A new fighter has entered the ring

We spent some time with EVGA’s first gaming notebook and came away impressed.

When EVGA showed me that it was entering the world of gaming notebooks at CES in January, I must admit, I questioned the move. A company that, at one point, only built and distributed graphics cards based on NVIDIA GeForce GPUs had moved to mice, power supplies, tablets (remember that?) and even cases, was going to get into the cutthroat world of notebooks. But I was promised that EVGA had an angle; it would not be cutting any corners in order to bring a truly competitive and aggressive product to the market.

Just a couple of short months later (seriously, is it the end of March already?) EVGA presented us with a shiny new SC17 Gaming Notebook to review. It’s thinner than you might expect, heavier than I would prefer and packs some impressive compute power, along with unique features and overclocking capability, that will put it on your short list of portable gaming rigs for 2016.

Let’s start with a dive into the spec table and then go from there.

  EVGA SC17 Specifications
Processor Intel Core i7-6820HK
Memory 32GB G.Skill DDR4-2666
Graphics Card GeForce GTX 980M 8GB
Storage 256GB M.2 NVMe PCIe SSD
Display Sharp 17.3 inch UDH 4K with matte finish
Connectivity Intel 219-V Gigabit Ethernet
Intel AC-8260 802.11ac
Bluetooth 4.2
2x USB 3.0 Type-A
1x USB 3.1 Type-C
Audio Realtek ALC 255
Integrated Subwoofer
Video 1x HDMI 1.4
2x mini DisplayPort (1x G-Sync support)
Dimensions 16-in x 11.6-in x 1.05-in
OS Windows 10 Home
MSRP $2,699

With a price tag of $2,699, EVGA owes you a lot – and it delivers! The processor of choice is the Intel Core i7-6820HK, an unlocked, quad-core, HyperThreaded processor that brings desktop class computing capability to a notebook. The base clock speed is 2.7 GHz but the Turbo clock reaches as high as 3.6 GHz out of the box, supplying games, rendering programs and video editors plenty of horsepower for production on the go. And don’t forget that this is one of the first unlocked processors from Intel for mobile computing – multipliers and voltages can all be tweaked in the UEFI or through Precision X Mobile software to push it even further.

Based on EVGA’s relationship with NVIDIA, it should surprise exactly zero people that a mobile GeForce GPU is found inside the SC17. The GTX 980M is based on the Maxwell 2.0 design and falls slightly under the desktop consumer class GeForce GTX 970 card in CUDA core count and clock speed. With 1536 CUDA cores and a 1038 MHz base clock, with boost capability, the discrete graphics will have enough juice for most games at very high image quality settings. EVGA has configured the GPU with 8GB of GDDR5 memory, more than any desktop GTX 970… so there’s that. Obviously, it would have been great to see the full powered GTX 980 in the SC17, but that would have required changes to the thermal design, chassis and power delivery.

That GPU is connected to a massive, 17.3-inch, integrated display that has a 4K (3840x2160) resolution and an anti-glare coating that I am very pleased they decided to add. The screen looks AMAZING and, with Windows 10 improving on scaling text, the experience out of the box is solid. The screen is built with IPS technology so you’ll get great color reproduction and viewing angles. It does NOT including G-Sync variable refresh rate technology though – that is coming in another SC17 model later in the year. One thing you’ll have to balance, with a 4K screen at a GTX 980M GPU, is game resolutions; you won’t be able to play Rise of the Tomb Raider or Grand Theft Auto V at 4K. But playing at 1080p and scaling that up to the monitor works great though.

Rounding out the features, you have 32GB of memory and a 256GB Samsung 950 Pro NVMe SSD to really help keep things moving on the system. EVGA includes a 1TB 7200 RPM hard drive for mass storage. You have Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11ac dual-band Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2 and some impressive integrated speakers with a dedicated subwoofer as well.

Connectivity includes two USB 3.0 ports, a single USB 3.1 Type-C connector (not for charging), a full-size HDMI 1.4, dual mini DisplayPort (one of which can run external G-Sync monitors) and a headphone/mic audio jack.

The hardware encompassed by the SC17 is impressive, but it takes more than just a solid spec sheet to get gamers interested in a mobile gaming configuration. EVGA spent a considerable amount of time designing its first gaming notebook to be sleek (as sleek as it can be) and added cool touches throughout.

