Lenovo IdeaPad U300S

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 Lenovo IdeaPad U300S

Overview

The wait for the flurry of Intel ultrabooks is over, and the Lenovo IdeaPad U300S is among the latest super thin and light Windows laptops to come to the fore.

It joins the likes of the Toshiba Portege Z830, Toshiba Satellite Z830, Asus Zenbook UX31 and Acer Aspire S3 in the ultrabook range, a new kind of laptop category that is critically important for the future of the entire market.

Ultrabooks are super-thin, light, sleek and powerful laptops that aim to emulate Apple’s recent gains with the Apple MacBook Air, and finally give consumers a reason to invest in PCs again.

Lenovo ideapad u300s review

The Lenovo IdeaPad U300S is the last in the current line of ultrabooks to hit the shelves, and with a host of new models rumoured to be released at CES 2012 in January, it needs to offer a potent mix of power, great looks and competitive price to stand out among the early salvos from Acer, Asus and Toshiba.

However, our first impressions are underwhelming.

Lenovo hasn’t obsessed over aesthetics, and this laptop is no Apple MacBook Air clone. It seems chunky next to the wafer-thin Asus Zenbook, which features a wedge-shaped design that tapers off to a thin, blade-like point.

The Lenovo IdeaPad U300S retains its 16mm thickness across the chassis, giving it the impression of being squat.

The body is aluminium, and weighs 1.4kg, the same as the Acer Aspire S3, but much heavier than the Toshiba Portege Z830 and the Toshiba Satellite Z830-10U. If you’re looking for an ultrabook that will turn heads, you will most likely look elsewhere, but can the Lenovo IdeaPad U300S impress with power?

Specifications

Lenovo ideapad u300s review

Under the hood of the Lenovo IdeaPad U300S is an Intel Core i5 processor, which we were slightly disappointed to see, when other manufacturers have managed to add Intel Core i7 processors to a smaller, lighter chassis.

The processor is one of Intel’s low-voltage chips, which balances power with decent battery life and enables system builders to keep their laptops svelte, and achieve the standard required for ultrabook branding.

The low voltage family of processors are part of Intel’s Sandy Bridge range, but don’t expect the same performance as on full laptop systems such as the Dell XPS 15z. These processors are clocked at a meagre 1.6GHz, but have some cunning tech built in to keep the system optimised.

Lenovo ideapad u300s review

There’s Intel’s fast booting technology, which enables the Lenovo to resume from sleep and boot from cold in seconds, and makes a huge difference. It’s one of the best ultrabook features, but it’s not exclusive to the Lenovo.

We have seen better processors elsewhere, such as the Asus Zenbook with its Intel Core i7 processor, and this affects performance.

There’s also 4GB of RAM, which is standard across all ultrabooks and provides enough memory for keeping the system feeling responsive.

Finally, there’s a 128GB SSD drive, which we’re glad to say is becoming standard on ultrabooks, but whether you can live on that is debatable. Yes, you can employ an external HDD, but the question for many is whether an ultrabook can function as a primary machine, or whether it must be complemented by a full-form computer.

Lenovo ideapad u300s review

The lack of connections on the Lenovo IdeaPad U300S means using this as a primary laptop is difficult, which is a bugbear.

While the whole world goes wireless, and we start to store data in the cloud, 128GB of storage seems plenty. Cloud apps and storage are taking the strain off disc drives, but connectivity is the problem. The Lenovo IdeaPad U300S features just two USB ports, one of these being USB 3.0, and an HDMI port but no Ethernet or VGA.

The Lenovo IdeaPad U300S is also the only ultrabook not to feature a media card slot, and with only two USB slots on offer, connectivity is severely limited.

Lenovo ideapad u300s review

The result is that it’s harder to get online, and we found it frustrating when hopping between offices and meeting rooms when wireless signal was poor, or non-existent. That’s not a problem for home users, but with the matt screen and less attractive lines, we feel this ultrabook is aimed at mobile workers.

The Lenovo IdeaPad U300S features a 13.3-inch display, and in a nod to true portability, the screen is matt, with a coating to stop reflections in direct sunlight.

Matt screens tend to polarise opinion, with many complaining that it makes the panel dull and lifeless, versus others who love the ability to work outside and near windows with them.

The truth is that both of these statements are true, and the Lenovo is totally unsuitable for those who want to enjoy movies and pictures, but it’s a great choice for people who want to work on the move.

Performance

Lenovo ideapad u300s review

TechRadar Labs

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Benchmarks
Cinebench: 7,244
3D Mark: 3,394
Battery Eater: 232 mins

The Lenovo IdeaPad U300S’s less powerful Intel Core i5 processor showed through in our lab tests, and the 7,244 score in Cinebench is on the low side when compared to the Asus Zenbook UX31 and Acer Aspire S3.

