Hardware manufacturer Gigabyte is primarily known for stamping out individual computer parts, but now it's making the whole package. The Gigabyte P2532N is its new multimedia notebook that comes with a smattering of impressive offerings under its hood: a quad-core Intel Core i7-2630QM processor, NVIDIA GeForce GT550M GPU, four dual-channel stereo speakers (and a subwoofer), and a full HD display. Seems like a pretty good package for a competitive $1,385. But how does the Gigabyte stack up against laptops from more established brands?
Black with silver trim, the Gigabyte P2532N has an understated, classic look that would seem right at home in a corporate setting. Its black chrome lid has a plain matte finish that ostensibly repels finger marks, although it does retain minor discolorations from dirty fingers. Conversely, the edges of the laptop's lid and deck are trimmed in a shiny, silver aluminum that's a perpetual print magnet. It didn't bother us too much since the lining was only 0.2 inches thick, but some will want to ready their polishing cloths. The lid is embellished with a slightly raised Gigabyte logo scribed in the same silver.
Pop the lid of the P2532N and you'll see that the interior continues the laptop's black theme with a brushed metal treatment. Gigabyte also included a Battery Status Check panel below the keyboard on the left side of the deck - an indicator with several lights - which you can use even while the computer is powered off to see exactly how much juice your notebook has left.
Measuring 15.4 x 10.3 x 1.1-1.4 inches and weighing 5.8 pounds, the P2532N is not made for travel. The laptop was manageable when we moved from room to room, though we did start to notice the heft. However, the P2532N is lighter than both the Dell XPS 15 (6.6 pounds) and the ASUS G53SW-A1 (8.2 pounds).
One minor design flaw of the P2532N emerged when we tried watching a DVD. When we exerted more pressure than usual with our resting palm, the material bent and the disc inside made a loud whirring noise against the notebook's deck. We tried another disc and were unable to reproduce the effect, but there was still observable flex on the deck.
Inside the P2532 are two heat sinks, one for the CPU, and one for the GPU. Gigabyte says that this arrangement not only keeps the system cooler, but also extends the life of its components. We found them to be fairly effective, as the P2532N ran warm but never crossed into unacceptable territory. After we streamed a Hulu video at full screen for 15 minutes, the bottom of the laptop registered 95 degrees Fahrenheit. The touchpad and the space between the G and H keys were cooler--80 and 91 degrees, respectively. We noticed that the notebook sometimes hummed softly when we used it for some multimedia tasks, such as streaming a video online.
Keyboard and Touchpad
We appreciated how Gigabyte gave the recessed, island-style keyboard generous spacing between the flat-topped keys. The company shrunk the 0 and right Shift keys to incorporate direction keys, which also double as multimedia play/pause. A complete number pad is to the right side of the keyboard, but it's strategically cropped so that it fits in like a puzzle piece with the rest of the keys. The result? A neatly arranged and evenly spaced rectangular layout.
Typing was generally a pleasant experience on the Gigabyte P2532N, with just a little keyboard flex and satisfying tactile feedback--though the keys were a bit too stiff for our taste. However, we found one minor source of discontent: Since the touchpad isn't centered below the G, B, and H keys, our right palm would often land on it and inadvertently move the cursor around the screen while we were typing.
Still, that's not to say Gigabyte's touchpad design is without virtue. At 3.6 x 2.1 inches, it's spacious enough, and its textured surface lent us enough friction to move around the display with precision. The touchpad's size was also large enough to comfortably carry out standard multitouch gestures such as pinch-to-zoom.
The big button beneath the P2532N touchpad is split into left and right divisions (for left and right clicks). Jabbing the button right in the center - as we were prone to do - doesn't register any command, which led to some initial confusion.
Display and Audio
The 15.6-inch glossy display on the P2532N offers full HD 1920 x 1080 resolution. It deftly handled the 1080p trailer of New Year's Eve. The hues of colorful confetti raining down in Times Square looked vivid and accurate, while bursts of light from fireworks popped radiantly against the blackness of the New York sky.
The display had no problems handling a DVD of Weird Science, either. In the scene where Gary and Wyatt turn a doll into Kelly LeBrock, crackling blue lightning glowed brightly where it struck the house. Wide viewing angles allowed three people to sit down side by side in front of the notebook and watch the show. Tilting the display as far back as possible revealed a little bit of color distortion, and generally speaking, we found the tones to be a bit too red; but all in all, the P2532N's display was crisp and sharp.
Located right above the keyboard are four dual-channel stereo speakers, and a woofer resides on the bottom. Combined with THX TruStudio Pro technology, the P2532 consistently produced sound that was loud enough to fill an entire room. Bass in 50 Cent's "In Da Club" , and we also noted good clarity and detail while playing a song with brighter tones (Jason Mraz's "I'm Yours"). In both cases, the instruments -- the bass and the acoustic guitar -- were always distinguishable from the vocals, and never once overpowered them.
