The Sager NP7280 isn't so much a laptop as it is a "foldable desktop", with its modified x58 motherboard, 7.1 surround @ 24-bit / 192khz capability, triple channel DDR3 up to 12GB, ability to handle a six-core i7 CPU, and SLi, those high-end features along with a mass of nearly 5.5kg (12 lbs) and a 300w PSU requirement effectively give it its own genre... not desktop replacement, but foldable desktop. Conversely, for someone whose occupation is in the fields of game design, 3D animation, or working on mathematics-based problems that need multi-coring and multi-threading, yet a shrivel of portability, it's a gamer's / workstationer's dream come true. It also happens to be, with the right speakers (or headphones) an audiophile's dream come true as well.
And Now: The Specs:
- CPU: Intel Core i7-950 @ 3.06GHz
- RAM: 6GB DDR3-1333
- SSD: 1x 160GB Intel X25-m G2 SSD
- GPU: 2x nVidia GTX 460m (1.5GB GDDR5 and 192 cores EACH)
- Optical Drive: BD-ROM / DVD-RW / CD-RW
- Screen: 17" LED 1080p
- Weight: About 12 lbs
- Rear Ports: AC-Adapter Plug for 300w PSU
- Left Side (Back to Front): DVI-Out, CATV Jack for TV Tuner, Gigabit Ethernet, HDMI-Out, 2x USB 3.0 Slots, e-SATA, IEEE 1394 (Firewire) Port, HDMI-in (Plugged for Sager-Spec), 7-in-1 Card Reader.
- Front: Infrared Receiver (For optional Remote Control), Battery Light and AC Adapter Plugged in Light
- Right Side (Back to Front): 3x USB 2.0 Slots, Headphone Jack, Microphone Jack, Digital-Out, Subwoofer Port? (It adds up to 7.1 surround capable and the card can do 24-bit / 192khz audio)
One of the nice things with Sagers that is fairly uncommon with most companies is that the amount of bloatware is virtually zero. When I started up the machine, all I got was the OS disk, a driver disk, a disk for the Intel Pro 6300 Wifi Card, and a BluRay Disc Driver. The only "bloatware" was MS Office 2010 Trial, and being as I use OpenOffice, I summarily dispatched of Office 2010. No trialware, junkware, pre-installed anything. This is a hallmark of Sager, they don't try to make you have to reformat the drive to get the proper performance. After all, who wants to spend half the day resetting everything because McAfee is going "I AM A TRIAL, I AM A TRIAL" with Norton, Office, Games, etc., trying to get you to buy their product. A computer is a computer, not a machine to forward promotional doodads, and because Sager minimizes the amount to just MS Office Trial, and it's inconspicuous, so I can't fault Sager. NB: this is something I've noticed with my own Sager, as well as all review Sagers, there is no bloatware / crapware to deal with. You get the computer, the necessary discs, and that's it. I don't think Sager enjoys getting "how do i get this bloatware off my laptop calls" in the same way end-users don't like these trials, and the fact they take this into account without passing the cost to the consumer (ie: no bloatware = higher consumer costs because bloatware is like advertising), is VERY commendable and makes it that much easier to get right to work with minimum user / computer tensions.
One of the stranger quibbles of this computer came about in benchmarking Passmark. Although 3Dmark06 and WEI-7 both provided reasonable scores, the score mustered by a dual SLi-powered, desktop i7-running machine were WORSE than the np8850's i7-740qm / single 480m combination. All parts performed per normal, but this raises the question of whether Passmark is truly SLi ready, or I got a bum copy of it, or if there were other methods that needed to be employed to come close to what other NP7280s score. NB: the NP8850 scored 2,131.2; the NP7280, a 2,073.3. Something must be missing to make a desktop i7 with dual GPUs fall behind a notebook i7 with one faster GPU... unless the distance between the 460m and 480m truly is that great. However, Passmark isn't anywhere near as real-world like as other benchmarks that suit this machine better (3Dmarks come to mind), and thus I will only keep it as an anomaly of the review. Another quibble, albeit not so small, is one where whenever AIM and IE9 PP7 are open together, that if AIM is open first, and IE9 follows, there is a small chance of "system lockdown". Unlike the former which doesn't affect day to day use so much as one's ego, an inability to use IE9 PP7 and AIM together without running the risk of system lockup is something that can be held against a computer from a user's perspective. What user wants to have to restart a computer 3 to 4 times daily because two of the "bread and butter" programs to home computing seemingly will not coexist?
