Introduction and design
“Buy a desktop for power, buy a laptop for mobility,” was the mantra that guided PC gamers’ buying choices – until now. By squeezing its desktop GTX 980 GPU into laptops, Nvidia hasn’t so much thrown a spanner into the works as lobbed the full toolkit.
Configured by UK-based original design manufacturer (ODM) PC Specialist, the Octane II Pro is among the first wave of gaming laptops powered by Nvidia’s desktop-class GPU. Among them are the Origin EON17-SLX, MSI GT72, Aorus X7 DT and Asus’ water-cooled ROG GX700.
These monster machines have one aim: deliver gaming experiences that, until now, have only been possible on beefy desktop PCs.
I’m all for what Nvidia is trying to achieve here. As great as gaming on the go is, laptops leave me with the feeling that I’m not playing the optimal version of a game just so I can play it anywhere.
Rather than buy a gaming laptop with a 980M inside, I’d be tempted to spend extra on a 980-equipped model that delivers a true, desktop-class gaming experience – and I bet many hardcore gamers feel the same.
The trade off — at least, at first — is that early gaming goliaths like the Octane II are going to be big, heavy and expensive. The Octane is a case in point.
A 17-inch monster, it’s accompanied by the type of power brick that helped popularize the term ‘power brick’. Its power supply alone is heavier than some Ultrabooks. Unless you invest in a strong, large backpack, don’t even consider lugging this thing around.
Decked in two-tone black-and-gray, the Octane features a logo-less lid and a thick, solid base that doesn’t flex no matter how hard you prod at it. Outwardly, there isn’t much to suggest that it’s a gaming laptop.
Well, save for an Alienware-styled keyboard font, angled corners and a light-up power button that’s located in a recess under the center of the display. Pressing it feels like powering up the Starship Enterprise.
If you think you’ve seen the Octane II before, it’s probably because you have. Much like Origin (the PC builder) in the states, PC Specialist shares chassis designs with other ODMs. The Octane uses Chinese company Clevo’s P775M1-G chassis, which also features on the Shenker XMG U716 and the Eurocom Sky DLX7.
It’s a little on the bland side compared to the flashier gaming laptops, like the Acer Predator 17 and Asus ROG GX700, that aim for a particular brand of gaming cool. If that doesn’t bother you, the upshot is that you can save a wad of cash here over picking up a similarly-specced GTX 980 laptop from a big-name brand.
Configured with an Intel Core i7-6700K processor, GTX 980 and Full HD (1080p) display, the Octane II costs £1,899 (around $2,648, or AUS$3,669).
Clearly, that’s not spare change, but it is around a third cheaper than the MSI GT72 that comes with a Skylake Core i7-6820HK CPU, GTX 980 and Full HD display for £2,599 (around US$3,568 or AUS$5,023).
The Octane II has another rival: the Origin EON17-SLX. The US-based company’s machine costs $3,463 (around £2,483 or AU$4,809) when configured with an Intel Core i7-6700K chip, a GTX 980 and 16GB of DDR4 RAM.
If you’re looking to pick up a high-end gaming laptop, chances are you’re also considering a 980M-equipped model. The Alienware 17 comes in at £1,782 ($2,299 or AU$3,499) for the configuration with an older Core i7-4710HQ Haswell CPU, Full HD display and 16GB of RAM. Frankly, you’re paying almost as much as the Octane for less power and a flashier design.
Specifications and features
If the Octane II was a Team Fortress 2 character, it would be the Heavy. It packs plenty of muscle, weighs a ton and would probably gobble up 10 “sandviches” an hour if it had a mouth. It’s the chunkiest of our three laptops compared, but only by a whisker.