In real-world terms, this is more than enough processing power to run advanced programs such as Photoshop, although rendering will take longer than on full-powered Intel Core processors and ultrabooks with the Core i7 model. You’ll have no problem running multiple applications at the same time, though.

There’s no dedicated graphics card, so 3D effects are left to the GPU found on the Intel Sandy Bridge processor. As you might expect, it produces a poor score, and you won’t be playing any of the latest titles on the Lenovo IdeaPad U300S.

Lenovo ideapad u300s review

There’s enough graphical grunt to deal with HD video, so you can watch a movie on the move, but anything more demanding is out of the question, and the screen won’t make movies look their best anyway.

The battery life was decent, if unspectacular, with 232 minutes of use in our harsh lab tests. This translates to around five hours of web surfing and emailing, which equates to a good day on the move, but nowhere near the seven hours quoted by Lenovo on its marketing literature.

One of the major complaints across many ultrabooks is that they often feature poor, uncomfortable keyboards, and single button trackpads that are frustrating to use, and easy to skip across the page with unintentionally. Unfortunately, the Lenovo suffers here too.

Lenovo ideapad u300s review

On the plus side the keys are as comfortable and natural to use as any ultrabook here, and they’re well cushioned and well spaced, with isolation-style keys jutting through the aluminium chassis.

However, Lenovo has made the Enter and Backspace keys very small, with the Home, End and Delete key to the far right.

This meant mistakes were common, and it took us a while to get used to the keyboard. The trackpad, however, is terrible, and often clicking and navigating led to chaotic moments, where clicks were mis-registered.

Verdict

Lenovo ideapad u300s review

When it comes to weighing up the Lenovo IdeaPad U300S, “average” is a word that crops up too often. It looks average, performance is average despite being thicker and heavier than other ultrabooks, and the keyboard and trackpad are still awkward to use. It doesn’t have the power to turn heads, nor to blow away the likes of the Acer Aspire S3 in terms of performance, and that means it’s hard to recommend, even for particular niches.

The matt screen will make it attractive for business buyers, but the lack of a VGA and Ethernet connection mean that many will overlook this laptop.

We liked

Despite our gripes with the Lenovo IdeaPad U300S, it’s still an excellent ultra-portable laptop. If it had come out before the other ultrabooks, we’d be applauding the excellent design and performance, and the Intel Core i5 is plenty powerful enough for image editing and advanced multitasking.

While we’d never recommend the screen for movies, we applaud Lenovo for offering a matt screen, which is great for people who want to work outside.

The keyboard is comfortable and easy to type on, with good travel between the keys, and good cushioning for long working sessions.

We disliked

Rather than complaining about poor trackpads, we’re going to get down on our knees and beg manufacturers instead. Please believe us that single button trackpads are prone to mistakes and frustrating to use. Stop mimicking Apple and adding them to your laptops.

We also would have liked the Lenovo IdeaPad U300S to be more visually striking. Ultrabooks aren’t just supposed to be thin laptops, they’re supposed to be a new category, where we can get excited about our PCs, take them to Starbucks and sit among our Apple-using friends with our heads held high.

There’s little here to boast about, and that’s a real shame.

Final verdict

The Lenovo IdeaPad U300S is a good ultra-portable laptop, but as an ultrabook, it doesn’t offer any compelling reasons to choose it over the competition.

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Corsair Vengeance Racing Red 16GB

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 Corsair Vengeance Racing Red 16GB

Not only is a new extreme/enthusiast Intel platform a boon for motherboard manufacturers, it’s also very good news for the memory manufacturers. It’s been a long time since the memory guys had any good news, so the fact that the X79 platform comes with a special quad-channel memory configuration is great. Isn’t it?

Corsair thinks so, and has released a new lineup of RAM modules set up for the platform. The latest range of quad-channel Vengeance kits are rated at 1,866MHz out of the box, with full XMP 1.3 compliance built in.

Like the G.Skill RipJawsZ kit, the XMP 1.3 makes for a slightly tighter integration of the use of memory profiling to make setting clockspeeds, latencies and voltages correctly for any supporting motherboard.

Memory matters

The difficulty for companies such as Corsair is that these days, memory actually makes little difference at the top end. The performance difference between a decent 1,600MHz kit and a pacier 1,866MHz bumper pack is small, especially at this thick end of the memory capacity wedge.

With 16GB of DDR3 jammed into your machine, whether it’s running at 1,600MHz or 1,866MHz, it’s going to be going like a greased weasel down a slide. The difference in gaming is negligible – for example, there was just one frame in it with our World in Conflict benchmark, which can easily be put down to simple testing variance.

More immediately obvious is the difference in actual memory bandwidth. The Corsair Vengeance Racing Red kit manages a whopping 42GB/s against the 1,600MHz G.Skill kit’s 38GB/s. Even at the lowest ebb, you’re still getting great numbers.

