Review: Gigabyte P37X v5

Introduction and design

The Gigabyte P37X series has been around for a few years now. Just like last year’s model, the 2016 Gigabyte P37X v5 is a gaming laptop for ‘real’ gamers.

With a GTX 980M GPU, graphics performance in a laptop frame doesn’t get much better than this. It’s also a lot less of a shoulder-ache burden than a lot of similarly-specced alternatives like the Asus G752 and Acer Predator G9-751 laptops.

If you’re after a seriously powerful 17-inch gaming laptop that doesn’t make moving the thing feel about as convenient as moving house, the Gigabyte P37X v5 is worth considering. However, if you just want something for at home, the questionable trackpad and fan approach mean there might be a better choice for your needs.

We’re looking at the top-end model, which costs around £1,650 (about US$2,350, AU$3,440).

Gigabyte P37X v4 ports

Design

I had the pleasure of looking at the last-generation Gigabyte P37X v5 back in 2015. The look hasn’t really changed since then. If you’re looking for something bold and aggressive-looking, you’re in the wrong place. However, if you want a laptop you can take out in polite company and not feel as though you’re publicising a secret gaming addiction, step right up.

Aside from the macro gaming keys and the ever-so-slightly bold heat outlets above the keyboard, you might not bat an eye if someone told you this was a business laptop. It’s pretty plain. Some of you will think it’s boring, but the low-key design has actually spurred me to take the Gigabyte P37X v5 out to a coffee shop and pub to do a bit of work. The number of 17-inch gaming laptops you’d want to do this with could probably be counted on one hand.

While this is among the most ‘portable’ large-screen machines with GTX 980M cards you’ll find, that portability is all about weight and thickness, not footprint. The fairly wide screen surround and that it can fit in both NUM pad and a column of macro keys tell you this isn’t a hugely dynamic design. It was a stretch to fit the Gigabyte P37X v5 into a rucksack.

Gigabyte P37X v4 rear

The Gigabyte P37X v5 is ‘just’ 23mm thick and weighs 2.8kg. Neither of those seems too impressive when you look at fashionable Ultrabook-style devices like the Microsoft Surface Book, but it’s pretty remarkable for a hardcore gaming laptop. Alternatives might weigh a good 700g more and be a centimetre thicker.

Are there sacrifices? Of course there are, we’ll cover them later.

Connectivity-wise you get a good spread from the Gigabyte P37X v5. There are three USB 3.0 ports, a good old fashioned Ethernet socket plus VGA, HDMI and Mini DisplayPort video outputs. The one obvious addition for this year is the very ‘of the moment’ USB 3.0 connector. This is crammed into what is very obviously a standard USB frame cut-out, using a bright orange adapter. Not subtle, is it?

Construction style is very low-key, because in theory the average buyer is going to be more concerned with FPS performance in The Witcher 3 than how fancy the Gigabyte P37X v5 looks and feels. However, it’s not the mostly-plastic affair you might presume looking at pictures. Both the lid and keyboard surround are black textured metal, with an anodised-style rather than brushed finish.

The finish does catch the light, but doesn’t draw the eye too much. Its underside is plastic, but, contrary to what you might expect, the Gigabyte P37X v5 actually uses a lot more external metal than most gaming laptops.

Gigabyte P37X v4 DVD drive

For all its ‘thin and light’ claims, it doesn’t trade away flexibility as part of the deal. The version of the Gigabyte P37X v5 I’m using has a DVD Super Multi writer in it (a rare beast these days), but it’s hot-swappable. The drive sits in a little plastic frame you can pull right out of the body with the flick of a switch on the underside, and in the box you get a secondary frame you can mount an SSD or 2.5-inch HDD into. Clever.

Given the number of SSD deals we see every month, offering a very easy way to upgrade the storage seems sensible. This is nothing new, though, having featured in the v3 version as well.

Specifications and features

The Gigabyte P37X v5’s lead appeal is its mammoth GPU. The version I’m looking at has the GeForce GTX 980M. It was used in the last-generation models but is still the fastest laptop GPU you can get your hands on.

What levels-up this year’s P37X is an upgrade to the latest Intel Core Skylake generation of processors, an Intel Core i7-6700HQ in this particular spec. This is a 2.6GHz CPU right by the top of Intel’s laptop line-up.

It’s about as much power as you’ll get from a standard consumer-grade laptop. As good as the Gigabyte P37X v5 is for gaming, it’ll be great for video and photo editing too. Whatever you like, really. It’s not going to challenge a desktop of a similar grade, of course, but to expect that would be unrealistic.

