Illegear S5X (1070MQ) – Willowy Wunderkind

Illegear S5X (1070MQ)

Starting from RM7998
8.2

Build Quality / Design

7.7/10

Performance

9.0/10

Value

8.0/10

Pros

  • Solid performance and build quailty
  • Clevo Flexi Charger built in
  • Flexibility (ports/drive bays) and ease of maintenance
  • (Relatively) attractive price
  • Awesome Customer Service

Cons

  • Fan curves / noise under load
  • Unimpressive internal speakers
  • "Okay" battery life
  • Rather severe lid flex
  • No Thunderbolt 3 port

On today’s review, we’re looking at the Illegear S5X, a notebook packing oodles of power in a petite, Tech Nomad friendly package.

DESIGN / BUILD QUALITY

If you haven’t heard of Illegear, don’t fret. They are primarily a barebones customiser and reseller based in Malaysia, not unlike Sager/Aftershock/Eurocom/Mouse etc.

Similarly, the S5X is a locally customised Clevo P950 (specifically the P950HR for the 1070MQ version), which was launched sometime around mid-2017.

So with that in mind, it can be said that whatever is within this review will probably apply (to a limited extent, depending on internal configuration) to any other Clevo P95xHR based notebook (like the Sager NP8950, the Mouse G-Tune BC-GN5, the Eurocom Q5 and the 2018 Origin EVO-15S).

For starters, the general build of the S5X is pretty awesome. Nearly the entire notebook, save for some small parts (keyboard frame, screen frame and screen lid top, which are all plastic) are entirely constructed from metal, which gives the S5X a feeling of solid heft that’s often lacking from other “barebones” notebooks thus far.

The entire machine is shod in a dark grey, almost black matte-ish finish that unfortunately catches fingerprints quite easily (as the photo above clearly shows), but it otherwise feels hardy and durable. It’s also rather light at about 2.2kg (depending on configuration) with the included slim 180W adapter (a Chicony A15-180P1A) adding 800g on top of that.

Moreover, the unit is really slim when you consider what’s packed inside. With very similar dimensions to the MSI GE63VR (L:380mm x W:249mm x D: 18.6mm to be exact, with the MSI being just 0.4mm thinner), the S5X is only the slightest bit longer than a Macbook Pro 15, and is almost as thin – all while packing a massively reconfigureable innards and an Nvidia GPU that’s roughly 4x as powerful.

That said, as you can probably guess by now, it isn’t truly a unibody design, and it shows when you compare it directly with the Macbook Pro or the Razer Blade. But the multi-piece design does have its advantages, as we can see later.

Moving on to the screen, the S5X comes by default with your typical matte 15.6′ 60Hz FHD IPS screen, housed within a rather flexy (especially in the middle) metal lid. On the other hand, the screen hinges do feel decent, and is covered with a sturdy-looking plastic shroud that is part of the thick plastic screen bezel; which can be a tad clicky in places but is otherwise well anchored to the metal lid.

You can read more on the screen itself (specifically an LG LP156WF6-SPB1 panel) from Notebookcheck’s Guru Fire KS review HERE as the panel used in the S5X and the Fire KS are essentially the same. But in short, the screen panel – while it isn’t the cream of the IPS crop – is perfectly serviceable, with good brightness, colour gamut (80-90% sRGB depending on panel) and brightness distribution.

You can also choose to upgrade to either a FHD TN 120Hz or a 4k IPS 60Hz screen if the provided panel isn’t to your preference, but as the notebook is configured for Nvidia Optimus, G-Sync is unfortunately NOT an option (at least for the internal display – do read below for details).

As for the keyboard, it’s not quite the Steel Series branded unit that can be found on the rival MSI GS63VR, but it’s still a decent, well laid out keyboard to type (and game) on, with sufficient feedback and travel. Additionally, the keyboard also comes with a 3-zone animated RGB backlight, though personally I would have preferred it to be per-key RGB (which the Gigabyte Aero 15/15X does have).

The touchpad, however, with its separate buttons and an intergrated fingerprint reader, is surprisingly good; especially with Microsoft’s Precision Drivers installed straight from the box. The buttons are firm and the surface tracks very well indeed, which is a definite plus.

Next, as for I/O ports, the S5X has probably got everything you’ll ever need – except for Thunderbolt 3 (which is a slight bummer).

On the left side, you have the DC jack, HDMI, 2x Mini DP, 2x USB 3.1 Type-C (not TB3 spec) and 2x USB 3.1 Type-A.

