The idea was good but sadly due to the huge cost premium that an Ultrabook demanded over the equivalent specified laptop and also being significantly more expensive than tablets, the initial expected sales of 20M for 2012 were soon revised down to 10M. Thanks to subsequent cost reductions and improvements, the latest forecasts for 2013 are for excellent growth in the Ultrabook market. Gigabyte have tapped into this growing market and added to their excellent range of laptops with the U series range of Ultrabooks. These offer 14" screens in a variety of configurations and price ranges.
The one we have for review is the Gigabyte U2442N Ultrabook which offers a 14" 1600 x 900 HD+ screen, an Intel dual core i5-3210M Processor, 8GB ram, dual storage in the shape of a 128GB SSD and 750GB HDD and Nvidia GT640M graphics. The U2442N is not just aimed at the Ultrabook market, but also those wanting a high performance device for gaming and multimedia. Let's see just how well it performs...
Design and Connections
The first thing that should hopefully grab your attention with the U2442N is the design. On the outside we have a very sleek brushed silver aluminium (or champagne as Gigabyte like to call it) finish and inside you're greeted by a lovely matt silver finish. The standard QWERTY keyboard (no number keypad) is backlit and has three brightness levels (or off). This is controlled via the Gigabyte Smart Manager software but there's also a nifty light sensing feature which, when left on automatic, will automatically adjust the backlight to suit the external lighting conditions. Otherwise it's just the usual row of function keys to the top and a quick access button for the Gigabyte Smart Manager software next to the power button. For you typists out there the keyboard itself feels very comfortable and responsive although, as with most laptops of this size, the touchpad does get in the way when typing but can easily be disabled to prevent any accidental operations.
The build quality is excellent with all the connections including the power connector feeling very secure and stable. Gigabyte certainly haven't followed the same route as certain other laptop manufacturers with the power connector feeling like it will snap off or fall out at any moment. It all feels very well built. The screen again follows the same good build quality with strong hinges and no flexing when opening or closing. As far as 14" Laptops go, this is one of the better looking ones and the overall design is impressive. Thanks to the matt silver finish around the keyboard you certainly won't be forever wiping off fingerprints with this one!
Now onto the major selling point of the U442N, it's size. The overall footprint is 340mm x 235mm with a thickness of just 20mm. The weight is also impressive at just 1.69Kg. For a system with a specification as hefty as this one, the size and weight are big positives. Compare those with similar top end 14" laptops from Dell for example weighing in at 2.1kg or even the 17" gaming laptops we have reviewed weighing in at a hefty 3.9kg. For long sessions on your lap, this (excluding heat) should be very comfortable and will not weigh you down at all.
As for the heat briefly mentioned above, this sleek form factor system does put out a fair amount. Gigabyte have designed a clever dual air vent design which means both the GPU and the CPU have their own air vents. The dual air vents are to the rear of the Ultrabook with additional heat vents underneath. During testing and general use we found most of the heat was coming from underneath which could make it rather toasty on your legs for prolonged use. Given the specification of the machine though, it's no surprise there's a fair of heat to exhaust.
The laptop has a reasonable array of connections. To the left side we have 2 x USB 2.0 ports, microphone and headphone connections, the RJ45 network connection, a D-Sub VGA port and not forgetting the ever popular Kensington lock. To the right side we have the power connector, HDMI port and 2 x USB 3.0 ports together with an SD card reader. No connections to either the front or rear. Our minor complaint here is the lack of a S/PDIF connection or any DVI or display ports but in general the connections shouldn't see you struggling for a spare USB port.
A few other points to note are firstly a handy battery status check feature where you can easily see how much battery power is remaining when the notebook is off. You just simply click the right mouse button and the LED lights will light up to indicate how much battery power is remaining. Above the screen we have the usual webcam, which with this laptop is just a 1.3 Megapixel version. Due to the very small 20mm thickness of this laptop, unsurprisingly there is no Blu-ray or DVD drive present. This could be a big issue if you have a slow internet speed that prevents the quick downloading of large files, but an external drive can of course be connected and these currently start from just £20, so no major issue there.
Our review sample arrived with Windows 8 installed and after a few simple questions were answered, we quickly got to the Windows 8 start screen. It's good practice with a new PC to check that all the drivers are up to date and the latest updates and patches are applied. The system arrived with an older Nvidia 306.14 driver version but a quick download from Nvidia's website after having passed their Notebook driver verification check and the latest 320.18 drivers were installed. Especially with the graphics drivers it's always best to have the latest compatible drivers as you may find a not insignificant boost in performance compared to the older drivers.
