Compaq Presario CQ57-366SA

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 Compaq Presario CQ57-366SA

The Compaq Presario CQ57-366SA won’t win any awards for its looks, but does offer the things we look for in a budget machine. It’s solid with a decent screen and great speakers, and the sort of internal specifications we’d expect at this price.

However, even though this is a budget machine, we’d still appreciate something a little nicer to look at.

The Compaq is a solid black brick seemingly devoid of colours, shades or textures. It’s boring and uninspired but, as mentioned above, solidly built – with only a small amount of flex detectable around the chassis.

We were also pleased to discover that it’s not as heavy as it looks, but it isn’t the lightest at 2.5kg.

Leaving the aesthetics behind, usability is perfectly acceptable. The keyboard has wide buttons and a good depth of travel but, despite the amount of space on the chassis, feels cramped. There’s no numeric keypad or quick-access hotkeys to be found, but, like most laptops, you can alter volume and media playback by holding down the Function key and using the F-keys.

While the touchpad is responsive, it’s also the exact same shade of black as the rest of the chassis and therefore wonderfully camouflaged.

Where the Compaq picks up again is with the screen. It’s got a 1366 x 768 pixel resolution, meaning you can enjoy 720p HD videos – although the full 1080p experience is out of reach. We found that although the screen was very bright, it wasn’t as sharp as we’ve seen elsewhere. The Super-TFT coating helps, but ultimately we’d pick this for working on documents rather than watching Avatar.

Having said that, the Altec Lansing speakers are very good indeed – so we’d definitely be listening to music while we worked.

£350 won’t buy you the greatest components on the market, but the basic user will find everything they require here. The first-generation Intel Core i3 processor is backed up by a capable 4GB of RAM and a standard integrated graphics chip that will handle video streaming from iPlayer or YouTube but stops short of advanced editing suites.

TechRadar Labs

tech labs

Battery Eater ’05: 184 minutes
Cinebench: 7839
3DMark 2006: 1464

There’s a DVD rewriter and a standard 320GB hard drive for storing programs and media.

Compaq

Better battery

Pleasantly surprising was the 184-minute battery life the Presario posted on our benchmarking tests. It’s good to see budget laptops lasting more than three hours and, with careful usage, we reckon you could squeeze even more out.

The only noticeable omission in terms of connectivity is the lack of an HDMI port for connecting to a high-definition external monitor or TV. You’ll have to make do with the standard VGA Out connection or buy an adapter for one of the three USB ports.

There’s an SD Card expansion slot and an Ethernet port in case you don’t want to use the 802.11n Wi-Fi connection to access the internet.

The Compaq Presario CQ57- 366SA is a perfectly acceptable budget laptop, with special mention going to the battery life and speaker system. It doesn’t look, or perform, like a standout laptop and there are alternatives – such as the Acer Aspire 5742 – but if you’re searching for a basic machine for the next year or two this is a good pick.

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Toshiba Portégé R830-138

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 Toshiba Portégé R830-138

We had to pick up our jaws up from off the floor too. It’s going to take a damn sight more than a sophisticated-sounding French moniker to distract you from this laptop’s gargantuan price. But the Toshiba Portege R830 must be an astonishing piece of kit, right?

Designed for the busy executive who wants a laptop that doesn’t interfere with the shape of a soft Italian leather briefcase, Toshiba’s wafer thin Port

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Sony VAIO VPCEH2F1E E Series

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 Sony VAIO VPCEH2F1E E Series

We approach budget laptops from Sony with caution. The Japanese giant may have produced some of the most desirable high-end machines out there, but its budget offerings have always been a mixed bag. Thankfully, using the Sony VAIO VPCEH2F1E is a reassuring experience.

The keyboard and screen are both fantastic, and although the power tucked inside isn’t mind-blowing, it’s certainly enough for the vast majority of us.

When it comes to appearance, the E Series is the ugly duckling of the VAIO family. It goes for the traditional all-black look (or white, pink or blue), but tries to mix it up with a textured triangle design that overlays the plastic. Questionable design aside, the chassis does feel remarkably firm and we couldn’t find any flex around the usual weak spots, such as above the DVD drive or around the screen hinges.

The E Series models aren’t exactly light at 2.4kg, but you’ll easily be able to put this laptop in a backpack and carry it around for a day.

The highlight of the E Series is definitely the firm, isolation-style keyboard. Even though this is a budget machine, Sony has installed highly usable keyboard that is a typist’s dream. There’s a great deal of space between the keys, as well as a dedicated numeric keypad and the three Assist, Web and VAIO hotkeys that Sony puts on all its models.

Typing is particularly easy: the keys have a solid weight to them, and the added space means there’s no chance of a miss-hit. If we had to gripe, we’d say that the slightly raised keys could fall victim to dust, crumbs and other debris spilt over the chassis and that the touchpad is too small.

Sony vaio e series

This laptop’s screen is also worth touching on. It’s reasonably bright, and pictures came out clear and detailed – if a little whiter than others with darker displays. What we did like is that the screen runs almost to the edge of the lid, giving you the impression you’re looking at a screen larger than 15.6 inches.

Average power

It has to be said that you won’t be loading up the latest games, mixing high-definition video or doing a lot of visual programming on the VPCEH2F1E. However, the Core i3 processor is still a second-generation model and, as such, will allow you to multitask with different programs and easily handle less-intensive tasks, like audio mixing or basic programming.

