Despite all the chest-beating about notebook computers replacing desktops for gaming, it’s never really been anything more than hot air from mobile enthusiasts drunk on Kool-Aid.
That’s because notebooks have always lagged behind in graphics. If a desktop “ultra” version features a 16-pixel pipeline chip, the notebook version features 12 pipes. If the desktop version is clocked at 400MHz, the mobile version is clocked at half that.
That second-class status is finally shed with the Voodoo Envy Hu:703, thanks to its state-of-the-art GeForce Go 7800 GTX graphics part. nVidia’s new mobile graphics chip is damned close to its desktop brethren in specsmanship and marks a new age in graphics performance. Like its desktop counterpart, the GeForce Go 7800 GTX has a 24-pixel pipeline part. It’s also just a hair off in clock speeds at 400MHz core and 550MHz DDR memory, versus 430MHz and 600MHz DDR RAM on the desktop cards. There’s no SLI of course, but nVidia says it’s a possibility down the line, even in a laptop.
Voodoo matches the Go 7800 GTX with a beautifully painted and brutally heavy notebook. Inside the massive chassis there are few surprises—RAID 0, A/B/G wireless, and a 17-inch screen. The Envy’s 3.6GHz desktop P4 660 can even run a 64-bit OS. None of the notebooks we reviewed in our July 2005 roundup could do that. If you read our July roundup, you probably recognize the chassis of the Envy Hu:703, because it’s pretty much the same Sager chassis that Alienware, Cyberpower, and Hypersonic submitted to us. Voodoo, however, opted for a Matshita slot-fed DVD burner, which is an improvement over the pop-out drive trays of the others. We don’t think the screen is an improvement, though. The 17-inch monitor in the Envy sports an aggressive anti-glare coating that almost gives the screen a frosted-glass look—it can be very distracting.
Its flaws are a shame, as the Envy is clearly the fastest gaming notebook we’ve tested. Compared with the Alienware and Dell machines from July, the 7800 GTX-equipped Envy is smoking fast. In 3DMark05, it’s about 38 percent faster than the Mobility Radeon X800 XT Platinum Edition in Alienware’s 51M and about 42 percent faster than the GeForce Go 6800 Ultra in Dell’s XPS (both Alienware and Dell now offer the 7800 part, however). In Doom 3, the Envy Hu is about 33 percent faster than the Alienware and 34 percent faster than the Dell. But in applications, the Envy gets pushed out of the way by the 3.8GHz P4 in the Alienware. Megahertz still matters for some things.
Speed isn’t everything, though. You probably know that we don’t think the P4-based super notebooks are the wisest selections. They’re heavy and super hot. And we mean uncomfortable, sterility-inducing hot. The Envy is no exception. The vent along the left side of the notebook could double as a hand-dryer in the men’s bathroom at Wal-Mart.
Battery life is also disappointing. With 3DMark03 looped, we got an unspectacular 51 minutes of run time. Most people who buy this class of notebook obviously aren’t looking for portability and they’re probably not looking for battery life either. They’re looking for all-out performance, which the Envy delivers in spades.
While we’re not sold on Pentium 4 for notebooks, consumers who know what they’re getting and can live with it will find that the Envy is at the front of the class.
— Gordon Mah Ung
Month Reviewed: December 2005
+ RED RUM: Smoking-fast GeForce Go 7800 GTX is nearly on par with desktop part.
- REDRUM: Can double as a waffle iron for your leg; anti-glare coating gives screen a shimmery look.