Senin, 01 September 2014

Gaming laptops

Sales of desktop PCs have fallen significantly in the past couple of years, however, one segment of the PC industry that’s still doing well is the market for gaming laptops. 

Despite competition from next-generation games consoles and mobile gaming in iPads and the like, the sales of dedicated gaming laptops have increased by 50 percent since 2011, according to the graphics gurus at nVidia. And, of course nVidia has a lot to do with that success, as its GeForce range of graphics cards almost completely dominates the gaming industry, dazzling users with super-fast framerates and ever more spectacular 3D eye-candy.

And nVidia’s domination looks set to continue with the arrival of its latest generation of graphics cards for laptops, the GeForce GTX 800M series. These new GPUs are faster than ever – that’s only to be expected – but this improved performance means that prices of gaming laptops have finally begun to drop quite significantly. High-end laptops with true gaming potential we’ve reviewed in the past typically costed £1,500 to £2,000. And you can certainly still spend that sort of money on a top-of-the-range gaming rig. However, as we discovered, the enhanced performance of the 800M series GPUs means it’s possible to get respectable gaming performance from more mid-range machines in the £1,000 to £1,500 category. In fact, Chillblast’s Defiant 2 and Scan’s 3XS Graphite even manage to come in under £900, yet still maintain great gaming credentials thanks to the strong performance of a mid-range GTX 860M graphics card.

The new 800M series bring another shift in emphasis, too. Like Intel’s Haswell-generation chips – the fourth generation of the Intel Core series – they are now starting to focus more on energy-efficiency and portability. Gaming laptops have traditionally been big, heavy and noisy, with large air vents and cooling systems required to cope with the heat output of their powerful GPUs. And, of course, the power requirements of these GPUs meant that battery life was always pretty poor.

Many gaming laptops still follow that pattern, especially the 17in monsters. However, better power efficiency means it’s possible to cram some serious gaming potential into smaller, lighter designs. We’re seeing more 13- and 15in gaming laptops that are small enough to fit into a backpack without giving yourself a hernia. The Chillblast Defiant 2 fits easily into a bag, while the 15in P35W v2 from Gigabyte Is an Ultrabook-esque 20.9mm thick. This means that there’s now greater choice in the gaming market than ever before, so read our reviews to see which laptop is right for you.


This latest version of the Alienware 17 isn’t radically different from its predecessors, but it adds a new GeForce GTX 880M graphics card that provides high-end gaming performance at a more competitive price than we’ve seen before. The design is essentially unchanged – it’s built like a tank, measuring a full 48.5mm thick and weighing 4.2kg. And like all Alienware laptops, it’s bedecked with customisable coloured lights that smoulder from beneath the keyboard, trackpad and various other sections of the matt-black chassis.

One advantage of the laptop’s size is that there’s plenty of space to include useful stuff. There’s a built-in DVD drive along with gigabit ethernet, four USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI port that provides both input and output options, and Mini DisplayPort. Battery life isn’t outstanding, but switching to integrated graphics did allow the Alienware 17 to manage four hours, 20 minutes of streaming video from BBC iPlayer. That’s not bad for such a powerful machine, and should allow you to watch a few episodes of Game of Thronesbefore you need to charge it up again. The 17.3in screen is as attractive as ever, with 1920x1080 resolution and a bright, colourful image that provides excellent all-round viewing angles. The speakers sound a little tinny at higher frequencies, but they produce a full sound, with enough volume to handle explosions in games and films.

That combination produced a score of 5600 points when running the general-purpose PCMark 7 tests; and 3100 points and 3300 points respectively in the Home and Work suites in PCMark 8. Those are strong scores, although a dedicated solid-state drive would enhance performance even further here. However, we couldn’t fault the GeForce GTX 880M when it comes to gaming performance. Running Tomb Raider 2013 on its default setting – 1920x1080 with Normal quality – produced a strong 60.1fps, and this barely wavered when we stepped up to High. Cranking the settings up to Ultimate did have more of an effect, dropping to 46fps, but that’s still strong enough to satisfy even hard-core gamers.


The Alienware 17 isn’t perfect – a laptop costing this much ought to include an SSD. However, it provides top-of-the-range performance that would previously have cost you £2,000 or more.


The G759JZ makes a good impression right from the start. The 17in machine may be big and bulky, weighing in at a hefty 4.5kg and measuring a mighty 58mm thick, but the build quality is excellent. The matt-black chassis has an attractive ‘soft-touch’ finish, while the keyboard has a nice, firm feel to it. It’s based around a quad-core Haswell-generation Intel Core i7 running at 2.4GHz, backed up by a top-of-the-range nVidia GeForce GTX 880M with 4GB video memory. There’s a healthy 16GB of system memory, and the G750JZ boots from a 256GB SSD, with a conventional 1TB hard drive included to store games, music and videos. There’s also a Blu-ray drive for HD fi lms, a 2.1 speaker system, and a Thunderbolt interface for high-speed backup drives.