For a 14" laptop that costs a mighty £900 you would expect a pretty decent specification and you certainly won't be disappointed here. We get a 14" 1600 x 900 non-glossy LED backlight display, a fast dual core Intel i5-3210M CPU running at 2.5Ghz standard speed and up to 3.1Ghz in turbo mode, together with 8GB ram and a pretty decent mid-range Nvidia GT 640M graphics adaptor. As you can see in our gaming tests below, this 640M does fair reasonably well, particularly in the Max Payne 3 test which has always hammered the gaming laptops we have reviewed recently such as the Toshiba Qosmio series. However with the U2442N we found a very decent and playable frame rate in all the gaming tests which was a surprise given the relatively poor results in our benchmarks tests, which you can see on the test results page. This system also has the new 2T2R WiFi with 802.11b/g/n which according to the specifications should allow data transfer up to 300 Mbps plus Bluetooth 4.0.
A major plus point to the Gigabyte U2442N is the dual storage. Firstly we have a speedy 128GB Liteon LMT-128M3M 6Gb/s SSD with excellent read speeds benchmarked of 535 MB/s and write speeds of 341 MB/s which impressively were slightly higher than the manufacturer's claimed speeds. The 128GB drive gives a rather low formatted usable space of 108GB which after the Windows install will leave you with just over 80GB of free space. Should more space be required you can always move the pagefile.sys to the HDD which should free up another 5GB. But space shouldn't really be too much of an issue as you always have the 750GB Western Digital Scorpio Blue HDD to fall back on which has a usable free space of 698GB. You should comfortably be able to fit at least 3 games on the SSD to keep things as fast as possible on that front.
More significantly though and completely different to our previous gaming laptop reviews is that the frame rates during gaming didn't take a nose dive as soon as the power cable was unplugged. With some machines the hardware is already struggling to cope even on mains power, what you don't need is for your favourite games to become unplayable when on the move. Happily this was definitely not the case with the U2442N. With Max Payne 3, for example, we saw frame rate drops in just the low single figures. For general browsing use you should be able to get a good 3-4 hours out of the battery with a good 2-3 hours for streaming or watching HD videos. You can of course modify the power settings for better performance but, even then, some laptops still won't give you everything under battery power.
Battlefield 3 - 1600 x 900 resolution
Released in late October 2011, Battlefield 3 was the long awaited sequel to the hugely popular Battlefield 2. Building on the original Frostbite engine used in Battlefield: Bad Company 2, Frostbite 2.0 aimed to test PC hardware to the maximum. With the dual core i5-3210M processor running at a turbo mode of 3.1Ghz and coupled with the lower spec GT640M graphics our initial hopes were not high, especially after some rather poor benchmark results. But we did receive acceptable results here.
Firstly, given the hardware we aren't going to be playing on high settings with BF3, but with the 14" screen size lowering the graphics settings from Ultra to low was not immediately noticeable as it would have been on a 17" laptop for example. With these low settings and using the FRAPS benchmark tool we achieved average frame rates of 40.39 which allowed for perfectly smooth gameplay without any stuttering or frame rate issues. If you don't mind sacrificing a few more frames, medium settings should be achievable also.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 - 1600 x 900 resolution
The very latest Call of Duty game, released in November 2012, uses the same engine as the previous Call of Duty titles, but with the addition of DX11 and various other graphics improvements. The previous Call of Duty titles could run on pretty much anything and even with the DX11 improvements that Black Ops 2 brings, it should still run on most systems. With everything on maximum at 1600 x 900 resolution we received an average frame rate of 48.63 which was fully playable with no stuttering or lag. The settings can always be lowered if you want to get closer to an average 60FPS.
Max Payne 3 - 1600 x 900 resolution
Released on the PC in June 2012 and complete with the excellent bullet time feature, this is another critically acclaimed first person shooter that given this system's specification we opened with a certain trepidation, but we were very surprised at the results. With the settings on normal we received an average frame rate of 58.38. This is an excellent result from the mid range 640M graphics chip. Especially when compared with the likes of the Toshiba Qosmio X870-119 with a much faster GTX670M graphics chip that we reviewed recently that couldn't even reach 30FPS on the lowest of settings. Admittedly that was on 1920 x 1080, but even lowering the resolution with that machine couldn't get a decent frame rate. So the 58 FPS achieved here is excellent.
Temperatures and Noise
We were very impressed with the noise level with this laptop. For general use and web browsing the laptop is silent. A slight fan noise can be heard when watching HD videos from Netflix for example, but unless you watch with no sound, you won't hear it. With no DVD or Blu-ray drive that usual drive noise doesn't come into play here. During gaming or running intensive applications and benchmarks the system noise increases but not obtrusively so. With the volume muted and at a distance of 1' from the screen we measured just 41dBs from our sound level meter. Should you be suffering with the shocking on-board sound rather than using headphones, the system noise is at an impressively low level that it will not overcome the sound of your game for example.
