Author:
Subject: Mobile
Manufacturer: Alienware

Introduction and Design

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In the realm of hulking, powerful gaming laptops, Alienware remains king by popular vote. Whatever you think of their laptops (as always, popularity attracts criticism) there is no denying that the Alienware name stands for something among gamers. And to most, they're a dream machine, the laptop equivilent of a Ferrari 458 Italia.

The purpose of a review, of course, is to move past reputation and judge the true capabilities of a product. And in the case of the Alienware M17x, there's a lot to judge. We’ll talk about its bulk later, but I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by saying that this laptop has big bones as well as serious hardware.

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One paper, the stars seem to align. But this market remains competitive, thanks to not only to boutique outfits like Origin and Maingear but also to ASUS, which is still on its gaming laptop war-path, producing affordable rigs that can be had for surprisingly little dough. With competition on all sides, can the Alienware justify its $2500 price of entry? Let’s find out.

Continue reading our review of the Alienware M17x gaming notebook!!

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Manufacturer: Various

The Alienware M17x Giveth

Mobile graphics cards are really a different beast than the desktop variants.  Despite have similar names and model numbers, the specifications vary greatly as the GTX 580M isn't equivalent to the GTX 580 and the HD 6990M isn't even a dual-GPU product.  Also, getting the capability to do a direct head-to-head is almost always a tougher task thanks to the notebook market's penchant for single-vendor SKUs.  

Over the past week or two, I was lucky enough to get my hands on a pair of Alienware M17x notebooks, one sporting the new AMD Radeon HD 6990M discrete graphics solution and the other with the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 580M.  

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AMD Radeon HD 6990M on the left; NVIDIA GeForce GTX 580M on the right

Also unlike the desktop market - the time from announcement of a new mobile GPU product to when you can actually BUY a system including it tends to be pretty long.  Take the two GPUs we are looking at today for example: the HD 6990M launched in July and we are only just now finally seeing machines ship in volume; the GTX 580M in June.

Well, problems be damned, we had the pair in our hands for a few short days and I decided to put them through the ringer in our GPU testing suite and added Battlefield 3 in for good measure as well.  The goal was to determine which GPU was actually the "world's fastest" as both companies claimed to be.

Continue reading our comparison of the GeForce GTX 580M and Radeon HD 6990M mobility GPUs!!

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Subject: Mobile
Manufacturer: Lenovo

Introduction, Design and Display Quality

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I’m a multi-monitor addict. 

My addiction started many years ago. I had a rather lame customer service job, and as part of my job I needed to manage spreadsheets with customer interactions while also filling in data on a separate, large window. To accomplish this, two monitors were required. I was amazed at the efficiency of the setup, and I bought a second monitor for home use within a few months. Now, I can’t imagine using my desktop with a single display.

Laptops, however, are a different story. Multiple displays can actually be even more useful for road warriors because of the limited resolution of many laptops, yet there are issues with using multiple monitors on the road. Carrying around even a relatively small desktop monitor is out of the question, leaving few options.

Enter the Lenovo LT1421. This unique mobile monitor has a 14” panel and, according to Lenovo, it’s portable enough to be carried about with minimal hassle. Has the company managed to create a unique, must-have product for mobile productivity, or is multi-monitor use with a laptop still a concept that’s better on paper than in reality? 

Continue reading our review of the Lenovo ThinkVision LT1421 Portable Monitor!!

Subject: Mobile
Manufacturer: Apple
Tagged: iphone, iOS5, iOS 5, ios, 4S, 4, 3GS

Down to Business

Introduction:

While I'm mostly a PC guy, I favor iPhones. My friends always jab at me because I'm a fairly die-hard techie, and they expect me to be sporting the latest overclocked super-smartphone with eleventy-thousand gigs and a built-in dishwasher. While my phone used to be included in the list of things I tinker with endlessly, I eventually came to the point where I just wanted my smallest mobile device to 'Just Work' for those tasks I needed it to. I just didn't have the time to tinker endlessly with the thing that handled more and more of my work-related duties, yet as a techie, I still enjoyed the ability to cram a bunch of functionality into my pocket. That led me to the iPhone, which I've used since 2008.

