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Review: EVGA SC17 Gaming Laptop

TL;DR

  • Sports Intel’s top unlocked mobile CPU, the i7-6820HK
  • The hardware inside includes a GTX 980M, 32GB DDR4 RAM, 256 M.2 NVMe SSD and a 1TB HDD backup
  • Sports a host of inputs including a USB 3.1 via a USB-C plug, but no Thunderbolt 3, which is a disappointment
  • Clocks in at a big 8.14lbs and 1.05” thick
  • PerformanceX software right on the desktop

The EVGA SC17 laptop landed in my hands less than 24 hours ago and I couldn’t wait to give you guys a quick review of the new beast from the house of Classified GPUs. First, the $2700 SC17 is EVGA’s first laptop and a serious contender for best 17” gaming laptop out there. EVGA knew entering the bloody waters of gaming laptops would be met with many a shady glance, so they had to make sure their SC17 was a legitimate contender and not just a knock-off or rebranded generic laptop. And at $2700, you better come ready to play because we’re in ultimate laptop territory.

Instead of going with typical designs or outsourcing the engineering, EVGA designed 100% of the laptop themselves. Good idea or complete foolishness? Let’s take a look.

A SPEC MONSTER

First, let’s talk digits. The SC17 sports Intel’s top unlocked mobile CPU, the i7-6820HK. Additionally, the hardware inside includesa GTX 980M, 32GB DDR4 RAM, 256 M.2 NVMe SSD and a 1TB HDD backup. That’s pretty buff but nothing too crazy like SLI or triple RAID. As for the screen, it’s a matte finish 4K IPS 17” affair. No G-Sync screen but EVGA says it may come a little later.

The laptop also sports a host of inputs including USB 3.1 via a USB-C plug. No Thunderbolt 3 which is a bit of a disappointment. It does have double mini DisplayPorts, including one that provides G-Sync out to a companion G-Sync monitor. Of course, it also has HDMI, USB 3.0 and headphone jacks. And the sweetest, slimmest power brick around (check out the pic at the bottom).

As for size, the laptop clocks in at a big 8.14lbs and 1.05” thick. By ditching the optical drive and going with the unibody construction, the EVGA SC17 is competing against other slim ultra-performance laptops in the market. “Slim” is a misnomer, this thing is heavy and huge by any standards, including gaming laptop standards. So keep that in mind. To me, the EVGA is just too dang heavy for normal backpack use, but, then again, I have weak gamer legs. But for mobile competitive players and coffee shop warriors, 8lbs is better than 10lbs of some competing laptops.

SERIOUS QUALITY, SERIOUS STYLING

Let’s get right to it — this laptop is an absolute show-stopper when it comes to build quality. The other players in the market are stuck using plastic with a faux metal finish. EVGA, however, went with fancy and expensive unibody alloy construction. This means the main body of the SC17 is one giant slab of metal finished in semi-gloss black.  When I unboxed this thing from the luxe packaging, you could practically hear jaws dropping around the office. Even though it’s black on black, the SC17 stands out as something special. Pics really don’t do it justice.

That said, while it’s a step above the likes of the ASUS GL752, Acer Predator 17 and MSI GT72s, it’s not quite as refined as the Macbook Pro the EVGA is clearly inspired by. Of course, Macs for gaming (or performance really) are a joke. But the aluminum unibody build quality on the Macs is the industry standard and the benchmark EVGA is clearly aiming for.

Also, I’m glad EVGA didn’t take the easy route and throw on some red vents to identify this as a “gamer” product like other brands do. And I’m especially proud they didn’t go insane with dragons or fangs or other embellishments. I’ve been asking for a luxury ultra performance laptop for ages.

The EVGA SC17 is the laptop the PC market deserves.

MECHANICAL KEYBOARD LOVE

I’m typing on the SC17’s amazing near-mechanical keys right now and it’s like typing on a slab of granite. I’m a hard core mechanical keyboard fan and the EVGA keys feel absolutely fantastic. This little touch really speaks to the amount of time EVGA went into designing a complete product. While these aren’t typical Cherry/Gateron/Topre switches, they’re clearly a step above any of the other laptop scissor switches on the market.

