Systemax Vigor Review (pics, specs)

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Systemax Vigor Review

by Dustin Sklavos


The Systemax Vigor in all its glory.

The Systemax Vigor is a ruggedized mainstream value notebook (whew, talk about a run-on). Price as configured is $1,179.99.

  • 15.1″ XGA Matte Screen (1024×768)
  • Intel Celeron M 380 (1.6GHz, 400MHz FSB, 1MB L2 Cache)
  • 1GB DDR2-533 PC2-4200
  • 40GB 4200rpm Samsung Hard Disk
  • DVD+/-RW Drive
  • Intel GMA 900 Graphics
  • Intel 915GM Chipset
  • VIA Vinyl AC’97 Audio Chipset
  • Intel Pro Wireless 2200BG
  • Modem / 10/100 Ethernet
  • Integrated Microphone
  • Ports: Kensington Lock, VGA, Ethernet, Modem, Type II PCMCIA, FireWire, Digital Audio Out, Line Out, Line In, S-Video, Serial, 3x USB 2.0

I last reviewed the Systemax Epic, their entry into the ultraportable market, and found it to be a solid if unexceptional unit, though certainly priced right. Systemax is a fairly small American company, and their computers are available through TigerDirect.com.

Build & Design

This is my first personal, prolonged experience with a ruggedized notebook and I have to say, I’d be really impressed if another rugged notebook manufacturer could make a more comfortable, respectable machine.


The contoured lid is extremely sturdy.

It goes without saying that the lid is almost completely inflexible and the screen shows no rippling if you press behind it, unless you press EXTREMELY hard and sustain the pressure. And even then, rippling is very minor, and is all over the screen. To say it’s well constructed would be an understatement.

The rest of the construction of the notebook is equally respectable, showing minimal if any flex anywhere on the machine. The optical drive has a locking mechanism, and the whole unit is very sturdy. The hinges are firm and there’s no wobble to the screen. The lid itself does not have an actual latch, but instead lifts open and closed – an interesting choice for a rugged notebook – yet feels as sturdy as the rest of the unit.


The Systemax Vigor is extremely well made.

The weight is about right for a notebook built like it is, but surprisingly, it doesn’t feel like a massive brick, and its power brick isn’t all that large either. I’d say it’s comparable to any other mainstream notebook, rugged or otherwise.

As far as design is concerned, it’s actually a fairly distinctive, attractive notebook in this reviewer’s opinion. It has the same two-toned black and silver that’s become so common, but with the silver on the inside and the black on the outside. The gray keyboard is attractive, and the whole unit has a very respectable look.

Screen


Unremarkable. It won’t blow you away, but you won’t be complaining either. (view large image)

The screen is standard aspect, matte, 1024×768, and unexceptional. I’m of the opinion that screen technology has in some ways plateaued.

Viewing angles are middling, but acceptable, and the screen is certainly very bright. There’s nothing particularly noteworthy about it, but there’s also nothing to complain about either, really.

There were no dead or stuck pixels on this unit.

Speakers

The speakers are located at the fron of the keyboard area, astride the palm rests.  Not the best place for the speakers; above the keyboard or on the front might’ve served them better.

Though the system uses a desirable VIA sound chipset (and features a good equalizer), the speakers are, unfortunately, laptop speakers, and not particularly loud ones either. Recognizing laptop speakers have almost no bass to speak of, these are especially disappointing ones. One song I played that had particularly good bass to it was practically reduced to clicks.

Do yourself a favor and buy a pair of headphones, because these speakers just aren’t going to cut it.

Processor and Performance

The Celeron M constantly gets a bad rap, but what most people don’t realize is that the modern Celeron M is really just a first-generation Pentium M with no clock speed throttling. But when you take into account that the hardware itself has minimal power draw at full speed anyhow, battery life becomes less of an issue.

As for performance, while it won’t be exceptional, I’ve found it to be more than adequate.