Like many iPhone users, I've upgraded through the various iterations over the years. The original, 3G, 3GS, 4, and most recently the 4S. I've also witnessed nearly every iteration of Apple's iOS (including many of the betas). Throughout all of these, I feel Apple did their best to prevent new versions from breaking application functionality, and while they did their best to keep bugs under control, every so often a few would creep in - typically with cross-compatibility of new features that could only be tested in a limited capacity before being released into the wild.

Apple's iPhone 4S introduced some added features to their line-up - enough to get me to bite the bullet earlier than I typically do. I was a bit of an iOS 5 veteran by then, as I'd been using it to test applications for a developer friend of mine. While some of the iOS 5 betas were a bit unruly in the battery life category, those problems appeared to be sorted out by the last and final beta prior to release. With my reservations against the new OS put to rest, the only thing holding me back was the possibility of the new dual core CPU drawing more power than the iPhone 4. The iFixit teardown (which revealed a higher capacity battery - presumably to counter power draw of the additional CPU), coupled with the improved camera and witnessing the endless toying around with Siri finally got me to bite the bullet.

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I picked up a 4S from my local Apple Store, restored from the backup of my 4, and off I went. I enjoyed the phone for a few days, but quickly realized there was some sort of issue with battery life. The most glaring indicator was one night where I forgot to plug the 4S in before bed. The next morning I was surprised to find that nearly 40% of the charge was lost while I slept - almost enough to completely shut down the phone (and failing to wake me with the alarm I'd gleefully set via Siri the night before).

Continue reading our detailed analysis of the iPhone 3GS / 4 / 4S battery life testing.

Author:
Subject: Mobile
Manufacturer: Samsung

Introduction, Specs, Design and Ergonomics

Introduction

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Courtesy of Samsung

 

Samsung's Galaxy S II smartphone debuted in the U.S. with Sprint, AT&T, and T-Mobile in September and we finally got our hands on a review sample. The Samsung smartphone runs on Android 2.3 "Gingerbread" operating system and includes an 8 MP camera with LED flash and 1080p video, front facing 2 MP camera, and Samsung’s custom TouchWiz user interface.

 

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Courtesy of Samsung

 

T-Mobile and Sprint’s version sports a 4.52-inch display, but AT&T’s version has a 4.3-inch screen that matches the original international version of the Galaxy S II. We are reviewing T-Mobile's Galaxy S II with 16GB of internal memory (there are two options for 16 and 32 GB). The Sprint and AT&T versions are outfitted with a dual-core 1.2 GHz Orion processor, but the T-Mobile version we are reviewing today sports a Qualcomm Snapdragon S3 1.5 GHz dual-core CPU.

Read the rest of our review of the Samsung Galaxy S II!

Author:
Subject: Mobile
Manufacturer: ASUS

Introduction and Design

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Sound. It seems to be one of the new battlefields on which notebook computers are fighting, which is odd, because audio quality has until recently been so rarely a central focus of notebook manufacturers. Today, the artillery is clearly placed. HP arrived first with Beats Audio, but others have responded, such as MSI with its Dynaudio branded laptops and now ASUS with this Bang & Olufsen tagged N55, which comes with an external subwoofer by default.

Yep, that’s right. It’s not a large subwoofer (that’s the point - it’s small enough to potentially be transported in same bag as the laptop), but clearly ASUS is taking sound seriously with this laptop. Yet there’s so much more to a laptop that its sound, and that’s particularly true with a system such as this. Everywhere you look, the N55’s specification scream performance. A Core i7 quad-core mobile processor is the heart of the machine, and snuggles up with an Nvidia GT 555M graphics processor. What else is there to be had? Have a look.

Continue reading our review of the ASUS N55 Notebook!!

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Subject: Mobile
Manufacturer: MSI

Introduction and Design

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When the Apple MacBook Air originally debuted, geeks took note, and Windows laptop manufacturers ramped up efforts to meet that super-thin laptop on its own turf. Surprisingly, one of the first to respond was MSI, a company that is still struggling to define itself among a mainstream American market dominated by the likes of HP, Toshiba, Dell, and others.