Measuring 41.8 x 29.53 x 4.9cm (W x D x H – or 16.4 x 11.6 x 1.92 inches), the Octane has roughly the same footprint as the MSI GT72, which also sports a Clevo chassis and measures 42.8 x 29.4 x 4.8cm (16.8 x 11.5 x 1.8 inches). The Alienware 17 is a little longer than both of those machines but is noticeably thinner, measuring 43 x 29.1 x 3.4cm (16.93 x 11.49 x 1.35 inches).
When it comes to weight, the Octane is the greatest machine in need of a diet out of the three. It tips the scales at a massive 3.9kg (8.59 pounds), whereas the GT72 and Alienware 17 both weigh a slightly more palatable 3.78kg (8.33 pounds).
It’s unlikely that you would notice the difference in weight between the three machines, which all require a strong and suitably-sized backpack for transportation. Lifting the Octane II is strictly a two-hand job, as picking it up one-handed not only runs the risk of injury, it leaves you open to dropping and smashing it on the floor.
Here is the configuration of the Octane II Pro sample provided to techradar for review:
- CPU: 4.0GHz Intel Core-i7-6700K (quad-core, 8MB cache, Turbo Boost up to 4.20GHz)
- Graphics: Nvidia GeForce GTX 980 Desktop Edition – (8GB DDR5, DX12, G-Sync)
- RAM: 16GB Kingston HyperX Impact DDR4 (2,133MHz, 2 x 8GB SODIMM)
- Screen: Octane Series 17.3-inch, matte Full HD IPS LED widescreen (1,920 x 1080)
- Storage: 1TB Serial ATA II 2.5-inch HDD (5,400rpm, 8MB cache), 512GB Samsung SM951 M.2 (PCIe NVMe, up to 2,150MB/R, 1550MB/W)
- Ports: 4 x USB 3.0 ports, 1 x USB 3.1 port with Thunderbolt, HDMI-out, 1 x eSATA/USB 3.0 combo port, 2 x DisplayPort 1.2, mic-in, headphone-out, 1 x RJ-45 Ethernet, 1 x S/PDIF-out, Kensington lock slot
- Communications: Gigabit LAN and Wireless Intel AC-8260 M.S, Bluetooth
- Camera: Integrated 2.0MP Full HD webcam
- Weight: 3.78kg (8.33 pounds)
- Size (W x D x H): 41.8 x 29.53 x 4.9cm (16.4 x 11.6 x 1.92 inches)
You’re stuck with the Octane II’s chassis whether you like it or not, but the enormous amount of configuration options on the inside goes some way toward making up for that. Puzzlingly, it’s only available with a 1,920 x 1,080-pixel display.
Laptops with 4K displays have a history of being underpowered and unable to do games justice played at Ultra HD resolution, so it’s ironic that the 4K-capable Octane II tops out with a Full HD panel. On the plus side, it’s a move that helps keep the total cost down and frame rates up.
Our review sample came with an Intel Core i7-6700K chip – currently Intel’s top-of-the-line desktop processor. It can be swapped out for a weaker Intel Core i5 processor to lower the price, and the amount of RAM can be reduced from 16GB to 8GB.
Storage options are equally flexible. There is the choice to add a second hard disk (HDD) or solid-state drive (SSD), ranging from a 500GB spinning HDD all the way up to a 960GB Kingston HyperX Savage SSD. You can’t choose to have an internal DVD or Blu-Ray drive installed, but an external one can be sent along with the machine for an additional cost.
Around the back is a power port that only accepts the power lead if it’s facing upwards. It’s positioned alongside an HDMI-out port, and two DisplayPort connections. On the left-hand side is a sole USB 3.1 port (at least two would have been nice), alongside a headphone port, microphone port, line-in and a Kensington security lock.
Along the right-hand edge is a LAN port, two USB 3.0 ports, a Thunderbolt (USB 3.1) port, an SD card reader and an e-SATA connection. Overall, there are plenty of ports for hooking up peripherals and data transfer, even if they’re not located in the best places.
Performance and benchmarks
Here it is, the reason you’re putting your life’s possessions on eBay and working every extra shift to save up enough cash for the Octane II: performance.
