Scan have thrown their hat into the ring with one of the latest offerings from their award winning 3XS custom PC range. The Scan 3XS Graphite LG15 17" Gaming Laptop appears to offer a much higher 'bang for buck' than the previous gaming laptops we reviewed, coming in at just under £1300. This performance is largely down to the 2GB AMD Radeon HD 7970M Graphics and a Intel Quad Core i7-3740QM Processor with a turbo speed of 3.7Ghz, coupled with a lightning fast Corsair Force 3 120GB SSD, 8GB RAM and Windows 8. Could this be a contender for a gaming laptop actually worth talking about or is it another overpriced poorly performing system that will again be laughed at by its desktop PC brothers? Read on to see how it fares...
Design and Connections
The build quality appears to be of a reasonably high standard. The screen hinges are solid in design and you get none of that flexing that is present on lower quality hinges and screen designs. The touchpad has separate mouse buttons rather than being integrated, which is something this reviewer personally prefers. The connections feel secure and the 4 pronged power connector certainly doesn't feel like it's about to fall out, although we would have much preferred a side connection, as it's much harder to catch it than one at the rear. One possible negative to the build is that the DVD tray feels very loose and since it's positioned towards the front you are always touching it when you move the laptop about.
Onto the keyboard, as briefly mentioned above it's a standard affair with the addition of function keys for the usual suspects such as volume control, brightness, Wi-Fi activation and also one for turning off the LCD screen. Together with helpful arrows on the W, A, S and D keys, just in case you don't know what keys to use for gaming. Also FN + ESC brings up a quick access menu to the various core laptop functions such as power, camera, touchpad and keyboard settings. The keyboard has a good quality feel but is just not very comfortable to use and if you are planning on doing heavy typing sessions with this laptop, you may end up throwing it out the window. Perhaps it's due to the keys not depressing as much as on other laptops but after a quick typing test session we had numerous errors that are not normally present. But for gaming it presents no problems.
The fact that you might actually want this on your lap, means weight becomes an important consideration. Whilst this is by no means the heaviest of gaming laptops, it weighs in at 3.9kg which is 500g heavier than the last Toshiba Qosmio we reviewed and thus feels rather chunky. Although it wins in the weight stakes compared to the likes of Alienware at 4.26kg and the lap crushing Asus at 4.5kg, 3.9kg of hot plastic is a lot to put up with for a long gaming session or when watching a Blu-ray for example.
As for heat and exhaust, the LG15 laptop has two main vents on the rear of the laptop to expel the heat and it does throw out quite a bit. Fortunately if you do have it on your lap the heat should be pushed out the back and not present too much of a problem, although given the components in this beast it's no surprise at just how much heat it does throw out.
This laptop is very well specified in regards to connections and support. The Clevo chassis used here by Scan offers probably everything you might ever need. Starting on the left we have mini firewire, network connection, 2 x USB 3.0 ports, 1 x eSATA/powered USB 3.0 port (which providing the laptop is plugged in to the wall will charge a connected device when powered off) and the 9-1 card reader compatible with MMC, SD and MS variants. To the right we have the headphone, line in and MIC connections together with a single USB 2.0 port and a S/PDIF out. Leaving the rear for the power connection, display port, HDMI and DVI outputs. There are no connections at the front and our only real complaint is the absence of a VGA connection.
The Sony BC-5550H-01 Blu-ray reader/DVD writer (BD-R and BD-RE) is located on the right hand side of the machine towards the front. It's only a minor issue but, due to this location, you are always touching it when moving the laptop and it doesn't feel the most secure of trays in the first place. At the top of the screen we have an integrated 2MP Web Camera (built in microphone for this is located above the touchpad) and a quick test revealed decent enough recording capabilities, but at just 2MP it might seem slightly limited.
Our review copy arrived with Windows 8 installed, configured and ready to go. It's normally good practice to spend a bit of time when you get a new PC updating all the drivers and programs as you will most likely find updates and patches to improve the overall system but Scan have already done that for us. We were presented with a machine with the latest working graphics drivers and Windows fully updated meaning it's just a case of turning it on and away we went.