In overclocking terms, the Corsair kit was rock-solid at its rated frequency in our Sandy Bridge E tests, easily getting up to the same 4.8GHz overclock that the G.Skill kit managed. Neither kit will bat above its rated speeds though. As hard as we tried, we couldn’t push the Vengeance Racing Red modules up to the next point, 2,133MHz. But really that’s just willy-waving. Such speeds don’t give you a huge amount of extra real-world performance for your money.

TechRadar Labs

tech labs

Video encoding performance
X264 v4.0: FPS: Higher is better
Corsair Vengeance: 55
G.Skill RipJaws-Z: 55

Memory bandwidth
SiSoft Sandra: GB/S: Higher is better
Corsair Vengeance: 42
G.Skill RipJaws-Z: 38

Gaming performance
WiC: FPS: Higher is better
Corsair Vengeance: 112
G.Skill RipJaws-Z: 111

And therein lies the rub. This Corsair kit is on the market for around £133 at the time of writing, whereas the slightly slower G.Skill kit can be picked up for less than a ton. Is the extra performance really going to be worth the cash you’re stumping up for the extra clockspeed?

As a gamer, the answer will most likely be no. Realistically for us PC gaming folk, even the G.Skill kit is probably overkill, and speeding up those modules won’t give you much extra either.

For Photoshop obsessives and video manipulation junkies, £133 for 16GB of superfast DDR3 probably isn’t a bad deal. But that’s a bit of a niche market for such an enthusiast product. None of that can take away from the fact that these Corsair modules run perfectly at their rated specs, happily keeping the system ticking over during all the overclocking.

But as we’ve said, it’s a niche product. Most of us wont need the heights of this kit, though the same could easily be said of the whole Sandy Bridge E platform. So, in for a penny and all that…

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Samsung RF511

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 Samsung RF511

The Samsung RF511 is a mid-range laptop which offers solid yet unspectacular performance, at a less than inspiring price. With so many great laptop bargains on the market this year boasting new Intel chips, we reckon that Samsung has missed the mark with this middle-of-the-road outing.

With its muted grey metal trim around the keyboard and austere black-on-silver keys, the kind of room which would suit Samsung’s RF511 will have black leather couches and smoked glass tables. It’s a world away from the designer minimalism of something like the Asus Zenbook and a design that will repel as many as it attracts.

But once you look at the glossy baked plastic lid, you begin to wonder who exactly the RF511 is aimed at. Is it a workhorse machine for open plan offices? Or something that could be a desktop replacement for the family home? We’re just not sure – and the problem is that Samsung doesn’t seem to have the answer, either.

If you’re shopping around, there are two versions of the RF511 available: one has a discrete graphics processor supplied by Nvidia for extra gaming power; the other relies on Intel’s HD Graphics 3000 GPU that’s built into a Sandy Bridge chip. This is the latter incarnation, meaning that the latest games are going to be beyond your aspirations.

Like the Packard Bell TS13HR, you’ll be able to get some older games running at a playable rate, but forget your secret ambition to be a soldier in Battlefield 3 if you choose to arm yourself with the RF511. Far Cry 2 runs fairly well on it, though.

Samsung build

So, if it’s not extra games performance that Samsung is offering punters, how does it distinguish itself from the almost £180 cheaper Packard Bell TS13HR? For the extra outlay here you get a Core i5 processor (rather than the Core i3 in the Packard Bell) and an extra 250GB of hard drive space.

It’s not much lighter, though, and the battery life isn’t any better if you’re running video or doing anything more challenging than browsing the web.

We can report, however, that the RF511’s screen is an improvement over the TS13HR. The contrast levels are even better for richer colours all round, but it’s not that much better. Certainly not £150 so.

Limited benefit

So what about those differences between the Core i5 and Core i3? With the former, you get Hyper Threading and Intel’s Turbo Boost technology. That’s reflected in the benchmarks, but they don’t have as much real world benefit as you might imagine – certainly not unless you’re encoding a lot of video or doing the kinds of high intensity workloads that this laptop really isn’t otherwise designed for.

TechRadar Labs

tech labs

Battery Eater ’05: 168 minutes
Cinebench: 9960
3DMark 2006: 4740

As far as using the the RF511 or the TS13HR for photo editing, watching videos, surfing the web and office suites, there’s not a huge performance advantage to be gained by spending the extra money.

What you do get for the extra money is a lot of bundled software. Unfortunately, most of this borders on the intrusive rather than the genuinely useful. Internet security pop-ups and notifications about Wi-Fi also have a habit of knocking out other running applications. If you’re after a no-frillls 15-incher, there’s little reason to buy the RF511 over the cheaper TS13HR.

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HP Pavilion dm1-4027ea

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 HP Pavilion dm1-4027ea

Overview

The HP Pavilion dm1-4027ea comes at an interesting time for portable PC laptops. Traditional laptops have had a turbulent ride of late, with a number of threats appearing to erode their market.

