HP Envy 14 Spectre

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 HP Envy 14 Spectre

Overview

The HP Envy 14 Spectre is the latest and best-named Ultrabook to hit the shelves, and with the combined draw of HP’s premium Envy range, and Dr Dre’s urban cool Beats brand, it’s going to be very hard to ignore.

We’re well into the Ultrabook race by now and we’ve already been impressed by the Asus Zenbook UX31, Acer Aspire S3 and most recently by the Dell XPS 13, perhaps the toughest rival that the HP Envy 14 Spectre faces in the battle for our hard-earned pennies.

And HP’s newest baby is taking an interesting approach to the competition by being less concerned with a size zero frame. The HP Envy 14 Spectre is 20mm thin, and weighs 1.8kg – hefty for an Ultrabook.

But the slight bulk enables it to throw around some extra connectivity and features that other Ultrabooks, perhaps save the Toshiba Satellite Z830, can’t match.

Hands on: hp envy 14 spectre review

Of course, before we start dreamily idolising this shiny new offering, there are a couple of points that need to be looked at. Firstly, the fact that the HP is built around an Intel Core i5-2467M processor, rather than the Core i7 CPUs on offer inside the likes of the Dell and Acer mean that for all its bulk, the Spectre lacks power.

You might also be forgiven for thinking that this lower-spec processor will have a pleasing effect on the price of the computer. Not so.

The HP Envy 14 Spectre costs a sphincter-tightening £1,100 in the UK, and $1,400 in the US. That’s a clear £200 more expensive than the Dell, and in these hardened times; a penny saved is a penny earned… or something.

But before you click away in disgust, there are a number of excellent features that the HP Envy 14 Spectre has to offer, and we have to say that it’s one of the best-looking Ultrabooks we’ve yet seen. Clearly a lot of time and effort has gone into its design and development.

Specifications

HP envy 14 spectre review

Shunning the aluminium silver outer design favoured by other Ultrabooks such as the Dell XPS 13 or the Acer Aspire S3, the HP Envy 14 Spectre boasts a black Gorilla Glass lid with a slick, glossy finish. Adding the final touch is the bright HP logo nestled in the corner.

Although it looks great, the inevitable downside is that the surface of the lid will quickly attract dust and smudgy fingerprints – more so than any other Ultrabook we’ve seen.

A backlit, isolation-style keyboard lurks underneath, and is one of the most comfortable we’ve used on an Ultrabook. The greater depth of the chassis gives a better travel to the keys, and the result is comfy typing all day long.

HP envy 14 spectre review

A neat trick is the ability of the keyboard to sense your proximity, and dim itself when you move away from the laptop, saving power.

Of course, any discussion of the Spectre’s features starts and ends with the Beats audio. The speakers do a decent job of producing a rich, full sound – but slap a pair of Beats headphones on and you’re ready to experience the best sound we’ve heard from an Ultrabook since the Bang & Olufsen-packing Asus Zenbook UX31.

Anyone who has used any of HP’s other laptops, including the Envy and Pavilion ranges, will be at home with the extra choice Beats gives you.

You can open up a control panel to tweak all aspects of the Envy 14 Spectre’s audio performance. There are also several bonus modes to take advantage of, such as noise and echo cancellation.

HP envy 14 spectre review

The HP Envy 14 Spectre also features a small Beats-branded clickwheel on the chassis that enables you to quickly alter the volume of the speakers.

Arguably, the HP Envy 14 Spectre’s 14-inch screen should get as much praise as the Beats audio. The 1600 x 900 pixel resolution is a step up from other Ultrabooks such as the Lenovo IdeaPad U300S, and we marvelled at the crystal clear high-definition visuals.

Not only that, but the HP Envy 14 Spectre has a tiny bezel, allowing the 14-inch screen to sit nicely inside a 13.3-inch chassis.

Performance

HP envy 14 spectre review

TechRadar Labs

TechRadar labs

Cinebench 10: 7, 336
3D Mark ’06: 3, 377
Battery Eater ’05: 206 minutes

Ultrabooks are all members of the Sandy Bridge family, and the HP Envy 14 Spectre is built around an Intel Core i5-2467M CPU operating at 1.60GHz and 4GB RAM.

