Normally, you wouldn't associate integrated graphics with high-performance gaming, but CyberPowerPC is hoping to change that with the Zeus Hercules. Instead of discrete graphics, the company has outfitted this thin and light laptop with Intel's new Iris Pro integrated chip that delivers twice the 3D performance of current integrated processors on the market. Add to that a slim chassis; a powerful Intel Core i7 processor; and a 14-inch, 1080p display, and you've got the makings of a solid gaming notebook. Does the $1,082 Hercules belong on the Mount Olympus of gaming notebooks, or is it a mere mortal?
For such a grandiose name, the Zeus Hercules looks more like Hephaestus than Adonis. At first glance, we mistook the notebook for a Dell Vostro V130. The gray, brushed-aluminum lid is rather drab, and the CyberPowerPC emblem engraved along the bottom right of the notebook seems like a half-hearted attempt to add some flourish.
We're not fans of the clunky rear hinge but can appreciate the gentle tapering along the sides of the laptop. However, we do like the rear vents, which resemble something you might envision on a sci-fi spaceship.
The notebook's interior continues the blasé design, as the palm rest and keyboard deck are both clad in gray plastic. A slim power button can be found above the F12 key, while a pair of faux speaker grilles borders the keyboard on the right and left, adding a bit of visual diversity.
One thing we love about the Hercules is its slim profile. Weighing 4 pounds and measuring 14.9 x 9.96 x 0.79 inches, the laptop can be easily stowed in a small bag without causing shoulder strain. However, the 4.2-pound Razer Blade 14 and Sony VAIO Flip 14 are also slimmer, at 13.6 x 9.3 x 0.66 inches and 13.23 x 9.25 x 0.7~0.78 inches, respectively. The MSI GE40 20C-009US, which also weighs 4.2 pounds, is the chunkiest, at 13.3 x 9.4 x 0.8 inches.
Click to EnlargeFor a gaming notebook, the Hercules' 14-inch, 1920 x 1080-pixel matte display is merely average. The screen was sharp enough to show off crisp text on Kotaku.com, as well as Asa Butterfield's galaxy of freckles in the 1080p trailer for "Ender's Game." However, colors didn't really pop, making Ron Burgundy's usually vibrant, red suit look maroon in the "Anchorman 2" trailer.
Colors also appeared washed-out during our "BioShock Infinite" play-through. The normally bright and vibrant utopia of Columbia looked somewhat drab. Elizabeth's blue dress had a noticeable gray pall. Even our fireballs looked dusty, offering faded yellows and reds.
When we measured the display with our light meter, the notebook averaged 264 lux. That's higher than both the 211-lux thin-and-light average and the MSI GE40 (204 lux), but the VAIO Flip 14 was brighter, at 281 lux.
Click to EnlargeEquipped with a pair of bottom-mounted speakers, the Hercules is quiet, not a riot. The laptop's audio barely filled our small test space, even after tweaking the settings in the HD VDeck control panel. As we listened to the Janelle Monáe/Miguel duet "Primetime," the crooners' vocals sounded distant, and the background electric guitar was distorted.
The Hercules didn't fare any better with Alanis Morissette's "Head Over Feet." When it was just Morissette and a guitar, the song sounded rather clear. But when the rest of the instrumentals kicked in, the track became muddy and brassy.
Audio during "BioShock Infinite" was clear, allowing us to enjoy the dulcet tones of a barbershop quartet's rendition of The Beach Boys' "God Only Knows." The machine guns had the proper staccato, while our murder of crows caws were deep and properly menacing. Explosions didn't possess the deep, weighty boom that we've heard on other systems, however.
The Zeus Hercules scored 78 dB on the LAPTOP Audio Test, in which we play a continuous set tone and stand 23 inches away from the notebook. That's a few decibels shy of the 81-dB average.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Click to EnlargeFrustrating typing experiences await on the Zeus Hercules' island-style keyboard. The large, black keys provided nice travel, but we ran into many occasions when our keystrokes didn't register and we ended up with missing letters. As a result, we scored a poor 37 words per minute with a 4 percent error rate on the Ten Thumbs Typing Test. That's far below our usual 55 wpm/1 percent error rate.
