- Review Price: £1586.00
Back in February I looked at the Rock Xtreme Ti notebook and found it to be the fastest mobile gaming platform available. Now Rock has given me another machine to look at, packing a similar punch, but built into a smaller (but still far from ultra-portable) chassis. The result is that I’ve finally got a machine with a top end graphics card inside it, but using a chassis other than the 17in Clevo that I’ve seen many times before.
The Rock Xtreme XT is admittedly smaller than the 17in Xtreme Ti, but you still wouldn’t want to carry it around with you all day, or use it on the move too much. The reduction in overall size is due to a reduction in the screen size. Instead of a 17in widescreen display, the Xtreme XT sports a 15.4in widescreen display. Personally I prefer the idea of a 15.4in screen, since the 17in version is quite massive – also, Rock has been smart enough to spec the 15.4in screen with the same resolution as the 17in anyway.
Since I’ve already mentioned the screen, I may as well cover it first. The 15.4in widescreen display has a resolution of 1,680 x 1,050, which provides a commendable amount of desktop space in which to work. Of course it can be argued that this machine will only be used for gaming and not working, but I think there is a case to use it for both – obviously just not on the move. Unlike the 17in screen on the Rock Xtreme Ti, this one does not sport Rock’s X-Black coating for improved contrast and more vivid colours. This is a shame, because the coating really does make a difference when playing games. To be fair though, Rock informed me that it could only get the X-Black 15.4in screen with a 1,280 x 768 resolution and made the decision to go with the higher resolution screen without the coating – I think it was the right decision, but hopefully Rock will be able to offer this machine with a 1,680 x 1,050 X-Black screen soon.
As with the 17in Xtreme, there’s a digital camera mounted above the screen, so it you’re into video conferencing, or just like to see who you’re talking to over Skype, it may come in handy. Below the screen you’ll find the power button – complete with blue light of course – and five shortcut buttons. The shortcuts link to your email, web browser, WiFi, Bluetooth and a final button labelled with a TV/camera icon, but which wasn’t assigned to anything.
The keyboard feels very similar to the one in the Xtreme Ti, which is hardly surprising considering that this chassis is also manufactured by Clevo. The keys are a decent size, with the exception of the left Shift key, which is disturbingly small – just like on the 17in chassis. Although there is a little flex in the keyboard when typing at speed, the break and spring back are both solid enough to achieve a fluid typing rate.
Below the keyboard is one of the major disappointments – a round touchpad. Now, I’ve got nothing against inventive design, but a touchpad is something that has a direct impact on the usability of a notebook. The touchpad isn’t completely round, but the enclosure housing the touchpad and the buttons is – so, the touchpad itself is just over half a circle. The upshot is that I kept hitting the edge of the touchpad, where I wouldn’t have done with a standard rectangle device. Below the touchpad are two selector buttons and a scroll wheel – yep, that’s right, a scroll wheel. Instead of a scroll lock button, or even a rocker button, this machine actually has a proper scroll wheel, just like most mice.
Just like the Xtreme Ti, the Xtreme XT has an LCD display at the front and a set of audio controls, allowing you to play music without having to boot into Windows. When not playing music, the LCD display thoughtfully displays the time of day for you. In fact this feature is pretty important on the Xtreme XT, since the integrated speakers are the best I’ve heard on a notebook. Listening to music is more than acceptable with this machine, making it an attractive proposition for someone that needs all their entertainment needs rolled into one device.
On the right hand side is an 8x DVD writer that will burn both DVD+R/RW and DVD-R/RW. There’s also a headphone socket, microphone socket, S/PDIF and line-in port. Added to all that are two USB 2.0 ports, a four-pin FireWire port, a modem socket and the power connector.
On the left is another bay which was populated by a second battery in my review unit, although production versions of the Xtreme XT will ship with a 7-in-1 card reader in the bay as standard. The second bay can also be used for another hard disk, a floppy drive or even a second optical drive. Below the bay is a Type II PC Card slot and a network port for the integrated Gigabit Ethernet controler. Finally there’s an IrDA port and an integrated SD Card slot – in case you choose not to go for the card reader.
At the rear is a DVI port, a parallel port, two USB 2.0 ports, a PS/2 port, an S-Video output and a serial port. So, the Xtreme XT is far from legacy free, but with a chassis this big, you might as well make the most of it.
Taking a look inside the Xtreme XT, you’ll see that this is a slightly lower spec machine than the Xtreme Ti I reviewed previously. There’s a Pentium 4 CPU running at 3.2GHz, backed up by 1GB of memory. There’s a 60GB, 7,200rpm hard disk, and of course, the graphics card. It’s the graphics card that’s the real star of this show, and the ATI Mobility Radeon X800 -complete with 256MB of GDDR3 memory – is still top of the tree when it comes to mobile gaming.
So, how did the Rock Xtreme XT fare in our 3D benchmarks? Well Half-Life 2 turned in some very respectable results, managing over 60fps at 1,600 x 1,200 with no image quality settings enabled. In fact I was able to play Counter Strike: Source at the full, native 1,680 x 1,050 resolution and it was completely smooth and very playable.
The Xtreme XT proved to be faster than its big brother when it came to Doom3, although bizarrely enabling FSAA seemed to have no effect whatsoever to the scores. This is more likely to be an ATI driver issue though, rather than any fault of Rock, since I’ve seen similar situations with ATI desktop graphics cards.
Far Cry proved to be far more demanding for the Xtreme XT than it was for the Xtreme Ti, but this could well be to do with the slower CPU. Looking at the 1,024 x 768 tests, it’s clear that the CPU is the limiting factor, with the all three scores almost identical. Looking at the Xtreme Ti scores, you can see that the extra headroom offered by the faster CPU makes a big difference.
So, performance is definitely impressive, but there is a price to pay for that performance – this is the noisiest notebook I have ever used. I ran the benchmarks over the weekend while I was watching TV, and I could barely hear the dialogue in quiet scenes over the cacophony of fan noise spilling from the Xtreme XT. To be fair, the Xtreme XT isn’t that loud when you’re running Windows, and when you do fire up a 3D game, you’re likely to be either using headphones or have the excellent integrated speakers pumping out loud effects. Nonetheless, the Xtreme XT is definitely guilty of major noise polution.
The Xtreme Ti was feature packed, with its X-black screen and 120GB RAID 0 array trying to tick every box for the hardcore gamer, but it came at a high price. The Xtreme XT isn’t quite as hardcore, but it still produces an impressive turn of speed. But it’s the price that’s the jewel in the Xtreme XT’s crown, undercutting its big brother significantly at £1,585.80.
Looking at the price and the performance of the Xtreme XT, it adds up to an attractive package for the gamer that never wants to be without his rig. With the reduction in size and weight over the Xtreme Ti – 360 x 290 x 60mm and 4.5kg, compared to 397 x 298 x 49.5mm 5.5kg – the Xtreme XT makes that trip to the LAN party a little less of a burden.
Once again Rock has produced a lightning fast gaming notebook, and this time managed to bring it in at an affordable price. Unfortunately the ridiculously noisy cooling fans and the odd shaped touchpad spoil an otherwise impressive package.
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