Pros: Stylish design; Excellent gaming performance; Blazing video-encoding with CUDA apps; Bright, high-resolution display; Free of bloatware
Cons: Low-end sound could be better; Picks up fingerprints quickly; Mouse buttons a bit stiff; Hard drive somewhat slower than average
Verdict: This sleek 15.4-inch gaming rig shreds zombies on a budget.
The 15.4-inch Sager NP8662 is a subtly stylish gaming notebook, and one of the first systems to pass through our labs with Nvidia's new enthusiasts mobile graphics solution, the GeForce GTX 260M. At just under $1,500, it falls between larger and more expensive gaming systems like the 17-inchGateway P-7808u FX($1,799), and cheaper 15.4-inch budget gaming systems like theMSI GT627($1,149). The Sager's beefy hardware, which includes 4GB of RAM, a 2.4-Ghz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, high-res display, and killer graphics will blow you (and those drooling zombie hordes) away.
The Sager NP8662 has a conservative aesthetic for a gaming notebook, but it's still attractive, especially compared with systems whose neon coloring can be embarrassing in certain public settings. The chassis has a deep gunmetal gray lid with a brushed metal and silver trim; this design is carried inside the notebook around the keyboard as well. Our only complaint about the design is that it picks up fingerprint smudges easily, especially on the lid.
At 14.3 x 10.6 x 1.9 inches, it's similar in size to the MSI GT627, another 15-inch gaming system. The Sager weighs 7.1 pounds with its battery pack, which is pretty heavy but bearable inside a backpack.
With the screen open, you'll find a 2-megapixel webcam just above the display and a large and comfortable QWERTY keyboard that feels sturdy and is easy to type on. Above the keyboard are quick-launch keys for your e-mail, the Web, and an audio toggle switch (Normal/Silent). Stereo speakers flank the keyboard on the upper right and left sides.
The square touchpad on the NP8662 is a bit small but proved to be responsive and smooth when navigating the desktop. The touchpad buttons are plenty large and are seemingly built into the touchpad; however, they're a tad stiff. In between the right and left buttons is a fingerprint reader.
Ports and Slots
On the left side of the computer is a DVD burner, the headphone and microphone jacks are on the front of the base, and a 7-in-1 media card reader, two USB 2.0 ports, and Ethernet/modem jacks are on the right. Two additional USB ports, an HDMI port, and a DVI-out jack are placed conveniently on the back of the unit next to the power port. That means you can attach a mouse and keyboard to the rear of the unit, and output its display to a TV or LCD monitor just as easily.
The 15.4-inch, 1680 x 1050-pixel resolution display is a pleasure to view. Text is sharp and the high native resolution meant it was possible to push the graphics further for a richer gaming experience. That's below the 1920 x 1200-pixel displays offered by more expensive systems with larger 17-inch screens like theAlienware M17, and may be a turn-off to some gamers who want a higher pixel count. Still, that's better than other 15.4-inch systems such as the MSI GT627, which has a resolution of just 1280 x 800. Plus, Sager offers a 1080p option ($175).
The screen on the NP8662 has decent viewing angles, but its glossy finish made it hard to view under fluorescent office lights. While watching a DVD of There Will Be Blood, the display was very bright, which helped eliminate some glare. Color contrast between the deep dark clothes worn by the oil workers contrasted well with the bright sand of the desert landscape.
Audio and Webcam
The two speakers were plenty loud for hearing our commander's orders while hunkered in trenches taking on fire in Far Cry 2, but the audio wasn't deep. A shot from our pistol sounded overly tinny, like two metal baseball bats clanging together, and the rumble of explosions off in the distance was too faint.
The 2-MP webcam performed well during a Google Video chat. Our co-worker said the colors were clear and the picture was sharp. Fast movements, such as waving, blurred a bit. Just keep in mind that the microphone is highly sensitive; it picked up keystrokes very clearly during a video call.
Under the hood, the NP8662 sports a 2.4-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8600 processor and 4GB of RAM, which performed comparably to other 15.4-inch systems, like the MSI GT627. The NP8662 booted Vista in just 54 seconds, which isn't bad. In PCMark Vantage, which measures Vista application performance, the system scored 3,646 points, versus the GT627's score of 3,930. That's better than the mainstream average (3,139), and it beat out the Alienware M17, which scored just 3,293 points.
The Sager NP8662's 250GB 5,400-rpm hard drive averaged just 14.7 MBps during the LAPTOP Transfer Test (copying a 4.97GB folder of mixed media), which is nearly 12 MBps slower than the GT627, but just 2 MBps slower than the M17 and 3.3 MBps slower than the mainstream average.
The system took 6 minutes and 24 seconds to transcode a 114MB AVI file into the MPEG-4 format using Handbrake; that's a 1.5 minutes better than the Gateway UC7807u, which has a 2.0-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T6400 processor. When we transcoded the same file on the NP8662 while simultaneously compressing a 4.97GB folder of mixed media, the same test took 10:28 to finish. Thanks to the system's Nvidia CUDA support, you can off-load some of the CPU processing to the graphic's processing unit with software like Badaboom--which is specifically designed for CUDA-enabled systems--to encode video quicker. Using Badaboom, we transcoded the same 114MB AVI file into an MP4 format in just 1:19.
