And so our story begins… [skip if you don’t care about me ]
So, about five months ago I received my university offers and decided that taking my massive gaming PC really wasn’t practical and that I would probably need a laptop (plus I am poor and needed the extra money to help buy silly things like food). Sigh* gaming on a laptop? This is something that I was reluctant, at first, to try. (I used to have an old dell latitude D600 and remember it could hardly run Call of Duty… shudder*) However, I did some good old digging around, researched what mobile GPU’s and CPU’s were the best. Essentially the advice was AVIOD AMD CPU’s as if your life depended on it, and go Intel. So I uncovered a few laptops around the £500 mark that were just ‘meh’, they could run some games okay and others, such as battlefield 3, in low. This is not what I was looking for, especially as I am big on graphics. Eventually (100+ hours later) I came across PC Specialist and I have to say I am shocked at how amazing well priced everything is. For £496 (excluding Windows 8, as I already have a copy) I got the Enigma IV with the following specs:
Intel Core i5-3210m @2.5GHz
NVidia GeForce GT 650m 2GB DDR3 GPU
8GB DDR3 RAM @ 1600MHz
500GB Sata3 HDD 5400RPM
15” 1920x1080p Full HD Screen
(Note, most of these features are fully customizable, so you could have an i7 or 1Tb HDD.)
I would like to point out to all those super-rich and overly brand protective apple fans, that the MacBook Pro with the same specs is £1045 at the time of writing… great value for money right?
Anyway, I digress; back to the review.
Good, I like the design.
Although it’s not quite the most aesthetically desirable laptop on the market, it is fine. Personally I think it looks better than other MSI gaming laptops as the design isn’t overbearing; besides its what’s inside that counts. On the right side of the laptop we have the charging port; DVD drive (can be upgraded to Blu-ray) and two USB 2.0 ports.
On the other side we have a VGA; Ethernet; System Fan; HDMI; 2 USB 3.0 ports; and Audio and Mic ports. The System Fan and the heat sink on this laptop are excellent to say the least. When browsing the web or using Microsoft Word the fan doesn’t need to run all the time (saving battery). Moreover, when in games, the fan is not unacceptably auditable and does a good job of keeping the temps down. I have never seen over 78c whilst gaming, which is a whole 12c under the maximum; pretty good considering.
So what about Gaming?
At first I found Gaming kinda ‘meh’, the laptop was able to run older games like Arma 2 and Assassins creed 2, but it wasn’t handling games like Skyrim how I wanted it to. The graphics at 1080p weren’t at max and the FPS weren’t particularly great.
However, after a few tweaks this was a thing of the past!
(In game shot of Tomb Raider taken on this very laptop, graphics on Ultra.)
After learning that Intel CPU’s throttle their speeds in order to save power and battery life I discovered there was a program called ThrottleStop (TS).
With TS running my CPU was running anywhere between 2.7 – 3.0GHz; not only is this a 0.5GHz gain in CPU power, but it gave a massive boost to my FPS. In Arma 2 I gained an additional 22 frames, in Starcraft 2 I gained a further 16. Quite the jump. But I was still wasn’t able to run all games smoothly at 1080p, most games were fine, but for me not been able to run Metro 2033 in full wouldn’t cut it. So I did an uber-pro Google search and after a while discovered how to safely overclock the graphics without obscure BIOS mods.
Another program I discovered is NVidia Inspector, after a while working out how make a .Bat file command that would work with this particular GPU I managed to add a 149MHz overclock to the Clock speed and an extra 100Mhz to the memory speed.
nvidiaInspector.exe -setBaseClockOffset:0,0,135 -setMemoryClockOffset:0,0,200 -setGpuClock:0,0,984 -setMemoryClock:0,0,1035 -forcepstate:0,8 – this is the command I used for the .Bat file. (if you do buy this laptop and need help with this step, just message me)
This gave a MASSIVE MASSIVE MASSIVE fps boost, and I can now play games like Skyrim in full 1080p with everything maxed out. Not bad for £500 right?
I know some of you are probably going to ask, is this safe? Well, no. Overclocking is never ‘safe’ as you are pushing your hardware harder than the manufacture intended. However, the GT 650m is very close to the GT 660m (the next graphics card in the series, it is slightly better), it’s essentially an under-clocked 660m without ddr5 and the extra shaders. With the overclock that I am using, this GT 650m out performs the 660m (at stock values), and is better value for money.
This is the laptop running TombRaider. Textures Ultra; Anisotropic Filter x16; Normal hair; Anti-aliasing off; Shadows normal; Detail Ultra; Post processing and tessellation on, everything else is off. The settings that are off don’t drastically change the way the game looks, and given the high pixel density of the screen sharpness filters are a bit overkill.
So what about other things? Like not gaming?
Well battery life is good, on power saver I get about 3hrs from full charge if I am just doing simple web browsing or typing an essay. I consider this to be pretty good for a 6 cell battery on a laptop with no integrated graphics and blue lights on the corners that cannot be turned off!
This is a good laptop for watching films and listening to music, the in-build speakers are pretty good. Whilst I have heard better, they are fine. The on board sound card is excellent.
Well I have a confession, I switched the 500GB HDD out for my PC’s 128GB Corsair SSD, so my start up time (to desktop) is about 7 seconds. With the HDD is was around 21-ish, which is still pretty dam good.
Well for the price, i don't how anyone can complain, this laptop is capable of running current games in max settings, only in a few do you have to tone down the settings. The build quality is good; its thin; its light; and basically perfect. Laptops of similar specs are well into the £800+ range, even then for a laptop with a 1080p screen your hitting the £1100 mark. As much as I would love to say that I have massively down graded to a laptop, I can't. Yes I miss my desktop, but this is the next best thing!