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WidowPC Sting 517D review: WidowPC Sting 517D

The WidowPC Sting 517D is a unique conversation piece and gaming powerhouse, but it falls flat on battery life and costs a lot more than similarly configured systems from big-name vendors.

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
5 min read
WidowPC Sting 517D

The massive WidowPC Sting 517D is a serious gaming laptop for high-end users who want something different than the standard Dell or Alienware gaming rigs. While the Sting 517D starts at a reasonable $2,195, our review system was tricked out with the advanced CPU and graphics chip upgrades, making this a hefty investment at $4,682. For gaming performance, it goes toe-to-toe with the fastest gaming laptops we've seen, the Dell XPS M1710 and the Gateway NX860XL, although it comes at a steep price (our similarly configured Dell XPS M1710 costs $3,498), making it hard to recommend to anyone lacking deep pockets.


WidowPC Sting 517D

The Good

Solidly constructed; unique design will let you stand out from the rest of the gaming crowd; huge 17-inch display; latest Core 2 Duo CPU and Nvidia graphics chip make it a stellar performer; nifty LED readout.

The Bad

Terrible battery life; very expensive; pricey warranty extensions.

The Bottom Line

The WidowPC Sting 517D is a unique conversation piece and gaming powerhouse, but costs more than similarly configured systems from big-name vendors.

The silver-and-black case is attractive but bulky--the aluminum chassis adds weight but also stiffness, making for a solid, heavy-duty system that feels like it can take a beating. The laptop measures 15.8 inches wide by 11.8 inches deep by 2.0 inches thick, and it weighs 9.4 pounds (nearly 11 pounds with the AC adapter). That's slightly bigger and heavier than the Dell XPS M1710 but slightly smaller and lighter than the Fujitsu LifeBook N6420. Small size differences aside, the Sting 517D falls firmly into the desktop replacement category. As you would with any 17-inch laptop, you'll want to keep the Sting 517D anchored to your desk most of the time. And if you're the kind of gamer who wants a big spider emblazoned on your laptop, you'll be pleased to find a giant WidowPC spider logo on the back of the lid (no, it's not optional).

The Sting 517D provides a full-size keyboard and a separate number pad. The large touch pad has a four-way rocker switch located between the mouse buttons, for scrolling through large documents. A full set of connections are included--four USB 2.0 ports, a mini FireWire port, headphone and mic jacks, a media card reader, and DVI and S-Video outputs. There's a coaxial input for an integrated single-tuner TV tuner (a $125 add-on), and a Webcam sits above the screen. Connectivity hardware includes Gigabit Ethernet and modem jacks, along with integrated 802.11a/b/g and Bluetooth.

The hefty, 17-inch wide-screen display is impressive, and the native resolution of 1,920x1,200 is the higher than your average 21-inch desktop LCD monitor (you can opt for a 1,440x900 display and save $245). The transport controls (play, stop, fast-forward, rewind, and volume) on the front edge make this a good, semiportable entertainment center, and the built-in speakers do a reasonably good job--although for almost $5,000, a next-generation optical drive would have been a nice touch (a standard DVD burner is included). A small LED readout also sits on the front edge, providing a clock and icons that indicate battery level and wireless connectivity.

Our review system is fairly tricked out with upgrades from the base model that nearly double the $2,195 starting price. The upgrades include a 2.3GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7600 CPU ($675), 2GB of DDR2 RAM ($345), a 100GB 7,200rpm hard drive ($165), and Nvidia's latest mobile GPU (graphics processing unit), the GeForce Go 7950 GTX ($335). Stick to the base model, and you'll get a Core 2 Duo T5500, a 40GB hard drive, and a mere 512MB of RAM--unacceptable for a $2,000 system.

In CNET Labs tests of multimedia, iTunes encoding, and Photoshop CS2, the WidowPC Sting 517D was in a dead heat with both the Dell XPS M1710, which also has a Core 2 Duo T7600, and the Gateway NX860XL, which has a slightly slower Core 2 Duo T7400. At this bleeding edge of mobile processors, you're unlikely to see a major performance difference between the top two CPUs. Move down to a Core 2 Duo T7200, however, as in the Fujitsu LifeBook N6420, and you start to see a distinct drop in benchmark scores.

The WidowPC Sting 517D fell a few frames per second behind the Dell XPS M1710 in our Quake 4 test at resolutions of 1,024x768 and 1,280x1,024. Nvidia's GeForce Go 7950 GTX is the current leader in the mobile GPU race, but two gaming laptops with the slightly slower GeForce Go 7900 GS chip, the Gateway NX860XL and the Toshiba Satellite P105-S9722, were only slightly behind, a difference imperceptible to the naked eye. In truth, any of these laptops provide the goods for a solid mobile-gaming experience.

Like most desktop replacement laptops', battery life was not a strong suit for this system. At only 74 minutes in our MobileMark 2005 battery-life test, the WidowPC is unlikely to be very useful on an airplane or, for that matter, on any trip further than a few rooms from your AC adapter. We were surprised, since this is a 12-cell battery, and even the Dell XPS M1710, very similar under the hood, gave us nearly three hours of life. We were especially disappointed, as a serious gaming session would be harder on the battery than our mixed-use test.

The WidowPC Sting 517D comes with a standard one-year parts-and-labor warranty, and a three-year extension will run you $420--a significant premium over the $210 Dell charges for a three-year plan. A 24/7 toll-free support number and e-mail form are available to contact tech support, although the Web site's resources are limited to a single page with a handful of links to video card drivers.

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

Adobe Photoshop CS2 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Adobe Photoshop CS2 image-processing test  

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

Microsoft Office productivity test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Microsoft Office productivity test  

3D gaming performance (in frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Quake 4 1,024x768, 4xAA 8xAF  
Quake 4 1,280x1,024, 4xAA 8xAF  
Dell XPS M1710
WidowPC Sting 517D
Gateway NX860XL

BAPCo MobileMark 2005 battery life (in minutes)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
BAPCo MobileMark 2005 battery life  

Find out more about how we test Windows laptops.

System configurations:

Dell XPS M1710
Windows XP Media Center SP2; 2.33GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7600; 2,048MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 512MB Nvidia GeForce Go 7950 GTX; 100GB Hitachi 7,200rpm SATA/150

Fujitsu LifeBook N6420
Windows XP Media Center SP2; 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7200; 1,024MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 512MB ATI Radeon Mobility X1600; 200GB Fujitsu 4,200rpm SATA/150

Gateway NX860XL
Windows XP Media Center SP2; 2.16GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7400; 2,048MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 256MB Nvidia GeForce Go 7900 GS; 100GB Hitachi 7,200rpm SATA/150

Toshiba Satellite P105-S9722
Windows XP Professional SP2; 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7200; 2,048MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 256MB Nvidia GeForce Go 7900 GS; 200GB Hitachi 4,200rpm SATA/150

WidowPC Sting 517D
Windows XP Professional SP2; 2.33GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7600; 2,048MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 512MB Nvidia GeForce Go 7950 GTX; 100GB Hitachi 5,400rpm SATA/150


WidowPC Sting 517D

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 8Support 4