HP Pavilion dv7-6b51ea

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 HP Pavilion dv7-6b51ea

It’s not often that a laptop will get everything right when it comes to media playing. It might have a fantastic screen, for example, but the speakers could be inadequate, especially if you want to get the most out of Blu-ray’s DTS HD and Dolby HD goodness.

The HP Pavilion dv7-6b51ea is different, however, and ticks all the boxes that are required of making a fantastic media playing laptop. But before you get to appreciate its media playing chops you need to go through a tedious setup procedure when you first turn it on.

Setting up Windows 7 Home Premium with a username, time zone and connecting it to a wireless network – plus setting when to automatically update Windows – is a necessary step, but after all that it was frustrating – to put it mildly – to be faced with another set of installation steps – this time for HP’s own Total Care service. All it does is end up delaying you from what you really want to do – which is to get started with your brand new laptop.

Another thing that annoyed us was that if you don’t want updates from HP Support Assistant, or for your laptop to be tuned up automatically, you can’t just select ‘No’ but have to choose ‘No, remind me later’. Even if you’re not interested in the service, you’re going to be nagged about it in the future. In the grand scheme of things this is a small irritant: once you’ve finished the setup process you won’t have to worry about it again, apart from the odd reminder.

Media mogul

HP dv7

Finally, we can enthuse about the dv7-6b51ea’s media prowess. For a start the 17.3 inch LED screen looks amazing, with a not inconsiderable 1600 x 900 maximum resolution. As you’d expect from an LED screen, colours and contrasts are brilliantly reproduced and high definition media looks great – just as well considering the HP Pavilion dv7-6b51ea features a Blu-ray drive.

All good so far, but what about the Achilles’ heel of so many laptops – the speakers? Once again the dv7-6b51ea triumphs thanks to HP’s partnership with Beats Audio, resulting in some excellent compact speakers that sound amazing. Little details in our test Blu-ray’s soundtrack were picked up and reproduced perfectly. There is even a built-in subwoofer on the base of the laptop that gives low frequency sounds a real depth and impact.

Another nice feature when it comes to media is the 1TB hard drive which offers loads of space for holding photos and MP3s and high definition movies – saving you from having to carry around CDs, DVDs and Blu-rays and having to use the optical disc drive, which can save precious minutes on the battery life.

While the AMD Radeon HD 6490 graphics card is no slouch, it’s not quite powerful enough for the latest games, but for the odd less-demanding game it’ll cope pretty well. Also the 8GB of RAM supplied is huge and means almost all tasks will open and run smoothly, whilst multitasking won’t be a problem at all.

Whilst running a Blu-ray movie we had Skype running and Internet Explorer open on a number of websites, and the HP Pavilion dv7-6b51ea didn’t miss a beat.

So where else does the HP Pavilion dv7-6b51ea excel? Well, at the risk of appearing shallow it is a stunner in the looks department. From the brushed aluminium outer shell, to the soft, understated light that glows around the mouse pad, this is a laptop that you would be keen to whip out and show off.

At 3.45kg it’s not very portable, and it’s nowhere near as thin or light as the latest Ultrabooks.

TechRadar Labs

tech labs

Battery Eater ’05: 195 minutes
Cinebench: 5259
3DMark 2006: 5715

Just the type

The keyboard is large enough to type on comfortably and the aforementioned gorgeously-lit mouse pad is large, responsive and supports multi-touch gestures. There is a fingerprint reader for extra security to boot.

Next to the power button is the ‘web’ button. When we first saw this we excitedly thought it could be for booting into a light Linux operating system designed solely for browsing the web – as found on a lot of Sony VAIO laptops. However, all it does is open up the default web browser when in Windows 7. It’s a feature that manages to be handy and a little bit useless all at once.

Also, at first glance it appeared that the HP Pavilion dv7-6b51ea didn’t have any USB 3.0 ports, with the familiar blue colour code missing from all of the USB ports. This couldn’t be right, not in 2012 with a laptop just shy of £1000. We checked the specs, and indeed there are USB 3.0 ports.

On closer inspection the two USB 3.0 ports were on the left of the laptop’s case. Not highlighted by blue, but with a subtle ‘SS’ next to the USB icons. Again not a big problem, but it makes it a little harder to find the USB 3.0 ports in a hurry.

Also as a laptop positioning itself as an ultimate entertainment laptop, there is no 3D support. If you’re not too into 3D then this won’t be a problem, and the lack of 3D helps keep the price south of £1000, but if you want a laptop that can handle the latest media, while future-proofed, then the absence 3D out of the box could be a blow.

