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Razer Blade - Ultrathin Gaming Laptop Review

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Whilst gamers everywhere are engulfed in the emerging war between Xbox One and PS4 and are increasingly feeling pressganged into picking a side, there is a group of them who have risen about the petty cycle warfare, and look on with disdain. Who are these people? Buddhist Monks? The Swiss? Adults? No - PC gamers.

Thanks in large part to the success of Valve's Steam platform, PC gaming has quietly entered the ascendancy - with PC players having had PS4/Xbox One level graphics for years. Are they a bit arrogant? No doubt - but they'd probably boast how they can render their face with more realistic smugness than console competitors.

So it's only natural to want to join them - but where to start? Gaming laptops have become an increasingly big deal over the years - with Alienware being one of the major manufacturers. However, Razer are challenging that hegemony with the Razer Blade Gaming Laptop. The company are perhaps better known for their peripheral devices but now they've gone and cut out the middleman and made the computer in the middle... how does it do?

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The Hardware

The first thing you'll notice about the Blade is just how thin it is. The conventional logic is that gaming laptops are bulky monstrosities packed with high-powered components, and the sleek laptops are slightly underpowered and geared towards more general tasks, like web browsing. You don't need complex shadow rendering on solitaire after all. But the Blade seems to subvert this - it's only 9.33mm thick.

The second thing you'll notice is that it's very pretty. The casing is jet black, and the keyboard and touchpad are very reminiscent of a Macbook Pro in terms of layout - keys are nicely spaced, and the touchpad is nice and large (and supports multitouch). The keys glow a nice green colour - so you can pretend that you're in the Matrix. Either side of the keyboard are a couple of speakers, giving nice definition to the stereo sound - and the good news is that the machine supports Dolby Home Theatre v4 if you want to plug in anything more impressive - with support for 7.1 surround sound if you want to plug in via HDMI to a TV.

Inside is a non-too-shabby Intel Core i7-4702HQ Quad Core processor with hyper threading - which runs at 2.2ghz (or 3.2ghz if you give it a turbo boost). There's 8GB of RAM on board, and a Nvidia Geforce GTX 765M - with 2GB of GDDR5VRAM - which I believe translates to "pretty good" in human language.

Though be warned:: once the processors get wiring when you're playing a game, the laptop can get a little warm - so you might want to be careful if playing on your lap, or in a barn filled with sawdust in Arizona.

Unfortunately, the hard disk options are a little shabby - especially for a laptop that will likely retail north of £1500: The Blade comes with a 128GB, 256GB or 512GB SATA III SSD. To write this review I've been trying out the 128GB model and was slightly bewildered to find that the Windows installation took up around half the space - not leaving much room for anything else when modern game are gigantic (Call of Duty Ghosts is around 30GB!). So I'd strongly recommend going for a bigger drive.

Display-wise there's a 14" 16:9 monitor - which they've called "HD+" even though it only runs at 1600x900 - so you'll be able to play in 720p - just don't expect any full 1080p gaming. The screen itself seem pretty good my un-expert opinion.

Oh, and there's no optical drive - so no DVDs or Blu-Rays here... but let's be honest... who's going to notice? I didn't realise until it came to writing this review and I was checking the spec.

So that's the hardware - but it's what you do with it that counts, right?

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The Software

Obviously this laptop is going to run Windows 8.1 - given that Windows is, er, the only game in town when it comes to gaming. Whilst this may sound like a harrowing experience to anyone who's ever had to actually use Windows 8, it's not the end of the world. What's nice is that there's absolutely minimal manufacturer bloatware - there's no special Razer Blade software, no McAfee trial versions popping up and no constant Java updates.

So how did it perform? After installing Steam and downloading Call of Duty: Ghosts, it seemed to perform rather well indeed. I hasten to add I'm by no means an expert on the details of processor speeds, framerates and the like - but to my lay person's eyes it certainly played great. There was no slowdown, graphics were crisp and the auto-optimised CoD looked a lot better than it did when I reviewed the Xbox version. There was no pop-up or dodgy draw distances - and the detailed appeared greater than the Xbox version. Cranking up the video settings manually didn't seem to impact performance either, which was great.

One thing that I did struggle with - and I realise this might be a rather specific problem, and not Razer but Microsoft's fault is controller support. CoD, of course, used the "WASD"+mouse control scheme common to pretty much every PC game ever. Making this work with a touchpad is far from ideal - so you'll want to plug in a mouse (I bet Razer sell some nice gaming mice), or a control pad.

I tried plugging in my Xbox controller and wireless receiver dongle, and inexplicably Windows 8 refused to recognise it despite it being an official Microsoft accessory. After download the software and drivers for it manually - which was designed for Windows 7 (they haven't bothered to update it), and manually installing the driver, my controller was finally picked up - at which point the game automatically detected an Xbox controller was plugged in, and it worked great. Still, a bizarre problem for two Microsoft devices talking to each other to have.

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The Verdict

So is it worth it? As laptops go - this is pretty high powered stuff. If you're not a gamer, at risk of sounding like a zealot, save your cash and get a Macbook Pro instead (you'll thank me when you don't have to use Windows 8) - but if you live to game, then this laptop could be a pretty good choice.

Whilst obviously not as highly powered as a desktop rig, it's perfect for carrying around and gaming on the go. Just try not to shout swear too loudly when you get killed if you're travelling in the quiet carriage.

It'd be nice if the screen were a little larger, though in the testing I did, it still rendered everything beautifully - with no slowdown. So if you've got a bit of extra cash and can't decide between PS4 and Xbox One why not give the Razer a go and be at the... CUTTING EDGE? (I'm so, so sorry.)

hp-leap.jpgHP have pulled a surprising laptop out of the bag today, announcing the launch of the HP Envy17 Leap Motion Special Edition with Leap Motion gesture controls built-in.

Rather than using a separate external unit, HP's machine is the first to integrate the sensor into the laptop body, right beside the track pad. This will let you interact with the machine through waves and gestures, potentially leading to total hands-free control of the laptop.

