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rockdirect Xtreme 64 review: rockdirect Xtreme 64

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The Good Cutting-edge graphics card; fast CPU; image quality; full-size keyboard; good range of I/O ports.

The Bad It gets hot and loud during during intensive tasks and it's extremely heavy.

The Bottom Line The Extreme 64 doesn't just hold its own against high-performance desktops, it can outmuscle many of them. But its use of desktop components means it produces substantial noise and heat, and being quite heavy, it's hard to take on the road. If you're prepared to pay the price of portability to get the ultimate in laptop performance, then it's a good investment

8.3 Overall

Review Sections

The rockdirect Xtreme 64 is the first laptop to use a dual-core CPU. In this case it's not the Intel Core Duo mobile processor, but rather the AMD Athlon 64 X2 4800+, which can more commonly be found in high-end desktop PCs. As a result, the Xtreme 64 is geared to provide excellent performance across a wide range of applications and has particularly strong multitasking capabilities.

Not content with giving the laptop the fastest CPU in its class, rockdirect has also crammed in an Nvidia GeForce 7800 GTX Go graphics adaptor, the fastest mobile graphics chip available. It's no secret then, that this laptop is focused squarely on performance, but does its design combine the best of the laptop and desktop worlds, or does its schizophrenic make-up prove a hindrance?

Design
The Xtreme 64 is housed in a Clevo D900-based 397 by 50 by 298mm chassis, a bulky case that seems a popular choice for vendors delivering high-end laptops. It offers a large 17-inch widescreen display, and has plenty of room for accommodating ports, buttons and peripherals. The size of the case and the enormous cooling system inside contribute to the vast 5.5kg weight.

Notably, the laptop uses a full-sized keyboard, complete with a discrete numerical keypad. This is a rare feature on laptops and should benefit anyone wanting to input a high volume of number-based data, such as in a spreadsheet. Just above the keyboard you'll find the usual shortcut buttons for launching a Web browser, mail client and one user-assignable application.

The front edge of the Xtreme 64 has a troupe of buttons for one-touch access to CD playback functions like rewind, fast-forward, pause and play. These functions can be used while the laptop is in its 'off' state, where only the disc drive and speakers are powered up. The blue LED, also on the front panel, displays the time and track number, although not CDDB data such as artist or track name.

To the left side you'll find four USB ports. This is a healthy number, but we'd prefer it if they were more evenly spaced. Being tightly stacked in a two-column orientation means connecting multiple USB devices simultaneously is nigh-on impossible without an extender cable. Next to these ports is a pair of unpowered four-pin FireWire ports, four audio ports for connecting a set of surround-sound speakers (up to seven channels) and an S-video port.

There's not much to speak of on the right-hand side apart from the DVD-rewriter drive, but the thickness of the Xtreme 64 leaves space for a second optical drive to be installed should disc-to-disc copying be a requirement. At the rear, there's a huge vent that partially masks a knot of copper cooling material, which is necessary to help cool the hot-running CPU. The rear of the laptop is also furnished with both digital DVI and analogue D-sub video ports. Finally, there's a component-video output port hidden behind a plastic flap.

Features
The Xtreme 64's most notable feature is its aforementioned dual-core CPU -- an Athlon 64 X2 4800+. This processor isn't designed for mobile use, by any stretch of the imagination, and requires around four times more electrical power than the fastest Pentium M mobile CPU.

The chip has AMD's Cool'N'Quiet technology, but this simply reduces its clock speed to 1GHZ when disconnected from the mains, or when performing undemanding tasks. Run anything more complicated than a Web browser and it'll scale up to the full 2.4GHz, increase the speed (and noise output) of the internal cooling fans and generate a lot of heat.

Heat is dissipated via several ducts including one positioned on the left side of the laptop. As a result, left-handed gamers using an external mouse can expect hot hands. Also, anyone intending to rest the Xtreme 64 on their laps should expect significant warming of the groin area -- which, as amusing as it may sound, is apparently quite dangerous.

rockdirect continues the theme of using the best and fastest components available by installing 1GB of DDR400 memory. Up to 2GB can be installed, which can help games such as Battlefield 2 load slightly faster than normal.

Multimedia file hoarders will be pleased to note the inclusion of a pair of 100GB hard drives. Our review sample had two separate disks, but you can configure the Xtreme 64 to use RAID 0 or RAID 1 disk setups to provide faster file access or instantaneous backups.

The laptop also features an 8x DVD-rewriter drive supporting 'plus' and 'minus' disc formats. This is a dual-layer drive able to write up to 8.5GB of data onto compatible media. You also get an integrated Bluetooth adaptor and a 7-in-1 memory card reader that supports most major formats.

The Xtreme 64's 17-inch screen is a strong part of its arsenal. This has the increasingly common 'X-Glass' coating, which gives it a glossy appearance that enhances brightness and contrast. This coating also gives the screen a highly reflective quality, which can reduce its clarity in some lighting conditions, but in our tests it worked fine in most cases.

For the most part, the panel looks fantastic and its widescreen 1,680x1,050-pixel resolution is perfect for watching DVD movies. It won't run games at anything beyond 1,280x1,024 pixels, but you can buy the Extreme 64 with an optional high-resolution panel that can output 1,980x1,200 pixels for an extra £100.

Performance
Unsurprisingly, the Xtreme 64 is the fastest laptop we've ever reviewed, outpacing the Dell XPS Gen 2 and Alienware Area-51 m5700 in every aspect, barring battery life. It achieved a Sysmark 2004 score of 240, which indicates it's nearly two-and-a-half times quicker than a bog-standard Pentium II 2GHz PC.

Its performance when running games is just as impressive. It achieved a 3DMark 2005 tally of 6,740, and Doom 3 ran at 90 frames per second at a resolution of 1,280x1,024 pixels.

With all that power at its disposal, it's no surprise the Xtreme 64's battery life is quite poor. Don't expect it to last much longer than 15 minutes when not connected to the mains via its enormous power brick.

Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Nick Hide

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