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Voodoo Envy M:152 review: Voodoo Envy M:152

Voodoo Envy M:152

Dan Ackerman Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming
Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times
Expertise I've been testing and reviewing computer and gaming hardware for over 20 years, covering every console launch since the Dreamcast and every MacBook...ever. Credentials
  • Author of the award-winning, NY Times-reviewed nonfiction book The Tetris Effect; Longtime consumer technology expert for CBS Mornings
Dan Ackerman
7 min read

Conventional wisdom says that a decent mobile gaming experience requires a massive 17-inch laptop, which can weigh in at an arm-crushing 10 pounds or more. If you've been searching for a powerful laptop that can play today's 3D games at a relatively high resolution but is also reasonably portable, you've probably discovered rather quickly that your options are limited--restricted to a handful of rare 15-inch gaming systems (such as the Asus G1) or finding a lower-end laptop that offers the requisite upgrade options. We're sure the 15-inch hard-core gaming market isn't huge, but it's big enough to warrant the first new laptop we've seen from boutique maker Voodoo PC since its acquisition by HP.


Voodoo Envy M:152

The Good

Custom paint job helps it stand out in a crowd; rare 15-inch gaming laptop that offers reasonable portability and high performance.

The Bad

Expensive (especially paint options); merely average gaming scores; no video card options.

The Bottom Line

Voodoo's Envy M:152 is one of the only 15-inch gaming laptops out there, but we wish its high-end fit and finish was matched by better gaming scores. It's hard to justify the price premium unless you're looking for custom-painted showcase of a laptop.

The $4,602 (the "Limited Edition Seasonal Tones" paint job adds a ridiculous $1,075) Voodoo Envy M:152 isn't as highly designed as the recent HP Voodoo Blackbird 002 desktop, but it's still an impressive-looking laptop. While the fit and finish are excellent, and most of the components are top-notch, we were a bit surprised to find an Nvidia GeForce 8600 video chip inside--perfectly adequate, but not the top of the line for gaming (although it does support DirectX 10). The lack of graphics options may scare off hard-core gamers, and the prices charged for custom painting and shipping may discourage others.

Compared with the other big PC born of the HP/Voodoo merger, the Blackbird 002, the Envy M:152 isn't nearly as high-tech looking. In fact, it's a fairly standard 15-inch laptop chassis, set apart by an automotive-style paint job. Ours was a muted Moroccan Blue (one of the 11 "Limited Edition Seasonal Tones" that add a hefty $1,075 to the price; there are 11 "Classic Voodoo Tones" that are somewhat more reasonable, priced at either $660 or $817). A small silver Voodoo Envy logo is set on the back of the lid, but otherwise the branding is refreshingly subtle. Voodoo doesn't offer overclocking on the Envy M:152, so you had better really be into custom painting in order to justify its high price. If your sense of style won't suffer by shopping off the rack, the Dell XPS M1730 is a much better value. For example, our M1730 serves up (albeit in a larger 17-inch package) a better processor and graphics and much more hard drive space for roughly $1,000 less. Plus, Voodoo charges $145 to ship in North America.

The black keyboard and touchpad contrast nicely with the dark blue keyboard tray, and the uncluttered interior has a fingerprint reader, power button and a few touch-sensitive quick-launch buttons, including buttons for opening Web browsers and e-mail programs, plus a mute button. A Webcam sits above the display, but there are none of the other gamer-centric extras we've seen on other gaming laptops, such as the secondary displays and illuminated vents on the Dell XPS m1730. Choosing a smaller 15-inch chassis also means you forgo the separate number pad that is commonly found on 17-inch models.

The 15.4-inch wide-screen LCD display offers a 1,680x1,050 native resolution, which is higher than the more common 1,290x800 we usually see in 15-inch laptops. The higher resolution is the same as most 21-inch desktop LCD monitors and comes in handy for gaming, viewing HD videos (although just shy of 1080p resolution) and even working on large Photoshop files. Still, it's a notch lower than the 1,920x1,200 resolution that a 17-inch laptop like the Alienware Area-51 m9750 or the Dell XPS M1730 offer.