More standard features include a 17.3 inch full HD display, Haswell-generation Intel processors and discrete NVIDIA graphics, as well as a backlit keyboard, Beats audio and over 100 Leap Motion Airspace Store apps.
hp-spectre-oct-13.jpgAlongside the Leap Motion machine, HP have also introduced a new tablet-cum-laptop Windows 8 convertible, the HP Spectre13 x2.

A 13-inch machine, it comes with a keyboard dock and detachable display, powered by Intel Core i3 or i5 processors and remaining silent and fanless in operation. 8GB of RAM is in use, with a choice of either 64GB or 128GB SSD storage.

On sale from November, both start at £1,000.

REVIEW: Gigabyte P2742-G gaming laptop

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Gigabyte-p2742g-review-01.JPGreview-line.JPGName: Gigabyte P2742-G

Type: Gaming laptop

Specifications: Click here for full specs

Price as reviewed: £945

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An affordable gaming laptop that promises "unprecedented performance", can Gigabyte's P2742-G punch above its weight when it comes to running the top PC games? Read our full review to find out.

review-line.JPGPerformance and specs

When it comes to gaming laptops, you don't get much for £1,000, but Gigabyte's P2742-G does well to offer a well-rounded spec sheet for just under the £950 mark.

A 17-inch machine, under the hood you'll find an Intel i7-3630QM processor, clocked at 2.4GHz (3.4GHz for Turbo Boost), 8GB Ram and two storage drives - a speedy Liteon 128GB mSATA SSD and standard 5400RPM Toshiba 1TB HDD. It's a solid base upon which to build a gaming laptop, but the budget nature of the machine rears its head with Gigabyte's GPU choice.
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The P2742-G is equipped with a Nvidia GTX660M 2GB dedicated graphics chip, a generation off the pace from the latest GTX700M-series laptop GPUs, and decidedly mid-range even when released last year. While still capable of playing top games at low to medium settings fluidly, it'll struggle with more graphically advanced titles, as our benchmark and frame-rate tests will show in a bit. For the price, it's still a decent set-up, but Gigabyte's insistence on positioning this as a top-tier gaming machine is at best misguided, and at worst misleading.

And while we applaud the use of dual SSD and HDD storage devices, it's poorly implemented here. Waiting around 40-50 seconds for the machine to hit the Windows 8 Start screen, it doesn't take advantage of the instant-booting capabilities that an SSD should deliver.

Benchmarks

Seeing as Gigabyte claim the P2742-G is capable of "unprecedented performance", we ran a series of tests to see just how capable the P2742-G was when under a heavy load, as well as under slightly less stressful conditions that seem better suited to its mid-range discrete GPU. Running Windows 8, we used the built-in benchmarking demos of both Batman: Arkham City and Metro 2033, as well as the 3D Mark 11 benchmarking app.


Batman: Arkham City - 16fps average  - 1080p extreme (DX11), all settings maxed out
Batman: Arkham City - 33fps average - 1600 x 900, FXAA high, DX11 off 

Metro 2033 - 9fps average - 1080p extreme (DX11) , all settings maxed out
Metro 2033 - 20fps average - 1600 x 900, DX 9, AF 4X, very high settings

3D Mark 11 - 2670 3D Marks


As the above results show, the P2742-G struggles when faced with the most advanced DirectX 11 effects at high resolutions that top-tier games offer, barely able to hit double-digit frame rates with Batman: Arkham City and near-crippled by the demanding Metro 2033. Admittedly, few laptops do achieve stellar results when faced with such challenging software, but even dialling back the graphical settings and the resolution here to something more suited to its capabilities sees the machine struggle.

When in practice, playing the above titles at 720p resolutions and tweaking the settings to boost performance did see the machine hit comfortable frame rates, resulting in an enjoyable play session that would have bettered the above games' console counterparts in terms of looks. But overall you're looking at a decidedly mid-range laptop when stood next to the competition.

Design and build quality
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Gigabyte have kept the design of the P2742-G relatively simple, and it makes for a good looking, if a little chunky, laptop. Available with both a matte black lid and orange lid (we tested, and prefer, the black), for the most part it's a well constructed, well connected machine.
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Measuring roughly 412mm wide x 275mm deep and 45mm thick, and weighing in at 3.2kg, it's a sizeable machine, but nothing extraordinary within the usually-oversized gaming laptop market. Angular and with rear-mounted fans that keep the laptop from getting too hot without churning up too loudly, the black edition we tested would be right at home in Batman's Bat Cave.
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In terms of ports, it's well equipped, with 4 USB ports (1x 2.0, 3x 3.0, with one a combined eSATA port), HDMI out, a mutli-card reader, an Ethernet socket, headphone connections and an S/PDIF out jack. On the rear can be found the power port and a VGA external monitor port. A Blu-ray disc drive is also included.
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Considering it's using a TN panel rather than an IPS one, the non-touch display is also pleasing to view. Large at 17.3 inches, it runs at a full 1920 x 1080 HD resolution, and has accurate colours along with good brightness levels. Employing a semi-matte screen finish, the viewing angle can be a little tight, but that's a fair trade to make for the ability to continue gaming in harsh lighting. A sturdy hinge looks as though it'll support the heavy screen without too much strain for many years to come too.
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Though the keyboard lacks backlighting, the keys themselves too have just the right amount of sponginess to get some real typing done on them too, should the laptop be required for work as well as gaming purposes. Featuring a full numberpad, there's a number of handy shortcut and function keys, including control over VGA output, a sound muting button and Wi-Fi switch.
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However, the less said about the mouse pad and mouse buttons the better. Too small to be useful, the textured pad isn't responsive, and has a tendency to trigger unwanted gesture shortcuts almost at random. The buttons too are equally unresponsive, and feel terrible cheap. They flex and rattle within their housing when touched, and only trigger a press when pushed on their far extremes. Keep a proper mouse plugged in at all times.

