The question is: when is a laptop a ‘desktop replacement’? The usual answer is when it is capable of emulating most of the features of a desktop while still remaining comparatively portable. However, the recent boom in such machines is more usually aimed at serious gamers who don’t want to interrupt their World of Warcraft or Doom 3 experience while they’re on the move, and often that means the name ‘laptop’ is a misnomer.
So it is with the Area-51m 7700, which for a start weighs a hefty 5.4kg (12lbs) and is therefore more likely to be living on a solid flat surface. It has the trademark alien face with the ultra-cool glowing eyes and in many other respects it’s a monster machine.
As soon as you open it up you’re confronted with a 17-inch widescreen LCD with a maximum resolution of 1,680 x 1,050 pixels, which provides brilliant detail and depth to the most hardcore shooting games, allied as it is to Nvidia’s powerful GeForce Go 6800 graphics card with 256MB memory. It’s powered by a Pentium 4 CPU with hyperthreading technology (3.0 – 3.8GHz, 1MB cache) and up to 2GB Dual Channel DDR2 PC-4200 533MHz memory.
All the hardware is seated in an Intel 915P motherboard that supports PCI Express and you can have dual disk drives (2 x 60GB, Hitachi 7,200rpm ATA100 drives) in a RAID 0 array for so-called ‘Extreme Performance’. There are dual optical drives as well so you can presumably burn or play CDs and DVDs while you’re cracking on with your game.
Good graphics and frame rates are only part of the story when it comes to satisfying gaming; what about the sound? Well, 7.1-channel surround sound comes as standard, though only four speakers and a subwoofer are supplied, so you’re encouraged to plug in to an external Creative Sound Blaster Audigy 2 NX system or go one further with a ZS PC Card. Even without the Audigy supplement though, most gamers will be reasonably satisfied with the quality of onboard audio.
As you’d expect, there’s a healthy collection of peripherals in the shape of four USB 2.0 ports, Wireless 802.11b/g, two IEEE-1394 ports, 56kbps modem and Ethernet connections, video in and out, PS2, LPT, DVI and COM Ports and a 7-in-1 memory card reader.
The AC adapter looks like a brick but it’s another reason why you’ll be less likely to balance this machine on your knees; the battery life is only around an hour and there’s a notable drop in frame rate when you switch over from mains power.
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