From the Alienware 14 to the Razer Blade 14, thin is in for gaming notebooks. With a slim 0.9-inch profile, Maingear's new $1,911 Pulse 14 (M5-1492) is the latest rig to trim the fat. The notebook also features a fourth-generation Core i7 processor, Nvidia GTX graphics and a 1600 x 900 display, making the Pulse 14 a force to be reckoned with. Read on discover how the Pulse 14 stacks up.
One look at the Pulse 14's Rosso Scuderia paint job and Prince's "Little Red Corvette" began playing in our head. The chassis' premium automotive paint job helps the Pulse 14 stand out in a crowded gaming notebook market. The bright red paint is a lovely backdrop for the large black Maingear emblem in the center. The lid held up against our gropefest, leaving virtually no smudges or fingerprints.
Maingear offers seven additional colors, including Alpine White, Synergy Green, Speed Yellow and Plum Crazy, for $99.
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The interior of the notebook is divided between the black glossy plastic upper deck and the black matte brushed aluminum palm rest. A long speaker grille occupies the thin ledge above the keyboard deck with a power button made of clear plastic and chrome. The keyboard resides in a slightly recessed deck with the chrome-lined touchpad resting directly underneath.
Overall, we love Maingear's willingness to play with color, but we wish the company would incorporate more metal in its design. As it stands, the notebook feels a little chintzy compared to competing notebooks.
Size and Weight
The Pulse 14 weighs 4.2 pounds and measures 13.25 x 9.5 x 0.9 inches. It's far lighter and slimmer than the 6.6-pound, 13.2 x 10.2 x 1.57~1.62-inch Alienware 14, but other gaming notebooks are thinner still. The MSI GE40, which also weighs 4.2 pounds, is 13.3 x 9.4 x 0.8 inches, and the 4.2-pound Razer Blade 14 remains the world's slimmest, measuring 13.6 x 9.3 x 0.66 inches.
Similar to other 14-inch gaming notebooks, the Pulse 14's display has a 1600 x 900 resolution. Colors were rich and vibrant as evidenced by an image of a ruby red apple against an emerald green lawn. While we could see small brown flecks on the water-speckled apple and individual blades of grass, there was noticeable fuzziness along the edges.
As we watched the 1080p trailer for "Her," Joaquin Phoenix's persimmon shirt and brooding gray eyes popped against the backdrop of a bustling city. However, a night shot of the city skyline was rife with pixelation.
When we played "Tomb Raider," we saw vibrant red and yellow flames juxtaposed against the faded reds, grays and brown of the dilapidated pagodas dotting the lush green mountainside. On High, dying embers of the burning temple glowed realistically as the individual strands of Lara's hair blew in the wind.
Measuring a dim 182 lux on our light meter, the Pulse 14 failed to match the 210 lux average for the thin-and-light category. That didn't stop this system from topping the Alienware 14 and its 161 lux reading. The GE40 is noticeably brighter at 204 lux, but the Razer Blade 14 outshone all three notebooks with 323 lux.
Despite an assist from Creative's Sound Blaster Cinema software, the Pulse 14's pair of speakers don't provide a lot of boom. R. Kelly's usually rich tenor was reduced to a tinny wail on "You Knock Me Out," the piano sounded distant, and there was practically no bass. At maximum volume, the audio barely filled our small test room. However, the audio sounded clear.
During our "Tomb Raider" play-through, the dialogue seemed to be set to just a few decibels above whisper. While we could hear the creaks and cracks of burning temples, the audio sounded rather hollow and distant. Exploding Molotov cocktails fell flat, belying the damage dealt when one landed a bit too close.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The Pulse 14's island-style keyboard is a mixed bag. The nicely spaced and slightly concave keys delivered strong, springy feedback. We matched our 55 wpm average on the Ten Thumbs Typing Test. However, the keys are seriously undersized on the right -- particularly the Backspace, Enter and Right Shift key. We often found ourselves hitting the Home key in our attempts to hit Backspace.
