Ever wish to have a laptop that just reeked business? That was just as adept at being the center of a Powerpoint as it was at fragging or racing or Blu-Ray, yet didn't attract undue attention? The Sager NP8850 is your laptop. Its plain black design accented solely by a simple silver stripe enable it to be transported from the Annual Sales Meeting to the Annual "Race On" tournament and anywhere suitable for placing what is - in essence - a foldable desktop. Now most of us have heard of desktop replacements, laptops with near-desktop performance but in a somewhat portable size. The NP8850 is a foldable desktop, with an i7-740qm CPU and its 2GB GDDR5 GTX 480m (a pared down GTX 465), one gets desktop level performance with a great deal of weight. This weight will prove to be both a benefit and a hindrance, more later on that. (NB: It's bigger than my m1710, which i had regarded as massive, see pics)
Strictly from the outside, the NP8850 is a 1080p (1920 x 1080) laptop with a chiclet style keyboard, texture-buttons for the trackpad, a VERY smooth and near-seamlessly integrated trackpad (that's still hyper-sensitive), and the instant access buttons controlling Email, Web Surfing, and "Quiet Fan" mode. The Left side of this laptop possesses the Optical Drive (In this review, a BD-ROM / DVD-RW / CD-RW), one (1) USB 3.0 port, a 7-in-1 removable media reader (Great for Digital Cameras), CATV input so you can hook up your cable TV to it and a phone jack for modem connections. On the right to the user is headphones / microphone / SPDIF (presumably) output?, Another USB 3.0 Port, ExpressCard Reader, E-Sata Connector, DVI-out (max 2048 x 1536) and the Kensington Lock Port. On the back is merely 2 large fans and wait.... A DOOR! *pops door open*. This door possesses the connection for the 180w Power Supply Unit (it must, at minimum feed the components and tolerate a 45w to 55w CPU (QM and XM i7's) and the power-hungry, but VERY fast GTX 480m and its 100w power rating). Additionally, 2 More USB ports, an HDMI Port (for HDTV transmission to a larger screen), 10/100/1000 Ethernet jack, reside here too. The door, while an excellent idea for maintaining a clean aesthetic, can be quite hard to open without prying. Initially, I thought to use a fingernail, but to no avail. This is a computer that you MAY want to invest in some guitar picks / plectrums to open... so that the door can be kept closed while on battery, but the door can also be opened without damaging the finish to the computer. A minor niggly point, but still a point of inconvenience. However, it is nice to see that Sager is at least making headways to protect its ports. My personal NP8662 has gained notoriety for having a loose AC jack, something that hopefully the employment of a protective door will solve in some small way. The chiclet keyboard is a minor point of contention. If my last review of the NP8690 was any indication, the chiclet is an acquired taste; one initially hates the space between the keys, but at least with me, I have grown fond of it. It does not affect my typing speed, and additionally it is quite natural-feeling once the user is accustomed to it. The numberpad... I rarely use, but I presume the same for users who employ a number pad in their daily work (ie: accountants). Lastly, the lighting motif of the white LEDs is VERY smooth... there are no obvious bumps that are perceivable through sensory, and as with Sagers of late, the NP8850's glossy / matte hybrid appearance is appealing and prominent without looking garish or particularly attention-getting. Well done Sager and Clevo.
The Screen is the first strength of this computer, as its range goes from "bright" to "eye-destroying". This is the strength of an LED screen... it doesn't need to be maxed out in order to be bright; it just is. Those persons interested in using this computer and figuring "oh I'm going to need it at maximum brightness in order to get any use", are in for a very pleasant, if painful, surprise. The screen is also 1920x1080 (1080p), which has been the focus of some controversy as of late, but it seems that 16:9 screens are here to stay; best just to get used to them. I'm a 16:10 person myself, but if I can accomplish the same thing at 16:9, what do I care? The gaming which I do is mostly racing games, so the extra 230,400 pixels are un-necessary and rendering in them can be used to improve gaming framerates. However, this screen becomes especially useful when watching DVDs and Blu-Rays (More on that later). The 16:9 cinematic ration means that your movies either are displayed with no bars, or an absolute minimum of border bars; and photos taken on many digital cameras are shown without distortion... With my Rebel T2i, I was able to full-screen photos without a great deal of "unused space". Thus, the screen is a mixed bag for gamers, but for media persons and those who like to see their pictures without blacklines or movies that way, this is a great media laptop for that purpose.
The Trackpad... On this Laptop.... REDEFINES.... SCHIZOPHRENIC... If I did not review a prior Sager (the EXCELLENT NP8690), I would have considered this notebook to be defective. While the buttons are incredibly tactile and nicely textured, the trackpad is AGAIN highly sensitive to any movement, causing pages to zoom MASSIVELY or scroll if, at any time you're typing, it detects a movement within a multitouch. It could be something as simple as the fact your typing style causes you to put your thumb-bases onto the trackpad (as is my style). This is NOT a good thing, and if you're the sort who expects your laptop to be useful as both a gaming rig and a day-to-day homework / productivity machine, it could be cause to buy a proper mouse and use the provided software to disable the on-board mouse. It really is that bad and is in desperate need of a redesign. Granted it is fairly large, and it has a high amount of dpi (meaning the cursor is very fast for a trackpad), BUT I would rather have a slightly slower trackpad that is NOT so sensitive to any multi-touch scenario. A large desk and external mouse is key, or Clevo (Sager's manufacturer for this computer) desperately need to rework the sensitivity levels of this mouse, as not even the driver software has any remedy for this problem. It would be cause, if owned, to return as defective... it hinders productivity that extensively.