TechRadar Labs

tech labs

Battery Eater ’05: 173 minutes
Cinebench: 7833
3DMark 2006: 3504

The keyboard will find favour with writers and the screen and speakers make watching movies a pleasant experience.

If, after a year or so you decide to boost this E Series model with an extra monitor, or a better keyboard or more storage, you can do so thanks to the number of connections available. Connectivity includes four USB ports, HDMI, VGA and Ethernet connections, as well as an SD Card slot and a Pro Duo slot.

Additionally, Sony has built-in 802.11n wireless and Bluetooth. While using the VPCEH2F1E heavily, we noted that it stayed both cool and quiet and that the battery gave us an average 173 minute life.

It’s not hard to recommend the VPCEH2F1E as a good deal. It gets so many of the fundamentals right without feeling the need to shunt in excess power which adversely affects both battery life and price.

It’s good to see a Sony VAIO laptop that the average person can afford and we have to say that, even if it’s not especially pretty, the this E Series laptop certainly gets the job done.

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Samsung Series 3

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 Samsung Series 3

Overview

Hot on the heels of Samsung’s Series 7 and Series 9 laptops comes the more budget-friendly Samsung Series 3 NP305V5AI.

This AMD-powered portable PC uses less powerful components than its older siblings, but comes in at half the cost too, making it better suited to families and users with more basic needs.

After reviewing a long line of black and silver laptops, the Samsung Series 3 was immediately refreshing, with its friendly blue design. This colourful metallic finish covers the lid and the keyboard, with a white interior giving it a fresh appearance.

Anyone with small children will be relieved to hear it’s solidly built too, so can withstand a bashing by tiny fists. The Samsung Series 3 laptop’s palm rests are firm, and we only noticed a little flex around the DVD drive. The screen is held firm by some strong hinges, while the lid itself is rigid enough to absorb any bumps, to protect the display.

Samsung series 3 review

As usual, the laptop’s isolation-style keyboard is comfortable for all-day typing. Keys are firmly mounted and spaced apart to prevent typos, and none of them are particularly crushed – even the arrow keys are given generous space, instead of being crammed into a single row.

Spreadsheet lovers rejoice – the Samsung Series 3 laptop also has a numeric keypad for those sweaty number crunching sessions.

We did find the very centre of the board a little spongy, but while this cheapens the feel of the overall quality, it doesn’t impair your typing in any way.

The touchpad is similarly well-endowed, covering the full width of the palm rests. The smooth surface is responsive, and supports multi-touch gesturing for zooming in and out of photos and documents. If you rub your finger up and down the right-hand edge, you can also scroll through files.

At 2.5kg, the Samsung Series 3 is fairly average for a 15.6-inch laptop, proving light enough to throw in a backpack and carry around all day.

Specifications and performance

Specifications

Samsung series 3 review

If you’re constantly on the move and want a portable computer to keep you entertained or productive, the Samsung Series 3 is a great option. One massively useful feature is the matt 15.6-inch screen, which lacks the shiny gloss coating of many modern laptops. This might not seem like a big deal, but the difference when you’re outside is impressive.

While glossy Super-TFT displays are a massive pain to use outside, reflecting light straight back into your eyes, the Samsung Series 3’s screen is almost completely non-reflective. You can work on it even in hideously bright conditions.

This is also helped by the brightness levels of the display. Turned to maximum, the panel is comfortable to use even for extended periods. It’s vibrant enough to bring your photos and movies to life, although viewing angles are a little tight.

Cinephiles can enjoy HD movies on this PC laptop, with 1080p videos playing perfectly. Of course the 1366 x 768p resolution doesn’t produce the sharpest visuals, but we didn’t notice any grainy-looking images.

However, the Samsung Series 3’s built-in speakers are typically rubbish, lacking any real oomph. A gunfight in The Dark Knight sounded more like a barrel of damp firecrackers going off.

We love carrying our entire media collection with us wherever we roam, and the Samsung Series 3’s dual hard drives don’t disappoint. You get 750GB of storage – enough for hundreds of HD movies and hundreds of thousands of music albums. It’s definitely a generous amount, considering the relatively low cost of this laptop.

Features are a little slim on the ground, but you get three USB ports for hooking up your own peripherals, and both VGA and HDMI options for attaching an external monitor. Built-in 802.11n Wi-Fi means you can hook up to the internet.

Performance

Samsung series 3 review

TechRadar Labs

tech labs

Cinebench 10: 7,198
3D Mark ’06: 5,330
Battery Eater ’05: 136 mins

The Samsung Series 3 laptop slashes its price by using budget components, compared to the Sandy Bridge-powered Series 7. This laptop features an AMD A6-3410MX quad-core processor, running at 1.6GHz, backed up by 6GB of RAM.

Our Cinebench tests confirmed that the Samsung Series 3 isn’t much of a performance heavyweight. You can happily browse the web, tinker with word processing documents and enjoy your media, all at the same time, but anything more strenuous causes the odd stutter.

This will suit most families fine, but don’t expect a laptop that’ll last you for years to come.

The Samsung Series 3’s AMD chipset also handles graphics, and the integrated AMD Radeon HD 6480G GPU is surprisingly capable. Our 3D Mark score was comparable with many low-end dedicated graphics cards, and the Samsung Series 3 laptop can comfortably run older games.

