Intel’s third generation Core processors may dominate the laptop landscape right now, but they have one weakness. This weakness is particularly obvious to a certain exacting section of the laptop community – the gamer. Intel’s processors aren’t the be-all and end-all when it comes to modern gaming. The Gigabyte U2442F seeks to rectify this.
To be fair, Intel has made some big advances on this front with the last few generations of its chips, thanks in part to moving the graphics subsystem into the CPU itself. And sure enough the latest iterations of its CPUs are capable enough when it comes to handling older titles – managing playable experiences in the likes of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and Team Fortress 2. Even so, these chips still struggle if you want to play anything released in the last year or two.
There’s a change coming, though, and that is with the release of Intel’s fourth generation CPUs, expected later this summer. This new CPU architecture, that goes by the codename of Haswell, won’t offer any serious shake ups on the straight CPU side of things.
But the new graphics engine looks like it could offer double the frame rates of the HD4000 graphics engine found in the current Core i5 and Core i7 processors. At least it will if the sneak peeks are to be believed.
In other words, games should be playable without having to turn to AMD and Nvidia graphics arms for discrete polygon pushing silicon. Silicon that not only adds to the thermal considerations of your laptop, but that also has a fairly substantial impact on the cost of such a machine as well.
Intel’s next CPUs aren’t quite ready yet though, and we don’t know for sure just how well they’ll perform in the latest games – it has promised significant improvements before, and has never quite delivered where it counts.
That means that anyone looking for a decent gaming laptop needs to factor in a decent discrete GPU as well. This is something that Gigabyte has done with the U2442F, its gaming Ultrabook. It has called on the services of Nvidia’s GeForce GT 650M to provide the PC with the gaming muscle necessary to play the latest games.
The Gigabyte U2442F isn’t just about throwing a decent graphics core inside a laptop, though. Gigabyte has set out to produce a capable system on many levels, with a high resolution screen, next-generation storage and put it all together in that most sought after of form factors, the Ultrabook.
The Gigabyte U2442F and its gaming innards is priced at £999 / US$1,099 / AU$1,499.
Some systems can trip up before they even get going, and here Gigabyte does come a little unstuck – mainly due to the chassis being a little unimpressive, especially for the cash.
Gigabyte has at least got an idea of what it needs to do on this front, with a brushed aluminium cover, but a quick tap shows that such looks really are only skin deep, and the rest of the chassis makes grabs for plastic over hard-wearing metals.
Bounce your finger off the laptop when it’s open and the lack of strength of the chassis really does reveal itself. If you’re looking for a workhorse of a gaming machine that you can take out on the road with you, then this isn’t going to be the best option, despite the components that can be found throbbing away inside.
The key components of the Gigabyte U2442F are the Intel Core i7 3517U processor and Nvidia GeForce GT 650M. Gigabyte has equipped the Ultrabook with 8GB of DDR3 RAM, although it’s worth noting that the GPU has 2GB of memory too.
When it comes to the storage on offer in Gigabyte’s U2442F, it’s very much a laptop of its time. While many manufacturers are returning to spinning drives in order to keep prices down and capacities high, Gigabyte has stayed true to its Ultrabook form and installed a 128GB SSD.
Unfortunately this doesn’t quite make for the perfect dream. The problem here is that while it is really fast, it doesn’t give you a whole lot of room when it comes to your games – especially when you consider that some games are weighing in at anything up to 30GB a pop, and Windows 8 itself is hardly svelte in storage terms. So you’ll soon find yourself facing off against the limits of that storage.
There is an option to get this laptop with a traditional hard drive alongside the SSD, and given who this is aimed at, we would recommend that this is the way to go.
The 16:9 screen ratio has quickly become the norm in the world of laptops, but it’s a little rarer to find a 14-inch laptop boasting such a high native resolution as that which you’ll find on the Gigabyte U2442F – a rather impressive 1600 x 900 pixels.
Gigabyte has picked a TN screen for the heavy duty work here, which brings some highs and lows to proceedings. The fact that it is TN means that the pixel response is great, which means that the screen can keep up with the action taking place on the screen.
Conversely, though, the viewing angles aren’t great. This isn’t too much of a problem when you’re gaming straight onto the screen, but it is less impressive the moment you try to enjoy a film.
Of course what really counts for a gaming laptop is its performance. Regardless of how good it looks, how light it is or how rich the screen is, ultimately it’s how quickly it can throw polygons on to that screen that matters. And it’s here that the Gigabyte U2442F packs its biggest punch.
