Using a gaming laptop usually means taking a seat in front of a massive desktop replacement for a few hours. But what if you don't have the room for a laptop that's about the size of a mini-fridge? That's where the Maingear Pulse 11 comes in. Priced at $1,375, this 11-inch notebook is outfitted with the latest Core i7 processor, an SSD, 8GB of RAM and high-performance Nvidia graphics, making it able to handle any game on the market. So is this 11-inch powerhouse worth your time?
No, there is nothing wrong with your eyes. The Maingear Pulse 11 is, in fact, a dead ringer for both the AvaDirect Clevo W110ER and the Eurocom Monster, a result of the three companies using the same chassis supplier. That's not a strike against the Pulse 11, though. We're still big fans of the notebook's rubberized soft-touch lid and grid pattern bisected by a solid stripe, complete with the Maingear logo.
Pop open the Pulse 11 and you'll find the same rubberized material and grid pattern from the lid on the system's wrist rest and touchpad. In fact, the entire keyboard deck is covered in this soft-touch material. The top left corner of the deck features indicator lights for the Pulse 11's various settings, including Wi-Fi connectivity, SSD activity, number lock and caps lock. The Pulse 11's large power button with Blue LED indicator light sits in the top right corner.
At 11.5 x 8.3 x 1.5 inches and weighing 3.8 pounds, the Pulse 11 is essentially identical to the Eurocom Monster and AvaDirect Clevo W110ER, although the Monster weighs 0.2 pounds more. While heavier than many 13-inch Ultrabooks, this ultraportable has a lot more muscle.
The Maingear Pulse 11's 11.6-inch 1366 x 768 display provided sharp visuals while watching movies, playing games and surfing the Web. A 1080p trailer for "The Dark Knight Rises" looked spectacular, with the subtle blue and grayish hues of the Gotham City skyline practically leaping off the screen. Viewing angles, however, were relatively poor. When viewed at a 40-degree angle, the deep blacks of Batman's cape and cowl began to look washed out and pixilated.
Games such as "Batman: Arkham City" looked clean and offered accurate colors. We did, however, notice that "Diablo III" appeared slightly washed out even when viewing the game head on.
Overall, the Pulse 11's display is rather dim at just 176 lux, about the same as the Eurocom Monster (173 lux) as well as the AvaDirect Clevo W110ER (182 lux). None of these 11-inchers came close to the category average of 235 lux.
The Maingear Pulse 11 features two small speakers mounted on its base. For the most part, we found the Pulse 11's audio to be crisp and accurate. While listening to the Beastie Boys' "Sabotage," we were struck by how clear the catchy guitar riffs sounded. Still, bass was nearly imperceptible, leaving Jay-Z and Kanye West's "Church in the Wild" sounding flat. Compounding the problem, the speaker is barely loud enough to fill a conference room.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Despite its diminutive dimensions, the Pulse 11's keyboard proved comfortable whether we were typing or crushing demons in "Diablo III." Both key travel and feedback were excellent, leading us to score a personal record of 74 words per minute on the Ten Thumbs Typing Tutor (our average is usually 70 wpm). We did, however, take issue with the relatively small size of the directional keys, as well as the Crtl, Alt and Shift keys, each of which are used by nearly all gamers.
Covered in the same rubberized material and grid pattern as its lid, the Pulse 11's multi-touch touchpad and mouse keys were responsive and accurate, allowing us to navigate the world of "Diablo III," as well as glide silently above the streets of Gotham in "Batman: Arkham City."
After streaming a Hulu video for 15 minutes, the keyboard and touchpad remained relatively cool, topping out at 86 and 94 degrees, respectively. The underside of the system, however, reached a toasty 99 degrees at its center. But that's nothing compared to the 105 degrees we measured near the Pulse 11's heat vents. We consider temperatures of 95 and below to be comfortable.
As with its design, the Maingear Pulse 11 features the exact same ports and connectors offered by the AvaDirect Clevo and Eurocom Monster. On the left side of the Pulse 11 are two USB 2.0 ports, Ethernet, VGA, HDMI and microphone and headphone jacks. On the right side you'll find the Pulse 11's power port, Kensington lock slot and USB 2.0 port with charging capabilities. A 3-in-1 card reader sits on the notebook's front lip. Because it lacks an optical drive, Pulse 11 users will have to either download digital copies of their favorite games or install them via an external drive.
The Maingear Pulse 11 comes with a 2.0-megapixel webcam. Unfortunately, the cam offered grainy images in all lighting conditions. Photos and videos shot using the webcam were severely pixilated, while lighter colors looked washed out.
With a 2.1-GHz Intel Core i7-3612QM quad-core processor, 8GB of Corsair DDR3-1600 RAM and a 120GB SSD, the Maingear Pulse 11 packs some serious power. On the PCMark07 benchmark, which measures a laptop's overall performance, the Pulse 11 scored an impressive 4,024. That's far higher than the ultaportable category average of 2,852, as well as the the AvaDirect Clevo W110ER's score of 3,362 (2.1-GHz Core i7-3610QM processor, 16GB of RAM, 750GB, 7,200-rpm hard drive and 8GB SSD). The Eurocom Monster notched a higher 4,299, thanks to its beefy 2.6-GHz Intel Core i7-3720QM processor, 8GB of RAM and 120GB SSD.