New releases will struggle, however, so gamers should look to up their budget to find a computer with dedicated graphics.

On the other hand, if all you want to do is edit your photos and movies, and watch the occasional HD film, the Samsung Series 3 is a dependable laptop.

If you’re strapped for cash but want a more powerful machine, we’d recommend the Acer Aspire 5750G, which comes kitted out with Sandy Bridge processors. Not only that, it costs roughly the same as the Samsung Series 3.

Sadly, the battery life is less impressive. We were hoping for over three hours of life from a charge, as we got with the Samsung Series 7, but the Samsung Series 3 died after just 136 minutes of playing HD video on loop. This is below average for budget laptops like this, and means you’ll have to drag the adapter with you on longer journeys.

Limit yourself to less intensive activities, such as office software and web browsing, and you’ll eek out three hours. It’s still unimpressive, and definitely disappointing.

On a more positive note, the Samsung Series 3 is a quiet machine. And we didn’t notice any hotspots during use – keep the vents clear and it stays reassuringly cool.

Verdict

Samsung series 3 review

The Samsung Series 3 is a cut-price laptop that banks on the latest AMD quad-core technology, but does it set itself apart from the budget laptop hordes?

We liked

The Samsung Series 3 NP305V5AI’s design is appealing, considering so many laptops at this price point feature a dull black or silver finish. The metallic blue lid and keyboard stand out among its peers, and the Samsung Series 3 is solid enough to survive a reasonable amount of abuse.

Just as colourful is the 15.6-inch widescreen panel. It’s also comfortably bright and shuns a glossy coating, making it perfect for working outdoors.

The keyboard is comfortable to work on all day, or if you’d rather kick back with a film, the Samsung Series 3 plays HD films smoothly.

The integrated AMD graphics are surprisingly capable, and while you can’t play recent games, you can certainly waste hours on older or more basic titles.

Video editing is also perfectly possible.

Finally, you can carry a sizeable media collection, thanks to the 750GB of internal storage.

We disliked

However, the AMD processor is still highly limiting, and will quickly become out of date. This isn’t uncommon for a budget machine, but the likes of the Acer Aspire 5750G offers Intel Sandy Bridge performance for the same price.

We were also massively disappointed by the Samsung Series 3’s battery life, which barely lasts long enough for a two-hour film. If you suffer a long commute like us, you’ll need to carry your charger and power it up at work.

Final verdict

By cutting down the specs of the Series 7 laptop, Samsung has produced a more pocket-friendly laptop that should appeal to families and anyone looking for dependable budget performance.

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Advent Monza E1

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 Advent Monza E1

Advent’s Monza E1 is an eye-catching laptop aimed at first-time buyers. Despite offering a decent specification for the price, though, it is undermined by poor performance and flawed usability.

With its bright red lid and palm rest, the chassis looks great and the textured plastic finish and mock brushed-aluminium panels set it apart from the glut of plain black laptops on the market. The lid and main panels all feel firm and there are no noticeably weak points on the chassis.

At 2.5kg this is a laptop built for use at home, rather than on the move though. This was highlighted by the awful 107-minute battery life, meaning there’s not even enough power to watch a full movie.

That’s not to say that this is not a decent laptop for enjoying photos and videos, though. The 15.6-inch screen is sharp and bright and delivers gorgeous colour reproduction. Images pop from the screen and are rendered with stunning clarity, so as long as you’re plugged into a power point, this is a decent entry-level media machine.

Poor performance is the Advent’s Achilles heel. The dual-core AMD E-450 processor struggles with even the simplest tasks; applications run sluggishly and the laptop is brought to its knees by basic multitasking.

Graphics are equally poor and there’s little power on offer for media editing. The integrated AMD graphics card is fine for viewing photos or even watching high-def videos, but it shows its weaknesses as soon as you try to edit videos or run 3D games. If you’re after a powerful media laptop, there are far better machines available.

TechRadar Labs

tech labs

Battery Eater ’05: 107 minutes
Cinebench: 2305
3DMark 2006: 2706

Noisy keyboard

advent monza e1 detail

When it comes to usability, the Advent is a mixed bag. While the wide isolated-style keyboard is suitably responsive and functions well, it is not very well fixed to the chassis and bounces a lot when typing. This makes it a noisy board to use and we quickly found the rattle of the keys both distracting and ultimately annoying.

The touchpad fares better and proves accurate and responsive to use. It’s not quite as large as we’d have liked, but it is fine for quickly navigating the screen. The mouse buttons are slightly less functional and you have to press at quite specific points for them to register, which can get a little frustrating when trying to work quickly.

Where the Advent really stands out is its fantastic storage. The 640GB hard drive offers a truly staggering amount of space for such an affordable laptop and is only bettered by the Lenovo B570.

The built-in DVD rewriter lets you save files to DVD and CD and create your own music, video and photo discs. A 4-in-1 media card reader is also in place for quickly sharing files from your digital camera and smartphone. Located at the front of the chassis, it is easy to access and supports the most common media card formats.

While the gorgeous screen, fantastic storage and eye-catching design make the Monza E1 a decent entry-level laptop for those on a budget, the poor performance, flawed usability and awful battery life are just too prominent to ignore. There are far better laptops you can buy at this price and so the Advent is very hard to recommend.