Home Cinema Features
Connected to our homegroup with Windows 8, streaming audio or video files was effortless and video files, pictures or anything that you desire can be played back with no effort at all. Playing back HD video from Netflix or BBC iPlayer worked without issue and thanks to the very low system noise level you weren't aware of the laptop being there all the time as you are with noisier systems.
The above screenshots are from freeware programs CPU-Z and GPU-Z, showing the CPU clock speeds and voltages together with memory and other system information. Here we can see the turbo mode speed of 3.095Ghz of the Intel Core i5-3210M processor (standard speed 2.5Ghz) running at 0.956v and the specifications of the Nvidia GeForce GT640M graphics adaptor.
<h3>Time to Desktop – 27 seconds</h3>
Now with the release of the Windows 8 friendly Bootracer version 4.0, we can continue with the accurate and reproducible tests of the time it takes to get to the desktop that we have used in previous reviews. The result of 27 seconds is a reasonable time but not fantastic, given the specification of the SSD we would have expected closer to 20 seconds here from past experience. But it's still a very fast boot up time when compared to a traditional HDD. Although with the Ultrabook the resume time from hibernation is probably the more important benchmark and with the U2442N it resumes in just 9 seconds. Not quite the 7 seconds specified in Intel's Ultrabook specifications but still very quick. No longer will you moan at having to wait ages whilst your computer boots up!
<h3>Super Pi – 1 million decimal points – 12.501 seconds</h3>
Super Pi calculates Pi to a specified number of digits. It is used to test the CPU power and is a favourite amongst overclockers to test their speeds against the World Record times and the stability of their computer following an overclock. Super Pi is not optimised for dual or quad core processors and is purely a test of a CPU's single threaded capability. We used the 1.5 mod version as it shows more accurate timings.
The result here of 12.501 seconds is as we expected given the 2.5/3Ghz clock speed of the CPU in this laptop. Compare this result with 10.023 seconds in the 4Ghz Scan 3XS Graphite LG15 Laptop reviewed in February and 9.032 seconds of the i5-2500K @ 4.2Ghz overclocked CPU in the 3XS Nanu Gamer we reviewed previously and also our own i5-2500K @ 4.5Ghz score of 8.3 seconds.
<h3>Windows Experience Index - 5.5</h3>
A standard test included in Windows 7 - and now with Windows 8 – WEI gives a quick performance score of the current system. It is a simple test and is a quick and easy way to see how your computer fares. The overall result here is a not very impressive 5.5. You can see the SSD scores well with 8.1 and the memory at 7.2, but the mobile GPU really brings the whole score down. The overall rating is determined by the lowest scoring component, rather than a weighted average score that you get in programs such as the Passmark Performance Test. We include this test purely for comparison purposes.
<h3>3D Mark 11 - 1743 3D Marks</h3>
The latest version of Futuremark’s popular benchmarking tool is freely available to download, although to unlock the full functionality of it, you'll have to part with £15.05. It is particularly GPU intensive and is one of the most common programs for PC gamers, in particular, to test their system and compare it against a wide range of scores available on the internet.
A particularly low result of 1743 3D Marks really shows the low performance. Compare this with the Scan 3XS Graphite LG15 Laptop reviewed recently, which scored 6484 3D Marks or even the GTX560 and GTX660Ti in the recent Scan 3XS desktop reviews that scored 5093 and 7884 3D Marks respectively and it will give you an idea of what the GT640M can do, or not in this case. Other factors such as the CPU power also come into play but the whole system performs rather poorly.
<h3>Atto Disk Benchmark - SSD</h3>
The 128GB Liteon LMT-128M3M 6Gb/s SSD claims to offer an excellent 'up to' 520 MB/s read and a not too shabby 330 MB/s for write with an IOPs of 75,000. As you can see from the ATTO Disk Benchmark test result, the maximum read speed achieved was 535 MB/s and a write of 341 MB/s. Whilst you are not guaranteed to get the speeds manufacturers' quote, this result is excellent and on par with the Liteon's quoted speeds, in fact better by almost 10 -15 MB/s for both the read and write results. The second screenshot shows the performance of the 750GB Western Digital Scorpio Blue HDD.
