Up until now, gamers looking for a solid system to play on the road would have to either settle for a 10 pound wonder-brick with a battery life sufficient only for a flight from San Francisco to Oakland, or severely compromised on graphics performance and power.
Well now, with VoodooPCs launch of the first Centrino-based notebook, PC gamers can travel in style. The company claims that its new M355 notebook has enough power to satisfy all but the most demanding games, and enough battery-life to at least make it from San Francisco to Chicago on one charge.
And those gamers looking to call attention to themselves will also enjoy the shockingly vibrant color palate of these new notebooks. The system can be had in eight colors, ranging from drab to dramatic, including the candy-apple red unit I had a chance to poke at E3 Tuesday night.
Weighing in at around 6 pounds, with a 15" diagonal LCD screen, it was the smallest game-focused notebook Id seen. Thats not to say it was svelte – this box still packed a paunch, and youll be hard-pressed to touch-type on it when the rube sitting in front of you reclines. The screen itself is quite nice looking, with a vibrant display with a 25 millisecond refresh rate. Fast enough for most games, but still not desktop monitor quality.
The $2,652 base unit come with a 1.4GHz Pentium M processor, an ATI Mobile Radeon 9000, 512 megs of RAM and a 40 gigabyte 5400 RPM hard drive. The company claims that this system delivers better performance than a 3GHz Pentium 4-based desktop, but well have to verify that back in the labs.
Because its a Centrino notebook, the system comes with built-in 802.11b wireless, another plus. And because that wireless solution is implemented via a mini-PCI card, you can easily swap in an 802.11g card if you wish.
You can upgrade the memory to 1024megs, and the hard drive will stretch to 80 gigabytes. Processor options range up to 1.6GHz. Still, I was disappointed that the unit will not support native DX9 games -- at least until President Rahul Sood said that they are testing a DX9 based card for the unit back in the labs, and that it would be released within two months.
Even better, the graphics inside are upgradeable – by either an advanced geek, or by the company. That means that you can always have access to the latest, fastest notebook graphics solution, whether its from ATI, nVidia, or someone else.
VoodooPCs upgrade policy is liberal – you can purchase an updated piece of hardware at wholesale cost, and their technicians will swap the graphics card for no more than five hours of labor. Sood estimated that the cost of upgrading to the faster graphics board would not exceed $500.
He also said a 7200RPM hard drive is in the works too, real soon now. The notebook is available now, but hard-core gamers might want to wait until the DX9 graphics board is available, along with the 7200RPM drive.
The built in speakers are pretty lame, but thats about the only thing I could find to criticize on the unit. Although Taiwanese notebook vendor Compal builds the case, VoodooPC assembles most of the systems by hand in its Calgary factory, and claims that delivers better quality and performance.
I cant wait to get one of these eye-catching and reasonably lightweight gaming systems into our labs to test – particularly the DX9 based system. At prices starting at over $2,600, these arent cheap. But then again, what would you pay for real gaming performance, during that long cross-country night-flight. Im betting that for at least some of us, its worth every penny.