It’s not the fastest or highest-spec chip we’ve seen in an Ultrabook, and rivals will triumph on raw power. This is reflected in the Cinebench scores we recorded, in which the Spectre posted less than rivals including the Acer Aspire S3.

But general day-to-day use is unaffected, and the HP Envy 14 Spectre kept up with our multitasking needs. In part a justification for the higher price tag is that both Adobe’s Premier Elements and Photoshop Elements editing suites come preinstalled, and ran perfectly when we tried a spot of on-the-fly photo editing.

Unfortunately, though, we had a lot of problems with the trackpad. It was responsive enough when moving the cursor, but the integrated mouse buttons were a pain to use. We appreciate the nicer look of integrated buttons, but the irritation of repeated clicks to select and execute slightly tarnishes the overall experience.

HP envy 14 spectre review

Although the HP Envy 14 Spectre can cope with the demanding graphical performance of video editing, or running several intensive websites at once, don’t buy this expecting a gaming platform.

The integrated GPU is powerful enough, thanks to the Sandy Bridge heritage, but it won’t be boasting the latest Assassin’s Creed title.

We don’t know what the thought process was behind naming this laptop the Spectre, but it could be to do with the almost silent way in which it goes about its business, thanks to the SSD drive and its lack of moving parts.

The Spectre remained cool to the touch during operation and, like other Ultrabooks, is available with either a 256GB or 128GB SSD internal hard drive.

According to HP, the Envy 14 Spectre will offer you a reasonable nine hours of battery life. We ran our high-stress benchmarking tests and recorded an impressive score of 206 minutes.

Avoid our brute force attack on the battery and you should have no trouble getting through a day without the company of the AC adaptor. Just keep the volume down.

Verdict

HP envy 14 spectre review

We see the HP Envy 14 Spectre as being the ‘cool kid’ of the Ultrabook class, with its Beats audio branding, high resolution 14-inch screen and Gorilla Glass casing. It’s a highly usable laptop, with only the integrated click buttons on the touchpad giving us grief.

We liked

At first, we had worries about the slightly chunkier casing, but this was tempered by the joy we felt when we spotted the HDMI port and Ethernet port that HP has included on the chassis. We’ve lamented the lack of connectivity on other Ultrabooks, and having the option for a wired internet connection and the use of an external monitor is music to our ears.

On the subject of music, this is undoubtedly the Ultrabook for media enthusiasts. The screen is gloriously crisp and the extra audio technology on board gives you options to tweak and alter the sound to get your albums sounding the way you want. Invest in a decent pair of headphones or an amplifier and you can make this your sole media machine.

We disliked

Ultrabooks are meant to be light, airy and portable computers. By any other laptop standards, the HP Envy 14 Spectre is a classy ultra-portable. But, when you put it up against the other Ultrabooks, it’s inescapably bulky.

It just comes in under the weight limit set out in Intel’s specifications for Ultrabooks, and business users might be more swayed by the svelt curves of the Dell XPS 13 or the functionality of the Toshiba Satellite Z830.

We also got increasingly frustrated with the integrated click buttons on the touchpad. We know the overall effect is a nicer aesthetic, but unfortunately the usability suffers as a result. Often we would just rely on the double-tap to select files and launch programs instead.

Final verdict

We’re deep into the second round of Ultrabook releases by now, and we feel the HP Envy 14 Spectre sits alongside the Dell XPS 13 at the top of the heap. But these are two different machines with different focuses.

The HP Envy 14 Spectre is the most media-centred Ultrabook, with a larger 14-inch screen, 1600 x 900 pixel resolution and Beats audio technology. But it won’t win over fans looking for performance and portability, due to the lower spec processor and bulky Gorilla Glass chassis.

If you can overcome the steep asking price then the HP Envy 14 Spectre is a well-built and stylish way to transport and enjoy your music, movies and do a spot of image editing.

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Packard Bell EasyNote TS11

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 Packard Bell EasyNote TS11

ThePackard Bell EasyNote range might not be as front-and-centre as Dell’s Inspiron or HP’s Pavilion brands, but nevertheless has established itself in our minds as a home for mid-level laptops at budget-level prices.

