The other major advantage to the M17’s rubberised finish is that it feels great. It provides a secure grip when lifting the notebook, and sweaty palms aren’t much of a problem when typing. The high level of build quality and premium touches, such as a metal blue-backlit power button, continue throughout the machine. The only part where build isn’t exemplary is on the lid, which flexes a tad more than we would like. Still, it certainly looks the part, with the piano black screen bezel on the inside contrasting well with the rest of the notebook’s finish, and the 2.0 Megapixel adjustable webcam being nicely integrated. It’s quite rare to see a webcam featuring tilt on a notebook and this is yet another of those premium elements.
Likewise, there is very little to complain about when it comes to connectivity. On the left there is a memory card reader supporting the usual assortment of SD, SDHC, MMC, MS, MS Pro and xD formats. Beside this are a 54mm ExpressCard slot and a very unusual touch on any notebook: a pin-hole reset button. The notebook’s front is quite clean, sporting only the speakers and, again unusually, the DVD writer (which can be upgraded to a LightScribe model or a Blu-ray drive for £238). To be honest, I found this location much easier than to the side where one would usually expect the optical drive.
Around to the left, there’s a lock slot and good old-fashioned volume wheel. My only gripe is that it takes a while to get between the extremes of volume, but I still prefer it to most other control implementations. Beside this are 3.5mm headphone and microphone jacks, a mini-FireWire port and two USB ports. The latter are spaced far enough apart to fit ‘fat’ memory sticks like my Corsair Voyager without obscuring anything, though oddly enough they’re upside-down, meaning things like indicator lights on inserted gadgets will face your desk.
At the notebook’s back we find the power jack, a further two USB ports (one of which doubles as e-SATA) and a Gigabit Ethernet connection. Audio is superbly catered for by both optical (on the left) and coaxial (on the back) digital audio outs in addition to the 3.5mm jacks. This will let you stream surround sound in its highest quality to an external system.
Video connectivity is the only slight downer, though only if you own a 30in or other extremely high resolution monitor. VGA is of course on board, but having a HDMI v1.2 port as the only digital video output means you can’t output beyond 1,920 x 1,200 unless you revert to using analogue and even then 30in monitor users are left out in the cold since VGA only goes up to 2,048 x 1,536. Only HDMI 1.3, DisplayPort or Dual-Link DVI can output at most 30in screens’ native resolution of 2,560 x 1,600, but none of these connections are present or accessible through adapters.
Getting to usability, again things are positive overall. The touchpad, only slightly recessed and sporting the same finish as its surroundings, is medium-sized and quite responsive – not that you should use it, or indeed any touchpad, for serious PC gaming. It is clearly demarcated on one side by large white arrows, though this does spoil the cohesive look somewhat.
It could have done with being just a bit larger, though after the colossal affair on the MacBook Pro all touchpads seem tiny. Its buttons, meanwhile, consist of a single bar which is separated into left and right zones, with a dead zone in the middle. Not the easiest system ever, but okay once you’re used to it. Beside the touchpad resides a biometric fingerprint scanner discreetly incorporated into the right hand lower corner of the palm rest.
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