The first threat – netbooks – has been seen off pretty comprehensively. The diminutive machines offered a smaller, lighter and cheaper alternative, but at the cost of power and features.

In the end netbooks failed to capture the public’s imagination, despite the efforts of some great products, such as the Toshiba NB520-10U.

Tablets, however – especially the Apple iPad 2 and the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 – haven’t had this problem, and have surpassed netbooks to become the laptop’s biggest threat. Sales have rocketed so that tablets have succeeded where netbooks failed. Offering slick interfaces, a huge selection of apps and usually attractive and portable designs, tablets are a force to be reckoned with.

Their Achilles’ heel at the moment is price. Top range tablets go for around £300-£400. You can get cheaper models, such as the Binatone HomeSurf 705 and ViewSonic ViewPad 7e, but they’re not very good.

HP pavilion dm1-4027ea review

A new front has now opened up from the high end of the laptop market, with Intel’s ultrabook format. These new laptops are incredibly thin, light and beautifully designed, as well as being powerful. The standout models of ultrabook is the Asus Zenbook UX31 and the Acer Aspire S3.

So where does this competition leave standard laptops in general, and the HP Pavilion dm1-4027ea in particular? Does it do enough to stand out in an already crowded market, and does the audience for that market even exist any more? The HP Pavilion dm1-4027ea starts with a strong foundation, with Hewlett Packard remaining a trusted and respected manufacturer of laptops.

The HP Pavilion dm1-4027ea’s stablemate, the HP Pavilion dm1-3100sa, has impressed as an ultra-portable laptop that doesn’t make too many sacrifices when it comes to performance. But now the spotlight is firmly on the HP Pavilion dm1-4027ea.

Specifications

HP pavilion dm1-4027ea review

The HP Pavilion dm1-4027ea is certainly a small laptop, with dimensions of just 29.2 x 21.5 x 3.2cm, and a weight of only 1.6kg. This makes it almost as small and portable as the much maligned netbooks but, crucially, it also has enough power to handle most tasks.

Packed onto the small chassis of the laptop are VGA, HDMI and Ethernet ports. There’s a combined headphone out/microphone in jack and three USB 2.0 ports. It’s a bit disappointing that there are none of the faster USB 3.0 ports included, since these are becoming increasingly common on new laptops.

To keep the computer small, there’s no optical drive for reading CDs or DVDs, so you’ll have to rip music and video to a USB stick to make the most out of this laptop’s media-playing capabilities.

HP pavilion dm1-4027ea review

HP bills the HP Pavilion dm1-4027ea as an “Entertainment Notebook PC”. This conjures up expectations of a machine that’s capable of handling media with ease, and maybe even a few casual games. Where the HP Pavilion dm1-3100sa was let down with its handling of high-definition content, we expect the HP Pavilion dm1-4027ea to have no such trouble.

On paper, things don’t look too bad. The HP Pavilion dm1-4027ea uses an AMD Radeon HD 6320M integrated graphics card. It comes with some automatic overclocking tools to give it a bit of a needed boost, and with DirectX11 support, it can handle low- to mid-range games.

Graphically demanding newer games are definitely a no-no, though. This is because while the AMD Radeon HD 6320M inside the HP Pavilion dm1-4027ea can theoretically use up to 1.92GB of memory for graphics, it doesn’t actually have dedicated graphics memory, so it needs to share memory with the rest of the PC.

HP pavilion dm1-4027ea review

This means if you’re running a few graphic-intensive programs, along with other applications that need memory, the strain is going to show. The 11.6-inch screen has a resolution of 1366 x 768, which is fine for high-definition movies.

Although there’s a lack of dedicated graphics memory, HP has been very generous by including 4GB of DDR3 RAM with the HP Pavilion dm1-4027ea. This is more than enough for most applications, and it’s nice to see that HP hasn’t hobbled the HP Pavilion dm1-4027ea by cutting the RAM to 2GB to lower costs.

Processor-wise, the HP Pavilion dm1-4027ea comes with a 1.65 GHz AMD Dual-Core E-450. This processor has been specially designed by AMD to work in laptops, with lower power consumption that leads to greater battery life and saves the components inside the HP Pavilion dm1-4027ea’s small body from overheating.

While it’s no competition for the Intel Core i5 and i7 processors found in higher-end (and much more expensive) laptops, this dual core processor is meaty enough for a lot of tasks, and pleasingly powerful, considering the size of the laptop.

Performance

HP pavilion dm1-4027ea review

TechRadar Labs

tech labs

3D Mark: 2,602
Cinebench: 1,433
Battery eater: 2 hours 59 mins 26 seconds

As with many laptops around this price range, the HP Pavilion dm1-4027ea’s performance really depends on what you’re using it for. Day-to-day computing on this laptop, such as writing on a word processor or browsing the web, is accomplished with little fuss, although there is a faint lag when starting up programs. We found that a bit of patience is required when selecting options or launching applications, with pauses of a few seconds sometimes.

