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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Dell Inspiron 14z

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 Dell Inspiron 14z

Immediately there is plenty to like about the Dell Inspiron 14z. The metallic red colour (costing an extra £10, but definitely worth it), 2.1kg weight, comfortable keyboard and curvy design all strike you as soon as you pick it up for inspection.

Furthermore, it has the right mix of power and price thanks to the mid-range Sandy Bridge processor and 4GB memory. There are one or two minor niggles that stop it achieving solid gold status but, overall, we’re very impressed.

Starting with the obvious, the Inspiron 14z is gorgeous to look at. A metallic, fire-red colour makes it instantly recognizable and the brushed aluminium finish affords it premium status.

Dell is all about the slim and light this year, and the Inspiron 14z is no exception – weighing only 2.1kg with a 14-inch screen, this laptop is made for portability.

Strangely, there’s a protruding ridge underneath the laptop coming from the battery that easily adds a half an inch of thickness to an otherwise very slim chassis. The plus side of this is an ever-so slightly inclined typing angle, so it’s not all bad.

Attractive keyboard

Dell inspiron 14z

Speaking of typing, the Inspiron 14z gives you an isolation-style keyboard with cutesy rounded keys that are comfortable to use. This is a condensed keyboard – there’s no numeric keypad – but this is better than trying to cram too much onto too small a space. Interestingly, the Return key – usually the first casualty – is big, chunky and very easy to hit.

Unfortunately, usability is let down somewhat by the touchpad: it’s not particularly responsive and suffers from left and right click buttons that are too heavy and a pain to use. The cursor also has a tendency to lock into the scroll bar at the slightest provocation which can be annoying when navigating a web page.

While the smaller screen is ideal for portability, purists may prefer a 15.6-inch laptop for enjoying multimedia content. Also, the Inspiron 14z’s screen isn’t one of the brightest we’ve seen. There’s no lack of detail or colour reproduction but we have to admit that an immersive movie experience isn’t this laptop’s strong point.

If you want to play high-definition content you can, although you’ll have to stop short of 1080p resolution and content yourself with the more modest 720p.

Performance wise, the Inspiron 14z doesn’t go the whole hog with a Core i7 processor, opting for a less powerful second generation Core i5 2430M chip instead. The result is a supremely powerful laptop at a price that still appeals. And, while you don’t want less than 4GB RAM, you don’t really need more either.

TechRadar Labs

tech labs

Battery Eater ’05: 232 minutes
Cinebench: 9183
3DMark 2006: 3124

In short, this laptop will handle all of your needs – from basic editing to web surfing – without sucking all of the funds from your bank account.

On top of that, the Inspiron 14z has a very impressive battery life. Dell has been keen to stress the portability of this machine and has made sure you can get a decent amount of use from it between charges. We ran the high-powered Battery Eater program over a looped high-definition video and scored the Dell at 232 minutes – an extremely respectable result.

There’s a lot to like about this laptop – like its long battery life and portable design – but we also noticed one or two niggling flaws that got in the way during prolonged use. However, owning a laptop of this quality for under £600 is a fantastic deal that shouldn’t be missed.

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Acer Aspire 5749

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 Acer Aspire 5749

Keeping up with Acer is some task.

The Taiwanese company has come of age and is now one of the laptop manufacturers to be reckoned with. Its Aspire 5749 is another fine example of advanced features in a budget package.

From the outside, the laptop is uninspiring. Like many Aspires, Acer has concentrated less on the outward design and more on the technology inside. The light grey chassis is covered with a design that looks not unlike a sheet of metal flooring.

It’s a world away from the deep, luxuriant red of the Dell Inspiron 14z, but at 2.3kg, the Aspire 5749 is lighter than your average laptop. We wouldn’t have thought you’d have any problems carrying it around for a day.

There is a slight amount of flex around the edges of the keyboard, but this is minimal. The keyboard itself sticks resolutely to Acer’s previous models – each key is individually raised above the chassis. It makes for comfortable typing, but crumbs and dirt may easily find their way under the keys.

Acer aspire 5749

The touchpad is nicely sized and located slightly further to the left than we’ve seen on other machines. The two click buttons are melded together as two halves of the same button, while a small section on the right of the touchpad will act as a virtual scroll bar. It’s a nice feature that you might find yourself using often after a few experimental flicks.