First test: The "Can it go to school test". Well, it CAN go to school... the question is do you want to walk about like the hunchback of notre dame as a result? This is NOT a typical 17" laptop a la Inspiron or XPS or even the m17x... this is in its own class. All the power that this computer has must have a tradeoff, and in weight and battery life, those are the two most glaring. Not only does it not fit in the included bag without several minutes of wrestling it in, but even in an upgraded Targus 17" notebook bag (that formerly housed my NP8662), it barely fit and caused noticeable bulge in the bag. The 3+ lb 300W PSU required to provide continuous power helps matters in no way as it weighs more than a netbook and is a NECESSITY to have if you're going to even THINK of sitting through a class with it. If you do manage to get it into class, several things will immediately happen: First, you'll discover that you'll have to get to school first so that you can get an AC Adapter to power this thing (or a small nuclear powerplant will suffice as well); Second, that students sitting around you will immediately be in awe at the sheer size of this machine (and the person sitting in front of you will HATE you for frizzing up his / her hair), and third, the always-glowing Sager light might just incur the wrath of a professor who seeks to make an example of you and your machine that "all light up systems must be playing games". As a strong student who does his work, I've been able to allay my professors' worries, and the laptop has been allowed its rightful spot on my desk. Speaking of which, the desk has to be bigger than the laptop or you may run into a very odd, but unforeseen (till I achieved this) problem. If the desk is JUST small enough to block the air vents, leaving the laptop's feeties surrounding the perimeter of the desk, air won't get in under the bottom and the four fans (one blocked) will spin louder and louder until the system gets VERY HOT. This is undesirable, and furthers why this laptop isn't suitable for a class unless you know the desk's real estate is large enough to fit, you know your professors, and you have some sort of ENORMOUS shoulders to carry this laptop and its ac adapter about... failure to account this could wind up with you accepting your degree hunched over from carrying this beast. Of course, if you go to a school that teaches graphic design / gaming design, disregard all the bad things i said of this laptop in school... THIS IS AN IDEAL LAPTOP FOR GAMING SCHOOL!
Back to the good bits of this machine, basic gaming benchmarks of 3Dmark06 and 3DmarkVantage prove just how powerful this machine is. Even though it is essentially an entry-level np7280, lacking the available hexacore cpus (i7-970 or i7-980x), and having 2 of the "cooler" gpus (the 460m's), "low-end" is relative, with this machine turning in a 18,913 in 3Dmark06, and an astounding P16,121.81 in Vantage. Here we see the beauty of having not only 2 GPUs, but since both of these benchmarks also weigh the CPUs, a desktop quadcore with 8 logical threads to process physX and the CPU tests without faltering. It leaves me to wonder just how much more could be eked out of either test if either of the hexacores Sager offers, could be put in the machine. Personally, it's a rarity for me to say this, but after reading about how machines with dual 480m's would clip the PSU's threshold at about 420w (the PSU is rated to 300w constant), I'm actually happy that this is a slightly "cooler" machine that I know won't overheat or have to auto-shut off after benching with it or gaming with it. Additionally, for most games and applications that don't yet take advantage of all 4 cores / 8 threads, the ability for the computer to use a dynamic "turbo boost" when all cores aren't needed will even help older, dual or single threaded, games improve their performance as well, and when newer games come out, their performance will be spread to more cores and threads. A win-win for all in my book; i just hope that for those users with dual 480m's, that Sager / Clevo provide a BIOS update or perhaps nVidia improve the 480m so that such actions don't happen. This is the epitome of mobile gaming, and I wonder if mobile gamers would enjoy that their PSU was underpowered for their hot-rod foldable desktop. I now see why GF100 was doomed and the GF104-based 460m is actually a better real-world choice (not to mention a good way to save $$$ and put it towards other items such as extra high-speed storage).