With the cost sitting at just under £1300 for this system, the specification is very high and works out much more favourably in a cost/performance basis than the Toshiba Qosmio laptops we reviewed. The main highlights being an Intel i7 3740QM CPU running at 2.7Ghz normal (and 3.7Ghz in turbo mode), 8GB of Corsair DDR3 Vengeance RAM running at 1,600MHz and an AMD Radeon HD 7970M 2GB graphics adaptor which has a 256-bit memory interface, 850Mhz engine clock and 1200Mhz memory clock. The graphics in this laptop are considerably better than those in the Toshiba Qosmio and as you can see in some of the benchmark results on the test page and in the Battlefield 3 gaming test it really shows its muscle well.
Another key component in this setup is a Corsair Force 3 120GB solid state drive. The manufacturer claims this drive offers speeds up to 550 MB/s read and 510 MB/s write. The test page of this review gives the full low down, but to summarise speeds of 538 MB/s read and 516 MB/s write were achieved which is an excellent result and even exceeding the manufacturer's claims in the 'write' score. The 120GB drive gives you a formatted usable space of 111GB, of which it will arrive to you from Scan with 89.6GB of free space, they have even moved the pagefile.sys to the other hard drive to squeeze that bit more space out of it. Unlike other laptops that come to you with a multitude of useless programs and features that you don't need or want, this arrives purely with the windows installation. Although it would have been nice to see a Blu-ray player software pre-installed, you can get a little too bare bones sometimes!
Along with the SSD we also get a 500GB Western Digital Scorpio Black HDD, with usable space after formatting (and allowing for the pagefile.sys) of 461GB. It's good to see a 7200 RPM drive fitted, but perhaps a 1TB drive would have been slightly more generous. 500GB really doesn't go that far these days.
This does continue to a degree with the Scan LG15 although not as pitiful as 28 minutes, you do get an average of 40 minutes gaming. Perhaps we are being too unrealistic to expect hours gaming from a machine that costs £1300. Or perhaps people who buy gaming laptops are already fully aware that they have to have it plugged most of the time. In addition a battery life of just 40 minutes when gaming, you also suffer from a reduced performance. Testing with Battlefield 3 resulted in a drop in FPS to just 28 in Ultra and 35 in High, from a previous score under mains power of 45 Ultra and 50 High. So by that reckoning, not only can't you game for very long under battery power alone, you also can't play with any decent settings.
Fortunately, in contrast to the short battery life with gaming, when it came to Blu-ray we were able to watch a full film (The Hunger Games) using battery power which was a pleasant surprise. This was something that the previous gaming laptops we reviewed couldn't even get close to achieving.
It's not completely negative as it is still a good Full HD LED screen and the colours are bright and vibrant which you can test and compare using Passmark's Monitor Test. Whilst this is subjective, the Blu-ray playback looked particularly good, although the screen is clearly edge lit and this was very noticeable during the black test section of the Monitor Test program - see the screenshot above as an example.
Battlefield 3 - 1920 x 1080 resolution
Released in late October 2011, Battlefield 3 was the long awaited sequel to the hugely popular Battlefield 2. Building on the original Frostbite engine used in Battlefield: Bad Company 2, Frostbite 2.0 aims to test PC hardware to the maximum. With the i7-3740QM processor running at a turbo mode of 3.7Ghz and coupled with the 7970M graphics, this system really shone with this game.
Previous laptops with their lower graphics chips have made Ultra or even just high settings under Battlefield 3 an impossibility with unplayable frame rates. With this system under high settings you get an excellent 50FPS and even under Ultra settings you still receive an average of 45FPS. Whilst not amazing frame rates when compared to what you can achieve on a desktop, they will allow for smooth gameplay whilst still having the best graphics settings.
Released shortly after Battlefield 3 in November 2011 this is not a demanding game at all and like most of the Call of Duty games will run quite nicely on most machines. Oddly with this title, on maximum settings, with the FPS we saw barely much of an increase on the previous laptops reviewed. Given the gains seen in Battlefield 3 above and the benchmark tests carried out, we were expecting a lot higher than the 79 FPS we actually got. Obviously that is still high enough to make the game perfectly playable, but comparatively the FPS increase were nowhere near that seen with Battlefield 3.
