Our sample’s Pentium M 750 seems a tad on the slow side now that Core Duo is starting to filter through en masse. It’s still a perfectly capable notebook processor, but since you’re likely to keep a portable longer than a desktop, it could start to show its age in a year or two, making one of the pricier models seem better choices. Something similar could be said for the graphics.
Whilst the ATi Mobility Radeon X700 looks very capable in the company of Centrino systems using Intel’s on-board GMA option, it’s also at least a generation behind the Mobility Radeon X1800XT and Nvidia GeForce Go 7900GTX found in the fastest gaming laptops. You’d pay for the latter in battery life, price, and fan noise. But as this is being sold as a gaming notebook, there’s already a limit to what you’ll be able to play out of the box, which will only increase as new games arrive.
In this context, the 512MB of memory is also low by today’s standards, although this will be something you can remedy in the future. However, once we’d undone the eight screws required to remove the underside panel, we found both SODIMM sockets were already taken, so you’ll have to discard old memory to perform this upgrade.
Perhaps the most unusual feature is the slider on the front which lets you switch between the Intel 915 chipset’s on-board graphics and the discrete ATi graphics, although you need to reboot in between for changes to take effect. Your main reason for wanting to do this is to save power, as the integrated graphics are far less power hungry.
The storage provisions won’t be a problem, though. The hard disk is a reasonable 80GB Fujitsu unit, although it’s only 5,400RPM not the faster 7,200RPM variety. The Sony DW-Q520A DVD-RW offers 8x writing and 4x dual-layer writing, coupled with 6x –RW and 4x +RW rewriting. Again, not entirely state of the art, but perfectly adequate in a notebook drive. However, unlike some of Rock’s other designs you can’t slip the optical drive out in favour of a second battery. In fact, you can’t easily remove it at all.
The Rock has a decent selection of external connectivity options, should you want to add anything. On the left, partially hidden by the optical drive, are the ubiquitous LAN and modem ports. On the right can be found a trio of USB 2 ports, 4-pin FireWire, and S-video. The sole CardBus slot can also be found on this side, near the front. Round the back, the only connection available is VGA. The microphone, line-in, and line-out/SPDIF-out ports are at the front, next to a 4-in-1 memory card reader.
System and Styling
The Rock’s big selling point is of course the limited edition lid artwork. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is a hand-painted mod – not for under a grand, that’s for sure. Instead, Rock calls the artwork ‘photographic reproduction’. We noticed a little banding in the decal itself when perused close up, but the effect from a distance is eye-catching, and the decal has been lacquered over so should be much more hard-wearing than a mere sticker. Otherwise, the styling is pretty sober, with a gentle interplay of black plastic and gunmetal grey. The screen feels a little flexible, but this is a solid piece of kit overall. The keyboard is comfortable and responsive, too.
Although the Rock isn’t quite a budget notebook, it’s not a power system either, and that pays dividends when it comes to noise levels. Even when we were running intensive games benchmarks, the fans didn’t spin up significantly compared to power gaming laptops. In a room with other noisy PCs you won’t even notice the Rock is there. It makes itself a bit more obvious in a quieter environment, particularly when the graphics are at full pelt. But even here it’s well below the threshold of irritation, and when idle sound emission drops back to down to the virtually inaudible.
For better battery life, you can switch off the X700 graphics and revert back to Intel integrated, which should get you an extra 45 minutes or so on the 3 hours-ish standard.