Speaking of high-speed storage, the NP7280 under review has one intel x25-m G2 SSD with 160GB of total storage. However, as with an increasing amount of larger laptops, multiple HDDs either as individual volumes, or RAIDed, is becoming an option. For the 7280, up to 3 x25-m G2 SSDs can be supplied, allowing for theoretical read writes of 700MB / sec + and 300MB / sec + respectively. I say "plus" and theoretical as I do not have 3 x25-m's to test at my disposal. However, personal tests of other x25-m's have shown consistently 250 to 260MB / second reads and 100 to 110MB / sec write speeds, matching and mildly exceeding Intel's claims. Better to go conservative in my book and be pleasantly surprised than to advertise huge and have a disappointed fanbase when the goods don't deliver. Good on Intel for being conservative and reliable, and good on Sager for using Intel SSDs. I have one in the review laptop, as well as one in my personal laptop; neither one has failed me, neither has really slowed down, and with the recommended Intel SSD toolbox, keeping these drives TRIM'd is a snap. Two words of advice though: a) DO NOT USE WINDOWS DISK DEFRAGMENTER, you will mess up an SSD with constant re-write cycles, and... b) when you do run TRIM, turn off system restore for the time being, or it will take over an hour to run trim. If Restore is off, it takes about 5 to 10 seconds, MAX. Strange I know, don't know why, but it is what it is. But I digress, storage is a strong point of the NP7280, since it allows for not only RAIDING of SSDs, but a myriad of combinations. One could have the SSD for programs and OS, and have 2 750GB 7200rpm HDDs in RAID 0 as backend for files and as a scratchpad for photoshop or other write-heavy activities. This is because HDDs do not suffer from "flash murder" when you write and rewrite, and so long as the disk heads don't crash, can be written to MANY more times than an MLC SSD (and possibly even SLC SSDs as well).
Now all this performance and power is excellent, but what good is it if it's not usable for the user? Sager with this provides both an excellent keyboard / numberpad combination and FINALLY answers my one niggly reservation about the trackpad. With the keyboard, the chiclet style is something one must grow used to, but once one does, the small separations between keys does allow for more tactile typing, with little to no performance loss for those who can touch-type (ie: type without looking) such as myself. The number pad will become especially appreciated by two parties in particular: number-crunchers such as mathematicians and accountants who need to enter numbers quickly on a pad that isn't at the top row (not the most efficient method of number entry, particularly after being conditioned by the four-function calculator); and for gamers who see that the 8, 6, 4, and 2 keys are a far better input method than WASD or the arrows ever were, since there is a full x-axis that minimizes the possibility of the wrong button being pushed. It leads the question also of whether the 1, 3, 7, and 9 keys can be programmed as SW, SE, NW, and NE keys respectively for FPS and MMORPG games (thus emulating the joystick input method). The other keys in the keypad suck as the . and the enter allow for a feeling of a calculator, and all the necessary 4-function math mechanisms are there as well, effectively negating much of the need of the traditional 1 - 0 keys up top. (Vestigal soon, perhaps?) However, a BIG BIG improvement is in the trackpad. For a year and a half, between my personal laptop and review laptops, Sager never quite got the touchpad right. The NP8662 had an EXCELLENT trackpad but very poor buttons (they didn't give an authoritative click), and the NP8690 and NP8850 both had VERY tactile and assuring buttons, but piss-poor trackpad ability (the trackpad behaved schizophrenically, often moving about at random and only after Fn+F1 did the computer become usable again). Perhaps this is a sign that Sager is embracing both the mouse / trackball as well as the trackpad as viable in gaming machines. Granted a trackpad will NEVER have the dpi resolution of a dedicated gaming mouse, nor will it be capable of as many assigned button functions as a dedicated workstation mouse, but trackpads exist for a reason, and even if it's just basic, it should work. FINALLY one that does. I can move the cursor, and so long as I follow the cursor on the (very big) screen, I get where I want, first time, every time. No longer do i have to do things in tiny movements to feel assured that I got what I wanted done... having a properly functioning pad AND button system is a BIG positive step forward for Sager, and one that I am VERY happy they did, and I hope future models have this beautifully tactile trackpad... WELL DONE SAGER AND CLEVO!
Sound will be addressed in two stages since I think that the dichotomy that exists between onboard sound and external sound are MASSIVE. First, let's start with the fact that the current benchmark for a great-sounding laptop is still my old XPS m1710. with its two front-pointing speakers and a subwoofer, but limited to 16-bit / 48khz sound quality. The Sager brings with it 7 (yes, SEVEN) speakers. Three in the hinge bay, two on either side of the light-up LED touch-sensors, and 2 more (one on each side) for a total of 7; additionally, there is a subwoofer about the size of a half-dollar on the bottom of the NP7280 designed to provide sound, and an internal card capable of 24-bit / 192khz sound. In essence, you'd think with all this that this machine would be able to bring the sound power and fidelity of the Sydney Opera House to an internal system... and you'd be DEAD WRONG. I've noticed this is a common theme with sager NP7280s, between XoticPC's review unit posted on YouTube, as well as other owners, but it seems that not all the speakers are connected to the sound card. Seven Speakers, and maybe you get quadrophonic sound.... from a machine with an internal 7.1 card and 7.1 system! For those who have audiophile-quality FLACs, or even one of the rare blu-ray audio discs, and were expecting to get a truly mind-blowing experience... it's not to be. There is relatively little bass, a decent amount of treble, and quite a bit of mids... and even with that, the end result is hollowed out sound. Granted, most gamers will simply latch on an external sound system ranging from 2.1 to 7.1 (which this machine can handle), but even so... to skimp on internal sound is akin to prior Sagers' skimping on trackpad quality... alas, if we must lose out somewhere, at least it's in an area that's going to be switched off by the external sound.
