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PC Specialist Nova 15 gaming laptop
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PC Specialist Nova X1 review

AMD's 12-core, 24-thread Ryzen desktop chip in mobile form... but can it still be called a 'laptop'?

(Image: © PC Specialist)

Our Verdict

A genuinely impressive gaming desktop replacement, sporting more raw power than you'll find in any laptop at this price point. But that performance still comes at a cost to both acoustics and battery life.

For

  • 12-core, 24-thread CPU
  • RTX graphics
  • Compelling price

Against

  • Can get loud
  • Less than 40mins battery life

Can PC Specialist's Nova X1 really be called a gaming laptop? When this monstrous machine has a 12-core Ryzen 9 3900 desktop processor humming away inside it, a chip that chows down on any task you throw at it like some many-headed hydra CPU, that title must surely be up for debate. 

PC Specialist Nova X1 specs

Model - Nova 15
Processor - AMD Ryzen 9 3900
GPU - Nvidia RTX 2070
Memory - 32GB DDR4
Memory speed - 2,400MHz
Screen size - 15-inch
Resolution - 1920 x 1080
Refresh rate - 144Hz
Primary storage - 500GB M.2 SSD
Secondary storage - 1TB SATA SSD
Weight - 5.95lbs (2.7kg)

Price - £1,699 | $2,427

Especially when, in all honesty, the battery acts more like an uninterruptible power supply than something that enables you to drag this powerful machine out on the road with you.

But there's an Nvidia RTX 2070 pushing pixels around that 1080p screen, giving it a hefty amount of graphical performance to back up its high-end CPU, and the Nova X1 sports an RGB-lit keyboard and 144Hz screen, so it's definitely a gaming device of some sort. I'm going with a gaming desktop replacement, because I wouldn't want to have this so-called 'laptop' melting my cojones over a good gaming session.

The first AMD Ryzen 4000 processors to launch this year have all appeared in the mobile category, but they're still running the same Zen 2 CPU architecture as the current Ryzen 3000-series, just with Radeon graphics sitting alongside them. But none of these new Renoir chips released so far have been able to go as far as the 12 cores of processing goodness AMD was able to drop into the desktop range, tapping out at the octa-core Ryzen 4900HS squeezed into the Asus Zephyrus G14.

So, what's a gamer to do if they want 12 cores and 24 threads of 7nm AMD processing, but in a form factor that doesn't fill out their apartment with a hulking great desktop chassis and all its assorted accoutrements? You go to a system-builder, such as PC Specialist, who will fill out a chunky Clevo laptop chassis with a Ryzen 9 3900 just for you, and hang the sense of it.

And if you're in the US, Origin PC will do the same job for you, thanks to the new Origin EON15-X gaming laptop it recently launched.

When we were speccing out this machine for review, and when Origin first launched its own take on the Clevo/Ryzen combo, PC Specialist was offering its Nova 15 gaming desktop replacements with a 16-core, 32-thread Ryzen 9 3950X configuration, but that seems to have now been withdrawn from the option list. 

Arguably for good reason… even with the vaunted Eco mode that would have made it a hot and loud beast, and the limited mobile BIOS for this machine doesn't give you access to the Precision Boost Overdrive tech that would allow you to enable Eco Mode in the Ryzen Master software anyways.

(Image credit: PC Specialist)

Not that it really matters here, but Eco Mode was something AMD introduced with the 16-core 3950X to allow users to limit the power consumption of the chip to around 95% of the performance for 70% of the full power draw. That would've been pretty handy in the thermally limited environs of a laptop chassis, but sadly it's not to be.

And even with the far more modest Ryzen 9 3900, a 65W, 7nm processor only available to system builders, the Nova X1 does get rather chatty. I'm sitting here writing this review, with just a browser running, and thing is still whirring away like I'm rendering Toy Story 12 in the background. 

It runs at a little less than 50dB when you're getting the GPU worked up too, but it's still noticeable... and noticeably louder than any of the Ryzen mobile laptops we've tested recently. 

But that's not what the Nova X1, specced out with such high-performance componentry, is all about. This isn't some thin-and-light wallflower, it's not some little notebook you chuck into a leather man-bag to whip out in a Fairtrade indie coffee shop and work on your novel, so everyone can see you work on your novel. No, this is a shire horse of a gaming laptop. It's a deliberately chunky desktop replacement, dedicated to performance above all else. 

And this is what the best gaming headsets are designed for anyway; to block out the noise of your high-powered laptop while you're either gaming like a hero or creating like a god. As such, I can't really fault the harsh whisper of the fans, I'm just basking in the unprecedented level of performance the Nova X1 delivers. Nothing short of a Eurocom workstation monster, costing thousands of dollars, has been able to get close to what this PC Specialist machine can do.

And considering this config costs £1,699 ($2,400 for the Origin version) for a 12-core, 24-thread CPU, 32 GB of relatively speedy memory, 1.5TB of SSD storage (SATA and NVMe), and an RTX 2070 GPU, it's surprisingly affordable for what you get too.

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There simply isn't another mobile processor that can give you the CPU performance AMD's Ryzen 9 3900 can. The closest Intel chip is around 26% slower, and that's the special edition desktop octacore i9 9900KS running at a flat 5GHz across all cores. And you can't even buy those anymore. The 3900 here is operating at between 3.7GHz and 3.8GHz under all-core loads, and still outperforms the peak of Intel's desktop prowess. 

Given that AMD's own Ryzen 4000-series eight-core chips—the ones we've been hailing as delivering amazing mobile processing performance—perform some 35% slower than the 3900 in some cases, you can see just what this portable desktop CPU can now do.

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In gaming terms it's no slouch either, with the full-fat RTX 2070 easily delivering the same sort of frame rate performance that you'll see in a small form factor Razer Blade 15 with a Max-Q version of the RTX 2080. Compare it with an Asus Strix Scar II, sporting a six-core, 12-thread Intel chip and the same RTX 2070 GPU, and this PC Specialist machine is still able to post a gaming lead.

While it's easy to dismiss machines like the Nova X1 as pointless displays of brute force writ small in a laptop chassis, that's forgetting there really is a dedicated market for such desktop replacements. I've not really spoken about the battery life, because it really only exists to help you move from power socket to power socket without having to shut down your system. You'd struggle to get in a Battlefield V match before the thing drained out.

But all-day battery life is not what you're buying the Nova X1 for. It's there because some of us need the power of a genuine gaming desktop PC, but simply don't have the real estate to be able to have one permanently set up in our homes. That's where this PC Specialist gaming desktop replacement delivers, with a high-power, high frame rate, no-compromise solution… well, so long as you have a decent pair of headphones anyways.

And though the Nova X1 is obviously not for everyone, it's an impressive display both of how efficient AMD's Ryzen 9 3900 is, and how effective the cooling in this Clevo chassis is. Sure, it's chunky, and it does get a bit vocal, but considering it's more powerful than any other laptop, and more affordable than a lot of 12-core desktop builds, the Nova X1 is one hell of a machine.

The Verdict
PC Specialist Nova X1 review

A genuinely impressive gaming desktop replacement, sporting more raw power than you'll find in any laptop at this price point. But that performance still comes at a cost to both acoustics and battery life.

Dave has been obsessed with gaming since the days of Zaxxon on the Colecovision, and code books for the Commodore Vic 20 (Death Race 2000!). He built his first gaming PC at the tender age of 16, and finally finished bug-fixing the Cyrix-based system around a year later. When he dropped it out of the window. Thankfully it's a lot easier to build a gaming rig now there are no motherboard jumper switches, though he has been breaking technology ever since… at least he gets paid for it now.