That applies to the particular spec I’m using, which has a good deal of meat to it. There’s 16GB DDR4, and a 256GB SSD paired with a slow-and-steady 1TB HDD. It’s a 7200rpm drive too, not that this faster drive speed makes it anything but slug-like compared to the SSD.

Gigabyte P37X v4 trackpad

Spec sheet

  • Processor: 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-6700HQ (quad-core, 6MB cache, up to 3.5GHz with Turbo Boost)
  • Graphics: NVIDIA® GeForce GTX 980M GDDR5 8GB
  • RAM: 16GB DDR4 2133MHz
  • Screen: 17.3-inch, 1920 x 1080 (123 ppi) PixelSense Display
  • Storage: 256GB PCIe3.0 SSD, 1TB SATA HDD
  • Ports: 2x USB 3.0, 2x USB 2.0 , HDMI, D-sub, RJ45, Mic-in, Earphone-out (SPDIF), SD Card Reader, DC-in Jack, Mini DisplayPort
  • Connectivity: 802.11ac 2×2 MIMO Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, Gigabit Ethernet
  • Camera: HD webcam
  • Weight: 2.8kg
  • Size: 12.3 x 9.14 x 0.51-0.90 (W x D x H) (417 x 287 x 22.5 mm)

Most of you probably know about the benefits of SSDs over HDDs: the Gigabyte P37X v5’s SSD reads at up to 2238MB/s and writes at up to 1277MB/s while the HDD reads at 142MB/s and reads at 132MB/s. No competition.

The star of the show is the GeForce GT980M, though. This GPU lets you play any game available (as of January 2016) with every visual effect switched on and still get more-than playable frame rates. Want to play The Witcher 3 with fancy things like Nvidia HairWorks switched on? The Gigabyte P37X v5 can handle that.

Keyboard and trackpad

One of the trade-offs of the Gigabyte P37X v5’s slim frame is that it has quite a shallow keyboard. It’s a lot more like that of a slim portability-obsessed laptop than chunky gamer alternatives. Key movement is minimal, and the feedback pretty light. If you want a laptop keyboard that feels as close to a mechanical keyboard possible, look elsewhere.

After a few days’ use I bedded into it, though. It feels slight, but is comfortable enough to type on for several hours. The arrow keys also seem to have a slightly different, firmer action to the rest, to give you a more definite sense of feedback during gaming (the WASD crew have standard action). As you can see in the photos, the Gigabyte P37X v5 has a full numerical keypad, and a series of specific gaming buttons to the left of the normal keys.

Gigabyte P37X v4 keyboard

While the idea is you’ll map a series of keypresses onto these macro buttons to improve your performance in games, you can also use them to run apps and perform basic commands like ‘play/pause’, ‘zoom in’, paste and so on.

There aren’t six macro presets, either, but 25. The top button lights-up in different colours to denote different groups of the five macro buttons below. As with the slide-out optical/SSD tray, all of this was in-place in the 2015 P37X too. And you can turn the LED off if you don’t want to attract any attention.

The Gigabyte P37X v5 also has a keyboard backlight. This isn’t a perfect keyboard, but it feels a fair trade for the portability bonuses. It’s the trackpad that might become more of a sticking point. While the surface has the kind of textured glass I expect at this sort of price, the button style is finicky.

The Gigabyte P37X v5 tries to excuse the issues of a pad with integrated buttons by applying a bobbly texture to the bottom strip, as if they’re only meant to be pressed down there. There’s also a great big deliberate dead zone in-between the left and right buttons, presumably designed to make sure you never press the wrong one by accident.

This is a trackpad with a bit of a learning curve, and for the first few days I found it quite frustrating. The button action only really feels good towards the bottom. If you can press the Gigabyte P37X v5’s track pad in the middle, shouldn’t doing so not feel weirdly stiff and awkward?

The trackpad was not a highlight last year, and this new version seems only a superficial upgrade.

Performance

As with any laptop running an Intel HQ-series CPU, the Gigabyte P37X v5’s fans run all the time. That includes when it’s totally idle. It’s a light whirr, and I did find that when just doing basic productivity tasks the level of noise seems to be more consistent than the v3 model. This may be down to the efficiency improvements in Skylake-gen CPUs, which step up (/down) to a 14nm architecture.

Benchmarks

  • 3DMark: Cloud Gate: 23,211; Sky Diver: 21,867; Fire Strike: 7,472
  • Cinebench CPU: 673cb; GPU: 63.79
  • GeekBench: 3,721 (single-core); 10,588 (multi-core)
  • PCMark 8 (Home Test): 2,531 points
  • PCMark 8 Battery Life: 3 hours 51 minutes
  • Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor (1080p, Ultra): 69.61; (1080p, Low): 118.3 fps
  • Metro: Last Light (1080p, Ultra): 82.3 fps; (1080p, Low): 118.3 fps

After using the laptop for basic, undemanding work for around three hours, the fans were still a little louder than I’d like. And you can feel the fans’ light vibration under the keyboard surround, which may be distracting. You don’t get the thin-ness for free here.

