Page 2:Technical Specifications
Page 3:On The Outside
Page 4:On The Inside
Page 5:How We Tested
Page 6:Synthetic Benchmark Results
Page 7:Gaming Benchmark Results
Page 8:Productivity Benchmark Results
Page 9:Display Measurements
Page 10:Battery Life Results
Page 11:Wireless Networking Performance
Page 12:Thermal Performance
Gigabyte's P34W v3 is one of the only two 14-inch gaming notebooks with GeForce GTX 970M graphics. Can portability and performance really coexist?
Gaming laptops are inherently exercises in compromise. You can emphasize the gaming aspect by cramming lots of fast hardware into a big, heavy chassis. Or you can focus on mobility, cutting power and cooling to make the machine more portable. Everything in between represents a rebalancing act to attract customers with different priorities.
When Gigabyte’s P34W v3 first landed in our lab, we thought there was no way it’d game competently. Measuring just under 13.5” wide, less than 9.5” deep and roughly three-quarters of an inch thick, it easily fits in a backpack. Without its bundled power adapter, the P34W weighs just four pounds. By all accounts, the platform is thin and light—two adjectives rarely associated with gaming.
And yet, our sample includes a Haswell-based Core i7-4720HQ host processor, 16GB of DDR3-1600 in a dual-channel configuration, Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 970M with 3GB of GDDR5, a 128GB SSD and a 1TB hard drive. Knowing what we know about quad-core i7s and the GM204 GPU, it’d be reasonable to expect playable frame rates in demanding AAA titles at the 14” panel’s native 1920x1080 resolution.
Surely, then, the P34W v3 must cost a mint, right? Not really, no. You can customize the notebook on xoticpc.com to look like ours for just under $1700. Or, Amazon has a similar model with 8GB of RAM for less than $1600. That's quite a bit less expensive than Razer's 14" Blade.
Gigabyte does lose points when it comes to what you hear from the P34W v3—both through the sound you get through its anemic stereo speakers and the fan noise that escapes as a byproduct of its powerful hardware. Even with no load applied, expect the cooling subsystem to spin up to noticeable volume sporadically. More on that later, though.
There are a few different part numbers listed for this notebook. One, the P34Wv3-CF2, includes 8GB of DDR3, a 128GB SSD, a 1TB hard drive and Windows 8.1. Another, the P34Wv3-CF3, boasts 16GB of DDR3, a 256GB SSD, the same terabyte-class disk and Windows 7 pre-loaded with a Windows 8.1 upgrade. Those are both on Newegg. Other vendors market this system as the P34W v3 and then allow you to customize it to suit. The box containing our sample didn’t list any specifications or model numbers, so you’ll want to pay particular attention when it comes to comparing parts and price tags.
On The Outside
The P34W v3 exudes subtle elegance. Nothing about Gigabyte’s design screams “look at me; I’m packed with gaming hardware.” Rather, the top cover is smooth, black and matte, interrupted only by Gigabyte’s logo in glossy silver and a small strip of dissimilar material at the top. The worst thing we can say is that the surface material is almost impossible to keep clean. Fingerprints show up readily. Then again, if you purchase the P34W v3 through XoticPC, you can buy a textured wrap or custom paint job to rectify this.
Underneath, two grilles are cut into the front of the chassis for audio. Notice that they face down. Gigabyte apparently didn't have a lot of room on the chassis to optimize the P34W v3's audio, so you end up with muddled output that varies quite a bit depending on the surface underneath.
Everything else you see is for ventilation, so you won’t want to block all of those intakes with thick carpet or a bedspread. Five rubberized feet and four plastic tabs elevate the enclosure when it’s on a table. The bottom cover comes off after you remove 15 screws. Or, if you only need access to the platform’s two memory slots, a single screw releases an easy-access panel.
The right side plays host to a power input, two USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI output and an SD card reader.
The left includes a Kensington lock, wired Ethernet connectivity, VGA output, two more USB 3.0 ports and a single jack for audio I/O. Space on the two sides is obviously limited, but it would have been nice to see mini-DisplayPort instead of VGA. More gamers are going to want to attach modern secondary displays than old projectors, we imagine.
