Multimedia notebooks review

Our tests review the latest generation multimedia laptops.
 
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05.Our findings

Which laptop trumped the rest?

Well, although the Apple MacBook Pro 17 inch scored highest overall, the question of which laptop is best for you depends on what you’re looking for, with performance, ease of use, and battery life being some of the main indicators.

The five top scorers overall in our test possessed a particularly good combination of all three, while the next four laptops on the list were also very acceptable and well worth consideration for your next purchase. Note that these scores are relative to each other (and apply to this test only) and none of the laptops tested fell below an acceptable rating overall. And here’s where buying a laptop becomes a matter of ‘horses for courses’.

Some models are particularly strong in certain areas, but not necessarily winners in others. For example, the two notebooks that scored highest overall, the Apple MacBook Pro 17 inch and Lenovo IdeaPad Y510-300, rated higher in ease of use and performance than the Optima Centoris V870 Series and QDI MX100.

But on the other hand, these last two demonstrated better battery performance. The LG S900-U.CPS1A — the largest unit in our test — was let down badly in the overall rankings by its very poor battery life score . For those looking for a big-screen (19 inch) laptop for use as a desktop replacement, it still has much to recommend it — if you’re prepared to keep it plugged into mains power.

Battery life

We tested each notebook with the MobileMark 2007 benchmark program, which includes a DVD module and a Reader module. The DVD module simulates heavy usage with the notebook running a DVD movie until the notebook’s battery is depleted. The Reader module simulates a light workload where a document is read at a pace of one page per two minutes.

Only five of the 10 notebooks we tested recorded an average time of over two hours in the DVD test: the Optima Centoris V870 Series, Dell XPS M1730, QDI MX100, Apple MacBook Pro 17 inch, and the ASUS M51SN-AP003G. The Optima Centoris V870 Series was the clear winner in the DVD module, being the only notebook to average more than 3.5 hours.

Using the Reader module, only three notebooks averaged more than three hours: the Optima Centoris V870 Series, Apple MacBook Pro 17 inch and the QDI MX100. Once again the Optima Centoris V870 Series was the clear winner, with an average time of just over four hours.

A special mention goes to the worst battery life performer, the LG S900-U.CPS1A, which only produced average times of 15 minutes for the DVD module and 22 minutes for the Reader module. This effectively amounts to the battery doing little more than performing as UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply) which, in the event of an interruption to mains power, gives you enough time to save your work and shut down properly.

Key performance indicators

Before buying a laptop you should try it out for at least 10 minutes to see whether it has a comfortable touchpad, wrist rest and keyboard. Our user trial rated each laptop keyboard on comfort, feel, sound, responsiveness, position of keys, size of keys, keyboard angle, and key shape. Three were highest were the Pioneer Dreambook D901C, Dell XPS M1730 and the LG S900-U.CPS1A. The Pioneer Dreambook D901C had the best keyboard, noted by users as “firm and responsive, with quiet keys”. The least comfortable keyboard belonged to the Optima Centoris V870 Series, with users noting the keys felt “stiff” and that it lacked a numeric keypad.

Touchpad

Aside from the keyboard the part you’ll touch most is the touchpad, so good comfort and functionality is very important. Some touchpads have special features, such as scrolling by touching a certain area, usually the right-hand side of the touchpad. Our user panel judged the BenQ R56-BV30 to have the best touchpad, slightly ahead of the Pioneer Dreambook D901C, followed closely by the Apple MacBook Pro 17 inch which had the largest surface area.

Weight

Because this class of laptops is kitted out for heavy duty work, you can expect them to be among the heavier laptops you will find. Even the lightest laptops in this test, the BenQ R56-BV30 and Optima Centoris V870Series, both weighed in at 2.7 kg, including battery, just under what we consider to be the maximum comfortable weight for a portable computer, 3 kg.

As you might expect, the 19 inch LG S900-U.CPS1A was the heaviest, tipping the scales at a whopping 5.9 kg, which makes it a ‘transportable’ rather than portable computer. And the short battery life means you can’t transport it very far while in use (see Battery life, above).

Temperature

We measured the temperature of each notebook at its hottest spot (under the base) after an hour of standard use. We deemed 44 degrees celsius to be the acceptable maximum for comfort. Only four laptops passed this test: the BenQ R56-BV30, LG S900-U.CPS1A, Pioneer Dreambook D901C and the Toshiba Satellite X200. The Apple MacBook Pro 17 inch recorded the highest temperature with a reading of up to 60 degrees celsius.

Design, construction and style

The Apple MacBook Pro 17 inch, and the ASUS M51SN-AP003G scored very highly for ease of battery removal and insertion, with the Apple getting a special mention for the battery charge status indicator lights underneath the notebook. On the other hand, both rated poorly in other areas, the Apple for lacking status lights for hard drive activity and Wi-Fi; and the ASUS for status lights that were not easily visible, badly labelled and couldn’t be seen when the lid was closed. For overall style, our user panel rated the Apple MacBook Pro 17 inch and Lenovo IdeaPad Y510-300 as excellent.

 

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