If the last few weeks at CNET Labs were any indication, it would seem that laptops stocked with desktop processors are coming back in vogue. Hot on the heels of the quad-core 917V Accelerator, the massive AVADirect D900C brought an Intel Core 2 Duo E6600 processor, 800MHz memory, and two Nvidia GeForce Go 7950GTX graphics cards to our testing bench.
The results were mixed: the system finished in the middle of the competitive pack, when it came to multitasking and Photoshop. But on our gaming benchmarks, the D900C came dangerously close to breaking the frame rate record set by the 917V Accelerator. Even better, the $3,519 D900C costs almost $1,500 less than the 917V Accelerator and several hundred dollars less than two other game laptops, the Dell XPS M1730 and the Alienware Area-51 m9750.
The latter two systems include some more high-end features around the case, and they might be the better choice for users in search of a well-rounded laptop that also offers decent game performance. But the AVADirect D900C is a good fit for mobile gamers who care less about media features than about attaining desktop-caliber performance with a laptop.
|Price as reviewed / starting price||$3,519 / $2,297|
|Processor||2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E6600|
|Memory||2GB of 800MHz|
|Hard drive||80GB at 7,200rpm and 160GB at 7,200rpm|
|Graphics||Dual 512MB Nvidia GeForce Go 7950 GTX in a scalable link interface|
|Operating System||Windows Vista Home Premium|
|Dimensions (WDH)||15.5 x 11.9 x 2.2 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||17.1 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||12 / 15 pounds|
If the AVADirect D900C looks familiar, that's because it's built in the same Clevo D900C case that Xtreme Notebooks used for its 917V Accelerator. While that laptop's case featured a photorealistic depiction of the American flag, our AVADirect D900C featured a glossy, "Ferrari red" finish--one of 10 custom color options--with black trim, speakers, and display bezel.
We like the case, which feels solidly built and sturdy enough to withstand some pretty tough abuse. At 2.2 inches thick and weighing 12 pounds, even without the power adapter, this massive system is a true desktop replacement. We honestly can't imagine roaming anywhere with this box, except to LAN parties--though it beats lugging a desktop and its assorted peripherals from competition to competition.
The broad, 17.1-inch screen on our review unit included an optional 1,920x1,200 (WUXGA) native resolution (sharper than the standard 1,680x1,050 resolution). It almost goes without saying that games and movies look great on the screen, which includes a glossy finish that adds richness to colors.
Of course, the glossy finish also results in a slight glare when working in bright environments, such as near a window, and the sharper resolution means that text and icons appear smaller on screen. We were impressed by the display, however, especially for watching movies and playing games. Above the display sits a 1.3-megapixel Webcam for video chats.
Appropriately for a game-oriented system, the D900C includes a 10-key numeric keypad--handy for controlling games--next to its full-size keyboard. Typing is comfortable enough for short stretches, but, as we found on the Xtreme Notebooks model, the keyboard is set so far back on the laptop's case that it forces some unergonomic positioning. We were also concerned that the desktop components inside the case would make the wrist rest too hot to touch; fortunately, the D900C, while warm, didn't get much hotter than most of the laptops we've seen.
The broad touch pad and brushed-metal mouse buttons are slightly recessed within the case, which helps prevent you from accidentally grazing the touch pad and misplacing the cursor while typing. The keyboard deck includes two gaming hot keys along the left side; these can be programmed to run macros of your choice in any game or other application.
Three programmable application-launch buttons sit above the keyboard. We missed having dedicated buttons for media playback and volume control, especially given that our configuration did not include the optional TV antenna and external remote control. Also missed: an instant-on media player that would let us play CDs and DVDs without booting the system.
|AVADirect D900C||Average for desktop replacement category|
|Video||VGA, S-Video in and out, DVI, coaxial||VGA-out, S-Video|
|Audio||2.1 speakers, microphone, headphone, S/PDIF-out, line in||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||4 USB 2.0, mini-FireWire, mulitformat memory card reader||4 USB 2.0, mini-FireWire, multiformat memory card reader|
|Expansion||ExpressCard||PC Card and ExpressCard|
|Networking||Ethernet, modem, 802.11 a/g/n Wi-Fi||modem, Ethernet, 802.11 a/b/g Wi-Fi, Bluetooth|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||DVD burner|
Featurewise, the AVADirect D900C is one loaded laptop. The massive case provides plenty of room for nearly every video connection you could need, including S-Video in and out, plus a coaxial jack that works nicely with an external TV tuner (available as an option, $67 and up). There are also four audio ports for a variety of inputs and outputs.
Our primary complaint lies in the placement of the laptop's four USB ports, which are clustered in a tight grid on the right side. We'd appreciate some breathing room to help prevent cord crowding, particularly given that this laptop will spend most of its time parked on a desk. Like many high-end desktop replacements, the D900C incorporates stereo speakers and an integrated subwoofer; the speakers produce great sound for a laptop, especially for movie watching, but music was slightly muddled at high volumes.
AVADirect offers a mind-boggling number of component and feature options for a truly customized system. Our D900C review unit, like the Xtreme Notebooks 917V Accelerator and the Velocty Micro NoteMagix X25, was stocked with a desktop CPU: the 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E6600. (A curious choice, considering that Intel offers a mobile version of the 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo processor. You can order the D900C with the quad-core Core 2 Duo Q6600 as an option, which would add $117 to the price.)
The configuration also includes 2GB of 800MHz RAM--a speed we've previously seen only on the 917V Accelerator--and two 512MB Nvidia GeForce Go 7950 GTX graphics cards in a scalable link interface. On CNET Labs' mobile benchmarks, the D900C performed on par with the Toshiba Satellite X205-SLi3, which includes a slightly slower mobile Core 2 Duo T7500 processor and 667MHz RAM, on the Multimedia multitasking and Photoshop benchmarks.
Both laptops trailed the Dell XPS M1730 and the Alienware Area-51 m9750 by margins as large as 30 percent, a difference that CNET Labs at least partly attributes to differing processor speeds and operating systems among all the systems.
However, the D900C's SLI graphics helped it catch up to its competitors on our gaming tests. With 103.1 frames per second while playing Quake 4 and 133fps while playing F.E.A.R. (both at 1,024x768 resolution), the D900C kept pace with our current frame rate champion, the Xtreme Notebooks 917V Accelerator.