With the M4, Eurocom has its sights set squarely on mobile gamers. This 13-inch system weighs just more than 4 pounds, but it can be packed with the latest Core i7 processor and Nvidia 860 graphics. Starting at $1,054 ($3,837 as configured), the M4's chassis also allows for a huge amount of customization, which many gamers will appreciate. In the process, though, Eurocom had to make some trade-offs. Can the M4 stand firm against competing systems from Razer and Alienware?
The M4 has a more ho-hum design than we'd like for a gaming rig. The almost military-style construction -- combined with the flat, black exterior and gunmetal-gray interior -- gives the M4 a decidedly utilitarian appearance.
In comparison, the Alienware 14 has more aggressive styling and a wealth of color options, and the Razer Blade 14 has a minimalistic and stealthy MacBook-like appearance. On the plus side, the M4's matte finish does a good job of resisting fingerprints. However, the soft plastic on the lid and palm rest flexed more than we would have liked.
Measuring 13.2 x 9.98 x 1.28 inches and weighing 4.4 pounds, the M4 is smaller and lighter than the Alienware 14's 6.6-pound 13.2 x 10.2 x 1.57-1.62-inch case but thicker and heavier than the svelte Razer Blade 14's 4.2-pound 13.6 x 9.3 x 0.66-inch chassis.
Click to EnlargeThe Eurocom M4 joins the growing ranks of notebooks with QHD displays. The 13.3-inch screen features a resolution of 3200 x 1800 pixels. The screen is sharp and crisp from almost any angle but, like many of its high-res brethren, suffers from a lack of sharpness in applications that don't handle resolutions of this size properly.
The best example of this is the Chrome Web browser, which appears noticeably fuzzy when compared side-by-side to Internet Explorer 10. This high pixel count can also cause issues with gaming because, at full resolution, UI elements and text can be undersized and hard to read. Plus, hitting minions in "League of Legends" at 3200 x 1800p was exceedingly difficult and forced us to play at 1920 x 1200p instead. Note that some games may not support the more unusual resolutions you may need to get games to run.
On the flip side, navigating through Windows 8.1 in desktop mode and Live Tiles was a gorgeous experience, and shows the potential of a system where every screen looks this sharp. When we watched a 1080p episode of "Top Gear," the video was highly detailed, and the green of the plants popped in contrast to the wildly decorated vehicles.
At 389 lux, the M4's display is more than twice as bright as the Alienware 14's (161 lux) and also outshines the Razer Blade 14 (323 lux) and the category average of 216 lux. However, colors could be better. The M4's display can produce only 87.5 percent of the sRGB spectrum. That's slightly higher than the category average of 86 percent, but lower than we'd like for a gaming laptop. Also, this panel registered a Delta-E score of 9.5 for color accuracy. A score closest to zero is best, and the category average is 6.43.
Click to EnlargeThe M4 comes with Onkyo stereo speakers. Unfortunately, they're located on the bottom rear of the system, which negatively impacts the sound quality.
It also doesn't help that the speakers need to compete with the noisy fans. While we didn't notice them while listening to music or watching movies, they did start to get loud when we were gaming. In first-person shooters, where sound awareness is especially important, you will need to wear headphones in order to hear footsteps, bomb disarms or other audio cues.
On the Laptop Mag audio test, the M4 tied the category average with a loudness reading of 83 decibels measured at 13 feet. When we listened to Brock Berrigan's "Cruise Control," midtones sounded mediocre, but the highs were somewhat tinny and bass was almost nonexistent. Even when we pushed bass to 100 percent in the included Sound Blaster software, we were still left wanting more.
Sound Blaster Cinema lets you select preset or custom settings to match the content being played, with additional options for surround sound, crystallizer, bass, smart volume and dialogue enhancer. After setting the bass to 100 percent, the only feature we found useful was the smart volume for switching between quiet nighttime use or normal mode.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Click to EnlargeThe M4's Chiclet-style keyboard was fairly comfortable. We measured key travel of 1.5 millimeters, shorter than the category average of 2. However, its key actuation of 60 grams was pleasantly stiffer than the category average of 55. The firmness of the keys, combined with the short throw, allowed for crisp key presses while we were gaming or typing.
While it lacks the fun lighting effects of the Alienware 14, the M4's keyboard has three levels of backlighting that can be adjusted using the Function keys.
Click to EnlargeThe diminutive size of this gaming laptop didn't leave Eurocom much room, but the 3.45 x 1.75-inch touchpad did a good job with two-finger scrolling and recognizing such Windows 8 gestures as swiping to access the Charms bar.
However, we didn't like the mushy mouse buttons on the M4's touchpad. While we wouldn't suggest trying to play "Counter-Strike: Global Offensive" on any touchpad, on this system, it was even more difficult due to occasional clicks not registering. Also, actuation distance varies depending on where you press the mouse buttons. Tactile response was vague and unsatisfying.
Click to EnlargeThis laptop is hot and loud. After we streamed a full-screen Hulu video for 15 minutes, the touchpad measured 94 degrees Fahrenheit, and the space between the G and H keys hit 89.5 degrees. The hottest spot on the system was a vent on the bottom of the chassis, which reached 106.5 degrees. This vent is located right above where your left thigh would be if you were using the notebook on your lap. We generally consider anything above 95 degrees to be uncomfortable.
While browsing websites, watching videos and answering emails don't do much to provoke the fans, anything more intense will cause them to spin. Even low fan speeds compelled us to switch to headphones while gaming to better hear the audio.
The 2 megapixels on the Eurocom M4 webcam snaps pictures at 1920 x 1080p and records videos at 1080p and 30 frames per second. Photos we took in a relatively bright office appeared a little too dark. Self-portraits looked a bit fuzzy around the face and hair but otherwise acceptable. Videos were similarly dark but suitable for video calls.