CyberPower said that our issues could result from a defective keyboard; we will update this review, and reserve the right to change the rating after we've had a chance to test a different unit.
The laptop's sizable 4.24 x 2.5-inch touchpad was responsive, letting us quickly cue up the Charms menu and switch among open apps. Multitouch gestures -- such as two-finger scroll and rotate, pinch-zoom, and three-finger flick and scroll -- were quick and accommodating.
Click to EnlargeEven when performing Herculean tasks, this notebook kept its cool. That's due, in no small part, to the dual-fan smart thermal cooling, which increases airflow automatically when the gaming gets hot and heavy.
During the LAPTOP Heat Test, in which we stream a full-screen video for 15 minutes, the touchpad measured a comfortable 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and the space between the G and H keys and the bottom of the notebook posted 85 and 86 degrees, respectively. It was a little warmer at the underside of the hinge, measuring 89 degrees. However, that's still well below our 95-degree comfort threshold.
After a 15-minute gaming session of "Metro: Last Light," the touchpad was a brisk 77 degrees. Both the space between the G and H keys and the notebook's undercarriage measured 82 degrees. The underside of the hinge held steady at 89 degrees.
Click to EnlargeThe Hercules' 1-megapixel webcam captures images and stills at 720p, and does a good job of delivering bright color. Our lime-green headphones looked great under both natural and fluorescent lighting. Details were noticeably fuzzy, but the camera still managed to show some of the pattern in our ivory-colored knitted sweater.
Click to EnlargeOn the right side of the Hercules are a trio of USB 3.0 ports with a 6-in-1 card reader, and jacks for audio and a microphone. An HDMI port, a mini DisplayPort, a Gigabit Ethernet port and a power jack are on the left, with a Kensington lock slot along the rear.
While we appreciate the three USB 3.0 ports, having all your peripherals connected to one side of a notebook can quickly become a hassle.
Click to EnlargeThe CyberPowerPC Zeus Hercules is one of the first notebooks to ship with Intel's Iris Pro Graphics 5200 GPU -- the same GPU found in the MacBook Pro 15-inch with Retina display (2013). The new chip delivers better performance than previous generations of integrated chips, but it's still not a match for discrete GPUs from Nvidia or AMD.
Still, the Hercules did well on our benchmark tests, scoring 2,197 on the 3DMark11 test, easily topping the 963 thin-and-light average. The Sony VAIO Flip 14's Intel HD Graphics 4400 chip notched 506, while the MSI GE40's Nvidia GeForce GTX 760M scored 4,398. However, the Lenovo IdeaPad Y510p's dual Nvidia GeForce GT750M GPUs asserted their dominance, with a mark of 5,092.
When we ran the "World of Warcraft" benchmark, the Zeus Hercules delivered 74 fps on autodetect at 1920 x 1080 pixels and 72 fps at 1680 x 1050 pixels. That's enough to top the 66 fps category average and the Flip 14's 22 fps at the same resolution. However, the MSI GE40 notched 182 fps at 1600 x 900p, and the Y510p blew away the competition, with 176 fps at 1080p.
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On maximum settings and its native 1080p resolution, the Hercules' frame rate dropped to 29 fps, one frame beneath our 30-fps playability threshold. But when we switched to 1680 x 1050p, the frame rate increased to 35 fps. Still, that's less than half the frame rates on the GE40 and Y510p, which notched 80 and 81 fps, respectively. The Flip 14 came to a near standstill, at 5 fps at 1080p.
Usually, when we test a system with Intel integrated graphics, we don't run the "BioShock Infinite" benchmark because the chip isn't powerful enough. Not so with the Zeus Hercules, which gave us a just-playable 31 fps at 1080p with the effects on low.
When we dropped the resolution to 1600 x 900p, the Hercules improved somewhat, to 42 fps, which is still less than the 71-fps average. The Y510p scored 67 fps at 1080p, while the GE40 maintained its lead, with an impressive 80 fps.
When we cranked the test to ultra at 1080p, the Hercules fell to 10 fps, below the 26-fps average. The MSI and Y510p came in a hair above the average, at 27 fps each.