And we’re happy to report that the EasyNote TS11-HR-695UK is a similarly reliable slice of mid-level computing goodness.

It shares the same floral pattern as other Packard Bell EasyNote laptops. There are also a range of colours to choose from, but the pattern is harder to pick out on the black model than the red or white versions. The pattern continues on the palm rest inside the laptop, although the keyboard and rest of the chassis is matte black.

The keyboard itself is a full-length affair with an additional numerical keypad and a couple of extra hotkeys thrown in. The chicklet keys are great for typing on and the overall experience is excellent. There are no issues with odd-sized buttons as common keys like Enter, Backspace and Shift are all well-proportioned and where you would expect to find them.

The touchpad has the same glossy coating as the lid and palmrest and is a little on the sensitive side, although you can adjust this in Windows. It’s not the largest around but the single click button works well.

Impressive performance

Unlike the bigger TS13 models, the EasyNote TS11 sports a smaller, Intel Core i3 CPU which works to keep the cost down. However, in terms of performance, we were impressed at the 8159 score this machine posted following our benchmarking tests. Even though it’s the budget choice, this dual-core chip will give you a smooth experience when multitasking.

Thanks to a capacious 6GB of RAM we had no problems quickly working around several documents, even with multiple web pages open and music streaming.

TechRadar Labs

tech labs

Battery Eater ’05: 249 minutes
Cinebench: 8159
3DMark 2006: 4346

Graphics are handled by the integrated graphics chip bundled onto the Sandy Bridge CPU and provides a reliable, if basic, experience. You can safely manage older games and a spot of photo editing but beware of anything more demanding.

Connectivity is similar to other laptops at this price point. There are three USB ports for peripherals and HDMI and VGA connections for external displays. You can use the 802.11n Wi-Fi connection or the Ethernet wired port for connecting to the internet and there’s a Kensington security slot for locking the EasyNote TS11 securely.

There’s no doubt that the EasyNote TS11 is a friendly machine. From its decorative pattern, to the social networking hotkey, this seems like a safe choice for a mid-level laptop. Beyond that, though, there’s some serious performance underneath. For this price point we reckon the Packard Bell EasyNote TS11 stands as a secure and reliable purchase.

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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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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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Review: Asus Zenbook UX31

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Review: Asus Zenbook UX31

Overview

The Asus Zenbook UX31 is one of the first laptops to conform to Intel’s Ultrabook specification.

And, right away, we’ll tell you – it stands toe-to-toe with Apple’s MacBook Air in the fight for the title of best luxury ultraportable.

More competition is to come, however, in the form of the Lenovo IdeaPad U300 S, Acer Aspire S3 and, potentially, others from the likes of HP and Dell.

Back to the present though and Asus has done a terrific job with the Zenbook’s design – even if you have to acknowledge that the designer took more than a sneaky glance at Apple’s ultraportable first.

The 13-inch Zenbook is fantastic to look at. When closed, the wedge-shaped laptop measures 17mm at its thickest point and a mere 3mm at its thinnest.

Asus zenbook ux31

The aluminium silver lid boasts a distinctive concentric circle design that catches and reflects the surrounding light. Befitting the name, the Zenbook’s simple, sleek finish gives it a premium look that keeps getting better as soon as you lift the lid.

The design ethic is in evidence earlier than that, though – it’s a lovely experience as you open the box while Asus has also included a mini Display Port to D-Sub adapter and a USB to Ethernet lead as well. Both are housed in their own little pouch. Better still, you even get a bespoke sleeve for your Zenbook in the box.

The same thinking even stretches to the Intel Core and Windows 7 stickers. We wonder who it was that proposed they were silver and black – Intel? Asus? – but whoever did has made a difference.

Specifications

Asus zenbook ux31

The outward elegance of the Zenbook UX31 has certainly been matched by power on the inside. There are currently two different versions available, our test model has the Core i7 2677M Processor while there’s also a Core i5 2467M Processor variant.

Our test version was running Windows 7 Home Premium, though the Asus spec sheet seems to suggest that Professional is also available should that be a requirement for you.

For those looking for a smaller laptop, there’s an 11.6-inch UX21 version that costs £849. We’ll be reviewing that separately as soon as we can get our hands on one.