The SSD wasn’t quite as speedy as we might have hoped, though, letting the laptop fall almost 100 points short of the 6000-point level that we’d anticipated for our general-purpose PCMark 7 tests. There was no problem with gaming performance, either. Stalker: Call Of Pripyat was quickly dismissed with an average framerate of 135fps, even at its maximum resolution and with Ultra graphics settings. Tomb Raider produced a consistent 60fps on both its Normal and High settings at 1920x1080 resolution, and still maintained a strong 47.7fps even when we stepped up to its Ultimate setting.

Scores like that put the G750JZ among the most powerful gaming laptops we’ve seen so far. It even managed something close to respectable battery life, lasting for four hours, 30 minutes of streaming video when using integrated graphics. We do have a couple of small complaints, though. The 17.3in screen has 1920x1080 resolution, and the image quality is enhanced by its anti-glare matt finish. But while the horizontal viewing angles are very good, the vertical viewing scope is more limited, and we did find ourselves needing to nudge the screen to improve visibility.

And, despite its decent volume, the stereo speaker system sounded annoyingly tinny at times. Those aren’t fatal flaws by any means, but they do stand out on an otherwise impressive piece of gaming kit.


You can find similar performance at a lower price, but features such as its Blu-ray drive, 2.1 speakers, and Thunderbolt interface mean that the G750JZ is well-equipped for other types of entertainment, as well as demanding tasks such as video editing.


Like its predecessor, the Defiant 2 puts strong gaming performance into a highly portable design. It’s a little chunky, measuring about 32mm thick, but a weight of 2.1kg means that it’s still light enough to carry around in a backpack.

This model improves battery life, as switching to integrated graphics gave us five hours, 33 minutes of streaming video, so it’s better suited to life on the move than many gaming laptops. We were pleased to see another improvement, in the form of an IPS display with full-HD resolution. It provides a bright image with almost luridly bold colours and excellent all-round viewing angles. It’s a shame, though, that the speakers are feeble – barely audible even at maximum volume when listening to the news on BBC iPlayer.

More important for gamers, though, should be the step up to a new nVidia GeForce GTX 860M graphics card, replacing a GTX 765M. There’s a minor CPU speed bump for the fourth-generation Haswell Core i7 processor, stepping up gently from 2.4- to 2.5GHz, while the 8GB of memory and 1TB hybrid hard drive remain unchanged from last year’s model. That hybrid drive can’t match the performance of a solid-state drive, which means that the Defiant’s score with the general-purpose PCMark 7 test is a mid-range 4456 points. For some reason it refused to run the Home and Work tests in PCMark 8.

However, its GTX 860M graphics card more than lived up to expectations for gaming performance. The 860M may not be top-of-the-range, but in many of our gaming tests it still managed to rival the 880M GPU found in some of its more expensive rivals. In fact, with Batman and Tomb Raider on their default settings, the Defiant produced framerates of 53- and 60fps, that were almost identical to more expensive laptops equipped with the 880M. The same was true when raising graphics settings on both games to High, and it was only when we took the final step to maximum settings with those games that the Defiant slowed down a little.


It’s a shame that you don’t have the option of specifying the graphics card in the Defiant 2, but it’s hard to argue when this sturdy little laptop provides such strong performance for just £899. And, unlike most gaming laptops, it’s small and light enough to carry around in a backpack, making it a great choice if you need a powerful laptop that can also cope with life on the go.


The Gigabyte P35W v2-CF2 may have a clumsy and unwieldy name, but at just 20.9mm thick it’s the slimmest, most elegant gaming laptop we’ve ever tested. We found it weighed 2.5kg, though, rather than the 2.16kg listed on Gigabyte’s website. Battery life isn’t great, at just four hours of streaming video when using integrated graphics, but that should let you watch a couple of films on a plane.

There’s a lot of power crammed into that slim unit, too. It includes a quad-core Intel Core i7 running at 2.5GHz, along with 16GB of memory, and an nVidia GeForce GTX 870M on graphics duty. The storage system is a little unusual, as the boot drive consists of a pair of 128GB SSDs arranged in a striped RAID 0 configuration, joined by a conventional 1TB hard drive for extra storage. That setup delivered excellent performance, with a PCMark 7 score of 6226 points that ranks among the highest we’ve ever seen. That score is particularly impressive given Gigabyte’s £1,399 price tag.

To keep in budget, the GTX 870M graphics processor is not the best available, but it does come close to matching the performance of the GTX 880M used in some more expensive rivals. When running Tomb Raider and Batman: Arkham City at their default settings, the P35W v2 achieved framerates of 60- and 56fps respectively – matching the 880M cards that we’ve seen elsewhere.

