With Alienware and Voodoo now owned by major PC makers (Dell and HP, respectively), one of the few remaining big independent players in the boutique computer space is Velocity Micro. A name familiar to many, thanks to its shelf space in the Best Buy chain of brick-and-mortar electronics stores, Velocity Micro has long supplied desktops PCs for its retail partner, but only recently has it added a laptop to the mix. The $1,999 NoteMagix L80x Ultra features an Intel Core 2 Duo processor and Nvidia GeForce Go 7600GS graphics, making for a decent midrange gaming system. The caveat of retail computer buying is the fixed configuration; the specs, which include 2GB of RAM and a 100GB hard drive, are set in stone. If you're enamored with this system but want to roll your own, the company offers a customizable version, the Velocity Micro NoteMagix L80 Ultra, via its Web site. If you're looking for serious gaming muscle, the Dell XPS M1710 offers a premium experience at a premium price.
The NoteMagix L80x Ultra is a big system, not as massive as some of the bigger desktop replacements we've seen (such as the hulking Acer Aspire 9800), but it's not something we'd like to carry around every day. At 7.3 pounds, the NoteMagix L80x Ultra is the about the same weight as the Alienware Area-51 m5550. Including the AC adapter, the weight rises to 8.4 pounds.
The system looks nice, with a brushed-aluminum chassis and a small Velocity Micro logo. Our review unit came with a plastic "skin" attached, basically a large sticker that covers the back of the lid. The default skin was red, but blue and black are also available, and despite the lack of a snazzy design, these skins look much better when attached than we expected. Of course, you could just peel it off and keep the bare brushed-metal look.
The interior is black plastic, with a brushed-aluminum trim around the full-size keyboard. Several multimedia hot keys to the left of the keyboard can launch applications, change volume, and so on. The touch pad has a biometric fingerprint reader below it and dedicated vertical scrolling, a must-have feature for easy Web surfing. Ergonomically, the button layout worked well--although some users prefer mouse buttons on top of their touch pad, rather than below.
Wireless access is provided by an integrated 802.11a/b/g Wi-Fi adapter. An Ethernet jack is located on the left side, where you'll also find a PC Card slot, an ExpressCard slot, a mini FireWire jack, and a single USB 2.0 jack. On the right side are two more USB 2.0 jacks, audio jacks, a VGA output and a DVD burner. An SD card reader is on the front panel and a Webcam is built into the lid, right above the screen.
The 1,680x1,050 native resolution of the 15.4-inch wide-screen display offers a similar resolution to what you'd find in a 20- or 21-inch desktop LCD. Screen brightness was excellent throughout our tests, but text may appear small to some at such a high resolution. Since LCDs look best at their native settings, if small text is a problem, consider a laptop with a lower-resolution panel.
While buying retail won't give you any choice in the system's CPU, most users will be more than happy with the Intel Core 2 Duo T7200 processor. While it's not as fast as the T7600 in the customizable version of this system that we looked at recently or as fast as other Core 2 Duo performance systems, such as the Dell XPS M1710, it was significantly faster than the HP Pavilion dv6000 in CNET Labs' Multitasking and Photoshop CS2 tests.
The included Nvidia GeForce Go 7600 GPU has all the current bells and whistles, including support for High Dynamic Range lighting and Nvidia's PureVideo for HD playback. It also gave us a very playable 50.3 frames per second in Quake 4 at 1,024x768.
Battery life was also good, at 3 hours, 16 minute, better than either the Dell or the Alienware Area-51 m5550. The included 9-cell battery sticks out a bit from the rear of the system, but it is your only option for this system.
The Velocity Micro NoteMagix L80x Ultra is covered by a standard one-year parts-and-labor warranty. Normal toll-free telephone support hours are 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. ET on Saturday. During these hours, the company uses onsite techs for phone support. For an additional $59, you can add 24/7 support, which means that during off-hours, you'll be connected to a call center and a Velocity Micro tech will call you back within 15 minutes. Online support resources include FAQs, driver downloads, and a helpful glossary of hardware terms.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)