In the synthetic benchmarks the laptop performs well, producing the kind of figures that you would expect from a laptop costing this much. The Nvidia GeForce 650M is a powerful graphics core, and the 2GB of RAM it has access to ensures that you won’t have problems turning on all the effects in your games.
Despite the prowess on offer from this GPU, there is still the question hanging over it when it comes to actually driving such a high-resolution screen. 1600 x 900 pixels makes for crisp images, but it also means there are a lot of pixels to drive if you want to game at the screen’s native resolution. Luckily, it does perform well, especially if you’re prepared to take a bit of a hit on the high-end settings.
3D Mark06: 13,058
Heaven 3.0: 15.3fps
Cinebench 10 (1 CPU): 5,068
Cinebench 10 (x CPU): 10,447
Cinebench 10 OpenGL: 6,322
Sleeping Dogs: 11fps
Tomb Raider: 12fps
Bioshock Infinite: 22fps
Battery Eater: 224minutes
We benchmarked the Gigabyte U2442F using the latest slew of games, and the results show promise. Bioshock Infinite managed 22fps with everything maxed out. Drop things down a few settings, and you’ll be rewarded with a silky smooth experience – and this is a brand new game that looks lovely on this gaming Ultrabook.
The same goes for Tomb Raider and Sleeping Dogs, although you may need to cut the settings back a little harder, since these managed 11fps and 12fps respectively at the harshest settings.
Yes these aren’t stellar results, but turn anti-aliasing off (which you could argue you don’t need on this screen anyway), and go for high settings instead of ‘Ultra’ and those figures more than double. In fact, hitting 30fps isn’t hard on the Gigabyte U2442F at all.
What’s really surprising for a gaming laptop is the amount of use you’ll get out of it when you’re away from a power plug. Managing 3 hours 44 minutes of use using Battery Eater, this is a computer that is every bit as happy going out and about with you as it is playing games.
This is a good thing, though, since Gigabyte has taken the rather unusual step of building the U2442F around a fixed battery. You don’t have the option of taking a second battery with you out on the road, and if you do run into problems down the line, you’ll have to take the laptop apart to replace it, which is hardly ideal.
The Gigabyte U2442F is an interesting option for any gamer who wants a laptop that is as happy out on the road as it is plugged into the wall playing the latest games. It’s not perfect, and some of the design decisions are questionable at best, but even so it’s worth considering if you factor in a few important caveats.
The gaming performance is impressive for a machine that is so thin and light – you’d usually have to pay heavily in the bulk and weight stakes to hit these kinds of performance figures. You will have to ease back on some of the settings to hit smooth frame rates, but it’s not an impossible ask for this laptop.
The native resolution of this screen makes for great visuals in your games and movies, and also ensures that it’s a versatile option if you’re looking to do something a little more work-orientated. It’s a great screen, and while the viewing angles aren’t insane, straight on it’s a positive experience.
The core specification of the Gigabyte U2442F is strong, with plenty of RAM helping to keep things running smoothly. There are plenty of ports and slots for your peripherals and memory cards, too.
The general build quality and choice of materials simply isn’t high-end. While the internal components do deliver where it really counts, we do demand a little more for our cash than this chassis offers.
While the battery life is mightily impressive, we would have preferred to have a removable battery option – not only for extending the lifespan of the Ultrabook when out and about, but also to avoid costly repairs if the battery does develop a fault.
The storage side of the equation doesn’t quite add up as it stands. There is a version of this laptop with a 750GB traditional platter hard drive alongside the SSD and this gives you a much more capable gaming machine – 128GB is just a little on the tiny side for gaming.
Overall, the Gigabyte U2442F is certainly worth considering. Its form factor makes for a far more appealing system than your average gaming laptop. The core components are spot on, and while the SSD is a little on the small side for a gaming machine, it certainly keeps proceedings running smoothly – you’ll be the first into your games while your opponents are still loading.
Our biggest beef is with the materials and build quality – we simply expect much more than what we’ve got here for the money. You shouldn’t hear a rattle when you tap a £999 / US$1,099 / AU$1,499 laptop.
There’s also the problem that any gaming PC finds itself in the shadow of what Intel’s going to do next. Admittedly it’s unlikely that Haswell will beat a discrete GPU like the Nvidia GeForce GT 650M, but it may get close, and that should affect the pricing of such machines. As it is, if you absolutely need a new gaming laptop now, this isn’t the worst option.