<h3>PassMark Performance Test 7.0 - 1653.50</h3>
This next benchmark test gives an overall system performance score following tests run on the CPU, GPU, Memory and disk drives. It is a weighted average score based on over 28 individual tests and therefore a low performing component will drag the score down. Following the previous results we again get a rather low score here of just 1653.50. Compare that with scores of 3116.60 with the Scan 3XS LG15 Laptop, 3857.5 for the Scan i5-2500K/GTX660Ti PC, 3087.90 for the Scan i5-2500K/GTX560Ti PC and also 3355.3 scored by our own i5-2500K/GTX570 PC.
<h3>Cinebench 11.5 - 11 fps/1.94 pts</h3>
Cinebench is another free benchmark program that is ideal to test CPU and GPU performances across different systems and platforms. The scores here being 11 fps for the OpenGL test and 1.94 pts for the CPU test. One of the lowest scores we have seen with this benchmark and again shows the overall low benchmarked performance of this laptop. Compare that for example with 73.53 and 6.78 in the Scan 3XS LG15 laptop to give you an idea of how far off the pace this Gigabyte laptop is.
<h3>Unigine Valley Benchmark 1.0 - 807</h3>
The most recent additions to our benchmarking suite are the Unigine Heaven and Valley benchmarks. These are GPU intensive benchmarks that also offer extreme hardware stability testing along with benchmarking. As with the other benchmarks we have tested with this system, the results are unimpressive. With scores on the Heaven 3.0 benchmark of 729, Heaven 4.0 benchmark of 443 and Valley 1.0 benchmark of 807.
The final benchmark test is designed for Windows 7, but is also compatible and fully functional with Windows 8. It combines more than 25 individual tests covering all aspects of the system such as storage, CPU, graphics, web browsing and gaming. The result with this system is 4780 PC Marks. A surprisingly high score here when compared with the 4418 PC Marks of the much higher specificed Scan 3XS LG15 Laptop review or the recent Toshiba Qosmio laptop with an Intel i7-3610QM CPU and GTX670M graphics review.
- Good value for money
- Excellent build quality
- Very quiet even during gaming
- Very portable and lightweight at just 1.69Kg
- Very poor on-board speakers
- Matte screen may not be to everyone's liking
Gigabyte U2442N Ultrabook Review
The 3rd generation Intel dual-core i5 processor runs swiftly along at a turbo speed of 3.1Ghz, together with 8GB ram. A most welcome dual storage system offers a speedy 128GB Lite-on SSD together with a 750GB HDD meaning storage should not be an issue. We then get to the key component of this system, the Nvidia GT640M graphics chip with 2GB of VRAM. The onboard graphics alone wouldn't have been enough to justify the £900 price tag, but at a 1600 x 900 resolution the GT640M graphics chip really impressed in the gaming tests we ran - particularly in light of some rather dismal benchmark test results. Testing with Battlefield 3 on low settings and Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 on maximum settings, we had perfectly playable average frame rates in the 40s but it was Max Payne 3 that really impressed, with an average frame rate of 58.
For multimedia and gaming use, this Ultrabook offers everything you should need. It's by no means the fastest 14" Ultrabook/Gaming Laptop and don't be fooled into thinking you will be able to play the latest games on high settings, but with a bit of compromise in the quality settings you certainly shouldn't be disappointed. Our time to desktop test gave a boot time of 27 seconds from cold, but the Ultrabook feature that is more relevant here is the resume from hibernation time. This is the feature that is most impressive with Ultrabooks and with the U2442N it resumes in just 9 seconds. Not quite the 7 seconds specified in Intel's Ultrabook specifications but still very quick. No longer will you moan at having to wait ages whilst your computer boots up!
It's not all positives though as due to the tiny thickness of the device, you do not get any type of Blu-ray or DVD drive. Although an external drive can currently be found for just £20, so that shouldn't be a major stumbling block. Another negative are the hideously poor quality on-board speakers, despite including THX TruStudio Pro Technology which Gigabyte claims to offer groundbreaking audio performance 'by effectively eliminating sound distortion, enhancing volume and reinforcing even the smallest details of the sound'. This would be fine if the speakers could cope but they can't. Listening to music for example, the tinniness is at a level that becomes painful to the ears. Headphones are definitely recommended here.
For £900 (or as low as £805 if you shop around) this system offers excellent value for money, especially compared to Dell's chunky Alienware M14x which with similar components costs well over £1,150. With its extremely thin Ultrabook size and just 1.69Kg of weight, the Gigabyte U2442N should provide all the portability and gaming or multimedia performance that you'll ever need. The excellent performances during our gaming tests and generally impressive features and specifications, we're happy to award an AVForums Recommended badge. The shocking on-board speaker quality is the only thing that really lets this system down and the one thing that prevented the U2442N from being awarded our Highly Recommended badge.
Value For Money
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