Even with 4GB of RAM, multitasking can slow down quite a bit, especially if you’re browsing the internet while running a number of graphic-heavy programs at the same time, such as watching a movie or video editing.

The 320GB hard drive offers plenty of space but has a speed of just 5,400rpm (revolutions per minute). The faster a hard drive can spin, the faster the computer can open, move and edit files stored on the disk. With faster drives out there achieving 7,200rpm and even 10,000rpm, it does feel like the drive is a bit of a weak link.

The trade-off with a slower hard drive, however, is lower overall cost and a longer battery life.

HP pavilion dm1-4027ea review

Graphics performance was OK, but nothing spectacular, with a 3D Mark score of 2,602, which is on the low end even for laptops, and lower than the HP Pavilion dm1-3100sa‘s score. The Cinebench score of 1,433 using multiple cores was better, but still less than the HP Pavilion dm1-3100sa’s score of 1,985.

Despite the lacklustre benchmarks, our real world tests were more positive. Media playback itself was good, with no stuttering on standard-definition movie files.

The 11.6-inch screen displayed colours well and animations in particular looked great. The 1366 x 768 resolution actually benefitted full HD movies files, since the 1080p source was nicely downscaled to run on the smaller resolution, resulting in a sharp image. High-definition movies also play very well, with just a hint of screen tear, but no noticeable stuttering.

HP pavilion dm1-4027ea review

Much has been made of the HP Pavilion dm1-4027ea’s sound capabilities, with the inclusion of Beats Audio technology, exclusive to HP laptops. The built-in speakers sound great – definitely the best we’ve heard in a laptop from this price range. Audio is clear, with plenty of depth and none of the tinny qualities that often plague laptop speakers.

Battery life was a pretty standard three hours of intensive computing. That’s not awful, but we’ve seen laptops – such as the Acer Timeline X – with much longer battery lives.

Verdict

HP pavilion dm1-4027ea review

The HP Pavilion dm1-4027ea is a strange beast of a laptop indeed. On the one hand it can feel rather lacklustre and underpowered when doing unexceptional tasks. Windows 7 Home Premium can feel sluggish at times, and with a number of windows left open on the desktop, things can get pretty slow.

In this regard, the HP Pavilion dm1-4027ea can’t compete with a higher-end, more powerful laptop, or even a tablet that’s less powerful but has an operating system and apps that use the limited resources well enough to ensure a smooth user experience.

However, there’s no denying that when it comes to media playback – an important consideration due to HP’s labelling of the Pavilion dm1-4027ea as an entertainment-focused machine – this laptop actually performs very well. Movie content – both standard and high-definition – plays very well, and the built-in speakers provide audio that is well above average for a laptop.

The lack of an optical drive does limit its media playback options quite a bit, however, but if your media collection has gone fully digital, then this won’t be such a problem.

The small size and light weight is also a big factor, and this is certainly a more portable laptop than most.

If you’re after a light media-playing laptop then this is a good choice. For anything more demanding, look elsewhere.

We liked

Media playback is a big winner with the HP Pavilion dm1-4027ea. A lovely screen coupled with enough graphical power to run movies smoothly (bar the odd screen tear) makes this laptop a pleasure to watch movies on.

The battery life will just about make it through an entire film.

Better still is the audio quality of the built-in speakers, which really does sound great, and saves you the extra expense of buying separate laptop speakers such as the Logitech Laptop Speaker Z305.

The small size of the laptop is also a boon, making it easy to carry around wherever you go, with a slim and attractive design.

Even with the smaller keyboard, typing is comfortable.

We disliked

Outside of media playback, performance is pretty mediocre, with relatively impressive stats on paper not making a great impact in use.

The biggest culprit here is the 4GB of DDR3 RAM, which should give the HP Pavilion dm1-4027ea some punch, but actually still leaves the laptop struggling when there is too much going on at once.

Final verdict

If you want a light laptop for watching movies on, the HP Pavilion dm1-4027ea does what you want it to do. However, if you want to use it to work on, editing digital photos or anything more strenuous, then you’re going to be disappointed.

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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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Intel Core i7 3930K

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 Intel Core i7 3930K

Overview

The Intel Core i7 3930K is the cheaper alternative to the top-end Sandy Bridge E processor. But then many second hand cars are cheaper than the top-end Sandy Bridge E processor.

At nearly £500 it’s still an expensive CPU, but currently it’s the only LGA 2011 processor worth a look.

The Intel Core i7 3960X, that top-end Sandy Bridge E, is a positively preposterous processor. For in excess of £800, you get a chip that’s not substantially quicker than Intel’s own Core i7 980X of two years ago.

