The Highest-End Notebooks, 2009by Jarred Walton on October 14, 2009 3:10 AM EST
Eurocom M980NU XCaliber Design
The Eurocom M980NU XCaliber isn't cut from the same mold as the D900F. Instead, it's an 18.4" chassis similar to the W90Vp. If you set the D900F and M980NU next to each other, most of the dimensions are the same but the M980NU is about an inch and a half wider. The exterior styling is also a complete change from the D900F; whether or not that's a good thing will depend on personal opinion.
The Eurocom M980NU XCaliber is a lot flashier than the D900F and W870CU, and it goes for a mirror-like finish on most of the surfaces. We're not exaggerating either: you could fix your hair using this laptop in a pinch! As always, the big drawback for a mirror finish is the difficulty of maintaining a clean exterior. Unless you plan to wear gloves, the palm rest and other surfaces on the M980NU quickly become smudged. We provided a picture of the palm rest and touchpad after moderate use to show you what we mean. Personally, I don't care how nice glossy finishes look in pictures; they're terrible in actual use.
The glossy finish extends to the LCD, again something that would be right at home in a beauty parlor or a salon. Granted, these heavy notebooks aren't as likely to be used outside where direct sunlight really makes glossy panels a bad design choice, but we still find the panels less than ideal. Other options would be more than welcome. Other than the glossiness, though, the M980NU panel is very nice and surpasses most other LCDs. The color gamut is noticeably better, something which our empirical tests will confirm later.
Another big issue for us is the touchpad, which has the same glossy finish as the rest of the palm rest. There's no clear tactile delineation between the touchpad and the rest of the laptop, with the result being that you'll often move outside the tracking area. Plan on using a mouse whenever possible... but then that should be a given for a gaming notebook, right? (Has anyone else ever tried to play an FPS with a touchpad? It makes gamepads seem downright precise!)
Expansion ports are more conveniently located on the M980NU, with two USB ports on the left and two more on the right; one of the USB ports on the right also doubles as an eSATA port. Like the D900F and W980CU, the M980NU includes two digital video outputs, one dual-link DVI and one HDMI, again with no dongles in the box. The back of the chassis focuses on cooling, with ventilation provided for the two GPUs as well as one HSF for the CPU and chipset. The only connector on the rear is the AC power connector, located in the center.
Looking at the interior, it's obvious that the Core 2 mobile CPUs and NVIDIA 730i chipset run a lot cooler than the Core i7 + X58 combination in the D900F. Each GPU still requires a large HSF, but the CPU and chipset get by with far less cooling. The power brick is still huge, and as we will see later the power draw under load ends up being essentially the same as the D900F. We talked with Eurocom and they said one of their limiting factors for creating more powerful desktop replacement/mobile workstation systems is the AC adapter. Currently, the 220W models are the biggest units on the market, and they feel they could easily add more hardware if they could get more power into the system. It's possible we will see notebooks in the future that fuse two large power bricks in order to run higher-end CPUs and GPUs. Again, such solutions aren't for everyone, but as we said on the AVADirect D900F, the cost of software on professional workstations can dwarf the cost of the hardware, and mobility can be a valuable asset.
You'll note that the keyboard is virtually identical to the keyboard on the D900F. Despite the wider chassis, Eurocom didn't look into a different number keypad arrangement. Instead, there are eight programmable macro keys on the left of the chassis. The benefit is that the keyboard ends up being centered relative to the display and touchpad, but it should still be possible to create a "normal" 10-key arrangement.