MSI managed to significantly undercut the Air with its X340, but the build quality was also nowhere near what Cupertino’s engineers had managed. Yet MSI is not one to give up, and they’ve made moves to refine the X series over the years. As the price has dropped further, and the processor selection changed, comparisons to the Air have become less obvious. 

That’s particularly true with this latest MSI X370, which now makes use of the AMD E-350 Fusion APU. This processor is nothing new, and we’ve tested it before at PC Perspective. Yet this laptop is different from any previously we’ve reviewed product with this processor because of its size.

Continue reading our review of the MSI X370 Fusion Notebook!!

Author:
Manufacturer: NVIDIA
Tagged: vsmp, tegra, nvidia, kal-el

Kal-El Tegra SoC to use 5 cores

Recent news from NVIDIA has unveiled some interesting new technical details about the upcoming Kal-El ARM-based Tegra SoC.  While we have known for some time that this chip would include a quad-core processor and would likely be the first ARM-based quad-core part on the market, NVIDIA's Matt Wuebbling spilled the beans on a new technology called "Variable SMP" (vSMP) and a fifth core on the die.

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An updated diagram shows the fifth "companion" core - Courtesy NVIDIA

This patented technology allows the upcoming Tegra processor to address a couple of key issues that affect smartphones and tablets: standby power consumption and manufacturing process deviations.  Even though all five of the cores on Kal-El are going to be based on the ARM Cortex A9 design they will have very different power characteristics due to variations in the TSMC 40nm process technology that builds them.  Typical of most foundries and process technologies, TSMC has both a "high performance" and a "low power" derivative of the 40nm technology usually aimed at different projects.  The higher performing variation will run at faster clock speeds but will also have more transistor leakages thus increasing overall power consumption.  The low power option does just the opposite: lowers the frequency ceiling while using less power at idle and usage states.  

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CPU power and performance curves - Courtesy NVIDIA

NVIDIA's answer to this dilemma is to have both - a single A9 core built on the low power transistors and quad A9s built on the higher performing transistors.  The result is the diagram you saw at the top of this story with a quad-core SoC with a single ARM-based "companion."  NVIDIA is calling this strategy Variable Symmetric Multiprocessing and using some integrated hardware tricks it is able to switch between operating on the lower power core OR one to four of the higher power cores.  The low power process will support operating frequencies up to only 500 MHz while the high speed process transistors will be able to hit well above 1-1.2 GHz. 

Keep reading for more on the 5-core quad-core Kal-El SoC from NVIDIA!!

Author:
Subject: Mobile
Manufacturer: ASUS

Introduction and Design

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Tablets may be the darling of the tech industry, but they’ve also received their fair share of criticism as well. One of the most consistent barbs throw towards them is the tablet’s inability to serve as a competent platform for content creature. While it’s technically possible to write a document or edit an image on a tablet, it’s certainly not enjoyable.

Part of the problem is the lack of a keyboard and mouse. Touchscreens are beautiful and intuitive, but they’re not precise. While third-party cases and docks have tried to solve this issue, they’re often both clunky and expensive.

It’s little surprise that a tablet designed specifically to work in conjunction with a keyboard dock has hit the market, but it is surprising that the first such device comes from ASUS, a company with relatively little experience building mobile products. The Eee Pad Transformer is already the second-best selling tablet on the market (after the iPad, of course) and reports indicate sales are constrained by supply rather than demand. What is it that has made the Transformer a quick success? 

Continue reading our review of the ASUS Eee Pad Transformer tablet!!

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Subject: Mobile
Manufacturer: Acer

Introduction and Design

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We have our heads in the clouds. Once a dream, cloud computing is now common and used to support everything from file sharing to email. Here at PC Perspective, for example, we often make use of Dropbox. Storing certain files “in the cloud” is much easier than directly emailing them to and fro. 

Google is one of the cloud’s most ardent supporters. The Internet seems to be Google’s answer to everything from emails to file sharing to document editing. All these tasks can be accomplished online through a browser with a Google utility. 