The speaker quality is also very underwhelming. Considering the heft of the machine, there's room for a little more audio wizardry to be squeezed in, but gaming sounds were tinny and lacking in warmth or bass. Don't expect to be immersed unless you have a pair of headphones handy.
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Battery performance

Gaming laptops aren't renowned for their battery performance, and while the Gigabyte P2742-G does little to buck this trend, it at least falls achieves parity with its rivals in this regard. We managed to squeeze 1 hour and 15 minutes from the laptop when playing Batman: Arkham City on a fully charged battery. Considering some gaming laptops struggle to go over 45 minutes, that's not half bad, but you still won't want to leave the house without the charging power pack.

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Verdict:

Though billed as a high-performance gaming rig, the Gigabyte P2742-G never really manages to rise above the sort of experience you'd expect from an affordable gaming laptop. While the screen is a high point, middling in-game frame rates and a truly shoddy mousepad let the machine down considerably. Lacking in both portability and performance, you'd do better to save a few extra quid for a premium gaming laptop, or save yourself a bit of cash and enjoy the superior gaming performance that a desktop build would bring. Laying final judgement on the P2742-G is difficult - priced affordably, Gigabyte's marketing of the machine is like seeing a featherweight boxer put into a heavyweight title fight. It's a solid mid-range machine, nothing more and nothing less, and is worth a look if you insist on investing in a cut-price gaming laptop.review-line.JPG

3/5

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msi-gs70.jpgLooking to re-write the rule that seemed to prevent gaming laptops from being anything other than the hulking behemoths of the mobile computing world are MSI, who have just lifted the covers off the MSI GS70 gaming laptop.

A 17-inch model, the GS70 lays claim to being the "world's thinnest and lightest" in its size category, weighing just 5.7 lbs. and measuring just 1-inch thick.

Of course, it's what is under the bonnet that counts, and the MSI GS70 looks set to impress with its Core i7 processor, NVIDIA GTX 765M graphics chip and and as much as 16GB of DDR3L RAM.

It's 17-inch display also looks to impress, running at a full HD 1080p resolution and featuring an anti-glare coating for gaming under harsh lighting.

Housed in a brushed aluminium casing with a full-colour programmable backlit keyboard, the GS70 also makes use of impressive heat dispersion techniques, using a dual-fan set-up to pull heat from the top side of the laptop and dispel it at a 45-degree upwards and outwards angle.

Elsewhere the laptop also sports four USB 3.0 ports, three audio jacks and a 720p HD webcam.

Available now in two different configurations, prices start at $1,799.99.

Apple's MacBook Air range of notebooks are good at a great many things, but, through using Intel's built-in graphics options, they're not up to much when it comes to gaming.

That hasn't stopped one enterprising modder from taking it into his own hands to do something about it. Larry Gadea of the Tech Inferno forums has figured out a way to hook an external GPU up to his MacBook Air, giving it enough gaming chops to play through top titles such as Borderlands 2 and Crysis on high settings.

Hooking up a PCI Express video card (a Nvidia GTX 570) to the Mac's Thunderbolt port with two adapters, a Boot Camp installation of Windows 7 and a handful of third party drivers, he's made the MacBook Air into a capable gaming rig.

Check the video out above for a guide to how Gadea pulled it off.

RELATED
REVIEW: MacBook Air 11-inch (2013)

toshiba-satellite-u.jpgToshiba have revealed a fresh slew of laptops and ultrabooks today, lifting the covers off the Satellite U series ultrabooks and Satellite M series laptops.

Looking firstly at the Satellite U50t, it's Toshiba's first 15.6-inch ultrabook, and includes a 10-point touchscreen with which to navigate the Windows 8 operating system. Running off the latest fourth genertaion Inctel Core processors, its using the built-in Intel HD Graphics 4400 rather than a discrete graphics soloution. Configurable with up to 1tB of storage and up to 16GB of RAM, it weighs 2.3kg and measures 377.5 x 249.5 x 21.3mm.

No pricing details for the U ultrabooks yet, but expect all configurations to launch in the UK by the Autumn.toshiba-satellite-u-mid.jpgMoving on the M series range - made up of the M50, M50t and M50Dt - each is similar in size to the Satellite U model, measruing 377.5 x 249.5 x 21.3mm with a 15.6-inch screen, and slightly lighter at 2.1kg.

Under the hood however, options expand, with a choice between AMD and APU processors or Intel Core processors, built in graphics or a discrete Nvidia GeForce GT 740M chipset with 2GB of VRAM or an AMD Radeon HD set-up for those sporting AMD processors. Again, up to 1TB of storage can be fitted, as can 16GB of RAM.

Touchscreen displays on the M Series are also optional, while all of the laptops (the ultrabook included) run at HD resolution. All of the new machines house two USB 3.0 ports, one USB 2.0, a HDMI output, SD card slot, Ethernet, Bluetooth 4.0, WiDi, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, and Miracast, and make use of DTS Studio Sound.

Again, no pricing yet for the M Series, but expect the same Q3 launch window.

macbook-pro-retina-top.jpgThis year's impressive MacBook Air has been given Intel's Haswell processor guts, and now all eyes turn to the Daddy of OS X laptops, the MacBook Pro, as to when it is its turn to get the upgrade. The latest reports suggest that the updated line may land as soon as October, as part of Apple's annual Autumn showcase.

China Times are reporting supply chain sources that are gearing up in preparation of manufacture of the new machines, with the good news being the suggestion that despite the spec boost, the line will retain its current (admittedly expensive) pricing structure.

Intel's Haswell chip proved a significant boost to the MacBook Air line (as you can read for yourself in our full review), considerably boosting the laptops battery life and graphics performance. With 4K support also included with Haswell, could we see a 4K Thunderbolt Display also launch?

All eyes will be on Apple this Autumn, with the company expected to launch a new iPhone 5S smartphone alongside a new budget smartphone offering, as well as these new laptop computers.