Thanks to the might of its desktop-class processor and GPU, the Octane managed to run each of our test games (except GTA V – we’ll come to that shortly) at 75 frames per second (fps), using Nvidia’s G-Sync to match the refresh rate of the laptop’s display. And they look stunning.
The day-to-day experience of using the Octane II is just as fluid on the desktop. I’m using the Octane II as my main work machine between testing games and anything from editing 4K images in GIMP (using a separate 4K monitor) to typing up documents. I can run multiple browsers with 30 or more tabs open in each, as well as stream 4K video, that are silky smooth with no noticeable slowdown.
Here’s how the PC Specialist Octane II performed in our suite of benchmark tests:
- 3DMark: Cloud Gate: 14,464; Sky Diver: 15,666; Fire Strike: 11,103
- Cinebench R15 CPU: 878 points; Graphics: 74 fps
- GeekBench: 4,309 (single-core); 16,900 (multi-core)
- PCMark 8 (Home Test): 4,972 points
- PCMark 8 Battery Life (conventional): 2 hours, 18 minutes
- Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor (1080p, Ultra): 66 fps; (1080p, low): 299 fps
- GTA V: (1080p, Ultra): 39 fps; (1080p, Low): 136 fps
- 1080p video stream: 2 hours, 50 minutes
Despite being around £300 (around $432, or AUS$604) cheaper, the Octane II came within a whisker of the Origin EON17-SLX’s benchmark scores:
- 3DMark: Cloud Gate: 14,980; Sky Diver: 15,919; Fire Strike: 12,041
- Cinebench R15 GPU: 970 points; Graphics: 74 fps
- Geekbench: 4,704 (single-core): 18,775 (multi-core)
- PC Mark 8 (Home Test): 4,700 points
- PC Mark 8 (Battery Life): 2 hours and 18 minutes
- Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor (1080p, Ultra): 93 fps; (1080p, Low): 299 fps
- GTA V: (1080p, Ultra): 41 fps; (1080p, Low): 172 fps;
- 1080p video store: 2 hours, 29 minutes
When it comes to games, the bottom line is that the Octane II has you covered at 1080p. Its ability to handle games at Full HD is underscored by Cinebench’s 74 fps score, and it was also reflected in each of our in-game benchmark tests.
Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor, often a “banana skin” benchmark that can test even the most powerful 980M-equipped laptops with its vast levels and large textures, outraces the display’s refresh rate on the ‘Ultra’ setting, thanks to its massive 8GB of video memory. There is no tearing either, thanks to G-Sync kicking in.
Don’t be too surprised by the 38.5 fps achieved in our gruelling Grand Theft Auto V benchmark. As techradar’s newest benchmark, it’s designed to tax GPUs to the limit by setting each of the game’s options to maximum, using more than 4.5GB of video memory in the process.
A more realistic gameplay test is conducted by setting GTA V’s graphics options to the max with the exception of its graphics sliders: Population Density, Population Variety and Distance Scaling, etc. The 980 then has no problem humming along at 75 fps synced to the Octane II’s display’s refresh rate, with no stuttering to be seen. It’s a subtle change that has a huge impact on performance.
This is the sort of gameplay experience you’ll have playing most other games. Rise of the Tomb Raider plays without slowdown with every graphics option set to Ultra. Yes: that includes TressFX, for all of Lara’s hair-swishing glory.
I also tried a bout of 4K gaming by hooking up the Octane II to an AOC U2477 Ultra HD monitor. Naturally, the first game I loaded up was Star Wars: Battlefront, which to my delight never dips a single frame set to Ultra. The game’s solo missions look truly incredible – from the highly detailed terrain to weapons that glint in the sun and explosions that look as if they were ripped right from the film – even without the real life mod installed.
