Well, it was time to upgrade the old laptop. I’ll admit, I’m a gamer, so my laptops always need to be top performance to meet my gaming demands. With this in mind, I started hunting through various resellers and manufacturers to get prices on the kind of laptop I am looking for. My previous laptop had been a Dell. The laptop worked ok (LCD died shortly after the warranty went out), but I had some pretty bad experiences with their customer support, and had little desire to order from them again. Most of the true desktop replacement gaming laptops out there seem to be up around the $3,000+ mark, which is a little too expensive for my blood. With this in mind, I had to prioritize what I wanted out of my new laptop:
- A fast processor
- 2gb RAM (a couple games I enjoy, specifically Battlefield 2 and Civilization 4, benefit from this)
- One of the fastest video cards out there (at least a 6800)
- Preferably a dual layer DVD writer
- A big, good quality screen
- Preferably under $2,500
Everything else, to me, was secondary.
Having done a little research on notebook processors and configurations, I opted not to go for a desktop processor in my laptop. Having looked at benchmarks, the performance of the Dothan core Pentium 4 Mobile processors was quite impressive, and only the much more expensive desktop options were going to outperform it, at the cost of creating a much heavier, bulkier, hotter running laptop. To me the increase in cost and negative side-effects of the desktop processor were not worth it.
The pentium M Processors narrowed down my options a bit, and I looked again at pricing from various resellers and manufacturers.
Eventually, I stumbled across the Clevo M570A in it’s Hypersonic form (the CX-7). I was impressed with the specs, and the price wasn’t too bad (around $2,600 for the kind of configuration I was looking for). However, with a little more research, I discovered that the CX-7 was in fact a dressed up M570A and began to hunt down other resellers. I stumbled across ISTNC while browsing various notebook review forums and was surprised to find I could build a similar laptop to the one offered at Hypersonic for only $2,200! Thus, my baby was born…
Here are the specs:
- Pentium M 2 Ghz (Dothan)
- 2 Gb Dual Channel DDR-2 533Mhz
- Geforce Go 7800 GTX 256Mb (current top of the line notebook graphics card)
- Dual Layer DVD Writer (24x CD read/write, 8x DVD read/write)
- 17 inch WSXGA (widescreen) 1480×1050 LCD
- 100Gb 5400RPM hard drive
- Intel Pro/Wireless 2915
- Onboard 3d Sound (WOW/SRS, Soundblaster Compatible)
- No operating system included (have my own)
Having previously owned a 15″ laptop, I was unprepared for the sheer size of this thing. It may be thin and light for a desktop replacement, but its still a desktop replacement. The 17 inch widescreen is huge for a laptop, but looks spectacular.
The overall construction of the laptop feels pretty solid. I pressed on the back of the LCD to see how well it is protected.. Along the edges, it is clear that there could be some more protection, but towards the center it is well protected. There is some flex to the LCD panel, but considering the size, it is to be expected, and it is not excessive. The back of the LCD panel is either high quality plastic or of a metallic substance. The rest of the laptop is plastic, but as I mentioned, it is very solid compared to most other laptops I have worked with.
The keyboard is great, has a good feel (not too hard or too easy to press the keys), and comes with a full number pad. There is no flex to the keyboard, and the buttons are well placed. There might be a slight learning curve since a couple keys had to be moved around slightly to accomodate the full number pad.
The touch pad is… touchy… I can see where it might be annoying to someone who uses it regularly, as it is very easy to accidentally move your hand over it and ‘click’ wherever the mouse is currently pointed. Fortunately, an updated BIOS has been released that allows you to disable or enable the touchpad at the press of a key. (Note: This is actually a BIOS release for the Sager 5720, but since the 5720 is an M570A in disguise, the update works fine on ISTNC’s M570A.
The laptop is remarkably slim for a desktop replacement; possible because of the Pentium M processor. But don’t get me wrong, this thing is still very heavy. Weighing in at over 8 Lbs, its not something you want to take on long trips. For my purposes, which is to haul it between my desk at home and my desk at work, it is just fine.
