When you get the chance all the time to look at cases, power supplies video cards and other components used for building a computer it is easy to sometimes forget about the everyday devices that can make the experience better. When it comes to laptops one such device is the laptop cooler.
A cooler is important because people seem to have forgotten that laptops were not designed with the intent of being used for long stretches at a time. Do not get me wrong, they do the job but they are not designed for removing the waste heat of the system efficiently and this can lead to the computer literally burning itself out. For this reason I always suggest that if your laptop is also your primary PC, make sure you have a cooler under it to help keep the heat down.
With that in mind, I stumbled across this Rosewill cooler the other day in a local computer shop. My daughter’s laptop cooler had died and she needed a new one and with a price of $20 it was worth taking a look at. Rosewill is the house brand for Newegg and this cooler along with a larger version are available on their site.
When I opened the box the first think I noticed was, unlike most laptop coolers, this one was made of aluminum. Now I am not talking one or two pieces but rather the entire body is made from aluminum. This makes this cooler very strong and surprisingly light weight. As you can see the cooler has a cut out region in the body where your laptop will sit. This means the laptop sits securely on the cooler and does not slide around it.
Also notice the front bevel of the cooler, it is large and has a nice angle to it. This creates an artificial wrist rest for when you are typing. The Aluminum has been finished nicely and has that soft metallic feel you get from a well made aluminum part. Included with the cooler is a booklet, USB connection cable and 4 stickers of rubberized feet. You have to put these on but it is really simple and once in place they stick well. They also absorb any vibration from the fan to reduce noise and keep the cooler from sliding around the desk.
Flipping the cooler over we see the heart of the cooler, a 200mm blue LED fan. This fan is typical plastic in its construction and does a good job of moving a good amount of air without generating a lot of noise. The aluminum body will protect it from getting bumped when it is one the desk but the open back design does mean you risk breaking the fans blades. The result is a great cooling unit when on a desk but not one I would want to travel much with. This will also not work well on a soft surface, say a lap, it is definitely made with a desk or table in mind.
On the back we have two USB ports, one is connected to your PC with the included USB to USB cable and the other offers a pass through so you so not lose a USB port. I am not sure I like this design. The cable has the same kind of USB end on both sides and this means it is far from a typical cable. That means if you lose your cable for the cooler you might not find it easy to replace it. Also, while the idea of a pass through might sound good, in truth it is not needed. The back of the cooler is an awkward place to reach to plug in a USB device.
Next to both ports is a power switch if for some reason you would want to turn off the cooler. Considering how quiet this cooler is there is really no need to do this. The fan does have blue LEDs but even without a laptop on the cooler the blue light is not bright, is has a nice dim glow to it. With the laptop on the cooler it is hard to see it is on at all.
When we brought this cooler home my daughters laptop would get so hot to the touch near the HD, and CPU/Battery area that it was hard to keep your hand on it. I mean it was HOT, not warm. I let the laptop sit for 2 hours to be sure it was cool and then set the system on the cooler and fired it up. I wanted to stress the system, something we had not really done at first, so I loaded up some stressing software and let it run. Two hours later everything was still running perfectly and while the laptop was warm to the touch at no point could I saw it was hot. There was a noticeable cool down from previous operations.
With it’s nicely finished, all aluminum body this cooler will look great on your desk with your laptop on it. The fan is super quiet and the blue glow is hardly noticeable. Best of all it will do a great job at cooling your laptop. For $20, if you are using a laptop as a full time PC then this is a great buy.
The personal computer era has been around for a while, for those that have missed the memo, and during that time the consumers have had very little say in the direction this industry has headed. What I mean by that is that we, as consumers did not get a say as to when advancements were needed or even wanted. We would make our purchase and suddenly 6 months to a year later find out that we “needed” to buy again. The good news for consumers however, is that over the last couple of years that has changed. The technology has been forced to slow down by more clearly defined consumer demands and software jumping off the hardware bandwagon and working with consumers instead of hardware companies to figure out what the next product needs to have.
The good news is many of the tech companies out there have figure out this shift in the way business is done and have begun to adapt. They have changed the business model from telling consumers what they want to instead listing to what consumers want. However a few old die-hards have decided that they know best and we should listen to them, drink what they tell us as it were.