You’ll get 4GB or RAM with all 13-inch models, as well as a 128 or 256GB solid state drive (SSD). Our review model had a 128GB drive under the hood and, as we were using it a lot, we managed to fill most of that with apps and files in no time. This is a performance machine and you may find yourself wanting the larger capacity.

The isolation-style keyboard is front and centre inside the Zenbook with no additional clutter from the likes of hotkeys, volume controls, numeric keypads or even separate mouse buttons.

As the chassis is so thin, there’s very little depth to each key. It must be said that, at first, this can be of-putting, especially if you’re used to hammering out your emails – but before long typing on the Zenbook becomes second nature.

We did find the directional arrows and the enter key to be a little on the small side, but not enough to interfere with extended typing sessions.

There’s also no backlight to the keyboard – as the MacBook Air and other competitors such as the Samsung 9 Series have this. A shame it’s missing here.

Asus zenbook

Alongside the keyboard, Asus has included a large, central touchpad. We had doubts about the inbuilt buttons and lack of a textured surface at first, but these were soon laid to rest.

The response is swift and because of the larger size, it is possible to use your thumb on the touchpad without moving your hands from the typing position. Occasionally you might brush the touchpad when typing but this is a rare occurrence.

However, we really don’t like the mouse buttons. The touch isn’t very definite, while it can be quite hard to do selections or multiple presses. Things could be a lot better here.

Another noteworthy feature of the Zenbook is the external speaker running across the base of the 13.3-inch, 1,600 x 900 16:9 Super-TFT screen. Developed by Bang & Olufsen and called ICEpower, the speaker is monitored by in-built Asus techcalled SonicMaster to keepthe balance even.

The Zenbook will hit a reassuringly loud volume without disintegrating into either a tinny treble or a fuzzy bass. It sounded impressive both in our expansive office and at home in a fully furnished room.

For the record, there’s also a 0.3 megapixel webcam for video conferencing or Skype.

The Zenbook weighs in at 1.4kg, exactly the same as the 13.1-inch Macbook Air. It’s hardly noticeable when carried around for the day and, because of the svelte design; it won’t take up too much space in your bag.

Thankfully Asus hasn’t filled the Zenbook with too much add-on software, but there is an annoying Live Update engine that keeps on popping up messages from the taskbar, while there’s also a battery life gadget (actually useful but it remains in your taskbar), as well as backup tools and a webcam app.

We’re sure there are some people that think it’s nice to have this kind of stuff, but we’re not among them. Moreover, much of the software is simply unnecessary.

And then there’s the graphics that appear when you turn the volume up, change the brightness or switch the power mode. To be honest, they’re horribly ugly and we’re simply not impressed.

It’s a shame the same attention that was paid to the external design wasn’t paid to the add-ons within the OS.

Performance

Asus zenbook ux31

TechRadar Labs

tech labs

Cinebench 10: 8726
3D Mark ’06: 3623
Battery Eater ’05: 253 mins

Both processors in the 13-inch are from Intel’s second-generation Sandy Bridge family and mean the Zenbook can easily handle multi-tasking, varioius demanding apps and multiple displays using the Sandy Bridge chips’ in-built HD 3000 graphics capabilities.

However. the lack of non-dedicated graphics from AMD or Nvidia does hit the Zenbook in the performance pocket – hence our relatively modest 3D Mark score.

We felt the display wasn’t the best – dark colours and especially blacks seem a little washed out – but definition is good. We also found the viewing angle wasn’t great for watching video and working alongside others.

Speed, clearly, is the focus of the ultrabook range and the Zenbook is no slouch. The instant-on feature means you can be up and running in just two seconds from sleep mode and standby time will hit two weeks on a single charge.

The Core i7 unit featured here performs brilliantly and it was able to handle multiple browsers, Outlook and Word 2010, Spotify, FileZilla and image editing apps all concurrently. You really find you can do what you want, when you want.

There were a couple of times when we found this wasn’t the case – several times when switching power states suddenly (like unplugging the charger) meant that the whole system seemed to struggle to adapt – browsing became slow and we had to let the system calm completely down. Also we found that using more intensive apps could make things hang – handling a load of images inside Microsoft Publisher, for example.

