Gigabyte is best known for their production of PC components like motherboards and graphics cards, but the company also has a line of laptops. Today we’re going to be looking at one such laptop, which is something of an oddity in the Windows 8 world: it does not employ a touch screen, but it does include a Nvidia 650M discrete graphics card. This should make it a stronger gaming laptop than the Windows 8 notebooks we’ve looked at in the past, which all relied on integrated Intel HD 4000 solutions. Combined with an i7 processor, 128 GB SSD and 8 GB of RAM, we’re looking at a very powerful machine indeed. Let’s take a closer look.
- OS: Windows 8
- Processor: Intel Core i7-3517U (1.9 GHz to 3.0 GHz)
- Memory: 8 GB DDR3 SDRAM
- Storage: 128 GB mSATA SSD
- Display: 14″ 1600 x 900 pixels LED
- Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M (2 GB) + Intel HD 4000
- Inputs: 2x USB 2.0, 2x USB 3.0, HDMI, VGA, LAN, 2x 3.5 mm audio
- Card Reader: SD
- Webcam: 1.3 megapixel
- WiFi: 802.11 a/b/g/n
- Bluetooth: 4.0
- Battery: 47.73 Wh
- Height: 18.5 – 21 mm
- Depth: 233 mm
- Width: 339 mm
- Weight: 1.59 kg
Sadly, the U2442 box provided has been covering up almost entirely by a large collection of shipping labels, so there’s little point in photographing it. The box must have looked nice though, with Gigabyte’s traditional black and gold colour scheme.
Inside the box, we find the laptop itself, a power cord and the usual bits and pieces of documentation. There are no extras here.
The Gigabyte U2442 is an impressive laptop to open up, with a lot of well chosen physical features and a subtle gold colour scheme. However, there are some definite bum notes too – let’s have a closer look.
Display and bezel
We’ll focus our attentions for now on the display. This is a 1600 x 900 unit, good for an ‘HD+’ designation but stopping short of the most useful ‘Full HD’ resolution of 1920 x 1080. I’m satisfied with that pixel count on a 14″ screen, although more is almost always better. Given that this is a machine capable of gaming, having a slightly lower resolution than normal will mean performance at that resolution will be slightly better, so it seems a worthwhile tradeoff.
Outside of the resolution, the screen seems well calibrated albeit with only moderately good viewing angles and an overly sensitive adaptive brightness function that will quickly annoy you.
As I mentioned in the introduction, there is no touch component to the screen. There is little downside to including one (apart from the cost), but then again on a gaming laptop it’s not an essential. Still, I found myself missing the functionality when navigating the ‘Metro’ mode of Windows 8 and going to turn off the computer.
The display is ringed with a fairly large black bezel, with the Gigabyte name below and a ‘Made in Taiwan’ gold sticker in the upper right. Were this my own machine, this sticker (and those that follow it) would be quick to go.
Keyboard and touchpad
We now turn our attention to the lower section of the machine. Here we have a backlit chiclet keyboard with black keys and white lettering, all pretty similar to the Apple style that’s so often copied here. Key layout is quite sensible, with Fn to the right of Ctrl and Home/End/Page Up/Page Down as secondary functions on the arrow keys.
The trackpad is quite interesting, with a grain texture that gives you a lot more tactile feedback than most flat plastic trackpads. The trackpad is a good size and also features a long, thin button tray at the bottom.
Outside of the keyboard and trackpad, it’s a mixed bag. There’s a cool speaker grille with a unique pattern above the keyboard, and the power / utility keys at the upper left are well designed.
Below, however, things get a bit messy – there are three fairly large sticker sections here, including one with specifications, one with component manufacturer logos and a 2 year global warranty sticker. While the component manufacturer ones seem to be removable, the others don’t seem to offer the same option – ironically, if I had to choose which stickers to keep the manufacturer ones would be at the top of my list.
The remaining element of the bottom section is well laid out, however: a set of five indicator lights for Bluetooth, WiFi, hard disk activity, charging and LED backlight. These are directly below the touchpad and can be seen whether the laptop is open or closed. Awesomely, if the laptop is off and you press the right hand end of the trackpad button, these lights will reflect the approximate level of charge (e.g. 3 of 5 lights would indicate around 60% charge).