This becomes all the more obvious under pressure. Play a demanding game for a while and those fans get pretty loud, which can be annoying if you’re listening through the internal speakers rather than a pair of headphones or a headset.

A laptop this slim was always going to struggle a little when dealing with the heat of such a powerful system. Make sure you’ll value the extra hit of portability over less intrusive fans.

The speakers don’t have the power to compete with the fans well either. They don’t go hugely loud, don’t seem to expand beyond the laptop’s dimensions and don’t add much bass like other ‘sub’ equipped speakers. The tone is perfectly fine; the rest is basic.

Gigabyte P37X v4 display

Battery life

It almost goes without saying that the Gigabyte P37X v5 doesn’t offer great stamina. Pretty much nothing in its specs or design is really out for all-day stamina. It’s not what gamer laptops are about.

It could be worse, though. Using the same 30 per cent brightness I found right for general indoors use, the Gigabyte P37X v5 lasts for four hours 25 minutes off a charge. This was when I was using the laptop for my usual work: lots of writing, a little browsing, a little email.

Moving the brightness up to the 50 per cent mark, it lasts for 3 hours 51 minutes using the PC Mark 8 battery drain test, designed to simulate general work use: browsing, emails and so on. It’s a fair enough result for a laptop of this grade, but is naturally not something you’ll get a full day’s work use out of.

Switch to a demanding game and you’ll get at most a couple of hours’ use off a charge.

Display

Several gaming laptops of the moment are starting to upgrade to 4K displays. However, the Gigabyte P37X v5 we’re reviewing sticks with 1080p. There’s a 4K option, but it’ll cost you around £1,900 (US$2,706), around a £200 ($285) upgrade.

From a pure gaming standpoint, this is probably for the best. Even the mighty GeForce GTX980M doesn’t have enough power to play the more demanding recent games at 4K resolution without a major frame rate hit, or downgrading visual effects. Lesser titles would run fine, of course, but then you run into the question: is it worth spending an extra X hundred pounds or dollars (or double that) when the games you buy a laptop like this for still really need to run at 1080p?

In other words, don’t rule out 1080p laptops just yet.

Gigabyte P37X v4 front

If you want something to use as a day-to-day work PC as well as a gaming one, the resolution is more of a disappointment. A 4K screen makes text look very sharp and clean on a 17.3-inch display, but a 1080p panel appears very clearly pixelated.

If you’re already using, say, a Retina MacBook Pro or a high-PPI display Ultrabook, the difference will be very obvious and pretty jarring.

Other aspects of the Gigabyte P37X v5 display are good, though. It offers great colour saturation, with deep-but-natural looking colours and very clearly capable of covering much more of, say, the Adobe RGB gamut than an entry-level IPS laptop.

Contrast is good and the black level is great, although I do find that matt-finish screens like this make the ever-so-slightly bluish tone to blacks more obvious when displaying a pretty dark scene. Still, a matt finish means you can game whenever you like without reflections becoming an issue, and top brightness is very good indeed. Writing this review in a fairly well-lit room I have the display at 30 per cent brightness and even that seems brighter than is really necessary.

Like most of its ‘serious’ gaming rivals, the Gigabyte P37X v5 doesn’t have a touchscreen. As with the resolution, it’s optimised for gaming, not the ‘lifestyle’ crowd’s expectations.

Verdict

We liked

This is a serious gaming laptop, with the GPU power to take your comfortably into 2017. While the GPU cap is the same as last year, with the GeForce GTX 980M starring, it remains a seriously impressive graphics chipset.

More specific to the P37X, the hot-swap drive bay afford you pretty good flexibility, particularly for a laptop reasonably slim and light.

Is it portable? Not really, but it’s far easier to lug around than most gaming laptops. And while the battery life of 4-5 light use hours isn’t great, it is also better than many of last year’s big rigs.

We disliked

A few little areas haven’t improved quite enough since last year. The trackpad still feels awkward, the speakers are nothing special and while some of your will enjoy the look, it’s not dynamic or even particularly stylish within the boundaries of its low-key remit.

The slim and light tax comes into play with you start gaming too, with the P37X just getting hotter and louder than some larger machines.

Final verdict

Not a lot has changed since last year’s take on the form, but the Gigabyte P37X v5 remains a good pick if you want an altogether slimmer, less aggressive-looking gaming laptop.

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