Vast storage

Acer has seen fit to include 750GB of storage space on the Aspire 5749; a generous amount, considering the average we’d expect to find is 320GB. Even though you can buy external hard drives, it’s always reassuring to have plenty of room to install programs and back up data on your native drive.

Power comes courtesy of an Intel Core i3-2330M processor. It’s pretty standard for this type of laptop, but manages to kick out a decent amount of power without costing the earth.

Graphical ability is mediocre thanks to an integrated Intel card. You shouldn’t have a problem photoshopping your image collection or running high-def movies, but you’ll probably want to hold off on ordering Modern Warfare 3 for now.

TechRadar Labs

tech labs

Battery Eater ’05: 169 minutes
Cinebench: 7847
3DMark 2006: 3120

If you do want to dabble with multimedia then you’ll find this Acer’s 15.6-inch screen is quite accommodating. It’s not as bright as we’ve seen on other laptops, but there’s a Super-TFT coating that is always welcome when watching films. The viewing angles are also pleasingly wide.

Three USB ports, an HDMI and VGA port and Ethernet socket make up the connections on offer here. The Acer Aspire 5749 comes with 802.11n wireless connectivity, but there’s no Bluetooth support for wirelessly connecting peripherals. There’s enough speed here, thanks to 4GB of RAM, which should be the minimum amount you look for when buying a laptop.

On the few occasions that we found the Acer lagged, it was when trying to stream high-definition video from the internet with several programs running in the background. Overall, though, it’s a comfortably reliable and smooth performance.

Judging by the manufacturer’s track record, if you decide to shell out on the Aspire 5749, you can rest assured there’ll be a newer model out next week. But, at the same time, that shouldn’t matter too much. This is a solidly built, value-formoney performer with plenty of storage space, even if its design leaves plenty to be desired.

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Asus Zenbook UX21

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 Asus Zenbook UX21

Overview 


The Asus Zenbook UX21 is the first 11-inch ultrabook to hit the shelves, joining the likes of the Acer Aspire S3 and its bigger brother, the Asus Zenbook UX31.

It expands the lineup of the new breed of super light and thin laptops, which has been nurtured by Intel. The ultrabook market is quickly expanding, with the Lenovo IdeaPad U300 and Toshiba Portege Z830 expected at the end of November.

The Asus Zenbook UX21 brings the exceptional power of the Intel Ultrabook to the small form laptop market, making it a different proposition to any existing netbook.

There’s Sandy Bridge power for starters, and power to match any full form laptop, but Asus has condensed all this technology into the smallest of chassis.

Asus zenbook ux21 review

Of course, comparisons will be immediately drawn with the Apple MacBook Air, which is one of the best ultra-portable laptops money can buy, and these two 11-inch portables are very closely matched.

The Asus Zenbook UX21 matches the Apple MacBook Air in every respect. It’s just as well-built, made out of a single piece of aluminium, just as light and oozes the same head-turning style and class that makes people cast admiring glances while you work in public.

It has the same Intel Core i5 low voltage 1.6GHz processor, and a 128GB solid state hard drive, which keeps the system really responsive and fast.

While they’ve slashed the size of this waif- Ultrabook, and retaining some top class tech, Asus has created the best netbook ever made.

Specifications

Asus zenbook ux21 review

Despite being only 11 inches in size, this netbook-sized ultrabook doesn’t scrimp on power. Under the Asus Zenbook UX21’s hood there’s a low-voltage Sandy Bridge Intel Core i5 2467M processor, clocked at 1.6GHz.

Despite only having a clock speed of 1.6GHz, the low voltage Core i5 still packs plenty of power, and there are four cores to make mincemeat out of most tasks.

The Asus Zenbook UX21 has a few more tricks up its sleeve. It has 4GB of RAM, (the MacBook Air has just 2GB) and a 128GB SSD card that aids performance. And at £849, it’s a whopping £150 cheaper.

Asus zenbook ux21 review

The Asus Zenbook UX21 is a Windows machine, so there’s no sleek OS X 10.7 Lion, should you have a preference, and there’s no superfast Thunderbolt port, but one of the two USB ports is the brand new USB 3.0 standard.

