by Charles P. Jefferies, Pennsylvania USA
I am guessing that when you saw the name Sager, you thought “Boutique” and “Gaming”. Well, that would be correct! Sager is a company that produces high-performance notebooks for applications such as mobile gaming, video editing, and advanced business applications. They have been in business since 1985 — 20 years is quite a long time for a computer company. Each notebook they produce is tested for 96 hours straight, in two separate testing facilities, to ensure that the notebook you get is reliable and of the highest quality. They also offer some of the best warranties in the business.
The notebook I am reviewing for you today is the Sager NP-5320. This is a gaming notebook, featuring a high-resolution widescreen display, a fast processor, and a top shelf graphics card. Much of the review will focus primarily on performance, since that is what this notebook is all about.
Sager NP-5320 angle view (view larger image)
I custom configured my machine Sager NP-5320 with the following:
- Intel Pentium M 750
- Microsoft Windows XP Home
- 1024MB (512MB x 2) DDR2 533MHz Dual-channel RAM
- 80GB 5400RPM Serial ATA Samsung Spinpoint HDD
- ATI Mobility Radeon X700, 256MB dedicated GDDR2
- 15.4″ WSXGA+ (1680×1050) TFT display
- Intel PRO Wireless 2915
- Intel 915PM Express Chipset
- 8-cell Li-Ion battery
- 24X CDRW/DVD drive (upgraded to a Sony DWD-56A DVDRW aftermarket) — modular.
- Integrated digital video camera
- Intel High-Definition Audio (Azalia interface)
- 4-in-1 Media card reader
Top side view of Sager NP-5320 (view larger image)
Reasons for Buying
I was in the market for a high-performance gaming notebook. There were several key features I desired:
- Attractive design
- Fast graphics card with at least 128MB VRAM
- Reliable cooling system
- Mobile processor (not DTR) for less heat
- Under $1,650
With these in mind, I had a few choices of notebooks — below are the ones I considered:
- Asus Z70VA
- Asus Z71V
- Sager NP-3380
- Sager NP-5320
It was quite a difficult decision between these four candidates. The Asus Z70VA is one of the best widescreen notebooks on the market and included everything I wanted. So, why didn’t I get the Z70VA? Well, let’s take into consideration my budget. With the specs I wanted, it was just too expensive for me to justify, especially when the Sager 5320 was over $250 less with the same components. Even taking the options down a notch, it still did not offer as many features per dollar as the Sager. I had also looked at the Z71V, but I wasn’t too pleased with its case design, and I’m not really an NVIDIA person. It too was more than the Sager 5320 when similarly configured.
Now down to the last two candidates, why did I choose the NP-5320 over the NP-3880? For starters, the case design was much more attractive and clean’. It also featured twice the video memory, plus a DVI-D port, which would be great to hook up to my 46″ HDTV. These features won me over.
The final cost of my notebook including shipping came out the $1,621.
I had my notebook custom configured by PowerNotebooks. A few factors led to my decision. First of all, their rating on Reseller Ratings is unsurpassed — 9.99 for lifetime out of almost 1000 reviews. I was extremely impressed. What impressed me even more was the ordering process itself. My sales representative, Donald Stratton, was very well mannered, friendly, and responded to my emails very swiftly. The notebook was easy to configure and purchase.
After I ordered, I received an email detailing my order, and when it was slated to ship. They said four days to build — and four days it was, right on the mark. I was sent a tracking number for my package via email. I followed it all the way to my door.
Packaging was excellent, with the notebook being well protected in a sturdy box and surrounded by plenty of insulation.
I would wholeheartedly recommend PowerNotebooks if you are interested in a great notebook for an even better price, along with unsurpassed customer service.
Build and Design
Build quality on this notebook is excellent. High quality plastic is used for construction, and feels very solid. There is no flex anywhere, and the screen, being as large as it is at 15.4″, flexes very little for its size. The only flex evident results from twisting the screen from side to side. Pushing in from the back has no impact — it does not budge, even when applying pressure in the center of the display panel. To test and see how rigid it truly was, I placed my cat on the display lid, and it barely moved. She weighs nine pounds!
The chassis has no flex either, due to the solid frame of the notebook. The hinges for the display hold it in place very securely, and are securely anchored to the notebook’s chassis.
This notebook is a bit heavy at 7.5lbs, but it is certainly respectable for a desktop replacement as powerful as this one.