There is no connectivity up front. Rather, you’ll find five pin-hole LED indicators corresponding to Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, hard drive, battery and power status. Additionally, if you right-click on the touchpad when the P34W is off, those LEDs light up according to the battery’s remaining charge.
The back of Gigabyte’s design features two exhaust vents. A pair of fans just behind those vents blow across two heat pipes, which in turn cover the Core i7 processor and GM204 GPU. Understandably, the air leaving that area gets especially warm.
With its lid open, the P34W v3 retains a clean, simple aesthetic. A pair of hinges hold the top panel securely. Our sample did pop a little when the screen reached the limit of its travel. Otherwise, though, it held position well. Up above the display, you’ll find two microphones, a webcam status indicator, the webcam itself and an ambient light sensor for the panel and keyboard backlights.
You have to push hard on the palm rest to make it flex. Then again, you’ll probably want to use your own USB-attached keyboard and mouse for gaming.
When you don’t have external peripherals handy, you’ll find the backlit keyboard easy to type on. Its keys are spaced nicely, offer just the right amount of travel and click satisfyingly into place. The W, A, S and D keys are bolded for emphasis, a nod to this machine’s gaming purpose. However, the directional keys are asymmetrical—left and right are large, while up and down are tiny. It’s difficult to be precise with them in-game.
It’s hard to imagine using a touchpad for much beyond basic Windows navigation. The P34W v3’s works as expected for this purpose. Use the far left and far right of the click keys to get the best response. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself mashing on them with little travel in return.
On The Inside
Naturally, cramming high-end hardware into a compact gaming notebook requires efficient use of space, and Gigabyte appears to have capitalized on every square inch. The Core i7-4720HQ and GM204 sit right next to each other, covered by heat spreaders and two flattened pipes. Those pipes run from one side of the P34W to the other, ending in arrays of cooling fins. Fans blow across them and out the back.
Intel’s -4720HQ is a quad-core, Hyper-Threaded processor with a 2.6GHz base clock and 3.6GHz peak Turbo Boost frequency. It sports 6MB of shared L3 cache, AES-NI support and a dual-channel memory controller capable of running at data rates as high as 1600 MT/s. While the company’s HD Graphics 4600 engine serves up unimpressive 3D performance, it adds QuickSync and Wireless Display support, both of which can come in useful on the road.
When it comes time to game, the GM204-based GeForce GTX 970M kicks into gear. The GPU has 1280 of its CUDA cores enabled, along with 80 texture units and 48 ROPs. An aggregate 192-bit memory bus attaches to 3GB of GDDR5 memory. There’s a 6GB version of the 970M as well; however, the 3GB implementation is ample for any combination of resolution and detail settings you’d ask of the cut-back GM204.
There are only two SO-DIMM slots on the P34W v3, so pick your modules carefully. Our sample came with two 8GB sticks of DDR3L-1600 from Transcend, totaling 16GB. Bear in mind that although Intel’s memory controller does support 32GB, Gigabyte’s platform tops out at 16.
The P34W v3 doesn’t give you tons of room for storage upgrades, though the one mSATA slot and a single 2.5” bay are more than enough for most gamers. A 128GB Lite-On SSD in our notebook is powered by a Marvell controller and rated for 512 MB/s sequential reads and 320 MB/s sequential writes. Gigabyte also supports 256 and 512GB mSATA drives. Given the relatively small SSD we’re testing, though, a 1TB HGST disk comes in particularly useful for game installations and user data. Really, the SSD/HDD combination is perfectly balanced for such a small high-performance gaming machine.
Gigabyte implements two networking interfaces: a PCIe-based GbE controller from Realtek and Intel’s dual-band Wireless-AC 7260 2x2 mini-PCIe card. In addition to supporting 802.11ac at up to 867 Mb/s on the 5GHz band (enabling Wireless Display in the process), the little module also includes Bluetooth 4.0.
Much of the P34W v3’s internal space is dedicated to a 61.25Wh Li-ion battery. Remarkably, even though this system is small and filled with fast components, it exceeds two hours of run time in two of our battery life tests and approaches three hours in a third. Don’t plan on getting much from it if you’re gaming on the road. But when you need to get some work done away from the wall, the P34W v3 won’t leave you stranded.