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Review: Samsung Series 7 Chronos

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Review: Samsung Series 7 Chronos

Overview

Samsung wowed us with its ultra-thin, surprisingly powerful Series 9 laptop earlier this year, but the £1,000-plus price tag lifted it beyond the grasp of most common folk.

We’ve spent a week with the latest Samsung portable, the Series 7 Chronos (or Samsung Series 7 Chronos 700Z5A-S01, to give it its full catchy monicker), which isn’t quite as portable but certainly packs in the power – as well as a hefty price tag.

Although the rather curious name conjures up images of psychotic androids hell-bent on human extermination, the Chronos is a rather tame-looking beast.

Anyone expecting a super-slender chassis like the Series 9’s will be disappointed. The Chronos is still slender, at just 25mm, but the 2.4kg weight means it’s more of a chore to lug around than ultrabooks such as the Acer Aspire S3 and the Asus Zenbook.

The sleek silver lid is solid at the edges to keep the display from bending, and even the centre is surprisingly firm. Inside, the metallic motif continues. However, the palmrests are less sturdy than the lid, flexing under light pressure. It isn’t a major concern, but a pity considering the otherwise strong build quality.

We have to admit to being a little disappointed by the overall appearance of the Samsung Chronos. Perhaps our expectations were too high, but this laptop isn’t exactly a beauty compared to some of the new ultrabooks, or even the older Series 9.

Samsung series 7 chronos

Still, we were pleased to see the isolation-style ‘chiclet’ keyboard stretching the width of the interior, giving well-sized keys and enough room for a numeric keypad. Typing is a smooth experience, although the keys don’t travel far when hit.

The arrow keys are once again crushed into a single row, but we could find them without looking, thanks to their wide design.

The keyboard is also backlit, and a built-in light sensor ensures the subtle glow only turns on when the atmospheric lighting is poor, thus saving your battery life as well as your eyes.

However, it isn’t all good news. We noticed after typing for a while that the sharp edges of the chassis were cutting into our wrists.

Not hard enough to open up a vein, thankfully, but enough to leave a red mark. It isn’t so bad if you don’t slouch in your chair, but we found ourselves sinking further down as the working day progressed, putting our tender skin at risk.

We were also less than enamored with the Samsung Chronos’ touchpad. It’s spacious enough, taking up a generous chunk of the palmrest, but opts for annoying integrated mouse buttons.

You have to push the bottom corners to simulate left and right mouse button clicks, which quickly frustrates, since the cursor jerks each time. We gave up and started tapping the surface instead, which occasionally doesn’t register but is less annoying.

Specifications and performance

Samsung series 7 chronos

The Samsung Series 7 Chronos’ 15.6-inch display stretches almost to the edge of the lid, with only a slender bezel in place. It isn’t quite as sleek as the Dell XPS 14z‘s display, with its edge-to-edge glass, but the screen does appear larger than it actually is.

A sharp 1600 x 900 WXGA++ resolution keeps images crisp and clean, whether you’re browsing through embarrassing Facebook pictures or enjoying an HD movie. There’s no glossy coating, so you can use the Samsung Series 7 Chronos outside or in brightly-lit interiors without squinting through pesky glare.

Colours are still rich, and the screen is reasonably bright. However, the narrow viewing angles are less impressive.

If you need a machine to keep you entertained on the move, the Chronos’ spacious 750GB hard drive gives you plenty of space for your games, movies and music. A slot-loading DVD drive has also been packed into the slender chassis. If you’d rather use this laptop as a home entertainment machine, an HDMI port can be used to hook up televisions or monitors, and you have three USB ports for attaching peripherals, two of which are zippy USB 3.0 connections.

Samsung series 7 chronos

Samsung has joined a host of other manufacturers in the challenge to create the fastest booting laptop. The Windows desktop pings up just 20 seconds after hitting the power button, while the Samsung Series 7 Chronos also wakes up from hibernation in just two seconds. That gives you plenty more time to browse mucky Scandinavian websites.

Of course you get the usual range of trial software that has to be uninstalled, while Gigabit Ethernet and 802.11n Wi-Fi can be used to get online.

The Samsung Series 7 Chronos may be light on features, but it doesn’t skimp in the performance department. A mighty Intel Core i7 2675QM processor running at a standard speed of 2.2GHz is in charge, backed up by a generous 8GB of memory. This blasted through our benchmark testing, hammering every task we threw its way.

You can run any software imaginable, and should be able to for some time to come. If you want future-proofing, the Chronos lays it on thick.

Gamers and hardcore editors are also catered for, thanks to the AMD Radeon HD6750M graphics card. While the likes of the Alienware M18x provides twice the graphical power, you can still run some of the latest games on modest graphical settings, and older games run without issue.

Movie fans can enjoy the latest films in HD quality, with no stuttering or other issues. Video editing suites and other multimedia applications also run smoothly.

Despite all this power, we were highly impressed by the Samsung Series 7 Chronos’ excellent battery life. We put our laptops through a tough test, playing HD video on loop with performance settings turned to max, until the battery is drained. Most laptops last a mere three hours before dying, but the Chronos powered through four hours of video before the screen faded to black.