That performance held up with both games on High graphics settings, and it was only when we took the final step to the very top settings that the 870M slowed a little. Tomb Raider in Ultimate detail produced an average framerate of 40fps – about seven frames slower than the 880M – while Maximum Batman came in at 42fps, which was just four frames slower than the 880M. The laptops we’ve seen with the 880M tend to be around £300 more expensive, so the P35W v2 certainly provides excellent value for money.

Our only complaint concerns the display – the 15.6in display is darker than we might have liked. And the limited brightness doesn’t help the limited viewing angles. A laptop costing £1,399 deserves more than a budget screen.


It’s impressive to see a gaming laptop as slim and as light as this, especially one that provides such strong graphics performance. The poor screen has room for improvement, but the P35W v2-CF2 provides high-end gaming performance at a more accessible price.


It’s starting to look as though the real star of nVidia’s new GTX 800M series is the mid-range 860M graphics processor. It enables laptops, such as Scan’s 3XS LG156, to provide strong gaming performance at more competitive prices than ever before. It isn’t terribly exciting to look at. Its dark grey 15.6in casing is decidedly generic, and lacks the glowing lights and go-faster stripes of gaming rivals such as Alienware and Asus. Compared to some, it’s not so heavy, weighing in under 3kg, but at a still uncomfortable 2.7kg and 42.7mm thick. The build quality is good, and we liked the firm feel and travel of the keyboard. The trackpad’s a bit small, but gamers will often use it with a mouse, so that’s not a major issue.

The 15.6in screen provides 1920x1080 resolution and is bright and colourful. Its viewing angles aren’t what you’d find from an IPS display but we’ve seen worse on laptops costing more than this. The speakers have a bit of a metallic edge to their sound, but they’re reasonably loud and adequate for playing games or music without needing external speakers. Scan also includes some useful bonuses, such as up-to-date 802.11ac wireless for high-speed Wi-Fi, and an S/PDIF interface for digital audio output.

It’s good value for money too, costing just £899 with a Haswell-generation Intel Core i7 running at 2.5GHz, 8GB of Corsair Vengeance gaming RAM, 1TB hybrid drive; and of course, the GTX 860M for graphics. That hybrid drive isn’t ideal, but it’s an acceptable compromise to keep price down. The Graphite’s score of 4846 points in PCMark 7 is about as good as you’ll get without a dedicated SSD.

The mid-range GeForce GTX 860M graphics processor also provides very good gaming performance. As we’ve seen before, the GTX 860M can hold its own against top-of-the-range rivals when running games such as Batman: Arkham City and Tomb Raider at their default settings, and also when we step up to High settings on both games. It’s only when you push Batman to his Maximum that the GTX 860M slows down a little to 38fps, while Tomb Raider’s Ultimate setting dips to a smidgen under 30fps.


The design of the 3XS Graphite isn’t anything to write home about, and at 2.7kg it’s probably not going to leave home very often either. However, it’s good value and provides the sort of gaming performance that not so long ago would have cost £1,200.


The XMG P504 certainly isn’t going to win any awards for elegant design. The generic black-plastic casing is sturdy, but it’s chunky and heavy, measuring a full 45mm thick and weighing 3.5kg. The keyboard feels firm and comfortable, but its layout includes a half-height US-style Enter key and puts the Fn key over on the right of the spacebar – both of which took some getting used to.

But if good looks aren’t a strong point, then the P504 does come up trumps on performance. Prices start at around £1,100 with a Core i5 processor, though, we reviewed a top-of-the-range model that costs £1,544 with a Core i7 running at 2.4GHz, 8GB memory and nVidia GeForce GTX 880M with 8GB of video memory. Windows boots from a 240GB solid-state drive and a secondary 750GB hard disk.

That setup worked well, allowing the P504 to just edge pass the 6000-point mark when running the general-purpose PCMark 7 tests, and we saw similarly strong scores in PCMark 8. The GTX 880M proved consistent in our gaming tests, and the P504 produced scores virtually identical to other laptops using the 880M in conjunction with the Intel Core i7 processor. It breezed through Stalker for casual gaming, and hit a smooth 60fps on Tomb Raider’s default settings at 1920x1080 resolution. There was a drop to 46.6fps when Tomb Raider is set to Ultimate graphics, but that’s the case with all the 880M-based gaming laptops we’ve seen so far.

The P504 has other flaws, though. Battery life is poor even by the standards of gaming laptops, giving us just three hours of streaming video when using integrated graphics. That was a weakness in last year’s P503 model as well. The P504 also seems to use the same screen as its predecessor. 

Its matt finish and 1920x1080 resolution provided good image quality, with wide horizontal viewing angles so we could sway in the heat of battle during gaming sessions. But the vertical viewing window is limited and the image darkens quickly when you tip the screen back. The 2.1 speaker system also sounds tinny, although it did provide a fair amount of volume, so we could play games or music without needing to plug in external speakers.