Battery Life Test: Comical... To give a reference, my NP8662 (P9700, 8GB DDR3, x25-m, GTX 260m) gets 2 hrs and 45 min on powersaver and the screen at 1/8. Enough for 2 classes back to back (and thus practical for school use). The NP8850 is 50 minutes on powersaver, falling to 27 minutes on high performance. This was the average of three test cycles done. Now it should be noted that the NP8850 shares the same battery as the NP8690 reviewed several months ago, only this time the battery must contend with a GPU that has a 25w higher energy rating. This could be why the life expectancy plunges as it does. This isn't a battery for using in any way, shape, sense, or form like a netbook (which is designed for long jaunts away from a power supply. Thus, one using it should perceive it as a small foldable desktop... keep it plugged in whenever possible. Now, one of the big concerns is that if you run the computer on mains with the battery in it, you'll effectively cook the battery. So, we take the battery out to preserve battery life and... wobbly computer! You lose one of the legs on the computer by taking out the battery, which on a computer this heavy (8 and a half pounds) could mean the difference between a computer that may kill a battery but be structurally stable, and one that has a wobble that with enough use of the wristrests, puts undue flex into the computer (and i am NOT about to find that out...)
Ironically, if one can find desks large enough, and can find a power supply nearby... this is a computer that is AMAZING for school, particularly in the math and science (and if you go to gaming school, you'll be the talk there). The GTX 480m combined with the 4-core / 8-thread i7-740qm means that not only can more calculations be done to render graphics, but the 2GB of GDDR5 VRAM (this card is effectively a slightly slower GTX 465) means that this computer is very quick to render graphics and can do so with higher detail before "tapping out". This translates into the gaming world as faster startup and run times, higher fps, and a more enjoyable gaming experience by upping AA / AF. The only problem at this point is that with the GTX 400m series still in its infancy, there are a limited amount of drivers available that are compatible with this card. The 257.07 stock driver (good... it works) and the 258.69 BETA driver (rubbish, causes black dots to appear where the mouse has traveled), are the only two drivers that, as of this writing, are compatible with the GTX 480m driver. It's also good for school / professional environments for one other, little-mentioned reason. Let us compare this computer to an m17xR2, a commonly benchmarked gaiming rig. While the AW may have the edge in GPU horsepower with dual 5870s, the Alienware attracts unwanted attention through its shape (power bulges, alien logo, etc.) and its lights (alien logo, speakers, etc.). The Sager, on the other hand, looks like a time traveler from 1982 (as do all Sagers). What this allows for, from a teacher's perspective is a bit of faux reassurance that the computer isn't a gaming rig, and for students, incognito gaming! (NB: The author is a student aspriing to go to law school, and does NOT condone playing games in class... do so at your own peril / academic demise.)
An area I expected to finally see overcome the "tinny sound" effect that has plagued every laptop I have owned or reviewed, bar the XPS m1710. Unfortunately, while the NP8850 has a surround sound capability, SPDIF jacks, 4 onboard speakers and a subwoofer, no amount of "driver updating" or "EQ tweaking" could get rid of the hollow sound that comes out... the subwoofer adds primarily mids and low-mids but does not really add to the "thump" that would really fill out this system. This is quite disappointing, as there are 4 speaker areas that are distributed in a way to simulate surround sound.... and yet it merely sounds hollow. If we compare the m1710 to the NP8850, the reason is the proportionality of the subwoofers. The XPS m1710 has a subwoofer that is about the size of a half dollar piece... not MASSIVE, but large enough relative to the speakers that it provides sufficient low-end to give a feeling of fullness. The NP8850's is BARELY the size of a nickel and has to overcome the tinnyness that is the cumulative result of 4 areas with small speakers. It's just not enough low-end... and it feels worse than having a system that has 2 speakers and no-subwoofer. At least you know two things with such an onboard system: first, there will be very little low-end as there is no bass speaker (the subwoofer), and second, that you won't be expecting, esp. from a high-end Desktop-Replacement class rig, that rich sound you'd get from a good system with onboard SPU (Sound Processing Unit). This becomes apparent particulary in racing games (RACE ON, GTR EVOLUTION, etc.) where one gets the enjoyment of hearing a 4-cylinder at 9000rpm, or a throaty V8 burbling at 6000rpm with a visceral roar. WHen the speaker / subwoofer combo is so mismatched that it makes a recording of a V8 hemi sound like it is going through a pea-whistle.... you know the sound system is messed up. I'm sorry to say, but it makes me long for my NP8662 and its plain-jane system.... at least I wasn't setting myself up for unexpected disappointment with it. A BIGGER SUBWOOFER PLEASE!