The 3.1 x 1.6-inch Elan touchpad is a bit small for our tastes, but it manages to deliver a fast, responsive experience. We successfully accessed the Charms Menu, pinch-zoomed, two-finger scrolled and three-finger flicked. The unibar serving as a mouse button provided fairly firm feedback, but its garish chrome finish is a fingerprint magnet.
After running the Laptop Heat Test (playing a full-screen Hulu video for 15 minutes), the touchpad measured 92 degrees Fahrenheit, which is below our 95-degree comfort threshold, but fairly warm for a touchpad. The space between the G and H keys registered 89 degrees, while the bottom of the notebook hit 86 degrees. However, the undercarriage measured 98 degrees toward the front of the notebook.
A word to the wise when gaming on the Pulse 14: keep it out of your lap. After playing "Tomb Raider" for 15 minutes, the touchpad temperature leapt to a hot 104 degrees. It made the 96 degrees from the space between the G and H keys feel cool by comparison. Along the middle of the underside of the notebook, the chassis registered 95 degrees. However, that temp skyrocketed to 110 degrees just to the left of this area.
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The Pulse 14 comes with a 2-megapixel camera that captures stills and video in 720p. The resulting photos were full of pixelation. Most colors were pretty spot on, showing off our massive neon green headphones, light blue shirt and dark blue jean jacket. However, the finer details in our co-worker's shirt were blurred into a bluish-green haze.
The right side of the Pulse 14 houses a USB 2.0 port, a tray-loading DVD burner, a 3-in-1 card reader, a secure lock slot and headphone and mic jacks. A pair of USB 3.0 ports, HDMI, VGA, Gigabit Ethernet and a power jack sit on the notebook's left.
Gaming and Graphics
Despite its diminutive dimensions, the Maingear Pulse 14 can hold court with many 17-inch notebooks on the market. This is due in no small part to the system's Nvidia GeForce GTX 760M GPU with 2GB of VRAM.
When we ran the 3DMark11 benchmark, the Pulse 14 notched 3,575, destroying the 880 thin-and-light average. The MSI GE40, which has the same GPU as the Pulse 14, notched 3,498. However, the Pulse was no match for the Nvidia GeForce GTX 765M-powered Razer Blade 14 (4,060) or the Alienware 14 (4,136).
During our "World of Warcraft" test, the Pulse 14 achieved 173 fps on autodetect at native resolution (1600 x 900), once again thrashing the 60 fps average. The GE40 notched 182 fps, while the Blade 14 delivered a blistering 218 fps. The Alienware 14 delivered 147 fps, but keep in mind that the Alienware has a 1080p display compared to the other notebooks' 1600 x 900 screens.
When we cranked the effects to maximum, the Pulse 14 scored 90 fps. That's more than enough to top the 27 fps average as well as the GE40 (80 fps) and the Alienware 14 (84 fps). The Blade 14 squeaked out the win with 92 fps.
On the more demanding "Bioshock Infinite" benchmark, the Pulse 14 notched 90 fps at its native resolution and effects on Low. That tops the 84 fps category average, as well as the Alienware 14 (71), GE40 (80) and Blade 14 (88).
On the highest settings, the Pulse 14's frame rate dropped to 35 fps. That's five frames above our playability threshold and enough to beat the 28 fps average. The Blade 14 gave us 30 fps, while the GE40 and the Alienware 14 scored 27 and 21 fps, respectively.
When we ran benchmarks on "Tomb Raider" at 1600 x 900 with V-Sync Off at 60Hz, the Pulse 14 yielded 120 fps on Low and 84 fps on Normal. When we jumped to High, we got 55 fps and 39 on Ultra. The game began to stutter on Ultimate, however, delivering 22 fps.
Thanks to its 2.2-GHz Intel Core i7-4702QM processor with 16GB of RAM, the Maingear Pulse 14 is a speed demon. The notebook easily streamed "Cabin in the Woods" while performing a system scan with 11 open tabs in Google Chrome, Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox.
