i'm about to buy a P34G and this is was what i needed!
Gaming laptops are supposed to be bulky, highly stylised affairs that weigh (and cost) about as much a suit of power armor. Right? That’s what Alienware conditioned me to believe, and ASUS certainly follows the convention with its Republic Of Gamers (ROG) line. Seems that Gigabyte didn’t get the memo: its P34G gaming notebook is Ultrabook-level slim and light, with the sedate styling of a modern business machine.
It’s not a desktop-level powerhouse, but Gigabyte’s P34G is a great option for gamers who care more for portability than cranking the graphics up to 11.
Thin-and-light gaming laptops are not a great revolution in design, but they are decidedly less common than their bulkier counterparts. I suspect the reason is simple: CPUs and GPUs heavily loaded under today’s uber-demanding games generate a lot of heat. It’s far easier to direct and exhaust that heat in a larger, more spacious chassis than an ultra-slim, no-space-wasted one.
The 14-inch P34G is just 21mm thick, with a rectangular profile – it doesn’t taper from a thick hinge to a thinner front as some ultrathin models do. It vents via two large grilles at the rear, with all connectors along the left and right sides.
The lid and upper chassis (around the keyboard) are both aluminium, while the rest of the laptop is constructed from ABS and polycarbonate. The combination of metal and plastic provides a good balance between resilience and weight: the P34G doesn’t torque or bend unduly under pressure.
The laptop weighs in at 1.67kg, lighter than many business laptops and some ultraportables, let alone gaming laptops. In comparison, Dell’s latest Alienware 14 is 66 per cent heavier at 2.77kg, despite offering very similar performance. The Alienware 14 does offer a DVD drive, however, which the P34G does not.
The P34G has a standard laptop keyboard layout, with no surprises or megafailures – such as placing a ‘Function’ key where the control key should be, which is all too common. It does have half-height up- and down-arrow keys – on a laptop aimed at typists, developers or spreadsheet users, I’d be annoyed by that. On a gaming laptop? I can’t remember the last time I played a game which actually used the arrow keys as opposed to the WASD cluster.
Key travel is shallow, but with a good ‘click’ feeling on activation. I experienced no problems with ghosting, even when testing games with a frightening number of key bindings such as the original Crysis.
The keyboard has an adjustable-brightness backlight, controlled by keyboard shortcut or the ‘Gigabyte Smart Manager’ software – more on this later.
The touchpad is a reasonable size, and worked well enough – perhaps a little better than average, but not quite as responsive or accurate as the amazing touchpads on Apple’s MacBook range. I found it sufficient for the likes of XCOM and The Sims, but I’ve yet to manage a first- or third-person shooter by touchpad alone. If anyone can, I’d love to see it.
In a 14-inch form factor, I’d accept 1600x900 as a fair resolution. Gigabyte goes all the way, with a 1920x1080 ‘full HD’ panel in the P34G. It’s beautifully sharp at a normal laptop viewing distance, and claims a 170-degree viewing angle.
Visibility is aided by the screen’s matte finish, a bold defiance of the common ‘glossier is better’ design convention. It really cuts down on unwanted reflection, making it possible to game in a normally-lit room without having to turn the brightness all the way up and squint.
Though it ships with Windows 8, the P34G does not feature a touchscreen. While this makes navigating some parts of the Windows interface a little clunky (even with the latest Windows 8.1 update), it means the screen can remain fingerprint-free. This removes the problem where, especially in dimly-lit scenes, it can be difficult to tell whether smudges on the screen are part of the game, or marks from your fingers.
Gigabyte claims a ‘72 per cent colour gamut’, though it’s unclear what colour space is being referred to (sRGB, Adobe RGB, etc). Colours appeared bright and accurate, but we didn’t have a chance to run the P34G through a full calibration and display test.
The P34G is based on the latest-generation (Haswell) Intel Core i7-4700HQ processor, with four cores/eight threads and a clock speed of 2.4–3.4GHz. It sports a massive 16GB of DDR3L RAM, which is more than sufficient for any game we’ve tested yet – games are surprisingly light on memory usage compared to tasks such as photo and video editing.