RELATED:
REVIEW: MacBook Air 11-inch (2013)

snuglet-kickstarter.jpgThere's a lot of things I love about my Retina MacBook, which is pretty much my most prized possession. An obvious one is its high resolution screen, another its-slim design aluminium build.

But one oft-overlooked MacBook marvel that goes right across Apple's notebook range is the MagSafe magnetic charger. Disconnecting if given a tug, stopping you from tripping over the cabling and damaging the machine, it snaps back into its charging slot with little effort if its pulled out.

It works pretty much flawlessly, still performing well in the smaller redesigned MagSafe 2 port that's been present in Apple's notebook line since June 2012.

Which makes the Kickstarter project Snuglet all the more bold. Designed by Las Vegas-based Tetrio, it looks to improve upon Apple's design by making the the MagSafe 2 to the machine more sturdy, effectively locking it in place to ensure a constant flow of juice to your MacBook.

A "precision manufactured ring", it boosts the magnetic connection. Tetrio claim it "helps your power connector stay connected when you want it to, but releases when it should. The design still allows you to easily insert and remove the power cable, but simply makes it work better."

The Snuglet should work with all MagSafe 2 equipped MacBooks, including the MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, and MacBook Pro with Retina Display models introduced after June 2012.

Is this a case of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it"? Personally, the MagSafe 2 has always worked fine for me, disconnecting only when a sharp tug (which would damage other machines with other chargers) happens, and only very rarely when it shouldn't. It's not exactly tough to reconnect either, with the magnetic attraction saving any fumbling around. Also, the thought of adding another magnetic metallic ring around an area that delivers an electrical charge to my machine is a tad disconcerting too. But there definitely seems to be people that share Tetrio's MagSafe 2 problems: with 29 days to go, the Kickstarter campaign has already sailed past its $9,000 goal, currently sitting pretty at $10,116.

If you're looking to add to the Snuglet kitty, click here. Scroll down to check out the Snuglet video pitch.

touchscreen-macbook-patent.jpgApple's MacBook Pro range has already had a fairly recent overhaul with the introduction of the Retina Display equipped models, but a new patent unearthed by Patently Apple suggests an even more radical design evolution may be on the cards.

The patent shows a MacBook computer housing not one, but two touchscreens, described as a "dual-sided trackpad".

Capable of sensing touch from both sides, the panel could potentially be transparent, allowing you to use the laptop even when the trackpad was folded over the screen.

"The track pad device may include a display element and the capacitive array element may be translucent," states the patent. Presumably the panel would display a touch keyboard when set up like a standard laptop.

Essentially merging the iPad and MacBook lines, it's definitely an interesting concept, even if it is one likely quite a way off from ever being produced. With laptop sales declining as tablets rise in popularity, this seems an intuitive way to provide the power of a laptop alongside the flexibility of a tablet.

HANDS-ON VIDEO: Samsung Ativ Q review

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Bringing together the best of Windows 8 and Google's Android OS in one touchscreen device is Samsung's new Ativ Q convertible laptop/tablet hybrid.

Powered by an Intel Core i5 processor and featuring 128GB of storage and 4GB of RAM, Windows 8 virtualises Google's operating system, allowing you to switch between the two instantly.

With a hinge allowing the touchscreen to fold down over the full-size keyboard, you can convert the Ativ Q from laptop to tablet device in a matter of seconds.

Due out later this year (pricing to be confirmed) check out Tech Digest's first hands-on test in the video above!

You can see images of the ATIV Q and ATIV Tab 3 in the gallery below.

REVIEW: MacBook Air 11-inch (2013)

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MacBook-Air-11-inch-2013-01.JPGreview-line.JPGName: MacBook Air (2013 edition)

Type: Notebook

Review Model Specifications: Click here for full specs

Price: From £849

review-line.JPGThe best just got better, as Apple's MacBook Air notebook gets updated with the latest Intel processors, double the storage and double the battery life. But is the low-resolution screen now dragging the package down? Read our full review to find out!

review-line.JPGAt first glance, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the 2013 edition of Apple's 11-inch MacBook Air was identical to its 2012 predecessor. And from an industrial design standpoint, you'd be almost correct. Aside from an additional microphone embedded in the left hand side to aid noise cancellation during Skype and FaceTime video calls, it's the exact same chassis design as last year's.MacBook-Air-11-inch-2013-05.JPGAnd that's no bad thing. The 11-inch MacBook Air remains the pinnacle of portable notebook design, featuring a gorgeous aluminium unibody construction, measuring just 1.7cm thick at its chunkiest point and a startling 0.3cm at its tapered, wedge-like front edge. Weighing just 1.08kg, it's incredible lightweight, making it supremely comfortable for carrying around all day long, and just about the most attractive laptop on the market. Even with the design now a few years old, it's still a staggering achievement.
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The left edge of the laptop houses a USB 3.0 port, a 3.5mm headphone socket, the afore-mentioned dual mic array and the magnetic MagSafe 2 charging connection, which handily detaches harmlessly should you accidentally yank or trip over the cable. The right edge houses a further USB 3.0 port and the super-fast Thunderbolt port. It's not exactly an extensive array of ports (you'll need to jump up to the 13-inch model to get an SD card slot, and neither supports a wired Ethernet internet connection without an adaptor) but it's still remarkable that it can all fit in at all given the slight frame they sit within.MacBook-Air-11-inch-2013-16.JPGFor the real changes then, you're going to have to delve under the hood, where Apple have made a number of significant improvements to the internal components.
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Our review model was an entry-level machine, equipped with a fourth generation (Haswell) 1.3GHz Intel Core i5 processor (Turbo Boost up to 2.6GHz), 4GB of 1600MHz DDR3 RAM and 128GB of SSD storage space. These specs can be configured at purchase up to a 1.7GHz Core i7 processor (Turbo Boost up to 3.3GHz), 8GB of RAM and 256GB or 512GB SSD storage sizes, with pricing rising respectively. Keep in mind that, unlike Apple's MacBook Pro models, the MacBook Air cannot be upgraded after purchase, so make sure that you get exactly what you need right away. For instance, though bigger than last year's paltry 64GB entry-level storage, 128GB still isn't much space at your disposal (even if you do make judicious use of cloud storage services), so definitely consider stumping up the cash for a bigger SSD configuration.