Cinebench 10: 16828
3D Mark ’06: 10049
Battery Eater ’05: 239 mins

Verdict

Samsung series 7 chronos

The Samsung Series 7 Chronos may not be quite as thin as some of the emerging ultrabooks, or the glorious Series 9 that hit stores earlier this year, but can it stand out from the crowd with killer performance instead?

We liked

The latest Intel Core i7 Sandy Bridge processor crushes anything you throw at it, and will do for some time to come. You also have a powerful GPU that can handle the latest games (albeit with some graphical compromises) and multimedia software.

The screen is sharp and vibrant – a great way to enjoy the latest HD movies. The lack of a glossy finish means there are no annoying reflections when working out of doors, while a 750GB hard drive gives you plenty of room for your media. You also have a slot-loading DVD drive.

We were also impressed by the solid build, while the backlit isolation-style keyboard is spacious and well constructed. And although the Samsung Series 7 Chronos isn’t the slimmest or lightest laptop around, its excellent battery life will see you through a full day of office use.

We disliked

Although we like the keyboard, there are some usability issues. The sharp edge of the palmrest cuts into your wrists at times, and the touchpad opts for annoying integrated mouse buttons, which knock the cursor out of position when pushed.

The Samsung Series 7 Chronos also lacks that certain something to get us excited. It doesn’t have the sexy, curved chassis of the Series 9, or the ridiculously slender build of some of the new ultrabooks.

Final verdict

If you need a portable machine to entertain you on the move, which won’t be out of date any time soon, the Samsung Series 7 Chronos is well worth considering. Just don’t expect great beauty.

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Review: Dell XPS 14z

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Review: Dell XPS 14z

Overview

We first checked out Dell’s XPS 14z at IFA, a slightly dinkier version of its excellent XPS 15z laptop. The XPS 14z hits stores today and we’ve already spent a few days snuggling up and getting to know it.

While a 14-inch version of a 15-inch laptop might seem a little pointless, we were impressed by how slim and light the XPS 14z turned out. With its 23mm build and 2kg weight, it more closely resembles a 13-inch portable. The XPS 15z wasn’t exactly a chubster, but commuters will want to consider this laptop first.

The slender body may seem less impressive compared to the upcoming slew of ultrabooks, including the ridiculously skinny Asus Zenbook which is just 9mm thick. However, we had no problem slipping the XPS 14z into our backpack and carrying it around all weekend.

In terms of design, almost nothing except the size has been changed from the XPS 15z. You get the same beautiful brushed metal finish, which feels as solid as it looks – we pushed and prodded every inch and found no worrying weak spots. Even the paper-thin aluminium lid is firm enough to take a pounding, so you won’t need to pad your bag with bubblewrap.

An isolation-style keyboard fills the centre of the XPS 14z’s chassis, bordered at both sides by the built-in speakers. We love the curved design of the keys, which gives them a futuristic appearance. They’re firmly set and comfortable to type on, while typos are a rarity thanks to the gaps between each key.

Dell xps 14z

The board is surprisingly well-sized too, despite not stretching the width of the laptop. The tiny arrow keys are the only casualty. As with the XPS 15z, the board is backlit for late-night sessions, and Dell also touts it as ‘spill-resistant’. However, we didn’t have the guts to assault it with a bottle of Evian.

We also liked the spacious touchpad, which thankfully avoids the irritating integrated mouse buttons you find on many compact laptops. Instead, the XPS 14z has two dedicated buttons underneath. The pad also supports multi-touch gesturing, as is the norm.

Our only issues with the design are the stiff lid hinges, which to be fair at least keeps the screen still when you’re on rocky public transport. The screen only tilts 45 degrees back from vertical, so finding a comfortable viewing angle can be tricky when the XPS 14z is resting on your lap.

Specifications

Dell xps 14z

The Dell XPS 15z was a perfect way to enjoy HD movies on the go, thanks to its 1080p screen. The dinkier XPS 14z display isn’t quite as sharp, featuring a standard 1366 x 768-pixel resolution, but video still looks pleasingly crisp.

Images are also colourfully reproduced, but we were disappointed by the brightness levels – even with the settings turned to maximum, the XPS 14z’s screen isn’t as bright as the 15z’s. Viewing angles are also merely acceptable. However, the edge-to-edge glass gives the display a classy appearance which complements the slick design.

The built-in speakers are once again powerful enough to fill a small room. Sound is a little tinny on top volume, so audiophiles will want to hook up an external pair, but if all you need is a little background music you won’t be disappointed.

Regular travelers will want a sizeable hard drive for carrying their entire media collection around, and the XPS 14z doesn’t disappoint, packing in 500GB of storage. The drive spins at 7200rpm, faster than the standard 5400rpm, so software loads quickly and movies stream perfectly.

A 7-in-1 memory card slot can be used to boost storage space further, or access your holiday snaps on the move. The slender body also houses a slot-loading optical drive, so you can watch DVDs and install games from disc. Quite a few compact laptops skip on the DVD drive, so it’s good to see Dell cram one into the XPS 14z.

Other features are limited to a 1.3MP webcam for chatting with friends and family. We were surprised by the lack of ports, with only two USB connections available (one of them USB 3.0). Thankfully you get HDMI and Mini DisplayPort connections for hooking up a television, monitor or projector, but that’s your lot.