Moving to the right side, we have the Kessington lock point, the Ethernet port (which is always nice to have), 1x USB 3.1 Type-A, the SD Card reader, SIM tray (with dummy SIM inserted due to the lack of a cellular card in this particular model, though there IS an empty slot inside the S5X for one) and the audio jacks (with saperate in and out ports rather than the currently popular “combined” port).

Something worth noting is that two of the three video output ports (the HDMI + one of the DP) is configured to run directly off your Nvidia GPU (rather than off the iGPU as most notebooks do), which means that you actually have the choice of doing “external” G-Sync with a compatible monitor – which is a good compromise considering you ALSO get Optimus (and the battery life advantages that it affords you).

Unfortunately, this also means that ANY use of external displays on these two ports WILL wake the power hungry GPU and it WILL take a toll on your battery life.

So, do hook your projector or whatever up that one iGPU-connected DP port in situations where you might need longer battery life.

Moving on to cooling, which is a important facet to consider in any “performance” notebook, we can see that the S5X does have things quite well set up. The GPU and CPU have their own distinct heatpipes and fans (2 for the GPU and 1 for the CPU), which are fed air from the multitude of vents that can be found on the bottom of the notebook.

While this does ensure that the GPU and CPU can be cooled better versus some other notebooks that use shared heatpipes and fans, it also means that the S5X could pretty well get quite noisy at full tilt (which we will delve into later).

The fact that the bottom is so vent-filled might also be a concern in a structural sense, as it might be possible (through abuse) to bend and otherwise damage the individual trusses that make up the vents themselves – even if they are all metal. Also, those huge vents are very much a potential window for dust ingress so you’re gonna have to ensure that they’re kept relatively clean.

For maintenance purposes, the entire bottom of the S5X can be opened up pretty easily (7 screws at the bottom and 4 under the keyboard), and everything you need to access for cleaning and/or upgrades are easy to get to so that’s a huge plus – which is probably a decent trade off to having a full unibody design that is hard to open up.

One final point to note, hardware-wise, is that during the course of this review, our initial S5X unit somehow developed a constantly flickering internal display (possibly due to the rather flexy lid), that we ourselves could not figure out, other then to suspect that there were some manufacturing issues with either the LCD flex cable or the soldering on the flex – motherboard attachment point.

Fortunately, Illegear was very quick to accept our RMA request and attempt multiple times to repair the unit, ultimately issuing us a full replacement S5X unit when it became clear that whatever issue was causing the flickering could not be repaired by normal means.

However, to be entirely honest, we have not heard or seen at all any reports on the Internet about similar issues with the P950HR, so it might just be an issue with our particular unit, so it’s not really a dealbreaker of any sort, but just something worth noting.

PERFORMANCE

Being a barebones unit, what you will get from the S5X is pretty much dependant on your specific customizations. In the case of the S5X we have here on review, the specs are as below:

  • 7th Gen. “Kaby Lake” Intel Core i7-7700HQ, 6MB Cache, 2.80GHz to 3.80GHz (a Coffee Lake refresh is upcoming, see the very bottom of this review)
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 8GB GDDR5 with Optimus (Max-Q)
  • 16GB Micron DDR4 RAM 2400MHz (1x 16GB – Free Upgrade from 8GB)
  • 2TB Seagate Firecuda SSHD
  • 256GB Hynix PC300 M2 NVMe SSD (provided by us for Illegear to install)
  • Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 8265 2×2 M.2 (WLAN & Bluetooth)
  • Windows 10 Home Single Language 64-Bit Edition
  • Carry-in Warranty with 3 Year Parts and Labor & Lifetime Technical Support
  • Optional 180-day warranty against dead pixels

The unit has also been delivered to us pre-pasted with Grizzly Kryonaut on both the GPU and the CPU as part of a free upgrade offer from Illegear that also includes a RAM upgrade to 16GB (as noted above) and a “proper” screen calibration.

Before we talk about anything else, let’s delve into the shining jewel of the S5X’s specs, the Nvidia 1070 Max-Q, which – regardless of all the hate being thrown around in the Internet about how Nvidia is overcharging folks for a “detuned” GPU – is still a good 10-15% faster than the 1060 you normally see on a thin-and-light “performance” notebook like this.

And, considering the S5X’s lack of a TB3 port, I’ll be happy to take all the “extra performance” I can get out of the 1070MQ.