Even with heavy use during our testing, the Zenbook’s battery lasted for an impressive 253 minutes. And when the battery does dip below 5 per cent, the Zenbook will automatically save any files in progress to avoid you losing all your work when the machine shuts down.

The battery can seem like it’s draining reasonably quickly when doing any tasks on high performance but on power saving mode this thing is positively frugal, going for around six hours if you’re careful. Asus quotes seven, but you’ll have to barely use it to get that. So we’re not at the all-day battery life scenario yet, but we’re getting closer.

The slim design means physical connectivity isn’t as abundant as regular laptops, but there’s still enough here to satisfy most users.

Asus zenbook ux31

Asus has included two USB ports, one of which is USB 3.0 as well as an SD card slot plus a mini HDMI and mini DislayPort for connecting the ultrabok to an external TV or monitor. The Zenbook also has 802.11n Wi-Fi and cutting edge Bluetooth 4.0 wireless connectivity.

Asus zenbook ux31

Good value?

Although the 13.3-inch Zenbook will set you back from £999, that;s still £100 less than the cheapest 13.3-inch Macbook Air.

Similarly, Asus has matched Apple with pricing for the 11.6-inch model which, like the smaller Macbook Air comes in at £849. Considering the technology and the form factor, a starting price point of under a thousand pounds is good value for money – especially when you consider other such ultraportables have cost as much as £1,500 in the past.

Asus zenbook ux31

Verdict

Asus zenbook ux31

Overall we were very impressed with the Asus Zenbook. Neither power nor portability has been sacrificed in pursuit of the other and features that traditionally suffer, such as audio quality and battery life, have not been neglected.

Battery life, especially, isn’t the worry it usually is with the Zenbook, but you need to make sure it’s in the right power state – running on high performance means that the system flies – but it comes at a cost. For most purposes, running in power saving mode is more than enough.

We liked

There’s so much to like about this laptop. It’s a real PC ultraportable – the design is fantastic and it goes like stink.

Beautiful design can only come into its own when there’s performance to match.And it’s all here in spades.

The instant sleep and resume is exactly what you want in a laptop like this, and you’ll find yourself quickly adapting to never shutting down. Unless, that is. Windows wants to install updates!

We disliked

There’s surprisingly little we disliked about the Zenbook, but it must be said that the trackpad buttons grate especially. They are truly awful and mean that a mouse is recommended for serious work.

The keyboard takes a bit of getting used to and isn’t as good as many – however, you quickly get to know it and it’s not too much of an issue. The lack of a backlight is also a problem.

Graphics performance could be better but we realise that’s slightly unrealistic for a machine of this type – we also weren’t huge fans of the display.

Finally, you could say the design – though fantastic – is rather derivative. Still, unless you’re a real design freak, you’ll almost certainly find that you’re not that fussed.

Verdict

While price may preclude some from purchasing the Zenbook, we have no problem in recommending it as one of the best ultraportables we’ve seen.

It’s certainly a match for the impressive MacBook Air – and a real tonic to those who have wanted a performanceWindowsultraportable at a price point that doesn’t require a remortgage. Yes, it’s expensive. But it’s so worth it.

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Review: Samsung RV520

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Review: Samsung RV520

Samsung RV520

The Samsung RV520 is a fantastic budget laptop with power and build quality that belies its meagre price tag. Anyone looking for something that can perform every day tasks with ease would do well to fork out for this portable.

As soon as you unbox the Samsung RV520, you get a feeling for the quality of the build. The silver and black lid is textured, and looks sleek and business-like, without being bland and boring. There’s little flex in the lid, and when you open it up, the smooth silver wrist rests and black isolated keyboard continue this quality look and feel.

Typing on the keyboard is comfortable, and the keys are well spaced, meaning that we were instantly able to start typing long documents without making regular mistakes. The track pad was smooth and precise, and while we’ve used better-quality mouse buttons, these are also well made.

Under the hood is a Sandy Bridge Intel Core i3 processor (clocked at 2.1GHz) that offers more than enough power for watching videos, playing rich web content such as web games, iPlayer and Flash web sites, as well as multitasking multiple applications. We’d recommend anyone to buy a Sandy Bridge machine and the Samsung RV520 shows that this doesn’t have to be expensive.