For those that like hard figures:

Super Pi Benchmark comparison results

Notebook Time to Calculate Pi to 2 Million Digits
Systemax Vigor (1.6GHz Celeron M 380) 2m 12s
Dell Latitude X1 (1.1 GHz ULV Pentium M) 2m 40s
Dell Inspiron e1505 (2.00 GHz Core 2 Duo) 1m 02s
Fujitsu LifeBook P7120 (1.2 GHz ULV Pentium M) 2m 32s
Lenovo ThinkPad X60s (1.66 GHz LV Core Duo) 1m 23s
IBM ThinkPad X41 (1.50 GHz Alviso Pentium M) 2m 02s
Dell Inspiron 600m (1.6 GHz Dothan Pentium M) 2m 10s
Lenovo ThinkPad T60 (2.0GHz Core Duo) 1m 18s

 

PCMark04 Benchmark Results:

Notebook  PCMark04 Results
Systemax Vigor (1.6GHz Celeron M 380)  2,822 PCMarks
Dell XPS M1210 (2.13 GHz Core Duo)  6,033 PCMarks
Dell Inspiron XPS2 (2.0GHz Intel Pentium M)  4,082 PCMarks
Acer Aspire 5002 WLMi (AMD Turion 64 ML-30 1.6GHz)  2,392 PCmarks
Acer TravelMate 4400 (AMD Turion ML-30, 1.6GHz)  3,104 PCMarks
Toshiba Tecra A6 (1.66GHz Intel Core Duo)  2,653 PCMarks
PortableOne SR2 (Intel Pentium M Dothan 735 1.7GHz)  3,274 PCMarks

 

HDTune Hard Drive Benchmark Results:


(view large image)

 

3DMark05 Results:


(view large image)

Obviously this isn’t a gaming system, but that’s not really the intended purpose of this notebook and I can’t remember the last time I saw a ruggedized notebook that was designed for gaming.

All that said, it’s obviously specced as a budget system, but all of these components are upgradeable, as the system can be customized at the TigerDirect.com site. But specced as a budget system, performance is certainly snappy enough and just fine for regular use.

Heat & Noise

Underside view of Systemax Vigor

Ventilation is superficially a little questionable, but heat never became a serious issue while I was using it.

The Systemax Vigor generates heat in all the typical places. The palm rests become fairly warm but never uncomfortably so, and the bottom is the same way. As far as noise goes, it’s a fairly quiet notebook. Not whisper quiet, and if the room is dead silent you’ll hear the fan, but just about any ambient noise (or music, like what I’m listening to as I write this review) will drown it out easily.

Keyboard & Touchpad

Most. Comfortable. Laptop keyboard. Ever.

I know a lot of people complain about the “Fn” and “Ctrl” keys being switched on laptops but honestly, I’ve seen this design frequently enough that it just doesn’t bother me anymore, and frankly I’m not sure it ever did. I have yet to see anything resembling a “standard” key layout for laptops.

For what it’s worth, the only things that bother me about the layout are the odd duplicate backslash next to the spacebar and the odd positioning of the keys at the upper right – I’m used to the delete key being where the Break key is on this keyboard, and I’ve found myself hitting Break more than once and wondering why the heck nothing’s being deleted.

And the keyboard quality itself? PHENOMENAL. This is easily the most comfortable laptop keyboard I’ve ever used. The keys are a good-size and easy to strike, and the keys themselves have a very comfortable depth that makes it simple to touch type on. Even the texture of the plastic used for the keys is extremely comfortable to my fingertips. Naturally, given the design of the rest of the notebook, the keyboard has no flex to speak of. The keyboard is an absolute pleasure to use.


A touchpad that’s enjoyable to use? Say it ain’t so! (view large image)

Most people tend to be fairly picky about their touchpads, and I seem to be of a particularly finicky sort. So I’m pleased to say that the touchpad on the Systemax Vigor is another big winner. I found it extremely easy to use and control. The mouse buttons are clicky, but feel solid. I’m also a big fan of the implementation of scroll buttons in the middle instead of a scroll zone on the pad itself. To be perfectly frank, I never found myself reaching for an external mouse and have not hooked one up the entire time I’ve been using this machine.

Honestly, these are probably my favorite parts of the notebook, and they may seem insignificant, but remember…this is how you’re going to be interacting with the machine on a daily basis. If it can’t hold up this end, the entire experience suffers.

Input & Output Ports

There are no ports on the back.

Power, battery, and charging lights on the top row. On the bottom, FireWire, digital out, headphone jack, mic jack, and analog volume dial.

No way! An analog volume dial! I’d been complaining to a co-worker about how these had basically vanished, so you can imagine my delight in finding the Systemax Vigor has one. I really wish they hadn’t disappeared, as software volume hasn’t ever seemed to be able to tune the volume just right.

I’ve never been a fan of putting ports on the front of a notebook and that opinion continues today. I’ll allow that there isn’t really space for all of these to go on one of the sides, but for crying out loud, at least move the FireWire port out of the way. That’s just a bad spot for it.