The P504 is big and heavy, and combined with the poor battery life it’s essentially confined to indoor activities. But what it lacks in elegance it makes up for in performance.


Dino PC Raging Lizard V2 Reviews

Some of the PCs we cover are huge fi re-breathing dragons, obliterating the toughest benchmarks and graphics test without so much as a twitch of a muscle. The Dino PC, though, is no such gargantuan beast. Rather, it’s a modest-sized and enticingly-priced little number that does almost everything fairly well, but without ever threatening to take your breath away.

The presence of the Intel Core i5-4690 is perhaps the PC’s biggest distinguishing point between the Raging Lizard V2 and its sibling, the Microraptor. This new CPU runs at 3.5GHz as standard, compared to the 3.4GHz speed of the i5-4670K.

With turbos at full boost, the Core i5-4690 can get as high as 3.9GHz – the i5-4670K was similarly 0.1GHz behind here. The new chip won’t perhaps be as well suited to overclocking specialists, but its general speed is very good. Indeed, it helped this system along to a figure of 6431 points in PCMark 7 testing. That’s a decent score given that the memory consists of 8GB of 1600MHz Crucial chips, and the Dino more than holds its own against the majority of the 16GB systems.

Perhaps the real beauty of this system is that it never goes for excess. That CPU, for instance, doesn’t need fancy cooling, and the standard Intel E97378-001 fan is (quite rightly) deemed capable of keeping the temperature down.

Nor does Dino PC feel the need to pack out the machine with a sizeable power supply, and the 500W CIT PSU is more than sufficient for the purposes. The Raging Lizard can still deliver where necessary, though. A 128GB Corsair Force Series GS is an assured SSD unit, while the 1TB Seagate Barracuda ensures that the PC has a decent reserve of storage on hands.

The graphics card consists of a Zotac GeForce GTX 750 Ti with 2GB of video memory, and this established performer turned up some comfortable framerates in testing. The 102fps result at 720p in Aliens vs Predator is just 1fps behind the figure from the recently tested Gladiator Firestorm OC, despite the latter system being overclocked to a mighty 4.2GHz. The Dino PC retains that insignificant 1fps deficit at 1080p, putting in a score of 53fps here. In Sniper Elite V2, it actually moved ahead of the Firestorm – its score of 196.4fps at 720p leading its rival by around 2fps. Even at 1080p, the Dino remained modestly ahead, tallying 19.7fps to the Firestorm’s 18.6fps.

Slim design
Visually, the Dino isn’t the most arresting sight. We’ve seen some ground-breaking cases from Fractal Design, but this 1000 USB3 is very much a budget option. Fairly slim, it does nevertheless come with a number of compromises.

The front is robust but rather unstylish, and the power buttons are awkwardly situated towards the rear of the case’s right panel – if you want to place this on the floor, you’ll have to do a lot of bending down while turning the machine on. The case isn’t really set up for more than two 3.5in drives – you’re probably unlikely to need more than this, but it is a limitation – and there isn’t much space for extra fans.

Luckily, the Raging Lizard is a midrange system, so the case doesn’t need to accommodate top-grade components. Indeed, the case feels airy inside, with plenty of space available to access the memory chips and CPU. It helps that the graphics card is a short single-fan option – the dual-fan version would take up rather more room – and the standard Intel CPU cooler doesn’t take up much room either.

We can’t say we’re overjoyed by the case, but it’s more than adequate for the components contained within. The system always keeps a lid on the power. Rarely even hitting 50W when idling, it only drew up to 104W even with a high load.

There are also a few other features to keep you happy. The 802.11n Wi-Fi is good, and the 24in Iiyama E2483HS is a nice fl at-panel at a low price, packing its images with vibrant hues and tones, while retaining strong definition.

We can hardly extend the same compliments to the Gigabyte KM6150 USB keyboard & mouse combo, though. The keys are shallow, soft, and offer very little accuracy, while the mouse buttons feel cheap and unresponsive. Luckily, this PC is highly configurable, and you may wish to run through the options yourself and try to get the keyboard and mouse switched for higher quality equivalents.

You may also want to experiment with the warranty details. We specified the PromoCare option, which gives you three years return-to-base, with two of those also covered by the cost of the parts. You can pay extra, though, and have all three years covered for parts, or the six months of transport cover can be extended to a year or two.

The Raging Lizard V2 doesn’t so much crash through the competition as tiptoe past it. But that’s no bad thing, and for those who don’t need the many bells and whistles of more expensive systems, this offers a very tidy array of (generally) well-picked components. We would recommend jettisoning that keyboard and mouse, though.


