Systemax Medallion XVII Review

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$1299

Pros: Decent battery life; Good selection of ports

Cons: Too expensive for the performance it offers; Poor keyboard layout; Case picks up smudges; Lackluster screen; Difficult to find various configurations

Verdict: This middle-of-the-road desktop replacement offers too little bang for your buck.

The Systemax Medallion XVII packs many of the same components as theChemBook Z7-1719we recently reviewed into a similar-looking chassis, and that's not a good thing. Built for general use plus some media and light gaming, the Medallion XVII fared even worse on our tests than the ChemBook, owing to its Windows Vista operating system and slow 5,400-rpm hard drive. In a world of fast-dropping notebook prices, the Medallion XVII's $1,299 price tag is too high for the performance it offers.

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Design and Ergonomics

The Medallion XVII has the same design as the ChemBook Z7-1719, but where the ChemBook's lid simply says "Notebook," the Medallion VII's shell has a backlit sign on the lid that reads "Systemax." Two points for Systemax remembering to put its name on the lid. The system looks relatively modern, with a glossy, all-black chassis that measures a svelte 1.3 inches thick but attracts smudges just as easily as the ChemBook. A 1.3-megapixel camera is above the display, flush with the casing.

We're definitely not fans of the keyboard, which, again, is identical to the ChemBook's. This system's large keyboard border left too much space around the edges, leaving the layout unnecessarily cramped. As a result, Systemax includes a number pad but opted to shrink the Enter, Arrow, right Shift, and punctuation keys to make everything fit. The result is a confusing and annoying typing experience.

The touchpad is also small, but we liked the dedicated scroll zone. The mouse buttons were too stiff, though. Four quick-launch buttons along the top of the keyboard grant fast access to the Internet, webcam, Wi-Fi settings, and Windows Vista's desktop search function. The notebook offers two USB ports on the left side as well as a DVDRW drive.

A ExpressCard slot, one additional USB plug, and HDMI and VGA ports are on the right side. We appreciated having the 3-in-1 card reader (SD/MS/MMC) up front, along with the FireWire, headphone, line-in, and microphone jacks. The Ethernet and modem jacks are on the rear of the unit.

Display and Audio

The Medallion XVII has a large 17-inch glossy display with 1680 x 1050-pixel resolution, which offered good viewing angles both horizontally and vertically. During our gaming and DVD playback tests, however, we didn't like the screen's performance. Colors were washed out and grainy. Watching Raiders of the Lost Ark left us wanting deeper blacks and more popping colors. Playing Call of Duty looked better. Despite the Dolby Home Theater sticker beneath the keyboard, the two circular speakers above the keyboard lacked bass and were too quiet for our tastes.

Medallion XVII Performance

The XVII is powered by a last-generation 2.2-GHz Intel Core 2 T7500 and 2GB of RAM. While it has a larger hard drive than the ChemBook Z7-1719--120GB instead of 60GB--the 5,400-rpm drive is spread out across three partitions: a 95.1GB local hard drive loaded with Microsoft Vista, a 124MB static data drive, and a 14.9GB image drive for backing up some of your data.

In testing, the Medallion XVII notched a score of 2,577 on PCMark Vantage, 234 points below average for desktop replacements. Its Nvidia GeForce 8600M graphics card with 512MB of video memory produced a 3DMark03 score of 5,030 and a 3DMark06 score of 2,844, both less than half the averages for systems in its class. Oddly, the $1,449 ChemBook Z7-1719 had the same discrete GPU and racked up 10,836 points on 3DMark03.

You'll be disappointed if you're planning to use this system for casual gaming. We set our Call of Duty graphics to 1280 x 1024 (below the 1680 x 1050-pixel native resolution) and averaged 16 frames per second across two levels of the game. Though playable, it certainly doesn't make for a smooth gaming experience. All of the effects were either set to low or off, so the game wasn't as enjoyable as it should have been. On F.E.A.R. with the settings at maximum, the system raked in a poor 17 frames per second, and 35 frames per second on autodetect. Again, that's playable, but we'd prefer to see scores at least in the 60s on autodetect to recommend it for gaming.

Wireless and Battery Life

Wireless scores from its 802.11a/g/n radio were marginally better than the ChemBook Z7-1719, likely because the hardware is the same. We experienced throughput of 18 Mbps at 15 feet and 13.6 Mbps at 50 feet from our access point, on a par with the category averages of 16 Mbps and 14 Mbps at 15 and 50 feet, respectively. The Medallion XVII's battery life was pretty good, at 2 hours and 2 minutes. That's 14 minutes better than the desktop replacement average for a DVD rundown but 55 minutes shorter than the ChemBook Z7-1719--likely due in part to the difference in operating systems.

We appreciated that the XVII didn't come packed with any crapware or trials that we would have had to uninstall. Systemax offers 24/7 U.S.-based phone tech support with a one-year warranty covering parts and labor.

We're surprised with how difficult this system was to find online. If you go to www.systemaxpc.com, you can find Medallion XVII models but not this exact configuration with the T7500 processor. When we asked the company about this, a rep said that the only way to get this exact configuration is to search for the SKU (SYXS-PR-038689) at TigerDirect.com.

Verdict

The Systemax Medallion XVII is a mixed bag. Its lower scores compared with the ChemBook Z7-1719 can be explained by the different operating systems. Beyond that, the design is boring, the keyboard is unnecessarily cramped, and the speed isn't impressive. Furthermore, $1,299 is just too expensive for a notebook you don't love. You could spend just $50 more and get blazing gaming and media performance with the Gateway P-6831FX, which has better performance and a more attractive design. While the Systemax Medallion XVII is powerful enough for general tasks, it just doesn't make much sense.

[Editor's Note] Portions of this review were taken from the ChemBook Z7-1719 review relating to the identical OEM casing design.

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Laptop Mag & Tom's Hardware
CPU 2.2-GHz Intel Core 2 T7500
Operating System MS Windows Vista Home Premium
RAM 2GB
RAM Upgradable to 4GB
Hard Drive Size 120GB
Hard Drive Speed 5,400rpm
Display Size 17
Native Resolution 1680x1050
Optical Drive DVDRW
Optical Drive Speed 8X
Graphics Card Nvidia GeForce 8600M
Video Memory 512MB
Bluetooth Bluetooth 2.0
Ports (excluding USB) Firewire
Ports (excluding USB) VGA
Ports (excluding USB) Ethernet
Ports (excluding USB) Modem
Ports (excluding USB) Microphone
Ports (excluding USB) Line-in
Ports (excluding USB) Headphone
Ports (excluding USB) HDMI
USB Ports 3
Card Slots 3-1 card reader
Warranty/Support One-year parts and labor/24/7 phone
Size 15.6 x 11.0 x 1.3 inches
Weight 7.4 pounds
Company Website http://www.tigerdirect.com