Benchmarks are good, but they can't replace the actual gaming experience. We revisited Columbia in "BioShock Infinite" and were pleased to see that the game ran smoothly on nearly every setting. We noticed some graphical fluctuations when we set the game to 1920 x 1080p at Very High with Antialiasing turned off. However, the notebook still managed to deliver an average frame rate of 36 fps at these settings. The frame rate increased slightly, to 38 on High and 42 on Medium.
Click to EnlargeThe CyberPowerPC Zeus Hercules sports a 2-GHz Intel Core i7 4750HQ processor with 8GB of RAM. That's more than enough power to stream an episode of "The IT Crowd" while performing a system scan with nine open tabs in Google Chrome, Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox.
The notebook also performed well on our benchmark testing, scoring 6,320 on PCMark 7. That's well above the 3,463 thin-and-light average. The Lenovo IdeaPad Y510p's 2.2-GHz Intel Core i7-4702MQ CPU obtained a score of 4,871. The MSI GE40 and its 2.9-GHz Intel Core i7-4700MQ CPU achieved 5,345. The Sony VAIO Flip 14's 1.6-GHz Intel Core i5-4200U CPU failed to meet the average, scoring 3,305.
When it comes to speed, CyberPowerPC's notebook is as much Hermes as it is Hercules. The laptop's 120GB SSD loaded Windows 8 in a fast 9 seconds, screeching past the 29-second category average. By comparison, the GE40's 128GB SSD and 750GB 7,200-rpm hard drive launched Windows 8 in 15 seconds. The Flip 14's 500GB 5,400-rpm hard drive was right on its tail, at 17 seconds. The Y510p and its 1TB 5,400-rpm hard drive started Windows 8 in 19 seconds.
The Hercules continued its speedy pace on the File Transfer Test (copying 4.97GB of multimedia files) with a speed of 141.4 MBps. That's way faster than the 59-MBps category average. The GE40 hit 127MBps, the Y510p achieved 47MBps and the Flip 14 scraped by at 25 MBps.
On the OpenOffice Spreadsheet Macro test, the Zeus Hercules paired 20,000 names to their corresponding addresses in 4 minutes and 13 seconds, matching the GE40's time. That's enough to beat the 6:22 category average and the Flip 14's time of 9:03. The Y510p was right on their heels, posting 4:15.
When it comes to endurance, the CyberPower Zeus Hercules is far from immortal, lasting only 4 hours and 24 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi). That's well below the 6:28 thin-and-light average, but it's still longer than the Lenovo IdeaPad's Y510p time of 3:08. The MSI GE40 and the Sony VAIO Flip 14 lasted 8:20 and 7:17, respectively.
Software and Warranty
Click to EnlargeLike most gaming notebooks, the Zeus Hercules is virtually devoid of bloatware, featuring native Windows 8 apps such as Internet Explorer and SkyDrive.
Our $1,082 configuration of the CyberPowerPC Zeus Hercules has a 2-GHz Intel Core i7 4750HQ, 8GB of RAM, a 120GB SSD and an Intel Iris Pro Graphics 5200 GPU. However, CyberPowerPC offers a wide variety of storage add-ons, including mSATA drives, hard drives and SSDs of varying sizes.
Click to EnlargeCombined with an Intel Core i7 processor and a 120GB SSD, the integrated Iris Pro 5200 GPU can't compete with the Nvidia's and AMDs of the world, but it's powerful enough to place the Hercules firmly in the conversation.
But the $1,082 Hercules still has some labors to overcome, such as poor battery life, a lackluster display and an unresponsive keyboard. Gamers looking to get the most graphical muscle and battery life in a 14-inch frame should check out the $1,219 MSI GE40-2OC-009US. While it's not as thin or light, the Lenovo IdeaPad Y510p offers a Core i7 processor, dual Nvidia GPUs, 8GB of RAM and 1TB of storage, all for $1,063.
Zeus Hercules is a lightweight and relatively inexpensive notebook that can run a solid game of "BioShock Infinite." Just don't try to take down any Titans.