Using its 120GB SSD, the Pulse 11 booted the 64-bit version of Windows 7 Home Premium in 38 seconds. That's quicker than the AvaDirect's 44 seconds, but slower than the Eurocom Monster's blistering 19-second boot time. Still, each system managed to outpace the ultraportable category average of 45 seconds.
The Maingear Pulse 11, Monster and AvaDirect each scored within seconds of each other on the LAPTOP File Transfer test, which involves duplicating 4.97GB of mixed media files. The Pulse 11 took 47 seconds to transfer the files, a rate of 108.3 MBps, while the Eurocom Monster took 45 seconds (113.1 MBps). The AvaDirect Clevo, however, came out on top in this match, taking just 37 seconds, a rate of 138 MBps. Each of those scores are infinitely better than the category average of 48.7 MBps.
In our OpenOffice Spreadsheet test, the Maingear Pulse 11 took 5 minutes to match 20,000 names with their corresponding addresses, slower than both the Eurocom Monster (4:04) and the AvaDirect Clevo W110ER (4:25). The Pulse 11 did, however, blow away the category average of 8:22.
Graphics and Gaming
Gaming on the Maingear Pulse 11 was a joy. With its Kepler-based Nvidia GeForce GT650M packing 2GB of RAM (the same GPU found in the Eurocom Monster and AvaDirect Clevo) and its spectacular Intel Core i7 processor, the Pulse 11 pumped out performance numbers that rival some of the best gaming machines on the market.
While playing "World of Warcraft" with the graphics set to auto-detect, the Pulse 11 reached a ridiculous 200 frames per second. That's better than both the Eurocom Monster's 179 fps and the AvaDirect Clevo W110ER's 171 fps.
When we switched the graphics to their highest settings, the Pulse 11 still had us scampering across Azeroth at a speedy 94 fps. That's better than the AvaDirect Clevo's 93 fps and slightly behind the Monster (96 fps).
The Pulse 11 also handled "Batman: Arkham City" at a healthy 38 fps with the graphics set to low. The AvaDirect pulled down the same performance numbers, while the Eurocom once again came out on top with an average of 41 fps. Crank up the graphics, though, and the Pulse 11 (20 fps), AvaDirect (20 fps) and Eurocom (22 fps) were all unplayable.
The Pulse 11's 2424 score in 3DMark 11 was in the same range as the AvaDirect (2,433) and Monster (2,454).
Gaming machines are historically known for their poor battery performance, and the Maingear Pulse 11 does little to change that. On our LAPTOP Battery Test, which includes continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi with the display set to 40 percent brightness, the Pulse's 6-cell lithium ion battery lasted 3 hours and 28 minutes. That's the same runtime we recorded for the Eurocom Monster and just four minutes longer than the AvaDirect Clevo W110ER's 3:24. By comparison, the average ultraportable notebook lasts 6:54.
There are few things gamers hate more than having their brand-new gaming system clogged with bloatware. Thankfully, Maingear keeps the Pulse 11 refreshingly clean. Our system came loaded with a 64-bit version of Windows 7 Home Premium, THX TruStudio Pro and nothing more.
Configurations and Warranty
As a boutique notebook maker, Maingear offers its customers an impressive amount of customization options. Our $1,375 review unit featured a 2.1-GHz Intel Core i7 quad-core processor, Nvidia GeForce GT650M with 2GB of RAM, a 120GB SSD and 8GB of Corsair Vengeance DDR3-1600 RAM. If you're looking for more power, you can opt for an additional 8GB of RAM and swap out the 120GB SSD for a 600GB Intel 320 Series SSD. With those upgrades, however, your bill will nearly double to $2,622.
If all of that's too rich for your blood, you can scale back on the processing power by choosing a 2.6-GHz Intel Core i5 dual-core processor, 4GB of DDR3-1333 RAM and 250GB, 7,200-rpm hard drive with the same Nvidia GeForce GT650M graphics chip for just $999.
Still, both AvaDirect and Eurocom offer even more customization options, such as a wider range of memory, hard drives and processors. Eurocom even offers a matte display, an option not available with Maingear or AvaDirect.
Maingear offers its Pulse 11 customers a one-year standard warranty, as well as Lifetime Angelic Service labor and phone support with a one-year hardware guarantee.
With its strong gaming performance and compact size, the Maingear Pulse 11 is a good choice for gamers on the go. The fact that a notebook this size can handle "Batman: Arkham City" at its highest settings is impressive. What prevents this mini-rig (and its close cousins from AvaDirect and Eurocom) from getting a higher rating is its short battery life.
Price and performance-wise, the $1,375 Pulse 11 is directly between the Eurocom Monster ($1,444) and the AvaDirect Clevo ($1,326). It may not pack the same punch as the Eurocom, but it costs a bit less. And while the AvaDirect may be a hair cheaper, the Pulse 11 offers more power. We slightly prefer Eurocom's version, as it offers more customization options, including a matte display -- something the other two don't. Otherwise, the Pulse 11 packs a lot into a little.