Graphics and Gaming
Under the hood is the Nvidia GeForce GTX 260M GPU; according to the company, this new chip offers much better gaming performance than Nvidia's last-generation 9800M series, thanks to the new 55-nanometer process, higher clock speed, and better power efficiency. Coupled with 1GB of DDR3 memory, it let us mow down hordes of zombies in Left 4 Dead and storm the beaches of Peleliu Island in Call of Duty: World at War without a single blip in our frame rates--and that was with the graphics maxed out and resolution set to native.
The Sager NP8662 fared well on our graphics benchmarks. On 3DMark06 the system scored 9,767 points; that's nearly 1,000 points higher than the MSI GT627 earned, and edges out the Gateway P-7808u FX' 9,636. The Sager NP8662 also scored 5,412 points in 3DMark Vantage, which is a hair below the M17's score of 5,737, and better than the Toshiba Qosmio X305-Q725, which scored just 4,305 on the same test.
Far Cry 2 ran at an average of 64 fps with the resolution set to 1024 x 768, and at the native 1680 x 1050 pixels a still-playable 39 fps. The MSI GT627 offered a similar 63 fps at the lower 1024 x 768-pixel resolution, but its 43 fps at the native resolution isn't as impressive considering that's only 1280 x 800.
The ability to provide a heart-pumping game experience is more important than scores on paper, however, and the Sager NP8662 was able to slice through the latest titles like a rail-gun through zombie flesh. We were able to cruise through Call of Duty: WaW, CoD 4, and L4D without any trouble and with all of the graphics turned to high. In CoD: WaW, the ripples in the ocean as we stormed the beach looked like real water, and the leaves on enemy helmets shook with every footstep. Explosions after we called in missile strikes launched bodies and flames high into the air, and thanks to the system's horsepower, that meant we could knock out a few baddies at the same time without worrying about lag.
Battery and Wi-Fi
The Sager NP8662's eight-cell battery lasted 2 hours and 29 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi), which is good for a gaming system--a category known for its poor battery life due to the extra power required for high-quality graphics. By comparison, the MSI GT627's endurance was nearly identical, and the Gateway P-7808u FX lasted 3 hours and 43 minutes.
The Sager NP8662 supports 802.11a/g/n networks, and its wireless radio performed well on our tests. We saw 19.2 Mbps of throughput 15 feet from our access point; that's about 1 Mbps better than the mainstream notebook average from the same distance. At 50 feet, it managed 13.6 Mbps, or 2 Mbps below the category average.
You can customize the Sager NP8662 with a ton of different components. Instead of our 1680 x 1050 display, you can also choose a matte 1920 x 1200 screen for an additional $175. You can also opt for other clock speeds within the Intel Core 2 Duo family, ranging from 2.4 GHz up to 2.93 GHz; there's even a 2.0-GHz quad-core solution. Prices range from an additional $55 to $360, depending on the processor you choose.
Customers can also choose an Nvidia Quadro FX 2700M with 512MB of PCI-Express DDR3 RAM, which will set you back $265. You can add up to 8GB of RAM, and take your pick of a 320GB or 500GB hard drive or 80GB or 160GB solid state options. The additional 4GB of RAM costs an expensive $1,045 to add (better to buy it separately) and the 160GB SSD costs $790.
Software and Warranty
One of the best features of the NP8662 is that it's bloatware-free, void of annoying 30-day software trials. You can, of course, have some software installed for you by Sager. The company offers Microsoft Office 2007 Basic for $190, Small Business for $255, and Professional for $330. Sager will also install Elite Suite 2008 for $29, PC Works Suite 2008 Pro Edition for $35, or a special combo deal of both for $54.
Sager provides three years of labor, a one-year parts warranty and a lifetime of 24/7 domestic toll-free telephone tech support as part of the purchase price. The labor warranty is provided by Xotic PC, however, and not Sager. Two years of parts and labor will set you back $139, and if you want to add accidental LCD damage protection to that you can expect to pay an additional $100. A three-year parts-and-labor and LCD accidental-damage-protection plan costs $349.
The $1,487 Sager NP8662 was a joy to game on. And it doesn't try too hard to look like a gaming system, so you can pop it out in Starbucks and frag without onlookers gawking at you. It was able to slice through the latest 3D titles, and it offers excellent performance for the price. The Sager's speakers could be better, but if you're looking for a gaming notebook that delivers without breaking the bank and will fit in your backpack, the NP8662 gets the job done.
|CPU||2.4-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8600|
|RAM Upgradable to||8GB|
|Hard Drive Size||250GB|
|Hard Drive Speed||5,400rpm|
|Hard Drive Type||SATA Hard Drive|
|Optical Drive Speed||8X|
|Graphics Card||Nvidia GeForce GTX 260M|
|Bluetooth||Bluetooth 2.0 EDR|
|Ports (excluding USB)||DVI|
|Ports (excluding USB)||Modem|
|Ports (excluding USB)||Microphone|
|Ports (excluding USB)||Kensington Lock|
|Ports (excluding USB)||Headphone|
|Ports (excluding USB)||HDMI|
|Ports (excluding USB)||Ethernet|
|Card Slots||7-1 card reader|
|Warranty/Support||Three-year labor, one-year limited parts/24/7 toll-free phone|
|Size||14.3 x 10.6 x 1.9 inches|