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different materials such as plastic and aluminum. While metal is generally considered “premium” compared to plastic, that’s not always the case, as a thin piece of metal can easily feel less sturdy than a thick slab of plastic. Over the course of our time with a laptop — usually a week — our initial impressions are tempered by the passage of time. A finish that was at first beautiful and unique may become annoying if it attracts dirt and fingerprints too easily, while a design that seemed mundane may grow on us through its utility.
You’ve read our laptop reviews. You’ve read our conclusions. And now you’re wondering how we came to them. Good question. Reviews often lack context, which is evident in the wildly different scores some laptops receive from different publications. What seems to be an excellent choice by one person’s words may be disliked by another.
Allow us to peel back the veil from our review process. While every laptop is different, the hurdles we ask each product to jump are similar. This allows us to provide realistic and accurate information and tell you about the positive and negative traits of the laptops we write about.
The hands-on experience
Ultimately, hands-on impressions are subjective, no matter how much time we spend with each laptop. However, our experience handling so many laptops gives a unique perspective on these products, making it possible to develop informed opinions about where each product we review stands against the competition.
Keys to our hearts Quality of the keyboard and touchpad is always important, and we devote an entire section to these vital user interface tools. We look for laptop keyboards that offer solid key feel. To be more specific, we look for keys with a crisp action that quickly rebound when a finger is removed. Keys should not wobble or skew when pressed along a key’s side instead of the center, and there should be no flex along the width or length of the keyboard when a key is completely depressed.
As you would expect, the senses of sight and touch allow us to make the first judgments about the laptops we receive for review. Different laptops are made of
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tracks on each machine, such as Sleigh Bells’ “Rill Rill,” a track which features soft vocals against a heavy bass beat. Both the display and audio is further tested by playing a variety of YouTube HD movie trailers and if time and the laptop’s hardware allows, viewing a DVD or Blu-ray.
Hot stuff Touchpads need to have buttons with similar qualities, preferably in the form of separate left and right keys, although alternatives are acceptable if their quality holds up. The pad itself should respond quickly to touch and allow a finger to glide across it without friction. Multi-touch gestures should be included, and we look for them to operate without a jerky or uncertain feel.
Display and audio impressions
While the design of a laptop is largely in the eye of the beholder, the display and audio systems on these products straddle the line between what is subjectively pleasant and what can be objectively measured. We attempt to incorporate a bit of both in to our judgment of a these components. Using the laptop naturally reveals the quality of the display and audio, but there are also tests used to provide a measurable impression. For the display we use the Lagom LCD page, a set of online, standardized test images that reveal strengths and weaknesses. Audio is usually judged by playing several different
Heat is always an issue for laptops. Fast processors give off plenty of warmth while operating, but the slim frame of a laptop leaves little room for airflow. The way a notebook deals with the buildup of heat directly impacts usability. Ideally, a laptop should not warm significantly on either the top or the bottom, but it’s rare that this is the case. We take note of where a product warms as we use it both on a desktop and in our laps. Most will start to have problems at least in the latter scenario, but not all become uncomfortable to use. In addition to this real-world testing, we use stress test programs such as OCCT and Furmark to simulate the maximum possible load that a laptop might encounter. While doing this, we also make note of reported CPU and GPU temperatures to see if they become hot enough to be a potential source of instability. Finally, while this is underway, we take note of fan noise. This varies from laptop to laptop, even when the laptops have similar hardware. Though rarely a critical flaw, excessive fan noise can knock a halfpoint off a laptop that is otherwise excellent.
Entering the test chamber Most of our judgments take place during real-world use. For example, a review is usually written on the laptop being reviewed. When it comes to bench-
Laptop reviews: How To Test Laptop Computers
marks, however, each laptop has to spend some time alone, cranking through an array of tests. Our current suite includes Sisoft Sandra, 7-Zip, PCMark 7, 3DMark 11 and 3DMark 06. In some cases, a product’s hardware does not fully support DirectX 11, in which case 3DMark 11 can’t be used to evaluate it. On products designed for serious gaming we use titles such as Just Cause 2,Far Cry 2 and Metro 2033 to analyze performance in real games.
battery life on a gaming laptop won’t significantly impact the score, but an ultraportable with the same problem could lose two points for the same problem. Competition must also be considered. Laptops are becoming better with each passing year as each brand tries to better its peers. Most of today’s laptops offer an experience that is reasonably pleasant, and none fail as a computer. Consumers usually only want to buy one laptop, however, and they want the best their money can purchase. That’s where the little details such as key feel and fan noise make a difference. Reviews are subjective, but we hope that anyone reading our reviews will be able to understand our thoughts and our conclusion. Even if you don’t agree with our final verdict, the information we present will give you a solid impression of a product’s strengths and weaknesses.
Battery life also receives the benchmark treatment in the form of Battery Eater. We use two of the benchmark’s modes to evaluate life. The first is Battery Eater Standard, a processor- and GPU-intensive test that simulates a worst-case scenario for battery life. Then we use Battery Eater Reader’s Test, a light workload which simulates use of the laptop for viewing documents. Both results are reported in our reviews.
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Reaching a verdict Without a doubt, the most difficult part of every review is the verdict. This is where we decide if we’re going to recommend a laptop and determine how the outcome of each section fits together to form a final score. Verdicts are usually handed down from the perspective of what the laptop is built to accomplish. Poor
Published on Sep 20, 2011
You’ve read our laptop reviews. You’ve read our conclusions. And now you’re wondering how we came to them.