Entertainment, Graphics, Hardware, Reviews

iBuypower Valkyrie CZ-17 Review: An Affordable Gaming Beast

When it comes to most gaming laptops nowadays, the biggest problems tend to be battery life, heat and size. Admittedly, the iBuypower CZ-17 is not a small laptop, but it was never supposed to be. This thing sports a 17" 1080P display, which has a higher pixel density than almost any other monitor out there with the exception of a 20" 4K monitor.

iBuypower sent us this $1459 system featuring at 17.3" 1080P LED backlit matte display. You cannot imagine how many gamers get infuriated with gaming laptops that have glossy screens. For some people, these are a complete deal breaker, and on a laptop you can’t just swap out the display easily. In addition to the display, the Valkyrie CZ-17 features the following specs:

  • 17.3" 1920×1080 LED non-reflective matte display
  • Intel Core i7-3610QM with 4 cores @ 2.3GHz
  • 8GB of DDR3 1333MHz RAM
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 675M with 4GB of VRAM (really just a rebadged GTX 580M)
  • 750GB 7200RPM HDD (optional 2nd HDD or SSD)
  • 6x Blu-ray reader, 8x DVD+/- RW
  • Windows 7 Home Premium with Windows 8 Upgrade Option
  • 802.11 b/g/n WiFi with built-in bluetooth
  • Four-port sound card with mic, headphone out, line-in and line-out
  • Three USB 3.0 ports and two USB 2.0 ports
  • 4-in-1 card reader
  • Gigabit LAN by Qualcomm Atheros with Killer NIC
  • Backlit keyboard and touchpad
  • 3.0 Megapixel webcam
  • 9-cell li-ion battery (3 hour estimated battery life)
  • 1 year limited warranty and lifetime phone support

After we got our laptop, we had some first impressions of it that immediately struck us as surprising.

First Impressions
First, we noticed that it had really good packaging and was very well protected from any kind of shipping scenario short of full submersion. The laptop is very big, however, it looks a lot heavier than it actually is (6.9 lbs with battery). iBuypower did not load the laptop with a ton of bloatware which makes you hate ever having bought a computer from someone to begin with, so a definitely plus there. The software they did include, like the dock for quick settings changes is simply clean and helpful as opposed to intrusive and ugly.

The keyboard on the laptop feels very nice, doesn’t feel cheap at all and has faint outlines for WASD and Arrow keys in addition to being fully backlit. Over time, we also found the touchpad incredibly annoying as it does not seem conducive to typing or even gaming. If you are going to use this keyboard for typing just disable the touchpad, because apparently the touchpad they used does not ignore palm swipes like Synaptics’ does. The click buttons on the touchpad also felt very cheap and mushy, no authoritative clicks nor solid feel to each click.

One thing that did bother us a bit was that upon booting up the laptop, we actually had to run 61 different windows updates, which we found odd for a newly built system. We’re not sure what happened here in terms of quality control, but when I order a system from a system builder I usually expect absolutely every update to have been done before I recieve the laptop.

As we continued to use the laptop, we realized a few other things, including the fact that the speakers are a bit mediocre and you’d probably be better off going through the soundcard. The volume simply isn’t there, which we would eventually figure out was a result of the installed THX audio software, which, once disabled makes the laptop sound normal. Now, pressing the Cinema Pro button does improve audio quality and boosts volume as well bringing it to a decent volume and quality level.

Back I/O (Kensington Lock, Power, Ethernet, VGA, eSATA, HDMI)

Two USB 2.0 ports and Blu-ray drive

(two USB 3.0 ports, memory card reader, USB 3.0 port, audio out, mic, line in, line out)

Having five USB ports is absolutely awesome and makes this laptop feel like a desktop. It’s vritually impossible to run out of USB ports even if you consider that if you connect a gaming keyboard and mouse as well as an external HDD, you’ve still got two USB ports free. It also ran extremely cool under most scenarios like standard web browsing or video watching. The cooling solution appears to be much more effective than many other laptops we’ve used in the past. It also has a middle placed power plug which means it won’t get in the way of your gaming mouse or wires, which makes your gaming experience more enjoyable. However, for those with limited space, this may present an issue with an already large laptop.

LAN Scenario
I took this laptop with me to a LAN to accomp
any my XBOX 360 and was very pleased with it’s ease of use and performance. Overall, this seems to be the perfect LAN system because it not only enables you to go wireless if you need to, but also to go wired with a very good wired NIC from Qualcomm that features Killer NIC’s gaming optimized software. This software enables better ping performance as well as QoS management to allow for downloading at the same time as gaming without any loss of experience.

