When NVIDIA first launched their latest mobile GPU updates, the GTX 980M impressed with the level of performance delivered. A few months later, the bigger surprise is perhaps that the GTX 980M is finding its way into relatively thin laptops. The Gigabyte P35W v3 is currently the thinnest laptop equipped with a GTX 980M GPU, with a Core i7-4710HQ on the CPU front. We tested the same configuration in the MSI GT72, a substantially larger notebook with much better cooling; it also foregoes NVIDIA's Optimus Technology, so it should in general be a bit faster. But do you really need to give up much in the way of performance for a thinner gaming laptop? The answer is no, though with some qualifications.
Looking at performance, the Gigabyte P35W v3 handles nearly all of our 1920x1080 testing, even at Ultra settings. There are only a couple situations where it comes up a bit short. Assassin's Creed: Unity is a beast to run at Ultra quality, and even Very High and High can be quite demanding. Evolve also shows poor performance, though that was with an earlier version of the game and older drivers so things may have changed since then (notice how dropping to "High" hardly makes any difference). Company of Heroes 2 and Crysis 3 also tend to be very demanding, though dropping to High this time helps substantially. The only other games that don't hit 60+ FPS averages (or at least close to it) are Metro: Last Light (and the Redux update) and Sniper Elite 3; all three of these games use SSAA, and turning that off helps tremendously. Overall, the average frame rate at 1920x1080 Ultra is 65+ FPS, and dropping to High bumps that up to 89 FPS.
Of course, the Gigabyte P35W v3 has more than just a 1920x1080 display; the native resolution is 2880x1620 (aka "3K"). Given that 1920x1080 Ultra already struggles a bit in some games, 2880x1620 Ultra is clearly out of the question, but we did run tests at the native resolution with modified settings. With some tweaking, we were able to hit 40+ FPS in every game in our test suite, though in some cases that required dropping as far as medium quality settings. Far Cry 4 actually ended up being the most demanding title, while most of the other games could successfully run at High or even Ultra settings at 2880x1620.
Something else to discuss is the performance comparison with the MSI GT72. On average, the two seem tied, but the averages don't tell the whole story. Even with the same core hardware there are some anomalies; some of these can be explained by differences in drivers, but others appear to be caused by other elements. Alien: Isolation saw a big boost in performance with a recent driver update, as did some other titles (BioShock Infinite, Civilization: Beyond Earth, Company of Heroes 2, Lichdom: Battlemage, Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor and Sleeping Dogs, and Tomb Raider). Again these improvements are likely thanks to updated drivers. While the Gigabyte P35W v3 is faster than the MSI GT72 Dominator Pro in these games, but there are other titles where the reverse is true. Specifically, in F1 2014, GRID 2, GRID Autosport, Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, and Wasteland 2, the GT72 is faster by anywhere from 5% to as much as 15%. What gives? In a word: CPU throttling. (Wait... that's two words.)
In other words, there's a price to be paid with going thin and relatively light on the Gigabyte P35W v3, and that price is that the cooling subsystem isn't always able to keep thermals in check. Stress testing in particular can easily overload the cooling and cause the CPU to throttle back to around 2.0GHz (with dips as low as 1.8GHz), but even gaming on its own is enough in some cases to trigger CPU throttling. To be clear, it's never severe -- not like throttling we've seen on the Dell XPS 15 for example -- but if you're expecting the Core i7-4710HQ to always run at 2.5-3.5GHz under load, it doesn't quite succeed.
Another penalty for being thin and high performance is that the back of note Gigabyte P35W v3 can routinely hit 50C or more during gaming sessions, so you don't want it on your lap. Finally, along with the high temperatures, the P35W v3 can get annoyingly loud due to the fan noise. Playing games, the fans will typically run at close to maximum RPMs, generating 48 dB from 18" away. Even when not gaming, however, the fans are constantly spinning, and light web surfing is enough to trigger increases in fan speed on a regular basis. We measured 35 dB at idle, but with periodic increases to 42 dB -- and that's when doing nothing. The change in fan speed can also happen quite quickly, making it all the more noticeable as there's not a steady ramp up/down; one second the laptop is basically quiet and the next the fans are spinning at 42 dB. A finer tuned algorithm for handling fan speeds would prove beneficial.
Moving to less performance oriented aspects of the Gigabyte P35W v3, there's a lot to like with the design. It's attractive without being gaudy, and outside of the fan noise it would easily fit in at a typical business meeting. I like the subdued aesthetic, though for gamers that like a lot of bling there are better choices. The keyboard layout and feel is also good, though the number keypad suffers from a half-size Zero key. The touchpad meanwhile is merely adequate -- certainly not the best of breed, but since gaming will generally require a dedicated mouse it's not a huge concern.
And then there's the price. Here unfortunately the Gigabyte P35W v3 has some hurdles to overcome. There are less expensive variants of the P35W v3 that appear to be priced quite attractively, but the problem is you generally get what you pay for. The base model costs $1499 and has a 1920x1080 IPS display (actually not a bad choice, really), but the GPU is a GTX 970M -- quite a bit slower than the GTX 980M we tested. It also has no solid state storage, which will severely hamper the overall responsiveness of the system for non-gaming tasks. Upgrading to the GTX 980M however costs a pretty penny -- $400 extra compared to the 970M at present, still not including an SSD. Interestingly, the model we tested no longer seems to be readily available, though you can find the 3K screen, 256GB SSD, and GTX 970M for $2100.
Overall, while there's plenty to like about the design and performance of the Gigabyte P35W v3, there are a few concerns. Foremost among them is the potential for thermal throttling, or at least less than optimal performance. The GTX 980M has already proven to be capable of outrunning an i7-4710HQ when it's not throttling, and a faster CPU can easily improve performance by 10%. Throttling by 10% due to thermals thus means you're potentially missing out on as much of 20% of the performance potential of the GTX 980M. At that point, saving the money and buying a GTX 970M is probably the better route, though if you want to game at 3K we'd suggest splurging on as much GPU as you can possibly afford.