- Review Price: £1835.00
Just a few years ago, playing games on a laptop was a distant afterthought. Developers were more concerned with boosting processing power and increasing battery life than thinking about 3D graphics and frag counts. But now, as the line between laptop and desktop performance becomes evermore blurry, some developers are beginning to consider the entertainment side. While others, like Voodoo, are obsessing about it.
Voodoo is a Canadian company that specialises in lightning fast gaming machines. Since 1991, Voodoo has built screaming high end desktops, but things have become really interesting now that it’s got its hands on AMD’s latest 64bit mobile processors.
Well, cosmetically Voodoo has got off to an excellent start. The scarlet chassis is striking straight out of the box, and though the M:855 is also available in black, white, orange, yellow, and blue, I think the red would be my first choice. Our review machine also came with a distinctive, nay infamous “Voodoo Tattoo” across the lid (more of later), which drew a number of admiring glances.
At 330 x 43 x 280mm (WxHxD) and weighing in at 3.6kg, the Voodoo is not light, but it’s not excessively heavy either for such a performance orientated machine. In fact, its measurements are almost identical to Evesham’s 64bit machine, the Voyager 64 which we had in the labs towards the end of last year and it’s good to see manufacturers making an effort to keep the size down where possible.
Inside, as expected, Voodoo has gone to town. At the heart of the M:855 is an Athlon 64, 3200+ backed up by 1GB of DDR-333 RAM, and a 60GB Hitachi Travelstar 7,200rpm hard drive. For gamers the M:855 is fitted with an ATI Mobility Radeon 9600 chipset with 64MB of dedicated memory (this has since been upgraded by Voodoo to a 128MB 9600 Pro) and Voodoo’s own Envy SoundBlaster compatible 3D audio chip.
Adding further spice to the party is an almost limitless number of connection options. For dial-up there is the obligatory V.92/V.90 modem, and 10/100Mbit/sec Ethernet for home networks, as well as support for 802.11b and 802.11g WiFi standards. Like any well designed notebook, it features a handy hard switch on the front for turning the wireless adapter on and off. Alongside the wireless switch are FireWire, S/PDIF and microphone ports as well as a 4-in-one memory card reader. At the side and rear you’ll find parallel and serial ports, a Type II PC Card slot and a TV out connector. And being for gamers it comes with four USB2.0 ports for all those extra gamepads.
It’s worth noting at this point that the two-speed DVD writer supplied with our machine has since also been upgraded by Voodoo to incorporate a drive with four-speed DVD+R, 2.4-speed DVD+RW performance. The price at the top of this review includes all upgrades.
So how did it perform? Well, our obvious comparison point for the M:855 is the Voyager 64 which is closely specked, but as we expected, the Voodoo is a specialist machine and it triumphed in the majority of tests.
In PCMark 2002, the CPU scores were relatively close at 6,476 for the M:855 and 6,117 for the Voyager 64, but when it came to memory and hard drive scores, Voodoo’s machine simply blows the opposition away. Its memory score of 7,529 is the highest we have seen so far at TrustedReviews and a hard drive score of 820 is truly remarkable for a laptop hard drive, nearly doubling the Voyager 64’s score of 487. Nothing we have seen elsewhere comes close.
Since the Voyager 64 and M:855 share the same Mobility Radeon 9600 graphics chipset the scores are close in 3DMark 2001SE. The Voyager 64 even slightly edges out the M:855, 10,044 to 9,951 at 1024 x 768 with no anti-aliasing, but with an error margin of 100, little can be read into first and second place here.
Both machines also scored equally well on Mobile Mark 2002, with each notebook lasting just a whisker under three hours, but bear in mind that intensive game play will bring these times down dramatically.
But in our final head to head using SYSmark 2002, the M:855 was again a clear winner banking an overall score of 299 verses 214, with Office Productivity and Internet Content Creation coming in at 222 and 403 respectively against the Voyager 64’s 162 and 283. Once again, these are the highest scores we have seen for any laptop in TrustedReviews.
So how does all of this translate in a real gaming experience? The answer is incredibly well. I found I could run just about anything at 1,280 x 1,024 without the slightest jerk, and even the Unreal Tournament 2004 demo couldn’t trouble the Voodoo when the action got hectic.
The 15in TFT screen also keeps up with the action well. There can be the occasional jerk in gaming environments, but nothing that will spoil the experience or break up the action. On a side note, the 1,400 x 1,050 native resolution in Windows is outstanding.
Back in gaming world, you’ll also be pleased to hear that the keyboard can stand up to a hammering, because Voodoo uses its own design with reinforced keys and throws in a colour coded Logitech optical mouse because, as we all know, a touchpad in these situations isn’t going to cut it.
If I do have one complaint, it’s that the speakers in the M:855 don’t seem any better than those on a standard laptop and the resulting sound is particularly tinny. But once you plug in some headphones, or link to external speakers you’re in for an acoustic treat.
However, when I finally managed to pull myself away from death, carnage and lap records, I did get hit by the reality that this is a very expensive machine. By comparison, you can spec up an Evesham Voyager 64 to similar standards and save nearly £400, though I’ll admit features like the hard drive, keyboard and memory are top quality.
So the question is not whether this is a great laptop, it clearly is. The question is how much do you want this laptop and are you prepared to pay through the nose for it? You can cut some costs, and I said I would come back to it because removing that cool Voodoo Tattoo will save you an incredible £150, but otherwise there’s not that much else that can go. But let’s look at the positive, the M:855 shows what can be done when quality components are used throughout and for any serious mobile gamer it’s the best you can get. Do you have pockets deep enough to fuel your desire for mobile gaming? That’s the £1,834.81 question.
It may not be the cheapest laptop on the market right now, but it is certainly the fastest and it’s an absolute pleasure for any hardcore gamer prepared to splash the cash. Did I mention you get a free T-shirt?
Voodoo sells direct from its website in US Dollars, Canadian Dollars and Euros. All prices quoted in this review represent the Euro price at the current (at time of writing) GBP exchange rate.
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