Reviews / Xtreme 790 - The Register-
The mobile version of Intel’s Core i7 processor isn’t due to arrive until early next year, so we were a little surprised to hear that UK system builder Rock was about to launch a new range of laptops based around the i7.
A quick call to Rock confirmed that the company is using a standard desktop i7 processor. Our first thought was that this was an unabashed pitch for the gaming laptop market, but the Xtreme 790, Rock informed us, is simply intended to be “a very powerful all-round workstation”.
It also dropped hints about the police e-crimes unit using machines such as this to analyse server data, “though we can’t go into too much detail on that”, the company added enigmatically.
There are three models in the range, starting at £1999 with a machine featuring an i7 running at 2.66GHz. We tested the mid-range X790-i7-950, which runs at 3.06GHz and costs £2399. There’s also a 3.33GHz model that·s priced at an eye-watering £2999.
To be honest, the X790 is nothing special to look at. Most laptops in this price bracket are pimped out with all sorts of go-faster stripes and gratuitous flashing lights in order to tempt the testosterone-charged gaming brigade. But, befitting its status as a workhorse, the X790 is clad in a sedate silver-grey with black trim.
The glossy 17in screen has a native 1920 x 1200 resolution, and produces a bright and attractive picture, but there’s no option to choose the matte finish still preferred by many designers and photographers. It·s driven by an Nvidia GeForce GTX 280M graphics processor with 1GB of dedicated video memory
In addition to the mighty Core i7, this model also includes 4GB of DDR 3 memory connected directly to the i7·s on-board memory controller on a 1066MHz bus. And it has no fewer than three 250GB hard drives, each rated at 7200rpm and combined using Raid technology for extra data security.
The right-hand edge of the unit is relatively unadorned - just four USB 2.0 ports there - but the left-hand edge is positively festooned with connectivity options. There’s an HDMI port and a Blu-ray drive, so you can kick back and watch HD movies when you’re not tackling e-crime. Other connectors include an eSata interface, coaxial connector for an optional TV tuner, 56Kb/s modem, Gigabit Ethernet, four-pin Firewire, ExpressCard slot and a memory card reader.
Finally, there’s a DVI port on the back for connecting an external monitor, a set of audio connectors on the front edge, and the whole unit is topped off with a copy of 64-bit Windows Vista Home Premium and a three-year on-site warranty. Rock also offers a seven-day "peace of mind" guarantee, allowing you to return the machine for a refund in case your boss or significant other threatens to show you the door when they find out how much you’ve paid for your new toy.
Our first thought when we heard about the i7 processor was that the machine would make a hell of a racket and pump out enough heat to roast your Sunday joint. In fact, it ran more quietly than we expected. The fan makes a steady quiet hum, but it’s not particularly obtrusive and is certainly quieter than many tower PC systems that we’ve lived with over the years.
However, the base of the unit does get pretty hot – too hot to rest comfortably on your lap for any length of time, so it really will need to sit on a desk most of the time.
The size, weight and battery life all reinforce the fact that the X790 is designed to live on a desk rather than being used on the move. This is a portable PC rather than a mobile one. The laptop and power supply together weigh a hefty 5.4kg, and the power brick itself is almost as large as some of the netbooks that we’ve seen recently.
However, the greatest limitation will be the battery life. We’ve become almost blasé recently about laptops and netbooks boasting seven or eight hours of battery life, but the X790 won’t even get you through a 90-minute feature film.
We selected its "balanced" power preset, which attempts to strike a good balance between performance and battery life, and then looped PCMark 05 until the battery was completely drained. On that setting, we barely got 75 minutes of runtime, and even switching to the "better battery life" preset only added about another five minutes to that time.
To be fair, Rock is quite open about the limited battery life, and the X790 compensates for that weakness with some quite outstanding performance results. Not surprisingly, the i7 processor leaves most Core 2 Duo laptops trailing in its wake. Processor performance in PCMark05 breaks through the 10,000 mark, while overall system performance is about 60 per cent stronger than any other laptop we’ve reviewed recently.
Graphics performance is a particular strength, with the i7 and GeForce GTX280M combining to producing the sort of test results that we’ve only seen from SLI rigs such as that in the similarly expensive Toshiba Qosmio X300. It even manages 49f/s when running Far Cry with high-quality graphics settings and at full 1920 x 1200 resolution. It’ll certainly make a good workstation for tasks such as CAD or 3D rendering – as well as being a pretty hot games machine.
The battery life is clearly a disadvantage, but then a 17in laptop like this would never be carried around coffee shops like a lightweight netbook. It’s very much a desktop replacement machine - literally, since it contains a desktop CPU - that can be carried from one location to another. The price might seem extravagant, but isn’t actually that bad compared to high-end laptops, and the sheer power and performance that it offers will ensure that it earns its keep – particularly for graphics- intensive tasks.