- Review Price: £1882.82
Rock’s tagline is ‘Ultimate performance gaming laptops and notebooks’ and over the years it’s a claim that the company’s products have convincingly supported. However, it’s been a while since we last looked at one of its top-end gaming machines and, with a brand new model hitting the shelves that features the most powerful mobile graphics chip currently available, we thought it would be a good time to catch up with the company’s wares.
The Xtreme 770, then, is Rock’s latest flagship notebook. Featuring Intel Core 2 Duo processors, nVidia 8700M GT graphics, 17in screens, and 7,200rpm hard drives as standard and with a minimum of 1GB of RAM, these machines are all about size and speed. But, starting at as little as £1,199, they’re also good value and make a good case for a true desktop replacement.
The range is split up into three models dictated by the type of processor sitting inside them. At the bottom of the pile is the X770-T7300, which uses an Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, the middle part is the X770-T7500, and the top end version goes by the name of X770-T7700 (I’ll leave you to guess what CPUs are used by the latter two). Quite why Rock has bothered with three models and not just used one with a choice of CPU, I’m not sure. It just serves to make things more complicated, especially as all the other options, like hard drive size and amount of RAM, are the same for all three. Personally I’d stick with the T7300 and use the money saved to add in more RAM. However, for our review sample we were sent the top of the range X770-T7700, which has 2GB RAM, a 16G0GB hard drive, 1,920 x 1,200 resolution screen, and an HD DVD drive and costs a not insubstantial £1,882.82.
As is common among small local PC and notebook manufacturers, the chassis for the X770 is not made by Rock itself and is actually just a standard OEM design (made by Clevo) that can be used by any number of manufacturers throughout the world. Indeed, you may recall the news story we ran on an Evesham laptop that would feature, funnily enough, nVidia 8700M GT graphics and a black chassis with orange trimming. Well, we weren’t mistaken and in fact both Rock and Evesham are releasing notebooks based on the same design we’re looking at today. The only major difference is Rock has added a brushed aluminium panel on the top whereas Evesham has stuck with the plain black top. Dare I say though, I think the all-black looks better.
The design of the X770, you’ll either love or hate. If you like garish, then it’ll probably by right up your street. If, however, you prefer your kit a bit more understated then you may be disappointed. That said it’s not as bad as MSI’s upcoming gaming laptops and certainly doesn’t make such a bold statement as the Alienware Area-51.
What does seem odd though, is the lack of options for the finish. The fact Rock and Evesham have slightly different finishes shows it’s quite possible for the chassis to be tweaked, so it would be nice if the option was passed onto the customer – just being able to specify the colour of the edge trim would be a start. Then again, it isn’t common to have these options, so it’s not something that should be held against Rock.
Ensuring the weighty screen doesn’t open inadvertently, it is held fast by a pair of sliding clips along the front edge. The left one acts as a lock, with a good push required to open it, while the right one is just a standard spring that opens with the merest flick.
The inside of the X770 is slightly more sedate than the exterior but still features that most depressing of sporty pretension signifiers, faux carbon fibre. It doesn’t actually look bad, but inevitably just screams “I couldn’t afford the real stuff”. Even the strange Artex style motif of the Samsung R20 would have been preferable to this. Equally, the large X daubed on the TouchPad can best be described as cheesy. Admittedly, when combined with the exterior styling, everything does tie in nicely, it’s just that the whole thing seems a little half-hearted, a bit like the standard Renault Clios you see driving around with badly painted body-kits. Next time, a simple sleek black design would probably serve better.
Thankfully, the questionable styling decisions haven’t affected the layout of the interior and the keyboard in particular is a pleasure to use. All the keys are where they should be, none have been squashed up to fit them all in, and all the additional function keys are sensibly positioned. Of, course you’d expect nothing less for such a large laptop but you’ll be surprised how many do get it wrong. The action of the keys is a tad soft, which makes touch typing a little more difficult than on a decent desktop keyboard, but the great layout more than makes up for this shortcoming.
Above the keyboard are a trio of buttons for starting the default email, Internet, and media player applications and a 1.3 megapixel webcam sits above the screen. However, there are no volume and media navigation controls like on the Toshiba Qosmio and Alienware and for such a large chassis I’d expect a little more, especially for the price this top end model demands.
TouchPads seldom fall short of the mark nowadays and the X770’s is no exception. It’s a decent size with a widescreen format to match the display and is sensitive yet accurate. Of course, you also get the usual options for horizontal and vertical scrolling, as well. Below sits the now ubiquitous fingerprint sensor, flanked by the left a right mouse buttons, which can be used for logging into windows and entering all manner of passwords. It’s a bit unnecessary for a gaming laptop but for the security conscious the option is there, and it’s not like it adds significantly to the overall cost.
