cm across afforded by the 17in body isn’t fully utilized, as the number pad is crammed into the rest of the keyboard. On the other hand, this is actually a preferable arrangement for those rare gamers who still use the cursor keys or two-player gaming on the same keyboard.
Key feedback is relatively crisp with a decent amount of travel, but there’s a distracting rattle when hitting keys with any force. For typing and gaming the Elite’s keyboard is adequate, but it doesn’t hold a candle to better efforts like the Alienware M14x. We would also love to see some macro-programmable gaming keys again, something the Rock Xtreme managed in 2009.
As with most of these gaming behemoths, the touchpad seems incredibly small, but in fact it’s the same four inches or so diagonally that you’ll find on most laptops. It’s responsive and its textured buttons offer a nice, firm click.
Our only complaints are that its faux brushed metal surface can feel a little wearing to the finger after a while, and that the fingerprint scanner nestled between the buttons may make you miss right-clicks. Then again, on a gaming desktop replacement you’re more than likely to be using a mouse of some description – we would recommend the SteelSeries Sensei or Logitech G9(x).
With a laptop costing over £1,500 you have every right to expect a good, high-resolution screen, and with the Vector Elite, Wired2Fire delivers. The 17.3in panel’s 1,920 x 1,080 (Full HD) resolution matches most high-end monitors or TVs, and while it’s not a high-quality IPS display, it performs admirably for a TN.
Viewing angles are good, at least horizontally – although vertically there’s the usual issue of contrast shift. This means that as long as you position the screen at the right angle, you can easily watch a movie with a few friends, and even if you sit to the side it won’t degrade your viewing experience.
Contrast is also impressive. Blacks are deep, whites pure, and although there’s little differentiation at the paler end of the greyscale, dark detailing is flawless. In other words, you’ll see most everything you’re meant to in games, photos and movies. The screen’s glossy finish further aids perceived contrast, though it also causes annoying reflections and we generally prefer matt.
Colours, meanwhile, are punchy without being oversaturated – except for yellow, but this can be corrected through software. Naturally, packing such a high resolution into a relatively small screen ensures everything is razor sharp and gives you plenty of desktop real estate. While it’s pretty much a given that a laptop display won’t match a gaming monitor like the BenQ XL2410T for response, there was also little sign of ghosting.
Reflections aside, our only complaints are minor clouding due to uneven backlighting, and backlight bleed from the bottom and left sides. Though you shouldn’t notice it in daylight, many gamers don’t see much of that, and it can be a little distracting when, for example, watching a movie with black bars.
Unfortunately, audio is very disappointing considering the laptop’s size and built-in subwoofer. Maximum volume is low and still distorts, detail is lacking in the trebles and bass is only notable by its absence. We’ve actually heard netbooks with more oomph and clarity – we’re looking at you, Toshiba NB550D – which is frankly a bit embarrassing. At least gamers tend to be partial to headsets anyway, which is a bonus as they’re essential with the Vector Elite.
Before we get to gaming performance specifically, let’s take a look at how this laptop holds up generally. Wired2Fire offer a huge amount of flexibility, and you can go either far cheaper or much more expensive than the configuration we’re reviewing. However, the specs of our sample make for a great balance and a relatively future-proof system.
The CPU of choice is Intel’s Core i7-2670QM. This quad-core processor supports up to eight virtual cores, and runs at 2.2GHz by default but can Turbo clock up to 3.1GHz. It’s a very rare game indeed that will be CPU limited with this much power, and even intensive productivity won’t pose a challenge. For most there is no reason to spend more on a beefier model, though it is worth considering the 2.4/3.5GHz i7-2760QM, as Wired2Fire only charges £13 for that upgrade.
Likewise, 8GB of RAM should be more than enough for even the most demanding gamer. Only if you do particularly intensive work like HD video encoding or 3D rendering – or if you like having twenty different programs running simultaneously – should you consider the £218 Wired2Fire demands for giving you 16GB.
The 160GB SSD is Intel’s 320 Series, which isn’t the fastest though it’s great for reliability. Here it might be worth tinkering with the options, as you can save £45 by going for a 120GB Corsair Force Series 3, which should still be plenty of capacity for a boot drive and will be speedier to boot (see what we did there?).
If on the other hand money is no object and you want your games to run off the SSD, it’s well worth considering the 240GB OCZ Vertex 3, which will set you back a reasonable £155 extra. Also keep in mind that a chassis like the Clevo P170HM makes it fairly easy to upgrade its storage yourself at a later date.