When Google announced that it was going to develop an entire OS based off its Chrome web browser there was much shock, speculation and excitement. In hindsight, however, this development was probably inevitable given the company’s love of everything online. Now, Google Chrome OS is a retail product. Let’s find out if a cloud OS can compete with more traditional options. 

Read on for our full review of the Acer AC700-1099 Chromebook!

Author:
Subject: Mobile
Manufacturer: Samsung

Introduction, Design and Ergonomics

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Courtesy of Samsung

Samsung's first product to make a splash into the Android tablet market was the original 7" Tab, and while its performance numbers were on par with other similar tablets produced in 2010, it left many consumers wanting more multimedia, gaming, and productivity features like what was available with Apple's iPad and iPad2. Many vendors, including Samsung, were dealing the same issues and challenges associated with the lack of tablet support in Android-based games and applications because Android's SDK only comes in one flavor for general mobile devices, not tablets with larger displays. 

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Courtesy of Samsung

After hearing feedback from consumers and hardware reviewers, Samsung completely redesigned the Tab 10.1 to accommodate users eager for enhanced video and gaming capabilities that take advantage of modern technologies like Android's latest Honeycomb OS and NVIDIA's Tegra 2 processor that support higher resolution displays beyond 1024x768 (the Tab 10.1's display runs at 1280x800). They also gave the Tab 10.1 a slimmer profile that is comparable to the iPad2. The Tab 10.1 can be purchased for around $499 for the 16GB version and $599 for the 32GB version, which is also on par with its Apple counterparts. We are reviewing the 16GB version to check out all the new features in Honeycomb and see what surprises Samsung included with the Tab 10.1 that justify the $500 price tag.

Continue reading our review of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1

Author:
Subject: Mobile
Manufacturer: ASUS

Introduction and Design

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We’ve reviewed several gaming laptops here at PC Perspective, but strangely, we’ve usually reviewed systems with 15.6” displays or smaller. Although large by most any other measure, these laptops are actually small by the standards of gaming laptops. Many gamers prefer laptops with a display over 17 inches because the extra screen real estate results in a better gaming experience.

Today, however, we finally have a giant in our hands – the ASUS G74S. At first glance, this appears to be nothing more than a minor update to the original ASUS G73, adding Nvidia’s latest GTX 560M in replacement of the older GTX 460M.

Take a closer look, and it becomes apparent that laptop has been completely redesigned. While the lines of the chassis are similar, the cooling vents in the rear are larger and in different locations. A new strip of gray plastic covers the display hinge, and the optical drive has been moved further forward. All of this communicates a new internal configuration that could make or break this laptop.

Keep reading our review of the new ASUS G74 notebook!

Author:
Subject: Editorial, Mobile
Manufacturer: Qualcomm

Meet Vellamo

With Google reporting daily Android device activations upward of 550,000 devices a day, the rapid growth and ubiqutity of the platform cannot be denied. As the platform has grown, we here at PC Perspective have constantly kept our eye out for ways to assess and compare the performance of different devices running the same mobile operating systems. In the past we have done performance testing with applications such as Quadrant and Linpack, and GPU testing with NenaMark and Qualcomm's NeoCore product.

Today we are taking a look at a new mobile benchmark from Qualcomm, named Vellamo. Qualcomm has seen the need for an agnostic browser benchmark on Android, and so came Vellamo. A video introduction from Qualcomm's Director of Product Management, Sy Choudhury, is below.

 

With the default configuration, Vellamo performs a battery of 14 tests. These tests are catagorized into Rendering, Javascript, User Experience, Networking, and Advanced. 

For more on this benchmark and our results from 10 different Android-power devices, keep reading!

Author:
Subject: Mobile
Manufacturer: BlackBerry

Introduction, Design and Ergonomics

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BlackBerry is proof of the tech industry’s merciless pace of innovation. Five years ago, Research in Motion (the company responsible for BlackBerry) seemed to be on the top of the mobile world. Its phones offered unique functionality that, although sometimes replicated by competitors, was generally considered world-class. If you were interested in doing more with your phone than making calls, a BlackBerry handset was a solid choice.

