I have also posted a review of my very positive purchase experience at ResellerRatings.com under the name "uniballer". You can access that review here. I will not cover my purchase here.
If you have any questions or comments about the review, post them here or feel free to send me a private message.
All that out of the way, lets talk about one of the many Clevo M570U machines available for your purchase, the xVx Monstruo-M S400.
The first thing that struck me about the xVx Monstruo-M S400 as I pulled it from the sturdy packing materials was the incredibly solid feel of the machine. The majority of the laptops I come in contact with on a regular basis are the general corporate type, mostly Dell Latitudes, Dell Precisions, and the occasional non-Dell equivalent. The larger ones all have a degree of “case flex” to them that isn’t present with the xVx S400 despite the machine's size. And make no mistake, the xVx S400 is a large machine. Measuring 15.6” wide, almost a foot deep (11.5”), and nearly two inches (1.8”) tall, the monstrous size lives up to its Monstruo name. I've yet to weigh it, but xVx's claim of 7.5lbs seems to be an understatement. Average loadout with the AC-Adapter must be over 10lbs.
The LCD lid is a little stiff and takes two hands to open (one holding the base). This is quite important as a large lid can easily break a hinge if left to flap around. Every laptop I’ve used before shipped with some degree of play in the lid hinges, so this unit was a first for me. The screen itself is gorgeous, which I will cover in greater detail later, but for now it’s worth mentioning that the machine shipped with zero dead pixels. xVx offers an upgraded dead pixel policy which roughly equates to 200 dollars of dead pixel insurance. Even though that is something of an industry standard these days, I’m not a big fan of the whole trend because it smells an awful lot like paying extra for something that should be expected. However, xVx offers a 30-day money back guarantee, which to my mind is all the dead pixel insurance you need.
The keyboard is full size, and strong. There is absolutely no flexing, bending, or bouncing from any portion of the keyboard. It feels as though it is backed by solid concrete. Rugged durability is precisely what a gaming keyboard should be, and this one doesn’t disappoint. I’ve heard some complaints about the placement of the page up, page down, home and end keys, being that they are part of the numpad and not available with numlock on, but I’ve had no problems getting accustomed to the key placement. Those four keys are also available on the directional keys when used in conjunction with the Fn key so you don’t lose anything by having numlock on. Mostly though, I keep numlock off.
The touchpad works well, and the buttons provide solid and precise click feedback. When using and external mouse or trackball, or just during extended typing sessions, a quick Fn + F1 disables the touchpad altogether. I’m not a heavy user of special media key buttons, and I was concerned that the keys at the front of the palm rest might get in my way. Fortunately, they are recessed, and I haven’t accidentally pressed an unintended button yet.
The LED status panel (in between the media buttons in the picture above) has grown on me. Aside from the clock (24hr only), it provides nice visual verification of your Bluetooth, webcam, wireless, hard disk use, numlock, caps lock, scroll lock, as well as battery and power status. There is even a utility that will provide email notification. It has proved to be a nice central location for information that I have come to appreciate.
The optical drive has provided the only raised eyebrow so far. To secure the optical bay, you have to close it with a finger on the forward edge of the tray, otherwise it won’t stay shut. While that struck me as being kind of odd, under regular use, that is how I shut optical drive bays anyway.
The integrated webcam is centered above the LCD screen and while it's non-adjustable, it seems to function pretty well and should be more than adequate for videoconferencing, posts to your vanity blog, or just proving to Internet predators that you aren't a teenage girl. Unless, of course, you are, in which case I suggest leaving the webcam off (Fn + F10 does that).
The S400 is a solid, well built machine. Nothing about xVx's assembly of the unit compromised its structural integrity, and while I have no intention of performing a drop-test, I wouldn't be surprised if my floor came out the worse. On top of the bulletproof build quality, xVx offers extended warranties and accidental damage cover up to 4 years, which should insure the S400's quality outlasts its financing. Comprehensive accidental damage protection is rare enough (Alienware, for example, doesn't offer it), but directly resolving both the warranty and accidental damage protection does set this unit apart from a number of its competitors.
The screen comes with a gloss finish. Very close inspection of the screen, and I do mean very close, will reveal a little bit of “sparkle” in the almost completely imperceptible diagonal lines on the back side of the surface glass. Of course, that is more of a curious note on my part, as neither the “sparkle” nor the lines detracted from my experience in any way. In fact, I have been genuinely pleased with the quality of the S400’s screen. Not only was our unit free of those notorious “dead pixels”, but my initial impression of the screen was definitely a “wow” moment.
It is, however, still a laptop display. Even though gloss finishes are purported to provide more vivid color reproduction, you have to keep in mind that the frame of reference is other laptop displays, not displays in general. In isolation, the S400's display is awesome. But coming from a desktop gaming background, at times it felt as though the colors were a little washed out. My first thought was that it could have been a matter of overzealous back lighting but on a black screen only an absolutely tiny bit of “bleeding” was apparent at the very bottom of the screen. When viewing DVDs, the blacks are nice and dark. Trying to put my finger on the color issue, I set it up next to my desktop computer and when viewed in direct comparison to the matte screen of my Dell 2005FPW 20.1” LCD, the s400 revealed a definite blue bias.