Graphics are handled by the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 760M, with 2GB of dedicated GDDR5 graphics memory. The 760M is a strong mobile GPU, capable of running most modern games at low to moderate graphical settings or better. It’s almost on par with the GTX 765M found in the Dell Alienware 14, but can’t even begin to compete with the GTX 780M in the Alienware 18 and a few other large-scale 17- and 18-inch gaming laptops.
Primary storage is a 256GB mSATA SSD (up to 512GB SSD supported). Optional secondary storage can be added in the form of a 2.5-inch hard drive up to 1TB in capacity, though this will increase the weight beyond the specified 1.67kg.
I suspect many gamers will opt for the hard drive as game-storage – modern 3D games are routinely anywhere from 10 to 30GB in size, so 256GB doesn’t allow for a tremendously large library. Add to that the fact that the P34G doesn’t feature a DVD drive, and reinstalling disc copies of games becomes a little more tedious (a USB 3.0-connected external DVD drive may help there – USB 2.0 drives are generally rather slow).
As broadband becomes cheaper and faster, the usefulness of that extra storage falls. Our broadband services in Australia and New Zealand are hardly world-leading, and re-downloading all 29GB of Max Payne 3 over Steam means a half-day’s wait before you can play. If that took 40 minutes at 100Mbit/s, or four minutes at a gigabit, then why bother keeping a hard drive full of games?
Personally I’d prefer to stick with the 256GB SSD and avoid the weight and fragility of a hard drive altogether. I’m the type that picks up a game like Skyrim, Mass Effect or Fallout and plays it for months. Though I have a huge library of games, I might only have two or three installed at once, with the rest floating in the cloud on Steam or Origin – that’s despite the fact that being New Zealand-bound, I’m stuck with 18Mbit/s internet (about 220 minutes to download Max Payne).
Gigabyte’s P34G performed well in our tests. It can’t match even a basic gaming desktop, but it does outstrip most ‘business’ laptops in overall performance. Compared to similarly sized and weighted Ultrabooks with their onboard graphics, the P34G clearly offers a major gaming advantage.
In purely CPU-based tests (not really indicative of gaming performance), the P34G performed directly in line with Dell’s Alienware 14, the version of which we tested was based on the same Intel Core i7-4700 CPU. In this area it scores similarly to high-end business laptops such as the Intel Ivy Bridge-based HP EliteBook and Apple MacBook Pro 15 we tested earlier this year. (We have yet to test the latest-generation Haswell versions of either.)
In our gaming tests, the P34G managed playable framerates in all of the games we tested at low-to-medium graphical settings. We saw averages of 60fps in Tomb Raider (2013) at ‘Normal’, 54fps in the original Crysis on ‘Medium’, 62fps in Metro: Last Light on Normal with tessellation disabled, and 71fps on ‘Medium’ in Saints Row IV.
We averaged 73fps in Max Payne 3 at ‘Normal’ in our formal benchmark, but found that dropped later in the game as the environments became more complex and there were more characters on screen. It was necessary to drop Max Payne down to its lowest settings to keep framerates in the playable 50-60fps range. The same was true of Metro: Last Light, whilst Tomb Raider (2013), Crysis and Saints Row IV all remained playable at Medium/Normal in all of our real-world gameplay tests.
In many games it was possible to turn the settings up to ‘High’, ‘Very High’ or ‘Ultra’, with framerates dropping into the 30-40fps range that I find nauseatingly jerky but have seen other gamers happily play at. Others dropped into the 10-30fps range at those settings, which is definitively unplayable.
All of the results in the preceding section were garnered with the P34G’s ‘Ultra Boost’ setting on ‘Extreme’.
Ultra Boost is one of the features accessible via Gigabyte’s ‘Smart Manager’ software – a very useful pop-up utility that centralises the controls for the fan, backlighting, power management, Wi-Fi, disabling of the ‘Start’ button to avoid ejecting yourself from your games with a misplaced finger – the things that are often encapsulated in ten or twenty different little vendor-supplied apps, only about half of which tend to work. Props to Gigabyte for getting it right.
Enabling Ultra Boost conservatively overclocks the GPU, and boosts the fans to vacuum-cleaner level in order to ensure adequate cooling. Its most immediate and obvious effect, therefore, is a ‘loudness switch’.
