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Christmas 2009 buyers' guide: PCs and laptops for games

What to buy the gamer in the family

What a serious gamer craves is a dedicated gaming laptop that offers blisteringly fast performance, the sort of incredible graphics you see at the cinema and processing power to make the opposition wilt.

Christmas 2009 buyers' guide: Gamer’s delight...

If you want to be taken seriously as a player, you need to do more than talk the talk. You need to be able to intimidate the opposition with the computing and graphics firepower at your disposal. You need thunderous speakers that reproduce the distant rumbling of gunfire, and make it sound just over your shoulder, thanks to your hyper-realistic 3D sound effects.

Alienware M17x

The Alienware M17x is perhaps the ultimate games machine in this respect. Tests we ran on an early version proved it to be the fastest gaming laptop we’d ever encountered. It certainly caused a stir in the PC Advisor offices with its sheer bulk, 17in HD display, face-recognition-based login and rubberised keyboard. The latter is backlit and one of the most comfortable we’ve tried.

A 5.3kg beast of a laptop, the 64bit Alienware M17x needs two strong arms to carry it and draws an incredible 240W when its dual-SLI nVidia graphics cards are in play. Twin fan grilles dominate the front, and the model we tried glowed eerily blue.

The fans have their work cut out for them, what with all that graphics memory. We had a single 1GB nVidia GeForce 280M on our £2,300 spec machine, but the fully primed edition doubles this and ups the complement of RAM from 4GB to 8GB. A Blu-ray drive is part of the 1080p HD setup.

MSI GT729

MSI’s somewhat sleeker gaming machine also impressed the assembled throngs in the PC Advisor offices. This was partly for its top-notch spec, but also for the incongruous positioning of an ‘eco button’ next to the (noticeably larger) button that invokes the MSI-exclusive Turbo Drive Engine.

A 17in model that arrived with Windows 7 installed, the MSI GT729 comes with 4GB of RAM and a quad-core Intel Q9000 processor. With ATI Radeon HD 4850 graphics, Dolby Home Theatre surround-sound, a four-speaker setup with subwoofer and a 2Mp webcam, it’s impressively well equipped.

A deep wristrest area lies either side of the generous trackpad and left- and right-click buttons, while the keys are widely spaced. The W, A, S and D keys are marked in red, along with arrows showing which direction they steer the action.

Rock Xtreme 840

If you’re looking for a slightly less ambitious model that should still satisfy your kids’ primeval gaming urges, the Rock Xtreme 840 may fit the bill. It’s loaded with an Intel Core 2 Duo processor or a 2GHz Quad-Core CPU and 1GB of nVidia GeForce GTX 280M graphics. The 18.4in Rock has a full-HD 1920x1080 screen resolution, a Blu-ray drive, up to 1.5 terabytes (TB) of storage (500GB with the standard specification) and is bristling with ports and connections from HDMI and DVI to 802.11n Wi-Fi and fingerprint recognition.

Rock’s Xtreme 840 is every gamer’s dream come true. It’s too heavy for our office scales to measure, so we’ll take Rock’s word that it weighs a backbreaking 5.9kg. And it’s by far the biggest model we’ve seen recently, raising wry smiles at the word ‘laptop’.

Rock has the good grace to refer to it as “mobile-ish” on its website and, let’s face it, nobody expects high-end laptop gaming rigs to be suitable for the daily commute. Instead, they’re designed to be suitable desktop alternatives that can make the journey to a friend’s LAN gaming party.

A nice touch is the surround-sound with four speakers (located on the side and underneath). And it packs a pretty hefty punch to back up its physical weight. Along with its 2.3GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8700 with 3MB cache or 2GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q9000 with 6MB of cache and 1GB nVidia GeForce GTX 280M graphics card, there’s either 2GB or 4GB of DDR3 1,066MHz RAM – it’s a gaming powerhouse.

However, the 4GB maximum memory support seems a little odd, given that it ships with Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit – the whole purpose of 64bit operating systems is to break the 4GB memory barrier.

INDEX:

PC Advisor Christmas 2009 technology buyers' guide

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