Monday, 30 September 2013

Gigabyte P34G Ultrablade laptop

Key specifications

  • Gigabyte P34G Ultrablade laptop
  • 14 inch 1920x1080 AHVA (IPS) matte display
  • Intel Haswell Core i7-4700HQ CPU with integrated Intel HD 4600 graphics
  • NVidia GeForce GTX 760M discrete graphics with Optimus support
  • 16GB DDR3 1600MHz RAM
  • 256GB mSATA SSD
  • Space for a 2.5 inch x 9.5mm SATA HDD (I purchased and installed a Seagate 1TB 5400rpm SSHD)
  • 21mm thickness
  • 1.76kg weight (including HDD)

Reasons for choosing it

This laptop is replacing a 5 year old Lenovo Thinkpad T61 which has a brilliant keyboard and touchpad (including middle mouse button) and average 15.4 inch 1680x1050 TFT screen with poor viewing angles and quite dull display.  With its slow (by today's standards) Core 2 Duo CPU, slow 256GB HDD, only 4GB RAM (with no possibility to upgrade) and pretty much dead battery (lucky to get 5 minutes out of it) it was time to upgrade.

I was originally tempted by the 15 inch Macbook Pro Retina, but ruled it out due to the price.  Next I considered the new generation of Haswell Thinkpads, which have been announced, but have not yet been released.  I have only ever owned Thinkpad laptops before (previously an IBM T40) and have always been very happy with them, in particular build quality, keyboard and touchpad, so was a bit hesitant to go for something else.  The models I was considering are the T440s and T440p.

I decided to go for a 14 inch model rather than 15.6 inch because I wanted something a bit thinner and lighter than my current Thinkpad.  Also it seems to have become almost impossible to get a 15 inch laptop without a numeric keypad, even the new Thinkpads have them.  I want to have my right hand on the right-hand side of the keyboard when typing, not over on the left with my wrist twisted into an RSI-inducing position.

Requirements for my ideal laptop

  • 14 inch (at least) 1920x1080 (at least) matte IPS display (with good viewing angles and reasonable colour gamut, suitable for photo editing)
  • Haswell Core i7 CPU, preferably quad core
  • Preferably at least 16GB RAM
  • At least 256GB SSD and preferably option for an additional HDD or larger SSD
  • No numeric keypad
  • Reasonably thin (prefer < 25mm) and light (prefer < 2kg)

Reasons I chose the Gigabyte over the Thinkpad models

  • Decent quad core CPU (T440s has a ULV dual core CPU, T440p will probably have the 4700MQ which is not much different to the 4700HQ on the P34G)
  • 16GB RAM standard (T440s maxes out at 12GB, T440p supports up to 16GB, but at extra cost)
  • Similar size and weight to T440s (T440p is a fair bit thicker and heavier)
  • Option for 256 GB SSD and 1TB HDD (in the Thinkpads you have to choose one or the other and 256GB seems a bit small if you're doing lots of photo editing and want space for virtual machines and/or Windows/Linux dual boot)
  • It's available now, Thinkpads not expected to be available until at least November.
  • At $1700 it's probably about $1000 less than I'd expect to pay for one of the new Thinkpads with similar specs.

First thoughts

  • Case feels very solid, despite being so thin and light.  Seems to have very good build quality and no noticeable flex.
  • Display is bright and crisp with good viewing angles.  There is some backlight leakage along the bottom and in the top right corner, but only noticeable when looking at a very dark screen in a very dark room.  There is one bright green stuck pixel in the centre-left of the display, but again is only noticeable when looking at very dark images (although I never noticed any stuck/dead pixels on either of my Thinkpads).
  • Keyboard is not nearly as good as either of my previous Thinkpad keyboards, but then I don't think anything is these days.  I'm sure it will be ok, although I've noticed that occasionally pressing letters near the centre (e.g. N, M) will result in a double press being registered.  Page Up, Page Down, Home and End keys are only accessible by using the arrow keys with the Fn button pressed.  I think that is pretty typical these days (my colleague's new Dell XPS is the same), but it seems strange given how essential these keys are for navigation.  I think Page Up and Page Down can be emulated via 3-finger swiping on the touchpad, so maybe I'll get used to it.
  • Touchpad seems unresponsive at first, especially for two-finger scrolling.  However, after some adjustments it seems to be ok.  I miss the middle mouse button on the Thinkpad, but it can be emulated with a three-finger tap.  Something else to get used to I guess.  The touchpad is huge compared to what I'm used to.  I keep accidentally touching it while typing, which leads to unexpected and annoying behaviour.  Will need to do some tweaking to the palm detection settings to avoid this.
  • Windows 8 starts up very quickly and feels snappy, but how do I actually use it?  They seem to have made the most useful functionality deliberately hard to find.  Will need to get Linux on here ASAP.
  • Despite having two massive fans, with two massive air vents at the back (one each for the CPU and GPU), the machine is almost silent when idling.  I suspect the fan noise will pick up when I put the CPU and GPU to some serious use.
  • The hard drive was very easy to install: remove about 15 screws and take off the back cover.  Plug HDD into the SATA cable and slot into place.  Replace the cover and screws.  I plan to use the HDD as secondary storage for my photos and a Windows VM or two so most of the time it's not spinning and the machine is quiet.  You definitely know when it spins up though – it's quite noisy.

Still to come...

I plan to write a follow-up post on my experience installing Ubuntu GNU/Linux on this machine.

Update 2013-10-3: Blog post on Ubuntu installation is now available
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