Click to EnlargeThe M4 has an impressive number of ports for a notebook this size. Along the left side, there is a single USB 2.0 port next to the mic and headphone jacks. The right side houses three USB 3.0 ports, along with HDMI, VGA and Ethernet ports. Finally, there is a Kensington lock slot on the right side, near the hinge. The SD Card slot is on the front of the system, toward the right.
Running at 3.1 GHz, Eurocom's quad-core Intel Core i7-4940 MX CPU is one of the beefiest you'll find in a system this size. As expected, this laptop blitzed through most of our benchmarks. Even with eight tabs open in both Internet Explorer 10 and Chrome while running a system scan, we still averaged more than 70 fps in "League of Legends" at the native res of 3200 x 1800p.
The M4 scored 6,284 in PCMark 7. That beats the score of 5,325 achieved by the Alienware 14, which has a 2.2-GHz quad-core Intel Core i7-4702 HQ. The Eurocom also beat the 5,387 scored by the Razer Blade 14, which has a 2.2 GHz quad-core Intel Core i7-4700MQ chip. The M4 also dominated the Geekbench 3 test, with a score of 13,011, in front of both the Alienware 14 (12,674) and Razer Blade (11,666).
Our M4 came with dual 1TB Samsung Evo mSATA SSDs and a 1TB 7200-rpm Hitachi HDD, for a storage total of 3TB. With a rate of 154 MBps, the M4 finished behind the Alienware's 203.6 MBps on the Laptop Mag file-transfer test but ahead of the Razer Blade's 141.4 MBps and the category average of 93.7 MBps.
On the Laptop Mag spreadsheet test (pairing 20,000 names and addresses in OpenOffice), the M4 finished in 3 minutes and 23 seconds. That's faster than the Alienware 14 (4:00), the Razer Blade 14 (4:15) and the category average (6:32).
Gaming and Graphics
Click to EnlargeThanks to an Nvidia GeForce GTX 860M in our test system, the M4 performed well across a range of games. Even at the native res of 3200 x 1800p, frame rates never dropped below 50 fps while playing "Dota 2" at max settings while simultaneously streaming 1080p video from YouTube and running a bot game of "League of Legends" in the background. At 1920 x 1080p, neither game ever dropped below 60 fps.
When we played "BioShock Infinite" on max settings at 1920 x 1200p, the M4 achieved 43 fps -- more than the Alienware 14's 24 at 1080p and the Razer Blade 14's 30 fps at 1600 x 900p. To be fair, those older systems featured Nvidia GeForce GTX 765M GPUs. The latest version of the Razer Blade boasts Nvidia's latest 870M graphics.
When we played "Metro: Last Light" at 1920 x 1200p on low settings, the M4 averaged 71 fps -- well ahead of the Alienware 14's and Razer Blade 14's 75 fps and 62 fps, respectively.
The M4 notched 59,674 on 3DMark Ice Storm, placing it behind the Razer Blade 14 (89,963) and the Alienware 14 (87,298). However, the Eurocom finished first on 3DMark Fire Strike, with a score of 3,666. The Alienware 14 (2,448) and Razer Blade 14 (2,238) finished more than 1,000 points behind.
The price of the M4's prodigious performance comes at the expense of endurance. On the Laptop Mag Battery Test (continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi with the display set to 100 nits of brightness) the M4 lasted just 3 hours and 53 minutes. That's almost 3 hours less than the 7:14 category average. On our old battery test (Web surfing over Wi-Fi at 40 percent brightness), the Alienware 14 lasted 5:11, and the Razer Blade 14 lasted 8:07.
In anecdotal testing, the M4 lasted less than 1:45 while we watched live games of "Dota 2" at max settings.
Software and Warranty
Click to EnlargeThe Eurocom M4 ships delightfully free of any bloatware. The only other non-Windows applications included is Nvidia GeForce Experience and Sound Blaster Cinema. GeForce Experience is a great tool for gamers; it helps users tweak game settings to maximize performance.
The standard one-year warranty comes with remote tech support and the ability to return the computer to the factory for repairs. There are options for two- and three-year warranties for an extra $165 and $295, respectively.
One of the strengths of the M4 is the number of available configurations. Our test system, priced at $3,837, came with an Intel Core i7-4940MX CPU, an Nvidia GeForce 860M GPU with 2GB of video ram and dual 1TB Samsung Evo mSATA SSDs with a 1TB 7200 rpm Hitachi HDD. The display is a 3200 x 1800p QHD panel with professional calibration.
A bare-bones system costs only $954 and comes with a 1920 x 1080p display; a 2.5-GHz Intel Core i5-4200M CPU; a 500GB, 7,200-rpm Hitachi HDD; and the same 2GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 860M graphics card.
The M4 has mounting points, for a total of 3.5TB of possible storage.
Buyers looking to save some money can choose a system with the same Nvidia GeForce GTX 860M graphics card, a Core i7-4700MQ processor and a 500GB hybrid drive for less than $1,150.
Click to EnlargeEurocom managed to squeeze some impressive hardware into a 13-inch gaming laptop. The M4 absolutely screams, offering smooth frame rates on even the latest titles. We also like the sharp QHD screen, even if the color accuracy isn't great. Where the M4 falls flat is its short battery life and noisy fan. The M4 also runs hotter than we'd like.
Overall, the new Razer Blade ($2,199) looks like a more attractive option. Although we haven't tested the latest version yet, that svelte 14-inch gaming notebook offers the same QHD resolution and even faster graphics in a more attractive design. However, if you want a powerful and portable gaming rig with more configuration options and a lower starting price, the Eurocom M4 is a speedster worth considering.