While the stats on the LCD screen are not available, I can attest that it is a very good screen. The best? Probably not, but its good enough for my gaming purposes. I notice very little or no ghosting in fast paced games, and the viewing angle is adequate. The gloss coating adds something to the quality of the screen that you have to see in person to understand. Some may dislike the gloss coating, but I haven’t found it to be too annoying, and it does seem to add a quite a bit to the quality of the picture. The first comment most passersby have (aside from the clock ) is usually about how good the screen looks. I don’t usually have the laptop in an area where glare can be an issue.Speakers
The speakers built into this laptop are one of its weak points. Poor sound quality and poor volume make headphones or some external speakers (that can be easily driven by the weak output on this laptop) are almost a necessity. With some good, low impedance headphones, you can get decent sound out of this system. There are two problems with the headphone output, however. One is that there is an audible hiss in the background, which suggests that the output is being driven too hard. The other is a background ‘chirping’ noise, which is caused by interference from the IRDA port, which sits right next to the headphone output jack. Disabling the IRDA port fixes this.Processor and Performance
Since this is a gaming laptop, every aspect which affects the performance is important. As I mentioned above, I chose the Pentium M Dothan processor over a desktop Pentium 4 because the small decrease in performance did not appear to justify the large increase in cost, weight and heat of the desktop processor. In the benchmarking section I will compare processor performance to that of some typical P4 Desktop Processors. Equally important are the RAM (both speed and size), hard drive and of course, the video card. I spared no expense on these three, with exception to the RPM of the hard drive.
Two gigabytes of RAM should be adequate for at least the next two or three years in terms of gaming needs, and DDR2-533 is the fastest practical RAM speed you can get currently on a Pentium 4M. I will also compare this RAM and see how it stacks up against other kinda of notebook and desktop memory.
The video card is a Geforce Go 7800 GTX. The 7800 is currently Nvidia’s flagship video card, and since ATI does not have their competitive equivalent out for notebook computers yet, the 7800 GTX is simply the best video card you can get in a laptop right now. It uses the same technology as the desktop version of the card, however it is clocked down a bit so that heat is not so much an issue. Others who have run benchmarks on the card claim that it is comparible to a desktop 6800GT, which is certainly no slouch, and more than adequate to run all the current games at their highest level of eye candy.Benchmarks
And now on to the meat and bones of the review. How does this laptop stack up against others?
I performed three different tests on the laptop using Sisoft Sandra 2005 Lite. An arithmetic test was performed on the processor, a memory bandwidth test on the RAM and a file system benchmark was run on the laptop hard drive. Here are the results:
As you can see, the processor is performing comparible to a typical desktop P4 3.2Ghz (or Athlon 3200+) in this benchmark.
Unfortunately, Sandra doesn’t have any recent notebook memory to compare against. But it is made pretty clear here that this notebook’s memory is unable to perform at the same level as desktop PC-4200 DDR2 memory running at the same CLK Speeds. This memory is more comparible to PC-3200, which, while not the fastest, shouldn’t cause any terrible bottlenecks in current software.
The performance of the hard drive is not bad considering it is a laptop drive. This benchmark shows it can even outperform some 7200 RPM desktop hard drives in sustained transfer rate tests. The SATA interface isn’t really taken advantage of due to the bottlenecking, however. It’s for this reason that I opted for the 5400 RPM drive over the 7200; similar to the processor, the small increase in actual performance is not worth the added cost, and extra heat generated by a 7200 RPM laptop drive.
I also performed tests in 3dmark05 and Super Pi tests for video card and processor performance comparisons against other laptops on notebookreview.com
|Clevo M570A (2.0GHz Pentium M)||1m 33s|
|Acer TravelMate 8204WLMi (2.0GHz Core Duo)||1m 15s|
|Sony VAIO FS680 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)||1m 53s|
|Lenovo ThinkPad T60 (2.0GHz Core Duo)||1m 18s|
|IBM ThinkPad Z60m (2.0 GHz Pentium M)||1m 36s|
|Fujitsu LifeBook N3510 (1.73 GHz Pentium M)||1m 48s|
|Dell Inspiron 6000D (1.6 GHz Pentium M)||1m 52s|
|Dell Inspiron 600M (1.6 GHz Pentium M)||2m 10s|
|HP Pavilion dv4000 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)||1m 39s|
|HP DV4170us (Pentium M 1.73 GHz)||1m 53s|
|Sony VAIO S380 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)||1m 45s|
|Notebook||3DMark 05 Results|
|Clevo M570A (2.0GHz Pentium M)||6677 3D Marks|
|Lenovo ThinkPad Z60m (2.0GHz Pentium M, ATI X600 128MB)||1659 3DMarks|
|ThinkPad T43 (1.86GHz, ATI X300 64MB graphics)||727 3DMarks|
|Asus V6Va (2.13 GHz Pentium M, ATI Radeon Mobility x700 128 MB)||2530 3D Marks|