Not at stock clocks, at least. Admittedly, the Core i7 3960X does overclock very nicely indeed and in doing so opens up a gap from ye olde 980X.

But we’ve reviewed the 3960X elsewhere and deemed it disappointing, moderately sinister (it’s prima facie evidence of Intel carpet bagging in response to AMD’s failure to bring out a really quick chip) and largely irrelevant to human existence.

This then is the Intel Core i7 3930K and it’s not the same chip. Not precisely, anyway.

Benchmarks

You can see below just how small a gap, in performance terms, there is between the i7 3960X and the i7 3930K.

It’s also interesting just how close the latest traditional Sandy Bridge chip, the Intel Core i7 2700K, is in general performance terms too, especially in gaming and single-threaded speeds.

3D rendering performance

Intel core i7 3930k

Intel core i7 3930k

Video encoding performance

Intel core i7 3930k

CPU gaming performance

Intel core i7 3930k

Verdict

Yes, this Core i7 3930K is based on the same, quite colossal 2.27 billion transistor chip, known as Sandy Bridge E. So, it shares most of the same specifications as the Core i7 3960X. That starts with six cores in Intel’s latest Sandy Bridge-generation idiom.

Next up we have a new memory controller no fewer than four (yes four, count ’em) channels.

Intel core i7 3930k

Intel’s previous high end processors sported a triple channel memory controller. Even that looked like overkill for a desktop processor. Four channels is getting silly and merely serves to underline the real reason the new Core i7 exists.

It’s a thinly disguised server chip.

Whatever the merits of the quad channel controller, it forces the use of a new socket, the monumental LGA 2011. If nothing else, you are getting a satisfyingly massive chip for your money.

What’s more, thanks to the ‘K’ on the end of Intel Core i7 3930K, this lower priced alternative to the Intel Core i7 3960X gets the full unlocked treatment and also benefits from the newly introduced CPU strap, the better to make overclocking a bit more flexible.

At this stage, you may be wondering what on earth the difference actually is.

The answer is twofold. Firstly it’s clocked infinitesimally lower – 3.2GHz instead of 3.6GHz, along with a commensurate climb down in the maximum Turbo speed to 3.8GHz. The other bit is less L3 cache memory to the tune of 3MB. The 3930K makes do with 12MB.

Frankly, both of these compromises in the name of cost savings fall into the ‘who cares?’ category.

In terms of desktop computing, neither is going to make a blind bit of difference to experience your PC delivers. That’s reflected in benchmarks that are barely any slower. Even better, the 3930K overclocks very nearly as well as the 3960X. Again the gap is just 100MHz, 4.8GHz on airs plays 4.9GHz.

So, here’s the best bit. The 3930K costs over £300 less.

OK, £500 is still a big ask. But the difference in price alone is enough to buy a half decent desktop PC or a cheap laptop.

The point, then, is that this cheaper Sandy Bridge E gives you everything the top chip delivers for a lot less money.

There’s absolutely no reason to spend. We’re not completely convinced even this truly means the Intel Core i7 3930K is good value for money, but it’s still a very fast processor and the chip we’d buy if we had a big budget.

We liked:

The fact that you’re getting almost the same sort of performance out of this £500 Sandy Bridge E as the £850 Core i7 3960X makes it a more intriguing prospect.

The other boon of the Core i7 3930K is that it’s got the same huge amount of overclocking headroom sitting in that CPU package. You can reach extraordinary speeds out of this architecture.

We disliked:

As it’s still based on the same architecture as the Core i7 3960X it’s also got the same flaws, namely that it’s actually an eight-core CPU with a couple of cores turned off.

And despite the fact it’s over £300 cheaper than the top end chip, the Core i7 3930K is still an incredibly pricey processor.

Final word:

Much better value than the 3960X. The obvious choice if you’re thinking of the LGA 2011 platform.

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Novatech nSpire 2760 Black Edition

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 Novatech nSpire 2760 Black Edition

There’s not a lot that surprises us, and when we unboxed the Novatech nSpire Black Ed 2760, we feared the worst.

A flimsy chassis and the lack of style that we’ve become accustomed to on high-end laptops indicated another lacklustre machine, but it appears that we were mistaken.

Under the hood is an Intel Core i7 2460M processor, which stormed our benchmark tests, scoring among the highest figures we’ve seen in our labs. This was also helped by the 8GB of RAM that makes this laptop positively sing.

Next up is the impressive Nvidia GeForce 555M graphics card, which is easily capable of playing HD movies and the latest games. It got strong scores in our lab tests, and while you might not be able to play Battlefield 3 on full settings, with the detail turned down, you shouldn’t have any problems.

Battery life also impresses, with our power hungry tests achieving a very strong 222 minutes. This means you could work away from the power for over four hours, and even watch an HD movie on the move.