In search of a more appropriate technology evaluation, I had the opportunity to compare, side by side, the xVx Monstruo-M S400 and Dell’s business class 17” Precision M90. Without getting into an in-depth comparison between the two machines, it was a perfect opportunity to compare similarly sized laptop screens with different finishes and resolutions. In the left corner, the Dell M90 sported a WXGA+ (1440x900) Matte finish screen while the S400’s Glossy WUXGA+ screen glared from across the ring.
A couple of things jump out of that picture. First of all, the S400's blue bias that I noticed in the comparison to the desktop LCD is also present on the Dell M90, reinforcing the notion that it is more a feature of laptop LCD construction that some deficiency in the S400's screen. This may be a no-brainer to some of you, but I felt it was worth pointing out.
Secondly, The difference in finish and resolution between the matte screen of the Dell machine and the glossy screen of the S400 is readily apparent in this photo. Since both features are definitely personal preference issues, and therefore subjective, you would have to decide which screen you prefer for yourself. I could see where someone might struggle with the glare of a glossy screen in a fluorescent work environment, especially for productivity tasks, but I've no such trouble. I've yet to have any noticeable eyestrain or glare distraction at all. At home, in a lower light setting, the S400's screen is gorgeous.
However, every single co-worker that happened across my cube while I was comparing the two displays, had to have a seat and take a look for themselves. I asked them to try and evaluate the finish and the resolution separately as best they could. As far as finish is concerned, it was unanimous across the 5 of us, we all preferred the S400's glossy finish. On resolution though, one of the five chose the Dell. Regardless, from raw gut, every single one of them felt the S400 had the superior display. After two weeks of heavy use, I find myself in full agreement.
The only information I could find without ripping the machine apart, indicated that the S400's display has a 25ms response time. Depending on how that number was derived, that should mean that anything over 40 fps could potentially induce ghosting. However, I've witnessed no ghosting, or image persistence. On top of that, I'm already getting used to the color differences in my design work. All said and done, it really is a fantastic display and representative of the kind of quality you'd expect from an enthusiast machine.
My first battery test was using the laptop just as I would if it were plugged in, but strictly for productivity type work including internet browsing, Adobe Photoshop CS2, Microsoft Word 2007, and some Microsoft Visual Studio 2005 work. I used the WiFi card for network access during the entire test, and transferred files over the wireless, Bluetooth, usb, as well as the SD Card reader. I didn’t disable the webcam, nor did I operate at minimum LCD Brightness. Under this sort of full power consumption mode, the battery lasted one hour and thirty-one minutes before it forced standby.
Heavy Productivity: 1:31
My second test was intended to determine the value of the machine as a go-anywhere gaming rig. Prior to the test, I disabled the Bluetooth adaptor (Fn + F12), the Wireless adaptor (Fn + F11), the integrated webcam (Fn + F10), as well as the trackpad (Fn + F1) and I adjusted the nVIDIA PowerMizer settings for battery power to Maximum Performance. To perform the test, I attached headphones and a Microsoft Trackball (5v 100mA), powered on the un-plugged S400, put the fans on full power (Fn + F2), and fired up the expansion pack for Battle for Middle-earth II, The Rise of the Witch-king (with modified Options.ini to support 1920x1200 resolution). At fifty-four minutes, I started getting the beeps signaling impending battery doom. Honestly, was nervous it would shut down at 30 minutes, so nearly a full hour kind of surprised me. While the WiFi card would have been and additional draw on the battery, I think expecting this machine to provide extended disconnected online gaming fun is just plain nuts.
Heavy Gaming: 0:54
While I wouldn’t consider either of those numbers to be overly impressive, it was honestly a bit better than I had expected. The Monstruo-M S400 is a big, powerful beast. Furthermore, in both cases I left plenty of wiggle room for adjusting the settings in order to extend the operating time of the S400 so it is very possible that you will be able to find a combination that suits your specific mobile needs with a longer battery life. However, if battery life is more important to you than raw power, the S400 simply isn’t the machine for you.
That said, rating the battery life on a machine like this can be a little difficult. I could rate it given general portability expectations, in which case it would rate poorly. Or I could rate it according to its portable powerhouse purpose which may result in a fairly high rating. I mean, on one hand my desktop machine won’t even power on if it’s not plugged in, but on the other hand I have to believe there are desktop replacements that manage to stay on longer. If not, there should be. So I chose to give it a blended rate.
Battery Life (Portability) - 3/10
Battery Life (Power) - 7/10
Rating – 5/10
There is a second modular bay battery available through some resellers. Since it takes the place of the optical drive, it won’t provide extended DVD viewing, but it might be the magic bullet for those of you that need a little more juice on the go.
