Sometimes an excellent operating system can be made even better
Metabox Prime Series W230SS-CTG02 gaming laptop
A small gaming notebook with a wild spec sheet and room for tinkering
- Excellent speed
- Small body
- Full HD, anti-glare screen
- Touchpad could be better
- Build quality not stellar
- Keyboard layout a little busy
With the Metabox Prime Series W230SS-CTG02, what you’re getting is a laptop that’s definitely geared more towards the gaming crowd, but even if you’re not a gamer and just want a powerful and portable laptop for other reasons, it’s worth considering.
Price$ 1,539.00 (AUD)
The 13.3in Prime Series W230SS-CTG02 is the smallest gaming laptop offering from Metabox, but it still manages to pack a potent punch. The model we saw came decked out with a Core i7 CPU, GeForce GTX 860M graphics, and a 256GB solid state drive; but the neat thing is that you can tailor this Metabox to suit your needs and budget.
Make it your own
Rather than offering you one or two stock configurations to choose from, Metabox has a configurator on its site that allows you to pick either a Core i5 or Core i7 CPU, from 4-16GB of RAM, and storage can be swayed from high speed (via SSD) to massive capacity (via hard drive). There are even a couple of choices for screen resolution (Full HD or 2160p), and you can opt to have the lid, palm rest and screen bezel covered in a carbon fibre tape.
All this makes the Metabox an enticing option, and not only one that's fine for gamers. While this and other Metabox units are heavily targeting the gaming market, we think it's a brand you should consider if you just want a powerful yet portable laptop for work purposes, or simply if you're a laptop enthusiast looking for some flexibility. The standard look of the unit doesn't scream 'typical gamer', but is instead a subdued grey and black, with some angles cut into the edges to give it a bit of attitude, and a bulky base so that all the fast components can do their job without overheating.
Stacks of speed
Specifically, our Metabox Prime W230SS-CTG02 arrived with an Intel Core i7-4710MQ CPU, which has four cores, Hyper-Threading, and a standard clock speed of 2.5GHz, in addition to 16GB of 1600MHz DDR3 SDRAM, an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 860M graphics adapter, and a 256GB Plextor PX-256M5Pro SSD.
It's a configuration that retails for $1539, which is competitive for a little laptop with so much power inside, and this price also includes a Full HD, IPS-based screen. What it doesn't include is dual-band Wi-Fi. The stock Wi-Fi is a single-band Realtek chip, and you will need to add an extra $20 if you want dual-band (via an Intel 7260 AC Dual Band and Bluetooth adapter).
The CPU speed was excellent in our tests, recording 19sec in the Blender 3D rendering test with all eight threads chipping in, while in the graphics department things were also zippy. 3DMark's high-end Fire Strike test recorded a mark of 3687, while Sky Diver got 11825. In Battlefield 3, we recorded an average of 58 frames per second using a Full HD resolution and 'high' graphics quality, but we had to enable vsync in order to rid the screen of visible tearing during gameplay.
It's a quicker beast than the ASUS G550J that we reviewed last month, and almost as quick as the MSI GS60 Ghost that we saw in May, though that laptop is bigger and it had a RAID 0 array by default. The performance of the Plextor SSD in the Metabox proved to be excellent, with CrystalDiskMark recording a sequential read rate of 510.8 megabytes per second (MBps) and a sequential write of 426.7MBps. It has a formatted capacity of 238GB, though options for hard drives are available if you prefer more storage to speed (we don't).
Battery life was more than acceptable during our rundown test, in which we disable power management, enable Wi-Fi, maximise screen brightness, and loop a Full HD MP4 video file. We got 4hr 44min out of it, and this can be stretched to almost eight hours with a lower brightness or a balanced power profile.
Expect noise from the cooling fan when the laptop is being used for gaming or when it's CPU is under a heavy load in general. That said, it was quiet during regular tasks, such as Web browsing, viewing photos, and word processing, but it did kick in every now and then to remind us it was there. Some warmth was felt on the palm rests when the laptop was used to run games, but since most of you are likely to use an external keyboard and mouse to play on this laptop, that's unlikely to be much of a problem.
The weight of the laptop on its own is a shade over 2kg, and it has a large power supply that can make it a little cumbersome to pack and move around on a daily basis. If you have a good backpack for it, it will give you good exercise with little annoyance. Some of the weight can be attributed to the heat pipes and the relatively large heat sink, which sits at the side of the chassis to help rid the system of warm air. As long as you're using the Metabox on a hard, flat surface during heavy workloads, the vents under the unit will help to circulate cooler air. There are substantial feet on the base to ensure a noticeable gap is left between a desk and the chassis.
The screen has an anti-glare coating that isn't susceptible to reflections from room lights, and it's a good-looking screen for everyday usage. Viewing angles are wide thanks to the use of IPS (in-plane switching) technology, so there is no colour shift when you view it from different angles. Importantly, you don't have to adjust the tilt to make photos and videos viewable.
We like the keyboard, which has full-sized, backlit keys that offer reasonable travel and responsive bounce for typing. We think it's a good one for those of you who are likely to do a lot of typing. With the white backlight on at night, the look of the keys is reminiscent of an HP EliteBook. In short, it looks good. The Page and Home keys are located to the right of the Enter and Backspace keys, and the arrow keys blend in with the rest of keys. These are our only gripes with the keyboard. Our only other gripe is with the touchpad, which was a little unresponsive for us. We often had to repeat taps and swiping gestures.
You don't get any shortcut or programmable macro keys on this device, but again, the size of the laptop means you will most probably plonk it on a desk and use an external keyboard for your gaming.
The overall build quality of the unit feels reasonably solid, though we did notice some clicking around the left hinge when tilting the screen forwards — and it was brutally annoying once we noticed it. No such clicking or creaking problems with the chassis, nor did it bend noticeably when we held it with one hand by the corners. The small form factor keeps it structurally sound.
Speaking of sound, there are Onkyo speakers installed, and they produce a weak output, while also being easy to muffle when using the notebook in your lap. Headphones or Bluetooth speakers should be used if you want more oomph.
Along the right edge you get three USB 3.0 ports, HDMI, VGA, Gigabit Ethernet, and the power port. The front has a full-sized SD card slot (SD cards sit all the way in and are easy to access due to the height of the chassis), while the left edge has the air vent, a USB 2.0 port, and the headphone and microphone ports. There is a webcam, Bluetooth, and 802.11n (single-band Wi-Fi).
On the inside, you can see the 2.5in drive bay in which the Plextor SSD sits, as well as the two memory card slots that each have an 8GB module installed. There are also three mini PCI Express slots, one of which has the Wi-Fi adapter installed, and two of which are marked as supporting mSATA. It's possible to install two SSDs in these slots, and even use RAID 0 or RAID 1 to configure them for more speed or redundancy. You can then use the 2.5in bay for a hard drive if you need massive internal storage.
Sometimes there is nothing more fun than configuring your own laptop from scratch (almost), especially if you're after high-end performance. It can be more rewarding than buying an off-the-shelf brand name as you can pick the components that go into it, and in some cases change the way it looks.
The Metabox Prime W230SS-CTG02 is one of these types of customisable laptops and we like it a lot. You can get excellent speed out of it despite it being of a 13.3in form factor, and there is room for expansion if you want to tinker. It's for gamers primarily, but anyone after a fast laptop with a flexible configuration should consider it.
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