Monday, 10 March 2014

Review: Schenker W703 Laptop

Regular readers of my main Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Meerkatsu blog will know that I am rather fond of reviewing stuff. In a slight departure from my usual reviews, I thought I would post a few thoughts on my new laptop computer - the Schenker 17 inch W703 Laptop. If you are an IT geek, then forgive me as I am light on the tech side of things in this review...

I wanted a new laptop since the one I had been using - a 17 inch model from PC Specialist - seemed to be suffering a few buggy issues and the screen appeared to be faltering. I could easily got the old laptop replaced or repaired but I figured, I might as well use the chance to upgrade to a top of the range laptop.

My mind was fairly open to the prospect of going Apple. It seemed peer pressure from my design friends would suggest that the Macbook Pro was the best choice available to me. As it so happened, my wife uses a Macbook for her work so I spent a weekend playing with it. I did like using it, the Retina screen alone was to die for. But in the end, I concluded that I would be able to buy a heck of a lot of bang for my buck going PC. There was also the fact that Apple no longer make a 17 inch Macbook and I felt the 15 inch was a wee bit more cramped than I was used to.

Games World
So on to the tricky matter of navigating the mine of information on the internet about computers. It seems models are updated and changed within moments of being released. I shortlisted around six or so gaming machines since for a graphics heavy user, gaming machines seemed to offer the best power and speed.

Having looked at models by Alienware, MSI, Acer, HP, Toshiba and even Sony, I was recommended the German brand Schenker. I was attracted to the very reasonable prices, the ability to completely customise the hardware plus the two year back to base guarantee.  But what really sealed the deal was when I sent over an email to their customer services...and received a reply within half an hour. Not bad, but almost nigh on amazing when you consider I sent the email on a Sunday night around 10pm!!

The Specifications
No IT review would be complete without a full round-up of the hardware specifications I configured, so here they are listed as follows:

SCHENKER W703 17.3"
Mobile Workstation Display 1 x 17.3" (43.9cm)
Full-HD 1920x1080 Matte £0.00
Graphics Card 1 x NVIDIA GeForce GTX 765M 2048MB GDDR5 £0.00
Processor 1 x Intel Core i7-4700MQ Quad Core - 2.40 - 3.40GHz 6MB 47W £43.33
Thermal Compound 1 x Arctic Cooling MX-2 Thermal Compound £0.00
Memory 1 x 32GB (4x8192) SO-DIMM DDR3 RAM 1600MHz Crucial (only with Quadcore-CPU) £244.17
Hard Drive 1 x 240GB SATA-III SSD Crucial M500 (CT240M500SSD1) £109.17
Hard Drive 2 1 x 1000GB SATA-III 7200rpm HGST Travelstar 7K1000 (HTS721010A9E630) £59.17 Optical Drive 1 x Blu-ray Burner/DVD-RW - without Software £36.67
WIFI Card 1 x Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 7260 (with Bluetooth) £19.17
Keyboard 1 x Backlit Keyboard UK English £0.00

GRAND TOTAL £1,501.19 including tax and shipping.

The key areas I felt that would offer me a superior workflow compared to my previous laptop were the huge amounts of memory I ordered (32GB compared to 8Gb previously) and the SSD harddrive which would enable much faster loading and opening of operating system, software and general file handling.

Delivery and arrival
I must say I can't speak any more highly of the Schenker customer service. In addition to my customer service emails prior to ordering, the automated system kept me informed regarding the build and shipping of my machine at every stage. I really felt my order was being looked after and handled efficiently and properly.

The whole order took less than two weeks and here's how the goods arrived:-

Schenker use a courier service (DHL) and again, the automated tracking number system kept me fully informed. Packaging was surprisingly light - just an outer cardboard case and then an inner cardboard box. The usual foam structures kept everything rattle and harm free. What I loved about the entire order was the absence of crap that one usually receives when ordering from a high street or more mainstream store. I recall an old PC of mine, Hewlett Packard, and the box came with a zillion manuals, leads, remote controls, bits and bobs which frankly were useless and never used.

The clean unfussy machine aesthetics apply equally to the software. Schenker do not load up their products with so-called 'bloatware'. I absolutely cannot stand all the crap that came with my Hewlett Packard and previous to that, my Dell computer. Thankfully, Schenker know this and my laptop had just one thing - Microsoft Windows 8. Some backup discs, a simple manual, powerpack and that was all that was needed.

First impressions
The first thing I noticed was the solid build of the machine. My previous 17 inch laptop, the PC Specialist machine, felt much flimsier. Like if you picked it up, it would creak and feel like it was warping under its own weight. The Schenker is a lot of stable. It's also a LOT more heavy.

I love the sensible layout of interconnecting posts. Most of the USB slots are located on the left hand side, leaving the right side reasonably unconnected for me - and this not getting in the way of the side I use my Wacom on. Though I can imagine it being a pain if you are left handed.

The keyboard is backlit - a novelty for me - and for about two minutes I was entertained by playing with the various lighting options. I do feel it has some functional use however. I like to work my designs in very dim light so the lit keyboard helps me locate keyboard shortcuts (which I use a lot in both PS and AI). Couple of really annoying things about the keyboard include: teeny weeny return bar - which means I mis-hit it a lot when fast typing. I guess this being a games machine, keyboard ease of use for writing is not a priority. Another annoying thing is the lack of dedicated home, end, page up and page down buttons. These are part of the number keypad and require the function key to make active. Apart from those niggles, the actual feel when typing on the keyboard is very solid.

With the huge amount of RAM I installed on this machine, I expected it to run fairly noisily given the power required, but no, so far, it's as quiet as a mouse. It doesn't get more than mildly warm either. I guess I'm not really putting it through its paces by using graphics heavy games (since I don't\play computer games). Currently I can have all my Adobe programs open plus a dozen browser windows and the laptop acts like it has barely scratched the surface of its power. Just to be on the safe side, I sit the laptop on top of a cooling stand - the Zalman NC 3000-S, which is equally quiet. In fact at first I thought I had broken it because I could not hear a fan whirring.

The SSD drive works exactly as it is supposed to - load up the OS and installed programs at speed. I haven't counted it on timer, but from cold start to ready to use takes a matter of seconds. Running Illustrator and Photoshop was effortless for even my most path and line heavy drawings. The no-glare matt screen is okay. I mean it is never going to knock anyone off their seat with brilliance compared to the Macbook Pro Retina screen, but it does the job of producing an even, neutral and bright screen for graphics use as long as you view it straight on. Viewing the screen at an angle does change the brightness and consistency. I haven't calibrated it, but I guess I should at some stage.

Windows 8
Installing all the software I needed on this laptop was a doddle. I had this machine up and running and working my new designs within half an hour. What took longer however, was getting used to Windows 8.1.

With hindsight, I should have requested my machine to come with Windows 7. But I couldn't resist the allure of having the newest, latest and, what I thought would be - the best. It's not. I mean it works like Windows 7, sure, but Windows 8 adds a whole new layer of crap that is only really relevant if you have a touchscreen computer. The Schenker is not a touchscreen. Even if it was, I would never go around touching the screen. I bought it as a workhorse for graphics creation and that's it.

Anyway, I don't want to waste more screen time moaning about Windows 8.1. I hate the new bits, they are useless to me and that's that.

Sometimes it is good to get away from the norm and try something a little less known. I probably would never have trusted my money with this little known German brand were it not for the personal recommendation of a friend, nor the amazing customer service responses to my enquiring emails. In the end, I bought myself one kick ass machine that speeds up my digital art workflow by a zillion percent! As you can tell, I'm a very happy customer.

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