Networking is standard, with 802.11n and Gigabit Ethernet available for getting online. You also have Bluetooth 3.0 support for transferring files with mobile phones and hooking up headsets.

Performance

Dell xps 14z

The Dell XPS 14z comes in two Intel Sandy Bridge flavours: Core i5 and Core i7. We tested the Core i5 2430M version which performed typically well in our benchmarking tests. This powerful CPU is backed up by 6GB of memory, and even with bucketloads of programs running at once, we saw no slowdown.

Our model also packed an Nvidia GeForce GT 525M graphics card for gaming and running multimedia applications. This card is getting on a bit and we were disappointed by the stilted performance during testing. Recent games will stutter, unless you turn detail levels down to low or medium – you’re better off sticking with older titles.

If you want to play the latest games, we’d recommend boosting your budget and looking at a gaming machine such as the MSI GT680 or Alienware M11x instead. The Alienware M11x is a similar weight although a lot chunkier, but more than makes up for it with fantastic all-round performance.

Although you can’t smash up terrorists in high detail, you can easily run video-editing software and other multimedia applications. HD movies play perfectly too. And despite featuring some powerful components stuffed into a slender chassis, the XPS 14z remains cool and quiet at almost all times. Only when we inserted a DVD did it make any real noise.

We were also impressed by the excellent battery life, something the XPS 14z has in common with its elder brother. Usually Sandy Bridge laptops are defeated by the ruthless Battery Eater test in under three hours, but this portable played HD video on a loop for 200 minutes before finally submitting. This is almost as good as the XPS 15z’s four hour longevity, and beats most other multimedia laptops we’ve seen lately.

TechRadar Labs

tech labs

Cinebench 10: 9769
3D Mark ’06: 5345
Battery Eater ’05: 200 mins

Verdict

When we first heard that a 14-inch version of the XPS 15z was in the workings, we were intrigued and excited, but also curious at how much difference an inch would make.

We Liked

As it turned out, that inch makes a considerable difference. The XPS 14z is surprisingly slender compared to its elder sibling, and a good chunk lighter too at just 2kg. The same slick brushed metal design is in place, and is just as drool-worthy, while the edge-to-edge glass of the display is a classy touch.

Build quality is also just as strong. There’s nary a weak spot, from the solid chassis to the ridiculously thin aluminium lid, while the isolation-style keyboard is a pleasure to type on.

Movie and music fans also have plenty to enjoy. The XPS 14z’s 500GB hard drive gives you plenty of space for a large media collection, and spins fast to keep things streaming smoothly. The 14-inch screen is colourful and crisp, while the speakers are better than most we hear.

Performance is good enough to run the latest multimedia software, and the Intel Core i5 Sandy Bridge processor won’t be out of date any time soon. Yet despite these powerful components, we still managed well over three hours of intensive use before the battery died.

We Disliked

Unfortunately, some sacrifices have been made in slimming down the mighty XPS 15z. The screen only tilts back 45 degrees on its stiff hinges, and the Full HD 1080p resolution has been lost. We were also disappointed by how dim it was, even on the highest settings.

There’s obviously less space for ports, especially as Dell has crammed in a slot-loading optical drive, but the two USB ports seem a little stingy. Peripherals fans will want to invest in a USB hub.

The XPS 14z is also less graphically capable than its bigger brother, and we found the latest games were stuttery affairs unless we turned detail settings right down. Gamers should look elsewhere for their fix.

Verdict

The XPS 14z is a more compact ultraportable version of one of the best laptops of 2011. While it isn’t quite as technically impressive, it’s still an excellent machine that can keep you entertained and productive on the move.

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Review: Asus U46 SV

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Review: Asus U46 SV

Overview

We’ve got to confess, the unveiling of the Asus Zenbook has spoiled us. The beautifully slender yet sturdy body is a marvel, yet it still makes room for some powerful components for (hopefully) excellent performance.

This makes reviewing the Asus U46SV – another new laptop from the Taiwanese giant – a rather tricky business. It’s not that this laptop is ugly or anything. But imagine embarking on an illicit one-night affair with Megan Fox, then hooking up with Hilary Duff. She’s probably a very nice girl and not bad looking, but you’d be thinking of Megan during sexy time.

Let’s begin by saying we really liked the Asus U36JC, a powerful and well-built ultra-portable laptop. The Asus U46SV is a spiritual successor to the U36JC, but we were surprised by how chunky and heavy it felt when we pulled it free of its box.

The chassis is 38mm thick, which is rather bulky for a laptop of this size. It also weighs 2.3kg – a lot more than the Asus U36JC’s featherweight build. The U46SV won’t exactly weigh you down if you’re carrying it in a bag all day, but we expected something a lot slimmer and lighter. Compared to the Sony VAIO S Series, this is a boxy beast.

We also aren’t massive fans of the Asus U46SV’s aluminium build, which feels strangely like plastic. The lid is especially weak, and bends in the centre under light pressure. Both the lid and the palm rests feature a circular pattern that looks cheap compared to the beautiful finish of the Zenbook.

Asus u46 sv

Still, we can’t complain when it comes to the keyboard. The popular chiclet, or ‘isolation-style’, design means that keys are well spaced, which makes it perfect for touch-typists. The keys are a great size, with no tiny Shift or Return keys to spoil the party. Even the arrow keys get plenty of space, which is a welcome relief.