There are few surprises in the Envy M:152's ports and connections. About the only thing we would have liked to see is a DVI output (instead of analog VGA), which is fairly standard on larger 17-inch gaming systems. Voodoo offers an external TV tuner as an $183 option, but other than that the connections are set in stone.

For a high-end Voodoo laptop, we were a bit surprised at the lack of configuration options in certain areas. The CPU choices are excellent, going all the way up to an Intel Core 2 Extreme X7800 ($335 more than our T7700), but the only GPU offered is the Nvidia GeForce Go 8600GT. At least that's a DirectX 10 compatible card, but you won't find GeForce 8700 cards offered as in the Dell XPS M1730. Likewise, you're not given the option to double up on the graphics a la SLI, although we doubt a two-card configuration would fit inside the 15-inch chassis. On the software side, we're please to see Windows XP offered; our review unit came with Vista Ultimate.

That doesn't mean that the Voodoo Envy M:152 isn't a powerful machine. With a 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7700 CPU, it holds its own against high-end gaming systems, such as the Dell XPS M1730 (with an Intel Core 2 Extreme X7900) and the Alienware m9750 (with an Intel Core 2 Duo T7600). In anecdotal use, the Envy was blazingly fast, but we wouldn't expect anything less from a modern Core 2 Duo system.

Voodoo may be known for its top-notch gaming systems, but the Envy M:152 isn't the fastest gaming laptop we've seen, as it's locked into a single Nvidia 8600 GPU--while larger 17-inch systems from Dell, Alienware, and other vendors offer twin SLI GPUs, or faster single-GPU options. The system offered decent frame rates in slightly older games such as Quake 4 and FEAR, but it took significant in-game option tweaking to get playable performance out of the new Crysis single-player demo. Installing Nvidia's latest beta drivers (which aren't officially supported for laptop GPUs yet) helped the situation somewhat, and we were able to play at 1,024x768, with most of the in-game graphics options turned to medium.

The Voodoo Envy M:152 ran for 2 hours and 36 minutes on our DVD battery drain test, using the included battery. That's merely average for a 15-inch laptop, but compared with other high-end gaming systems, it's impressive--the Dell XPS m1730 ran for less than 90 minutes in the same test. Bear in mind that our DVD battery drain test is especially grueling, so you can expect longer life from casual Web surfing and office use.

Voodoo includes an industry-standard one-year parts-and-labor warranty with the system, but telephone support for unmodified hardware and software is offered for the lifetime of the system, at Voodoo's "sole discretion." Upgrading to a three-year mail-in plan will cost an extra $254, and support is accessible through a toll-free phone line (Monday to Friday 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. PT) and tech support e-mail, but standard online extras, such as an online knowledge base or driver downloads are nowhere to be found.

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Voodoo Envy M:152

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Voodoo Envy M:152

Quake 4 performance (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1024x768, 4xAA, 8X AF  
Voodoo Envy M:152

F.E.A.R. performance (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1024x768, SS:on, AA:off, 8X AF  
Voodoo Envy M:152

DVD battery drain test (in minutes)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Voodoo Envy M:152

Find out more about how we test laptops.

Voodoo Envy M:152
Windows Vista Ultimate Edition; 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7700; 2048MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 512MB NVIDIA GeForce 8600M GT; 160GB Seagate Momentus 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

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

HP Pavilion HDX
Windows Vista Home Ultimate Edition (64-bit); 2.6GHz Intel Core 2 Extreme X7800; 4,098MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 256MB ATI HD2600-XT; 100GB Hitachi 7,200rpm / 100GB Seagate 7,200rpm


Voodoo Envy M:152

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 6Performance 7Battery 7Support 6