While there’s enough juice for working on the move, at 2.8KG we wouldn’t recommend the Novatech as a portable laptop. It’s bulky, heavy and cumbersome, and not one for a day on your back.

TechRadar Labs

tech labs

Battery Eater ’05: 222 minutes
Cinebench: 18842
3DMark 2006: 11654

Screen burn

However, for all the impressive tech that’s packed inside, the poor build quality of the exterior does more than let this machine down aesthetically.

We tested a number of movies on the Novatech, and found the screen appalling. There was no vibrancy to the colours, it was grainy when playing back HD content, and there was substantial screen tearing. We hope this was just a problem with the review sample, but as the issue is caused by a disparity between the graphics card and screen refresh times, we think this is simply a gulf in quality between the two items.

The poor build quality manifests itself elsewhere too. The grey plastic wrist rest flexes when you push it, as does the lid. The keyboard is awful, with little refinement given to the black plastic keys. They’re barely cushioned and feel loose and spongy to the touch.

The trackpad is better and we much prefer it to the current trend of single buttons which are a nightmare to master.

What we have with the Novatech is a fantastic powered laptop, admirably capable of dealing with most things you can throw at it. There’s limitless performance power, great graphics and it even has a decent battery life as well.

Unfortunately, we’re still yet to be surprised by a laptop, and the Novatech is no exception; a model hobbled by cost saving and corner cutting, that more than explains its low price. It’s impossible to really enjoy movies or games on the poor screen, and if you have £750 to spend, we’d recommend saving up the extra for quality machines like the Dell XPS 15z.

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Acer Aspire 7750

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 Acer Aspire 7750

At first glance, the Acer Aspire 7750 seems like a good choice for a 17-inch multimedia laptop. It has a simple, clean design with plenty of storage space and powerful speakers. Unfortunately, a couple of underlying issues pull the overall experience down somewhat.

Firstly, the grey and silver plastic design is nondescript. It looks much nicer on the inside of the laptop, though, offset against the black keyboard and screen bezel.

As this is a 17-inch laptop, there’s lots of space to go around, and Acer accentuates this by putting a regular keyboard square in the middle of the chassis, adding a touchpad and leaving it at that.

There are no hotkeys, no flashing lights and although it’s difficult to tell from the picture, the chassis feels expansive and spacious. All well and good, until you realise that the build quality (of the keyboard in particular) is pretty shabby. We felt quite a bit of flex around the edges of the chassis and the keyboard was practically bouncing up and down as we typed.

The machine isn’t particularly heavy at 2.9kg, but since most people buying a 17-inch laptop aren’t looking for portability we’d be happy with a few extra grammes in exchange for a more solid build.

While we’re on the subject, we’re going to assume most people buy a 17-inch laptop for the screen – be it to browse the web or watch a movie. The screen here is decent, complete with Super-TFT reflective coating, but the 1366 x 766 pixel resolution limits you to 720p HD content when, really, we’d quite fancy the full-blown effect of a 1920 x 1080 resolution.

Similarly, the integrated Intel HD 3000 graphics card means the latest games and editing suite will have trouble running here.

Huge hard drive

If you want to put your media on the Aspire 7750 – high-definition or otherwise – you have a huge 720GB hard drive to fill up. If music is your thing, then the Dolby Advanced Audio speakers will go some way to convincing you this is the laptop to buy. You can get plenty of volume, but at no point does the audio become fuzzy or distorted – no mean feat for a laptop.

General performance is no slouch either. The Aspire rocks an Intel Core i5-2410M CPU that coped admirably with both our benchmark tests and general usage. We should probably attribute some of that to the generous 6GB of RAM Acer has stashed away inside. It’s more than the average 4GB and while it won’t make much of a performance difference for the average user, it will help your laptop last that little bit longer into the future.

TechRadar Labs

tech labs

Battery Eater ’05: 135 minutes
Cinebench: 9652
3DMark 2006: 4646

Yet, in spite of the positives, we have difficulty recommending the Aspire because it doesn’t specifically do what we want a 17-inch laptop to do – which is provide an awesome visual experience.

We understand Acer wanting to keep the price down, but a better choice would be the Dell Inspiron 17R or the Lenovo G770.

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Mobile Workstation HP EliteBook 8760w Review

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Mobile Workstation HP EliteBook 8760w Review

It may seem that the idea to buy for personal use, mobile workstation – a serious professional tool – it looks a bit strange. But if you think it’s the only way to get a thoughtful and practical design with serious performance. And in what other notebook offers a smart IPS-display?

In large corporations there is one problem: their ambitions are sometimes hampered by a sober and articulate to the customer a coherent reason why he should choose a product thereof, of the corporation. Take, for instance, is from HP laptop – Mobile Workstation HP EliteBook 8760w. He has a lot of positive features, but there is a most striking and perhaps unique: it uses a display technology built by IPS.

