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Thursday, June 13, 2013

Schenker Notebooks XMG A523 review - first 4th-gen Intel Core Haswell laptop tested

Announcements for PCs packing Intel's fourth-generation Core series processors have been coming thick and fast from the big names. Much of this was coinciding with the Computex trade show in Taipei. But our first example of a Haswell-powered laptop is actually from a smaller brand, German company Schenker Notebooks.

The Schenker Notebooks XMG A523 isn't just any old Haswell laptop either. It's a full-on gaming rig, equipped with a fourth-generation Intel Core i7 processor and a brand new GTX 7000 series GPU from nVidia.

There's a variety of build-to-order options available on Schenker's website, but we tested a model that costs £1,056 with a quad-core Core i7-4700MQ running at 2.4GHz, along with 8GB of memory, and both a 500GB Seagate Momentus hard disk and a 128GB Samsung 840 Pro solid-state drive.

For graphics, the XMG A523 can use either Haswell's new integrated graphics processor Intel HD Graphics 4600, or a dedicated nVidia GeForce GTX 765M with 2 GB of video memory.

The display is 15.6-inch with 1920 x 1080 resolution.

We ran the PCMark 7 benchmark software with the integrated HD 4600 first, where the XMG A523 produced a score of 6,135 points.

It's the first laptop we've seen to break a notional 6,000-point mark, and about 20 percent higher score than any Ivy Bridge model that we've tested so far.

Switching to the GTX 765M and firing up Batman: Arkham City produced some pretty good results too.

At 1920 x 1080 resolution, with DirectX 11 turned on and High graphics settings, the A523 managed a robust 37 fps, so you can enjoy full-HD resolution and DX11 eye-candy at a speed that should satisfy most gamers.

Staying at the same resolution and turning DX11 off and graphics down to Medium bumped that score up to 45 fps, while stepping down to 1600 x 900 resolution with those settings allowed us to hit 50 fps.

In contrast, the integrated HD 4600 could manage only 15 fps with those settings, and even dropping to 1280 x 720 still only allowed it to reach 20 fps in this game.

We have seen better performance from other gaming laptops – but typically only from models costing £1400-£1500, so the A523 certainly represents a step forward in terms of value for money.

However, it does have rough edges that are disappointing in what should be a state-of-the-art laptop.

Schenker uses generic off-the-shelf laptop cases, and the dark-grey plastic exterior of the XMG A523 really isn't much to admire.

It's quite sturdy, though, and the 15.6-inch display provides a bright, attractive image with decently wide viewing angles – and a welcome matt finish that reduces glare and reflection.

The keyboard feels firm and comfortable, but the trackpad is and fiddly at just 92 x 45mm. The speakers sound particularly thin and tinny, which is not be expected in a laptop costing over £1000.

The real head-scratcher, though, is the weight of the thing. Schenker quotes a weight of 2.70 kg, but our review unit tipped the scales at 2.88 kg. It measured a full 42 mm thick – that's big and heavy for any 15.6-inch model that still includes a built-in DVD drive.

We were told by nVidia that the improved power efficiency of the GTX 7000 series should allow gaming laptops to be as much as ‘40% slimmer and lighter'. Maybe Schenker's case buyer didn't get that memo.

Battery life is almost irrelevant with that sort of weight, as you're unlikely to carry the A523 around in a backpack very often. However, we got a respectable 4.5 hours of streaming video when using the integrated graphics. Using the nVidia GeForce graphics reduced that to about 2.5 hours. That's pretty poor but still better than most comparable gaming laptops that have gone before it.

[To be fair to Intel and 4th-gen Core processors, this is not a device built for portability. Also, the benefits of Haswell are related to shutting down power draw from applications on the fly when they are not in use. So our media-streaming test would not demonstrate many of the improvements in power draw technology.]

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