Lid and back side view of Sager (view larger image)
The display used on this notebook is a high-resolution Widescreen Super eXtended Graphics Array Plus (WSXGA+) screen. It spans 1,680 pixels horizontally and 1,050 pixels vertically, resulting in a large amount of screen real estate.
As for the display itself, the contrast is very good, about the same level as my desktop’s 17″ Samsung. However, even though it is bright enough for my usage, I think it could be a few nits brighter — the display isn’t dim, but I can tell it would benefit from an increased brightness level.
The panel has a refresh rate of 60Hz, and has very little to no ghosting during games.
Movies, games, and photos look splendid. The higher resolution really comes in handy for viewing large photos, and when using two windows side by side.
Viewing angles are very good, and the picture still looks good from either side of the display. From the top and bottom the colors are distorted slightly (the vertical viewing angle is not as good as horizontal, which is typical), but is still very good for an LCD display.
Screen view (view larger image)
At the top of the LCD display is an integrated digital VGA video camera.
VGA video cam on top of notebook screen
It records good video and is useful if you like to videoconference on the road. Colors are well saturated.
Left side profile view (view larger image)
Speakers and Sound Quality
This notebook features two of the best speakers I have ever had on a notebook. If I was blindfolded, and made to listen to these speakers playing games or music, I would have told you that they belonged to a desktop. They are not tinny in the least, and project music very well. What’s really interesting is the speaker setup itself. At the back of the notebook and on either side lie the twin speakers, and also feature openings on the top — so, you have music projecting to the side of the notebook and toward you — this gives the sound depth, and the virtual surround sound in games and movies is quite amazing — you’d think that a jet flying by on the screen or a missile whizzing by your head actually went behind you. Another interesting feature is the speakers themselves reside about a half-inch inside the notebook — this gives the sound depth as well.
The Intel High Definition Audio controls the sound. It can handle up to eight channels in 32-bit quality. There is a noticeable difference versus the traditional AC’97 codec. Even MP3’s sound different. Games sound similar, but there is much more depth to the sound, and the special effects are much improved.
As for the headphone jack quality, it leaves me somewhat disappointed. There is a slight hiss, which can be disruptive while listening to classical music. However, most of the time you cannot hear it — most music and games drown it out.
The High Definition audio control panel. Equalizer works very well!
Processor and Performance
I configured my notebook with the Intel Pentium M 750 processor, operating at 1.86GHz, with a 2MB Level 2 cache and a 533MHz Front Side Bus.
Performance is excellent — the notebook is very responsive, and I have yet to experience a lockup or slow down while gaming or running multiple applications.
The processor is coupled with the Intel 915PM chipset and 1024MB of DDR2 533MHz memory. The DDR2 memory is manufactured by Transcend.
At 266MHz (internal), it has timings of 4.0-4-4-11. Having a CAS latency of 4.0 is high compared to DDR, but is the norm for DDR2. Since I have two 512MB modules, it runs in dual-channel mode. Below are a few benchmarks regarding the memory:
- Read: 3018MB/s bandwidth
- Write: 762MB/s
- Latency: 108.5ns
I am impressed by the read bandwidth, but the write rate leaves me a bit disappointed. I thought it might be closer to 900MB/s. This due in part to the Pentium M’s external memory controller, which limits memory bandwidth by a good amount.
Below are the SuperPI benchmarks — SuperPI forces the processor to calculate digits of PI. “M” stands for million digits.
- 512k digits: 16 seconds
- 1M: 41s
- 2M: 1 minute 43s
- 4M: 3m 27s
Below are the hard drive benchmarks generated by HDTune 2.10
HDTune results (view larger image)
Scores for the Samsung Spinpoint SATA hard drive are fairly average, not particularly high nor low. However, notice the low CPU usage — that’s due to the Serial ATA hard drive. It requires less CPU utilization to be accessed, and another advantage with SATA is that it consumes slightly less power.
An extensive amount of benchmarks were run on this machine using the programs 3DMark05, 3DMark03, PCMark04, Far Cry, Counter Strike and Half Life 2. To see the full set of results please click here: Full benchmark and gaming results for Sager NP-5320
Keyboard and Touchpad
Touchpad: The Sager NP-5320 has the best touchpad I have ever used. It has a soft, slightly rubberized texture, making it a pleasure to use. Elantech manufactures the touchpad. I like the software associated with it. Along the right side, it features a scroll bar, which comes in handy when you are web surfing or reading a document. The buttons are made out of brushed aluminum, giving the touchpad a smart look.
