iBuyPower Battalion 101 (M865TU) Review

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$1953

Pros: Good gaming muscle ; Bright and colorful high-def display ; Solid CPU performance ; Good wireless scores

Cons: Dull design ; Mediocre speakers ; Poor keyboard ; Limited tech support hours

Verdict: This rig has plenty of power for blasting baddies, but its design could be more exciting.

The iBuyPower Battalion 101 (M865TU) is a beefy machine that can shred through the latest 3D titles like shrapnel through light armor. This 15.4-inch notebook is equipped with high-power Nvidia graphics, complete with 1GB of dedicated video memory, a 3.06-GHz processor, 4GB of RAM, and a 500GB, 7,200-rpm hard drive. On the other hand, there's more to gaming machines than just raw power, and this $1,953 rig doesn't quite have the industrial design to match its muscle.

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Design

When you drop almost $2,000 on a notebook, you expect high-end build quality. So when we popped the lid on the Battalion 101, we were disappointed by its look and feel, largely due to iBuyPower's overreliance on plastic throughout the chassis. Within one day of the unit arriving in our office, an iBuyPower sticker that was on the back of the laptop had fallen off, which came as no surprise to us since the lid has a textured checkerboard pattern, and is probably not a good place to adhere something.

The overall look is handsome but subdued for a gaming notebook. Our unit was dark brown with small, silver-colored accents around the touchpad, hinges, and base of the unit. The back cover has a matte brown finish, which carries over across the wrist pad. Just above the keyboard is a black metallic finished area, which is home to the power button, an e-mail shortcut, a Web shortcut, and a silent/normal mode button. For a 15-inch system, the Battalion 101 isn't overly bulky, weighing 7.1 pounds and measuring a backpack-friendly 10.6 x 14.3 x 1.9 inches.

Keyboard and Touchpad

The slightly gritty keys on the Battalion 101 have enough travel to make typing comfortable, but the computer doesn't always register every key press, so if you're typing fast you're likely to see a few missed letters here and there.

The touchpad is comfortable and easy to use. It has the same texture as the bezel around the keyboard, but this too feels chintzy. If you press down on it, the plastic area around the keyboard bends. For this much money we'd expect a sturdier laptop with some magnesium alloy support sections.

The touchpad keys are easy to press, but you'll want to rely on an external mouse if you're firing off quick rounds in a first-person shooter. There's also a fingerprint reader between the two buttons.

Display and Audio

The Battalion 101 has a 15.4-inch screen with a high-definition 1680 x 1050-pixel resolution. Colors were vibrant, both inside games and out: An episode of Heroes played from a DVD looked bright and saturated, and we appreciated the deep blacks that the display offered. The screen was bright enough to display a clear picture even under our fluorescent office lights, but its glossy finish resulted in a lot of glare. Still, viewing angles were good enough that an extra person could comfortably sit in on a 'frag fest or DVD without losing color quality.

While listening to Eric Church's "Carolina," the two speakers (located just above the keyboard) were sufficiently loud for a small dorm room or office, but the audio wasn't very clear, and there was distinguishable rattling at high volumes.

Ports and Webcam

On the left side of the Battalion 101 is a DVD burner; on the back are power, HDMI, DVI, and two USB ports (one of which doubles as eSATA), which makes plugging wires into a monitor or HDTV easy. The Ethernet jack and modem port are on the right side of the unit, along with two additional USB 2.0 ports, a 7-in-1 memory card reader, and an ExpressCard/54 slot. The audio jacks are on the front of the Battalion 101, which is convenient for gamers looking to plug in a headset and mic without having to route wires around the side or rear of the computer.

The built-in 2-megapixel camera was satisfactory during our test Skype call. The caller said our picture was good, but that there was a slight blue tint to the video. Audio came through well, and they said our voice sounded clear through the built-in microphone.

Performance

The Battalion 101 performed well in our benchmark tests. It had a score of 5,189 on PCMark Vantage, which is much better than the category average of 3,789 points, and only about 90 points below the Alienware M17x, which costs more than twice as much. Opening new windows in Internet Explorer 8 was almost instantaneous, and larger programs such as Windows Media Center took about two seconds to open; this speed is likely a direct result of the system's 4GB of RAM.



Our unit's 500GB, 7,200-rpm hard drive completed our LAPTOP Transfer Test (duplicating 4.97GB of mixed media) in 3 minutes and 27 seconds, a rate of 24.6 MBps. That's better than the category average for mainstream notebooks by about 6 MBps, but about 4 MBps slower than the ASUS G51Vx, which costs about half as much as the Battalion 101.

Graphics

The discrete Nvidia GeForce GTX 260 graphics chip offered more than enough muscle to slice through 3DMark06. We saw a score of 10,726, beating the current average by more than 4,500 points, and falling just behind two other 17-inch systems, the Alienware M17x (13,463) and ASUS W90 (11,310). The only 15-inch system that came close to the Battalion's heels was the Sager NP8662, which scored 9,767 points. On 3DMark Vantage, the Battalion 101's score of 5,431 was about 1,100 points above the category average, and about 50 points higher than the MSI GT725.



The Battalion 101's GPU offered more than enough juice to 'frag with the latest titles. During an hour of hardcore firefighting in Call of Duty: World at War--storming the beaches of Peleliu Island and fighting the Germans in the Battle of Stalingrad--we were impressed by the smooth frame rates. Even set to the computer's native resolution and with the eye candy hiked up to the max, we didn't see a single hiccup; even during the most intense scenes, where explosions were going off around us as we rushed into enemy bunkers with a blazing flamethrower, the Battalion 101 kept going strong. Action was smooth in Left 4 Dead; zombies exploded into a satisfying pulp with every gun shot, and we didn't see the frame rate drop while fighting off large hordes.