A Walk Around the SC17

The EVGA SC17 is a surprisingly good looking gaming notebook, more in line with modern designs than many of the other very popular gaming brands on the market. It’s still big, and still pretty heavy, but gamers willing to invest in a $2699 gaming notebook with a 17-inch screen should expect those traits for the foreseeable future.

The SC17 is big – measuring 16 inches wide by 11.6 inches long. The all-important z-height, or thickness, is just 1.05 inches, an impressive characteristic when we compare it to something like the MSI GT72S that measures in at 1.8 inches thick. It’s heavy at 8 lbs. and 11 oz., not including the power adapter, so you will feel it in your backpack.

From a design perspective, I really have fallen for the SC17. It’s black with a semi-matte finish all the way around and it's understated. There is just the right combination of angles and corners to make it seem aggressive without being obnoxious. The all metal body gives it a feeling of value and luxury that plastic chassis won’t be able to match and is somewhere between the Apple and Razer notebooks for first glance quality.

The right hand side of the device includes two USB 3.0 ports and the Type-C USB 3.1 port, along with a headphone jack.

On the left, you’ll find your power input, a Gigabit Ethernet port, full-sized HDMI connection and two mini DisplayPorts. One of those mDP will support an external G-Sync monitor, so, if you want to game on a different display at home, you have all options available to you. I’m a bit confused as to why you couldn’t run G-Sync on either or both mDP connections, since you can utilize them all simultaneously for NVIDIA Surround support.

The back panel has an EVGA logo that is individually lit with its own LED light – it does not use the backlight from the screen itself. This allows you to turn it on or off independently in software depending on preference.

EVGA tweaked the design on the lid of the SC17, allowing it to be opened with a single hand without causing the base of the notebook to lift off the surface it’s resting on. The motion is smooth and consistent throughout the arc of the display; it’s a little thing really but it adds to the feeling of quality that you don’t find in many notebooks.

Once you crack open that screen you are met with a combination of goods that will impress any gamer and enthusiast. That 17.3-inch 4K screen is fantastic looking. It loses just a bit of clarity with the matte finish applied over it but I would gladly trade off the added sharpness of a glossy screen for the lower reflectivity that EVGA has built into the SC17. The bezel around the screen isn’t thin like a Dell XPS 13, and seems bigger than necessary at the bottom, but these are tradeoffs EVGA makes when designing the rest of the chassis to fit the necessary components and cooling capability for the hardware.

Along the hinge of the screen is the area where hot air exhausts from the machine during gameplay. That metal surface definitely got hot to the touch in my testing, and it would be uncomfortable to have to put any skin on it – but that heat up doesn’t happen to the wrist rest area at the bottom of the notebook.

The power button lights up when you first turn the machine on, but the white LED fades soon after so as not to annoy you while gaming or surfing. That little hole above the power button? That is a BIOS reset switch in case you overclocking your notebook a bit too hard. Cool!!

The keyboard on the SC17 is a full size design with a number pad integrated as well. The distance of key travel is better than on nearly any other gaming notebook I have used, with the exception of that massive MSI GT80 with the Cherry switches. It has a good mix of required pressure to depress the keys and travel once you cross the scissor switch threshold. I typed a good amount of this review on the SC17 keyboard and found that I quickly adapted to it. I could very easily write with it for extended periods. Key placement is pretty standard and the adjustable white backlight means you can use it in the dark.

One nice touch – the arrow keys double as automatic overclocking profile adjustment through the EVGA Prevision X Mobile software.

The touchpad integration is decent, bypassing the trend of full pad click capability for a design that uses the bottom of the touchpad for the buttons. It works well and I had no issues with it, but it didn’t stand out as a great addition either. It was a bit too mushy for my preference, but some users might lean in that direction. For a notebook this size, I would also like to see the touchpad be a little bigger.

Integrated speakers on notebooks are always a tradeoff. On the SC17, EVGA has invested in a dual speakers on the top of the chassis wrist rest and included a subwoofer on the bottom. Overall, it sounds good, and it will work for gamers in a pinch, but we all know that speakers or headphones are the way to go for serious gaming or multimedia consumption.

For a first offering in the gaming notebook world, the EVGA SC17 presents a great first impression, both in hardware specifications and design. But can it live up to its own standards in performance?

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