In line with that, here’s what the benchmarks have to say about the laptop as specified, starting with the CrystalDiskMark scores for the 256GB SK Hynix PC300 SSD and the 2TB Seagate Firecuda SSHD:

Next, we put the S5X through some of Futuremark’s more popular benches, with results as below:

  • 3DMark 11: Performance – 12576, Graphics – 18155, Physics – 6550, Combined – 6535
  • PCMark 8: Home Accelerated – 3549, Creative Accelerated – 4441, Work Accelerated – 4763

Furthermore, here’s some FPS numbers we got from the few games we managed to install on the S5X (with graphic details settings for each included).

  • Ghost Recon Wildlands – (FHD, Ultra preset) 45FPS average
  • Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus (FHD, Mein Leiben/Ultra preset) 60FPS average (limited by VSync)

So yeah, the take out is pretty clear: This is one powerful little slim-and-light for sure. The fact that the S5X came to us relatively bloat free and with all the latest drivers installed probably helps too.

With all that power on tap, it was quite surprising to see that heat wasn’t really a problem for the S5X, at least to us (and with it’s thin-and-light nature taken into account). The CPU recorded an idle of 30-40°C, which rose to around 65-70°C during gaming and about 85°C running heavy benchmark software (with the Nvidia GPU going up to 60-70°C when gaming) – all of which is rather average for a thin-and-light “performance” notebook.

Furthermore, no throttling of the CPU or GPU was recorded under normal gaming conditions although running heavy benchmarks like Prime95 did choke the CPU in a few instances – which isn’t optimal but is not really a cause for concern either.

As for surface temps, while the bottom does get hot enough during heavy gaming or benchmarking for it to NOT entirely be comfortable to place on your lap, the top only gets a tad on the warm side, which is not really much of an issue for us.

But considering that this particular unit has been repasted out of the shop with Artic Grizzly Kryonaut, it might not be the best example to show any heat issues that might occur on a “normal” S5X.

Wireless performance is also on par, with the provided 2×2 Intel 8265 AC chip handing both WiFi and Bluetooth duties, dishing out stable and consistent network performance throughout our testing period. Additionally, you can even hook up a wireless display through Miracast if you wanted as the 8265 supports that as well.

As a bonus, the S5X also comes with Clevo’s FlexiCharge functionality within the BIOS, which is a welcome addition in terms of battery management. What FlexiCharge does is that it allows for us to set limits to where the S5X starts and stops charging. For example, you can make the S5X ONLY start charging at 80% all the way to just 90%. This is useful as it allows you to stop microcharging (that 99-100% trickle charge-discharge loop that happens all the time when you’re plugged in), AND to set the charge threshold of the battery to something below 100%.

Both of the above are theoretically benificial for the health of your cells, at the expense of capacity/runtimes. Which is slightly unfortunate, considering the S5X doesn’t quite have stellar battery life to begin with (as can be seen below), but might be worth it for the long term benefits they offer (the battery not dying as quickly).

With all that out of the way, we can now objectively look at a few cons that we have managed to identify with the S5X in term of performance.

For one thing, the fans can get quite noisy under load. To measure just how bad it could get, we used a mobile phone sound meter app (with the phone’s internal mic stuffed as near as it could get to the fans) and got a reading of around 45-48dba with the fans pushed up to “max” speed – which can be rather loud if you’re in a a quiet environment.

Additionally, the fan curves on the S5X itself can be be a bit… off sometimes. While it’s normally well behaved during light-moderate loads, it does have some occasional moments of unexpected spin-ups – especially during media consumption. This does does make us wish that a BIOS/EC update would be released by Clevo/Illegear soon to take care of this issue, though it’s not really a deal-breaker as of now.

Next, there’s battery life. When you pair a 60Wh battery with the hungry innards that the S5X has, you know you’re in for a short ride. Thankfully, Optimus is around to save the day, and I was able to eke 3-4 hours of “normal” use (surfing on WiFi and other general work tasks with 50% brightness) and around 1 hour of actual hard gaming from the S5X, which is not bad, but definitely loses to the Aero 15X and it’s 95Wh battery (8 hours “normal”, 2 hours gaming).

Of course, the Aero doesn’t have the 2.5-inch SATA bay that the S5X does (which is why nothing bigger than a 60Wh battery could be fitted), but we would have at least liked the S5X to last 5 hours untethered if possible.

Also, the Flexikey and Clevo Control Panel software that controls the keyboard and other hardware functionality on the S5X aren’t really paragons of program design to be completely honest. They’re clunky, and sometimes have wierd bugs to them that can sometimes leave you thinking “Why?”, though they do work fine 90% of the time and don’t consume too much resources at least.