From the outside, it's a good looking machine, but it's not the best looking one out there by far. I put a LapSchtick from Schtickers.com on mine which helped. Supposedly xVx is offering those LapSchticks directly now, and custom fit, so that will help a lot. From the business-end, sitting in front of the machine, I find it very pleasing to look at. That's a totally subjective thing, but you know, this is MY review.
The Monstruo-M S400 sports a fairly wide array of connectivity options. From its internal wireless and Bluetooth adapters, to its 9-pin serial port, there's a connection option for just about everyone.
Facing the back of the laptop, from left to right, there is an S/PDIF Out, a Line In, 2 USB 2.0 ports, a DVI Out, a TV Antenna jack (Optional but included on review unit), an RJ-11 Modem jack, an RJ-45 Gigabit Ethernet jack, an S-Video Out, the power connector, and the venerable 9-pin serial port which I suppose some may still use for programming switches and routers, or playing Duke Nukem 3D against a friend.
On the right side of the S400, from front to back (or left to right in the above photo), there is Headphone and Mic jacks, an Express Card slot over an SD/MMC Card slot (billed as a 7-in-1 reader), a firewire port, and 2 more USB 2.0 ports. The IR transceiver is on the front of the machine, and the only thing worth noting on the left side of the machine is a Kensington lock port, but no additional connectivity options.
I think a WiFi antenna connector would be nice, as would some USB ports on the left side of the machine. An eSATA port would have been dreamy.
Rating - 8/10
Performance is the primary reason I was looking for a laptop in the first place, and a large part of why I settled on xVx (best price at a given level of performance). Let me tell you, this machine FLIES.
Here are the numbers, all of which where acheived using LaptopVideo2Go's ForceWare 93.71 Drivers. First up are FutureMark's suite of benchmarks, all of which were run using the default settings and are easy for you to reproduce.
PCMark05 - 5817 PCMarks
- HDD - XP Startup - 7.1 MB/s
- Physics and 3D - 197.9 FPS
- Transparent Windows - 1325.9 Windows/s
- 3D - Pixel Shader - 421.5 FPS
- Web Page Rendering (IE7) - 2.5 Pages/s
- File Decryption - 59.4 MB/s
- Graphics Memory - 64 lines - 2235.1 FPS
- HDD - General Usage - 4.7 MB/s
- Audio Compression - 2202.6 KB/s
- Video Encoding - 361.8 KB/s
- Text edit - 145.3 Pages/s (though I can't edit that fast)
- Image Decompression - 29.3 MPixels/s
- File Compression - 4.9 MB/s
- File Encryption - 28.6 MB/s
- HDD - Virus Scan - 34.2 MB/s
- Memory Latency - Random 16 MB - 7.8 MAccesses/s
- SM2.0 Score - 2308
- Return To Proxycon - 18.435 FPS
- Firefly Forest - 20.025 FPS
- HDR/SM3.0 Score - 2209
- Canyon Flight - 19.953 FPS
- Deep Freeze - 24.222 FPS
- CPU Score - 1797
- Red Valley (1) - 0.575 FPS
- Red Valley (2) - 0.899 FPS
- Game Tests
- Return To Proxycon - 42.4 FPS
- Firefly Forest - 30.2 FPS
- Canyon Flight - 47.4 FPS
- CPU Tests
- CPU Test 1 - 4.2 FPS
- CPU Test 2 - 6.6 FPS
Next up are some games, the first of which is Half-Life 2 using the Lost Coast demo's internal video stress test. I benchmarked it at 1920x1200 (which happens to be supported beautifully), under 3 slightly different settings. The first run was on recommended settings which just so happens to be :
- Model Detail: High
- Texture Detail: High
- Water Detail: Reflect World
- Shadow Detail: High
- Color Correction: None
- Antialiasing Mode: None
- Filtering Mode: Trilinear
- Wait for Vsync: Disabled
- High Dynamic Range: Full
Half Life 2 Lost Coast 1900x1200
- Recommended Settings - 109.45 FPS
- + 4xMSAA & 4xAF - 93.24 FPS
- + 4xMSAA & 8xAF - 89.98 FPS
Lastly, I decided to test how long the CPU took to convert a 2 hour movie to Ipod video format. I fired up Nero Recode 18.104.22.168 and selected "Recode Main Movie to Nero Digital". I chose "Apple iPod" as the Nero Digital Category, and "iPod Video - AVC" as the Nero Digital Profile, leaving everything else at the defaults. I used the widescreen edition of "Ronin" as the media because it's a great movie and because it was almost perfectly 2 hours (121 minutes) long. Ronin (2:01) converted in exactly 41 minutes, start to finish. By way of comparison, my current P4 3GHz desktop does the same job in just under 66 minutes.
The xVx Monstruo-M S400 is a complete beast of a machine. I'm totally loving it and I can recommend the machine, and the company, to anyone. They've been in business since 2001 and if they keep up the good work and the great hardware, they should have no problem maintaining my warranty for the next 3 years.
I hope you find this review helpful in your purchasing decision, I couldn't be happier with mine.