Nvidia's new graphics chipsets have made gaming laptops thinner, lighter and more energy efficient. This is the start of a new era of notebooks that can actually handle games on battery power for more than a couple of minutes at a time. The Metabox P650SE is a relatively affordable way to get yourself a brand new laptop, with some brand new processing and graphics hardware.
What Is It?
- Processor: Intel Core i7-4710HQ up to 3.5GHz
- RAM: 16GB 1600MHz DDR3L up to 24GB
- Graphics: Nvidia GeForce GTX 970M
- Storage: Various, up to 1TB SSD
- Display: 15.6-inch, 1920x1080 pixel, up to 4K
- Connectivity: 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, stereo analog audio, Ethernet SD card, 2x USB 3.0, HDMI, 2x miniDisplayPort
The starting-at-$1979 Metabox P650SE is a barebones Clevo, customised by Metabox to nearly any specification that you might want it to have. If you find yourself looking at a bunch of different laptops on the market at the moment, but finding that they're not right for you for any one small reason or another, a custom-built laptop should sound like a great idea.
The cheapest specification of P650SE, just under the $2000 mark, is built around a 15.6-inch Full HD 1920x1080pixel LED backlit IPS LCD display. Depending how much you want to splash out, though, you can opt for a 2880x1620 pixel LCD, a 3840x2160 pixel PLS LCD, or a 3840x2160 pixel IGZO LCD for as much as a $420 premium. Similarly, you can even customise the design of the laptop itself -- for a few hundred dollars more than RRP you can wrap the laptop in carbon fibre.
No matter what other spec you choose, you'll always have an Intel Core i7-4710HQ processor, a 2.5GHz CPU with temporary Turbo Boost 2.0 up to 3.5GHz in times of serious computing need, and you'll always have a Nvidia GeForce GTX 970M with 3GB of VRAM -- as well as the processor's own integrated graphics. This is a good midrange configuration -- not incredibly powerful, not incredibly energy-hungry, but enough to keep your laptop chugging along smoothly when it comes to playing modern games when you're travelling.
You have a huge choice of drive choices to fill the Metabox P650SE's two SSDs and two hard drives, and you can spec up to 32GB of DDR3 memory. Similarly, if you intend to play a lot of online or LAN games over Wi-Fi, the optional Killer NIC is a smart choice, and Metabox smartly also offers the choice of either Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 depending on what you're familiar with and how you intend to use.
What's It Good At?
For the specs you're getting, the Metabox P650SE is a pretty damn competitive notebook. Inside is an Intel Core i7-4710HQ quad-core processor clocking in at a maximum 3.5GHz, with integrated graphics dynamically switching with a Nvidia GeForce GTX 970M and a standard 16GB complement of DDR3 RAM. That 970M is a pretty impressive piece of silicon, too, more than capable of playing modern games at the P650SE's 1920x1080pixel native resolution whether you're on battery or plugged in to mains power.
It's well built, too. The concept of a barebones laptop used to conjure up ideas of poorly built, flimsy, breaking-apart chassis in my head, but I can say that Metabox is exacting about the build quality of its devices, and that shows in both the design and the refinement of the P650SE. It's still no MacBook Pro, but I'd say this laptop is easily on par with the HPs and Dells of this world in terms of its design, construction and smaller elements such as keyboard flex.
Metabox deserves applause for keeping the P650SE quiet despite the high-powered components inside. Even while gaming the internal fans whir along smoothly and quietly without any annoying buzz, but when you're on light duties like Web browsing or email it remains almost silent. This laptop is also significantly quieter than others I've tried with GTX 970Ms inside.
Flexibility is always a good thing, and it's great to see Metabox offering what is a huge range of different hard drives (14), screens (4), various design tweaks (7) and other accessories. You'll pay for the privilege, obviously, but these features allow any buyer with deep enough pockets the ability to turn the P650SE from a high-powered laptop into an insanely powerful one.
What's It Not Good At?
Metabox's keyboard for the P650SE is not brilliant, with a relatively short travel from the top of its key through its actuation and to base of the key. This sounds good, but in reality it's a little hard to type quickly and move between different keys swiftly without a fair bit of training beforehand. You can type quickly on it, but it requires a little time and effort to get right. When using it in a dark setting, I did notice that the P650SE's keyboard backlighting was not especially bright in either of its two settings.
The same is true of the P650SE's trackpad. It's huge, and actually surprisingly useful for gaming without having a Bluetooth or external wireless mouse handy -- think MOBA or RTS games where pinpoint first-person-shooter-esque accuracy is not vital -- but the buttons at the base of the trackpad feel a little vague and lack that solid click of some of the Metabox P650SE's competitors. They're certainly usable, but just not perfect.
Battery life from the P650SE is not as great as some lesser notebooks that have both a larger battery capacity and more strict power management software to control it. It should come as no surprise that any modern game will run the laptop's removable 60Wh battery down pretty quickly, but on 720p video looping at half brightness I was only able to manage 3hr 20min of screen-on time from the P650SE. Similarly, the bundled power supply is quite heavy and a little bit bulky -- not a huge strike against the P650SE, but worth mentioning.
That flexibility that I mentioned before remains a good thing, but it also comes with a price. Starting at $1979 the Metabox P650SE is a good deal, and you do get Metabox's regular specials making it even better value, but spec up a Killer network card or a pair of M.2 SSDs and you'll see the price tag quickly rise up towards $3000 -- or higher, if you want a truly world-class machine. It's worth it, but still.
Should You Buy It?
The $1979-plus Metabox P650SE is a powerful laptop given its sub-$2000 price tag, and that power is usable not only for heavy-lifting general purpose computing tasks like video and photo editing but also for more recreational tasks like PC gaming. That GeForce GTX 970M is a great addition and forms a strong backbone for the P650SE being a great notebook for gamers who need to use their devices while travelling or commuting.
Having the ability to update and upgrade your laptop whether it's at purchase or afterwards is a hugely important aspect that more users should take into account -- I think we've been led to expect that you're stuck with what you purchased from thin and light and integrated notebooks like the MacBook Pro and successive Ultrabooks. Metabox leaves it open for you to choose what you want, and system tinkerers will be happy with the flexibility of the P650SE.
It's expensive if you spec one up with four SSDs and a high-res screen, but that's no different to any top of the line MSI or AORUS or Alienware gaming laptop. The Metabox P650SE is a genuinely good alternative to these other competitors, but it's one that costs you a little less -- at least before you start adding a swathe of goodies on the system configurator.