However, the AMD Radeon HD 6490 graphics card does support AMD HD3D, so if you plugged it into a 3D monitor or TV you might be able to get 3D working.

A battery life of just over three hours is good for such a power-hungry machine, but not astounding.

Overall, the HP Pavilion dv7-6b51ea is a fantastic laptop for media and entertainment, if a little on the expensive side.

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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: 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: 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: MSI FX720 Review

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So the British summer is having another shocker, and let’s face it, autumn will likely be just as grim. On that merry note, it’s well worth saving up some cash for a new entertainment machine to keep you occupied during those long, dark evenings, so you don’t have to resort to conversations with family members.

We’ve seen some excellent and unique multimedia laptops recently, from the sleek and powerful Dell XPS 15z, to the Acer Aspire Ethos 8951G, with its detachable remote control touchpad. The MSI FX720 certainly has a lot of competition, but it comes with a less eye-watering price tag than many of its peers.

This laptop might be half the cost of its competitors, but it also lacks the slick and attractive design that most multimedia laptops boast. While the XPS 15z sports a beautiful brushed metal finish, the FX720 makes do with a black plastic frame. It isn’t exactly ugly, but it doesn’t give us those ‘must have’ vibes.

The body doesn’t feel too solid either. It won’t break or fall apart in your hands, but some areas, such as the palmrests, do flex under pressure.

With a weight of 3kg it can be carried around when needed, although we wouldn’t drag it out on the daily commute. It’s best used as a home machine that can be shifted between rooms.

Build quality might not be as strong as we’d like, but the FX720 has a firm keyboard that is comfortable to work on for long periods.

Keys are well laid out and a great size, including the arrow keys which are often squashed. The only casualty is the Return key, which is cropped to fit a single row.

The isolation-style layout means each key is separated from its neighbours by a strip of plastic. Touch typing is more accurate, as you’re less likely to hit the wrong key.

You also have a separate numeric keypad, in case you take a break from movies and games to work on your accounts.

Just above the keyboard is a row of shortcut buttons. These allow you to power down the display, start Windows Media Player, eject the DVD drive and change the power settings. You also have a user-defined shortcut key, for loading your favourite application.

MSI fx770

Although size might not matter, it’s hard to enjoy the latest blockbusters on a tiny laptop screen. Thankfully the MSI FX720 comes with a 17.3-inch widescreen display, so you won’t be squinting to make out the action.

Images are impressively sharp, whether you’re browsing your photos or watching a film. Although the 1600 x 900 resolution means you don’t get full 1080p visuals, we’d struggle to tell the difference when kicking back with an HD movie.

However, as with many recent media laptops, the base FX720 model doesn’t come fitted with a Blu-ray drive. You either have to make do with DVDs, or download your HD content from an online provider. Alternatively, you can stump up more cash for the Blu-ray option.

While the screen isn’t the brightest we’ve seen, it’s still vibrant enough to bring photos and films to life. Viewing angles are reasonable, but the glossy Super-TFT coating is highly reflective, so you should stay away from windows.

The in-built speakers are also surprisingly good, with enough volume to fill a small room. Whether we were watching a film or blasting out music, the sound quality was consistently strong, with no distortion. Of course, if you want to enjoy some serious bass, you should invest in an external pair of speakers.

While many multimedia laptops feature at least 620GB of storage, the FX720 settles for a 500GB hard drive. This fills up surprisingly quickly if you download a lot of HD movies and install loads of games, but external drives are cheap these days so it’s not a crucial factor.

Other features are rather slim. Four USB ports can be used to hook up peripherals, with two of them supporting USB 3.0 technology. VGA and HDMI connections allow you to attach monitors and televisions, if the screen isn’t satisfactory.

As expected, you have 802.11n Wi-Fi for connecting to wireless networks, and gigabit Ethernet if you need to hook up to a wired LAN.

MSI fx770

The MSI FX720 uses an Intel Core i5 2410M processor, which is one of the latest Sandy Bridge models. Backed up by 4GB of memory, you get strong mid-range performance. We ran a number of resource-sapping software suites and noticed little slowdown, even when we tried doing several things at once.

One of nVidia’s older GeForce GT 520M graphics cards still holds up well, with HD movies streaming perfectly. Media editing software also runs smoothly, so you can mess around with your home photos and video as much as you like.

When it comes to gaming, the FX720 isn’t quite as strong as we’d hoped. Older titles such as Half Life 2 run perfectly, but more recent, action-heavy games tend to stutter on the highest detail levels. If you want a gaming machine that’ll last you more than a few months, we’d recommend looking elsewhere.

