My Review of the Sager NP9130 (Clevo P151EM1) Laptop

I bought a Dell XPS M1530 about 4 years ago and it has started showing it’s age.  It runs hot, battery life sucks, and my dad spilled soda on the keyboard a long time ago and the home key has never been the same.  My search for a new laptop started several months ago and I’ve had a really tough time finding something that had everything I wanted.  At first I really wanted to get something like a Macbook Pro.  I love the solid aluminum body and the build quality on the Macbook…but I have no love for Apple.  I looked at Dell, Asus, and even checked out the HP Envy which attempts to be a carbon copy of the Macbook, but nothing was floatin’ my boat.  I really wanted something that could handle some gaming, which narrowed down my choices on a laptop.  You can’t really get something sleek and lightweight and play games on it, right?  Mostly true, but I found a pretty good compromise: Sager.

Who is Sager?

First let’s talk about Clevo.  Clevo is a Taiwanese company that manufactures laptop chassis.  System builders all over the world source their chassis from Clevo and then customize them with their own components (CPU, memory, hard drive, etc).  The largest system builder in the US that uses Clevo chassis is Sager.  There are plenty of other Clevo system builders in the US though, including Malibal, Mythlogic, OriginPC, and Falcon Northwest.  It’s interesting to look at each builder’s site and see all the different customizations they make.  OriginPC and Falcon Northwest are both “boutique” builders and customize the look of their laptops with paint jobs and fancy shells.  In addition to Clevo system builders, there are also several Sager resellers which are generally cheaper than buying directly from Sager.  In the US these include Xotic PC, LPC Digital, and Power Notebooks.  For a more complete list of builders and resellers worldwide, check out the Clevo guide on Notebook Review.  System builders generally provide their own customer support while Sager resellers will likely have you send your machine in to Sager if you ever need warranty work.

What attracted me to Sager:

  • Their gaming laptops don’t look like gaming laptops.  Do you really want to show up to a business meeting with a glowing red alien logo on the back of your laptop?  I don’t.
  • They offer a lot of customization.  Have you tried customizing a Dell lately?  The configuration options on their XPS laptops are nearly non-existent.  Sager lets you select everything down to what thermal compound they use on the CPU and GPU.  You can also order your laptop without Windows installed which saves you money if you already own a license.
  • They offer the latest tech.  Intel’s Ivy Bridge processors are just starting to show up in desktop machines, but nothing for notebooks.  I was able to get the latest Ivy Bridge chip from Sager months before the major laptop manufacturers had them.  They also had the latest gaming cards all the way up to the top of the line.
  • They are very competitively priced.  For the money, it’s tough to beat a Sager.  I compared prices with many of the big name manufacturers and they didn’t come close on price.  Most Sager resellers offer free shipping and no tax as well as discounts if you pay by check or money order.

The NP9130

I wanted to stick with something relatively portable, so I went with a 15.6″ screen.  Besides the awesome graphics card on the 9130, I also liked that it had the fingerprint reader, the SD card reader, and that it supported nVidia’s Optimus technology which helps save on battery power. I also thought it was cool that the video and power ports were all on the back, which keeps a bunch of cables off of my desk when I have the laptop hooked up to my monitor.  The air vents for the CPU and GPU are also on the back, which seems like a good design.

This is the configuration I went with:

  • 15.6″ Full HD LED backlit glossy screen (upgraded to the 95% color gamut screen)
  • Intel i7-3610QM processor (Ivy Bridge, up to 3.30 GHz)
  • 8GB DDR3 1600 MHz memory
  • 120 GB Intel SSD hard drive
  • nVidia GeForce GTX 670m 1.5 GB GPU

I also ordered the IC Diamond thermal compound, swapped out the CD/DVD drive with a secondary hard drive caddy, bought a second battery, and chose to remove all the Sager branding.  I purchased my Sager through LPC Digital and was able to get a discount code after contacting them by e-mail.  My order total came to about $1,400, but $100 of that was the spare battery, so it was only $1,300 for the laptop, which I thought was a really good price.  I used online bill pay to have my bank send the check directly to LPC Digital, so I got the cash discount and it really wasn’t that much trouble.

