Schenker's XMG range of gaming laptops provides strong performance and good value for money, but they've never been particularly pretty to look at. Of course, most gaming laptops are big and heavy, but rivals such as Alienware do at least deck their kit out with flashing lights and other eye-candy intended to hint at the awesome power lurking within. In contrast, most the laptops that we've seen from Schenker in the past have just been rather dull, grey lumps of plastic. See all high-end laptops reviews.
Thankfully, the design fairy has come to sprinkle some magic dust over Schenker's new XMG C703 this Christmas, resulting in what the company claims is 'the world's slimmest and lightest 17-inch gaming laptop'. Razer might have something to say about that, but they've still not sent us their slimline Blade laptop to review so we're happy to give Schenker the benefit of the doubt on that claim. See also Group test: what's the best laptop?
Despite its 17.3-inch screen, quad-core i7 processor and discrete GeForce graphics card, the C703's smart, matte-black chassis measures just 22mm thick and weighs 2.68Kg. That's the sort of weight we'd normally expect from a 15-inch laptop, so Schenker has certainly made a big step forward there. You can just about pick the C703 up with one hand, and it is certainly light enough to carry around in a backpack without too much trouble.
That slimline design doesn't leave room for an optical drive, though, so if you've got a collection of games or films on DVD or Blu-ray disks then you'll need to provide an external drive in order to use them. The thin screen panel was also a little more flexible than we'd have liked, and could be firmer in order to provide more protection for that large display.
The screen itself works a treat, though, both for games and watching video. It provides a bright, colourful image, with 1920x1080 resolution and good horizontal viewing angles. It also has a welcome matte finish that reduces glare and reflections so that you don't miss any of the action during intense gaming sessions. It's not touch-sensitive, although we doubt that many gamers will worry about that. In fact, you can also order it with Windows 7 if you prefer – although, rather oddly, that option costs another £2.00. Alternatively, if you don't mind installing your own operating system you can order it without Windows pre-installed and save yourself £74.00.
The keyboard is firm and comfortable to use for those long gaming sessions, and there's a large trackpad as well (105x60mm) – although most gamers will probably be using a mouse. There's also a large stereo speaker panel that runs right across the top edge of the keyboard. This provides good sound quality and plenty of volume, and is complemented by a separate sub-woofer in the base of the machine that adds a respectable bit of bass for listening to music or the soundtrack of your films and games.
If you do want to beef up the audio then there are three separate sockets for headphones, speakers and microphone, along with HDMI and two DisplayPort interfaces for external displays, and Gigabit Ethernet for a lag-free wired network connection.
Of course, a gaming machine needs to deliver on performance, and while the C703 isn't one of Schenker's top-of-the-range models it does provide a good balance of price and performance. There are numerous build-to-order options on Schenker's website, but our review unit cost £1253.00 with a quad-core Haswell i7 running at 2.4GHz (3.4GHz Turbo), 8GB memory, 250GB solid-state drive, and nVidia GeForce GTX 765M (2GB VRAM).
Running the general-purpose PCMark 7 benchtest produced a score of 6181. That puts it right up with the fastest laptops we've seen in recent months, so it'll handle everything from simple web browsing to heavy-duty video-editing with no trouble at all.
Gaming performance is very strong too. The C703 breezed through our Stalker test, hitting a smooth 96fps even at 1920x1080 resolution with medium graphics settings. To push things a bit further we fired up Batman: Arkham City, and the C703 was able to manage 39fps even at 1920x1080 with DX11 turned on and graphics and anti-aliasing both set to ‘high'. Lowering the resolution to 1600x900 bumped the frame rate up to about 45fps, which is the sort of level that we've previously only seen from gaming laptops costing £1500 or more, so the combination of the Haswell processor and nVidia's new 700 series graphics definitely provides more bang for the buck than previous generations of laptops.
And, despite that level of performance, the C703 ran cool and quiet throughout our tests. There are large cooling vents on both sides of the machine, but you can only hear the fans running if you lean forward and put your head down close to the keyboard.
The one disappointment was the C703's battery life. Schenker claims that the C703 provides up to 6.5 hours of battery life for ‘general usage', but when we switched to the less power-hungry HD 4600 integrated graphics we could only manage a little over 3.5hrs (215 mins) of streaming video from the BBC iPlayer. Even so, that's still above average for a laptop of this size, so we can't complain too much on that score.