- Review Price: £1009.33
Novatech might not be the first name that springs to mind when you think of high-end gaming laptops, but perhaps it should be. After all, how does a quad core Q9550 processor, dual 8800M GTX SLI graphics and three 200GB 7,200rpm hard drives in RAID 5 sound? Unfortunately, we don’t all have the cash required to get this kind of gaming glory, so today we’re looking at the company’s more modest X50MV Pro Gaming Notebook.
This little machine still sports some fairly drool-worthy specs, among which are a Core 2 Duo P9500 running at 2.53GHz, 320GB 7,200RPM hard drive, a high resolution 1,680 x 1,050 screen and an integrated TV Tuner. Unfortunately, the only thing that doesn’t impress as much is the most important element of any gaming notebook: the graphics card. In this case, you get an NVidia GeForce 9600M GT, which – no matter what the marketing tries to tell you – does not a great gaming card make. Especially considering that even in the desktop sector you need a 9800-series card for good gaming performance. But prejudgements aside, let’s give the X50MV a fighting chance and see how it does.
Novatech’s gaming notebook actually has a fairly rare feature; a 2.5in colour SideShow display integrated in its lid. SideShow was hyped as a potentially big part of Vista: laptops would have a small external screen, which would display things like reminders, date/time/alarms, MP3 track details or cached information while using a minimum of power. The idea was that this would allow for hundreds of hours of battery life while still providing some basic functionality, even including very simple games along the lines of solitaire and PacMan.
However, SideShow hasn’t really caught on so far; this is one of the few notebooks we’ve come across that integrates it and frankly we don’t expect to see any more. Unfortunately, whether you like the idea or can see its potential, Sideshow seems to have died a quick and largely forgotten death, due largely to a lack of commitment and development of it. Thankfully, the good news is that Novatech doesn’t seem to be charging you a premium for SideShow, so at worst it’s a nice/needless extra.
On the downside, the glossy black panel into which the SideShow display and its controls are set doesn’t contrast very nicely with the rest of the machine’s finish. You see, the majority of the X50MV sports what one of the TR team promptly dubbed “the bowling-ball finish”. This is a very accurate description of the impression generated by the blue-grey shiny plastic with sparkly and glittery effects.
On its own the bowling-ball finish looks okay, if you like that sort of thing. It’s where it contrasts with piano-black inserts and the matte black keyboard that the look becomes a bit jarring, while the ugly grey Novatech sticker on the lid doesn’t help things either.
So when it comes to looks, the X50MV is not ugly but at the same time nothing to shout about. Build quality is similarly decent but uninspiring. Overall there’s a little more flex than we’d ideally like to see and, being brutally honest, from some angles it does look and feel a little cheap.
Of course, at just over £1,000 Novatech’s effort is pretty good value for the money for the spec, so this is not exactly unexpected. And there are some nice touches on hand too, such as the screen which appears to transition seamlessly into a piano-black bezel, thanks to a thin plastic screen-cover much like the ones used on HP’s Pavilion range – see: HP Pavilion dv7-101ea.
Another unexpectedly neat touch is Novatech’s driver CD. In fact it’s one of the most user-friendly ones I’ve ever come across; when you insert it, it simply shows a panel of icons representing various components. When you click on one of these it installs the relevant driver, simple as can be. This is very neat, though some contextual text to explain what each icon stands for might be useful to save confusion among the less computer literate.
The X50MV doesn’t skimp too badly when it comes to connectivity either, with the only notable and admittedly quite regrettable absentee being e-SATA. At least everything is easily accessible along the laptop’s sides and ports are logically grouped together, meaning you’ll find modem and Ethernet jacks next to each other rather than at opposite ends of the machine.
On the left, then, there is a lock slot, VGA and HDMI, the aforementioned modem and Ethernet ports, followed by a single USB 2.0 and mini-FireWire port. Next to this, stacked neatly above each other, are a 5-in-1 memory card reader (supporting all variants of SD, MMC, xD and MS) and 34mm ExpressCard slot rather than the more usual 54mm one.
Along the right are 3.5mm audio jacks for headphone and microphone, a further three USB ports, the power jack and of course a DVD-writer (which can be upgraded to a Blu-ray drive for £176). The front houses an IR port which accommodates the included remote, or indeed any of the Windows Media remotes widely available.
This model is silver, which aesthetically doesn’t match the laptop at all and is hardly the picture of elegance. Also, though it’s a larger remote which doesn’t slot into the machine, it still uses one of those difficult to get cell batteries that can’t be replaced with a rechargeable one. At least the buttons are large, colour coded, fairly comfortable and logically laid out. And a good thing too, since this remote will likely see a fair bit of use, considering the Novatech X50MV Pro Gaming Notebook has a DVB-T TV tuner built in. Consequently, the only connection at the machine’s back is a miniscule antenna jack, which fits the small plastic antenna included.
Getting on with usability, the keyboard is actually quite good. Its matte keys feel nice and are just the right size. Response is also good, with plenty of travel and that all-important click when depressed. Unfortunately, the old bugbear of the Function key being on the outside of Ctrl raises its head again, and after coming across it only recently with the Medion Akoya S5610, I’m starting to fear it will never die.