Ports and Webcam
Look around the right side of the Gigabyte P2532N and you'll find Ethernet, an HDMI port, a 4-in-1 memory card reader (MS/MS PRO/MMC/SD), two USB 3.0 ports, a headphone/external output jack, and a microphone input jack. The left side houses a DC-in jack, a VGA port, a dual USB/eSATA port and a DVD burner. Sorry, no Blu-ray here.
The Gigabyte P2532N features a 1.3-megapixel webcam. During a Skype call, our friend on the other end noted that our image appeared with good--but not great--detail. They also reported loud, clear audio along with the decent image, and some motion blur (though our Internet connection could have been to blame).
With a 2-GHz quad-core Intel Core i7-2630QM processor and 8GB of RAM, the Gigabyte P2532N powered through PCMark Vantage, a benchmark that measures overall performance, to post a score of 8,780. That's an impressive 2,947 points above the current category average of 5,833. The P2532N also bested the ASUS G53SW-A1 (8,470) and the Dell XPS 15 L502X (8,548), both of which have a 2.6-GHz quad-core Intel Core i7-2630QM CPU. During real-world use, we simultaneously opened 11 tabs on Google Chrome, streamed a movie on Netflix, and chatted on Skype, and the Gigabyte P2532N never faltered or showed any signs of lag.
The 750GB hard drive (spinning at 7,200 rpm) booted Windows 7 Home Premium in exactly 1 minute, four seconds faster than average. This beats out the ASUS G53SW-A1, which took 1 minute and 8 seconds, but the notebook underperforms slightly compared to the Dell XPS 15 L502X's 53-second boot time.
On our file transfer tests, the P2532N duplicated 5GB of mixed-media files in 2 minutes and 33 seconds for a rate of 33.3 MBps. This is fairly decent considering the category average of 3:12 (data rate of 26.7 MBps), and it's exactly the same file transfer rate as posted by the Dell XPS 15. However, the ASUS G53SW managed the task in 2:10.
Finally, we set the Gigabyte P2532N to perform a complex VLOOKUP operation on 20,000 rows on the OpenOffice software; it accomplished this in a fairly quick amount of time (5 minutes and 14 seconds), compared to the category average of 7:14.
The P2532N's NVIDIA GeForce GT550M and 2GB of VRAM achieved a strong score of 8,816 on the 3DMark06 test, which measures overall graphics performance. This showing is almost twice as high as the category average (4,504) and better than the XPS 15's Nvidia GeForce GT 540 ( 8,101) but far less than the gaming-centric G53SW's Nvidia GeForce GTX460M (14,070). The P2532N also includes Nvidia's Optimus technology, which automatically switches between discrete and integrated GPUs depending on the task at hand.
When we played World of Warcraft, the P2532N delivered 42 frames per second with the game's settings at maximum (1920 x 1080 resolution). Although the notebook didn't do as well compared to both the G53SW (59 fps) and the XPS 15 (53 fps), its performance would still be considered quite good, given the notebook category average of 28 frames per second.
In the much more intensive Far Cry 2, the P2532N notched a pretty smooth 59 frames per second in 1024 x 768 resolution, (the average is 45 fps) but dropped down to a paltry 12 fps at 1920 x 1080, which is 8.3 points behind the category average.
When we ran our LAPTOP Battery Test (continuously surfing the web on Wi-Fi), the P2532N lasted 4 hours and 27 minutes--certainly thanks in part to Nvidia's Optimus technology. The result is a few minutes less than the mainstream notebook average of 4:34, just a minute off compared to the XPS 15 (4:26), and much better than the G53SW (3 hours).
The Gigabyte P2532N ships with some interesting preloaded software. The Gigabyte Smart Switch lets you switch quickly between 32-bit or 64-bit operating systems; Gigabyte Smart Manager lets you change system settings from a quick-access panel; and Gigabyte Smart Charge, which lets you to charge USB devices when the notebook is plugged into a power source, or even when it is off (as long as there is sufficient battery life).
The notebook is backed by a two-year global warranty for parts and labor, and a one-year global warranty for the battery and adapter.
We tested the $1,385.79 Gigabyte P2532N, which comes with a full 1920 x 1080 HD display. Gigabyte also offers a 3D model of the notebook, the P2532V, which supports NVIDIA 3D Vision technology and has a screen resolution of 1366 x 768. However, this model is currently unavailable in the U.S..
Multimedia mavens will be drawn to the $1,399 Gigabyte P2532N. There's much to love, from the notebook's five high-quality dual-channel speakers (including a subwoofer) and blazing-fast Intel Core i7-2630QM processor to a robust NVIDIA GeForce GT550M graphics card and an exquisite 1920 x 1080 HD display. The lack of Blu-ray functionality and a less-than-stellar webcam dampen our enthusiasm a bit, especially since you can get a Dell XPS 15 with Blu-ray and an HD webcam for $1,199. But if you're looking for a 15-inch entertainment laptop, the P2532N definitely deserves your attention.