I purchased a nifty little laptop last month, and could find no review on the web, so I thought I would remedy that.
First up, my requirements. I need a notebook light enough to cart around on the train (I have a long commute) but with a big enough display to be able to do some work. A requirement I didn’t realise until last year is I need a Directx compatible video card to play a few undemanding games (Humble Bundle, I’m looking at you).
These were pretty well met with my BenQ u121, but it’s 11.6″ screen was on the smaller side, and the graphics chip was not up to scratch for the games I want to play once in a while (it did have awesome battery life and was super light).
I saw the ‘thin and light’ notebooks emerge a couple of years ago, and suspected one would be in my future – they have the feature set of past top of the range portables (I’ve had several Toshiba Porteges) but much less expensive by shipping a value processor.
The Gigabyte m1405 is one of these. You have probably seen Gigabyte before as a supplier of motherboards and other PC ‘guts’, but they seem to be new at complete laptops. The m1405 has a core duo chip, a generation behind intel’s current “i” family, but quite speedy compared to netbook Atom chips I had been using. Mine shipped with 2Gb of ram in a single DDR3 SODIMM, but there is a second slot free to install a 4Gb chip, which I expect to do soon.
The 320Gb HDD is on the smaller side, but it is a standard esata, so can be upgraded later if it gets cramped. Note it has some odd partitioning – there is a Windows 7 32-bit install, a separate Win7 64-bit install and a third partition for data. This is to allow you the choice to boot into 32 or 64bit windows, should you need to for compatibility reasons. Except for an old laser printer, everything I have tried has been fine in 64bit, so I plan to scrub the 32bit partition and reclaim the space.
This 32/64bit dual personality could be quite handy, though, if you have something you need to run under 32bit regularly. Another curious feature is the USB/eSata port on the right side. It accepts either cable, although I have yet to use it with an eSata drive. The system also powers the USB ports while asleep, allowing a phone or ipod to charge, even if the laptop is unplugged (you can configure a lower charge percentage when this will stop, say 50%, so your phone won’t drain your laptop if you mistakenly leave it charging via USB but not plugged into the wall).
Nice to have features are 3 USB ports (but all on the right side, urgh!) HDMI and VGA out, SD multi card reader, 1.3mb webcam and a fingerprint reader. I’ve been using the last for my Windows login (as opposed to no password) and it is fairly reliable once you have learnt the speed it likes to read at.
Battery life is a little over 3 hours with a 3G wireless stick in use, and the unit is a nice, light 1.6kg – not bad for a 14in screen and built in DVD writer.
There is a slot and internal antenna for a 3g wireless modem, but I haven’t played with this, similarly, there is a second battery available to replace the optical drive, but the only source I have found so far wants $150 for it, so I’ll pass. The accompanying documentation and original press releases show a nifty docking station which in meant to hold an nVidia graphics card – the idea being you can play demanding games when you are docked to a bigger monitor. I like the idea, but as far as I can tell, the device never got released to retail (correct me if you find one!).
In the box comes a fake leather slipcase and a screen cleaning cloth (the screen is shiny and does pick up prints). It has a 3.42a 18v 110-240v universal power supply, the same type used by BenQ and Acer laptops we have around, and readily available as a non-OEM purchase for about $20 on ebay. The outer case has a bright red metallic surface on top, with sort of a brushed matte finish – quite attractive, but a matter of personal taste. The underside is matte black plastic and the screen and keyboard bezel are brushed aluminium. Build quality is good, and the unit feels solid, but the aluminium bezel is not precisely flush around the base so it flexes a little bit. Not a big drama.
The keyboard is fair. It is close to full size, but the keys aren’t raked at an angle, they all sit flat, and they don’t have much travel. There are real home, pgup and pgdn and arrow keys, a pet hate of mine is when these are lost to function keys.
The built in speakers are quite good, as these things go, and boast some sort of THX signal processing. The result is they are loud enough to use for watching a DVD, a feature not always good enough on many notebooks.
Overall, I find this a great laptop, and extremely good value. I could be convinced to add a second battery if the price was more reasonable, but the current power is adequate. It is pretty snappy with Win7 and the plethora of little value add features make it a nice versatile machine. The screen is nice and large for a very portable machine. I got mine at http://www.onlinecomputer.com.au for about $500, but I have seen them since for $50 less on Catch of the Day.