Really, this is the best laptop keyboard I’ve used, hands down.

EVGA SC17 Gaming Laptop Specs

  • NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980M 8 GB GDDR5
  • Intel Core i7 6820HK Skylake-H Mobile Unlocked CPU
  • 32 GB Memory 1 TB HDD 256 GB SSD
  • 17.3" 4K/UHD
  • 16.00" x 11.60" x 1.05" 8.00 lbs.

OVERCLOCK THE BEAST

Because it’s EVGA, you’re getting a world’s first easy to access laptop GUI BIOS for overclocking. No joke, you got your voltages and multipliers right in front of you for all kinds of late nights tweaking to squeeze out the last bit of performance.

You also have their PerformanceX software right on the desktop. That’s the fancy interface you see here. It’s available at any time without powering down. It lets you move between overclocking settings and tweak certain functions.

You can also use PerformanceX to change the lighting, like pulsing the white keyboard LEDs or turning off the EVGA logo. But who wants to turn off the EVGA logo? Not me.

Of course, with great power comes great responsibility…to not fry your new laptop. This is a laptop, after all, not a copper blocked graphics card in your custom case with fans and mobos and water loops like glowing gerbil tubes.

Meaning, the laptop cooling limits will be uniform from person to person. It’s clear EVGA is really leveraging their desktop OC software experience to take the overclock wars from desktops to laptops.

ZERO EFFORT OVERCLOCK

This has to be absolutely the easiest performance boost ever. Some have BIOS buttons, others have custom software, some even have a big button. But a typical button is just on and off. What’s better than one button? Multiple buttons.

Here, EVGA mapped the up and down arrow function keys typically used for sound or screen brightness to scroll through overclock settings. Simple clicks boost your unlocked CPU and GPU. A click down and you “DownClock” your laptop for max battery life. A click up and you access SuperClock. Another click up and you’re into the custom profiles.

Since my time with the laptop was very constricted, I satisfied my curiosity with the standard features without getting too crazy into EVGA’s BIOS.

When I unboxed this thing from the luxe packaging, you could practically hear jaws dropping around the office. Even though it’s black on black, the SC17 stands out as something special. Pics really don’t do it justice.

SUPERCLOCK IS EASY CLOCK

SuperClock is EVGA’s easy overclocking option and the one most of the non-hardcore gamers out there. Basically, just set the overclocking screen to “SuperClock” and you get a nice little performance boost. What kind of boost?

3DMark 11 Fire Strike Ultra 4K:
EVGA SC17 3DMARK Regular Setting: 2323
EVGA SC17 3DMARK Superclock Setting: 2486

So with SuperClock you get a solid 7%+ boost without even trying. Not a huge amount but a safe amount.

VR READY? MAKE IT HAPPEN

Let’s talk VR requirements. For reference, here’s 3DMark’s minimum score for VR gaming: 2596

As you can see, the SuperClock setting at 2486 is only 4.4% away from getting to the hallowed VR requirements. Of course, VR is a bit of a moving target, so I wouldn’t be surprised if most VR games run just fine on the superclocked EVGA.

Naturally, you can get even crazier with your clock speeds. I haven’t had a chance to set up my own custom overclock profiles to see if I can get up to VR levels. But the day is young so I’ll either get it up to speed or set the laptop on fire.

I’m sure there will be recipes for safe overclocks to hit VR numbers all over the web. Personally, I can’t wait, this is seriously cool functionality in a flipping laptop.

SILENCE IS GOLDEN

If you’ve ever used an EVGA GTX card, you know EVGA is all about smart air cooling (and watercooling but that’s for another time). With the SC17, after a number of 4K Ultra runs, I couldn’t get this laptop to become annoying. “Annoying” isn’t a typical benchmark but, to me, it’s an important subjective threshold for gaming laptops. Sure, some have big numbers but they double as industrial white noise machines.

Here, EVGA remains pretty quiet. In fact, the internal HDD’s spinning is more prevalent at times, which is in and of itself annoying. I’d rather have no backup HDD than deal with the spinning, but that’s just me.