This whole package weighs just 1.2kg and measures just 9mm at its thickest point, making it frighteningly portable yet strong.

It’s clear from the outset that the Asus Zenbook UX21 has the right to rival the Apple MacBook Air, and the build quality is superb.

Asus zenbook ux21 review

The aluminium body offers no flex, the lid rises smoothly from the body, the keys are tactile, comfortably spaced and easy to type on despite being on a netbook-sized portable laptop, and it’s comfortable to type on, although the reduced size did lead to more mistakes than a standard-sized laptop.

If you spend most of your day bashing out long documents, then you would probably want to opt for the Asus Zenbook UX21’s larger 13-inch cousin, the UX31, or the excellent Acer Aspire S3, which is available for £699 for the Intel Core i5 model.

The screen looks fantastic for such a small laptop, and it’s ideal for watching movies while you’re on the move. Colours were vibrant, the picture sharp, and this makes the Asus Zenbook UX21 a great media machine for regular business travellers who need a functional machine when they reach their destination.

Asus zenbook ux21 review

One bugbear we had is with the Asus Zenbook UX21’s trackpad. For an 11.6-inch laptop, it’s well sized and smooth, but it’s extremely sensitive. This led to some chaotic moments, where clicks were registered accidentally, so things were dragged accidentally.

This is one area where the MacBook Air prevails, and its multi-touch track pad is smart enough to work out what you’re trying to do, and is seamlessly integrated with every part of the operating system.

Asus zenbook ux21 review

We were impressed to find a handy protective sleeve in the package, because the brushed metal will scratch easily, but it will do little to help protect against crushes or bangs, so it’s worth upgrading to something more durable.

Performance

Asus zenbook ux21 review

TechRadar Labs

tech labs

Cinebench 10: 7297
3D Mark ’06: 4096
Battery Eater: 189mins

The Asus Zenbook UX21’s Intel Core i5 2467M processor scored well in our lab tests, notching up 7297 in Cinebench, making it easily as fast as chips found on most mid-range laptops. It’s fully capable of multitasking standard tasks such as web browsing, streaming online video, picture editing and playing HD video.

When you consider the waif-like form of the Asus Zenbook UX21, it’s incredible that it can compete with bulky portable laptops.

In terms of graphics performance, the numbers that denote the quality of games, video rendering and programs such as Photoshop show that the Asus Zenbook UX21 doesn’t stack up so well.

Asus zenbook ux21 review

There’s no dedicated graphics card here, so the processor handles the 3D effects instead. There’s enough power to watch video and make simple edits to video, but hardcore graphics programs and even mid-range games would test the system beyond its limits.

Battery life is also good, and we achieved 189 minutes using our lab software, which involves simulating document writing while looping HD video in the background. In real terms, you can watch a full HD movie before reaching for the charger, or expect around five hours of web surfing and writing before your laptop dies.

If you’re away from the mains all day, then you might not consider five hours to be enough, but you’d have to look to the Sony Z Series to get anywhere near the same power and portability as the Asus Zenbook UX21, and that would mean a huge jump in weight and price. The Sony Z Series and its external power pack cost in excess of £2,600.

Asus zenbook ux21 review

One of the most noticeable attributes of the Asus Zenbook UX21 is the speed in which it resumes from sleep. Using innovations from Intel, the Zenbook resumes instantly, without the hangs and loading periods that have historically plagued Windows machines. This is the most tangible benefit, and brings the fight to the host of tablets on the market.

The screen itself is excellent, and it’s one of the best panels we’ve seen in a small form notebook. With the resolution equivalent to that of a larger 15-inch laptop, you can enjoy text documents and web pages properly, not like on a netbook, where the lower number of pixels means that web pages look zoomed it, meaning you have to scroll every few lines.

If you’re a regular traveller, and you like watching movies, then the Asus Zenbook UX21 is perfect, and has enough power to play back high-definition video. The extra two inches over a tablet makes all the difference too, and this means it’s a fantastic machine for those who mix work and play while on the move.

Verdict

Asus zenbook ux21 review

At over £100 cheaper than the Apple MacBook Air, with 2GB more RAM and an almost identical chassis, the Asus Zenbook UX21 is a fantastic buy for anyone looking for an ultra-portable laptop.

