Opening the X840 SLI up, its insides are a fetching mix of mirror-finish and matte black. As with the lid though, they’re unlikely to stay looking good for long, and we sincerely wish manufacturers would stop making palm-rests and touchpads glossy! Those who hate shiny bezels will also find little to like, although the borderless screen certainly adds a little style.
Below the mesh hinge is a touch-sensitive strip with several controls, all backlit in blue, white or red depending on their state. On the topic of lighting, the first ‘button’ changes the lid’s backlit Rock logo and two spill lights at the notebook’s front to a variety of colours, including two shades of blue, white, red, purple, green and yellow. Pressing this button once will just cycle quickly through the colours in a continuous loop, giving your super expensive gaming laptop the premium feel of a cheap and underpowered disco ball.
Other controls include a welcome button to turn the integrated webcam on or off, a ‘slow’ mode that will throttle down the machine for longer battery life, separate switches for Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, an Internet shortcut, and an equaliser button to alter the laptop’s sound setup between the usual favourites like Rock, Pop, etc. Also present are a mute button and curved volume bar. Unfortunately, though above-mentioned controls all look okay, they’re an absolute pain to use since they’re about as responsive as a hibernating sloth.
Rock’s isolation keyboard is also a mixed blessing. Despite a small US-style Enter-key, layout and spacing are excellent. Generally the matte keys have a nice feel, good amount of travel and a very positive response. However, the one problem – annoying enough while typing but affecting gamers especially – is the weak space bar. Without a firm hit close to its centre it simply doesn’t register a press, a scenario that can lead to death and frustration in many games.
More’s the pity too, since Rock’s Xtreme 840 also has an – as far as we’re aware – unique ace up its sleeve. Despite the presence of a full number pad, the laptop’s large chassis has allowed room for a dedicated set of macro-programmable gaming keys, marked G1 to G8 and backlit in blue. Admittedly the accompanying GameKey software is really as basic as it gets, but this is still a great feature and should be mandatory on all gaming laptops – after all, every gaming keyboard range worth its salt has been doing it for years.
There’s no backlighting for the keyboard though, so if that’s something you really fancy you’re better off looking at the likes of Alienware’s Gaming laptops. The X840 SLI’s touchpad, on the other hand, is delineated by an attractive blue-backlit strip, but this leads us to the second problem facing those trying to use the machine’s own keyboard and touchpad for gaming. As the touchpad has no surface differentiation from its surroundings it’s impossible to feel when you go past its edges, making the already remote likelihood of being able to use it to play reaction-based cursor games simply unfeasible.
Of course, most prefer an external mouse anyway, but this might not always be an option. At least the touchpad’s buttons, with a fingerprint scanner nestled between them, are not only physically delineated but offer good feedback too.