Two oblong drivers sit in front of the battery, right up against the notebook’s edge. These are truly diminutive. Although Gigabyte advertises Dolby Digital Plus Home Theater audio technology, there is no getting around the limitations of 1.5W speakers facing downward. If you want to drown out the cooling fans, attach your own headset to the P34W v3’s 3.5mm jack.
Rounding out the otherwise exceptional hardware package is an AU Optronics B140HAN Advanced Hyper-Viewing Angle (AHVA) panel with a hard anti-glare surface. Its viewing angles are unbeatable, as we’d expect from IPS technology, and you’ll find the screen easy to use indoors or out.
How We Tested
A gaming-oriented laptop should be evaluated principally on its gaming performance. To that end, we pull out Battlefield 4, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, Thief, Metro Last Light, Tomb Raider and Grid 2.
All benchmarks were run plugged in to the wall using our custom Windows 8 power profile. The screen was then calibrated to 200 cd/m² before the same tests were repeated on battery power.
|3DMark||FireStrike: Graphics, Physics, Combined Modules|
|PCMark 8||Home, Creative, Work Modules (Accelerated), Storage|
|SiSoftware Sandra||Memory Bandwidth Module|
|Battlefield 4||DirectX 11, 100-sec. Fraps "Tashgar", Ultra Quality Preset, 1920x1080|
|Grid 2||DirectX 11, 120-sec. Fraps Built-In Benchmark, Ultra Quality Preset, 1920x1080|
|Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor||DirectX 11, 40-sec. Fraps Built-In Benchmark, Ultra Quality Preset, 1920x1080|
|Thief||DirectX 11, 70-sec. Fraps Built-In Benchmark, Very High Quality Preset, 1920x1080|
|Tomb Raider||DirectX 11, 45-sec Fraps Custom Tom's Hardware Benchmark, Ultra Quality Preset, 1920x1080|
|Metro Last Light||DirectX 11, 145-sec Fraps Built-In Benchmark, Very High Quality Preset, 1920x1080|
|7-Zip||Version 9.30 alpha (64-bit): THG-Workload (1.3GB) to .7z, command line switches "a -t7z -r -m0=LZMA2 -mx=5"|
|Adobe Photoshop CC||Custom OpenCL-based Workload|
|Autodesk 3ds Max 2013||iray Workload|
|HandBrake CLI||Version: 0.99: Video from Canon EOS 7D (1920x1080, 25 FPS) 1 Minutes 22 Seconds|
Audio: PCM-S16, 48,000Hz, 2-Channel, to Video: AVC1 Audio: AAC (High Profile)
|LAME MP3||Version 3.98.3: Audio CD "Terminator II SE", 53 min, convert WAV to MP3 audio format, Command: -b 160 --nores (160Kb/s)|
|TotalCode Studio 2.5||Version: 22.214.171.12477: MPEG-2 to H.264, MainConcept H.264/AVC Codec, 28 sec HDTV 1920x1080 (MPEG-2), Audio: MPEG-2 (44.1kHz, 2-Channel, 16-Bit, 224Kb/s), Codec: H.264 Pro, Mode: PAL 50i (25 FPS), Profile: H.264 BD HDMV|
|PCMark 8||Home, Creative, Work Modules|
|Ixia IxChariot||Version 7.2 Build Level 107, TCP Throughput|
|Passmark WirelessMon||Version 4.0 Build 1009, Signal Strength|
Synthetic Benchmark Results
Plugged into the wall, Gigabyte’s P34W v3 generates a 3DMark FireStrike score of 6603, which falls to 4960 on battery power. For context, consider that the GeForce GTX 970M is about 80% of a desktop 970, and that when Thomas reviewed Gigabyte’s P35X v3 earlier this year, its GeForce GTX 980M achieved 8261 points. A Physics result of 8786 actually exceeds the P35X’s 8620 score, which we’d expect since that system had a Core i7-4710HQ instead.
Thomas ran his PCMark 8 numbers without acceleration, choosing to focus on raw CPU performance. I turned acceleration on, though. When you’re on the road and battery life is what limits your laptop’s utility, anything you can do to get back to idle quickly will stretch the system’s run time. This includes leveraging compute resources whenever possible.
To that end, Gigabyte’s P34W v3 scores 4645 points plugged into the wall in PCMark’s Work module. The P35X v3 did 4787 points. From there, the P34W v3 blows past its bigger brother without looking back, quadrupling its performance in the Home test and more than tripling it in the Creative metric.