We also liked the smooth touchpad, which finds plenty of space to spread out across the Asus U46SV’s palm rests. The dedicated mouse buttons aren’t set too firmly and are a haven for grimy fingerprints, but they’re hugely preferable to those pesky integrated buttons.

Specifications

Asus u46 sv

For some reason, Asus built the U46SV with a jutting lip at the back, which prevents the lid from tilting back by more than 45 degrees. This makes it tricky to get a good view of the screen when this portable laptop is sat on your lap.

Thankfully the 14-inch display goes some way to rectifying this, with decent enough viewing angles. It’s also impressively bright, although blacks aren’t as deep as we’d like and images can occasionally look washed out. However, we still enjoyed watching high-definition movies and browsing our photo collection (holiday photos, not the other kind. Ahem).

Speaking of which, you can carry a large chunk of media around on the 500GB hard drive – over 100 HD films, or around a hundred thousand songs or photos. Only torrent fans should struggle to carry around their entire collections.

A five-in-one memory card reader can be used to boost storage space, or quickly copy your holiday snaps onto your laptop, ready to bore close friends and family. You also get VGA and HDMI ports for outputting to an external display, and three USB ports. One of those is USB 3.0, so you can quickly back up your files to a compatible hard drive.

Asus has also stuck an extra power button above the keyboard, for booting into its Express Gate OS. This gives you quick access to your media and the internet, booting up in mere seconds.

However, we still aren’t massive fans of the stripped-down user interface and limited functionality, and would rather wait the extra 20 seconds it takes to boot into Windows. Let’s face it, we’ve got nothing better to do with our time, except feed Doritos to the office gerbil.

You have built-in 802.11n Wi-Fi for hooking up to wireless internet networks and an Ethernet port if you prefer to trail cables across your lounge. You also get a built-in DVD drive, and in terms of features that’s about it.

We were surprised to see no more, but extras such as fingerprint scanners would probably go unused by most consumers anyway.

Performance

TechRadar Labs

tech labs

Cinebench ’10: 9816
3D Mark ’06: 8771
Battery Eater: 330 minutes

While we’re less than impressed by the build and looks of the Asus U46SV, we can’t deny that the laptop is stuffed with power. One of Intel’s latest Sandy Bridge chips, the Core i5 2410M, is ably backed up by 4GB of memory and is strong enough to run any number of applications at once.

The Cinebench score of 9,816 isn’t one of the best we’ve seen lately – that award goes to the Toshiba Qosmio X770, which managed a stupendous 17,063. However, we’re confident that even demanding users will get years of use from the Asus U46SV.

Asus u46 sv

This laptop also caters to movie and music editors with its Nvidia GeForce GT 540M graphics card. You can run dedicated editing software without any kind of stuttering or issues, and even have a blast on modern games (although you’ll need to turn down detail levels on the more complex titles to keep a respectable frame rate).

If you’re more into watching movies than fiddling with them, you can enjoy HD video with smooth playback. We recommend plugging in some decent speakers or headphones, though. The Asus U46SV’s built-in efforts are tinny and, strangely, the sound seems to come from the right-hand side of the laptop instead of hitting you head-on.

Asus u46 sv

Despite the excellent performance and dedicated GPU, the Asus U46SV somehow pulls off fantastic battery life. We test our laptops by looping an HD video on full brightness, with performance settings turned to max, which gives a good indication of the minimum life to expect. Most portable laptops manage less than three hours before dying, but the Asus U46SV lasted almost double that before the screen went black.

It’s a damn shame the body isn’t slimmer or lighter, or this would be one of the most portable laptops we’ve used in a long time.

Verdict

Asus u46 sv

After enjoying our time with the Asus U36JC, we really hoped that the Asus U46SV would be a worthy update, packing similarly strong performance into another light and slender chassis. However, when we pulled the U46SV from its box, it wasn’t quite what we expected.

We liked

We certainly weren’t disappointed with the performance. The Intel Core i5 Sandy Bridge processor can multitask with the best of them, while a dedicated Nvidia graphics card copes with video editing and gaming.

Despite the powerful components, you can still enjoy movies for almost six hours before the battery dies. This is one of the best results we’ve seen in a long time. Movies look good on the bright 14-inch screen, even if colours are occasionally saturated.

If you’d rather bash out a novel or chat with friends online, the firm isolation-style keyboard will keep you satisfied. You can store plenty of files on the 500GB hard drive, and you get a decent range of ports, including USB 3.0.

We disliked

Performance impressed, but the build of the Asus U46SV is a letdown. While the Asus U36JC had a sleek ultra-portable body, this update has a chunkier chassis and weighs a meaty 2.3kg. It’s still portable, but we expected this laptop to be just as light, if not lighter.

We were also disappointed by the build quality. The lid flexes far too easily under pressure, and the design isn’t too appealing. There’s also a lack of exciting features.

Verdict

While the Asus U46SV is powerful and its impressive battery life makes up in some part for the bulky build, we’d recommend holding off for the upcoming Asus Zenbook instead.

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Review: Alienware M14X

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Review: Alienware M14X

The Alienware M18x may be a humongous beast with a huge price tag, but those who prefer a more portable gaming machine or are on a tighter budget should consider the M14x instead.

At first glance, the M14x looks like a shrunken version of the M18x. The design is very similar, from the curved lip of the chassis to the glowing headlights. You’ll either love it or hate it, and we definitely love it.

