Schenker's range of XMG gaming laptops generally provide good performance and value for money, but not even their mother would accuse them of being good-looking. Rivals such as Alienware adorn their gaming machines with all sorts of flashing lights and go-faster stripes, while Schenker tends to opt for generic black-box designs that simply look rather dull. See the 7 best laptops for games reviewed: best gaming laptops 2013.
However, the P503 suggests that Schenker is finally starting to pay a little more attention to that sort of detail. The P503's chunky matte-black chassis isn't exactly elegant – it measures a full 50mm thick and weighs in at 3.4Kg, which is a lot even for a 15.6-inch model with a built-in optical drive. But turn it on and the keyboard backlight smoulders gently, while the trackpad lights up and displays a dramatically spread set of ‘tribal wings'. There's also a utility that allows you to select a variety of different colour schemes, as well as settings such as ‘dance' or ‘wave' that make the lights strobe across the keyboard and trackpad at different speeds. It's utterly pointless, of course, but it's the sort of thing that everyone expects from an expensive gaming rig. See also The 8 best laptops: What's the best laptop you can buy in 2013?
And the P503 is expensive. Prices start at around £1100 for a model with a Haswell i5, 4GB of memory and 320GB hard disk. However, we reviewed a top-of-the-range model that comes in at £1516.00 with a quad-core Haswell i7 running at 2.4GHz (3.4GHz with Turboboost), 8GB of memory, and both a 750GB hard drive and 256GB solid-state drive. It also includes a Radeon HD 8970M with 4GB VRAM and a Blu-ray drive, although you can customize most of these components and easily save £200-£300 by ditching the Blu-ray drive and opting for a smaller SSD.
Fortunately, most of those components are well chosen and will earn their keep. The 15.6-inch screen isn't touch-sensitive, but few gamers will worry about that. They'll prefer the matte finish that helps to reduce glare and provide maximum visibility during full-on gaming sessions. The screen is bright and colourful, with 1920x1080 resolution and a horizontal viewing angle close to a full 180-degrees. Oddly, though, the vertical viewing angle is more limited – closer to 120-degrees – although we didn't find this a real problem during our tests. The Onkyo speakers are good, too – a little harsh on higher frequencies, but the built-in sub-woofer adds welcome depth to the sound and will work well with games and film soundtracks.
Performance is impressive too. The inclusion of the secondary solid-state drive helps the P503 hit a score of 6205 when running the general-purpose PCMark 7 benchtest. That's one of the highest scores we've seen so far, so the P503 can certainly handle everything from web browsing to video-editing or audio-recording with ease. We were a little concerned about the two large cooling vents on the back of the unit, but while the fans fire up quite noisily when you first turn it on the P503 still ran cool and quiet during all our tests.
We started our gaming tests by running Stalker: Call of Pripyat with medium graphics at 1280x720 resolution, and saw the P503 breeze to 176fps with no trouble at all. Stepping up to 1920x1080 only reduced that to 129fps, so we fired up Batman: Arkham City next and still managed to get 57fps at 1920x1080 with all the DX11 trimmings. That sort of performance should satisfy even hardcore gamers, and you can also experiment with Intel's Extreme Tuning utility, which is included to help you squeeze every last frame out of your games.
The only real disappointment is battery life. Even with the Haswell processor and switching to the integrated HD 4600 graphics, the P503 could barely manage two and half hours (160 minutes) of streaming video. You'd expect much better from a laptop in this price range – especially with a Haswell processor. Even so, that's unlikely to be a dealbreaker for most gamers as the size and weight of the P503 means that it's not likely to get outdoors very often.