Storage performance naturally varies depending on whether you’re using the SSD or hard drive. Fortunately, it doesn’t really matter if you’re plugged into the wall or on battery—the results are similar in both cases.
Gaming Benchmark Results
We run our game tests plugged in and away from the wall, yielding two very different looks at performance as Nvidia’s Battery Boost technology kicks in.
Ideally, we want to see the P34W v3 hold a steady 30 FPS on battery power (or whatever frame rate you specify through GeForce Experience). Then, when we attach the AC adapter, the notebook should generate playable performance at its panel’s native resolution and the highest-quality detail settings.
Gigabyte does not disappoint. Plugged in to the wall, we were able to crank each game up to 1920x1080 and its top graphics preset and enjoy smooth frame rates. Battlefield 4 averaged more than 53 FPS; Metro Last Light averaged 50; Tomb Raider nearly hit 80 FPS; Thief was up around 50 as well. The more platform-bound Grid 2 soared up to approach 90 FPS on average.
Even on battery power (and reduced clock rates) the P34W v3 is fast enough to maintain a smooth 30 FPS in these titles without giving up any graphics quality. For the system’s 14” FHD panel, a GeForce GTX 970M is just about right. Faster graphics modules (like the 980M) would really only be useful for attaching external displays. Then again, without a DisplayPort output, the P34W v3 wouldn’t be our top choice for docking to a more stationary desktop.
Productivity Benchmark Results
Intel’s Core i7-4720HQ is a popular processor choice amongst gaming notebook vendors. It’s a quad-core model with Hyper-Threading support, so parallelized workloads run well. And of course, the Haswell architecture makes quick work of single-threaded tasks.
These results illustrate how performance differs when you use the P34W v3 plugged in compared to its behavior on the road. Light use isn’t a problem—our Lame benchmark doesn’t slow down at all. But the threaded TotalCode Studio, HandBrake, and 3ds Max iray tests are far more taxing; they scale back quite a bit on battery power.
Our Photoshop benchmark, which is accelerated by OpenCL, also reflects a performance hit away from the wall. Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 970M throttles back, so we’d expect this.
Before we get into testing battery life, we need to calibrate the P34W v3’s display. In the process of doing this, we also run its panel through a barrage of benchmarks.
|Minimum Brightness||9.03 cd/m²|
|Maximum Brightness||289.23 cd/m²|
|Brightness Calibration||201.13 cd/m² (69 on brightness scale)|
|Black Level||0.34 cd/m²|
|Adobe RGB Gamut||70.1%|
A minimum brightness measurement of 9.03 cd/m² is well below our practical floor of 50. AU Optronics rates its B140HAN for a maximum brightness of 300 cd/m² and the panel on Gigabyte’s P34W v3 comes awful close to that figure at 289.23.
By default, an ambient light sensor adjusts the P34W’s screen and backlight. This needs to be disabled in order to get the display calibrated for our testing. Different publications favor certain outputs, but all of our screens are dialed to 200 cd/m².
At that setting, we measure a contrast ratio of 582:1, which registers lower than the display’s typical 700:1 rating. A gamma response of 2.18 comes close to the 2.2 we want to see. We record a cool color temperature of 6460K, and a sRGB gamut volume of 101.7%.
Subjectively, the P34W v3’s display is excellent, though not particularly vibrant owing to its anti-glare layer. Uniformity isn’t an issue; there is no perceptible light bleed to the naked eye. And the panel’s viewing angles are superb. You don’t experience any color shift. Even if Gigabyte wasn’t using an IPS-equivalent panel, the relatively small 14” screen keeps you head-on most of the time. But the fact that you get AUO’s AHVA technology means all practical viewing angles are usable.
Battery Life Results
We run three different workloads to test battery life, all of them from PCMark 8.
The Home suite tests Web browsing, writing, casual gaming, photo editing and video chat. Futuremark considers the Home test to be computationally light. PCMark 8’s Creative benchmark, on the other hand, is more demanding. It includes Web browsing, photo editing, batch editing, video editing, creating media to go, mainstream gaming and video chatting. Meanwhile, the Work suite includes office-oriented tasks that don’t hammer the platform particularly hard.