First Impressions

My order came within a week or so and everything was packaged nicely.  I love the look of this laptop!  It’s matte black all over and has no branding on the lid.  I even took off all the stickers, so the only branding left on it is the Onkyo logo on the keyboard deck.  The styling has a hint of stealth bomber going on, but overall it’s just a clean looking laptop.  I like how the touch pad is sort of integrated into the deck so that there are no hard edges to get dirt and goo stuck in.  I wasn’t sure how I’d like the chiclet style keyboard, but I really like it.  The keys have a solid feel to them, kind of like those old style mechanical keyboards.  The screen has a glossy bezel which I wish was matte like the rest of the laptop.  The glossy finish picks up smudges and scratches very easily.  It also came with fairly crappy carrying case, but I don’t really care about that.

I was concerned that the hard drive caddy wouldn’t look stock since I had read that the CD/DVD drive plate was re-used, but I was relieved to find that the plate is just plain black and looks great.

Everything feels pretty solid, but I did notice that when I set the laptop down you can hear the thin plastic of the vents on the bottom kind of slap against the internals of the laptop.  I think they could have thrown some padding in there to take care of that.  Other than that, everything is top notch.

The glossy screen looks really nice, but right off the bat I noticed a stuck pixel.  A bright red pixel smack dab in the center.  I contacted LPC Digital and they provided a pre-paid UPS label to use for returning the laptop to Sager.  Sager had it back to me within about 1 week and the new screen looks fantastic.  I wanted to mention that I did not purchase the additional dead/stuck pixel insurance and LPC Digital/Sager still took care of me.  In my opinion the optional insurance is not worth it.  If you do end up with a stuck pixel and they won’t replace the screen, then you can still just return the laptop within 30 days to get your money back (minus return shipping).

After Using it for a Couple Weeks

I have no regrets after buying this laptop.  I installed a second hard drive (500 GB) into the caddy and that worked out great.  Installing Windows and the drivers was fairly painless, the only hitch I ran into was that sometimes I’d get an error when trying to boot from a USB drive.  If someone runs into a boot error, just try another USB port.

I love that this thing doesn’t cook my lap.  I can comfortably work for hours from my couch and the bottom of the laptop is barely warm.  In fact, the warmth is probably from my lap, not the laptop.  Of course if you’re gaming, it’s probably going to heat up a bit, but I game at my desk.

The fingerprint reader works great, no problems logging into Windows with the swipe of my finger.

The touch pad supports gestures like two finger touch and drag to scroll up or down, but it doesn’t really work.  I fiddled with it for a while, but it just seams flaky, not as good as Apple’s.  The integrated touch scroll bar works great though, and I actually prefer using that anyway because you don’t have to lift your finger off the pad to continue scrolling, you just move your finger in a circle either clockwise or counter-clockwise to continue scrolling.

The speakers are not fantastic.  I think they are actually a little off center, so everything seams a bit weighted to the right.  What they call a “subwoofer” really isn’t going to push out any low tones…but I didn’t really expect much from the speaker system anyway.  I uninstalled the THX software too…I don’t think any amount of software is going to improve the sound on crappy little laptop speakers.

Battery life has actually been pretty dang good.  I can easily get 2-3 hours of battery time when using the laptop for every day tasks.  I haven’t really timed it closely, but I can definitely tell that I get much more life out of it than on my old laptop.  To be fair, the battery life probably isn’t stellar when compared to other modern laptops, but this thing is a powerhouse, so I don’t expect the battery to last as long as an ultrabook.

I love the SSD drive.  It is super fast and silent.  Photoshop launches within a few seconds and nearly every other application comes up nearly instantly.  This thing is fast.  I loaded up Skyrim and it automatically set itself up for “ultra high” settings and the game plays at 1080p without a hiccup.  While playing games I will say that the fans do get a bit noisy…I have open back headphones I can hear the fans going during quiet scenes.  Fortunately the GPU fan only kicks on when you’re playing games that need that extra power and you really can’t expect the thing to be silent when you have a higher end GPU.

Conclusion

Besides having to have the screen swapped out, I have been very satisfied with this laptop.  You really get a lot of computer for your money and there are tons of configuration options.  I would definitely check out Sager or any of the other Clevo builders if you’re looking for a high-end gaming notebook or just a quality laptop.

My Favorite Apps for the BlackBerry PlayBook

Although the PlayBook app store doesn’t have the quite the variety of Android’s or iOS’s, there are a few gems to be found for sure.  These are the apps that I have found and frequently use:

Remote Desktop

Finally!  I wanted this since the day that the PlayBook was announced.  I have two machines that I access remotely, one being a file server and the other is dedicated to playing music.  Why do I have a dedicated music machine?  Because when I’m working over VPN the company doesn’t like me wasting their bandwidth on streaming music, so I have a small PC that is only for delivering sweet sweet sounds to my headphones.