We were also a little disappointed by the overall performance compared to some other machines we’ve seen lately. While we weren’t expecting results comparable to the Dell XPS 15z or Acer Aspire Ethos laptops, which are twice the price of the FX720, there are better-value multimedia laptops available.

For instance, Dell’s Inspiron 15r has very similar specs for more than £100 less, while you can pick up the Lenovo IdeaPad Z570, which comes with a Blu-ray drive as standard, for just under £600. If you’re looking for a 17-inch multimedia laptop, we’d have to recommend HP’s Pavilion dv7 or the Samsung RF711 instead.

We also weren’t blown away by the FX720’s battery life. We know this laptop isn’t made for lugging around, but we barely made it through a two-hour film before the screen went black. Compare this to other multimedia laptops, which often last at least three hours, and it’s just another disappointment.

Benchmarks

CineBench 10: 9746
3D Mark 06: 6221
Battery Eater 05: 120 mins

MSI fx770

We’ve seen plenty of multimedia machines over the summer, and while some of them have been rather pricey, very few have disappointed. MSI’s FX720 has some tough competition but does it offer enough to warrant a purchase?

We liked

If you’re a cinebuff, or simply enjoy relaxing with the latest Michael Bay explode-a-thon, you’ll love the FX720’s excellent screen. It might not be the brightest panel, but it’s impressively sharp and brings images to life with its rich, deep colours.

Performance is strong enough for everyday use, with no irritating long load times or unexpected stuttering. The dedicated nVidia graphics card means you can get stuck into games, although you’ll need to turn down detail levels on more intensive titles.

If you’ve had enough of games and movies, you can stay productive with the firm isolation-style keyboard.

We disliked

Sadly, the FX720 is lacking that sleek, polished design that makes most multimedia laptops so desirable. We’ve seen laptops around this price point with solid, brushed metal bodies, so the lower cost is no real excuse.

Also, while performance is perfectly fine, there are better value laptops with similar specs out there. On the other hand, if you’re a gaming fan you should look to spend a little bit more on a laptop that will last you longer.

The 500GB hard drive is a little stingy, considering how many portables at this price point have 640GB or 750GB of storage. There’s also no Blu-ray drive, which quite a few media laptops have missed out recently.

Also, it might be an obvious point to make, but the FX720 is best left on a desk at home. The 3kg frame and two-hour battery life hamper portability, so look elsewhere if you need a machine for the daily commute.

With a sexy design and slightly better spec, the FX720 could have been a winner. The 17.3-inch screen is excellent, but there are better multimedia machines to be had for this price.

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Review: MSI FX720 Review

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So the British summer is having another shocker, and let’s face it, autumn will likely be just as grim. On that merry note, it’s well worth saving up some cash for a new entertainment machine to keep you occupied during those long, dark evenings, so you don’t have to resort to conversations with family members.

We’ve seen some excellent and unique multimedia laptops recently, from the sleek and powerful Dell XPS 15z, to the Acer Aspire Ethos 8951G, with its detachable remote control touchpad. The MSI FX720 certainly has a lot of competition, but it comes with a less eye-watering price tag than many of its peers.

This laptop might be half the cost of its competitors, but it also lacks the slick and attractive design that most multimedia laptops boast. While the XPS 15z sports a beautiful brushed metal finish, the FX720 makes do with a black plastic frame. It isn’t exactly ugly, but it doesn’t give us those ‘must have’ vibes.

The body doesn’t feel too solid either. It won’t break or fall apart in your hands, but some areas, such as the palmrests, do flex under pressure.

With a weight of 3kg it can be carried around when needed, although we wouldn’t drag it out on the daily commute. It’s best used as a home machine that can be shifted between rooms.

Build quality might not be as strong as we’d like, but the FX720 has a firm keyboard that is comfortable to work on for long periods.

Keys are well laid out and a great size, including the arrow keys which are often squashed. The only casualty is the Return key, which is cropped to fit a single row.

The isolation-style layout means each key is separated from its neighbours by a strip of plastic. Touch typing is more accurate, as you’re less likely to hit the wrong key.

You also have a separate numeric keypad, in case you take a break from movies and games to work on your accounts.

Just above the keyboard is a row of shortcut buttons. These allow you to power down the display, start Windows Media Player, eject the DVD drive and change the power settings. You also have a user-defined shortcut key, for loading your favourite application.

MSI fx770

Although size might not matter, it’s hard to enjoy the latest blockbusters on a tiny laptop screen. Thankfully the MSI FX720 comes with a 17.3-inch widescreen display, so you won’t be squinting to make out the action.

Images are impressively sharp, whether you’re browsing your photos or watching a film. Although the 1600 x 900 resolution means you don’t get full 1080p visuals, we’d struggle to tell the difference when kicking back with an HD movie.