Touchpad closeup (view larger image)
Keyboard: This keyboard is definitely an improvement over other laptop’s keyboards I have used. It has a slightly longer keystroke and is firmer. There is absolutely no flex. I can type as hard as I want, and the keyboard does not sag or flex anywhere, even in the center and at the corners. The keys are easy to push down, yet firm enough that if you accidentally brush a key with your finger it does not register. None of the surrounding keys move when a key is pressed. The noise made when pressing a key down is pleasant — a solid’ sound, if you will. For comparison purposes, I had a friend bring over their ThinkPad so I could compare this. The ThinkPad I typed on was an R40. Compared to the ThinkPad, this notebook has larger keys, and about the same keystroke distance. Keys are more somewhat more difficult to press down, and also make a louder sound. This keyboard is firmer as well.
On the front of the keyboard is a very cool looking LCD display. All the status lights on this notebook are displayed on this, including the keyboard lights. Also featured on the LCD display are a clock (nice for games), a battery meter, and a wireless indicator. On either side of the LCD display are media buttons for the DJ. You can actually play music CDs when the notebook is off. Just hit “on” and you have yourself a CD player! Also conveniently located along the front are volume control buttons. It’s nice to be able to control the volume without using the mouse. That’s a feature I always like to see on a notebook.
Keyboard and touchpad, notice the media buttons along the front (view larger image)
Input and Output Ports
Being a desktop replacement class notebook, many different output ports you would not normally see on a notebook are featured. Let’s take a look.
The back of the notebook:
From left to right: Heat exhaust, line in jack, SPDIF, 2x USB 2.0, DVI-D, CATV jack (only enabled with TV Tuner option), 56k modem, Gigabit Ethernet, S-Video, AC power jack, serial port. (view larger image)
DVI-D is a very nice feature if you have a digital LCD. I’m not quite sure why a serial port is included, but I imagine it would be convenient if you had older devices. Note that there is no conventional analog VGA port on this notebook — however, it is not a problem, because a DVI > VGA adapter is included.
The right side:
From left to right: Headphone jack, microphone port, PC Card slot (top), 4-in-1 media reader (SC, MMC, Sony MS, Sony MS Pro), 4-pin IEEE 1394 (Firewire), 2x USB 2.0, Kensington lock slot, speaker, intake vent. (view larger image)
I found the media reader to be one of the better ones I have used, because when you insert the media card, it doesn’t go all the way in — this makes it much easier to retrieve. About half of the card sticks out. In the picture, the media reader is filled with a rubber “dummy” card, so it keeps the dust out. Nice touch.
The left side:
Only a speaker (left) and the modular bay are located on this side. The modular bay can accept an optical drive (shown), a second 6-cell battery, or another hard drive (ATA only). (view larger image)
Here are a few more pictures of the notebook so you can get a closer look:
My notebook came standard with the Intel PRO 2915 WLAN card. It features the traditional B and G bands, as well as the less common A band. Both A and G connect at 54Mbps, but their operating frequencies differ. G operates at 2.4GHz, and A at 5GHz. In a crowded area, one might experience interference with the 2.4GHz band, so operating at the A band has its advantages if the router supports it. A band also uses less power and is faster, but the disadvantage is that it has shorter range.
I did not have any problems connecting to my wireless router in my house, nor to the ones we have at the office. I connected to both WEP and WAP encrypted networks without issue.
With the main 8-cell Li-Ion battery pack, Sager says three to four hours of life. This is, of course, while idle. Nobody just leaves his or her notebook on battery while it does nothing, so I decided that it would be more useful if I clocked the battery life while surfing the web. I managed two hours and twenty-four minutes while surfing the Internet, with the wireless card on — I was using it half the time — the other half I was plugged into an Ethernet cable. The battery life is quite good in my opinion, especially considering that this is a gaming notebook. The Pentium M processor was a major factor leading to the excellent battery life. The ATI PowerPlay technology worked well, keeping the GPU’s power consumption down. I would expect to add another hour and a half to two hours (give or take) with the second modular six-cell battery.
The AC adapter for this machine supplies 90W of power and is average sized. It’s not a brick by any means. This adapter is heavier than a normal AC adapter.