And the internal speakers, well, lets just say that they’re just “serviceable”, with okay volume but barely any bass. The included SoundblasterX 360 software is quite helpful in increasing volume and impact of the internal speakers, but you’re still probably better off with external speakers or headphones.

Finally, the 2MP webcam is really just that: A webcam, though it is completely fine for its intended use, and at least it’s not located in a weird place like the cams on the Aero and the Dell XPS series. At least the mic for the cam is quite clear, which is a definite plus.

VALUE

To fully understand the value preposition of the Illegear S5X, one must first take into consideration the prices that it’s closest rivals are being offered at here in Malaysia where we are. Kitted out as with the specs above (minus the free RAM, Repaste and Calibration upgrades that we got as part of a time-limited sale offer), the price of the laptop is a cool RM9422 (about USD2355). With the discounts added in, the price goes down to RM8735 (about USD2185).

Do keep in mind that due to the “boutique” nature of Illegear, their prices are subject to changes in market price of the parts involved (like RAM or SSD/HDDs), so while the prices are correct as of the time of this review, it might not be in the future.

Comparing those prices to that of the similarly configured MSI GS63VR-7RG-097 (with 16GB RAM, a 2TB HDD+256GB SSD, a 120hz TN screen and a 2 year warranty), which retails locally at an MSRP of RM10,999 (about USD2749); we can see that even without the deals stated above, the S5X is already a tad cheaper.

It does help that Illegear actually does do discount deals quite regularly, which often gives you an opportunity to get an even better deal on the S5X.

Also, the S5X, unlike the MSI, has fully configurable specs prior to purchase, which might be helpful if you have a specific configuration in mind (or are aiming to minimise the price of the S5X for upgrades later). For instance, a S5X similarly configured to the GS63VR-7RG-097’s spec is still priced considerably lower at around RM9500 (about USD2400).

To compare, the other two notebooks on the S5X’s rival list are even worse off price-wise. The Gigabyte Aero 15X, which is not even available locally here, retails for a cool RM11,143 (USD2785-ish), even without the import costs factored in. Similarly, the Asus ROG Zephyrus mentioned before is priced at RM15,049 (USD3762-ish) for the 1080MQ version and around RM12,000 (USD3000) for the still-to-arrive 1070MQ version.

And you can save EVEN MORE if you feel like you don’t really need the Nvidia 1070MQ and want your S5X to come with a 1060 instead, which easily cuts a cool RM1.2k (USD 300) of the prices stated above (for a 10-15% loss of graphics performance).

Plus, you get a nice velvet sleeve and backpack free with the S5X which sweetens the deal even further.

Concurrently, let’s also look at warranty and aftersales, which for us does play a rather important role in determining the value of your purchase.

And here, Illegear’s prompt and personalised aftersales service shines. Every question we had prior, during and after the purchase of the S5X was promptly addressed by the Illegear contact we were in contact with, which was reassuring.

Plus, after seeing how our initial “lemon” S5X unit (with the flicker issue) was so readily replaced with entirely new one (after repairs were deemed unfeasible), we have very little doubt of Illegear’s commitment to customer satisfaction.

So yeah, with all that put into consideration, it’s pretty clear that the S5X is one of the best value notebooks in its class right now, which is no small feat considering that Illegear is really just a local boutique retailer.

CONCLUSION

We have already established that the Illegear S5X is probably the current front runner in the “powerful” thin-and-light value race, considering its a fair bit cheaper than it’s closest rival (the MSI GS63VR-7RG-097), while not being that much lesser specced nor having noticeably less performance. So it’s pretty fair to say that as a whole, the S5X presents itself as a very solid package indeed.

We do have a few little quibbles with the S5X, but they’re really aren’t deal-breakers to us. Consider also the fact that the Illegear S5X doesn’t even breach RM10k if you stick to a reasonable spec, and Tech Nomads out there looking for a light, mobile powerhouse now have a very well sorted yet very decently priced option to add to their wishlist.

Hence, looking at all the pros and cons we’ve observed throughout this review, the Illegear S5X (1070MQ) easily gets a 8.2 out of 10 from us here at Technomadica, and a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED tag to go along with it.

The unit on review has been purchased directly from Illegear’s website, HERE, or you can check out Illegear’s Showroom at the Oval Damansara in TTDI if you’re local and need some hands-on time before purchasing.

Additionally, if you’re personally thinking that Kaby Lake processors are a tad outdated now on the verge of the current Coffee Lake rollout, the folks at Illegear HAVE informed me that the Coffee Lake refresh of the S5X is well on the way, with an ETA of around April-May this year, which is not too far away if you are able to wait up for a bit.

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