Gaming notebooks are a strange category in the notebook market. The machines are far from what most of us would consider portable with giant screens and tons of hardware crammed inside. They also tend to cost much more than other notebooks that are available.
The machines are aimed at a very specific target audience, one that likes to game and is willing to pay the big bucks portable gaming machines demand. Today I have the Smooth Creations 18.4 notebook on my test bench and the thing is a beast.
This is easily the largest notebook I have ever laid my hands on and the thing makes use of that huge size to pack in some of the best hardware we have ever tested in notebook guise. If you have the green for a new gaming notebook and want one that is blazing fast, Smooth Creations just might have your notebook.
Specifications, Availability, and Pricing
Like most gaming notebooks, especially those from boutique makers like Smooth Creations, the number of options and choices on this notebook is simply staggering.
The machine I am testing is packed full of the best available with an Intel Core 2 Extreme Q9300 quad-core CPU, NVIDIA GTX 280M graphics, 8GB of RAM, and 500 GB of storage. The basic notebook starts at about $3,400 and the configuration I am testing is well over that starting price.
The Smooth Creations 18.4 Notebook
The lid of my test system was adorned with an image from the Shattered Horizons game. You can opt for paint and a plethora of other lid options.
Here you see the front edge of the notebook with small indicators under the latch to show HDD use and cooling grates of the desktop grade CPU inside.
This notebook is very thick and the right side has a cable input for TV watching, audio jacks, two USB ports and a Kensington lock port.
The circle in the middle is where the AC adapter plugs in. There are also lots of cooling grates on the back of the notebook.
The left side of the notebook has a DVI output, RJ45 connector, HDMI output, two USB ports, memory card reader, PC Card slot, Firewire and optical drive.
The track pad is smooth and separated by the wrist rest with a blue lighted rectangle when the notebook is on. You can also see the fingerprint reader here.
The screen of the notebook is gigantic and very glossy. Great for gaming and watching movies in dark rooms, but glare is an issue any other time.
Benchmarks - Battery Life, 3DMark Vantage, Crysis & Video Encoding
Now we get to the benchmarks. Since this machine is a gaming notebook, I will be testing it with 3DMark Vantage, Crysis, Windows Media Encoder and Battery Eater Pro. I normally perform my iTunes encoding test as well, but iTunes simply refused to run on the machine due to some sort of audio hardware conflict I was unable to resolve.
Battery Eater Pro
The battery life in the real world will vary significantly from the time we get with Battery Eater Pro, so your mileage may vary here. You can't expect a huge gaming notebook to do well in battery life.
Considering the hardware inside, I was honestly surprised it lasted as long as it did. Check out the chart below for the test results.
3DMark Vantage is an important benchmark for gaming machines and the Smooth Creations 18.4 notebook absolutely crushed the record in this benchmark. Check out the chart below for the details.
Crysis is getting to be an older game now, but it can still bring machines to their knees. The SC 18.4 again crushed records in this benchmark.
Windows Media Encoder
Version and / or Patch Used: 9
Developer Homepage: http://www.microsoft.com
Product Homepage: http://www.microsoft.com/windows/windowsmedia/forpros/encoder/default.mspx
The final benchmark is my Windows Media Encoder test where I take the 1080p HD Magic of Flight video from Microsoft and use WME to change the video to DVD quality video with CD quality audio. Check out the chart below to see how well the notebook performed.
Hands on Use
The first thing you notice about the Smooth Creations 18.4 Notebook is the sheer size of the beast. Everyone who saw the machine sitting on my bench had to walk up and see the thing for themselves; it is simply huge. The screen is huge and it weighs a ton, this is not the sort of machine you want to try to carry with you on the road. The heftiness of the Smooth Creations 18.4 Notebook means it is more suited to use in a house where it might move from the living room to the kitchen and that is about it.
With all the power the notebook has under the hood, it is a fantastic desktop replacement and will be ideal for those who need a powerful machine that will occasionally move from the office to home. Hardcore gamers who frequent LAN parties will find a lot to like here as well.
One of the things that I didn't really like about the notebook was its keyboard. Given the sheer girth of the machine, you would expect a full size keyboard. The keys are surprisingly small and have lots of space between them. That meant for me that there was a big learning curve before I could type normally. The keys on the 11-inch Acer Ferrari One are a bit larger than the keys on the Smooth Creations 18.4 Notebook for example. Other than the odd size and spacing, the keyboard has good typing feel and programmable keys along the side for one touch access to your favorite things.
The huge screen is great for watching video and movies. There is no smearing, tearing, or other issues with video quality and playback was silky smooth. Colors are accurate and skin tones are realistic. This is an excellent media PC and the HDMI out means you can send video to your big screen, too. I like the DVI output as well; that is not something you see on many laptops today and it makes connecting to your average PC LCD a snap. Glare bothered me in some instances, but that is common to just about all notebooks today.
Of all the notebooks I have reviewed, the Smooth Creations 18.4 Notebook is easily the most targeted at a specific crowd. The notebook is big, powerful and very expensive, making it something the masses will not be interested in.
Gamers looking for desktop performance in a luggable package will find that the Smooth Creations 18.4 Notebook fits the bill exactly. The Smooth Creations 18.4 Notebook has set the benchmark records that all other notebooks will be shooting for.
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