The rockdirect Xtreme CTX T7400, available from the rockdirect website is among the first laptops available in the UK to use an Intel next-generation Core 2 Duo processor. The chip is the successor to the highly rated Core Duo CPUs that form the basis of the best Centrino laptops on the market. Intel says the Core 2 Duo is up to 20 per cent faster than its predecessor, so we're expecting big things.
Though it contains a wealth of exciting components, the Xtreme CTX T7400 looks pretty ordinary. Like the standard rockdirect Xtreme CTX, it's housed in a Clevo M57U chassis -- a large, 17-inch model that in this incarnation weighs a hefty 3.8kg. It's mostly silver and its lid has a subtle 'X' decal, inside which is the 'rock' logo. The laptop certainly isn't offensive-looking, but it won't win any design awards.
The top edge of the screen doesn't sit flush with the lip of the keyboard section when the laptop is closed. Rather, the bottom half of the laptop sticks out by around 2cm. The recessed top section has a latch on the far left and right sides and the jutting 'lower lip' section houses a set of eight multimedia playback controls and an LED display that shows the time, track length and remaining battery power. It's a nice addition, but the underbite aesthetic may not be to everyone's taste.
The keyboard on the Xtreme CTX T7400 is of a good standard and incorporates a separate numerical keypad -- a feature many gamers will appreciate. It has a tiny amount of flex, but it's well fastened to the chassis, unlike some budget laptops, whose entire keyboards can have a tendency to come away from the case. Above the keyboard there are three application hotkeys that launch the default word processor, email client and media player, and below the keyboard there's a mouse touchpad that has a four-way rocker between its accompanying left and right selector buttons.
The left side of the laptop is home to a standard DVD rewriter drive and the right has two USB ports, a four-pin FireWire 400 port, headphone and mic audio jacks, an ExpressCard slot and a 4-in-1 memory card reader that supports SD, MMC, Sony Memory Stick and Sony Memory Stick Pro. The rear of the laptop has line-in and SPDIF ports, another pair of USB ports, DVI, S-Video and VGA video output port, and an aerial socket for the integrated TV tuner.
The Xtreme CTX T7400's most exciting selling point is its use of a new Intel Core 2 Duo processor, known in tech circles by its 'Merom' codename. Intel has claimed the chips can provide 20 per cent more performance than the standard Core Duo yet maintain the same battery life.
This particular laptop uses the T7400 processor, which runs at 2.16GHz. It may seem slow compared to the fastest 2.3GHz Core Duo chips, but Core 2 Duo chips don't stress the importance of high clock speeds for better performance. Instead, the range focuses more on the importance of cache memory size. The secondary or level 2 (L2) cache on the Core 2 Duo is a mammoth 4MB -- twice that of the standard Core Duo chips. For some tasks, the CPU can use this high-speed cache to speed up processing, as it provides faster CPU access to instructions and data stored in memory.
The Core 2 Duo is the first Intel mobile CPU to support EM64T extensions -- meaning Intel laptops can now run 64-bit operating systems. We won't see the full wrath of the Core 2 Duo's processing ability until it's paired with Windows Vista or XP Professional x64 Edition, but its EM64T extensions capability allow it to address up to a terabyte of virtual and physical memory at any one time -- vastly surpassing the 4GB limit of the current Core Duos.
As T7400 processor has the same physical dimensions as a Core Duo, it can be installed in existing laptop motherboards with relative ease. It's no surprise to see the chip paired with the same Intel 945PM chipset as seen in the standard Xtreme CTX laptop, and 1GB of DDR2 533MHz RAM.