Speaking of which, I was delighted – but not surprised – to see the P34G run laps around 3DMark and Cinebench. The system produced even better numbers when I cranked up the GPU frequency using Gigabyte's Smart Manager software. Here's how it performed:
- 3DMark: Ice Storm: 84,618; Cloud Gate: 12,068; Fire Strike: 2,203
- 3DMark (GPU overclocked): Ice Storm: 87,464; Cloud Gate: 12,647; Fire Strike: 2,370
- Cinebench - Graphics: 83.55 FPS (GPU overclocked: 86.06 FPS); CPU: 642 points
- PCMark 8 Battery Life: 1 hour, 53 minutes
With its simple overclocking tool (more on that later), the P34G closes the gap between its GTX 760M and the GTX 765M found in the Alienware 14 and Razer Blade. While I've seen much better numbers from Alienware's rig, these readings are right up there with Razer's clamshell. That is, of course, excluding battery life.
Before getting to the elephant in the room, it's worth noting that, with internals like these, you'll be hard pressed to wear this system down. From graphics-intensive apps to streaming video and playing the latest PC games, the P34G will handle pretty much everything you throw at it with little issue.
For a better frame of reference, I played the recent beta release of Titanfall on the highest possible settings – save for anti-aliasing and V-sync buffering, which were bumped up half way. I witnessed zero slowdown, lag or stuttering as I tore into robots and pilots alike with a variety of roaring rockets and blazing bullets, thanks again to overclocking the GPU.
Plug it in - seriously, plug it in
I won't dress it up: this is an abysmal showing in endurance. While we run PCMark 8 in the system's "High performance" setting and with the screen at its brightest, I bring things down a bit in my anecdotal battery test.
To run down the P34G's battery, I ran Mozilla Firefox with over 10 tabs open, TweetDeck, Spotify streaming high bitrate audio and a chat app. This was with the power setting fixed at "Balanced" with the screen at 50% brightness, the keyboard backlit and the volume at 30%. That only netted this laptop another 40 minutes for a grand total of 2 hours and 33 minutes.
On the less forgiving PCMark 8 run, the Alienware 14 lasted 4 hours, a respectable number for a gaming notebook. While the Razer Blade conked out at just 84 minutes on the Battery Eater test, I unfortunately wasn't able to run PCMark 8 on this laptop.
I can't imagine that any of these machines would last even half as long while playing games. But that's not the point of a mobile PC gaming rig, is it? If you're waiting for a gaming laptop that will hold a decent charge, then you better hold your breath.
Stingy with the touchpad
If it wasn't already obvious in the bezel, Gigabyte had to cut corners in some areas to keep costs down. One of those, sadly, was the P34G's touchpad. Foregoing the superior clicker supplier, Synaptics, the Taiwanese firm slapped an ElanTech touchpad on this laptop.
What you get is poor palm rejection at times, inconsistent scrolling speeds on web pages, and a click bar with a dead area in the center. Not to mention that multi-touch gestures are a bit of a bust, lacking the fine control found in more premium touch interfaces. But hey, at least it's spacious and positioned well.
Since you're going to plug in a gaming mouse as soon as you set this rig down on your desk, what matters most is the keyboard. While it does land on the squishier side of the spectrum, I did enjoy typing on the P34G keyboard. Brilliantly bright backlighting and excellent spacing helped in that regard. If this system were to be a permanent installation in your gaming den, I would recommend a dedicated gaming keyboard.
Power made easy
Gaming laptop buyers aren't just those that a want a machine that's easier to take to the tournament or play session at a friend's place. These systems also eliminate the intimidating hassle of building your own rig from the PC gaming equation.
To that end, one advantage that gaming PCs have always held over consoles is the ability to "overclock" the hardware, or run it at higher frequencies for better performance. This was once a complicated affair, sending players into the BIOS settings of their motherboard. Gigabyte has reduced overclocking to a single click with the Ultra Boost tool in its Smart Manager app.
Clicking the "Extreme" icon under Ultra Boost ramps up the GPU frequency, and automatically speeds up the laptop's two cooling fans to compensate for the extra heat. The result is a safe, stable and simple (albeit loud) way to get more oomph out of the P34G that – clearly, based on those 3DMark numbers – produces results.
Competitors offer similar tools, like MSI's Afterburner and Alienware's Accelerator, but none I've seen are as plain and simple as Ultra Boost. Serious overclockers will undoubtedly sneer at such a solution, but this isn't for them. This is an easy way for the P34G to keep up with the latest games for possibly three years instead of just two.
Save for a now-defunct GameSpy app, bloatware is nonexistent on this device. One odd observation: Gigabyte not only placed every app, but a number of shortcuts to basic Windows tools – like Control Panel – on the Windows 8 desktop. (It's actually quite helpful, killing a few steps in getting to more advanced tools through Windows 8.) Here are some of the more notable inclusions:
- AmCap: A video capture tool that allows you record from a variety of sources through the integrated webcam or other devices; likely included to support game streaming for Twitch users.
- CPU-Z: This lightweight tool offers detailed monitoring of several of your computer's components, from CPU to RAM to GPU and more.
- LAN Optimizer: Through this tool, you can prioritize network traffic incoming and outgoing for specific tasks, namely gaming and streaming apps.
- GeForce Experience: Easily update your drivers and optimize your games for your Nvidia GPU with this app.
- Smart Manager: This is where you'll find Ultra Boost, the easy overclocking tool, along with control over a number of other pieces of hardware and software.
- Smart Update: While it may look chintzy, this app will prove invaluable in pulling driver updates for all of your components from their respective servers into a simple interface.