Reviews / Xtreme 770 - Custom PC-
» Custom PC Approved Award
Our favourite laptop gets a facelift, and the results are very pleasing
You don’t have to be the head of EA Sports – publishers of roughly 7,000 identical FIFA games – to know that you shouldn’t mess with a winning formula. Rock’s laptops have won more awards in Custom PC than any other manufacturer, and it’s the company’s focused attitude towards gaming that impresses us. While there have always been more striking, stylish or awe-inspiring options (think Dell XPS, Sony VAIO and Alienware respectively). Rock has consistently delivered high-quality, high-performance laptops. The Rock CTX Pro walked away from our recent gaming laptops Lab test (see Issue 49, P84) with the winning medal around it’s neck but, unless you were quick off the mark (and rather disappointingly) that model is no longer available.
Rock’s latest offering, much like the CTX Pro, is housed inside a chunky, wedge-shaped chassis from Clevo. The styling of the 770’s chassis has been overhauled, and the layout tweaked, to bring Rock’s flagship gaming range bang up to date. A streak of deep orange plastic running around the sides of the 770 breaks up the smoothly textured black of the case, and the overall shape is much sleeker, if chunkier. Compared with the unconvincing styling of some gaming laptops, such as Asus G2S see Issue 49, P76), and the latest offering from MSI ( see P36), this is a subtle approach, but it feels much more sporty than the business-like stuffiness of the CTX Pro’s relatively bland silver case.
As it’s fixed in place, a good keyboard layout is essential in a laptop. Once again, some manufacturers think that gamers want backlit keys and cool, wacky designs surrounding everything. Perhaps even highlighted WASD keys, as if you didn’t already know where they are. However, such fripperies won’t help if you’re struggling to find the Ctrl key while someone’s aiming a rifle at you. The Xtreme 770 has a full-sized keyboard, laid out in almost exactly the same way as a desktop version-only the number pad has been rearranged. What’s more, the keys feel solid and responsive, offering plenty of travel without any sponginess- the key qualities of a good gaming keyboard.
When it comes to the more exciting and electrically conductive areas under the hood, the Xtreme 770 lives up to its poorly spelled name by sporting a beefy CPU in the shape of an Intel Core 2 Duo T7500 with both cores clocked at 2.2GHz. This is inferior to the 2.33GHz T7700 found inside the CTX Pro, even though the 770 is a slightly more expensive laptop. Nevertheless, the T7500 offers plenty of oomph to get the best from the 512MB Ge-Force Go 7950 GTX graphics card – the most powerful (if also the most expensive) mobile graphics card you can buy.
This powerful CPU/GPU combination is backed up by 2GB of DDR2 RAM, which is ideal for running the supplied 32-bit version of Windows Vista Home Premium smoothly. It also means that the laptop is equipped to indulge in a spot of Eve Online or serious photo editing, both of which are notoriously RAM- hungry applications.
One thing’s for sure: games and films look very nice on the Rock’s luxurious, glossy, 1,920 x 1,200 widescreen display, which accounts for a good chunk of the 770’s £1,655.49 price tag. However, you get what you pay for: a fantastic screen with excellent contrast and natural colours. It brings every image to life and is easily up there with the best laptop screens we’ve seen. Viewing angles are as good as you’ll get on a portable screen, with only some discolouration when you move your head towards or away from the screen. It’s a great screen for watching HD-DVDs, and Rock has recognised this by including a Toshiba HD-DVD drive.
As well as demanding an absolutely perfect screen, it’s also unreasonable to ask any mobile GPU to run modern games with high detail settings at huge resolutions. Playing at a modest 1,024 x 768 didn’t cause too many scaling-based image quality issues, which helps when playing a graphically demanding game.
The price is also assuaged by the armada of integrated components, including Bluetooth, the newest form of WiFi, 802.11n 9plus 802.11a/b), Gigabit Ethernet and Intel HD Audio. There are also the more standard inclusions, such as the 7-in-1 media card reader, webcam, four USB 2 ports, ExpressCard/34 slot and DVI output.
If you really want to push the boat out, you can send the price of the Xtreme 770 sky-rocketing up to £2,300 by choosing a 2.6GHz Core 2 Duo T7800 and upgrading to 4GB of RAM (of which the 32-bit version of Vista will only see 3.12GB at best).
However, the most interesting spec option is to have Windows XP Professional instead of Vista. This costs you £59, and should you want Vista at a later date, you can buy a copy and install it yourself, as Microsoft prevents Rock from offering an upgrade service. If you’re sceptical about Vista SP1 (due early next year) being the best thing ever, the options there.
With a Core 2 Duo T7500, the Rock was no slouch when it came to our Media Benchmarks, delivering scores that, for the most part, compare well with our powerful desktop reference PC. The 2GB of RAM helps the Rock to race along in our photo editing test, with a high score of 818, and it managed a similarlydependable 859 in the video encoding test. As we saw in the last laptops Lab test, the multitasking test is a difficult challenge, the Rock’s score of 567 means that it performs only half as quickly as our desktop test system. This can be attributed to the compromises made throughout the system in order for it to be power-frugal, small and light. FSB speeds are 667MHz compared to a desktop’s 1,333MHz, and the hard disk (despite being rated at 7,200rpm) won’t perform anything like your 7,200rpm desktop disk, to choose two examples. In short, although the spec lists of laptops can appear to be identical to desktop machines, you still shouldn’t expect comparable performance.
Nor should you expect, even with a 512MB GeForce Go 7950 GTX, to play the latest crop of graphics-heavy games at high resolutions with all the settings whacked up to maximum, although the 770 is certainly no slouch. We played F.E.A.R, Company of Heroes and World in Conflict at 1,024 x 768 to get an indication of performance and received some impressive results. Company of Hereos was fluid, with a minimum of 34fps and an average of 55fps, while F.E.A.R returned a silky-smooth 50fps minimum and 86fps average. World in Conflict (in DX9 mode) was a different story with a minimum of 10fps and an average of 25fps. In an ideal world, if you’re spending more than £1,500 on a gaming system, you should expect to be able to play all the latest games at high resolutions; however this is the limit of current mobile gaming technology. You’ll have to dial down your detail setting to achieve smooth frame rates for the latest games, but at least slightly older titles perform well. The amount of gaming you can perform without playing ‘hunt the power brick’ is fairly low at 57mins.
While the case for buying a top-end gaming laptop isn’t compelling at the moment, the Rock Xtreme 770 is the best of the bunch. The evolution from the CTX Pro has introduced two main elements: 802.11n WiFi, which should provide the speed and reliability for wireless gaming (although you’ll still need a power connection and a high-resolution screen. The high-resolution nature of the screen offers you the choice of using these pixels(with lower graphical detail) for a chatbox-strewn MMO, or using high graphical details at low resolutions and relying on the screen’s excellent scaling abilities. A fresh new look and more refined feel of the Xtreme 770, plus the great keyboard and useful extras such as the 802.11n WiFi, make this a high-quality piece of kit.
Custom PC Approved Award