The effect is not huge, but it’s noticeable. In our game tests, we noticed an average improvement of 9% in framerates, between Ultra Boost disabled and Ultra Boost on ‘Extreme’. The maximum improvement we saw was 25% in Metro: Last Light, from 61 to 68fps on average.
Enabling Ultra Boost is not going to double your framerates or let you play Max Payne 3 on ‘High’ quality where the P34G could barely manage ‘Normal’ before, but it does give you an extra few frames up your sleeve to avoid skips or slowdowns at quality levels the laptop can already maintain fairly well without overclocking.
In our standard ‘productivity’ run-down test, the P34G stayed alive for a middling 2hrs 46mins with the Ultra Boost feature disabled and 2hrs 33mins with Ultra Boost on ‘Extreme’. That’s low compared to most Ultrabooks, but average for non-Ultrabook productivity laptops in the 14-15-inch range. Compared to the Alienware 14’s 1hr 53mins, it’s positively brilliant.
I was going to run a series of in-game battery life tests, but hit a rather large roadblock: the P34G could not run any of our test games at playable framerates from the battery. Pull out the power cable, and this gaming laptop loses its gaming powers altogether.
Tomb Raider (2013) at ‘Normal’ went from an average 60fps to 23fps on battery, whilst Crysis on ‘Medium’ went from 53 to 25fps. Max Payne 3on ‘Normal’ dropped from 73 to just 25fps. None were playable on battery – we were barely able to complete our pre-determined gameplay segments due to the low framerates and barely-responsive controls.
The results above are with Ultra Boost on ‘Extreme’, but we experienced similar drops with the feature disabled. Tests were run with all CPU and GPU power settings specifically geared to maximise performance at the cost of battery life, not vice-versa.
This wasn’t a deal-breaker for me. While I could play Crysis on battery with Dell’s Alienware 14, it only provided about an hour’s battery life, perhaps a little less. I have yet to see a high-end gaming laptop that’ll give you even a trans-Tasman flight’s worth of gameplay, whilst still classifying as carry-on luggage. In other words, today’s gaming laptops are really designed to be used plugged-in.
The P34G sports two USB 3.0 ports on the left edge, and two USB 2.0 ports on the right. There’s also an SD card reader, HDMI output, VGA output, combined headphone/microphone socket, and Gigabit Ethernet.
The combined headset/mic port is a bit of a disappointment, as most entry-level and mid-range gaming headsets connect via separate headphone and mic plugs. This means headset-wearing gamers will need to use a USB headset, or an adapter to get their dual-plugged headset into the single port.
The positioning of the HDMI port is also a bit of a pain: it’s on the right-hand side, where a connected cable might stray into a right-handed user’s mouse area. This is particularly likely with HDMI cables, which are fairly stiff and can’t easily be twisted out of the way. That may seem a small concern, but there are few things more annoying than missing a perfect shot because your mouse bumped up against an ill-placed cable or other desk-bound obstacle.
Wireless connectivity includes 802.11b/g/n and Bluetooth 4.0, both now utterly stock-standard. 802.11ac high-speed Wi-Fi would’ve been nice, but the infrastructure is still so uncommon that its omission won’t even be noticed by most users.
Gigabyte’s P34G is a superb alternative to the ultra-bulky models common in the gaming laptop world. Despite being a third lighter than, and half as thick as, Dell’s closely-comparable Alienware 14, the P34G averages just 6% lower in performance.
If getting the highest performance, and running games at the best graphical settings possible, is your goal, this isn’t your laptop. Compactness does come with a downside, and you’ll find better performance in a 15- or 17-inch model (or even a bulkier 14-inch model).
This is also not your laptop if you ever want to play on battery power alone: the P34G does not manage playable framerates when unplugged, no matter what settings you tweak.
If you want a portable, almost Ultrabook-class laptop that you can take anywhere, pop on a desk and start playing – not at the highest quality settings, but certainly at acceptable framerates – the P34G is for you. Particularly recommended for players of games that are more about the experience than the graphics – Skyrim, Fallout, Mass Effect, XCOM, The Sims – that’s the sort of game the P34G is perfect for though yes, for whatever it’s worth in 2013, it will run Crysis.
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