Desktop Replacements - Unwieldy Laptops or Portable Desktops?
Aaron McKenna

The LAN Benchmark

You begin to understand the unit's size when you view it from the side, but even this doesn't do it justice.

You begin to understand the unit's size when you view it from the side, but even this doesn't do it justice.

As much as we're fond of our scientific benchmarks around here, there's no better way to truly test a machine such as this than to run it for an entire weekend. Of course, were we to send every gaming machine we test off to LANs, we'd go through reviewers faster than graphics card generations - the Monday-after-the-two-nights-before can be a test of endurance in itself. (Anyone who has ever been to a LAN knows what I'm talking about. Anyone who has never been is having a better Monday than I am.)

Arriving at noon on Saturday, the machine proved its prowess early on, requiring all of fifteen seconds to set up, compared to fifteen minutes for most of the desktops. One other thing about desktop replacements is that they're usually designed with style in mind, and there was something of a queue to get a closer look at the machine.

It's important to remember that while desktop replacements may have plenty of fans, they're mostly located underneath the machine. On the Area-51 there's a heat outlet on the left-hand side - which ensured that the guy next to me wasn't going to lose any fingers to frostbite - though the machine still needs a way to get cool air in. Most desktop replacements sit higher off the table than other laptops, thanks to some larger-than-normal feet. That's often still not ideal, though; the best way to get cool air in is to prop the back of the laptop up on a lard book so that there's plenty of room for air to circulate underneath.

Within minutes I was playing Half-Life 2, while waiting for everyone else to get set up. It ran at full tilt, and looked even more spectacular than usual, thanks to the crystal clear, high resolution wide screen. The machine started heating up the chilly room all by itself in fairly short order.

The gaming fun and festivities began with a round of Counter-Strike Source, went through various strategy games, and was interspaced with bouts of Unreal Tournament 2004 and various single-player games along the way. The machine was in motion for 32 hours straight. When I was off getting food or testing my eyelids for holes - you can never really sleep at a LAN , unless you want to become a voyeur's canvas for permanent marker - some other industrious fellow was keeping the unit warm for me.

She held up like a champion, at least for the first two thirds of the LAN. The heat wasn't much of an issue as long as the airflow was coming in at a steady pace. The Area-51 squared up to the best that the gamers had to offer, and trounced many of them with superior FPS readings.

In the final third of the LAN, however, we began to notice increased instability that was not allayed by restarts. All the games we played would switch to the desktop, though strangely not crash entirely, at random intervals. This was an annoyance, needless to say, and damn well fatal during one or two of our more infamous matches.

We can only put the instability down to sheer wear and tear. While we've seen desktops do the same thing, larger gaming PCs generally tend to hold up quite well under the same circumstances. So desktop replacements can, over extremely long time periods, fall victim to being beat around a bit. Nobody's perfect...

In Conclusion - Unwieldy Laptop Or Portable Desktop?

I'll take a portable desktop any day of the week. Leave it up to the reviews of individual products to decide if a particular model is up to scratch or not, but a decent desktop replacement can act as exactly that.

Personally, I'd still be loathe to ditch my desktop entirely for a laptop . While the laptop may do the same job for the same price as my l33t pw0ning gaming rig, the desktop is more flexible and upgradeable. I'll be able to open up my desktop and replace the now aging Radeon X800 XT it contains with one of the new offerings from the graphics card giants, giving my otherwise top-notch desktop another year of high-end gaming.

The desktop replacement, however, remains a largely untouchable laptop. In addition to the fact that opening one up usually voids the warranty, you'd need to be an engineer of some skill to change out most of the components. This also poses technical problems if anything goes wrong in general usage and you've voided said warranty.

So, you have three choices. First, you can buy the desktop replacement for just that purpose, tossing out your old PC. Second, you can stick to your desktop and miss out on the benefits of fifteen second setup anywhere you go. Finally, for the rich among us, you can buy a desktop replacement to complement your existing desktop.

Personally, I'd rather shell out $3,000 now for a high-end desktop and then put another couple of hundred dollars into it over the next couple of years to keep up with changes in technology . I can put up with the wires and cables wherever I go to avoid spending $3,000 a year on a high-end gaming laptop.

Still, there's no denying that they are a very attractive option... Erm, would now be a bad time to ask for a pay rise? [You're really fired this time - Company accountant]

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