Editor's note: We have changed the ratings in this review to reflect recent changes in our rating scale. Find out more here.
Editor's note: In our original review, we mistakenly stated that ABS provides onsite repair service for the Mayhem G3. ABS provides onsite service only for their desktop computers. We regret the error. (12/10/04)
Do gaming laptops have to be priced for the country club set? These days, the game machine to beat, the Dell Inspiron XPS (Extreme Edition), costs an extreme $3,000--only serious gamers (with serious disposable income) need apply. The ABS Mayhem G3, however, delivers performance that comes darn close to knocking the Dell off its pedestal, and the loaded model we tested costs $2,149 (as of December 2004)--almost 30 percent less than the Inspiron XPS. The major reason for the price difference? The processor. Dell went with Intel's high-price, high-octane Extreme Edition Pentium 4, while ABS took a chance on AMD's less expensive 64-bit Athlon 64 3400+ chip. Still, the ABS Mayhem G3 offers more than just under-the-hood muscle, including a gorgeous wide-screen display, a hot graphics controller to blast movies and games onto the screen, and plenty of video-capable ports. Most gaming machines are big. Dell's 2-inch-thick Inspiron XPS weighs 9.4 pounds, for example, and ABS doesn't buck the trend with its Mayhem G3. Its silver-and-black plastic case stacks up 1.62 inches thick and spreads out 14 inches wide and 10.5 inches deep--big enough to accommodate a nonstandard aspect-ratio screen that's 13 inches wide and 8.25 inches high. The Mayhem G3 weighs in at a healthy 8.1 pounds, and that's not including a massive, 2.3-pound AC adapter (with a three-prong plug). The Mayhem's 4,000mAh battery weighs less than 1 pound, but considering its short, 161-minute life--a bit better than that of many gaming machine batteries but still impractical--you may want to pick up a few extras (at $81 each).
The ABS Mayhem G3 opens easily to reveal a classy system under a sturdy lid. Some wide laptops, such as the HP zd7000, squeeze a numeric keypad next to the keyboard, but ABS skipped that--after all, the G3 isn't intended for spreadsheet jockeys. The keyboard is virtually full size, though, and despite its breadth, it doesn't wiggle or clatter, and the keys are nice and responsive. It's one of the best laptop keyboards we've come across. Below the keyboard is a wide touch pad; a strip on its right edge can be used to scroll down windows, and there's also a dedicated scroll button between the left- and right-click buttons. A slight lip on the each end of the scroll button helps your thumb snag it from awkward angles without poking the neighboring click buttons.
But the Mayhem G3 isn't perfect--some of its design elements deserve criticism. The button above the keyboard that's supposed to turn the Wi-Fi transceiver on and off to conserve battery when not in use is incompatible with the notebook's EnGenius Wi-Fi radio, and it doesn't work (apparently, ABS thought it worthwhile to switch from MSI to EnGenius during production). Instead, you have to open the control panel to switch the radio on or off. If you want to change any of the Mayhem G3's internal components, you must back out 11 tiny screws and remove a big metal plate on the bottom of the notebook, exposing the machine's entire guts. ABS recommends calling tech support to coach you through the process. Other laptops have separate small doors covering each component you might want to change so that the rest of the electronics remains protected.The ABS Mayhem G3's 15.5-inch (diagonal) screen does justice to movies and works well for games, but it's not great for productivity or business applications. The screen's 1,280x800 native resolution truncates text pages and is less than comfortable for reading or writing--especially unfortunate because the Mayhem G3's performance on office-productivity tasks bests that of almost every recent gaming laptop, including the mighty Dell Inspiron XPS.
So, if your spreadsheets tend toward the horizontal, you might get by with the G3's screen, and you can always hook up to an external CRT: the 128MB Radeon 9700 graphics controller supports a 2,048x1,536 resolution in full color at 85Hz. In any event, the Mayhem G3's screen impressed us with deep, rich colors and sharp detail. The screen brightness was even, and color and detail remained crisp when we looked from the sides, though they did fade from above. When watching a DVD at full screen, we barely detected a hint of hesitation at the fastest-moving moments, and we saw no ghosting or artifacts to detract from the image. The two speakers embedded in the lid below the screen sound nice, and they're far enough apart to give a sense of stereo, but they don't play loudly enough to accompany a movie; for that, there's a headphone jack on the notebook's front edge.
The Mayhem G3's video-friendly features include a four-pin FireWire port, a common link between camcorder and PC for transferring footage over to your editing suite, plus an S-Video output for sending video to a television. ABS also builds in three fast USB 2.0 ports and a flash memory reader for Memory Stick, Secure Digital, and MultiMediaCard. But the configuration that we tested lacked two things that videophiles might want: a DVD writer, which costs an extra $95, and video-editing software. In fact, aside from Windows XP Home and the PowerDVD player, ABS doesn't provide any application software with the Mayhem G3.
In addition to its smoking AMD 64-bit processor and ATI Radeon 9700 graphics controller, the Mayhem G3 has some other power features. It includes a smallish 60GB hard drive (upgradable to 100GB) that spins at 7,200rpm--currently the maximum speed for laptop drives. ABS tops off the Mayhem G3's two memory slots with 1GB of 400MHz DDR RAM.To measure maximum notebook application performance, CNET Labs uses BAPCo's SysMark 2004, an industry-standard benchmark. Find out more about how we test notebooks.
SysMark 2004 performance
Equipped with an Athlon 64 processor, our ABS Mayhem G3 test unit delivered a performance that put it on a par with the Dell Inspiron XPS and the HP Pavilion zd8000, both of which have powerful Pentium 4 processors. (All three systems had 1GB of 400MHz DDR RAM, which isolated the CPU and hard drive speed as the determining factors in performance.) Though the Mayhem G3 CPU's 2.2GHz clock speed was slower than that of the comparison systems, its efficient design and fast 7,200rpm hard drive gave it enough oomph to compete, and all three systems turned in essentially identical scores in CNET's SysMark test. Though none of these systems is specifically designed with office work in mind, all of them deliver excellent productivity performance and will run office and Internet-content-creation apps at very high speeds.
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
|BAPCo SysMark 2004 rating||SysMark 2004 Internet content creation||SysMark 2004 office productivity|
Unreal Tournament 2004 performance
Our Unreal Tournament 2004 performance test evaluates video adapter prowess and, in particular, CPU speed. The HP Pavilion zd8000 came in just a few percentage points lower than the Dell Inspiron XPS, which has a large L2 cache, and the ABS Mayhem G3, whose Athlon 64 processor delivers better 3D performance on games that are CPU limited. Still, all three systems scored very well on this test.