The reward is performance that will meet most home users’ expectations. In our lab tests of the processor and graphics, the results yielded exactly the performance we’d expect.

This laptop is faster than most budget machines and able to multi-task media, documents and web pages without problems. You won’t find much that will challenge the RV520, until you start editing pictures in Photoshop or editing your home movies, which would be slower than Intel Core i5-based machines.

Battery life was also strong, and the Samsung withstood our rigorous tests for 184 minutes, or around three hours. This is a good result, and if your day consists of just checking emails and surfing the web, you can expect it to last even longer.

Samsung has also included 6GB of RAM in the RV520, which, again, is significantly more than on most budget laptops, and means your applications will load faster, and your whole system will feel more responsive. We noticed fast resuming from sleep and quick loading of large applications, which is all down to that extra memory.

TechRadar Labs

tech labs

Battery Eater ’05: 184 minutes
Cinebench: 7634
3DMark 2007: 4064

Storage has also been given a big boost in the RV520, and there’s a whopping 750GB hard drive with tons of room for movies, music, photos and more. This is a lot more storage than we’d expect to find on a laptop in this price band and is another reason why this Samsung offers great value for money.

On reflection The 15.6-inch screen is one of the most reflective panels that we’ve seen on a laptop, and using the RV520 in our bright office was almost impossible. If you’re a mobile worker, or have your laptop positioned near big windows, it would be advisable to think twice before purchasing.

The Samsung played HD movies without any problems, but it was here that the screen let the side down again. The problem is that, while the picture was clear and pin sharp, the colours were flat and devoid of vibrancy. While playing our HD videos was technically not a problem for the Samsung RV520, we wouldn’t recommend this as a laptop for movie lovers.

Interestingly, the Samsung was equipped with some built-in software, which recognised when a movie was being played and enhanced the display to ‘Movie Colour Mode.’ This didn’t help the problem, though and looks like an admission from Samsung that colour vibrancy is an issue on this model.

The Samsung weighs 2.7kg, which means it’s easily carried in a bag, but people who spend their life flitting from place to place will want something lighter, and the RV520 is definitely not ultra-portable.

The Samsung RV520 is a fantastic budget laptop that can handle home computing and business tasks with ease. The Sandy Bridge processor provides enough power to enjoy media, pictures and music and the keyboard and build quality are good enough to work comfortably on.

It’s not brilliant for movies, and anyone looking to get creative will come up short against the low-end Intel Core i3 processor, but for most consumers, this is a highly recommended purchase.

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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: Patriot Gamer 2 AMD Black Edition

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Review: Patriot Gamer 2 AMD Black Edition

Overview

Memory maestro Patriot has launched the Patriot Gamer 2 AMD Black Edition DDR3 4GB RAM kit specifically aimed at the AMD crowd. With the launch of AMD’s new Accelerated Processing Unit (APU), Llano, RAM is a vital performance component again.

Since the launch of Intel’s Sandy Bridge architecture, there has been a whole raft of memory modules launched claiming to be the ideal support for the new chipset. Indeed, Kingston’s HyperX Plug n Play claimed the same thing, but with, it has to said, a lot more justification than most.

Well now it’s the turn of the thorn in Intel’s side, AMD, to get some memory attention. It’s been a long time coming.

OK, compared to some of the blazingly fast modules that have been launched to support the Sandy Bridge platform, Patriot’s Gamer 2 AMD Black Edition 4GB (2 x 2GB) PC3-12800 kit may seem, well, a bit conservative to say the least. At just 1600MHz, it’s a little slow.

But even so, it does make a nice change to see a company giving some component love to AMD. Even if – marketing spiel aside – the memory will work in any modern motherboard, be it made by AMD or Intel.

Benchmarks

Patriot gamer 2 amd black edition

We tested all the Patriot Gamer 2 AMD Black Edition memory in an Asus F1A75-V Pro motherboard using an AMD A6-3650 APU.

Once we finished testing at stock speeds, we gave it a tweak but just using its stock 1.65V voltage setting. A quick adjustment to the bus speed got us to the next step up – 1866MHz. While the system booted up Windows perfectly and ran SiSoft Sandra’s memory bandwidth benchmark without a problem, when we tried to run World in Conflict there were all sorts of issues with the game freezing.

