Category: Laptops

Rock Xtreme 840 SLI Review

First impressions

Wow, I thought the MSI was huge. This thing dwarfs it. It weighs a huge 6Kg and I almost broke my back lifting it up onto my desk. It’s 439 x 299 x 44 mm. Huge! My initial thought was, “How do I turn this thing on!?”

When I got over my brain-fart and figured out that the power button’s nestled comfortably into the hinge, I hit it and the whole machine lit up with shiny shiny blue lights every. The machine is black all over with pretty blue LED displays and touch sensitive buttons. No backlighting for the keyboard though, unfortunately.

It’s pure Star Trek geekery to behold, making the first boot-up a satisfying reward for the six hours it took you to forklift it onto your desk. The machine booted up reasonably quickly, though not as swift as the MSI.

The high definition, 18.4 inch, 1920×1080 pixel display is bright, beautiful and crystal clear. I couldn’t wait to go HD-crazy. It’s surrounded by a glossy black case, which is blindingly shiny. If you’ve got filthy fingers, you’ll know. I dare not approach the review machine without a pair of medical gloves on. 

Stuff wot it has

The Rock XTREME 840SLI is full of mighty, mighty power. It’s got an Intel Core 2 Extreme X9100 processor and for graphics it runs with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 280M SLI. This is backed up by a maximum 4GB of DDR3, 1066 MHz RAM. Blimey.  Your connectivity includes a Blu-ray drive, HDMI video outputs, four USBs all in all, a TV tuner port and a fingerprint reader.

This review machine “only” had 460GB of storage space, but you can choose up to 750GB SSDRAID drives if you fancy.

The keyboard wins over the MSI machine with a more standard layout, boasting an additional 8 gaming macro keys to the left of your main keyboard. However, its touchpad is a real failing point. As it is not buried in the chassis, the only thing letting you know it’s there is a single blue LED square. While this is really cool to look at, it means if you’re not careful, simply dragging your palm over it accidentally while typing or gaming can become a real pain, screwing up your shots or just plain getting in the way.

It’s got a sweet Bison webcam built in too, which takes high quality photos.

Stuff wot it does

I’ll start with my main gripe. Sound on this machine unfortunately is a real let-down. It’s fine for a bit of casual gaming but no fun for watching a film unless you’re real close up. With such stunning visual quality on hand, it’s a shame that Rock didn’t think to boost the sound.

After tinkering with volume and being thoroughly disappointed, I plugged in my standard Creative I-Trigue speakers and all was well with the world again. More on that stunning visual quality, though: The high def, 18 inch screen is a real beauty for gaming or for watching a Blu-ray film. It’s superb.

Running Crysis was a pleasure, and the machine handled frame rates better than the MSI. Mass Effect 2 looked and ran gorgeously too. Generally performance was perfect all around, except for one niggling and major problem. Occasionally when the machine struggled, it would lag for about 4 seconds and make a horrible, glitched repeating sound. It resolves itself in the end but really takes away from any sense of immersion. Strangely, it wasn’t just when the machine was running high-performance games such as the above, but also when navigating around Windows 7 and running, say, Chrome and Spotify at the same time. It almost got away with the Spotify glitch, as I was listening to jungle and could barely tell. 
 
The Xtreme 840SLI managed to keep very cool no matter what demanding tasks I laid on. Its base remained completely cool and didn’t feel dangerously close to overheating once, which was very impressive considering.

Overall

The Rock Xtreme 840SLI looks cool as all hell and will get geeks salivating at both its specs and appearance. While the games ran well, strangely multitasking in Windows 7 caused the above mentioned lagging issue far too often.

It’s a great machine for playing games on and again, is better off as a desktop replacement than for carrying around. Its weight means instead of being a laptop, it is essentially a portable desktop. I could not imagine lugging this thing around and didn’t even try. And besides, battery life as you’d expect, is pretty low.

MSI GT740 Review

The very first thing you’ll notice about the GT740 is that it’s a beast, a huge laptop that won’t feel too comfortable on your actual lap unless you’re some kind of gargantuan giant with a lap of steel. It’s got a black case with red outlinings, reminiscent of my standard go-to laptop the Acer Ferrari, which isn’t a good thing.

However, it’s quite thin with a size of 395 x 278 x 40 mm and weighs about 3000 grams, impressive considering the power it wields. The GT740 isn’t too offensive to look at or touch. A different colour scheme would be nice, but hey, let’s not judge a book by the cover here.

Booting the beast up, it loads admirably fast and logs you into Windows 7 with whirlwind speed. The 17″ TFT-LCD widescreen display is crystal clear and the built in 5 SRS Premium Sound speakers pack an initial wallop when viewing the bizarre Asian American pro-voting demo video found on the desktop. 

Stuff wot it has

This laptop is really kitted out. Connectivity wise, it’s got all the bits and pieces, ports and plugs that a geek could hope for. So, that’sa 4-in-1 cardreader, a bunch of USB 2.0 ports, HDMI, VGA and DC-in at the back, a Kensington lock, RJ-45 LAN and a DVD burner.

There’s also a built in webcam, the norm these days, but equipped with 2.0 megapixels. All behave as you’d hope for a machine that clocks in at over £1,000, and that is to say, well. 

It’s got a 500GB hard disk which means you shouldn’t be running out of space any time soon, and 4096 MB of DDR3 memory. For graphics it’s got the Nvidia GeForce GTS 250M and its main board is the Intel PM55. The processor is the Intel Core i7 820QM, running at 1.73 GHz.