Heat and Noise
This is one of the most important areas of a gaming notebook — the cooling solution. If you look at the side view of the notebook, you’ll see how it gradually gets thicker toward the back. That is a very clever design feature, because all of the heat-producing components are located toward the rear, and the more space available, the more places the heat has to go.
There are two fans in the notebook — one in the middle, which forces air into the notebook, and another, which is much larger and expels the heat out through the back.
Above is the bottom of the notebook. Notice the numerous perforations designed to release heat so it does not build up. (view larger image)
Above is the main fan of the notebook. (view larger image)
I opened the bottom panels of the notebook to get a peek inside. The front-center compartment houses the mini-PCI WLAN card. To the left of it is the slot for the optional TV tuner, and to the right is the slot for the optional Bluetooth card. Above these compartments lie the hard drive on the left and the two RAM sticks on the right. (view larger image)
Under the back panel of the notebook resides the modular Radeon X700 GPU, located on the left. It features ATI AXIOM technology, meaning the card is swappable. Notice the high-quality copper heatsinks. On the right lies the CPU (covered by the heatsink). (view larger image)
The cooling solution Sager elected to employ in this notebook works quite well. The GPU receives ample cooling due to its quality copper heatsinks, and the processor’s heat is whisked away by the large main fan. On the flip side, the keyboard is warm but not uncomfortable. It is actually pleasant on chilly days! Above the keyboard, below the display, the plastic can get quite warm (the GPU being directly underneath), but it doesn’t affect anything so I don’t view it as a problem.
At idle, the notebook’s fan is barely audible. Due to the fan’s large diameter, it does not need to spin at a high RPM to expel heat, thus keeping the noise level down. The fan rarely spools up to a higher speed, expect during gaming and other processor intensive applications. At its maximum speed, the fan is audible, but it is not very loud. It sounds like a muted “whir”. There is no whine. Compared to other notebooks I’ve had, this is fairly quiet. The second fan is not audible.
As for the hard drive, it is very quiet, and there are no clicking’ noises when data is accessed/written. Previous Samsung hard drives I’ve used were noisy and hot, but they have really been improved recently. Samsung’s SATA hard drives feature fluid dynamic bearings, leading to a quieter and much smoother operation. Also, Samsung’s patented NoiseGuard and SilentSeek technology further reduce level of noise.
Operating System and Software
Ordering an operating system with this notebook is optional. I like not being forced to buy an operating system with the notebook, because if you have an extra copy of Windows XP (or whatever you want to put on it), then you can save yourself some money. Because an OS is optional, there is no “Designed for Windows” sticker present.
I ordered the notebook with Windows XP Home Edition. It and all the drivers came installed and ready to go upon delivery. There was a very small but highly usable software package included — Nero OEM and WinDVD 5. Both work very well.
All of the restore CDs and the OS CD were included.
Customer Service/ Support
I am extremely pleased with the wonderful customer service — PowerNotebooks made everything easy and answered all my questions. I would definitely go back to them.
I haven’t had to contact technical support yet, because the notebook is working flawlessly. However, I have heard many good things about PowerNotebook’s support. Sager also has is supposed to have excellent support.
One really nice feature about this notebook’s warranty is that Sager covers it with a 72-hour repair turnaround guarantee — standard. Lifetime technical support comes standard as well — many manufacturers only offer technical support for the duration of the warranty, but Sager offers technical support for the life of the notebook — very nice!
On the whole, this is the best notebook I ever had the pleasure of owning. The Sager NP-5320 excels at high-end 3D applications, doesn’t run that hot, and still manages decent battery life. It features numerous little features that you would not find on an ordinary notebook, and packs a serious punch where it counts the most. This is one notebook that lives up to its potential and accomplishes what it was meant to do. I wholeheartedly recommend this computer to the mobile gamer willing to venture off the beaten path and own a truly spectacular notebook.
- Fast Pentium M processor
- Highly capable Radeon X700 graphics card
- High resolution display
- Nice keyboard and touchpad
- Great build quality
- Awesome speakers and sound
- DVI port, LCD display
- Integrated video camera
- Serial ATA hard drive and DDR2 memory
- Modular Bay
- Decent battery life
- Relatively quiet
- Beautiful appearance
- Nice cooling solution
- Good warranty
- Screen could be a big brighter
- Average hard drive speed
- A little on the heavy side
Pricing and Availability:
Please check the PowerNotebooks.com website for current pricing on this notebook: http://www.powernotebooks.com/category.php?catId=26#id1037