The notebook delivered an impressive 5,980 on the PCMark7 benchmark, well above the 3,177 thin-and-light category average. The Razer Blade 14 and its 2.2-GHz Intel Core i7-4702HQ CPU notched 5,873. The MSI GE40 and Alienware 14, both of which have a 2.4-GHz Intel i7-4700MQ CPU, gave us 5,345 and 5,325, respectively.
It's hard to believe considering its size, but the Pulse 14 is loaded with dual 128GB SSDs in RAID 0 configuration and a 1TB 5,400 rpm hard drive. The laptop booted Windows 8 in 10 seconds, less than a third of the time it takes an average thin-and-light notebook. The Pulse 14 duplicated 4.97GB of mixed-media files in 15 seconds for a transfer rate of 339.3 MBps. That's more than 6 times faster than the 49 MBps average. The Alienware 14 was a distant second at 204 MBps with the Blade 14 (141 MBps) and GE40 (127 MBps) bringing up the rear.
On the OpenOffice Spreadsheet Macro Test, the Pulse 14 matched 20,000 names and addresses in 4 minutes and 12 seconds, much faster than the 5:52 average. The GE40 and the Blade 14 were mere seconds behind at 4:13 and 4:15. However, the Alienware 14 finished ahead of the pack with a time of 4:00.
The Maingear Pulse 14 also features an Intel HD Graphics 4600 GPU. Thanks to Nvidia's Optimus technology, the notebook automatically switches to the integrated GPU on less taxing tasks such as Web surfing, which helps extend the overall battery life.
This sleek rig continually surfed the Web over Wi-Fi on the Laptop Battery Test for an excellent 8 hours and 40 minutes. The MSI GE40 and Razer Blade 14 clocked in at 8:20 and 8:07, respectively. The Alienware 14 delivered a below-average 5:17.
Software and Warranty
Like most gaming notebooks on the market, the Maingear Pulse 14 is bloatware-free. Aside from the usual Windows 8 offerings (Store, People, Bing and Music), the notebook features Google Chrome, Nvidia GeForce Experience and the Sound Blaster Cinema Software.
The Maingear Pulse 14 comes with a Lifetime Angelic Service Labor and Phone Support with a one-year Comprehensive Warranty.
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Our review unit of the Pulse 14 is the $1,686 top-of-the-line model with a few customizations. The laptop features a 2.2-GHz Intel Core i7-4702QM processor with 16GB of RAM, a 128GB SSD in RAID 0 configuration and a 1TB 5,400 rpm hard drive, Intel HD Graphics 4600 GPU and Nvidia GeForce GTX 760M GPU with 2GB of VRAM.
Our config also has a custom paint job ($99), an Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 7260 802.11ac network card ($49) and a Logitech G500 gaming mouse ($69), which brings the total price to $1,903.
The $1,380 base model has a 2.2-GHz Intel Core i7-4702QM CPU, 8GB of RAM, a 500GB 7,200-rpm hard drive, an Intel HD Graphics 4600 GPU and a Nvidia GeForce GTX 760M GPU with 2GB of VRAM.
The $1,574 edition has 2.2-GHz Intel Core i7-4702QM CPU, 8GB of RAM, a 500GB 7,200-rpm hard drive, an Intel HD Graphics 4600 GPU and a Nvidia GeForce GTX 760M GPU with 2GB of VRAM.
The $1,903 Maingear Pulse 14 (M5-1492) offers a beguiling combination of horsepower and endurance in a design you can take anywhere. We love the Pulse 14's paint job and slim chassis almost as much as the Core i7 processor and Nvidia GTX graphics. Plus, this rig outperforms most of its competitors in gaming tests. Just make sure you bring some headphones to this party, as the speakers just aren't very powerful.
Overall, the Razer Blade 14 continues to be the gold standard for 14-inch gaming notebooks. For $1,999, gamers get an all-aluminum chassis that measures a strikingly thin 0.66-inches. The Blade 14 also delivers a brighter display, better audio and comparable battery life. Still, the Pulse 14 is a very good choice for gamers looking for a heart-quickening dose of power and style.