Some will argue that £850 is too much for a laptop that is too small to be an effective primary machine, and will need to be used in conjunction with something more powerful.

We liked

The form and size of this petite portable laptop is mind-blowing, especially when you consider the Sandy Bridge processor that’s inside.

You can play HD video and enjoy most tasks short of gaming and HD editing without coming across any issues, which genuinely offers an alternative to tablets such as the Asus Eee Pad Transformer.

The extras that Asus has packed into the box are also worth a special mention, and getting a thin protective sleeve and carry case for the extremely small charger add an extra bit of detail to this excellent all-round package.

We disliked

The problem we have with the Asus Zenbook UX21 is that few people would want to use this little laptop as their primary machine, due to the uncomfortable size and lack of connectivity options.

At £850, it seems like a very expensive addition to someone’s portable armoury, and less versatile than its big brother, the Asus Zenbook UX31.

The trackpad also is also crossed off the Christmas card list, and while you do get used to it eventually, it seems designed to infuriate users who are starting out with this wonderful portable PC.

Final verdict

As a piece of modern laptop engineering, the Asus Zenbook UX21 is sublime. Only Apple has previously been able to make something this sleek, light, powerful and desirable, and for those who want to stick with Windows, this moment could not have come soon enough.

Any major faults are not with the Asus Zenbook UX21 itself, but with the merits of an 11.6-inch machine.

If you need something for long trips away, £850 seems steep when excellent 13-inch ultrabooks are available that could arguably be used as a primary machine. The Acer Aspire S3 Intel Core i5 version retails for just £699.

Up against a host of great tablets, including Asus’ own Eee Pad Transformer Prime, it’s hard to justify the outlay.

Despite this, the stunning power and portable body make this a great buy. As netbooks continue their rapid decline, this ultrabook could replace them, and with it show the world that laptops are here to stay.

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Acer Travelmate 8410T

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 Acer Travelmate 8410T

The Acer Travelmate 8410T is a fantastic ultraportable that would have blown us away just a few months ago. However, with the amount of exciting Ultrabooks on the horizon it underwhelmed us too much for a recommendation.

It weighs just 1.8 kg and comes in a fetching black brushed metal finish. Opening the lid reveals a matte 14-inch screen which doesn’t reflect in direct sunlight, making it great for mobile workers.

The immediate reaction is to notice the lack of bezel, and the screen fills the lid space with no room wasted, which accommodates that 14-inch screen, while maintaining a size equivalent to most 13-inch portables.

Inside is a 1.6GHz Intel Core i5 2467 processor. While only clocking in at 1.6GHz, it still performs remarkably well, sealing an impressive score in our lab tests. It’s more than capable of photo editing, multitasking demanding programs and watching high-definition videos, making this a great all-rounder.

Great battery life

The great processor performance is thanks to Intel’s TurboBoost technology, which means that the Travelmate 8410T reacts to demanding tasks, and can provide surges of power to get things done. Booting was incredibly fast, with resuming from sleep and starting from cold stunningly responsive.

Battery life was extremely impressive, and our heavy tests achieved nearly five hours, which is equal to more than six hours of light use. This is as close to all-day computing as you’re likely to find and great for working on the move.

TechRadar Labs

tech labs

Battery Eater ’05: 267 minutes
Cinebench: 7210
3DMark 2006: 3336

The rest of the specs are slightly less impressive, and it leaves the Travelmate 8410T slightly lacking in comparison to its competition. There’s a 320GB hard drive, which means you’ll need to invest in a portable drive to back up your pictures and media. What’s more, there’s only 3GB of RAM and, while the system felt responsive at all times, 4GB is merely par for the course these days.

While the brushed-metal finish does make the Acer Travelmate 8410T a real head turner, we did find it attracted marks and dirt very easily, so it’s best to invest in a good case.

We were also disappointed with the keyboard, which had quite a dramatic flex in the middle. It was comfortable to type of for long periods, and accurate, but not the kind of quality we’d expect in this price range.

The Acer Travelmate is a great ultraportable laptop, which can be used all day, without breaking your back. While it’s incredibly light and thin, the Acer is no match for the latest wave of Ultrabooks, including Acer’s own Aspire S3.