Eventually we got it to boot and run both benchmarks without any problems at 1840MHz, which is still a pretty impressive boost over the stock speeds, especially without having to tinker with any voltages.

Patriot g2 amd black ed benches

Verdict

Patriot gamer 2 amd black edition

It’s been a long time coming but the Patriot Gamer 2 AMD Black Edition and others suggest we should now see AMD platforms getting some dedicated love from memory manufacturers.

That’s mainly thanks to the new Llano platform, with its strong memory performance, and AMD’s 990FX chipset and Bulldozer combo. It’s been a very long time since AMD had a strong enough offering to entice manufacturers into putting its badge on their products.

Hopefully these new platforms will see the end of one of AMD’s annoying platform traits when it comes to overclocking – they used to be quite fussy when it came to memory running at high speeds. So the prospect of getting ultra-fast memory kits designed for AMD platforms is an interesting one.

We liked


You wouldn’t class Patriot’s Gamer 2 AMD Black Edition RAM as a world-beater, especially at its stock 1600MHz speed. That said, it has bags of potential – as we found out during testing.

Thanks to its fairly relaxed 9-9-9-24 latency settings it does overclock very nicely, even at the 1.65V stock voltage. Even though it will reach the next step up from 1600MHz – 1866MHz – we couldn’t get it to run stably while playing the game World in Conflict.

We also liked the fact that the modules are low profile. You may be wondering why that’s of any importance. Well, wait until you get a large third-party CPU cooler, which usually make the first memory slot redundant. Normally it’s impossible to get a stick of memory into the slot because of these coolers, but with the Gamer 2 AMD Black Edition module you stand a fighting chance of actually using the slot.

We disliked


There’s not much to dislike about the Patriot’s Gamer 2 AMD Black Edition. It does what it says on the tin and shows some good overclocking potential. Its stock speed out of the box is a little conservative, however.

Final verdict

It may not be the fastest memory out of the box but it does show plenty of potential for the current Llano platform and the upcoming Bulldozer technology.

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Review: Patriot Gamer 2 AMD Black Edition

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Review: Patriot Gamer 2 AMD Black Edition

Overview

Memory maestro Patriot has launched the Patriot Gamer 2 AMD Black Edition DDR3 4GB RAM kit specifically aimed at the AMD crowd. With the launch of AMD’s new Accelerated Processing Unit (APU), Llano, RAM is a vital performance component again.

Since the launch of Intel’s Sandy Bridge architecture, there has been a whole raft of memory modules launched claiming to be the ideal support for the new chipset. Indeed, Kingston’s HyperX Plug n Play claimed the same thing, but with, it has to said, a lot more justification than most.

Well now it’s the turn of the thorn in Intel’s side, AMD, to get some memory attention. It’s been a long time coming.

OK, compared to some of the blazingly fast modules that have been launched to support the Sandy Bridge platform, Patriot’s Gamer 2 AMD Black Edition 4GB (2 x 2GB) PC3-12800 kit may seem, well, a bit conservative to say the least. At just 1600MHz, it’s a little slow.

But even so, it does make a nice change to see a company giving some component love to AMD. Even if – marketing spiel aside – the memory will work in any modern motherboard, be it made by AMD or Intel.

Benchmarks

Patriot gamer 2 amd black edition

We tested all the Patriot Gamer 2 AMD Black Edition memory in an Asus F1A75-V Pro motherboard using an AMD A6-3650 APU.

Once we finished testing at stock speeds, we gave it a tweak but just using its stock 1.65V voltage setting. A quick adjustment to the bus speed got us to the next step up – 1866MHz. While the system booted up Windows perfectly and ran SiSoft Sandra’s memory bandwidth benchmark without a problem, when we tried to run World in Conflict there were all sorts of issues with the game freezing.

Eventually we got it to boot and run both benchmarks without any problems at 1840MHz, which is still a pretty impressive boost over the stock speeds, especially without having to tinker with any voltages.

Patriot g2 amd black ed benches

Verdict

Patriot gamer 2 amd black edition

It’s been a long time coming but the Patriot Gamer 2 AMD Black Edition and others suggest we should now see AMD platforms getting some dedicated love from memory manufacturers.