The reduced body size means the keyboard has been cropped, but the bevelled keys are still perfectly sized for playing your favourite games. The numeric keypad has been ditched, as have the media controls that sat over the M18x’s keyboard.

However, this board is firmer than the M18x’s and is just as great for typing out essays as it is for blasting your way through an action game. We also like the subtle blue glow that lights the keys at night.

Despite being a lot slimmer than the M18x, this laptop still packs in plenty of power. One of Intel’s latest and most powerful Core i7 processors scored one of our best benchmark results, while the dedicated Nvidia graphics card will keep you gaming for the foreseeable future. Even the latest shooters played smoothly and looked incredible.

If money is tight, you can downgrade to a Core i5 processor, which should still handle the latest games with ease. However, if you have money to burn, then you can upgrade the specs to get even longer life from your laptop.

Unfortunately, the slot-loading DVD drive can’t be upgraded to a Blu-ray.

Staying power

If you need a gaming laptop to keep you entertained on the move, the M14x is a great option. At 3kg it isn’t exactly light, but it won’t break your back either.

We were especially impressed by the battery, which survived for almost three hours on a single charge when we decided to watch a movie. Playing games does drain the battery more quickly, and the M14x’s internal fans spin loudly during intensive gaming sessions.

Thankfully, it’s hard to notice if you turn the sound up, as the built-in speakers are surprisingly powerful. The back of the laptop gets warm around the air vents, but not to a worrying degree.

The smaller 14-inch screen is still fine for gaming, thanks to its sharp 1600 x 900 resolution. It’s bright enough to work on comfortably for extended periods without straining your eyes, which is great news for anyone who likes all-night gaming sessions.

TechRadar Labs

Tech labs

Battery Eater ’05: 165 minutes
Cinebench: 17090
3DMark 2006: 12259

While 500GB of hard drive space is a lot for the average laptop, gaming machines tend to fill up fast when you install all of your favourite titles. You’ll have to choose carefully to avoid running out of space.

We fell in love with the M14x’s compact and portable chassis, which still finds room for some impressive technology. Based on price and portability alone, we’d pick this slim gamer over its big brother.

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Review: Sony VAIO VPCCA2Z0E

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Review: Sony VAIO VPCCA2Z0E

If the powerful Z-series is the big brother of the Sony VAIO family, then the updated Sony VAIO C-series is definitely the attractive cousin.

We originally reviewed the VAIO C Series at the start of this month, but that iteration was packing a Core i5 processor and dedicated graphics. Now we have our hands on the more affordable VAIO-VPC-CA2Z0E Core i3 version.

Available in a choice of five different colours, this mid-level lifestyle laptop has a number of features that make it worth a look if you’re tired of the same old black or silver design of other machines.

Our review unit was a bright and attractive red, but the C-Series also comes in lime green, orange, pink, navy blue, white or black. Sony has given the laptop a material finish with a transparent effect – complimented by backlighting around the body of the laptop, such as the VAIO logo on the lid and around the touchpad.

Needless to say, whichever colour you choose, a range of similarly coloured peripherals is available, allowing you to accessorise your new rig.

Sony hasn’t stopped at the chassis when it comes to the light show. The isolation-style keyboard is backlit with a sensor called Auto Luminance Control which measures the ambient light surrounding you and adjusts the backlight accordingly. On a practical level, this is excellent for times when you’re working late into the night, but it also adds nicely to the overall design.

We ran several high-definition (HD) videos to test out the screen and were impressed with the bright, glossy screen that runs with a native pixel resolution of 1366 x 768. Understandably, it won’t match a dedicated games machine like the Asus’ Lamborghini VX7, but this is easily good enough for enjoying your pictures and videos.

Just beware the Super-TFT coating does give irritating reflections when you’re watching in a brightly lit environment.

Integrated graphics

Should you wish to play games on the C-Series, you will be limited to some of the older titles as the laptop only has an integrated graphics card. But, being that the CPU is a second-generation Intel chip – the Core i3 2310M – performance isn’t really a problem.We found web pages and HD videos on YouTube loaded very quickly.

The 4GB of RAM helps a lot and is the benchmark amount for a laptop at this level. A healthy 320GB hard drive means you can store plenty of HD video content here and still have space for office programs.

TechRadar Labs

Tech labs

Battery Eater ’05: 251 minutes
Cinebench: 7529
3DMark 2006: 3440

What particularly impressed us, along with the great design, was the strength of the C-Series’ battery life. Sony has put the Auto Luminance Display from the keyboard into the screen as well, adjusting brightness depending on your surroundings to maximise performance. We’re always happy to see over 200 minutes on a battery life and the 251 we got from the Sony is a very respectable score.

Sony wants you to take this laptop out and about with you, and it has provided the battery life to make that possible.

Sony detail

The only real drawbacks we could find with this machine are a tendency for the keyboard to flex during typing and a pretty flimsy DVD drive. We would also have liked one of the four USB ports to have been upgraded to USB 3.0, but you can’t have everything sadly.

Sony has a great line-up when it comes to laptops. While we expect the business users to go for the ultraportable Z-Series and those on a budget to opt for the E-Series, we think anyone who wants a bit more flair will be happy with the funky C-Series as their next laptop.

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