Chillblast Fusion Ranger Reviews

With its propensity for mixing high-value components with well-judged firepower, PC builder Chillblast has garnered many an award over the past few years. The Fusion Ranger is another tidy package that trawls the market for the meanest components available. Perhaps the headline act is the Maximus VII Ranger motherboard, an assured member of Asus’ premium Republic of Gamers range, and a proud recipient of Intel’s brand-new Z97 chipset.

Slotting into place on the mainboard is an Intel Core i5-4670K processor. Generally timed at 3.4GHz, this has been pushed up to 4.2GHz here. It’s perhaps not as high-end as those labelled Core i7, and only processes four rather than eight threads. But the PCMark 7 score of 6852 points shows this to be fast PC.

Chillblast has teamed the CPU with some strong sub-components. The 16GB of Corsair 1600MHz memory is to be expected for a gaming system, while the storage options comprise the familiar 2TB Seagate Barracuda, and a lightning-fast 120GB Samsung 840 EVO SSD. A 24x Samsung DVDRW tops off the battery of drives.

The graphics card is almost as eye-popping as it gets, with a PowerColor rendition of the AMD Radeon R9 290 OC driving this PC on to some emphatic game framerates. It shattered the 300fps mark in Sniper Elite V2, scoring an average of 321fps at the lowest 1280x720 settings, and 164fps at Medium quality. Even in Ultra quality and 1920x1080 resolution, it still managed to return 42fps.

The results from Alien vs Predator were more emphatic, with the 173.2fps at 1280x720 a top-grade score. Even at 1920x1080, it achieved a formidable 97fps. There are faster gaming PCs, but the Fusion Ranger is still a showstopper.

The Corsair Graphite 230T is far from the most attractive case we’ve seen, and the crimson glow emanating from within does lend it a demonic air. The panels slide forwards rather than backwards, and getting underneath the lid isn’t quite as simple as it might be.

Once you’re in, though, it’s an impressive product. It’s always going to be hard to leave room in the case when there are so many substantial components jockeying for position. The cables from the Corsair H60 CPU cooler were a touch unruly, but realistically, there’s little that can be done about that without compromising on the cooling.

There’s plenty of room around the memory chips, and only two of the slots are taken up. Indeed, all of the components – even the sizeable graphics card – are situated in plenty of space. And because the front panel of the case is a grid rather than a solid slab, air is allowed to move in and out with freedom. In short, the 230T works brilliantly as a means of keeping these heavyweight components cool.

The 750W Corsair PSU is another tidy inclusion, and keeps the PC well supplied with power, and it needs plenty of this. We measured 67W while the PC is sat idle, and when subjected to benchmark tests it gobbled as much as 386W. It isn’t supplied with a keyboard or mouse are supplied, although Chillblast has some great gaming peripherals available should you want to add something suitably suitable. A top-flight flat-panel would also be a good addition since no screen is supplied either.

Chillblast’s usual two-year collect-and-return warranty is included. The company continues to go from strength to strength, so its continued existence must be one of the safer bets amongst PC builders.


This isn’t perhaps Chillblast’s most spine-tingling PC. Nor is it cheap. But then, you are getting a monstrous graphics card, a new chipset, and a host of impressive components for the money. For those searching for good performance combined with ample cooling, this is another enticing proposition from Chillblast.


Toshiba Satellite L50-B-1DV Reviews

When we first reviewed one of Toshiba’s L50 laptops last year, we suggested the company should “cut the price by £100 and it’d be a good budget offering”. The price cut on this year’s model is closer to £130, which means that it now ought to make a very decent budget laptop. This year’s model is slimmer and lighter, as it no longer includes an internal DVD drive. The 15in display chassis has slimmed down from 29- to 23.5mm thick, while the weight has dropped 300g to 2.2kg.

Slim and light

It’s one of the slimmest and lightest 15in laptops we’ve seen recently, and far more portable than most budget Windows laptops. Its build quality is unexceptional, as the casing – which is available in a variety of colours – has a distinctly plasticky feel to it. It seems reasonably sturdy and we wouldn’t worry about it taking the occasional bump in a backpack.

There’s fl ex in the keyboard panel, but the keys themselves feel firm and responsive and we felt comfortable enough typing up some notes on the Toshiba L50 during our test period. We were also happy to see a gigabit ethernet port on the left-hand edge for wired networks. But while the external design has been updated the main components inside the L50 haven’t changed much since last year.

Prices for the Toshiba L50 range start as low as £319 for the model with an old Intel Pentium processor, or £399 with a newer Haswell-generation Intel Core i3. We tested one of the mid-range models that costs £519 with a Core i5 running at 1.6GHz with a healthy 8GB of memory and 1TB hard drive.