And it's this external sound that more than makes up for the poor onboard sound system. Plug in ANYTHING, ANYTHING of good quality into this system, and you will be rewarded with what can be described simply as aural sex. Having been put off by the poor internal sound, I took my reference earbuds (Grado GR10s) and plugged them into the "headphone" jack. What I got was nearly deafened. The card, when combined with good speakers or earphones will result in providing not only a MASSIVE soundstage, but if tied with a high-quality CD / SACD / DVD-A / BD-A will reward with a massively immersive experience. This is the jewel of the Sager, additionally, the onboard realtek audio allows you to turn off the standard 16-bit 44.1khz quality and crank it ALL the way up to 24-bit / 192khz for Blu-Ray audio that is simply incredible. I was listening to my reference disc, the Berlin Philharmoniker's Beethoven's 9th Symphony (under Herbert von Karajan, 1963) and was blown away not only by the sheer power and volume this machine was capable of, but additionally the amount of nuance and detail that the soundcard could convey... even within a digital medium that had to be up-converted digitally. Never have I had to set the volume on a machine to "4 / 100" to avoid being deafened. This is truly a good thing, and I would presume if hooked to a proper Surround System, would bring an incredible amount of joy to a couple watching a movie (total immersion experience?) or to a buncha guys watching football on it with the onboard TV Tuner. The only worries I have is that while I love this approach Sager is taking; to maximize the potential of external speakers, does Sager want to have such a powerful system that at 4/100, sound is tolerable, and by 7/100 the sound is capable of being heard across the street? If you want my answer... I'm all for it, overbuilding a little and knowing you have all that extra power is much better than underbuilding and having to compensate through gain / EQ / other means that compromise sound quality and clarity. Good for Sager for sticking to what it does best.
I think it must be said that the LED screen is extremely (almost painfully) bright. It's definitely a step up on the near-20 year old technology of the LCD screen, and it is far more energy efficient than to use an LCD screen. On this machine, it needs all the energy efficiency help it can get... battery is 38 minutes on POWERSAVER with the screen dimmed to 1/8. This screen has come under much fire as some have been 262k (or 18-bit screens) rather than the 24-bit (millions of colors) or 32-bit screens (billions of colors) that the monitor settings would have you to believe. This isn't Sager's fault as the reseller, so I cannot say up or down to them, but if this is the case then Clevo (the OEM for the Sager NP7280) has to clean up its act. I'm not sure if my screen, a Hannstar, is one of the affected LCDs, but if so then I will have to hold that against Clevo for falseness. The GTX 460m's and 480m's (optional) in this rig are designed to do 1080p with 32-bit color for both videos and games, and to cripple a system at the GUI level by providing monitors that are crippled is unfathomable. I'm not asking for an Adobe RGBLED akin to the m6500 that would spike the cost up by high-three, if not four, figures, but there is some truth in advertising. I wish there was a way to determine if the screen in this review is one of the affected, and until I find out I will hold my judgement to the screen. I love this laptop Sager and Clevo, why (for Clevo) would this be its achilles heel in a way far worse than the hollow sound (which at least has an easy fix). Brightness is nice, but if someone is using this rig for a workstation and needs to be able to discern between two VERY subtle colors, then this machine is hit or miss SOLELY because of the screen, and for an otherwise spectacular (and scary) computer that's a shame.
As much as I did not want this to be an enjoyable machine, the NP7280 turned out to be a machine that was just as adept in gaming as it was in schoolwork (providing the latter had an outlet nearby). Typing on it was a pleasure, listening to music through an external source, gaming, and even the looks people generated of "that's the biggest laptop I've ever seen" did raise a few smiles. However with the mass and power it requires, it may not be suitable to those who seek a lighter gaming laptop, or a more mainstream laptop. For that, a Sager NP8690 with a i7-740qm and a single GTX 460m (or 470m) will more than suffice, or a precision m4500 nicely loaded for the "brand-conscious" sort. Writing my Senior Thesis on this machine was a pleasure due to the outright speed in which it accomplished everything, as well as its near limitless ability to multitask. It is a machine I will genuinely miss.
Battery Life: 39 min on powersaver, screen @ 1/8, sitting Idle.