Looking firstly at the processor, you'd again be forgiven for thinking there's been no progression here. In fact, considering last year's entry level Ivy Bridge i5 processor was clocked at 1.8GHz, you'd think it was in fact a step backwards. You'd be wrong; with the same max Turbo Boost clock speeds, our Geekbench 2 benchmark saw the 2013 edition hit a score of 6703, compared to last year's managing 5,801.

If that doesn't sound like a massive jump, it's because the Intel Haswell chipsets' real trump card lies in energy efficiency. Drawing far less power than previous generations, it allows the MacBook Air 2013 model to manage 9 hours of standard usage and 8 hours of constant movie playback by Apple's estimations. And they're not far off the mark it would seem. With a full battery charge, I managed roughly 8 hours away from the mains with brightness settings just below the maximum levels and putting the processor under heavy Photoshop and streaming loads. That's incredible, and depending on your usage, you could easily squeeze a couple more hours out of the battery. That's effectively doubling the battery life over last years model.
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The Haswell chipset also sports the improved Intel HD 5000 integrated graphics, which will offer a slight boost to gamers, though not the 3D graphics performance a dedicated GPU would deliver. You'll need to stump up for a MacBook Pro to get those benefits, though the Intel 5000 HD improvements do mean the MacBook Air can now support 4K external monitors, naturally leading to speculation that Apple have one in the works.

SSD speeds are also improved. Though the average user may not notice the difference, the use of a PCIe connection for the drive instead of last year's SATA connection almost doubles read and write speeds over the 2012 model. You can expect to hit read speeds upwards of 700MBps and write speeds of 453MBps. Those jumping from a HDD equipped laptop will quickly note the benefits, with the machine booting up near instantly and apps loading much faster also.

The last notable improvement is the addition of an 802.11ac Wi-Fi connection. Without access to an 802.11ac router during the test I was unable to verify just how fast the new standard is, but positive reports suggest that both download speeds and wireless stability and range are markedly improved.
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Apple's reputation for kitting out their laptops with superb keyboards and trackpads continues here. Well spaced, backlit Chiclet keys are popped in here, with a lovely balance and tension to the bounciness of the keys. You can type at length comfortably with this machine, despite its small size and low profile. Likewise, that trackpad is as good as it gets - smooth and accurate, and registering multi-touch gestures without a stutter.
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If there's one weak spot now in the MacBook Air's otherwise-solid design, it lies with its screen. In many ways, it's a rod that Apple have built for their own back; taken on its own, the 11-inch MacBook Air's screen is fine, offering high brightness levels and accurate colours in spite of its lowly 1366 x 768 resolution. It certainly won't hinder your enjoyment of the laptop. But place the MacBook Air against a Retina Display equipped MacBook Pro or iPad, and there's a marked difference. The MacBook Air just can't compete with the vibrancy or contrast levels of the Retina Macs, let alone their ridiculous sharpness. Of course, popping a Retina Display in the MacBook Air would have a detrimental effect on the laptop's stellar battery life, but with rival Windows ultrabooks of similar size now regularly rolling out Full HD screens, it's the one gap in the MacBook Air's futuristic design. Considering the new MacBook Air is capable of hooking up to 2560 x 1600 resolution external monitors, the power's definitely there to support a Retina Display.

In terms of software, the 2013 MacBook Air comes with OS X Mountain Lion pre-installed. It's set to be superseded by OS X Mavericks a little later this year, but its still a top-notch OS that makes use of incredibly intuitive multi-touch gestures, features Apple's integrated iCloud cloud storage service, has a useful notifications centre for accessing Twitter, Facebook and email updates and plenty of other nifty things. We've written about it extensively in the past and love it, and you can get a great overview of what's on offer by clicking here.
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Mac OS X also comes with a generous suite of pre-installed applications that are all incredibly useful. Standards like Calendar, Contacts and the Reminders programs sit alongside Garageband (a powerful home studio music recording tool), iMovie (an intuitive video editing app), FaceTime (letting you make free video calls to other Apple users - be they on Macs of iOS mobile devices), Messages (for instant messaging fellow OS X and iOS users) and iPhoto (an excellent image editing and photo library management app). You've got everything you need to get going on your machine right out of the box, while the Mac App Store is on hand to grab other applications from, and iTunes ready to manage and purchase music and video files. It's a great package.

review-line.JPGVerdict:

Though there's not enough here to entice a 2012 MacBook Air owner to double-dip for this year's model, the 11-inch 2013 MacBook Air is clearly the superior model, and still more than a match for the best the ultrabook PC market has to offer. Popping in a number of significant upgrades, not least of which is remarkable battery performance, it's still the portable notebook to beat. However, if Apple wants to keep the MacBook Air ahead of the game, it's got to look at equipping the machine with a more striking display; in this age of Retina resolutions and UHD TVs, it's the only weakness in this otherwise-formidable notebook.review-line.JPG

4.5/5

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REVIEW: Gigabyte U2442F ultrabook

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gigabyte-U2442F-1.JPGreview-line.JPGName: Gigabyte U2442F

Type: Ultrabook

Review Model Specifications: Click here for full specs

Price: Around £1,050

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Gigabyte turn their attention away from motherboards to the ultrabook market with the release of the Gigabyte U2442F. A well-rounded portable machine with dedicated graphics, find out just how well it performs in our full review.

