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.
The laptop ships with a top of the line Nvidia GeForce Go 7900 GTX graphics card, which is quicker than the Go 7800 GTX or ATI mobility Radeon X1800 XT used in the standard Xtreme CTX. This uses 512MB of dedicated RAM to help it cope with the most visually demanding titles on the market. One gripe -- the graphics card's cooling fans make a huge racket when running 3D applications, so you may want to use some noise-cancelling headphones when gaming.
Its accompanying 17-inch display, like most these days, uses a glossy screen coating designed to help improve contrast and colour, but it's far from ideal for image editing, as the colours presented on screen aren't always a true representation of what they are in real life. The display runs at a native resolution of 1,680x1,050 pixels, a 16:10 widescreen ratio that's great for watching movies on, but less so for games that run in a 4:3 aspect ratio.
rockdirect has done a great job selecting high-performance parts for the Xtreme CTX T7400, but it's played it safe where the hard disk drive is concerned. The laptop's Hitachi DeskStar HTS721010G9SA00 100GB drive offers plenty of storage, and has a fast spin speed of 7,200rpm, but incorporating a second hard drive in a speed-enhancing RAID 0 array would have been the icing on the performance cake.
The laptop has a number of options for communicating with the outside world. You get an integrated 802.11a,b,g Wi-Fi adaptor for jumping online at your local coffee shop, and Bluetooth for synchronising mobile phone data. Unfortunately, the laptop has no PC Card slot. There's an ExpressCard slot, but there are relatively few devices that use this interface so upgrade potential is limited in this respect.
The Xtreme CTX T7400 comes with Windows XP Home Edition, Roxio Creator 7 for disc burning and media creation, plus a one-month subscription to the Napster music download service. rockdirect also throws in a month of free Wi-Fi access at 7,000 The Cloud hotspots and a reassuring three-year collect and return guarantee.
The Intel T7400 processor at the heart of the Xtreme CTX has its work cut out for it. The standard Core Duo processor is one of the best CPUs of modern times so improving on it isn't an enviable feat. Despite this apparent difficulty, Intel seems to have succeeded.
The Xtreme CTX notched up a PCMark 2005 score of 5,826 -- the highest we've seen for any laptop. It's just over 30 per cent faster than the Dell XPS M2010 laptop, which achieved a score of 4,122 using an Intel T2600 Core Duo processor running at a similar 2.13GHz.
Gaming performance was also excellent. The GeForce Go 7900 GTX helped it rack up a 3DMark 2006 score of 2,244 and ran F.E.A.R. at the default settings (1,024x768 pixels) at an average of 114 frames per second (fps). The frame rate fell to 71fps when running at maximum detail settings and at 1,400x1,050 pixels. This is a sterling result, and although it's nowhere near as good for gaming as the Alienware Aurora mALX, it certainly isn't shy of pushing a few polygons -- and it's about £600 cheaper than the Alienware.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Nick Hide