Today, however, the brand is considered to be on its last legs. This perception is an exaggeration – BlackBerry devices are still popular the world over – but the company’s position has certainly been compromised by iOS and Android phones. Attempts to counter these competitors with devices like the touchscreen BlackBerry Storm haven’t gained much traction.

BlackBerry is quite late to that party, however – it took years to finally develop an iPhone/Android fighter, and even now the company seems somehow skeptical that touchscreen phones are all-that, so it’s little surprise that it’s behind the competition. Tablets, however, are a different story. Today we’re going to be looking at the BlackBerry PlayBook, which has actually joined the tablet crowd quite early. In my opinion, it’s the fourth credible tablet to hit the market, the other three being the iPad/2, the Xoom and the Galaxy Tab. Does it present something new to this small group, or does it falter like BlackBerry's touchscreen phones?

Continue reading to get our full review of the new Blackberry Playbook tablet!

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Subject: Mobile
Manufacturer: Samsung

Introduction, Design and Ergonomics

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Droid. When the brand launched, this was a name that stood for something. While the iPhone enthralled consumers with a friendly, easy, but ostensibly restrictive experience, Droid retaliated with the motto “Droid Does.” It was all about superior functionality, and in that regard it was a success. Today we’ll be looking at the Droid Charge, a phone coming by way of Samsung. 

The Droid Charge is the second 4G LTE phone to hit Verizon’s network, making it an obvious competitor to the HTC Thunderbolt (along with the recently released LG Revolution). Like the Thunderbolt, the Charge is a member of a breed of single-core flagship phone that is already in the process of becoming extinct. Let’s have a look at what else powers Samsung’s Droid. 

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Many buyers are too quick to dismiss phones based of hardware specs, however – the single core tells us little about the Charge’s performance as a phone. As the first Droid to come from Samsung’s stable, this is actually quite an interesting device. Will the brand remain meaningful on a device from this manufacturer? Or is it being diluted?

Keep reading our review of the Samsung Droid Charge for all the info!!

Author:
Subject: Mobile
Manufacturer: Lenovo
Tagged: X1, Thinkpad, Lenovo, Intel

Introduction and Design

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Achieving smaller, thinner profiles is a long-standing goal of laptop manufacturers, but there’s been a particular obsession with ultra-thin laptops ever since Apple introduced the MacBook Air by taking it out of a manila envelope. Since then, tablets and smartphones have only increased the appeal of thin laptops. Consumers are becoming used to the idea of their electronics tightening their waistlines, and there’s no sign that this trend will stop.

The manufacturer response to this demand has been a lackluster. Laptops like the Dell Adamo came and went, but didn’t seem to put much dent in the market. That wasn’t terribly surprising, because making a laptop thin is expensive, and the Windows laptop brands generally struggle to bring in customers for products priced over $1000. 

One of the most successful responses to the Air was arguably Lenovo’s ThinkPad X series. The X series had always been thin-and-light, but was never targeted towards the average consumer. Still, these laptops – particularly the X301, which had a display size similar to the MacBook Air – seemed reasonable competition. Then Lenovo pulled the plug on the X301, leaving a 13 inch thin-and-light shaped hole in the roster. Today’s we’re looking at the plug for that hole.

Continue on and read our full review of the Lenovo X1 notebook...

Author:
Subject: Processors, Mobile
Manufacturer: AMD

AMD lines up Llano

Introduction

2006.  That was the year where the product we are reviewing today was first consummated and the year that AMD and ATI merged in a $5.4 billion deal that many read about scratching their heads.  At the time the pairing of a the 2nd place microprocessor company with the 2nd place graphics technology vendor might have seemed like an odd arrangement even with the immediate benefit of a unified platform of chipset, integrated graphics and processor to offer to mobile and desktop OEMs.  In truth though, that was a temporary solution to a more long term problem that we now know as heterogeneous computing: the merging not just of these companies but all the computing workloads of CPUs and GPUs.