There’s also an Intel Core i7 version for £619, while £649 will get you an AMD Radeon R7 M260 graphics card thrown in as well. The specification of our review unit was essentially unchanged from last year, and the 15.6in screen has the same 1366x768 resolution. That’s more forgivable at this new lower price, and while the viewing angles are still limited – around 120 degrees vertically and horizontally – the image is bright and colourful enough for web browsing and streaming video.

The speakers are described as ‘Skullcandy certified’. We found them quite loud and with a reasonably solid bass sound, although higher frequencies still have a tinny timbre to them.

Slower than before Given the similarity in the basic specification we were a little surprised to find that the measured lab performance of this model wasn’t quite as impressive as that of its predecessor.

The updated L50 managed only 2500 points in the general-purpose PCMark 7 benchtests, compared to 2850 points for the model we tested last year – and that’s despite both having the exact same CPU, memory quota and hard disk capacity. The Home and Work suites in PCMark 8 were equally modest at 2150 and 2370 points respectively.

We suspect the hard drive is the culprit here, acting as a severe bottleneck in our benchmark tests. You certainly notice the sluggish hard drive when turning the laptop on. Even when using the Windows 8 fast-start option the L50 takes a good 35 seconds to boot into the Start screen, followed by about 15 seconds of cursor-spinning before it’s ready to launch applications and get down to work.

Even so, those performance scores are still above average for a laptop in this price range, and once it’s caught its breath the L50 is perfectly capable of handling web browsing and routine tasks like running Microsoft Office. The 8GB of memory is also good for a budget laptop, and means that the L50 can handle the occasional intensive session of photo- or video-editing when required.

Gaming is probably out, though, as even at 1280x720 resolution the Toshiba L50 could only manage 23fps in our casual gaming test with Stalker: Call Of Pripyat. Battery life was also disappointing. Last year’s touchscreen model gave us just over 5 hours of streaming video from BBC iPlayer, but this new model surprised us by shutting itself down after just four hours, 15 minutes. And that’s with a battery that’s swelled from 42 to 52Wh capacity, and no battery-draining touchscreen. What’s going on?


It certainly has its flaws, but a healthy price cut means that the L50 looks better value for money. It’s not particularly fast, but it can handle basic computing work perfectly well, and the slimmer, lighter design of this new model means that the Toshiba L50 is a bit more portable than most of its low-cost rivals. Its larger battery doesn’t help its runtime, and in benchmark tests it’s slower than last year’s model – despite having largely the same components.


HP Spectre 13-3010ea Reviews

Someone at HP has obviously had their thinking cap on. The company recently released its Envy 17 laptop with a built-in Leap Motion sensor (see previous page) that allows you to control the laptop with hand gestures. The Spectre 13 boasts a less exotic innovation in the form of a Very Big Trackpad. That’s not HP’s name for it, but given the US company’s Love of Capitals and trademark signs it might as well be. We realise a larger trackpad might not sound exciting, but small details can make a big difference, and the Spectre 13 turns out to be one of the most attractive Ultrabooks we’ve seen recently. In most respects, the Spectre 13 looks very similar to its numerous predecessors in the Spectre range, based on the Apple MacBook Air design, with a slimline aluminium chassis that is both sturdy and elegant. It’s eminently portable too, with a weight of just 1.52kg, and a smoothly tapered profile that measures just 15mm thick.

Excellent display
Its 13.3in display is excellent, with a bright, colourful image that’s so crisp and sharp that we initially wrongly assumed it must have a pixel-packed Retina display similar that of Apple’s MacBook Pro. In fact, it turns out to be a 1920x1080 resolution – which makes more sense given the Spectre’s £999 price tag – but it’s certainly one of the best displays we’ve seen on a laptop costing less than £1,000. HP only refers to it as a ‘Radiance’ display, but the brightness and all round viewing angles are what we’d expect from an IPS panel.

And, just to show off that excellent display, HP even bundles a free copy of Adobe Lightroom so that you can edit and show off your holiday snaps in all their glory. The screen is touch-sensitive, but that seems almost irrelevant once you get used to that extra large trackpad. Measuring 140x67mm, it’s the largest trackpad we’ve ever seen on a laptop.

The surface of the trackpad has a very smooth finish that feels pleasantly tactile, and it responds very smoothly to the various multiple-fi nger gestures that are available. There’s a special control panel for the trackpad that allows you to divide it into three sections, with narrow ‘control zones’ on the far right and left edges that can be used to mimic touch-screen controls such as a left-flick to activate the Windows 8 ‘charms’. I prefer the trackpad on my MacBook Air to that of most Windows laptops, but HP’s twist on the trackpad theme could teach even Apple a few tricks.

Only one model

The Spectre 13 is currently only available in a single configuration, priced at £999 with a dual-core Intel Core i5 running at 1.6GHz, 8GB of memory with a 256GB solid-state drive. The Spectre 13 out gunned the similarly-priced MacBook Air when it came to PCMark 7 performance. That combination achieved a respectable mid-range score of 5006 points when running PCMark 7, compared to around 4200 points for the recently updated 13in MacBook Air.

