iBuyPower may not have the same brand recognition among gamers as Alienware, but it’s daring to be different with the Battalion Touch CZ-10, a 15.6-inch system that utilizes a capacitive touchscreen to add a new hands-on element to PC gaming. Priced at a reasonable $1,249, this system packs solid performance, but the actual build leaves a lot to be desired. In fact, the logo on this system literally cut us, although the company promises it will be replaced. Injuries aside, the CZ-10 has the chops for playing the latest 3D titles (at a relatively low resolution) but we don’t think the premium the company charges for touch is worth it given that very few titles take full advantage of finger input. Add in a chintzy keyboard and a smudge-prone lid and it’s tough to justify the price tag.
For a gaming rig, our Metallic Black CZ-10, much like the Malibal Satori, has a minimalist design. It features an all-black chassis that picks up its fair share of smudges. But smeared fingerprints isn’t the only issue; the aluminum glued-on “iBuyPower Touch” logo on the lid began to peel off after only a few days in our lab. In fact, the edges of the label were so sharp that it sliced the hand of our reviewer when he went to close the lid, which caused him to bleed for more than 15 minutes. However, after we informed iBuyPower of this incident, the company said that it was discontinuing the use of this aluminum labeling, and would replace it with a standard plate-style label with rounded edges.
The interior of the 14.7 x 9.6 x 1.4 -inch system looks somewhat better. It features a somewhat odd blend of a glossy black bezel surrounding the display, textured areas about the base, and non-glossy keys. If you’d like to add a bit of flair to the CZ-10, you can outfit it with a flame design for an additional $150. At 6.2 pounds this notebook is a bit hefty, but you likely won’t travel with this rig anyway.
In our tests the CZ-10 ran a bit hot. After playing a Hulu video at full screen for 15 minutes, the space between the G and H keys reached 94 degrees, the touchpad soared to 103 degrees, and the middle of the underside climbed to 105 degrees. You may want to invest in a notebook stand or cooler if you plan on placing the CZ-10 in your lap.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The CZ-10’s keyboard is a mess. The keys don’t provide much in the way of tactile feedback, and there’s a significant amount of flex that gives it a cheap, low-end feel. The keyboard isn’t backlit, and it doesn’t have a full-size number pad, but otherwise, the keys are of decent size.
Just south of the keyboard lies a 3.5 x 2.0-inch, non-textured touchpad that has a dot gradient pattern that blends well with the dots that decorate the palm rest. It allowed us to whip the cursor about the desktop with ease. The two plastic mouse buttons, painted to look like brushed metal, are fairly large but felt mushy; they were also slightly misalingned, with the right button seated somewhat higher. Positioned to the upper-right of the touchpad is an illuminated button that locks/unlocks the touchpad.
North of the keyboard you’ll fine quick-launch buttons that let you cycle through various WOW Audio and WOW Video software settings, and another key beneath the power button that allows users to power gadgets via USB when the system is turned off.
A biometric fingerprint reader, not a feature we’d expect on a gaming rig, is located to the right of the keyboard instead of between the mouse buttons.
Display and Audio
An episode of “Parker Lewis Can’t Lose” streamed from YouTube to the CZ-10’s 15.6-inch (1366 x 768) display played back smoothly, and the variety of colors incorporated into the garish late-1980s clothing really popped. Our Godfather III DVD looked, well, as great as The Godfather III could look; the blacks were rich, and we were able to enjoy the images from all but the most extreme angles. In darker scenes, however, we were sometimes able to see ourselves in the glossy display.
A pair of stereo speakers churned out muddy audio that could’ve benefited from more volume when we fired up Rage Against the Machine’s “Freedom.” Tom Morello’s wicked licks struggled to be heard among the other instruments.
The CZ-10’s capacitive touchscreen (which supports up to two finger inputs at a time) came in handy when playing simple point and click games such as Farmville, letting us plant crops without a hitch. In fact, we didn’t miss using the mouse, as it felt so natural. Other games, however, didn’t fare as well. Bejeweled Blitz, for example, allowed us to quickly and easily reposition gems that were on a horizontal plane, but when we attempted to switch vertically aligned gems, it didn’t recognize our inputs. Instead, we accidentally scrolled the entire page either up or down. iBuyPower states that the touchscreen is best suited for RPG, strategy, and casual games, and that more multi-touch optimized games are coming down the pipe, including R.U.S.E. and World of Goo.
We fired up one of the most popular PC games ever, World of Warcraft, and attempted a Horde-slaying session to see how the touchscreen would fare with non-casual titles. During our quest, we discovered that the touchscreen was only good for activating the various spells and attacks located on the game’s dock. Moving our fingers across the screen didn’t move our Undead Priest; it rotated the camera angle at a very rapid, disorienting pace. Keyboard use is still a must in non-casual or non-turn-based games.
Ports and Webcam
Built into the right side of the CZ-10 are three USB 2.0 ports, an 8X DVD drive, and power port; the left side has one USB 2.0 port, VGA, HDMI, ExpressCard/34, Ethernet, and Kensington lock; the front of the system has a Wi-Fi on/off switch, 3-in-1 memory card reader, and headphone and mic jacks; the back of the system houses a modem port.