The very latest Call of Duty game, released in November 2012, using the same engine as the previous Call of Duty titles, but with the addition of DX11 and various other graphics improvements, it should again present no problems to this laptop. As with the puzzling result seen from the Modern Warfare 3 test, this gave some particularly odd scores. We immediately set everything to maximum on 1920 x 1080 resolution under the impression that this system should easily cope with that and got a surprisingly poor 15 FPS. Lowering a few of the graphics settings on the same resolution we only saw an increase to an FPS of 21, far from playable. Lowering the resolution to 1366 x 768 increased that FPS to 30, which is just about playable but still given that the far more graphically intense Battlefield 3 on Ultra settings gave 45 FPS with a 1920 x 1080 resolution, this result is bizarre to say the least.
Released on the PC in June 2012 and complete with the excellent bullet time feature, this is another critically acclaimed first person shooter that this system should have had a good go at. Of the four games we tested on the system this one should have given it the hardest workout. On a 1920 x 1080 resolution and normal settings, an FPS of only 14 was seen, lowering the resolution to 1366 x 768 and a few graphics settings did increase that to 32 FPS but again as with the Black Ops 2 test that is bordering on being unplayable.
Gaming Tests Summary
Apart from the excellent Battlefield 3 results, we expected a lot better across all the games we tested particularly as we had high hopes after some excellent benchmark test results. Given that Max Payne 3 is a far more graphically demanding game than Black Ops 2, quite why the FPS results are so similar is difficult to explain. Newer graphics drivers are not available to test as Scan have installed the latest ones that work with the laptop so we can only assume there is an issue with the drivers and the way it works with the switchable graphics, being the Intel HD4000 graphics integrated in the CPU and the dedicated AMD Radeon 7970M.
Dual graphics is all well and good from a power and economy point of view, but for a gaming rig, we would have much preferred a way of just disabling the Intel graphics completely and allowing the system to purely use the 7970M thus removing any need for software to decide what to use and when, which if the results above are anything to go by, it clearly doesn't do well. Sadly the Basic Input/Output System (BIOS) is next to useless with very few options to do anything at all. If it were not a review system we would have updated the BIOS to one of the many advanced (but unofficial) Clevo BIOS available on the web which adds a lot more options and customisation. The screenshots below show everything that you can alter in the BIOS, which as you can see is not very much at all!
Temperatures and Noise
For browsing the web and basic general use the laptop is pretty much silent, bar the occasional whir of a fan kicking in. During Blu-ray playback as was mentioned above, the noise level does increase significantly. The system fans are constantly running high and if you aren't using headphones and relying instead on the dismal on-board speakers the noise level might be just a tad higher that you would be comfortable with. Onto gaming and the system noise increases another level, with the system fans clearly on their highest setting, although with the noise that gaming brings unlike with Blu-ray, it's probably a level you could ignore. With the volume muted, during Battlefield 3, the system measured 45 dBs in terms of noise. One last comment regarding noise is that thankfully the power supply is completely silent which, considering it's going to have to be plugged most of the time, is welcome news.
Home Cinema Features
With a laptop based Blu-ray player and software such as Power DVD 12, you get the benefits of much faster loading times and the resume play feature. Testing with our usual Transformers, Thor and Star Trek movies the Blu-ray discs all played without issue at 1080P 24FPS. The images were crisp and clear with no stuttering, slowdowns or system freezes. Connected to my homegroup with Windows 8, streaming audio or video files was effortless and video files, pictures or anything that you desire can be played back with no effort at all.
The above screenshots are from freeware programs CPU-Z and GPU-Z, showing the CPU clock speeds and voltages together with memory and other system information. The Turbo mode with this i7 3740QM CPU is 3.7Ghz although, as you can see in the above screenshot, a peak of 4.04Ghz was seen and this drops to just 873MHz when idle to save power. With GPUZ we can also see the excellent figures of the 7970M graphics adaptor.
Time to Desktop – 22 seconds
In previous tests on Windows 7 we have used Bootracer 3.1 to give an accurate easily reproducible test of the time it takes to get to the desktop. With Windows 8 version 3.1 is no longer compatible and whilst a new version 4.0 is supposedly compatible with Windows 8, the results given were not correct and noticeable delays were experienced. Presumably mostly due to the fact that Windows 8 doesn't go straight to the desktop. Resorting to the old fashioned stop watch method, from pressing the power on button to getting to the metro screen took an average of 22 seconds which is not a bad result at all.