The backlit keys worked fantastically in a dark room and the display functioned perfectly as a gaming monitor. The only frustrating part for me was actually that I did not have anything that easily transported the laptop. So, if you want to take this laptop around places, you NEED a 17" laptop bag.

We also noticed that without a proper laptop bag, the plastic on the back of the display/monitor tends to scratch, so be mindful of that.

To us, there is no scenario that matters more on a gaming laptop than gaming performance. We didn’t waste our time with any other benchmarks and went straight to game benchmarks. In this review, we’ll be playing Counter Strike: Global Offensive, Max Payne 3 and Batman Arkham City. The first game is the kind of traditional FPS game while the other two are just incredibly GPU intensive and allow us to just stress the hell out of the GPU. We also included Futuremark’s PCMark7 as well as 3DMark 11 to measure overall system performance and 3D performance game independant.

3DMark 11
In 3DMark 11, the iBuypower Valkyrie CZ-17 managed a score of E5579, P3555 and X1119 each of these scores representing a different level of graphical detail. Now, comparing it to the Origin EON-11S that we reviewed, which had a slower GPU and a slightly slower CPU we can see a bit of a difference.

Counter Strike: Global Offensive
In Counter Strike: Global Offensive, we were really able to compare the two laptops, however, it appears that the Origin Laptop did not quite perform as well as the iBuypower system did, which may have been due to thermal limitations. Do note, that both laptops ran the game at absolutely maximum settings even thought there were vast differences in resolution.

Batman Arkham City
In this game, we ran the settings at almost everything set to the highest setting except for we opted for the highest level of FXAA and we opted for normal tessellation.

In Arkham City, we got an expected level of performance with a minimum framerate of 7 FPS and an average of 29 FPS and a maximum of 41. Comparing this to some desktop GPUs we’ve tested in the past, like the GTX 680, we can still see that the minimum framerate still has a ways to go, but the average and maximum framerates are only 50% faster as opposed to 300% faster. This is good news for laptop gamers because it means that they’re every-so-slightly edging towards desktop performance.

Max Payne 3
In Max Payne 3, we ran everything at high settings except for MSAA because we were already running FXAA at high settings.

This game was the newest title that we played on this laptop and we must say, it was pretty enjoyable to play on a laptop and didn’t make us feel like we needed a desktop for gaming at all. Obtaining a minimum framerate of 35 FPS as well as an average of 54 and a max of 100 on the CZ-17, really does give you that ultra-smooth desktop experience most gamers are looking for.

When it came to temperatures, we simply wanted to see what the temperatures of the laptop would be over the course of gaming or extensive stress tests. In our findings, the CPU cores went as high as 66, 70, 66 and 67 degrees celcius, however in less than optimal cooling conditioins, those temperatures edged slighly higher. The GPU itself, however, ran a little bit hotter at 72C, indicating that the GPU is under greater load especially considering the constant 1080P resolution. Thankfully, 4GB of VRAM should help make that task less difficult.

Battery Performance
Going back to the original claims, iBuypower claims that this laptop can do up to 3 hours, which I can safely say is true under light workload scenarios, especially with Nvidia Optimus which only uses the GPU when it’s absolutely necessary.

From what we were able to test, using Futuremark’s Powermark battery benchmark, we were able to get an exact battery life of 2 hours and 25 minutes, which is still quite impressive when you consider the laptop’s overall size, CPU, GPU and screen resolution. A laptop that big shouldn’t last 2 1/2 hours, but it really does. Until you start trying to game, at which point you’ll drain the battery quickly and get awful performance due to throttling.

When it comes to the value of the laptop, iBuypower pretty much wraps up most of the value inside of the computer itself. They don’t include any fancy mouse pads, t-shirts, or dozens of flyers. They send you the laptop you ordered an the necessary power adapter for it. With this laptop coming in at $1459, you’ll be hard pressed to find anything with similar specifications anywhere near that price. Origin has a system with similar specs that comes out to around $1,800 and Alienware has a similar system that comes out to $2,100 but a slightly faster CPU and slightly slower GPU. Needless to say, this laptop is a good $400 cheaper than the nearest competition, and that’s quite a big difference when the laptop only costs $1,400.

When it comes to the iBuypower Valkyrie CZ-17 laptop, there is no doubt that it is a bulky laptop and th
at it comes packed with some serious hardware. The only real problems that this laptop has are the touchpad and battery life. It may be a pretty thick laptop by comparison to something like the Razer Blade, but it also costs half the price. The CZ-17 is a powerful computer that comes at a very affordable price, and if you’re a real gamer, the bad touchpad will easily be disabled in favor of a gaming mouse anyways.

As such we would like to award the iBuypower Valkyrie CZ-17 our enthusiast Editor’s Choice because it is just such a good deal that it puts powerful mobile gaming in the hands of virtually anyone, anywhere.