After reviewing the iBuyPower CZ-17 last month and seeing it look nearly identical to our zero-point MSI GT60, we were hoping our next gaming laptop would be a fresh, new design. Unfortunately Maingear's Nomad 15 apparently uses the same original design manufacturer (ODM) construction as those other two.
The Nomad 15's glossy surface actually does a good job of preventing fingerprint smudges.
This isn't to say the 15.6-inch laptop is ugly. It's just that when you're paying $2,600 for a device, you’d like to get something that looks cool (see the Razer Blade laptop). The 14.9x10.2x1.7-inch chassis and nearly 10-pound body is roughly the same size/weight as the MSI GT60 and features the same geometric contours and cut-off corners. Its keyboard features the exact same faint, blue backlit-LED keyboard as the CZ-17.
To be fair, Maingear does add some small tweaks to the ODM design: The laptop cover comes in a wide variety of colors (we got ours in blue), the palm rest-area is textured with a pattern of small hexagons, and the body has a distinctly glossy coat which does a surprisingly good job of keeping finger prints at bay. Another nice aspect of the laptop is its screen. The matte 1920x1080-resolution monitor does a great job of minimizing the annoying TN-shimmer commonplace on cheaper screens and off-axis viewing is surprisingly good.
While the monitor is nice, it's what's under the hood that really shines. Our Nomad 15 came loaded with impressive specs: a 2.8GHz Intel Core i7-3840QM processor, 16GB of DDR3/1600, and a GeForce GTX 680M. It clearly beat the GT60 zero-point in nearly every one of our performance benchmarks. The closest our zero-point got to the Nomad 15 was in the CPU intensive tests (Stich, ProShow, and x264 5.0 HD), but even here the GT60 was still behind by at least 10 percent in all tests. In the GPU-intensive applications, Maingear's laptop really blew our zero-point out of the water. The Nomad 15's GeForce GTX 680M annihilated the GT60's GTX 670M by 210 percent in our STALKER benchmark. The gap only widened when we ran 3DMark 11, where Maingear's laptop slaughtered the GT60 by 242 percent. These tests only confirm that a 680M with its new 28nm Kepler architecture is that much more efficient than a 670M with its older Fermi design.
In our experiential gameplay tests, the Nomad 15 didn't break a sweat running Source-engine games like Dota 2 maxed-out, where it had no problems staying above 70fps. We pressed on and installed Far Cry 3, a shooter that's known to make even the fastest desktop GPUs cry (pun intended). While the Nomad 15 didn't come close to maxing out the graphically intensive game, it was able to stay consistently above 40fps on "high" settings at 1080p. Conversely, on the same settings, our zero-point couldn't even break 30fps.
Boot times on the Nomad 15 were also good. Armed with a pair of Crucial M4 128GB SSDs, the Nomad 15 booted to Windows in 24 seconds. Our SSD-less zero-point took more than twice as long. The only area where Maingear's offering fell behind the zero-point was in battery life but by just 10 percent in video play back. It appears that all that power has to take a toll somewhere.
When you're spending a premium for a gaming laptop, you might expect a unique, beautifully designed chassis. You're not getting that here. What you're paying for is brute-force performance, and what a beast of a performer this Nomad 15 is.