Super Pi – 1 million decimal points – 10.023 seconds
Super Pi calculates Pi to a specified number of digits. It is used to test the CPU power and is a favourite among overclockers to test their speeds against the World Record times and the stability of their computer following an overclock. Super Pi is not optimised for dual or quad core processors and is purely a test of a CPU's single threaded capability. We used the 1.5 mod version as it shows more detailed timings.
10.023 seconds is the result from the 1M test run, which is an excellent time based on the 'up to' 3.7Ghz clock speed in turbo mode from the Intel Quad core i7-3740QM processor. This falls short when compared to the 9.032 seconds of the i5-2500K @ 4.2Ghz overclocked CPU in the 3XS Nanu Gamer we reviewed previously and also our own i5-2500K @ 4.5Ghz score of 8.3 seconds, but is still a good result for this i7 mobile CPU.
Windows Experience Index - 7.5
A standard test included in Windows 7 and now with Windows 8, it gives a quick performance score of the current system. It is a simple test and is not favoured as a benchmarking tool, but is a quick and easy way to see how your computer fares. The overall result here is 7.5, with the majority of the system scoring 7.9 except for the graphics that lets it down with a 7.4. Although it's worth noting that due to the dual GPU setup in this laptop, the test has clearly based it's results on the onboard Intel 4000 graphics. The overall rating is determined by the lowest scoring component, rather than a weighted average score that you get in programs such as the Passmark Performance Test. We include this test purely as a guide.
3D Mark 11 - 6484 3D Marks
The latest version of Futuremark’s popular benchmarking tool is freely available to download, although to unlock the full functionality of it, they ask you to part with £14.50. It is particularly GPU intensive and is one of the most common programs for PC gamers, in particular, to test their system and compare it against a wide range of scores available on the internet.
The score here of 6484 3D Marks is an excellent result and clearly shows the pedigree of the 7970M GPU. This compares to a pitiful 2916 3D Marks on a GTX670M and 2216 3D Marks on a GTX560M on the two Toshiba Qosmio laptops we recently reviewed. The 7970M should still not be confused with it's bigger desktop brother, but for a mobile GPU this is a very high performance and sits in the same area as a Radeon 7870 or a GTX680M. For comparison the GTX560 and GTX660Ti in the recent Scan 3XS desktop reviews scored 5093 and 7884 3D Marks respectively. 3D Mark scoring is not entirely based on the power of the graphics card. Other factors such as the CPU power come into play, but as seen in the gaming scores it is very one of the best mobile GPUs we have reviewed to date.
Atto Disk Benchmark - SSD & HDD
The Corsair Force 3 6Gb/s SSD claims to offer a superb 'up to' 550 MB/s read and 510 MB/s for write with an IOPs of 85,000. As you can see from the first image, the maximum read speed received was 538 MB/s and a write of 516 MB/s. Whilst you are not guaranteed to get the speeds manufacturers quote, this result is excellent and not far off their claimed speeds.
From the second image we can see the test for the 500GB Western Digital Scorpio Black drive, which scores an average read/write speed of 118 MB/s. As with a few of the other benchmarks we have used in this review, they are useful to run every so often to keep an eye on how your system is performing. A sudden drop in a particular score could point to a possible issue, such as a hard drive failing or requiring de-fragmentation.
PassMark Performance Test 7.0 - 3116.6
The next benchmark test gives an overall system performance following tests run on the CPU, GPU, Memory and disk drives. It is a weighted average score based on over 28 individual tests and therefore a low performing component will drag the score down. With a score of 3116.6, this is another excellent result from this system and far surpasses the 2354.4 result seen on the Toshiba Qosmio laptop with an Intel i7-3610QM CPU and GTX670M graphics. The score is comparable to other user submitted results for comparable systems. For comparison, recent desktop reviews have delivered scores of 3857.5 for the Scan i5-2500K/GTX660Ti system, 3087.90 for the Scan i5-2500K/GTX560Ti system and also 3355.3 scored by our own i5-2500K/GTX570 system.