The Home and Work suites on PCMark 8 didn’t fare quite so well, though, with scores of 2260 and 2651 points, respectively. Gaming performance is poorer too, as the integrated HD Graphics 4400 couldn’t sustain decent framerates until we dropped resolution right down to 1280x720 pixels, where it then averaged a more a playable 31fps in our Stalker: Call of Pripyat casual gaming test.

But, to be fair, there’s always a trade-off between performance and portability with Windows Ultrabooks such as this, and the Spectre 13 was still adequate for routine tasks such as web browsing and running Microsoft Office. Unfortunately, the other trade-off is reduced connectivity, with one pair of USB 3.0 ports and lack of ethernet.

However, the Spectre 13 compensated with usable battery life, giving us 7.5 hours (450 minutes) of streaming video via BBC iPlayer, even if the 13in MacBook Air can manage over 12 hours.


It won’t break any speed records, but the HP Spectre 13 is a smart, attractive Ultrabook that can give Apple’s MacBook Air a run for its money. The HP’s slimline design, high-quality display and reasonable battery life help ensure that it earns its keep when you’re out and about.

Of course, there’s that gorgeous over-sized trackpad, which is a worthy innovation that makes it slightly more comfortable to use than many of its rivals. Will we see more oversized trackpads emerging? Only time, and the success of the Spectre 13, will tell.


HP Envy 17 Leap Motion SE Reviews

We saw the standalone version of the Leap Motion Controller earlier this year and were impressed by its promising gesture-recognition technology, Now here’s a laptop that integrates Leap Motion.

The motion sensor in the Leap Motion Controller works in a similar fashion to Microsoft’s Kinect, allowing you to use hand gestures to control a Windows PC or Mac. Now that touch-sensitive screens have become commonplace on phones, tablets and laptops, HP is clearly hoping to be the fi rst manufacturer to incorporate the Leap Motion technology in a laptop.

Fairly conventional

For the most part, the Envy 17 is a fairly conventional 17in laptop. This ‘special edition’ model is priced at £1,199 with a Haswell-generation Intel Core i7 processor running at 2.2GHz, a giant 12GB memory and 1TB hard drive. There’s even room for a built-in DVD drive.

As well as Intel’s HD 4600 integrated graphics the Envy 17 also includes an nVidia GeForce GT 750M graphics processor that provides modest gaming capabilities. If you’re after a more affordable large-screen laptop, then the standard Envy 17 is available without the Leap Motion sensor, and a better value Core i5 processor, for £799. A 17in laptop isn’t meant to be slung in a rucksack, but its 3.4 kg weight isn’t unliftable and it can easily be carried from room to room at home or at work.

Battery life is rather below par though, giving us just 3 hours 45 minutes of streaming video, that using the more economical integrated graphics. We’ve seen 17in laptops with better battery life, including 5 hours from Dell’s new Inspiron 17-7000 model, but the Envy 17 isn’t going to stray far from a mains socket so that’s probably not a deal-breaker for many people. Performance is a mixed bag. The general-purpose PCMark 7 places emphasis on storage performance, and its 5400rpm hard drive meant that the Envy 17 managed a score of just 3300 points.

That’s not a bad score, but a faster solid-state drive would push this well past the 4000-point mark. The more specialised Home and Work suites in PCMark 8 produce similar results, with scores of 2867 and 3000 points respectively that are respectable, but not outstanding. Even using the Microsoft Windows 8 ‘fast-start’ option (actually a standby mode), the Envy 17 took a full 30 seconds to boot into the Start screen, followed by another good 15 seconds of cursor-spinning before it was ready to start launching apps and get to work. Once it got going, the Envy 17 was capable of tackling a wide range of tasks, and its large screen, memory and hard drive mean that it’s ideal for demanding work such as photo- or video-editing.

The 1920x1080 display is bright and colourful, with horizontal viewing angles that come close to a full 180 degrees. The vertical viewing angle is a little more limited – around 140 degrees – but the Envy 17 will still work fi ne for presentations or simply watching streaming video at home. And while the Envy 17 isn’t intended as a gaming rig, its GeForce GT 750M graphics could manage a respectable 52fps when running our.

Stalker gaming test at 1920x1080 resolution. This laptop will be fine for regular gaming sessions. Leaps and bounds Of course, the real attraction is the new Leap Motion sensor – which includes a fingerprint reader. It’s a slim plastic strip that’s 120mm in length, and sits just below the right-hand edge of the keyboard. The technology is impressive, and the sensor is precise enough to detect even small movements of all ten of our fingers on both hands. But, as we found when testing the Leap Motion Controller earlier this year, only a few apps use gesture-recognition function well.