Above the display is a 2.0-megapixel webcam that rendered decent skin tones during our test Skype call, but we found the visuals to be a tad murky in locations where we weren’t bathed in direct light. Friends reported seeing blur effects when we moved about too quickly.
CPU and System Performance
The CZ-10’s 2.53-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, 4GB of RAM, and speedy 320GB, 7,200-rpm hard drive produced a 4,671 PCMark Vantage score, which was nearly 1,000 points better than 3,587 mainstream notebook average. However, this showing is 1,330 points less than the $1,499 ASUS G51J-A1, which has a 1.6-GHz Intel Core i7-720QM processor, 4GB of RAM, and dual 320GB, 7,200-rpm hard drives), and about 1,100 points lower than the upcoming Acer Aspire 5740G-6979 ($749), which has a 2.26-GHz Core i5 CPU, 4GB of RAM, and a 500GB hard drive.
In our time with the CZ-10, we noticed that the Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) operating system opened both windows and applications very quickly. Unfortunately, the CZ-10’s 7,200-rpm hard drive booted the Windows 7 Home Premium operating system in a molasses-slow 1 minute and 40 seconds, which was 42 seconds longer than the category average, and 32 seconds longer than the ASUS G51J-A1’s 68 seconds. The HDD also copied a 4.97GB folder of mixed media at a swift rate of 26.6 MBps, which outpaced the 20.4 MBps mainstream notebook average, but was on a par with the ASUS G51J-A1’s 27.2 MBps.
The CPU allowed us to convert a 5-minute-and-5-second (114MB) MPEG-4 to AVI in exactly one minute (using Oxelon Media Converter), which was a hair slower than the 52-second mainstream average.
The ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4650 (with 512MB of dedicated video memory) enabled the CZ-10 to ace the 3DMark06 graphics benchmark with an outstanding 6,953 score, which was more than 3,500 points better than the mainstream notebook average. However, it was about 300 points below the Acer 5740G-6979 (which has an ATI Radeon HD 5650 GPU and 512MB of memory), and far behind the G51J-A1’s 9,424 mark (a system with a Nvidia GeForce GTX 260M processor and 1GB of video memory).
As our gaming tests bore out, the CZ-10 should handle all but the most graphically demanding 3D titles, although its solid results are due in part to its low-res display. When we fired up Far Cry 2: the game moved at a rate of 70 frames per second with the resolution set to 1024 x 768 and effects on autodetect, and dipped to an acceptable 37 fps at the system’s native 1366 x 768-pixel resolution. While these frame rates were superior to the 31.4 fps and 16.4 fps mainstream averages, they were on a par with the Acer 5740G, and lagged well behind the G51J 3D’s respective scores of 99 fps and 35 fps.
World of Warcraft moved at a brisk 60 frames per second in autodetect mode, which dipped to 30 frames per second when we upped the resolution up to maximum. These scores made for a smoother experience than the 41.2 and 19.8 fps category averages, but the Acer 5740G managed 64 fps at 1366 x 768.
The CZ-10’s ATI graphics card beautifully rendered the subterranean chaos of Bioshock 2. We loved the realistic ripple effects seen in puddles of water as we lurched through corridors, and the system maintained a steady 50 to 60 frames per second during firefights.
The CZ-10’s 6-cell battery lasted 3 hours and 15 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test (Web surfing via Wi-Fi), which was 14 minutes short of the category average. Still, it lasted 16 minutes longer on a charge than the G51J-A1.
Recharging the CZ-10’s battery took 2 hours and 12 minutes, which is 8 minutes faster than the average mainstream machine. During that time, the CZ-10 used an average of 45.2 watts. This system’s Battery Efficiency Rating (total watts divided by total battery life) was 30.6, significantly better than 45.5 mainstream average. The CZ-10 is not EPEAT rated.
Configuration Options, Software, and Warranty
The CZ-10 starts at $999, which includes a 1366 x 768 display, a 2.53-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8700 CPU, 2GB of RAM, a 5,400-rpm, 250GB hard drive, ATI Radeon HD 4650/512MB graphics, and an 8X DVD drive. The system can be configured with a 3.06-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo Mobile T9900 CPU, 8GB of RAM, Blu-ray, and a number of storage sizes and speeds (including a 128GB Intel X25-M SSD) for up to $2,645.
The CZ-19 comes with a 60-day trial of Microsoft Office 2007, Microsoft Touch Pack for Windows 7, WOW Audio, and WOW Video. The rig is covered by a one-year limited warranty and toll-free, limited tech support hours (Mon - Fri: 8:30 am - 5:00 pm PST). The iBuyPower can also be purchased with the company’s new accidental damage protection plan ($299), which insures all new CZ-10 Premium notebooks against damage from accidental spills or drops.
Despite putting up solid performance numbers, the $1,249 iBuyPower Battalion Touch CZ-10’s blood-letting design should’ve been scrapped in the design lab and given an overhaul before release, and we’re relieved that the company is changing the materials used in the logo. But while the touchscreen is a nice addition, iBuyPower commands too high a premium for the feature, and there’s not much that gamers can do with it. If mainstream gaming is what you’re after, the $749 Acer 5740G-6979 is a much better bargain. If you’re looking for something with a little more power, your gaming dollars would be much better served with the likes of the $1,499 ASUS G51J 3D.