Despite the variety in what each metric includes Gigabyte’s P34W v3 posts fairly even battery life results. The Home and Creative runs are each good for roughly 2.5 hours. The lighter-duty Work suite comes closer to three hours.
Of course, you could stretch battery life by dialing down screen brightness below 200 cd/m² or specifying a more conservative power profile. We simply use these settings for consistency between comparison machines.
Wireless Networking Performance
Our wireless networking benchmarking consists of IxChariot's TCP Throughput test using an ASRock Vision X 471D server hardwired and the client system connected through its on-board adapter. The reference router is Asus' RT-AC66U.
As you can see, you're better off sticking with the 5GHz band for performance, so long as you can stay within its more limited range (the 2.4GHz signal stays stronger over greater distances).
It’s a good thing that Intel’s Core i7-4720HQ and Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 970M have performance to spare, because Gigabyte’s cooling solution can’t quite keep up with the P34W v3’s hardware under load.
We logged the graphics processor’s clock rates as Unigine’s Valley benchmark looped in the background and watched it drop from a GPU Boost frequency of 1038MHz to 848MHz over the course of a few minutes. That’s lower than the 970M’s specified 924MHz base clock rate. This should not happen. It’s the same sort of issue that got AMD in trouble when the Radeon R9 290X first launched. In short, Nvidia’s GM204 is quickly hitting its thermal ceiling and then pulling performance to avoid exceeding it.
Meanwhile, Gigabyte’s fans try their hardest to exhaust the graphics subsystem’s heat. In the process, they get obnoxiously loud. This is where high-end components and a compact chassis come to a head. It’s just fortunate that, when the P34W v3 does succumb to physics, your experience isn’t ruined—there’s enough performance in reserve at those lower clock rates to continue gaming smoothly.
Gigabyte’s P34W v3 subjected us to a whirlwind of emotions. When it arrived, we didn’t believe that such a small machine could also deliver competent gaming performance. Then we ran the P34W v3 through our benchmark suite and saw how well it cut through the titles we threw at it. But there was no ignoring the noise its cooling fans made as they tried to keep up with the high-end host processor and graphics module. Nor could we excuse that Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 970M is forced down to clock rates lower than the company’s advertised specification due to a cooling solution incapable of handling its thermal output.
After all of that, though, the P34W v3 is fast enough to maintain 30 FPS on battery power in demanding games at their highest detail settings. It stretches well above that level plugged in to the wall. And a quad-core CPU ensures snappy performance even in demanding applications like Photoshop and 3ds Max. What more could you want from a four-pound laptop less than an inch thick?
The example we were sent to review sells for just under $1700. You can push that price upward by adding more solid-state storage. There aren’t a ton of options available for customization in the 14” form factor though, and we’re alright with that. As far as balance goes, this is the right combination of parts for playing the latest games at the IPS panel’s native 1920x1080.
How about the competition? There’s Razer’s new non-touch Blade that sells for $2000, comes with a larger 256GB SSD but less DDR3L memory and weighs slightly more. You can still find the Alienware 14 for sale; it doesn’t even come close, though. Asus once had its own 14” gaming notebook as well. However, that one’s ancient history. Really, Gigabyte’s P34W v3 is in a very exclusive group. Aside from the pricier Razer, matching its graphics performance means stepping up to the 15.6” form factor or larger. And while 13.3” machines with GeForce GTX 960M graphics exist, you can’t hope for the same high-detail experience at 1920x1080 with half as many CUDA cores.
Gigabyte’s P34W v3 doesn’t force you to choose between mobility and performance—it delivers both with aplomb. Still, there’s no escaping physics. So, the sacrifice you make is a loud cooling solution that, even at full speed, cannot keep up as you game. Keep your headphones handy, and be thankful for a two-year warranty. While we’d certainly prefer the P34W v3 to at least enable Nvidia’s rated specifications, Gigabyte itself doesn’t make any clock rate claims. More aggressive fans would only worsen the acoustic situation, too. At least the P34W v3’s gaming performance remains wholly acceptable, even under dialed-back conditions.
For its ability to achieve playable frame rates at its native 1920x1080 resolution (using the most taxing detail settings), the 14” Gigabyte P34W v3 earns our Tom’s Hardware Recommended award.