Now let’s take a look at the left and right sides of the Gigabyte U2442.
Starting with the left first, working from the front and going back, we’ve got a Kensington lock, separate 3.5 mm headphone and microphone jacks, two USB 2.0 ports, VGA and RJ45 Ethernet.
On the right hand side, we’ve got the SD card reader, two USB 3.0 ports, HDMI and finally the AC adapter input.
Lid and bottom
The remaining elements of the laptop are fairly ordinary. The lid has a nice brushed metallic look in the same subtle gold-coloured plastic as the rest of the chassis, with an inset Gigabyte logo.
On the bottom, we’ve got again fairly standard stuff – the normal mess of advisory notices and screws for accessing the RAM or swapping out the keyboard. While it’s possible to get this laptop with a second (mechanical) hard drive, it doesn’t seem possible to add one yourself without taking the whole thing to pieces.
One of the previous reviewers of this particular unit has left two screws out here, which means the laptop creaks and flexes more than it should. Overall though, it feels fairly solid, closer to the dense Aspire S7 than the yielding Aspire V5.
As with the other laptops we’ve looked at recently, we’ll be evaluating the U2442’s performance with a battery of synthetic and real world tests. Given the U2442’s gaming performance, we’ll be testing it in a larger than normal range of games than we have previously. I’ll also use the laptop day-to-day, both travelling and at home.
Let’s begin with the synthetic benchmarks, then go into my overall impressions afterwards.
3DMark is a popular cross-platform graphics and physics benchmark. In order to look at the difference between the integrated HD4000 graphics and the discrete card (either of which can be used), I ran the tests on both devices. We’re using the x64 tests in the app available on Steam.
In the HD4000 test, we saw slightly higher scores than we did on the Aspire S7, which uses the same CPU and GPU but has only 4 GB of DDR3 memory and slightly more crapware aboard. It’s also worth noting that the S7 has a higher resolution screen (1920 x 1080 instead of 1600 x 900) but the tests should be resolution-independent.
With the discrete graphics engaged, we’d expect to see much better scores in this benchmark and indeed that’s exactly what we got. In the least stressful benchmark, Ice Storm, the difference was about 15% – 42430 vs 36812. In the middle version, around 12% – 4463 vs 3955. But in the final, most demanding test the discrete GPU provided more than double the score, a difference of 121% – 1147 vs 517.
|Ice Storm||Cloud Gate||Fire Strike|
CineBench is another cross-platform benchmarking tool that stresses the CPU and GPU. Here we saw similar results to the Aspire S7, and much better results than the Aspire V5 with the integrated graphics.
Again, engaging the discrete graphics card should bring about improved performance and we do indeed see that – although we may have faced some thermal throttling in the latter half of the test, as we see worse CPU performance for the discrete graphics option where we wouldn’t expect that.
CrystalDiskMark is my go-to tool for benchmarking hard drives, particularly SSDs. This benchmark has the average of five runs for a number of file sizes, with scores for read and write speed. The Gigabyte U2442 uses the Crucial M4 SSD – coincidentally, the first SSD I owned and the one I used as a comparison in my first SSD review for this site.
The results here are pretty much what you’d expect – much faster than the mechanical hard drive we saw in the Aspire V5, and pretty close to the RAID0 array of SSDs we saw in the Aspire V7. As you’d expect, results are very close to what I got using the M4 in my desktop PC last year – slightly slower across the board, perhaps due to a slower SATA connector, but no significant difference except in the 512K write test, where the M4 in the Gigabyte laptop proved almost twice as fast.
GeekBench is another cross-platform benchmark that examines processor and memory performance. Here I got a score of 6194, higher than the Aspire S7 (5820) and the Aspire V5 (5153) by a decent margin. The U2442 definitely seems to be the strongest Ultrabook I’ve ever tested, and that’s great to see.