We can see some of this in todays offerings for consumer level computers. We could start with Apple and spend the entire article there, this is basically their business model and always has been. However I think we should instead focus on Microsoft. Windows 8 is an old story so I am not going to spend a lot of time talking about the OS itself. I have covered that pretty well I think and if you missed the three articles I did on it feel free to browse the archives and read them. However I will focus on their efforts to change the way we look at a computer.
Now let me explain this a bit before I make my point. You see Microsoft has always made an effort to help define the image of a what people see as a personal computer. It was after all in their best interest to exercise some level of control in this area. However up until recently that control has been a quiet guiding hand. To use the popular phrase, they led us to water but never forced us to drink. That however has begun to change.
Microsoft has launched a number of sites that are supposed to be designed to help the lay people, such as many of you, make a good choice when it comes to getting a new PC. On the surface this sounds like a great idea, something to help people see the choices they have and help them make solid decisions. We do this all the time on the show and people find it helpful. That would be good it did offer real choices. Every one of these setups I have looked at only offer laptops, tablets or all in one systems. Now this would not be bad except many of these recommendations are being listed as good for gaming. NONE of the recommendations I saw would make a good gaming PC for any but the most casual gamer. Also what about other form factors?
Thing this is just because of the move to Windows 8? You would be wrong, this started before that. Go back and look at the various Windows commercials were Microsoft talks about helping people buy a new PC. Every one of them were laptop and all in one models. You did not even seen an HTPC or tower configuration system in the videos.
One of the things I have always loved about the PC and the PC world is the freedom of choice. You can have a PC that is HUGE or tiny. One that is designed for pure hard core gaming or design for only light web browsing. Companies would offer us a range of choices, often to our dismay because we had so many but still we had choices. Over the years as the focus has shifted from hardware to software we have seen those choices diminish, not in a bad way. We have found that the budget system, at least the cost of it we used to pay, now buys us a more powerful machine. This has caused some overlap in the type of PC we buy but that is a natural progression. A natural change to the way we see PCs might not be something we like but I for one can accept it. However when we see companies that have traditionally let the market direct the path with them offering gentle nudges, switch to heavy handed tactics of forcing a direction, this is a problem to me.
Is our hobby moving to smaller form factors, well of course it is, I mean why do you think our build series is looking at ITX designs? However we can make this move in a way that does not limit our choices. Small Form factor of today is not the same as yesterday. Heck even yesterday was not that bad. Back in 2008 when enthusiasts said you needed a full tower to build a “real” gaming rig, I did a build we called the Itsy Bitsy Might Spider. This was a full powered gaming rig built in a micro ATX case. Now we see the move to even smaller, but the key here is that we can make this move without making a sacrifice. That is not the choice given to us today by some in the industry.
This of course is all my opinion and I would love to hear your opinions on this subject. Email in your comments or post them here under comments for this entry. Any comments of course might be used on the air for further discussion on this topic.
We have had the discussion on the show more than once about gaming laptops and even a few listener requests to talk about them. So when Dell and Alienware offered us the chance to take a high end gaming laptop for a test spin we jumped at the chance. Equipped with an Intel i7m processor and a nVidia GTX 680M for video this brute packs a punch and is at the upper end of laptop performance.
The outside of the laptop is covered is a rubberized coating that is super durable, non skid and after over a month of testing does not show wear easily. This coating gives the laptop a kind of stealth fighter look from the outside. From the outside you also become aware of the size of this brute. While this might be technically a laptop it is hard to imagine that word fitting this product accurately. Pushing the scales at almost 13 pounds this brute is less portable and more luggable.
Opening the laptop we are treated to a large 17” display, that has arguably the best screen I have ever seen on a laptop for image quality. In fact it looks nicer than many desktop monitors I have seen over the years. These cell phone pictures I took yesterday for this article do not do the display justice. With a 1080 resolution this screen demands movies and high ending gaming on it. Despite what the flash did for the picture, this display is actually really good about not having glare. In fact the bevel around the display, a glossy back, causes more glare than the screen.
The keyboard is fully backlit and is actually divided into three zones that can be individually lit. In fact all of the lighting can be modified thanks to Alienware’s software package that give you complete customization of the bling on this beast. The lighting goes even further with the software sensing a number of games and changing the lighting automatically when events within the games occur.
