I’ve been gaming on a jury-rigged desktop frankencomputer for long enough to begin feeling those ol’ tech-lag blues, so when VoodooPC offered to loan me an Envy H:171 gaming laptop, I jumped at the chance. Quad-core processing, complete with a 17-inch screen and a pair of GeForce 7950 GPUs, all at less than 12 lbs and portable? Sign me up, baby.
The first thing I did was fulfill a long-standing dream of mine to play PC games on my TV. (Hey, I dream small.) I only recently got a decent HDTV, and dismantling the desktop machine and hooking it up in the family room was never really an option. The Envy made it much easier, and I got down to work playing Enemy Territory, Portal, and Team Fortress 2. (It’s a hard job, but someone has to do it.)
All of them looked spectacular, of course. The frame rates were better and I could finally crank all the graphic settings up to 11. This is gaming at the bleeding edge. More to the point, the quadruple fans and the case design kept the unit cool even through several hours of heavy use, erasing any doubts I had about the practicality of quad cores in high-end gamer laptops.
But I play action games on consoles all the time, and after a hefty chunk of Halo 3, Gears of War, and BioShock on 360, would the experience be that different? In a word, yes—but only in ways a hardcore PC gamer would notice. BioShock looked great on 360, but a powerful PC provides deeper colors, better textures, and more convincing fog effects. This was all obvious in a side-by-side comparison, but it wasn’t something that struck me when I simply played BioShock on the console, which leads to the $5,200 question: Does a $5,600 PC outperform a $400 Xbox enough to warrant the massive added expense?
For the true hobbyist, no question. The clincher was Medieval 2, a game that gives my current desktop the yips. Once I cranked the graphics up to the max and saw hundreds of detailed units clashing in complex and realistic battles, I remembered what makes PC gaming so special. And if that’s your passion, who can put a price on it?
So, does that mean when my loaner period is up, I’ll buy one?
Who has that kind of money?
Thomas L. McDonald has been covering games for 17 years. He is Editor-at-Large of Games Magazine .