We just don't know what happened. When we reviewed a $999 configuration of the Systemax Pursuit 4155 running Windows XP earlier this year (which is still available on TigerDirect), it had a strong set of features and a Core 2 Duo processor that delivered solid performance. But the Windows Vista Ultimate version of the Pursuit 4155 that recently came round our offices is much changed. Gone are the DVD burner, the Core 2 Duo processor, and the competitive performance. Instead, the Pursuit 4155 now comes stocked with a previous-generation Core Duo processor that just can't keep up, especially when it comes to multitasking and multithreaded applications. And yet the price remains the same. Lest we seem too negative, the Systemax Pursuit 4155 does retain some of desirable features; its gorgeous display is still great for watching movies, and we appreciate the built-in Webcam. And for what it's worth, the Pursuit 4155 is one of the least expensive Vista Ultimate laptops we've seen. But in the end it comes down to value for your dollar, and the Lenovo 3000 N100 and the Dell Inspiron E1505 both offer similar features and current-generation components for the same price. In this configuration at least, the Systemax Pursuit 4155 just isn't a good buy.
Both the XP and the Vista versions of the Systemax Pursuit 4155 have the same sturdy chassis. Better suited to a desk than an airplane tray table--it measures 14.3 inches wide, 10.4 inches deep, and 1.5 inches thick--the Systemax is nevertheless of average size for a laptop with a 15.4-inch display. The Lenovo 3000 N100 (configured with the 15.4-inch-screen option) and the Dell Inspiron E1505 have similar footprints. When it comes to weight, the Systemax is likewise average for a midsize laptop; it weighs 6.3 pounds alone and 7.4 with its compact AC adapter.
We still love the Systemax Pursuit 4155's 15.4-inch wide-screen display. The 1,280x800 native resolution results in crisp graphics and images, especially for DVD playback. The screen is also remarkably bright (209 cd/m² in our Labs test), and its glossy coating makes colors pop without being annoyingly reflective. Above the display sits a 1.3-megapixel Webcam and an accompanying microphone; image and sound quality weren't tops, but we thought them sufficient for video chats and Web conferencing. We particularly like the handy cover that slides over the Webcam when it's not in use.
One aspect of the Systemax Pursuit 4155 that does feel cheap is its keyboard. Its shallow key travel produced finger fatigue after typing for long stretches. And though the keyboard feels more stable than those we've found on other superbudget models, it makes the fluttery sound of rattling plastic while you're typing, which is both annoying and not a problem you'll have with the Lenovo 3000 N100 or the Dell Inspiron E1505. The laptop's touch pad and mouse buttons, however, are of decent size and comfortable to use. We appreciate the pad's vertical scroll zone, though it wasn't always responsive. Above the keyboard sits a stylish, reflective band that forms the backdrop for four programmable application launch buttons. Because we wanted to watch so many DVDs on that beautiful screen, we were disappointed that the Systemax Pursuit 4155 lacks dedicated multimedia controls, forcing you to use Function keys even to control volume. Speaking of volume, the laptop's stereo speakers sounded OK at low levels, but sound became muddy and distorted when we turned it up.
The Systemax Pursuit 4155's case includes the standard ports and connections for a budget system, though we were disappointed by the lack of a DVD burner. You do get VGA, S-Video, mini-FireWire, and three USB 2.0 ports (two side-by-side) along with headphone and microphone jacks. For networking there are modem, Ethernet, and 802.11 a/b/g Wi-Fi connectivity. In a nice touch, Systemax includes both a Type II PC Card slot and a slot for the latest ExpressCards. The features are rounded out with a four-in-one flash card reader (SecureDigital, MemoryStick/Pro, MultiMediaCard) and a CD-RW drive.
Our Systemax Pursuit 4155 review unit cost $999. That sounded like a low price, until we realized it includes only a previous-generation Intel Core Duo T2250 (1.73GHz) processor, which was surprising, considering that the Windows XP-based configuration of the Pursuit 4155 we reviewed earlier this year included a Core 2 Duo processor for the same price. Other components in this "update" include 1GB of middling 533MHz RAM, Mobile Intel Express 945GM integrated graphics, and a 60GB hard drive spinning at 5,400rpm (the older XP-based Pursuit 4155 had a larger, 80GB drive). By way of comparison, a Dell Inspiron E1505 with a slightly faster processor (1.86GHz) and an otherwise identical configuration costs $938 on Dell.com (though that depends on a $200 "instant discount" that may or may not be permanent). The same money goes further at Lenovo, where a $999 configuration of the Lenovo 3000 N100 includes a 1.86GHz Core Duo T2350 processor; a massive, 120GB hard drive; and a DVD burner, though the only operating system available for that configuration is Windows Vista Home Premium.
Given the Systemax Pursuit 4155's previous-generation processor, we had trouble finding equally configured competitors for CNET Labs' performance benchmarks. When we looked at it in relation to the $929 Lenovo 3000 N100, the comparison wasn't quite apples to apples: the Lenovo has a Core 2 Duo processor with a slower clock speed, half the RAM, and Windows XP for an operating system. Still, though the Systemax ran 14 percent faster than the Lenovo on our Photoshop test (which could be attributed in part to the Lenovo's smaller allotment of RAM), it trailed the Lenovo by 10 percent on the processor-intensive iTunes test and by nearly 30 percent on our Office productivity test. We also looked at a $999 Toshiba Tecra A8 that was identical to the Systemax, save its current-generation 1.66GHz Core 2 Duo T5500 processor and different version of Windows Vista . With the newer processor, the Tecra A8 performed better than the Systemax Pursuit 4155 on all our benchmarks, with the most dramatic differences surfacing on our Multimedia multitasking and Photoshop tests--hardly surprising, given that (all other components being equal) Core 2 Duo processors are designed to handle multithreaded applications and multitasking more efficiently than their Core Duo predecessors. While the test results indicate the Systemax Pursuit 4155's performance would suffice for typical home users, we can't recommend purchasing a laptop with previous-generation technology when the current generation can be had at the same price.
The Systemax Pursuit 4155 was more competitive when it came to battery life, lasting 2 hours, 18 minutes in our resource-intensive DVD battery drain tests (you can expect longer life during typical Windows use). That's about average for a system of this size and 35 minutes longer than the life of the Tecra A8's slightly smaller battery. The Dell Inspiron E1505 held out slightly longer than the Systemax, but it also had a much larger battery.
Systemax backs the Pursuit 4155 with an industry-standard one-year warranty that covers parts and labor. Support is available via a toll-free number or through the easily navigable SupportForYourPC.com site. You also have the option of e-mailing a support representative for help. Warranty upgrades are reasonably priced, starting at $170 for an additional year of support.
Find out more about how we test laptops.
Dell Inspiron E1505
Windows Vista Home Premium; 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7200; 2,048MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 256MB ATI Mobility Radeon x1400; 100GB Hitachi 7,200rpm SATA/150
Lenovo 3000 N100
Windows XP Professional SP2; 1.66GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5500; 512MB DDR2 SDRAM 664MHz; 128 Mobile Intel Express 945GM; 80GB Hitachi 5,400rpm SATA/150
Systemax Pursuit 4155 (Vista Ultimate)
Windows Vista Ultimate Edition: 1.73GHz Intel Core Duo T2250; 1,024MB DDR2 SDRAM 533MHz; 64MB Mobile Intel 945GM/GU Express; 60GB Western Digital 5,400rpm SATA/150
Toshiba Tecra A8-EZ8512
Windows Vista Business Edition; 1.66GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5500; 1,024MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 224MB Mobile Intel Express 945GM; 80GB Fujitsu 5,400rpm SATA/150