Kensington, vent, power, VGA, ethernet, modem, USB 2.0, PCMCIA.

Apart from the odd placement of the power jack (shouldn’t it be closer to the rear?) there isn’t anything noteworthy about the placement of the jacks on this side of the unit.

USB 2.0 x2, S-Video, optical drive, serial port.

I take issue with the S-Video port being so far forward while the serial port is in the back, and I’d probably switch them, personally. I thought splitting the USB ports between the sides was a nice touch.

I’m sure at this point some of you are wondering “what is a serial port.” Given the design of this notebook, it’s decidedly well suited to professional work that involves bringing a laptop places you typically wouldn’t. Many professional occupations still use hardware that connects via a serial port. Industrial and mechanical occupations in particular tend to use a mixture of newer and older technology, and since this notebook is built for use in slightly more hazardous areas, it makes sense to include the port to broaden its market. Of course, if you also have a serial mouse lying around…

One thing worth noting is the lack of flash memory ports; this further notes that the unit is in some ways designed more for prosumers and professionals than the casual user, though that doesn’t preclude it being an ideal machine for a home with a rambunctious toddler or some very large dogs!

Wireless

Wireless access is easy enough with Intel’s ProSet wireless software, and the unit gets good range and connectivity. I’ve seen a lot of debate on the forums regarding peoples’ opinions of Intel’s software; I personally enjoy using it, and it does simplify some tasks, but I can see how others might prefer to use the built in Windows wireless software instead.

The nice thing is that Intel’s software is pretty easy to ditch if you’d rather use Windows XP. I know Netgear’s wireless adaptors basically tell you what you can go do with yourself if you want to use the adaptor without their wireless client.

Battery

Assuming you dim the screen and run it without the wireless, the battery will last you over three hours. I think this is a particularly good figure, given how bright the screen is even on its lowest setting and that the processor is always running at full speed. I know in my use I’ve been running it on the battery with the brightness all the way up and I’ve been just fine, and it’s been pushing close to three hours.

I have no doubt you’d be able to get through a full DVD on this battery.

Operating System and Software

The Systemax Vigor came with Windows XP Home Edition SP2. For most users, this’ll be plenty, but the option to upgrade to XP Professional is available for those who choose to use it.

The system also comes with a recovery partition, and unfortunately its presence is really felt on a drive this small (40GB). Upgrading the hard drive when you order the system would probably be wise.

Joyfully, my taskbar remains remarkably free of excess crapware, and you won’t have to reformat the system when you get it.

The unit includes:

  • eTrust Antivirus
  • Systemax’s MaxTech software
  • CyberLink’s PowerStarter suite (includes PowerDVD)
  • AOL 6 Month Trial (not preinstalled)

And uh…yeah! I don’t think a copy of Microsoft Works would’ve been particularly unwelcome, but all told, I’d rather have a notebook with a fairly spare set of pack-in software than, for example, the absolute hellish deluge of software more mainstream manufacturers dump on their machines.

Customer Support

I haven’t had any need to take up Systemax’s support on this unit, but if you’re curious about it, you’re welcome to read my review of the Systemax Epic, where I did test their customer support.

I will say that being able to call a customer support line, get through fairly quickly, and talk with someone who speaks clear English is a blessing.

Conclusions

I actually found myself fairly smitten with the Systemax Vigor. While it doesn’t suit my personal needs in a notebook, I’d have no trouble recommending it to anyone else, and the substantially improved build quality could definitely substitute for buying a pricey accidental damage warranty. My experience in using the notebook has been a pleasant one, and it was very easy to use it to write this review.

About the only point I’m fuzzy on is the price of the notebook. I won’t lie, you can get a lot more machine for the price, but remember you’re paying a premium for the improved build quality. Unfortunately the notebook can only be upgraded to Pentium Ms and not to a Core Duo. Given that the second generation of Core Duo, the Core 2 Duo, is now starting to materialize on the market, using hardware that’s now two generations behind is pretty questionable. It’s not BAD hardware, but it IS outdated.

Ultimately, the notebook might fall just a little short in the consumer sector, though it is very easy to recommend because where it lacks in hardware specs, it makes up for in ease of use – the experience is a positive one. The serial port may also be a clever move on Systemax’s part, allowing the unit access to a market it wouldn’t ordinarily have access to.

Stumbling only where the tech specs are concerned, the Systemax Vigor is nonetheless a notebook I am happy to recommend.

 

Pricing and Availability

The Systemax Vigor can be purchased online at TigerDirect.com for a starting price of $999.



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