review-line.JPGMeasuring 339mm x 233mm x 19mm, and weighing 1.59kg, the Gigabyte U2442F ultrabook is a modestly attractive laptop - not quite as thin or light as some of the more dazzling ultrabooks, it remains stylish thanks to its reserved brushed aluminium finish, and particularly appealing thanks to its relatively powerful internal components.gigabyte-U2442F-5.JPGOur review model came equipped with a 2GHz Intel Core i7-3517U power-efficient processor, 8GB of RAM and an 128GB SSD (an additional 8GB of RAM and as much as a 1TB HDD can also be optionally configured when purchased). Turbo boosting to 3.1GHz, it's a processor not to be sniffed at, even though standard mobile processors can offer a bit more grunt at the expense of power reserves.gigabyte-U2442F-9.JPG
The real selling point here then is the dedicated 2GB Nvidia GeForce GT 650M. Though now superseded by the GT 700 series of Nvidia laptop GPUs, last year's range still offer superb gaming performance for all but the most demanding of titles. And with ultrabooks usually resting on the integrated graphics capabilities of the Intel chips, this makes the U2442F one to watch for gaming enthusiasts. For instance, we ran Dirt Showdown benchmarking test at High quality at the laptop's native resolution of 1,600 x 900, and saw it average frame rates hovering between 50fps and 60fps. Even the still-demanding Crysis 2 at Ultra quality settings at the same resolution was reasonably playable at 20fps, and dialling the graphics settings back more made for a pleasant play session. All in, very impressive for an ultrabook that doesn't brand itself as a dedicated gaming machine.

With gaming performance like this, you can expect the U2442F to serve you well with everyday computing tasks too. Running Windows 8, its 128GB SSD lets you boot up the machine instantly, waking from sleep just as quickly. That 128GB SSD will fill up fast if you've sizeable media libraries however, or if you're looking to exploit the machine's gaming potential, so consider configuring the machine to include the optional HDD. It is worth noting though that Gigabyte mercifully leave the computer free from bloatware, meaning that you've got a pretty clean install of Windows 8 on here out of the box.gigabyte-U2442F-7.JPGThere's a good selection of ports around the left and right edges of the machine too, offering up four USB ports (2x 3.0, 2x 2.0), both VGA and HDMI ports, an SD card reader, Ethernet connection for wired web access and both mic and headphone jacks.
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Moving onto the keyboard, it's a backlit Chiclet style affair. While the keys themselves have a lightness that makes them feel a tad cheap, they're well spaced, making for a comfortable typing experience. Proving more enticing was the trackpad - offering a slightly textured finish and paired with a single button bar for clicks, it was responsive and made triggering Windows 8's vital gesture controls a breeze.
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The 14-inch display, maxing out at a 1600 x 900 resolution won't impress those now sporting full HD resolutions and above, but fits the bill for this reasonably-priced ultrabook well. We must admit however that with Windows 8's focus on touch controls, we're increasingly of the belief that Windows 8 ultrabooks should be equipped with touchscreen displays in order to make the most of the OS.
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Gigabyte have opted for a matte finish on the display, making it infinitely more useable outdoors or in rooms with harsh point lighting. The trade off here is in colour vibrancy and brightness, which is reduced compared to glossy LCD displays. Workers will probably find the matte finish very beneficial, while gamers may prefer the more striking richness of a glossy display. Keeping in mind a matte finish is often a premium configuration option though, its again showing the value of the U2442F.
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If there's one real weakness here, it's in the speaker array, which sits in a strip just below the screen (in a rather nutty dot-grille pattern, no less). There's a tinny sound from the speakers, and no real sense of stereo direction. Best to pair the machine with a set of headphones for games and multimedia playback then.
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In terms of battery life, the U2442F also performed well. We squeezed 5 hours out of the battery with the brightness dialled back to halfway. Considering that included firing up the GPU for a session with XCOM Enemy Unknown, that's not half bad, and those just looking to work through some spreadsheets could expect to get nearly a full working day out of the Gigabyte machine without running to the mains.

review-line.JPGVerdict:

A very worthy ultrabook, the Gigabyte U2442F is in the enviable position of being able to provide some decent gaming chops in a portable, fast-booting style. It's not the thinnest, nor the lightest, but its one of the more flexible machines performance-wise, and offers good bang for your buck.review-line.JPG

4/5

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hunched over laptop.jpgI've never heard of Hunched-Over-Laptop Syndrome (HOLS), but as I sit here in bed huddled over my laptop as I nurse an injured leg I can quite believe it exists.

Anyway according to a survey by Fellowes (the office equipment people - spot the vested interest here), 79 per cent of UK employees say that using say using work mobile devices, including laptops and tablets is making them ill.

The lack of specialist ergonomic equipment when on the move is the prime cause for the rise in work-related back and joint injuries, claims the survey, brought on by devices that promise to make our lives easier.

One in four report their posture worsens when working 'nomadically' (ie. not at their desk) and one in 10 now say this type of working has caused long-term posture problems when using handhelds, tablets and computers.

More than two thirds of those (65%) are forced to take medication to manage their condition and a staggering one in 20 has been forced to give up their job altogether.

And the health issues worsen with one in 10 complaining of being in constant pain and 17 per cent suffering some pain each day.

Worryingly, younger adults (those aged 18 - 24) are those most seriously affected as the research reveals that two thirds of young workers claim to have a problem caused by mobile working.

General practitioner and health broadcaster, Dr Sarah Jarvis explains: "Permanent desk spaces are the thing of the past with many of us working in a nomadic style. Mobile devices are meant to make consumers' lives easier, but what we aren't being warned about is the health ­dangers associated with working on the move.

"In many cases this so called 'HOL' syndrome is brought on by lack of ergonomic equipment. Job illnesses and ailments associated with poor posture are rising significantly and I am seeing more in my practice year on year."

(Research was conducted by Dynamic Markets in 2013 among 1000 UK adults 18+)

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mac-pro-2013-top-apple.jpgNot content with new MacBook Air laptops and the unveiling of the OS X Mavericks desktop operating system, Apple offered a sneak-peak at a new line of Mac Pro desktop machines at today's WWDC 2013 keynote.