On the upside, the touchpad is very large and has a pleasant matte surface. But on the other hand it’s not the most responsive and its surface shows finger-grease very easily. Its two buttons feature the same surface and are just the slightest bit stiff, though once you get past that they provide positive response.
Shortcut keys in a small piano-black panel above the keyboard are incredibly responsive, although this is one of the areas of the notebook where build quality is worst with noticeable flex when pressurised.
Speaking of worst, the X50MV’s 1.5W speakers qualify for an award in this category. They’re underpowered and tinny, making most male voice work and song lyrics sound like they’re being produced by nasally afflicted twelve-year olds. That they’re facing down probably doesn’t help much either and given this is an area we’ve seen much improvement over the last year, this is something that severely hampers the M50V’s credentials.
Fortunately, when we get to the high resolution 1,680 x 1,050 screen it’s a different story. Indeed, this is among the better screens you’ll find in a 15.4in notebook. Greyscale performance was far stronger than on most, with only the subtlest whites getting lost even on the lowest brightness setting. This lent films and games a level of dark detail one often ends up missing on a notebook.
Continuing the strong performance, colour gradients displayed absolutely no banding whatsoever and light bleed was so minimal as to be almost unnoticeable. Colours were vibrant without being over-saturated and text appeared razor-sharp.
Best of all, all this screen goodness can be enjoyed with friends or loved ones, thanks to some fairly decent viewing angles. They’re not perfect, mind you, but then we’ve yet to find a notebook screen whose viewing angles are. To be honest, the display’s only real failing is one it has in common with almost every consumer laptop on the planet; a distracting degree of reflectivity.
So can you make use of this wonderful screen for some serious gaming? Having previously mentioned the graphics card to be a bit underpowered, let’s put that into a real world context: In Call of Duty 4 the 9600GT did deliver a playable 30FPS average (with 20FPS minimum) at the screen’s native 1,680 x 1,050 resolution with details set to medium and no anti-aliasing or anisotropic filtering. In other words, most modern games will run if you’re willing to make compromises. Just don’t even bother trying to play Crysis.
As far as the rest of the internals go, as mentioned at the beginning of this review they’re pretty impressive. A Core 2 Duo P9500 is one of the fastest non-extreme Core 2 mobile chips available, running at 2.53GHz while the range tops out at 2.80, but it still retains a frugal 25W thermal envelope. This is backed by 4GB of DDR2 memory rather than the newer DDR3, but DDR3 still demands premiums that far outweigh its minor performance benefits, so this is a good choice. Keep in mind the installed version of Windows Vista Premium is 32bit, so not all this RAM will be accessible unless you install a 64bit operating system.
A capacious 320GB hard drive is also a cut above what you would find on most notebooks, being a 7,200rpm model rather than the usual 5,400rpm. As you can see in our PCMark Vantage charts, this results in a 25 per cent advantage in the hard drive benchmark compared to the Dell Studio 15 and its 5,400rpm drive. And though synthetic tests aren’t always indicative of real-world performance, the superior hard drive certainly helps Novatech’s machine in keeping up with the far more expensive Alienware Area 51 m15x. In fact, just how close the performance results are between these two notebooks is even more astounding when you consider that Alienware’s beast packs a Core 2 Extreme X9000.
Draft-n Wi-Fi is also on board courtesy of Intel’s Centrino 2 802.11 chipset and Bluetooth 2.0 completes the Novatech’s wireless credentials. Other features include the inevitable 1.3 Megapixel webcam and a microphone awkwardly located below and to the left of the keyboard. As far as software goes, there’s only the bare minimum here, but many gamers will actually appreciate the clean windows install; the only pre-installed software being a trial version of Microsoft Office 2007.
So overall, is Novatech’s X50MV Pro Gaming Notebook worth buying at £1,009.33? Considering that an equivalently-specified laptop from the likes of Alienware will set you back by at least £1,600, it can initially be difficult to see why you should pay more than a third extra just for a premium brand name and custom casing.
However, the one major weakness of the X50MV Pro is its battery life. The six-cell 4,400mAh battery doesn’t put in a very good performance. In fact, it’s pretty abysmal, with the notebook only managing a paltry 84 minutes in our DVD battery test – not even enough to watch a decent-length film.
What it boils down to then, is that if you want a desktop replacement with a TV tuner and an excellent screen, capable of handling light gaming and absolutely powering through everything else, the Novatech X50MV Pro is worth considering. If you just want a competent and more versatile notebook, £1,030 will buy you a Dell Studio 15 with a slower hard drive and Mobility Radeon HD 3450, but featuring a Full HD 1,920 x 1,200 15.4in panel, Blu-ray drive and 9-cell battery. And if you’re willing to live with an extra inch or two, Acer also offers some compelling alternatives with its range of Aspire Gemstone Blue machines.
Novatech’s X50MV Pro Gaming Notebook is a speed demon in everything except games, where it’s held back by a relatively weak GeForce 9600M GT graphics chip. If this suits your requirements, it’s pretty good value (especially with the outstanding high resolution screen), but its poor battery life makes it more of a desktop replacement.
Score in detail