The build isn’t as thin, alluring, the processor is outmatched by the Intel Core i7 version found on most Ultrabooks, and the Acer Aspire S3 Core i5 is only £699. This sadly renders the Acer Travelmate 8410T slightly redundant, which is a shame, as three months ago it would have received a hearty recommendation.

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Review: HP DV7-6103ea

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Review: HP DV7-6103ea

HP’s surprising partnership with hip-hop producer Dr Dre has bumped it up in the cool stakes, and brought some much-needed quality to the beleaguered world of laptop speakers. While HP’s mid-range multimedia DV7-6103ea isn’t quite as sleek as the company’s Envy range, it has pilfered the same design finesse and also comes with the superior Beats Audio experience.

Taking a leaf from the Envy range, this laptop is solidly built and looks great. The burnished gunmetal finish gives a great streaky effect, adorning the top of the lid and surrounding the chiclet keyboard. Shame it’s only plastic but, at 3kg, it feels sturdy enough.

In terms of portability, it’s never gong to be light on a 17.3-inch chassis, but at 416 x 275 x 36mm, the DV7-6103ea is svelte.

The keyboard is a mixed blessing. Typing for long periods is fine, thanks to the sturdy travel on the keys, while number-crunchers will appreciate the full numeric keypad. However, the arrow keys are crushed into a single row and are difficult to find.

We were also disappointed with the multi-touch pad, which is a little compact.

Audio goodness

Opening up the DV7-6103ea reveals the enormous sub-woofer. This sits above the board to deliver sound out and up rather than underneath, where it would be more muffled.

As we expected, the laptop produces more powerful sound than most other laptops, though it’s never going to beat the throw of external speakers. Of course, most laptop users sit near their hardware and will enjoy listening to music as they work, while movies played with a rich sonic feed.

The Blu-ray player sits on the right hand side and ports are standard fare, with two fast USB 3.0 ports, two standard USB 2.0s, a VGA out and a HDMI out so you can connect to other HD devices. There’s even a multi-card reader and internal USB remote.

While HP provides too much bloatware pre-installed on the hard drive, you do get an finger print reader for added security. The 1600 x 900-pixel LED HP BrightView display is impressively vibrant, although the gloss sheen does make it harder to view in strong natural light.

The low lighting in The Dark Knight meant we lost a lot of detail in natural light, but the stunning details with the lights off impressed – even though it’s not full HD.

TechRadar Labs

tech labs

Battery Eater ’05: 181 minutes
Cinebench: 6480
3DMark 2006: 1533

The DV7-6103ea has AMD’s Quad-Core A6-3410MX fusion GPU and CPU, which is great mobile tech for enhancing battery life. With a generous 6GB of memory, we had no lag or stutter on video playback or when multi-tasking. The latest games will struggle, however.

There’s an enormous 1.5TB of storage for all of your applications and media.

If you’re looking for a smart new multimedia machine for movies and music, the DV7-6103ea is a great choice that won’t break the bank.

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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 N73SV

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Review: Asus N73SV

Asus has built a great reputation over the years, offering laptops that pack style and power at competitive prices. Few multimedia machines can match the value offered by the N73SV but its flawed usability unfortunately lets the side down early on.

Finished with a brushed aluminium lid and contrasting gunmetal and black interior, the chassis feels suitably well put together and looks every bit the high-end media centre, despite its surprisingly low price.

Sadly, this quality does not extend to the keyboard. While the large keys are responsive and easy to type on, the board is poorly mounted and bounces a great deal during use. The touchpad fares little better, proving sluggish and slow to respond.

A vertical panel of multimedia keys sits to the left of the keyboard, providing a fast way to control your music and movies. The six backlit buttons can be easily seen in the dark, but we found no easy way to disable the backlighting, so they can prove a little distracting at times.

At 3.5kg this is not a laptop for frequent travellers and its bulky dimensions make it far better suited to life at home on your desk. This is reflected in the limited 193-minute battery life, although this still managed to beat the sub-standard results of the other machines.

The most obvious strength of this laptop is its stunning 17.3-inch screen. The exceptionally bright and colourful panel shows images and videos to glorious effect, while the Full HD resolution makes the most of the built-in Blu-ray drive. Even the glossy coating is not overly reflective.