Cylindrical in shape and far smaller than the current model, the curvy Mac Pro for 2013 will pack in a 12-core Intel Xeon processor, 256-bit processor, ECC memory and 1,866MHz DDR3 memory. 1.25GBps read speeds will be possible thanks to Flash storage and PCIe, making the Mac Pro's storage "10 x faster" than anything that could make its way into a MacPro before, according to Apple reps at the showcase.mac-pro-2013-apple-2.jpgDual GPUs come as standard, with new Mac Pro's equipped with AMD FirePro graphics, while Thunderbolt 2 (with 20GBps throughput) is supported throughout. 4 USB 3.0, 6 Thunderbolt 2 ports will be on offer on the rear, helping to pushing the machine's 4K capabilities.

Though no firm release date or pricing was on offer, Apple say to expect the long-time coming machine to launch "later this year".

macbook-air-2012-banner.jpgAs well as unveiling their new operating system OS X Mavericks for laptops and desktop Macs, Apple took the 2013 WWDC keynote to introduce new MacBook Air models.

Packing in the latest Intel Haswell 4th-generation processors, Apple boast of 2x the graphics performance over last year's models (pictured) and considerably improved battery life.

For the 11-inch model, that translates to 9 hours of battery compared to last year's 5 hours, and 12 hours on the 13-inch model compared to the 7 hours of last year's edition.

802.11ac Wi-Fi is also included for 3x the performance and reliability of wireless signals.

"MacBook Air is the industry leader for thin and light notebooks, and now with longer battery life, we've set the bar even higher," said Philip Schiller, Apple's senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing.

"With faster flash, more powerful graphics and up to 12 hours of battery life, the new MacBook Air packs even more performance into the portable and durable design our customers love."

The 11-inch MacBook Air comes with a 1.3 GHz processor with Turbo Boost speeds up to 2.6 GHz, 4GB of memory and is available with 128GB of flash storage. It starts at £849, while a 256GB of flash storage version jumps up to £1,029.

The 13-inch MacBook Air comes with a 1.3 GHz processor with Turbo Boost speeds up to 2.6 GHz, backed by 4GB of memory and is also available with 128GB of flash storage, starting at £949. The 256GB version starts at £1,129.

Configure-to-order options will also be available, and will include a 1.7 GHz Intel Core i7 processor with Turbo Boost speeds up to 3.3 GHz, up to 8GB of memory and up to 512GB flash storage.

os-x-mavericks-banner.jpgRunning out of lions to name their desktop OS after, Apple have used WWDC 2013 to reveal OS X Mavericks, the latest operating system version for their Mac and MacBook computer line-up.

Introducing Finder Tabs, a set of Finder windows can be grouped together into tabs, with different locations and view modes. It works much the same as tabs within a web browser do. With fullscreen support, Finder Tabs also supports tags, lettings you assign identifiers to files and documents, which then offer an alternative way of searching in the finder sidebar. Tags work across both locally stored files and those housed in iCloud.

Menus can now spread across multiple displays too, bringing the OS X Dock with it, and Spaces can pan independently, allowing an AirPlay connected TV to become a fully-fledged extra display. In other words, wireless displays are in on OS X, and genuinely useful. Each separate display can support fullscreen apps.

Maverick will also compress inactive apps into memory. The technique provides 1.4x performance improvement over Mountain Lion, even with an SSD. Paired with a new "App Nap" feature, system resources will be more readily accessible to your currently active apps.os-x-mavericks-tabs.jpgSafari too gets an update. As well as new sidebar with bookmarks and a scrolling Reading List, there will be a new integrated Shared Links feature, offering up links suggested by pals through LinkedIn and Twitter. No Facebook support here though.

SunSpider benchmarks put the new version of Safari at 1.44x faster than Google's Chrome, and uses one third the resources of Firefox.

iCloud Keychain will also speed up browsing, remembering all website logins, passwords and Wi-Fi networks and their passwords too, synced across all systems and 256-bit AES-encrypted. Credit card details can optionally be stored too, but not 3-digit security codes.

Push notifications jump from iPhone to Mac too. The Notifications centre will now allow you to reply to a Twitter message directly, and you can also delete emails in the notifications sidebar too.

Skeuomorphism in the Calendar app is out, favouring a flat look, as well as offering previews of appointments that will give a preview of location and what weather to expect.
os-x-mavericks-tags.jpgiBooks will also now be available on Mac, offering 1.8 million books to desktop machines, as will the much-maligned Apple Maps service, complete with 3D flyover views.

"The Mac business has out-paced the PC business for several years now," said CEO Tim Cook, revealing that the iMac is the number one desktop computer in the US, with 28 million copies of the Mountain Lion OS shipped.

"For us it's never been about making the most. It's about quality".

Available for developers to test from today, OS X Mavericks will be available to all Mac users from Autumn. We'll bring you more news on the new operating system in the coming days.