Cinebench 11.5 - 73.53 fps/6.78 pts
Cinebench is another free benchmark program that is ideal to test CPU and GPU performances across different systems and platforms. The scores here being 73.53 fps for the OpenGL test and 6.78 pts for the CPU test. Significantly higher than the 44.84 fps and 6.12 pts for the last Qosmio system we reviewed and showing the strengths of this system. Cinebench is a relatively recent addition to our suite of test programs so we can not refer to any other previous scores, but for comparison our own i5-2500K/GTX570 system scores a disappointingly low 54.51 fps and a not too shabby 6.92 pts.
PC Mark 7 - 4418 PC Marks
The final benchmark test is another recent addition to our suite - PC Mark 7 is designed for Windows 7, but is also compatible with Windows 8. It combines more than 25 individual tests covering all aspects of the system such as storage, CPU, graphics, web browsing and gaming. The result with this system is a disappointing 4418 PC Marks, which is far lower than the 4709 PC Mark result seen on the Toshiba Qosmio laptop with an Intel i7-3610QM CPU and GTX670M graphics. For comparison a desktop system with a 4.3GHz i5-2500K and a GTX 670 scores 6123 PC Marks. Whilst it is claimed this software is compatible with Windows 8, the dual GPUs in this system or perhaps the graphics drivers could be causing a problem here and giving a result far lower than what would be reasonably expected.
- High specification
- Excellent Battlefield 3 performance
- Very keen price point
- Awful on-board speaker quality
- Very inconsistent gaming and benchmark performance
- Poor battery life
- Useless BIOS
Scan 3XS Graphite LG15 Gaming Laptop Review
Competition is tough in the laptop gaming market, with Toshiba and their Qosmio range, Dell with their Alienware range and other contenders from manufacturers like ASUS. All offer 'high spec' gaming rigs and ask a pretty penny for them too. The Scan 3XS Graphite LG15 gaming laptop has pitted itself firmly against all these companies and as far as price is concerned it beats them all hands down. A similarly specified laptop from Alienware (albeit with 16GB of RAM) is approaching £1900, the Toshiba Qosmio with a much lower performing graphics chip is over £1600 and offerings from ASUS with similar specifications to the Toshiba are £1500; so at just under £1300, Scan's LG15 is very competitive indeed. Of course it's still quite expensive compared to what you can achieve with a desktop PC, but if we concentrate on gaming laptops, the Scan system seems an attractive proposition.
So from a cost perspective it's looking good, but sadly it seems the system doesn't have the necessary support yet, particularly in the shape of graphics drivers, to get the best out of it. The dual graphics of the Intel HD 4000 integrated into the CPU and the dedicated AMD Radeon 7970M should work in harmony using AMD's Enduro technology allowing for the power of the 7970M to be there when needed and the HD4000 when it isn't. But as can be seen from the benchmark and gaming tests, the results are extremely inconsistent. On the one hand you have a frankly superb (for a laptop) performance with Battlefield 3 offering frame rates that we haven't been close to achieving in previous laptop reviews, along with excellent benchmark test results. However, on the other hand we have horrendous performance with Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 and Max Payne 3, along with the PC Mark 7 benchmark being particularly disappointing, which can only suggest there are major issues with the software.
It's not all negative as on the whole this is a great laptop, it's a sleek and smart design with good build quality, features, excellent connectivity and very pleasing Blu-ray playback. But until the software is sorted out, the laptop has issues that you just can't ignore. The BIOS is particularly annoying and has very few available settings that you can alter. A saving grace for this laptop would have been if you were able to completely disable the HD4000 graphics and just run it on the 7970M graphics but the Basic Input/Output System (BIOS) won't even let you do that. We understand the LG15 should have been available a lot earlier but Scan were awaiting working drivers from AMD, sadly it looks like the wait is still ongoing.
To sum up, from the results in the majority of the benchmark tests and particularly Battlefield 3, this laptop clearly has the specification and power to be a class leader in the Gaming Laptop world, particularly given it's price point. But until fully working drivers are available and tested to ensure the inconsistent performance is a thing of the past, this laptop will struggle. It would have easily won an AVForums Recommended award if the other tests had fallen in line with Battlefield 3 for example, but we just are unable to award a badge with the laptop in its current state.
Value For Money
Our Review Ethos
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