Remote Desktop works great because I don’t have to install anything special, I just use regular ol’ remote desktop built into Windows.  There are other remote desktop applications for the PlayBook, but they all require that you install their server software.

The first time I ran the app it was acting really wonky…but I restarted it and since then it has worked really well.  It is nice and fast, scales perfectly to the PlayBook’s screen, and selecting items with your finger works great.  The only problem I currently have is that there is no option to turn off audio re-direction, so I can’t remote control my music machine without it re-directing the audio to my PlayBook.  I e-mailed the app author about it and he said the next version will have the option to turn off audio re-direction, so once that’s done the app will be perfect!

Book Reader

Since Amazon never followed through on their promise to create a version of the Kindle app for PlayBook, we were stuck without a decent eBook reader that could access side loaded eBook files.  Thankfully Book Reader came out and it is fantastic!  It supports both ePub and mobi (Kindle) formats.  The Adobe Reader app that comes with the PlayBook already does PDF pretty well, so between the two apps you have all your format bases covered.  Book Reader is updated frequently and has all the nice display options you’d find in something like the Kindle app for Android.

Mongoose

Mongoose is a free app that lets you read comic books saved in cbz or zip file format.  There is another app called Comics that supports cbr and seems to have a nicer interface and more features, but they want $3 for it and so far Mongoose is gettin’ the job done for me.  The only problem with Mongoose is that you have to use tiny swipes to turn pages…once you get used to that it works pretty well.

AIR Browser

If you want a free, simple app for managing the files on your PlayBook, AIR Browser is your app.  It has a nice clean interface and works pretty well.  I’ve had it hang up on me when moving largish files between folders, but other than that it has worked fine.

BlueBox

If you have a Dropbox account, have a look at BlueBox.  I like using Dropbox’s web site, but BlueBox is better formatted for a tablet’s screen and works better when using your finger to navigate instead of a mouse.  With BlueBox you can upload files, download them, and move them around within your Dropbox account.  What the Dropbox site has that BlueBox doesn’t is a way to view files without actually downloading them, so sometimes I prefer to just use the site to pull up a text document, but BlueBox is better suited for downloading or uploading multiple files.

Epistle

Now that PlayBook supports re-packaged Android applications, I’m starting to see some of the apps I use on my Android phone make their way over to PlayBook.  Epistle is one of those apps.  Epistle is a simple note taking tool that syncs up with your Dropbox account.  Your notes are saved as plain txt files so that you an open them up on your computer.  It’s a very simple app and does exactly what you want it to do, nothing more.

3 Reddit Apps for Android Compared: Reddit is Fun, BaconReader, and Reddionic

For the longest time the only Reddit browser worth having on Android was Reddit is Fun.  The rest were buggy or lacked features.  Reddit is Fun has reigned supreme for quite some time now, but it looks like there are a couple new kids on the block: BaconReader and Reddionic.  Let’s take a look at how they compare.

Reddit is Fun

Reddit is Fun has a simple and straightforward interface.  It supports browsing sub-reddits, sorting by what’s hot, new, etc, and posting new links.  It’s a single celled protein combined with synthetic aminos, vitamins, and minerals. Everything the body needs.  Ok, so I stole that line from The Matrix, but like the goop they eat in the movie Reddit is Fun is just bland and flavorless.

BaconReader

BaconReader has a very nice interface.  They’ve done a great job of making the interface easy to read.  The navigation works really well and I like how you can select the sub-reddit and sort at the top.  Lots of polish on this interface.  The only negative is that the free version is ad supported :(.


Reddionic

This app is in beta, but you can still download it from the Android Market.  The interface is clean and has a nice modern design.  The app allows you to swipe left/right to select different sub-reddits which is cool, but I actually prefer the selector in BaconReader since I can jump to a particular sub-reddit quicker.  Reddionic also has an interesting preview window that pops up if you select the thumbnail next to the post. It looks nice, but on my tiny cell phone screen I’d prefer that it just jump to the actual item so that I can see it full screen.  I think they are adding that as an option since I see it mentioned in the settings.

Conclusion

Of the three I prefer BaconReader.  However, Reddionic is still in beta and looks really nice as well.  If they leave the ads out, I’ll probably end up using Reddionic.