Wednesday, June 01, 2005

When Laptops Play Games

There should be a natural lifecycle for computers at home. The big guy (me) gets the biggest, baddest machine possible. When age (the computer's, not mine) sets in, the PC gets passed on to oldest child and so on.

Well yeah, in some other parallel universe.

What actually happens is that the big guy (me) spends a lot of time doing tech support and tweaking the biggest, baddest PC owned by oldest daughter, while continuing to get by on the 2002 model.

The explanation and blame lies at the feet of 3D games. Running Quicken doesn't suck up that many CPU cycles, but GuildWars sure does. The kids are running frame rates and CPU loads that would have crushed the average nuclear research lab 5 years ago.

And so to the point of this ramble. I need to get a laptop for elder daughter to replace her monster PC. I thought this would be relatively simple since the IBM (Lenovo) ThinkPad T series remains the best laptop out there. Unfortunately, it does not have the GPU to handle games.

There is a category called "Desktop Replacement" in most laptop reviews, but on closer examination, it appears that most of these units have very basic graphics capability. Nothing close to what is required for serious 3D play.

So far, I have been able to track down only three laptops available in Singapore that have top end graphics cards - the Dell Inspirion 9300, the Acer TI8104, and the Acer Ferrari 4000. There is another Dell, the XPS laptop which seems to be only available in the US and Canada.

I have dealt with Dell for many years and purchased thousands of their PC's for various companies I have worked for. Great people, great products. Lousy laptops. Dell, like most other vendors OEM's their laptops from Taiwanese vendors. There is nothing inherently wrong with that, just that the value add can be pretty small, and the product is not likely to have had the same scruitiny during manufacture as something assembled in-house.

Acer on the other hand has been a universally terrible experience. I bought a 19 inch monitor from them many years ago which spent a considerable amount of its life in the service shop. On liberation, it celebrated by bursting into flames and melting down. Luckily I was at home at the time and managed to contain the damage to one charred desk.

Against my better judgement, I bought a PC from Acer some years ago. What looked like a deal turned out to be a dog, with missing cache memory and low spec parts.

Since then, Acer purchased the laptop operations of Texas Instruments, and continues to differentiate their product line between Acer and Acer TI models. The one that has the gaming credentials is in the TI line. The online reveiws have all been good except for a few complaining about hellish service. Sounds familiar...

Comparing specs, the Acer comes out slightly better than the Dell at pretty much exactly the same price.

If you have any advice or experience to share about good gaming laptops, please do add a comment to this entry.



1 comment:

Matt Huebert said...

My Asus M6bne has run the few games I've tried quite well. Widescreen display, "Zero Bright Dot" LCD policy, ATI Mobility Radeon graphics chipset.

http://www.asus.com/products4.aspx?l1=5&l2=24&l3=128&model=39&modelmenu=1

Asus support policies vary from country to country. I have a rare problem with mine -- the hinge broke and is pushing the case apart -- and am supposed to have it serviced by the dubious firm I bought it from in Toronto... they never respond to emails, and so far they won't tell me whether it is covered under warranty before I ship it to them ("well you need to get it fixed either way, right?") so I might end up just paying the $80/hour to get it fixed in Saskatoon... or for all I know, the guys in Toronto will be getting paid by ASUS for warranty service and by me for 'sucker tax'.

However, if I was in the U.S. I could send it in to an ASUS support facility and they'd return it within a week.

No idea if you can find one in Singapore though.

Also, a friend just bought an LG LM50 and is quite pleased.