In and Around the iBuyPower Valkyrie CZ-17

Say what you will about the iBuyPower Valkyrie CZ-17, but say this: it's not exactly a looker. Utilizing a slightly modified MSI GT70 chassis, it's unfortunately still a poster child for why many Taiwanese firms (outside of ASUS) still can't quite seem to catch fire on western shores. The aesthetic is gaudy in places, chintzy in others, and unfortunately just don't gel. Alienware notebooks may not be everyone's cup of tea, but they have a consistent, clear aesthetic and they don't look cheap.

That lack of attention to aesthetics is evident on MSI's own GT70 page, which overflows with features but only remarks on the keyboard's backlighting. iBuyPower has done what they can to mitigate it; the plastic lid features two glowing stripes and a glowing iBuyPower logo, while the rest of the chassis is largely matte black plastic. Thankfully, glossy plastic is kept to a minimum, confined to the inner bezel of the display, the keyboard bezel, and the touch-based control strip above the keyboard.

The control strip is one of the other aspects that's different on iBuyPower's build; the MSI version has a stripe, logo, and an oversized power button, but the iBuyPower version is much cleaner. The touchpad buttons are the other place where a change has been made, but this time it may not be for the better; two dedicated buttons and a backlit accent have been replaced by a larger backlit accent and essentially a single rocker for the left and right click. It's cleaner looking, but less functional.

These complaints are all before you get into the staggering 2.2" thickness of the notebook, but I would argue that thickness plus its wedge shape help it to run both cooler and quieter than the competing Alienware M17x R4, so I take it as a wash. The bottom line as far as aesthetics is that the CZ-17 is by and large not for show. Thankfully it has a great personality.

The two places where the CZ-17 excels are two of the aspects that matter most: the keyboard and the display. The keyboard appears to still be using MSI's licensed SteelSeries design, and it has a depth and feel to it that's miles ahead of the other gaming notebooks I've used. Mechanical keyboards just aren't going to happen in notebooks, but I was pleasantly surprised at the tactile response of the CZ-17's. The backlighting is also configurable similar to Alienware's. Where it takes a hit is the layout, which gives Insert, Pause/Break, and Scroll Lock dedicated keys while forcing Page Up and Page Down to share with Home and End as Fn combos. There are other quirks to the keyboard's layout, but essentially it appears to just be an international skeleton that's barely customized to a North American layout; there's a backslash key both above the Enter key and next to the spacebar, where the key next to the spacebar would be an alphabet toggle on East Asian keyboards. Despite my misgivings with the layout, though, the keyboard remains very comfortable to use.

The CZ-17's other victory is the display. MSI's CZ-17 appears to use the same panel as the Samsung Series 7 that we looked at last week, and it was one of the highlights of that laptop. While the measurements are solid if not exceptional, and we're still on a TN panel, it's nice to see a matte display on a gaming notebook after coping with the glossy display on my M17x R3 for so long. The M17x R3's glossy edge-to-edge surface photographs great and seems cool initially, but its reflective nature and penchant for picking up fingerprints and dirt makes it problematic over time.

Ultimately I continue to be disappointed by the relatively cheap plastic used for the majority of the shell. It still feels much more solid than older Clevo units did, which were powerful hardware in a candy shell, but the CZ-17 just isn't that much fun to look at. Like I said, though, the display and keyboard are excellent and I find the notebook to be very comfortable to use in practice.

Introducing the iBuyPower Valkyrie CZ-17 Application and Futuremark Performance
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  • xTRICKYxx - Tuesday, August 21, 2012 - link

    I don't understand why they chose a rebranded 580M over the 7970M....
    And 4GB of VRAM is absolutely overkill for 1920x1080 even with maxed anti-aliasing.

    The pricing is actually quite good for what you get, but the 7970M is cheaper and beats the 675M....
  • Mugur - Tuesday, August 21, 2012 - link

  • Freakie - Tuesday, August 21, 2012 - link

    This. Once AMD can compete on the battery front, then they will find themselves very successful in this market because in this economy, people want to merge devices into one package and having a gaming rig with low battery life is hard to justify over a dedicated desktop for gaming and a laptop for when you're somewhere else. But if you throw in 4+hrs of 720p video watching, then suddenly you can combine your two devices and save some money in the mean-time.

    But of course, AMD has to completely change the way they do Drivers to pull that off. Nvidia has done damned good work on their drivers to get Optimus to work so smoothly, and it took a few hiccups along the way. And as we've seen with AMD, they really suck at implementing new software features over a whole family of products.

    But I of course await the day when AMD can become more competitive :)
  • jtd871 - Tuesday, August 21, 2012 - link

    I was actually shopping this unit w/ the 7970m within the past 24hrs as a replacement for my 5-yo lappie (ThinkPad T61p with Core 2 and Quadro NVS140M - don't laugh still runs great for older stuff).

    However, I then learned about the recent Enduro (AMDs Optimus) issues with laptops using the 7970m (and possibly all GCN dGPUs), and stopped shopping as seriously until such time as AMD works out their issues with Enduro.

    That having been said, I'm still glad to have Dustin's opinion on the rest of the build.
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, August 21, 2012 - link

    I'm meeting with AMD tomorrow to discuss Enduro/Switchable Graphics, so hopefully they'll have something to tell/show me in regards to drivers. [Crosses fingers...]
  • mpschan - Tuesday, August 21, 2012 - link

    I'm sure you're planning on it already, but please let us know if there are any developments on that front (assuming no NDA of course). AMD desperately needs this feature in the mobile space.
  • TheHolyLancer - Wednesday, August 22, 2012 - link

    As an owner of a saiger NP9170 w7970m that is having massive driver issues (since the NP9170 is optimus enabled, and something about how the output from the GPU has to go thru the IGP....)

    I would love to know what will their response to this issue.

    ATM, I have to run the old custom version of the driver from saiger as the newest offcial driver will not install willingly, if I force it by pointing the driver update to an extracted driver folder's right location and update to the newest version, I get issues if I run two copies of eve online (or two copies any any two game that uses discreet). The performance boost is very nice tho, granted at the point it was more like 100 fps vs 60-70 fps so I reverted to the old driver that lets me run multiple games at the same time without crashing badly.
  • jtd871 - Tuesday, August 21, 2012 - link

    Whoops, must have confused this with the Origin/Sager/AVA machines. iBuyPower doesn't show AMD graphics as an option for the CZ-17...
  • hardwareguy - Tuesday, August 21, 2012 - link

    My M17xR4 with the 7970 can hit about 4 hours on battery with pretty high web use and visual studio. Buddy with same laptop who does everything through RDP gets about an extra hour.
  • xTRICKYxx - Tuesday, August 21, 2012 - link

    Nice! I didn't know the Walter White got an Alienware.

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