The graphics were stunning, too. We were blown away by some of the visuals throughout Call of Duty: World at War, such as the view of the ocean from the turrets on top of Peleliu Island. The water glimmered and the foliage blew in the breeze as we overlooked our U.S. ships in the water below.

In Far Cry 2 with the settings on autodetect (DirectX 9 enabled and the resolution set to 1024 x 768), we averaged 84 frames per second, which is more than 16 fps faster than the category average, and only 15 fps slower than the Alienware M17x. With the settings cranked to DirectX 10 and the resolution set to its native 1680 x 1050, we saw a very playable average of 43 fps. The Gateway P-7807u FX offered the same frame rates, and costs $650 less than the Battalion 101, but its larger 17-inch screen has a lower resolution of 1440 x 900. The ASUS G51Vx, priced at $1,049, saw reasonable scores of 58 fps at 1024 x 768 and 37 fps at 1366 x 768.

CUDA Performance

When we converted a 114MB MPEG-4 video file to AVI using HandBrake, the Battalion 101 took 5:41 to complete the task. That's about 13 seconds faster than the mainstream category. Using vReveal, a CUDA application that takes advantage of the system's Nvidia graphics card to help in the transcode process, the same test took just 2:52. That's much faster than the ASUS N90, which packs a CUDA-enabled GeForce GT 130M and converted the same file in 4 minutes and 23 seconds. This shows how much more power you get with a more robust graphics chip.

Battery Life and Wi-Fi

The Battalion 101 lasted 2 hours and 21 minutes on a charge. That's far below the 3:24 average for mainstream notebooks with 15-inch displays. However, this runtime is not bad in comparison to other 15.4-inch gaming systems, such as the the ASUS G50V, MSI GT627, and Sager NP8662, which had battery life times of 2:32, 2:27, and 2:29, respectively.

We saw very good wireless throughput speeds as well. At a distance of 15 feet from our router, we saw an average throughput of 21.0 Mbps, which is better than the category average of 19.8 Mbps. Our connection of 18.9 Mbps was equally strong at a distance of 50 feet, besting the category average of 16.3 Mbps.

Software and Warranty

The Battalion 101 ships with a 60-day trial of Microsoft Office Home and Student 2007. Intel Matrix Storage Manager, Emoticons for Windows Live Messenger, and Personal Safe software for the fingerprint reader are also included.

iBuyPower offers a one-year limited warranty and lifetime support service for the computer. Technical support is only available Monday through Friday from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. (EST), and you'll have to call or e-mail iBuyPower support during those hours to have and issues resolved.

Configurations

Our $1,953 review unit of the M865TU was equipped with the best specs possible; the starting model costs $1,519, and includes a 2.53-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8700 processor, 2GB of RAM, Nvidia GTX260 graphics, and a 250GB, 7,200-rpm hard drive. In between, users can configure their system with a variety of processors (from 2.53 GHz to 3.06 GHz) and hard drives ranging in size from 160GB to 500GB. iBuyPower also offers solid state drives from Intel and Kingston in capacities ranging from 32GB to 256GB. Lastly, you can downgrade forego our 4GB of RAM for just 2GB.

Green Testing

Not surprisingly, this gaming machine's primary focus isn't on power efficiency. It took 2 hours and 11 minutes to fully recharge the battery; during that time, the Battalion 101 used an average of 81.1 watts. For the LAPTOP Battery Efficiency Rating (the total amount of watts it takes to recharge divided by the battery life), the notebook returned a very high score of 75.3 watts per minute of battery life, whereas the desktop replacement average is 59.0 watts. (Like in golf, a lower score is better.) Still, the Battalion 101's score comes in well under that of the Alienware M17x, which chews up 125.2 watts per minute.

Verdict

The iBuyPower Battalion 101 (M865TU) offers top-of-the-line gaming performance, even at its high native resolution. However, for over two grand, we wish that iBuyPower had paid as much attention to its notebook's build quality and design as it did the hardware. The ASUS G51v costs about half as much, yet still provides reasonable performance in a far more interesting chassis. Nevertheless, if you want a powerful gaming laptop you can take with you, the iBuyPower Battalion 101 is worth a look.

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Laptop Mag & Tom's Hardware
CPU 3.06-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9900
Operating System MS Windows Vista Home Premium (64 bit)
RAM 4GB
RAM Upgradable to 4GB
Hard Drive Size 500GB
Hard Drive Speed 7,200rpm
Hard Drive Type SATA Hard Drive
Display Size 15.4
Native Resolution 1680x1050
Optical Drive DVD /- RW
Optical Drive Speed 8X
Graphics Card Nvidia GeForce GTX 260
Video Memory 1GB
Wi-Fi 802.11a/g/n
Bluetooth
Mobile Broadband
Ports (excluding USB) Headphone
Ports (excluding USB) HDMI
Ports (excluding USB) Firewire
Ports (excluding USB) Ethernet
Ports (excluding USB) Modem
Ports (excluding USB) DVI
Ports (excluding USB) Microphone
Ports (excluding USB) Kensington Lock
USB Ports 3
Card Slots ExpressCard/54
Card Slots 7-1 card reader
Warranty/Support One-year limited/12 p.m. to 8 p.m. (EST) tech support
Size 10.6 x 14.3 x 1.9 inches
Weight 7.1 pounds
Company Website http://www.ibuypower.com