The keyboard is less than perfect, with some peculiar spacing. The Fn key isn’t where I’d expected it to be and occasionally I felt like I really had to hammer my fingers down hard on the keys for input. Not horrible, but took a bit of getting used to. Having the WSAD keys mapped out in red is a nice touch, but for anyone used to PC games (that is to say, the target market of this machine) that’s probably where their fingers will lie automatically.

The touchpad is pretty good and responds sensitively, but not too sensitively. Though again, any gamers will be using a mouse for their geek-out sessions anyway. It’s a good alternative to a mouse when using the machine on-the-go, unlike the Rock machine (more later).

Stuff wot it does

Intel’s Core i7 Processor coupled with the huge RAM means that when you need to get things done, multitask or place a heavy load on the machine when not gaming it can handle it. As a work machine and desktop replacement, the GT740 performs exceptionally well with no noticeable slowdown.

Gaming though, of course what the machine is marketed towards, is where it stuttered and staggered. Not horribly, but enough to notice. We tested both machines on Mass Effect 2 and Crysis.

Mass Effect 2 ran beautifully for the first couple hours of play, with all the effects turned up to a billion. However, with extended play the machine began to free momentarily, there was lag on the mouse and the FPS dropped. It still looked beautiful and ran well for the most part, but there were some performance issues. We also noticed that occasionally the sound would lag and stutter. The machine got very hot underneath after longer sessions.

Crysis was a different kettle of fish. With the auto-detect video option in-game enabled, we noticed with play there was a lot of lagging, a dodgy FPS and was basically unplayable.

We had to stick the video and graphics settings to just-above-average to get it to look reasonably pretty with decent playability.

Sound on the GT740 was nice. We could push the volume up quite high without reasonable quality issues. It’s got a tiny subwoofer built in underneath which works, not quite as much as we’d like it to, but works. This makes it painless to have a decent gaming experience on the go with reasonable sound, however if you’re at home you’d still probably be better off investing in some speakers.

Acer Aspire 5538G with AMD Vision

The last time we were in Austin TX, the guys and gals at AMD were pushing the Vision idea. AMD is still pushing Vision and no doubt bugging Intel at the same time.

AMD showed us quite a few notebooks branded Vision in Austin and we were interested in having a go at one of these AMD based machine. For years I have used notebooks based on Intel processors.

There’s been one good reason for this – I certainly prefer to have a smaller machine with a longer battery life than a giant I have to tote around, across the world.

But the world has moved on – desktops are mostly a thing of the past, with everyone’s figures from analysts to CPU companies concluding that the world will continue to move towards the notebook.

AMD bunged me an Acer Aspire Vision branded notebook and I must say that while it’s unlikely I’ll tote it to Computex in Taiwan in a couple of weeks time, the quality of the machine, its battery life, and its display were all most pleasing. I’m no Luddite but this is also my first experience of Windows 7. Yeah I know, I skipped Vista entirely and uninstalled it on my lovely Sony Viao. Never to return. More about Windows 7 later. The version on this machine is Windows 7 Home Premium.

And so to the specs of the Acer Aspire 5538G. This machine comes with a 285GB hard drive, an AMD Athlon X2 dual core processor – the L310, clocking at 1.20GHz and with 4GB of memory. An ATI Mobility Radeon HD4300 is built-in. Audio from Realtek – I am not sure that the processing power, the memory and the video are matched by the audio, even with the Dolby Sound Room in there.

AMD bundled a couple of DVDs with the machine – Terminator Salvation and Hurt Locker. I think I saw Terminator Salvation on a plane a little while ago – certainly it looked and sounded better than that “experience” and there wasn’t any noticeable dragging and the rest. No turbulence either.

The video is really quite excellent on this machine, no doubt a combination of  the amount of memory, the graphics processor and Windows 7 on board.

Windows 7 is fast to boot and fast to switch off too. Yeah, of course Microsoft plays its games with a slightly different interface, but it certainly doesn’t give you that sinking feeling when Vista examined your system and said “oh, your system isn’t quite powerful enough to run me”.

This is not the kind of machine you’d want to lug about the world but that certainly isn’t the point. Right now I’m watching BBC3 on an LCD machine and simultaneously watching a programme on this machine too. The quality on this machine is way beyond what the bog standard TV is giving me.

I’m pleasantly surprised by a number of things after using this PC for around a month. The AMD/ATI display is lovely, the 1.9GHz chip seems to have more than enough beef to do the kind of things you need to do if you’re a magazine editor – videos, and the rest.

Last week AMD introduced more processors in its range intended for notebooks and they promise to give even better battery life. The little one is really going for notebooks – not netbooks – and if this machine is anything to go by, AMD really has a chance to bite into Intel’s market share just that little bit more.

AMD clearly wants to tread on the tiger’s tail. If this machine is anything to go by, Intel clearly has a fight on its hands. This PC is no netbook and the price ain’t half bad.

TechEye takes a dekko at two gaming laptops

Tamlin Magee takes on two laptops, head to head. The MSI GT740 vs the Rock Xtreme 840 SLI.

Read the reviews here:

Results are in

Who’s the winner? I’d say after a steady fight over many long, gruelling rounds, the heavyweight in the Rock corner just about ties with the middleweight in MSI’s corner. I’m sorry if that’s a cop out, but both are good machines, with their own significant pros and cons. The MSI is a better all-rounder, while we feel that the Rock is a better gaming machine. The Rock has brilliant design, save for the dodgy touchpad, while the MSI looks a little dated. But then again, you can pick up the MSI without a dedicated workout program every day.

We’d say if we had to, and really had to choose, for gaming the Rock wins thanks to its excellent display and improved keyboard. The MSI would take the trophy as a jack-of-all-trades.

* EyeSee Thanks to the lovely people at EA for providing the games.