However, as with many recent media laptops, the base FX720 model doesn’t come fitted with a Blu-ray drive. You either have to make do with DVDs, or download your HD content from an online provider. Alternatively, you can stump up more cash for the Blu-ray option.

While the screen isn’t the brightest we’ve seen, it’s still vibrant enough to bring photos and films to life. Viewing angles are reasonable, but the glossy Super-TFT coating is highly reflective, so you should stay away from windows.

The in-built speakers are also surprisingly good, with enough volume to fill a small room. Whether we were watching a film or blasting out music, the sound quality was consistently strong, with no distortion. Of course, if you want to enjoy some serious bass, you should invest in an external pair of speakers.

While many multimedia laptops feature at least 620GB of storage, the FX720 settles for a 500GB hard drive. This fills up surprisingly quickly if you download a lot of HD movies and install loads of games, but external drives are cheap these days so it’s not a crucial factor.

Other features are rather slim. Four USB ports can be used to hook up peripherals, with two of them supporting USB 3.0 technology. VGA and HDMI connections allow you to attach monitors and televisions, if the screen isn’t satisfactory.

As expected, you have 802.11n Wi-Fi for connecting to wireless networks, and gigabit Ethernet if you need to hook up to a wired LAN.

MSI fx770

The MSI FX720 uses an Intel Core i5 2410M processor, which is one of the latest Sandy Bridge models. Backed up by 4GB of memory, you get strong mid-range performance. We ran a number of resource-sapping software suites and noticed little slowdown, even when we tried doing several things at once.

One of nVidia’s older GeForce GT 520M graphics cards still holds up well, with HD movies streaming perfectly. Media editing software also runs smoothly, so you can mess around with your home photos and video as much as you like.

When it comes to gaming, the FX720 isn’t quite as strong as we’d hoped. Older titles such as Half Life 2 run perfectly, but more recent, action-heavy games tend to stutter on the highest detail levels. If you want a gaming machine that’ll last you more than a few months, we’d recommend looking elsewhere.

We were also a little disappointed by the overall performance compared to some other machines we’ve seen lately. While we weren’t expecting results comparable to the Dell XPS 15z or Acer Aspire Ethos laptops, which are twice the price of the FX720, there are better-value multimedia laptops available.

For instance, Dell’s Inspiron 15r has very similar specs for more than £100 less, while you can pick up the Lenovo IdeaPad Z570, which comes with a Blu-ray drive as standard, for just under £600. If you’re looking for a 17-inch multimedia laptop, we’d have to recommend HP’s Pavilion dv7 or the Samsung RF711 instead.

We also weren’t blown away by the FX720’s battery life. We know this laptop isn’t made for lugging around, but we barely made it through a two-hour film before the screen went black. Compare this to other multimedia laptops, which often last at least three hours, and it’s just another disappointment.

Benchmarks

CineBench 10: 9746
3D Mark 06: 6221
Battery Eater 05: 120 mins

MSI fx770

We’ve seen plenty of multimedia machines over the summer, and while some of them have been rather pricey, very few have disappointed. MSI’s FX720 has some tough competition but does it offer enough to warrant a purchase?

We liked

If you’re a cinebuff, or simply enjoy relaxing with the latest Michael Bay explode-a-thon, you’ll love the FX720’s excellent screen. It might not be the brightest panel, but it’s impressively sharp and brings images to life with its rich, deep colours.

Performance is strong enough for everyday use, with no irritating long load times or unexpected stuttering. The dedicated nVidia graphics card means you can get stuck into games, although you’ll need to turn down detail levels on more intensive titles.

If you’ve had enough of games and movies, you can stay productive with the firm isolation-style keyboard.

We disliked

Sadly, the FX720 is lacking that sleek, polished design that makes most multimedia laptops so desirable. We’ve seen laptops around this price point with solid, brushed metal bodies, so the lower cost is no real excuse.

Also, while performance is perfectly fine, there are better value laptops with similar specs out there. On the other hand, if you’re a gaming fan you should look to spend a little bit more on a laptop that will last you longer.

The 500GB hard drive is a little stingy, considering how many portables at this price point have 640GB or 750GB of storage. There’s also no Blu-ray drive, which quite a few media laptops have missed out recently.

Also, it might be an obvious point to make, but the FX720 is best left on a desk at home. The 3kg frame and two-hour battery life hamper portability, so look elsewhere if you need a machine for the daily commute.

With a sexy design and slightly better spec, the FX720 could have been a winner. The 17.3-inch screen is excellent, but there are better multimedia machines to be had for this price.

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