The 'Build Your Own' Alternative?
Everyone’s idea of the “perfect system” is a little different, and that’s what drives enthusiasts towards the “build your own” market. But what if you can’t build your own? Power users have, for many years, begged for a standardized notebook form factor that would make “build your own” and “fully upgradeable” possible, but notebooks are far more sensitive to changes in technology than their desktop siblings. That is to say, if anyone ever did come up with a completely universal notebook form factor, a change in technology would make it obsolete before the owner ever got around to attempting a full upgrade.
However, many notebook components are standard or fall into a narrow range of interfaces governed by a standard. Most notebook drives, for example, employ a 2.5" form factor with a 9.5 mm z-height and SATA interface, making interchangeability between different models easy. The same is true of DDR3 SODIMM memory modules (and was previously true for DDR2 SODIMMs and 2.5” Ultra ATA drives).
Of these standards, the most interesting may be Nvidia’s MXM interface. What makes Nvidia's Mobile PCI Express Module (MXM) so interesting from the custom-build standpoint is that, even though it’s an Nvidia creation, many system manufacturers have used the format for their AMD-based graphics cards, too.
Of course, there is a little snag in the form of custom cooling, which still makes securing exactly the right parts for your own custom build a challenge. That’s why professional builders like AVADirect have become an important part of approximating your notebook dreams. The company sent us two custom-configured Clevo W860CU-based notebooks, identical in every aspect except for the graphics module and driver. Here’s the features table for the Mobility Radeon-based system:
|AVADirect W860CU Component List|
|Platform||Clevo W860CU Core i7 15.6" Barebone, Intel PM55 Express, MXM-III Discrete Graphics|
|CPU||Intel Core i7-820QM Quad-Core 1.733 GHz, 2.5 GT/s QPI, 8MB L3 Cache, 45 nm, 45W, OEM|
|RAM||Kingston 4GB (2 x 2GB) PC3-10666 DDR3 1,333 MHz SDRAM SODIMM, CL9, 1.5V, Non-ECC|
|Graphics||Radeon HD 5870 1GB GDDR5 Mobile Graphics Card|
|Display||15.6" "Full HD" Glossy TFT, 1920x1080|
|Audio||Integrated HD Audio|
|Cooling||Arctic Cooling MX-2 High-Performance Thermal Compound|
|Security||Built-in Fingerprint Reader|
|Hard Drive||Corsair 128GB Nova Series SSD, MLC, 270/195 MB/s, 2.5", SATA 3 Gb/s, Retail|
|Optical Drive||Matshita UJ-130A Blu-ray Reader and Super-Multi DVD±RW|
|Media Drive||Multi-Format Flash Card Interface|
|Wireless LAN||Intel WiFi Link 5300, IEEE 802.11a/b/g/Draft N, 11/54/450 Mb/s, Internal PCIe Half Mini Card|
|Wireless PAN||Clevo Internal Bluetooth|
|Gigabit Network||Built-in 10/100/1,000 Mb/s Ethernet|
|IEEE-1394||Built-In Jmicron IEEE-1394 FireWire 400 controller|
|Telephony||Integrated 56K V90/92 Fax/Modem|
|Power & Weight|
|AC Adapter||120W Power Brick, 100-240V AC to 18.5V DC|
|Battery||11.1V 3,800mAh (42.18Wh) Single|
|Weight||Notebook 7.7 lbs., AC Adapter 1.6 lbs., Total 9.3 lbs.|
|Operating System||Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit Edition, OEM|
|RJ11 Telephone Cord|
|DVI-I to VGA Adapter Block|
|Deluxe Nylon Notebook Bag|
|Backup||OEM System Recovery (secure HDD partition only)|
|Warranty||Standard One-Year Warranty|
Standing in for Nvidia’s top part is its GeForce GTX 285M, a component that adds $56 to the cost of the above system. Engineers and other 3D-rendering professionals will be pleased to know that AVADirect also sells an upgrade for the Quadro FX 2800M, though its $705.50 price increase will frighten non-professionals.