The secondary hard drive is a 500GB model on our test machine, but as Wired2Fire offers an upgrade to a 640GB version in the same series for a mere £3, you would have to be mad not to. All the HDDs on offer run at a slow 5,200rpm but this will keep noise and temperatures down, and the negatives will be minimized by having an SSD as main storage. If you wish to install your own drive or store your game installs on an external disk, you can leave the mechanical drive off altogether saving you £49.
As any savvy gamer will know, the graphics card is the single most important element in any gaming rig. You can get away with a fairly underpowered CPU and just 4GB of RAM, but the graphics card needs some serious muscle to play the latest titles as they were intended. Thankfully, the dual-GPU AMD Radeon HD 6990M is ridiculously buff, but is it enough to finally play maxed-out Crysis on a single laptop card?
In fact, AMD claims the 6990M is “The World’s Fastest Single Mobile GPU”. This doesn’t always hold true against Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 580M, as the two generally trade blows depending on the title. However, the Radeon card is a whopping £200 cheaper! This leaves smoother integrated/discrete switching plus more comprehensive 3D support as Nvidia’s only real trump cards, and neither is worth that difference.
Thanks to the 6990M’s power, the Vector Elite laughed at our regular gaming benchmarks. At 720p and Medium Detail, it achieved a 161fps (frames per second) average in TrackMania Nations Forever and 127fps in Stalker: Call of Pripyat. Just for reference, 30fps is the standard for most console games and 60fps is considered excellent. Clearly, it needed a little pushing, so we turned Stalker’s settings up to full whack and the resolution up to the screen’s native 1080p. The Elite didn’t break a sweat, giving us 63.7fps average with a 27.6fps minimum.
Time to move on to Crysis. Despite being quite long in the tooth by now, Crysis still sets a standard that has rarely been exceeded in gaming graphics. It scales very well, but with everything at maximum we haven’t yet found a single-card laptop that could play it smoothly. The Elite passed with flying colours at High Detail 720p, with a 51.7fps average. However, maxing the settings out at 1080p, the average dropped to 26.3fps. This is just about playable, but when the action got frantic, the minimum frame rate dropped too low for comfort.
It can’t quite manage smooth 1080p, but the Radeon 6990M is the first single card to play Crysis at maximum settings on 720p.
So can it play Crysis in all its glory? Not quite, but drop the resolution down a notch and the answer becomes ‘yes, it can’. This means Wired2Fire’s laptop will handle all but the most demanding games currently available with consummate ease, and only a few titles may require minor compromises.
Surprisingly, despite all this CPU and GPU goodness under its hood, the Elite stayed remarkably cool and quiet while under load and gaming. Clevo has obviously taken great care with its chassis design, and while not as quiet as the Asus G73, the Vector Elite holds up very well indeed.
Battery life is usually a touchy subject for gaming laptops, which tend to do rather poorly thanks to their powerful components and large screens. Despite a high-capacity 8-cell, 5200mAh/76.96Whr battery (albeit drawing up to 14.8V compared to the 11V of most laptops), the Vector Elite fell 10 minutes short of three hours in our low-intensity test – and that’s using Intel’s integrated graphics, so expect battery life to take a significant hit when using the Radeon HD 6990M.
Last but not least we get to the question of value, and here Wired2Fire’s £1,577 Elite gaming machine doesn’t quite make the grade. For example, PCSpecialist offers the exact same configuration in the same chassis for £30 less, throws in a superior warranty, and gives you more options into the bargain – like an optional matt screen finish, greater choice of drives and drive configurations, optional second battery, damage insurance, and more.
All this considered, there seems to be little reason to choose the Vector Elite over alternatives. Speaking of, if you don’t need the mobility a gaming laptop provides, a desktop will give you far more power, flexibility and upgrade potential while making fewer demands on your wallet.
The Wired2Fire Vector Elite is a powerful 17in gaming laptop that will handle even the most demanding titles with minimal compromise thanks to AMD’s dual-GPU Radeon HD 6990M, backed by a quad-core Core i7 CPU paired with 8GB of RAM and a 160GB SSD plus regular HDD combo. It shows it all off on an impressive Full HD screen, stays cool and quiet, and is fully configurable. However, other manufacturers offer exactly the same specs in the same chassis for less money.
How we test laptops
Unlike other sites, we test every laptop we review thoroughly over an extended period of time. We use industry standard tests to compare features properly. We’ll always tell you what we find. We never, ever, accept money to review a product.
Score in detail
Screen Quality 8
Battery Life 4
Processor, Memory & Storage
Graphics & Sound
|Graphics||AMD Radeon HD6990M|
|Resolution||1920 x 1200|
|Operating System||Windows 7|