Powerful sound

Sound quality also impresses. Using technology co-developed with audio specialist, Bang & Olufsen ICEpower, the audio from the speakers is loud, clear and detailed. We noticed some slight treble distortion at higher volumes, but bass and mid frequencies were always clear.

Despite using the same dedicated Nvidia graphics card as the, the Asus almost doubles its power. Bettered by only the Acer Aspire 8951G and Toshiba Qosmio X770-107, there is plenty of power for light gaming and running high-definition video – a great result at this low price.

Office performance is no slouch either, despite falling some behind the powerful Intel Core i7 laptops. The Core i5 processor is backed by a healthy 6GB of memory and software opens and runs swiftly, with plenty of power for multi-tasking.

You also get a healthy amount of storage, thanks to the Asus’ 640GB hard drive. While it falls far behind the vast disks of the more expensive Acer and Toshiba, there is still ample room for storing large multimedia collections.

TechRadar Labs

tech labs

Battery Eater ’05: 193 minutes
Cinebench: 9798
3DMark 2006: 7905

A final unique feature of this laptop is its ExpressGate Cloud operating system. Installed along with Windows 7 it enables you to boot into a basic, panel-based OS in nine seconds, to access your photos, music, a calendar and a web browser faster than you can with Windows. We found the software needless, however, and find it unlikely anyone would use it on a regular basis.

If you can overlook the flawed user interface, the N73SV has a lot to offer at this price. Offering power, Blu-ray compatibility, an excellent screen and surprisingly strong audio, it makes a very good entry-level media centre. If you tend to work more than you play, though, the bouncy keyboard could be a deal breaker.

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Review: Alienware M18X

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Review: Alienware M18X

The latest release from Dell-owned Alienware, the M18X, is a behemoth with enough power to run any game under the sun without so much as a flicker. But you’ll have to have deep pockets to get your hands on one.

Even getting the M18X out of the box is a challenge, thanks to its 438 x 311 x 52mm dimensions and a back-breaking weight of 5.7kg. This machine was designed to dominate your desk. As expected, it sticks to the Alienware design, which we love, but probably won’t be to everyone’s taste.

The entire machine is a slab of moulded rubber and brushed metal, and that ever-present Tron-style neon backlight.

Unsurprisingly, the focus of the Alienware is gaming. Our review sample came with an AMD Radeon HD 6900M and scored a mind-blowing 19,056 during our intensive gaming benchmark test.

While the sheer power of the machine keeps games running perfectly, it is the 18.4-inch screen that made playing on the M18X a truly immersive experience. The Super-TFT screen is like a window into your games. It’s extremely bright and the 1920 x 1080-pixel resolution keeps the most complex graphics razor sharp.

But it’s the sheer size that is the winner here and you really notice the difference between this and a standard 15.6-inch machine.

Mixed keyboard

Alienware m18x

Although we like the keyboard on the M18x, there is a degree of flexing towards the centre and some might not appreciate the tightly packed keys, but the customisable backlight looks great.

As any gamer knows, you’re going to want a mouse, game controller, joystick, or any number of other peripherals to get the best from your laptop. So Alienware has gone big on connectivity. There are five USB ports, upgradable to USB 3.0 if you want, along with an Ethernet port, eSata port, VGA Out and audio jacks for your headset and microphone. On top of that, you get two HDMI ports for connecting extra monitors or an HDTV.

Despite our praise, the M18x is not without its faults. At 87 minutes, the battery life is woeful. The charger, like the laptop itself, is huge, and you certainly won’t be leaving the house without it.

The other problem with the M18x is that to play big, you have to spend big and, being custom-built, it costs a small fortune to get the best spec. Every model runs on a Sandy Bridge Core i7 processor, but there are different variants available.

Alienware

Our review sample was powerful, but other laptop components such as RAM and storage space were poor. This was disappointing and, although you can customise the amount of storage, we would expect more than 250GB and 4GB of RAM for £1699.

TechRadar Labs

Benchmarks

Battery Eater ’05: 87 minutes
Cinebench: 16967
3DMark 2006: 19056

Essentially, if you’re not a hardcore gamer, there is no reason to spend this kind of money. But if you want the best mobile gaming experience around, this is what you should be looking at.

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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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