|Quanta KN1 (1.86 GHz Pentium M, NVIDIA GeForce Go 6600 128mb)||2,486 3DMarks|
|HP dv4000 (1.86GHz Pentium M, ATI X700 128MB)||2536 3D Marks|
|Acer TravelMate 8204WLMi (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1600 256MB)||4157 3DMarks|
- 4x USB 2.0 ports
- 1x Mini IEEE1394a port
- 1x Serial port
- 1x S-Video jack for TV output
- 1x DVI port
- 1x Headphone jack
- 1x Microphone jack
- 1x S/PDIF output jack
- 1x Line-in jack
- 1x RJ-45 port for LAN
- 1x RJ-11 port for Modem
- 1x Type II PCMCIA socket
- Embedded 4-in-1 Card Reader (MS/MS Pro/SD/MMC)
- Infrared Transfer: 115.2Kbps SIR / 4Mbps FIR, IrDA 1.1 commpliant, 30cm
- 10/100/1000BASE-TX Fast Ethernet on board
- Integrated V.90/56K Modem (V.92 compliant)
- Intel Pro/Wireless 2915ABG
- Bluetooth TM Class II V1.2 Module, USB interface
- 1.3M-pixel Video Camera module
Two of the USB ports, and the ethernet and modem ports are located on the rear of the computer. The other two USB ports and the PCMCIA card slot are located on the right side. The headphone and microphone jacks are located on the front right side of the laptop, in front of the PCMCIA slot.Wireless
The wireless on this laptop is its weakest point. Something in the laptop is interfering with the wireless, causing it to drop connection repeatedly. I haven’t had the time to figure it out (I just threw my old wireless card in the PCMCIA slot and it works fine), but this is something that should not have slipped past quality control. I would not recommend expecting the wireless in this laptop to work well for you, though some others have reported that it works fine. I mentioned earlier in the review that disabling the IRDA port removed interference with the sound on the laptop… It’s possible that disabling this or another less than necessary module on the laptop will fix the problem.Battery
Battery life on this laptop is about two to two and a half hours. Not wonderful, but it is a desktop replacement, and some sacrifices must be made to get desktop performance out of a laptop. Considering that a laptop of this nature will most likely be sitting at a desk most of the time, battery life should be less of an issue for the kind of use it will see. There is an expansion bay for a second battery, which supposedly adds another hour or so to the AC-Powerless life of the computer. I should also note that in order to run for the two hours, the laptop clocks down the video card and dims the screen among some other power saving things… Attempting to run the laptop full blast and play 3d games or watch movies, you can expect the battery life to drop to less than an hour quite easily.Operating System and Software
I opted not to have an operating system installed to save a little cash, as I already have a copy of windows at home. The OS installation went smoothly and driver CDs for the laptop’s important hardware were included (ethernet, wireless, camera, USB, chipset, video, etc..). No complaints here.Customer Support
This is where the real benefit of purchasing from a smaller, reliable reseller. Personalized customer support. Fortunately, I haven’t had to deal with customer support too much, but there was a point early in the process where I had to call them up regarding an issue with the screen not turning on. I was immediately connected with the technician who built my computer, who also happens to be the CEO of the company, and discussed my problems and symptoms directly with him. They also respond in a timely fashion to emails, and have a web based chat client that they actually use. Support can’t get any better than this!The Good
- Blazing fast processor and video card
- No stability issues
- Very well priced for what I am getting ($2200)
- Beautiful, good quality build and design (professional look)
- Great LCD screen with gloss coating (option to get one without)
- Lightweight for a desktop replacement
- Decent onboard sound quality
- A1 Customer support from ISTNC
- Wireless has issues
- Heavy for a laptop
- Hiss in the background with sound, and chirping noise on headphones when IRDA is enabled
- Only one PCMCIA slot – Meaning I can’t have one of those PCMCIA Sound Blasters and a PCMCIA wireless at the same time
- There’s nothing ugly about this laptop
So, was it worth it? Heck yeah! I am very glad I did the research on this laptop.. I was about to go for a Dell XPS M170, but I would have payed close to $1000 or more for the same thing. Im sure the XPS is a nice machine, but its a little too pricey for me. Additionally, since I want to be able to use my laptop at work, I can’t have a laptop that looks like a pure gaming machine, and this laptop does that job while still maintaining plenty of style.
All of the latest games can be played with ease. Battlefield 2 at highest settings and resolution? No problem.
I am very glad I made the purchase from ISTNC (thanks to those who posted in the forums about them). They are light years ahead of bigger companies in how they take care of their customers.
Unfortunately, the problems with the sound and wireless, and the fact that I have to look into a USB wireless card since I only have one PCMCIA slot for the Sound Blaster, forces me to give the laptop a somewhat less than perfect rating. But the quality and value of the laptop make it well worth the purchase despite these flaws. I give it an A-.