The U2442’s gaming performance is excellent, as you’d expect from the benchmarks we just saw. On the integrated graphics, you’ll get performance similar to the Aspire S7 and other i7 Ultrabooks (albeit with slower load times than models with RAID 0 SSDs).
Here are the games I tried, and how I got on.
- Civilization V: Pinned to 60 FPS for the vast majority of the time, using Direct X 9 mode at native resolution. Some slowdowns to 30 FPS when viewing a large amount of territory for the new time, but bothing that impeded play. The Aspire S7 has proven the Intel HD 4000 integrated graphics work fine here too, but you won’t be able to play at native resolution at such comfortable frame rates without the discrete graphics.
- Borderlands 2: Here performance wasn’t as exception, with a range of about 25 to 35 FPS depending on how much needed to be rendered. This didn’t seem to be affected by resolution changes, so I’d recommend turning down some settings but keeping it on 1600 x 900 resolution. The game was still quite playable, even as a sniper.
- League of Legends: I had mixed results with League of Legends. While the game was fairly playable at 30 FPS, I ran into issues with not being able to click on things at non-native resolutions, meaning I couldn’t buy any items.
- Hawken: I wasn’t sure what to expect with Hawken because I don’t have a lot of experience running it on laptops, but the U2442 performed admirably. Despite frenetic action and rather good looking graphics, I got consistently high frame rates at native resolution and flawless performance at 1366 x 768.
- StarCraft II: Blizzard has always made their games run well on lower-end hardware, and StarCraft II is no different.
- MechWarrior Online: This game is fairly graphically demanding, but at a lowered resolution and medium settings it runs perfectly. I was surprised about this one, but it definitely gets my seal of approval.
So gaming performance is strong for a laptop, but does that translate into good performance in more mundane tasks, like browsing the web, editing photographs and writing up reviews of Ultrabooks? In a word… mostly.
With a Core i7 processor, a hefty complement of DDR3 RAM and that all-important SSD, you’d expect flawless performance in Windows and the U2442 delivers just that. Programs load and operate as smoothly as on my gaming desktop, booting and sleeping the computer is rapid and even with plenty of programs open performance was good – a dozen tabs in Google Chrome, a music player and PhotoShop couldn’t slow the Gigabyte laptop noticeably.
Multitasking here was also a lot better than the Aspire V5 we looked at last time – with 1600 x 900 pixels available, it’s possible to have two web pages up simultaneously without needing to shrink either. The display still proved to have its flaws though – viewing angles weren’t the best, making watching a movie from anywhere other than directly front and centre is an exercise in frustration.
Writing is something that I spend a lot of time doing on laptops, being a full-time tech writer and social media person. Unfortunately, the Gigabyte U2442’s keyboard wasn’t brilliant – despite large and logically laid out keys, the minimal key travel made mistakes more prevalent than on many other laptop keyboards I’ve used. The trackpad is definitely above average, but that’s unfortunately a smaller part of overall experience for me.
The final piece of the equation is battery life. Sadly, just as with the last few Acer laptops this again seems to be a little subpar. I got about three hours of battery life out of the computer, doing nothing more than writing up this review and browsing the web, with brightness at a reasonable level and only WiFi on.
All in all, the U2442 was perfectly usable in day-to-day use, but a more travellicious keyboard and an extra hour of battery life would have gone a long way. I’d definitely prefer a slightly thicker laptop in order to achieve that, although I suppose as the U2442 is already at the maximum width for an Ultrabook it might be a difficult task.
The U2442 is a powerful Ultrabook that hits a certain niche very well – that of the ultraportable gaming laptop. While thicker laptops can boast better GPU performance and less capable machines are thinner or cheaper, this Gigabyte laptop sits in a nice place between the two extremes, fitting good graphics performance into a cleverly designed Ultrabook.
- Strong gaming and day-to-day performance
- Reasonable display at a workable resolution
- Good looks and layout
- Comprehensive complement of ports and wireless
- Mediocre battery life, particularly while gaming
- Overly sensitive adaptive brightness
- Keyboard travel could be improved
- Windows 8 suffers without a touch screen