Five years later, and by most accounts more than a couple of years late, the new AMD that now sans-manufacturing facility is ready to release the first mainstream APU, Accelerated Processing Unit.  While the APU name is something that the competition hasn't adopted, the premise of a CPU/GPU combination processing unit is not just the future, it is the present as well.  Intel has been shipping Sandy Bridge, the first mainstream silicon with a CPU and GPU truly integrated together on a single die since January 2011 and AMD no longer has the timing advantage that we thought it would when the merger was announced.

For sanity sake, I should mention the Zacate platform that combines an ATI-based GPU with a custom low power x86 core called Bobcat for the netbook and nettop market that was released in November of 2010.  As much as we like that technology it doesn't have the performance characteristics to address the mainstream market and that is exactly where Llano comes in.

AMD Llano Architecture

Llano's architecture has been no secret over the last two years as AMD has let details and specifications leak at a slow pace in order to build interest and excitement over the pending transition.  That information release has actually slowed this year though likely to reduce expectations on the first generation APU with the release of the Sandy Bridge processor proving to be more potent than perhaps AMD expected.  And in truth, while the Llano design as whole is brand new all of the components that make it up have been seen before - both the x86 Stars core and the Radeon 5000 series-class have been tested and digested on PC Perspective for many years.

For today's launch we were given a notebook reference platform for the Llano architecture called "Sabine".  While the specifications we are looking at here are specific to this mainstream notebook platform nearly all will apply to the desktop release later in the year (perhaps later in the month actually).

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The platform diagram above gives us an overview of what components will make up a system built on the Llano Fusion APU design.  The APU itself is made up 2 or 4 x86 CPU cores that come from the Stars family released with the Phenom / Phenom II processors.  They do introduce a new Turbo Core feature that we will discuss later that is somewhat analogous to what Intel has done with its processors with Turbo Boost. 

There is a TON of more information, so be sure you hit that Read More link right now!!

Author:
Subject: Mobile
Manufacturer: Maingear

Introduction and Design

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Viewed from a bird’s eye, gaming laptops seem to be a homogenous bunch. Although there are rare exceptions like the Alienware M11x, most are 15.6” or 17” models with quad-core processors and discrete mobile graphics, most frequently the Nvidia GTX 460M. The two gaming laptops we’ve most recently reviewed, the ASUS G53 and MSI GT680R, most certainly fit into this mold. 

Upon closer inspection, however, the market for gaming laptops begins to expand and multiply into a wide array of options. While the big players like ASUS, Toshiba and MSI are happy to offer their pre-configured models with roughly similar hardware, customized rigs are as numerous as stars in the sky. Everyone has heard of Alienware, of course, but you may not have heard of companies like Origin, Falcon Northwest, AVADirect, AFactor Gaming, Malibal, Digital Storm and Maingear, just to name a few (or if you have, you may have only heard of their desktops). 

Maingear’s eX-L15 is a stereotypical example of a custom gaming laptop. It’s big and it’s bulky, but its appearance is not much different from your average laptop. Inside, however, there is a buffet of high-end hardware.

Author:
Subject: Mobile
Manufacturer: MSI

Introduction and Design

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High-end gaming laptops represent the most powerful of a breed, and are built using all the creativity and ingenuity that laptop manufacturers have at their disposal. Somewhere along the path towards performance, practicality begins to fall to the wayside – but that’s okay, because it was never really the point. 

The MSI GT680R is one of the goliaths of gaming laptops. Although there are larger gaming laptops than this 15.6” model, it remains a very big boy that’s not built with frequent or long-distance travel in mind. Of course, this substantial girth has made it possible for MSI to cram a slew of cutting-edge hardware inside.

Author:
Subject: Mobile
Manufacturer: HP

HP Mini 210 Review: Introduction

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With all of the talk about tablets and smartphones it’s easy to forget just how popular netbooks are and remain. The days of absurd 800% market share growth numbers are over, but netbooks remain a part of the mobile computing market and are not likely to disappear any time soon.

That may mean the end of excitement over netbook, but it also means the opportunity for refinement. New, revolutionary products often have rough edges. Many older netbooks had poor keyboards and so-so build quality. My old Samsung N10, which was considered the cream of the crop in its day, looks cheap compared to today’s models – and I paid just over $400 for it.