Once you get past the bling the keyboard is a very nice membrane design with a real effort made to give the membrane some quality in the response, the result is a serious cut above the typical laptop keyboard and equal to many quality desktop keyboards. It has a full number pad and while still using a chiclets square design that is typical for laptops, it is large and open enough to make this a none issue.
The touchpad has a rubberized feel to it and is not slick but not sticky at the same time, if that makes sense. It really must be used to understand what I mean. While still not as nice as a mouse for moving around the screen it is very serviceable for day to day use.
Alienware did not put all the bling however in the looks of this laptop. For sound they put in a SoundBlaster Recon3D and let that power a pair of speakers produced by Klipsch. The result is the best sound I have ever heard from a laptop. Other companies have tried various combinations of sound and speakers and used some big names to do it but they sound like crap compared to this setup. However even the mighty folks at Klipsch cannot produce great speakers this small and stay reasonably priced. So while the sound is really good the audiophile in us wants more. To accommodate us they put two headphone jacks on the side for sharing the sound, we put them to use with our Draco signature headphones and were suitably impressed. The sound was deep and rich in music and movie playback.
When it comes to gaming machines one of the things I love is tinkering with them. Adding more RAM and maybe more HD space or even an SSD is something we all think about. Alienware made sure that there was an upgrade path for you and it was easy to reach. The back panel uses a slide on system like a computer case side panel and is held in place by two screws under the battery. Pop those screws and the back slides off the reveal the system RAM, two HD cages, only one occupied in our system and the serious effort Alienware has made to cool this beast.
The dual fans with heat pipes provide the cooling for your CPU and GPU, they do an awesome job. Even in room at 80F the system never showed signs of overheating, despite being pushed hard and with some pretty hot hardware. This system is to big to ever really consider gaming on your lap so the bottom of the system heat is not a big deal but we tested anyway and found that the bottom of this system under load was cooler than that of the other two laptops I tested. Now these we simpler and more generic builds but they also used less powerful hardware that should generate less heat. This shows me that the solution the people at Alienware came up with for cooling this system works well.
Okay so this computer has great hardware and a lot of bling, but can it game, that has a mixed answer. We threw World of Tanks, Start Trek Online, Borderlands 2 and Civilization V at this to see how it faired under gaming load. All of the games played smooth and at high detail level with the 1080 resolution in place. Sounds good right? Well yes and no, while it provided a great gaming experience it also highlighted the “laptop” tax that I have referred to in the past. Priced at $2500 for the build we looked at the system was actually slower when we looked at frame rates than a $1200 DIY gamer build.
What does this all mean, well it means what I have been saying on the show for years is true, no laptop will ever be equal to a desktop system for gaming within the same price point. However that is just common sense. A lot of the price of a laptop system is for the use of special components to fit the smaller design and you pay for the portability.
When I shared my views with the folks at Alienware I was surprised, pleasantly so, to find they agreed with me. They agree that this kind of a laptop is a pure niche market product. Now if you have a job that keeps you on the road and in hotels all the time. Say a trucker or insurance adjuster, even traveling scrub nurse, okay I think you get the idea; then if you are a gamer this type of portability for you is priceless. It means you get to enjoy your gaming with a great experience and still having it with you every night after work.
For the everyday consumer however this is not a product that really fits well. As a laptop is great but has a short battery life, even just browsing the internet we only got about 2 hours and if you are gaming forget it, maybe 30 minutes. It is heavier than other laptops we have looked at, so much so that it actually requires a lot of shoulder shifting to carry in the bag when walking around.
However if you are the group of people of mentioned, that travel all the time and want to game this beast stands out of the crowd and begs to be played on. The raw horsepower makes it more powerful than most cookie cutter systems sold today so this could be more powerful than many peoples home PC. t The horsepower along with the fact that real gaming grade components are used means this will paly your games and deliver a great gaming experience. Add to that bling factor that will make you the envy of a lan party or be a great talking point with friends, you have something that can fit your mobile life style and looks cool doing it.
While there are other gaming laptops on the market and come in at lower prices, I think I would go to Alienware first. This design is zero compromise with every aspect of the system being well thought out and executed. The system is not just great hardware but it is well put together in an effort to maximize the geek and gaming experience and it delivers in spades.
Show segment as aired on our weekend edition the weekend of 17 November 2012