It would seem that – any marketing material unless it makes sense to start with this abbreviation, the familiar fans of high-quality images, then certainly at least a generous pour its first few pages of each presentation, the description of the press release. Because, for example, durable metal case has a lot for anybody. Not to mention the quad-core Core i7, which, if you’re willing to pay for it, you will install at least in a juicer. But worthy of display in the notebook market there are vanishingly rare.

But no. The fact that the HP EliteBook 8760w is equipped with IPS-matrix, you can learn from the reviews that did – such as this, for example. Because the company prefers to call the display name of his own invention – DreamColor. Maybe it would work well in a perfect world. But in our reality, and all sorts of SuperMegaView UltraMultiExtraColor bred so much and they mean is usually so small that for this kind of “brand” works reliably integrated into the brain of any modern human system AdBlock.

Externally EliteBook 8760w recalls a more compact model of the same series, we tested a couple of months ago, – EliteBook 8460p. However, the workstation has its own characteristics, which strongly affect the general perception of the appearance of your laptop. The dark gray color of the body instead of light gray, large size and slightly at an angle of the side faces are changing the style of all recognition.

Cover artwork HP EliteBook 8760w reminds ultrabuk ASUS UX31E – the same grinding of concentric circles, which plays in the light. However, here the game is not so pronounced, in most cases. Housing EliteBook 8760w is completely made of metal. Plastic, by and large, only the frame around the display. Despite the impressive size, rigidity body is flawless. It may be that break through the brick wall of this laptop does not work, but the opposite is also unlikely.

Classic hinges, so the laptop is able to unfold in all 180 degrees – and even more. Also, fans will be pleased to know the tradition that the lid is held closed with a physical latch mechanism rather interesting – it is opened by pressing the large button in the center of the front side of the body.

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Review: Asus Automobili Lamborghini VX7

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Review: Asus Automobili Lamborghini VX7

There was a genuine air of excitement when the Asus Automobili Lamborghini VX7 rolled into the office.

A Lamborghini Gallardo boasts a 552bhp V10 engine and its namesake is running the laptop equivalent – an Intel Core i7-2630QM CPU, Nvidia GeForce GTX 460QM GPU and 8GB of RAM.

The lid is sculpted to resemble the front of a Lamborghini, complete with the famous badge on the front. The base of the laptop protrudes out behind the screen hinge and sports mock Lamborghini rear lights and two gigantic vents.

Although our review unit was black, this laptop is also available in a striking orange finish that we think looks even better. The inside of the laptop is also designed to mimic its four-wheel counterpart with a black and chrome finish – and the power button even reads ‘start engine’.

Asus lamborghini vx7

Better yet, the palmrests either side of the matt-black touchpad are stitched leather, just like the upholstery of a proper super-car.

Not everyone will be a fan of the chunky design and, if you like your laptops slim and svelte, this isn’t the machine for you. The design also means that it’s incredibly heavy at 3.9kg and even if you wanted to carry it round, the dimensions make it hard to fit comfortably into a bag.

Even though you’re consigned to a desk, usability is fantastic. The 15.6-inch Super-TFT screen is bright and it runs at a native pixel resolution of 1920 x 1080, so even the most complex websites and dense pictures are rendered in extremely sharp detail.

Cool running

Aside from looking the part, the two large vents at the rear of the VX7 keep it cool during prolonged gaming sessions and we had no problems with excessive heat during our tests.

If you want to up your usage from pictures and web browsing to editing video and playing games, then the Asus really comes into its own. The Nvidia GeForce GTX 460QM is one of Nvidia’s top GPUs and when we tested Need for Speed: Shift and Tom Clancy’s HAWX, each on the highest detail settings, the VX7 showed no signs of lag.

TechRadar Labs

Tech labs

Battery Eater ’05: 119 minutes
Cinebench: 16,760
3DMark 2006: 7653

The VX7 also boasts a Blu-ray drive and dual 750GB hard drives, adding up to well over a terabyte of storage space.

Asus is keen to label the VX7 as a high-performance laptop rather than simply a gamer’s machine, and both the usability and range of features reflect this. The isolation-style keyboard is very comfortable to use and backlit for when you end up working late.

The VX7 also features four USB ports for transferring data and documents, one of which uses USB 3.0 technology for twice the speed. Elsewhere, HDMI and VGA-Out ports let you connect to another monitor for presentations or even an HDTV.

As is always the case with high-performance machines, the battery life suffers badly. The VX7 managed only 119 minutes on battery, giving enough time for one high-definition (HD) movie. This fact, as well as the aforementioned weight and dimensions, means you won’t be taking this away from the mains for any great length of time.

Understandably, cost is a factor and, although it’s not quite the £160,000 needed for a real Lamborghini, the asking price of the VX7 is pretty steep. But if you can afford it, this is a fantastically designed piece of kit that will easily satisfy all your computing needs.

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