Leap Motion’s AirSpace Store does include some fun games and musical apps, as well as some apps that can use gestures to control Windows itself. You can use gestures to browse through your holiday snaps, but that may not justify the £1,200 price tag. Some of the most interesting third-party apps use gesture control for 3D modelling and visualization, so there might be a specialist market in some design and scientific fields, but we’re still some way from Tom Cruise flicking holographic screens around in Minority Report.


Full marks to HP for attempting something different. However, gesture-recognition is still in its infancy and only a few apps use it in an imaginative way. The Envy 17 Leap Motion SE might appeal to a few niche markets, but at well over £1,000 it will probably seem like an expensive luxury for ordinary home and business users.


Dell Inspiron 17 7000 Series Reviews

Dell has updated many of its laptops recently, and it seems that anything with the ‘7000’ suffix now has a slimmer design and a smart new aluminium casing. The Inspiron 17 is the latest model to join the 7000 club, and while it’s not an Ultrabook it does provide a very smart and versatile desktop replacement laptop at a competitive price. It’s certainly one of the more attractive 17in laptops currently available, measuring a relatively svelte 27.7mm thick compared to the 35.6mm of last year’s model (which is still available for a very attractive £699). The brushed metal aluminium casing looks very attractive and is also very sturdy.

The spacious keyboard is fi rm and comfortable, and it’s nice to have a decent-sized 105x80mm trackpad. Skinny but weighty Although this new model is much slimmer, the Inspiron 17 7000 Series still includes a built-in DVD drive along with four USB 3.0 ports, gigabit Ethernet and HDMI interfaces. The only disappointment here is that it still weighs the same as its predecessor (3.3kg). So while it’s slimmer and more stylish than most 17in laptops, the Inspiron 17 7000 Series still isn’t very portable and will spend most of its time at home or in an office.

If you need to travel with your laptop, then switching to the integrated HD4400 graphics will allow the Inspiron to provide a full five hours (300 minutes) of streaming video, which is a good performance for a 17in laptop The 17 is well suited for use both at home and at work too. The 17.3in display provides 1920x1080 resolution, and a bright image with very good all-round viewing angles. It will work well for watching streaming video at home or giving a PowerPoint presentation at work.

It’s also one of the few 17in laptops we’ve seen with a touch-sensitive screen, and the touch-controls work quite well on a larger screen such as this, making it easy to control a slide presentation or to tap on a link in your web browser. 

The speakers sound a bit tinny, but they’re loud enough to listen to some music or give an impromptu presentation without needing to plug in a set of external ones. The Inspiron 17 7000 Series also provides desktop levels of performance for both productivity apps and entertainment. Prices start at £749 for a model with an i5 processor, 8GB memory and 500GB hard drive. However, we tested a top-of-the-range model priced at £849 with a dual-core i7 running at 1.8GHz (3GHz with Turboboost), a full 16GB of memory and 1TB hybrid drive that includes 8GB solid-state cache to boost performance. And, in addition to the i7’s integrated HD 4400 graphics, the Inspiron also includes a discrete GeForce GT 750M graphics card with 2GB of memory.

Hybrid storage

The hybrid hard drive isn’t entirely successful, as the Inspiron takes 45 seconds to boot even when using the fast-start option in Windows 8.1. Fortunately the laptop does feel fast and responsive once it’s up and running. It wakes from sleep as soon as you lift the screen, and the touch-controls respond smoothly The Inspiron 17 7000 Series produced a score of 4260 points when running the general purpose PCMark 7 benchtest – which is about as good as you’ll get from a laptop that doesn’t have a dedicated solid-state drive. Scores in the Home and Work suites of PCMark 8 were a little more modest, at 2450 and 2900 respectively, but the Inspiron provides strong performance for a wide range of tasks, and its 16GB of memory mean that it will also be able to tackle heavy-duty work such as editing HD video.

While it’s not a dedicated gaming laptop, the Inspiron’s GeForce GT 750M graphics card is perfectly adequate for the casual gamer. It managed 104fps when running Stalker: Call Of Pripyat at 1280x720 resolution, and held steady at 63fps when we increased that to 1920x1080. The more demanding Batman: Arkham City provided a sterner test, dipping to just 20fps when running at 1920x1080 with DX11 and high graphics settings. However, dropping to medium graphics settings and a resolution of 1600x900 allowed the Inspiron to hit a more playable 37fps, which isn’t at all bad for a laptop falling into this price range.


It’s a shame that Dell couldn’t shave a little more weight off the new Inspiron 7 7000 Series, as it would have been great to see a 17in laptop that you could carry around in a backpack or briefcase. However, it does provide a high-quality touch-sensitive screen and strong all-round performance at a competitive price, and it will make a fantastic choice for anyone who needs a powerful, large-screen laptop for use at home or at work.