That’s mainly thanks to the new Llano platform, with its strong memory performance, and AMD’s 990FX chipset and Bulldozer combo. It’s been a very long time since AMD had a strong enough offering to entice manufacturers into putting its badge on their products.

Hopefully these new platforms will see the end of one of AMD’s annoying platform traits when it comes to overclocking – they used to be quite fussy when it came to memory running at high speeds. So the prospect of getting ultra-fast memory kits designed for AMD platforms is an interesting one.

We liked


You wouldn’t class Patriot’s Gamer 2 AMD Black Edition RAM as a world-beater, especially at its stock 1600MHz speed. That said, it has bags of potential – as we found out during testing.

Thanks to its fairly relaxed 9-9-9-24 latency settings it does overclock very nicely, even at the 1.65V stock voltage. Even though it will reach the next step up from 1600MHz – 1866MHz – we couldn’t get it to run stably while playing the game World in Conflict.

We also liked the fact that the modules are low profile. You may be wondering why that’s of any importance. Well, wait until you get a large third-party CPU cooler, which usually make the first memory slot redundant. Normally it’s impossible to get a stick of memory into the slot because of these coolers, but with the Gamer 2 AMD Black Edition module you stand a fighting chance of actually using the slot.

We disliked


There’s not much to dislike about the Patriot’s Gamer 2 AMD Black Edition. It does what it says on the tin and shows some good overclocking potential. Its stock speed out of the box is a little conservative, however.

Final verdict

It may not be the fastest memory out of the box but it does show plenty of potential for the current Llano platform and the upcoming Bulldozer technology.

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Review: Panasonic Toughbook CF-C1

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The Panasonic Toughbook CF-C1 (£1959) has been lauded as the Toughbook Tablet, but really it’s an underpowered Toughbook with some dubious touchscreen technology that only niche business users will benefit from.

The form of the CF-C1 is a traditional laptop with a swivel touchscreen which folds back to become a tablet, which is over an inch thick on the screen and base.

It’s been given a Sandy Bridge Core i5 2520 2.4GHz processor, which keeps it nimble, but it performed averagely in our lab tests. As this is a business laptop, the need for entertainment performance isn’t applicable and the Core i5 provides more than enough power to run commercial applications.

Aside from the i5 processor, the rest of the specs are disappointing, especially given the price tag. There’s only 2GB of RAM, which is the bare minimum needed to run Windows properly, and you do notice the lack of physical memory.

There’s not much in the way of storage either, with a minimal 250GB hard drive included. This is being upgraded for a MK2 version, which will feature 4GB of RAM and a 320GB hard drive.

Average battery

The CF-C1 is extremely portable, and Panasonic should be applauded for making such a durable hybrid laptop so portable. It weighs just 1.7kg and it’s easily carried around. There’s some flex in the plastic, but this is the secret behind its ability to absorb shocks, and it can handle table-height falls and channel water away from the keyboard in the event of spillage.

There are two batteries in the CR-C1 to give you longer performance, but our Battery Eater test made light work of both, draining them in 128 minutes. This translates to around five hours of general business use, but it’s far from all-day computing.

TechRadar Labs

Tech labs

Battery Eater ’05: 128 minutes
Cinebench: 6264
3DMark 2006: 1408

We’re not fans of Windows 7 with touchscreen technology, and the only good examples have been skinned for a more friendly interface. We found the screen to be extremely inaccurate and we were constantly struggling to hit the tiny buttons, even using the supplied stylus. We can’t think of any reason that you would use the device in its tablet form, unless you were using a bespoke business application where on-screen writing was essential.

The 12.1-inch screen with its 1280 x 800-pixel resolution is highly durable and is designed to survive drops of up to 76cm, but the rugged laptop design makes it dim and lifeless, and with poor viewing angles as well.

If you do regular presentations, you may want to seriously consider your purchase, especially as only a VGA Display Port is supplied for connecting to external displays or projectors.

In short, this is a disappointing device which left us thoroughly underwhelmed. The Toughbook is always going to be a bespoke PC for specific applications and situations, but that doesn’t disguise poor performance, a frustrating touchscreen experience and a lack of features.

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