The Search for the “Perfect” Gaming Portable Laptop

Posted: October 17, 2008 in ASUS G50V, Blu-Ray, first impressions, Gaming Laptop, HDMI, iPhone, iPhone user review accessories, laptop gaming, Vista
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It’s been a long time since I’ve actively searched for a full fledged laptop for multiple purposes.  The Macbook Air has really held up so strongly this past year I really haven’t had the need for much of anything else.  Of course there were a few times when I would have liked it to be a bit more powerful to handle new games, or have a better video output and/or an optical drive, but for the most part it really takes care of everything I need from the portable standpoint.  In terms of the search, though, I found it astounding this time around just how many options there were out there, and the price ranges from around $500 to $5000 with everything in between.  Custom units, built units, different sizes and shapes, processors, graphics, there’s so much more to consider in today’s notebook market.  So where did this start?

Recently when Warhammer Online (WAR) released, I went through one of my “desktop upgrade urge” phases.  It really wasn’t necessary but I just wanted to make one innocent upgrade to the latest and greatest WD Velociraptor hard drive.  Simple enough, right?  I’ve added and removed hard drives for over 20 years now, and it has only been easier with the new SATA interface.  Sadly, through a series of unfortunate events, I started having problem after problem, not just with the game but with the computer itself.  Without going into the gory gory details, I ended up replacing not one, not two, but THREE sets of motherboards and CPUs and essentially putting together 3 new/old Windows machines over the course of a week or two – all in order to find a stable machine to play WAR on.  Don’t ask, the details disturb me so much that I want to blank them out of my memory.  

In any event, it occured to me during this period that given my nature and bad luck with electronics destruction, I should always have a suitable gaming laptop as my ultimate backup in case all the desktops were to fail.  Why a laptop, you ask, when apparently I put together multiple backup desktops?  Well, essentially it seems I need something that I physically *cannot* upgrade so that I can’t inadvertently destroy it in the process.  My laptop purchases over the years have been fairly robust – in fact I believe even the giant brick from 5 or 6 (?) years ago still runs fine.  The last semi-gaming laptop I bought about 3 years ago (Acer) is still in good shape, and can handle the majority of older games.  It has an ATI X700 Mobility graphics chip which at the time was very decent, but now is bordering on the edge of obsolete.  For someone who doesn’t typically take good care of his stuff, I’ve found my laptops have held on through time much better/longer than any other electronics item.

At the same time this was all happening, I read quite a few reviews on the recently released Gateway P-7811FX gaming laptop, which you can purchase at Best Buy.  The price/featureset for this laptop are virtually unbeatable at the moment, particularly when on sale for $1249 as it was recently.  Even at the original price point of $1499 this unit is practically a steal in terms of specifications.  It has pretty much all the features you could ask for and price comparisons I made with other vendors were literally double the cost for similar specifications.  A good (2.26GHz) Intel processor, 4GB RAM, 7200rpm 200GB hard drive, ESATA and HDMI ports, 1066MHz bus speed, and the icing on the cake, a Geforce 9800M GTS graphics processor.   With a 3DMark06 score in the 10000 range, this puts it on par with many desktop gaming systems.  Try to put this set of features together on HP, Sony, Dell, or Alienware, and it’s almost shocking what you’ll find, or what you won’t be able to find.  Many of the big names don’t have the option for the higher end gaming video GPUs; the gaming boutiques that do generally cost a whole lot more.  As an example, a similarly specced unit from Vigor Gaming priced out at $2491.  By the way, Notebookcheck has a great chart on relative performance comparing various mobile GPUs.

So I had my head set on making the purchase at Best Buy, and I went to take a look.  I found the unit on display and started playing around with it.  It definitely seemed fast but unfortunately there were no significant game demos to try, so I ran Fate for a couple minutes, which looked really good.  (Note to Best Buy: why not show these units off with some real games running?)  The only problem?  The thing just looked and felt HUGE.  It’s got a great looking 17″ screen, so if you’re looking for a true desktop replacement, this may be the best buy ever (no pun intended), at least in the short term.  On top of the overall size, it just felt kind of unwieldy all around, for lack of a better expression.  I loved the featureset and price point, but I wanted something that I still might potentially travel with, or at the very least be willing to lug from upstairs to downstairs on occasion.  The Gateway just didn’t seem the way to go.

So, I thought, well why not just look for the same features in a smaller package size?  Surely Gateway itself would offer something of that nature.  Nope, nada, try again.  Shockingly I went all over the internet and could not find something comparable but smaller in the same price range.  A lot of vendors are going slick and stylish but are lacking in the graphics department.  I flirted with the idea of the Macbook Pro, but the model at that point was running an 8600M GT, and the price point was similarly close to double that of the Gateway, not to mention I knew new models were coming out.  (Note: I’m now glad I didn’t wait for the new models, as it would have been well over $2200 with inferior graphics capability and no option for Blu-Ray.)  One of the other things I really wanted was a built in Blu-Ray drive so that I could wacth movies on the laptop and/or hook it up to my TV.

After going through a bunch of different options (including my old standbys like Cyberpower and iBuypower), I had pretty much decided I would go with a Sager laptop.  I’d had very good success with my first custom gaming laptop many many years ago, and there was a vendor called PCTorque which I really liked.  I liked that I could customize it any way I wanted and it would still be in a relatively smaller form factor.  So, I priced it out exactly as I wanted – but this time adding in the feature of a Blu-Ray drive – which ended up being right around $2000 configured similarly to the Gateway but with the added Blu-Ray drive.

Another day or 2 passed, and I was ready to place my order for the Sager, when I happend upon the Asus G50V series.  I hadn’t noticed these before, but the more I read in reviews (particularly user reviews), the more I realized this looked like a good deal (relatively speaking) with a solid build and design.  Custom is great, but I also like a pre-built design for a laptop, with the assumption engineers have gone over all the options and made specific design choices and tradeoffs for good reasons.  This one sports a 2.53GHz Intel  processor, 9700M GT graphics, 4GB RAM, with ESATA and HDMI ports as well.  While the graphics processor is weaker than the Sager and Gateway, it was just one step down and the reviews seemed to indicate it was well thought out and put together.  The A2 model includes a Blu-Ray drive and 400GB of hard drive (7200rpm) space for a $1900 base price.  The Sager similarly equipped would cost me a few hundred more, but would likely be a very good computer as well.

So thus far I’m fairly pleased with the decision.  I’ve only done very limited testing, but it certainly runs Warhammer Online fine.  The next big test will be to connect the HDMI port up to my HDTV and see how that pans out.

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