The X770 offers a choice of either 1,680 x 1,050 and 1,920 x 1,200 resolution screens, with the larger resolution available at a premium of only £42.55, which seems very reasonable. So, combining the higher resolution screen with an optional HD DVD drive, for a much more wallet straining £199, you can enjoy full 1080p video wherever you are. However, as we’ve noted before, the merits of having a very high resolution screen on a gaming laptop are debatable because even though mobile graphics are improving, they still tend not to be powerful enough to play games at the highest settings and resolutions (and you should know by now that using LCD panels at below their native resolution makes them look rubbish). Indeed, without wishing to oversimplify things too much, you could say the choice of screen size really comes down to whether you’ll be watching HD Video or gaming, or if both, which one is more important to you.
Either way, our review sample shipped with the 1,920 x 1,200 screen and it certainly is an impressive display. At the optimal viewing angle, it’s bright and sharp with wonderfully vivid colours, and the X-Glass glossy coating really brings out the dark areas. Moving away from perpendicular, the screen does suffer from the usual darkening, lightening, and colour distortion that all but the best of displays exhibit but it’s still very pleasant to use. Games and video were all coped with admirably and the extra desktop real estate is great for simultaneous word processing and web browsing. In fact, I’ll just out and out say it’s a cracking screen.
Given the x770s ability to playback HD video, it would be a shame for you to be limited to a pair of crummy little speakers to enjoy all that high bit-rate audio. Therefore, it’s good to see a decent four speaker system being employed to keep you entertained. Two subwoofers are on the underside and there’s a tweeter on each of the left and right edges. Together they create quite an impressive surround sound effect when watching movies or playing games. However, unless I was sat next to someone else at the time, I’d be inclined to just use a decent set of headphones.
Speaking of which, along the front you not only get the usual headphone, and microphone mini jack sockets but pleasingly you also get line-in and S/PDIF out, as well. There’s also an inbuilt microphone in the right front corner, so VoIP, in-game chat, and the like will be available from the off. I would have been nice to see a digital output on the back of the device so if you plug your laptop into a HiFi you don’t have cables draped over you desk, but this is a minor quibble.
On the right edge there is an ExpressCard slot, multi-format flash card reader (MemoryStick Pro/Duo, SD, Mini-SD, MMC & RS-MMC), two USB ports, a four-pin Firewire port, Gigabit Ethernet, a software Modem, and the aerial socket for the optional TV tuner, which covers pretty much all your connections in one fell swoop. You’ll find DVI and S-Video connections on the back along with two more USB and a serial port. The left edge is home to only an optical drive and a cable locking point.
So, the X770 is essentially a budget gaming laptop with a simple design and average connectivity and features. What will make or break it is whether that M8700 GT can really keep up with modern day games. So, we put it to task…
To test we started with a couple of older games, the tried and tested Prey and Counter-Strike: Source, and with these the X770 coped pretty well, giving playable framerates right up to 1,920 x 1,200 with 4xAA. Next we fired up Company Of Heroes in DX9 mode and this time found the 8700M GT did struggle a bit but lowering the in-game details just a fraction should sort things out. Trying Company Of Heroes in DX10 proved less successful with wholly unplayable framerates at 1,920 x 1,200, but as I pointed out in my DirectX 10 gaming feature, DX10 performance in CoH is very poor regardless of graphics card. I also tried to manually test with Bioshock but found the game consistently crashed straight after the plane crash. This would seem to be down to the drivers not yet being up to date, as you need to download the drivers direct from Clevo rather than nVidia so there’s obviously some delay in releasing the latest version.
It comes as no surprise, then, that the X770 won’t be competing with a desktop computer equipped with a quad-core CPU and 8800 GTX SLI but for those of us less willing to spend hundreds of pounds on graphics cards alone, it represents a good alternative. Also, as you can see from our 2D benchmarks and PCMark05 results and as I can attest from my own objective experience, overall performance is also very good, with the fast hard drive and 2GB RAM really giving a snap to the machine’s reactions.
The Alienware M9750 does offer better performance in the older DX9 games and also comes with two hard drives. However, it doesn’t have support for future DX10 games and nor does it include an HD DVD drive, yet still costs £600 more. Taking all that into account, I know which I’d rather have.
Battery life is short, at just 83 minutes, but considering the amount of high performance hardware that needs to be powered, I wouldn’t expect much more. And, this isn’t the kind of laptop you’ll never likely being taking anywhere on foot, so you’ll generally always be close to a power source.
The standard software package consists of Roxio Easy Media Creator 7, Microsoft Works 8, and Bullguard anti-virus, which comes with 90-days free virus definition updates. All of which is about the minimum you would expect. The warranty, on the other hand, is a decent three years collect & return, which means you shouldn’t have any hassle keeping your machine in tip-top shape for a good while.
The Rock X770-T7700 is certainly not for everyone, but if you’re looking for a desktop replacement that does everything then you need look no further. HD DVD playback with a screen that supports full 1080p, unparalleled performance, and a very competitive price combine to make this the most compelling gaming laptop we’ve ever seen.
Score in detail