That said, if you enable “Fan Boost” in PrecisionX, the fan becomes crazy loud. I guess this feature is for overclockers to know they’re getting max fan action and not leaving it up to the system to decide. You’ll also get some loud fan noise when really pushing the gaming, but for the most part the laptop keeps the noise down.

STEREO IS GOLDEN

EVGA’s speakers using two drivers on the left and right of the trackpad as well as a “subwoofer” under the bottom lip provided some quality laptop sound. Of course, the “subwoofer” is anything but. It’s really more of a third speaker placed under your right hand.

The triple driver setup does cause the stereo imaging to shift to the right where the third driver is located. I haven’t heard this effect in other gaming laptops out there, but it’s definitely pronounced on the EVGA.

Regardless, I like EVGA’s speaker placement on the top front. Other manufacturers put the drivers behind the keyboard (or behind the screen in the case of the ASUS G752 which simply doesn’t work). On the EVGA, when typing or gaming, your hands aren’t blocking the drivers’ paths to your ears.

The EVGA sound is solid, though the Acer Predator line edges out the EVGA in the decibel department and the Lenovo Y900 JBL takes the quality cake. Regardless, the EVGA design is a smart move and a top competitor. More testing is definitely called for.

ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT

No laptop is perfect and, while the EVGA is the new dark lord of performance laptops, I’d still like to see some adjustments. Since I’ve only had the laptop for a hot minute, here’s my immediate thoughts: First, the trackpad is a single surface, no separate buttons. Some gamers will be upset by the lack of buttons. The trackpad responsiveness is okay, not the best trackpad available but better than some other gaming laptops that treat the trackpad like a vestigial organ.

The screen looks great and EVGA styled up the pixels by using a single pane rather than the typical screen recess. There’s a bit of glare not found on other matte screens, but not nearly the kind of reflections seen on gloss screens. And then, of course, the screen isn’t G-Sync. EVGA says a future version will have NVIDIA’s frame matching goodness.

As for ports, like I mentioned, there’s USB-C but no Thunderbolt 3. I’m a little disappointed by the lack of the best plug ever designed. After all, EVGA could release a Classified Thunderbolt 3 Graphics Dock with their own GPUs to give the SC17 a huge boost for VR gaming. Since VR has to be stationary (you won’t be taking your Vive to Starbucks…or maybe you will, who am I to say) having a GPU dock option makes a world of sense.

Finally, I want an EVGA 980 (no M) laptop GPU in this thing. The “desktop” mobile 980 is appearing in competing laptops and EVGA has hinted it’ll give its monster laptop a performance powerup shortly.

FINGERPRINTS MAGNETIZED

Oh, one more issue: fingerprints. The biggest downside of the EVGA’s awesome unibody construction and darth vader finish is fingerprints. I’m not sure how they they did it but the SC17 shows fingerprints like nothing else on the planet. Pic shows the laptop after just a few hours of opening menus and installing software, no extreme Frito action. And the pic, unfortunately, doesn’t do the print situation justice.

Now, I’m not being facetious when I say I had to move the laptop with my sweater sleeves during photos to keep prints from showing up. I mean, fingerprints are an issue with any product for photoshoots but the EVGA was practically teleporting prints from my fingers onto its surface. The EVGA is making me consider getting dedicated photo gloves.

I really hope EVGA finds a different finish to prevent the fingerprint frustration from happening on future models. Or, at least, include EVGA Overclocked Cleaner Fluid and Polishing Cloth. For a laptop with such awesome build and looks, the fingerprint magnetism is a disappointment.

OVERALL

While I’ve only had the laptop for less than a day, I’m happy to tell you the EVGA is an extremely impressive first offering from the boutique graphics company. With its unibody construction and potentially VR-ready overclocking, other manufacturers of 17” gaming laptops should be worried. EVGA just up the game.

The EVGA is available for preorder at Newegg and starts shipping April 12th. The laptop comes with a free EVGA Torq X10 gaming mouse for the SC17 early adopters.