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AVADirect D900C review: AVADirect D900C

AVADirect D900C

Michelle Thatcher
Michelle Thatcher Former Senior Associate Editor, Laptops
Tech expert Michelle Thatcher grew up surrounded by gadgets and sustained by Tex-Mex cuisine. Life in two major cities--first Chicago, then San Francisco--broadened her culinary horizons beyond meat and cheese, and she's since enjoyed nearly a decade of wining, dining, and cooking up and down the California coast. Though her gadget lust remains, the practicalities of her small kitchen dictate that single-function geegaws never stay around for long.
7 min read

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.


AVADirect D900C

The Good

Dual SLI graphics post strong frame rates; less expensive than similar gaming rigs; 10-key number pad is useful for gaming; built-in subwoofer and optional integrated TV tuner; lots of configuration options.

The Bad

High-end components provided no boost on multitasking and Photoshop benchmarks; lousy battery life; uncomfortable for typing; lacking multimedia extras such as media control buttons and instant-on playback; the albatross that is the massive power brick.

The Bottom Line

The AVADirect D900C may not be a runaway hit, but it does dish out high frame rates at a relatively competitive price. It's a good fit for gamers who want desktop-caliber performance in a mobile package.

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
Chipset Intel 965
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
Category desktop replacement

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.

It also stayed ahead of the XPS M1730 and the Alienware Area-51 m9750 (for the most part) and excelled in comparison with the Toshiba Satellite X205-SLi3. Even when we cranked the resolution up to 1,280x1,024, the AVADirect D900C posted impressively high frame rates. Our only concern is the GPU's lack of support for DirectX 10, which might prevent the D900C from handling the newest games as gracefully as these classics.

As might be expected from a system loaded with a desktop processor and other power-hungry components, the AVADirect D900C lasted just a few minutes short of 1 hour on our DVD battery drain test. Of course, we hardly expect a laptop of this size to spend much time at all away from the power outlet. Should you actually want to carry the D900C around, you'll have to schlep its massive 3-pound power brick with you.

AVADirect backs the D900C with a one-year parts-and-labor warranty; upgrading to three years coverage costs a hefty $420. Unfortunately, phone support is not toll-free and is available only from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET Monday through Friday. There's not much support to be found on the company's site, though there are driver downloads and a user forum.

Multimedia Multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Quake 4 performance (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1024x768, HQ, 4xAA, 8X AF  
1280x1024, HQ, 4xAA, 8X AF  
Xtreme 917V Accelerator
AVADirect D900C
Dell XPS M1730

F.E.A.R. performance (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1024x768, SS:on, AA:off, 8X AF  
1280x1024, SS:off, 4X AA, 8X AF  
AVADirect D900C
Dell XPS M1730

DVD Battery Drain test (in minutes)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Find out more about how we test how we test laptops.

System configurations:

AVADirect D900C
Windows Vista Home Home Premium (64-bit); 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E6600; 2,048MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 512MB (x2) Nvidia GeForce Go 7950GTX; 320GB Hitachi 7,200rpm (Intel RAID 0)

Toshiba Satellite X205-SLi3
Windows Vista Home Premium Edition; 2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7500; 2,048MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 256MB (x2) Nvidia GeForce Go 8600M GT; 160GB Hitachi 5,400rpm (x2)

Windows Vista Home Premium Edition; 2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7500; 2,048MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 256MB Nvidia GeForce Go 8600M GT; 160GB Toshiba 5,400rpm

Xtreme 917V Accelerator
Windows Vista Home Ultimate Edition (64-bit); 2.6GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q6700; 4,096MB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz; 512MB (x2) Nvidia GeForce Go 7950GTX; Intel RAID 0 250GB 5,400rpm

Dell XPS M1730
Windows Vista Home Premium Edition; 2.8GHz Intel Core 2 Extreme X7900; 2,048MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 512MB Nvidia GeForce Go 8700M GT; 200GB (x2) RAID 0 7,200rpm

Alienware Area-51 m9750
Windows XP Media Center Edition; 2.33GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7600; 2048MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; Dual 512MB Nvidia GeForce Go 7950GTX; 300GB Seagate 7,200rpm


AVADirect D900C

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 8Performance 8Support 4
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