Battlefront and Tomb Raider’s gorgeous visuals and fluid frame rates made me feel guilty about briefly considering to put my Dell XPS 15 up for sale. Its GTX 960M chip is unable to max out 1080p, never mind 4K.
A display that just does
The Octane II may not have a 4K display, but its 1080p screen is impressive. It’s pleasingly bright on full beam with excellent color saturation, which makes me wonder why PC Specialist ships the machine with a dull, black logo wallpaper. The display’s deep blacks are quite inky, so perhaps that’s why.
Despite sporting a matte display, the screen is hard to see indoors in direct sunlight on a particularly sunshine-filled day. Expect to have to draw the blinds. Outdoor gaming isn’t really recommended – there are too many reflections, and do you really want to risk it getting wet?
Battery life isn’t so impressive, but then this isn’t a machine that’s designed to go for a long time away from an outlet. I managed to eke out 2 hours and 50 minutes while watching a 1080p looping video in VLC player, so don’t expect to get through Return of the King in one sitting without reaching for a charger.
Sound is pleasingly loud when played from the Octane II’s 2.2-Watt (W) Onkyo speakers. Bass tones aren’t earth shattering, but they’re acceptable, thanks to the 2.5W subwoofer located inside the case.
The Octane II’s Clevo chassis allows for a full-sized keyboard that features keys with fairly short travel but no gaps in-between. Having become accustomed to chiclet-spaced keyboards in recent years, it takes a little time adjusting to the layout – but it’s not uncomfortable to type on once you do.
The Octane II ships with a backlit keyboard standard that provides a decent level of lighting, albeit with heavy bleed around the keys. PC Specialist has since upgraded the Octane II with a backlit, multi-color keyboard, which comes standard.
Page 4 of 4: Verdict
There’s no doubt about it: the Octane II is an absolute beefcake. It’s not cheap, but it does represent better value than most other 980-equipped gaming laptops doing the rounds. There are clear trade-offs to owning a machine of this power, so you’ll have to decide whether they’re worth it for you.
A desk-bound battlestation posing as a laptop, the Octane II is as powerful as portable gaming machines come. Able to chew through modern titles at 1080p with graphics dialled up to 11, it can even do games justice at 4K resolution using an external monitor.
Its matte, Full HD display is bright and packed full of color, with excellent viewing angles. It’s a great feeling knowing that you can jump on Steam and play any game as it was designed to be played without worrying about stuttering frame rates – and even better that you can experience that anywhere, any time. The Octane II has a decent, but not exhaustive, amount of ports – and they’re easy to get to.
To call the Octane II heavy is kind; it really doesn’t lend itself to being transported around, which is sort of the point of a laptop. Lugging it around requires a deep, strong backpack and a fully-functioning spine, such is its weight. Gaming laptops with Nvidia’s 980M inside have slimmed down a lot recently, so consider whether the undeniable heft is worth the additional performance of the GTX 980.
Other gripes are relatively minor: its speakers are decent, but not particularly earth-shattering considering its size – you’ll still want a dedicated gaming headset. Another USB port on the left-hand side of the chassis would have been welcomed, as would one around the back. And, with more laptops adopting USB-C, it’s a shame to see such future-proofing absent on the Octane II.
There aren’t too many gaming laptops around packing Nvidia’s GTX 980 GPU. From what I’ve seen of the Octane II, it’s well worth the extra money over a 980M, if it’s performance you crave. The Octane II puts 4K, and especially 1080p, gaming squarely on the menu with every graphics effect flicked on. It’s just a shame that you’ll have to hook up a monitor to get the Ultra HD experience.
As expected, the Octane II is more affordable than 980 laptops from the big name players – such as the MSI GT72 and Origin EON17-SLX. So, though it costs a lot, it stands as the cheapest way to get your hands on incredible gaming power.
So long as you don’t mind putting up with the Octane II’s comparatively bland look, you’ll get just as much performance for less money. Just remember to start doing those push-ups today: you’ll need them to lug this one around.