Sony-Vaio-Duo-13-slider-hands-on-06.JPGWe're a fickle bunch us tech heads - first we're dying to throw away our digital stylus pens in favour of finger-sensitive controls, now (somewhat egged on by the success of Samsung's Galaxy Note mobile range) we're all for them again. Toshiba this week revealed new stylus-equipped Android tablets, and now it's Sony turn to show the pen is mightier (or at least as useful as) the finger with the unveiling of their latest Sony Vaio Duo convertible laptop/tablet. We had a brief hands-on play with the 13-inch device at a press preview event yesterday.Sony-Vaio-Duo-13-slider-hands-on-07.JPGA little larger than last year's 11-inch model, the Vaio Duo 13 offers the best of both the tablet and ultrabook worlds, with a sliding hinge mechanism that lets the device's touchscreen sit upright behind a full-size keyboard, or flat across the keys for something akin to a traditional tablet experience.Sony-Vaio-Duo-13-slider-hands-on-10.JPGWeighing in at 1.35kg it's reasonably light, though should be seen as an alternative to carrying both a notebook and tablet around, rather than being on a par in terms of size with the thinnest individual tablets or ultrabooks. 13-inches for a tablet may prove a little unwieldy for some too, though it's great to have it as an optional set up.Sony-Vaio-Duo-13-slider-hands-on-05.JPGRunning Windows 8, the Sony Vaio Duo 13 also comes with a digitiser stylus pen for scribbling down handwritten notes. Updated to include a clip to house the pen when its not in use, removing the stylus from its housing automatically fires up Sony's Note Anytime app, allowing you to start writing straight way without having to first fire up the appropriate app. Paired with a lovely, vibrant 1920 x 1080 display enhanced by Sony's X-Reality, Bravia and Triliminos technologies, the pen proved responsive to our inputs, and also felt comfortably similar to a standard ballpoint.Sony-Vaio-Duo-13-slider-hands-on-01.JPGLikewise, despite being relatively small, the Vaio Duo 13 had a comfortably spaced keyboard with good travel. What seems to have been compromised as a result however is the size of the trackpad, which is just a thin slice below the keys. With both touch and stylus input also supported, and the ability to plug a mouse into the device's USB port, perhaps that's not such a big problem, but may cause difficulties when trying to hammer some work out with the Vaio Duo 13 on your lap.Sony-Vaio-Duo-13-slider-hands-on-02.JPGThose worried about the sturdiness of the supporting slider hinge should be able to rest easy. In our brief test it seemed solidly constructed and moved smoothly from one position to the next. Sony reps at the event also showed us a video of the vigorous stress testing the design has undergone, showing the Vaio Duo 13 hinge withstanding some pretty mean twists and bends. Sony-Vaio-Duo-13-slider-hands-on-08.JPGMultiple configuration of the Vaio Duo 13 will be available, and can include 4th-gen Intel Haswell Core i7 processors, as much as 8GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD. There's no option for a discrete graphics solution though, with only Intel's HD4400 offered at the top end. Connectivity as standard across the range includes USB 3.0, HDMI output, an SD card slot, NFC, GPS and 4G LTE too. Battery life is quoted as 15 hours, but we weren't able to confirm that during our brief test.Sony-Vaio-Duo-13-slider-hands-on-09.JPGIn a clever feat of engineering, the Vaio Duo 13's battery pack also houses an Ethernet port, which then allows you to turn the charger into a router, acting as a Wi-Fi hotspot for multiple other devices.

Set to launch in black and white colour options, Sony have yet to reveal pricing for the Vaio Duo 13. Early impressions however are positive, making Sony's latest slider one to watch.

acer-aspire-r7-star-trek.jpgAcer's Aspire R7 Star Trek Into Darkness limited edition convertible ultrabook is to boldly go where none of its 24 brethren have gone before: into an eBay charity auction!

One of only 25 in the world, the auction package includes Acer's insane ultrabook/tablet hybrid, complete with a special sandblast finish, a poster signed by the movie's cast, Star Trek wallpapers, videos and sounds pre-installed, a soundtrack and also a copy of the latest Star Trek game.

The laptop itself would be a lustworthy prize, featuring a unique easel-like hinge, a 1080p 15.6-inch touchscreen, a 500GB HDD with fast-booting 24GB SSD and an Intel Core i5 processor.

"Acer is giving one lucky person in the world the opportunity to become the sole owner of the Acer Aspire R7 Star Trek Into Darkness Limited Edition Package", said Neil Marshall, managing director, Acer UK.

"We know this extremely rare Limited Edition will be a treasured prize for the winner, and it will also help two worthy charities further their missions of empowering military veterans and helping children in need." he added.

Click here to check out the auction
, which opens on June 14th and closes June 24th.

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Acer's Aspire R7 laptop/tablet hybrid insanely puts the trackpad behind the keyboard

macbook-air-2012-banner.jpgAs well as the near-certain launch of iOS7 at next week's annual WWDC bash from Apple, the Cupertino company are now being tipped to reveal new hardware at the event. Set to take top billing is a new line up of MacBook Air products for 2013.

So what's set for inclusion in the slimline new notebooks? For starters, Intel's latest Haswell 4th-gen Core processors looks a dead-cert, offering improved battery efficiency and double the integrated graphics capabilities of last year's Ivy Bridge generation.

A dual-microphone system, similar to that seen in the Retina MacBook Pro line-up is also set for inclusion according to 9to5Mac, alongside faster 802.11ac Wi-Fi chips.

What's looking very unlikely to feature however is Intel's Thunderbolt 2 technology. Though rumoured for inclusion, Intel revealed today that their new data transfer protocol (capable of 20Gbps speeds) won't hit mass production until much later this year in time for a 2014 roll-out.

Apple's 2013 WWDC keynote kicks off on Monday. We'll bring you all the latest official announcements as they're delivered then.

sony-vaio-duo-13-slider.jpgSony have today announced a new and improved Vaio slider, the Sony Vaio Duo 13.

Doubling up as both ultrabook and tablet, the device features a sliding screen that can lay flat while facing upwards over the keys to act like a traditional slate device.

Measuring 13.3-inches and packing in a Full HD Triluminous touchscreen display with X-Reality picture processing technology, the Vaio Duo 13 can be configured to include Intel's latest Haswell 4th generation processors, as much as 8GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD.

Running Windows 8, the 4G-enabled slider also comes with a digitiser stylus for handwritten note taking, with the device's Note Anytime software allowing you to scribble whenever you like rather than hunting for an associated app.

The Vaio Duo 13 also features an 8MP rear-facing camera that is capable of character recognition alongside built-in software, making the device also a sort of on-the-go document scanner too. There's also a Wi-Fi router included, allowing the ultrabook to act as a hotspot for 5 other devices.

15 hours is the stated battery life, one that, if true, would put it in the upper echelons of laptop power packs.

No word on pricing yet, but expect a June release.

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