The Bottom Line
Sep 20 2012 - For anyone that also wants the capability of playing PC games on an extremely mobile platform, the Maingear Pulse 11 is one of the only options available that weighs under four pounds. This $999 system offers a good overall experience gaming in a sturdy and compact package. Sure, it has issues particularly with a cramped keyboard and limited battery life but these are pretty much expected in such a system. The big disappointment though is the dim display that makes using it outside particularly difficult which is going to be an issue for gamers that do like the outdoors.
- Capable Performance Even For PC Gaming
- Compact And Light
- Very Sturdy Construction
- Limited Battery Life
- Cramped Keyboard
- Dim Display Panel
- Intel Core i5-3320M Dual Core Processor
- 4GB PC3-10600 DDR3 Memory
- 250GB 7200rpm SATA Hard Drive
- 11.6" WXGA (1366x768) Display With 1.3 Megapixel Webcam
- NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M Dedicated Graphics With 2GB Memory
- Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n Wireless
- Two USB 3.0, One USB 2.0, HDMI, VGA, 3-in-1 Card Reader
- 11.3" x 8.2" x 1.5" @ 3.8 lbs.
- Windows 7 Home Premium
Review - Maingear Pulse 11
Sep 20 2012 - The Maingear Pulse 11 is base upon the Clevo W110ER whitebook chassis. This is one of the smallest laptops on the market that is designed specifically for gaming. While it is very compact, it is still relatively thick at 1.5-inches which is unusual for such a small footprint. While it may be very thick, weight is kept relatively low at 3.8 pounds which is just a half pound more than many of the new ultrabooks found in this size range. It uses a standard black color scheme with a texturized soft touch surface that continues onto the interior deck surface. Overall it feels sturdy but not necessarily premium.
Rather than relying on ultra-low voltage processors, the Pulse 11 uses a standard Ivy Bridge laptop processor. The base $999 configuration uses the Intel Core i5-3320M dual core processor which offers a good overall level of performance for gaming or other computing tasks. There are options to upgrade to faster Core i5 and i7 processors including the quad core processor but frankly many games won't necessarily benefit much from them. It is matched with 4GB of DDR3 memory which is sufficient but it would have been nice to see it be either 8GB and also the 1600MHz instead of 1333MHz speed.
Storage for the system is highly configurable with the base setup being a 250GB hard drive. This is relatively small in terms of capacity when you consider its overall performance. It does spin at 7200rpm but it really deserves a much higher capacity drive or a solid state drive which is available but frankly is pricey compared to what they can be purchased for online. If you do need addition space, you can also attach a high speed external drive to one of the two USB 3.0 ports. This does lack an optical drive which is not as big of a deal as it once was since services like Steam and Origin available to download games directly to the laptop. This will only really matter for those that really want to use their old games that came on CD or DVD or those that want to watch a movie in addition to gaming.
Of course, the main goal of the Maingear Pulse 11 is gaming on the go so the graphics and display are critical features. The 11.6-inch panel is of course relatively small so it isn't surprisingly that it uses the ubiquitous 1366x768 resolution of most laptops. The problem is the screen is fairly dim that makes it hard to use in bright light and pretty much impossible outdoors. Part of mobile gaming is to play it anywhere and this presents a big problem. As for the graphics themselves, the NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M does a great job at running even the latest games. It has no problem running at the panel's native resolution. Now, if you use an external display, it can push up to 1920x1080 but only at lower detail levels and not necessarily on the latest and greatest. The graphics processor also offers improved acceleration for non-3D applications especially if they take advantage of CUDA programming code.
With the smaller size of the display, the keyboard for the Pulse 11 is very tight. It features a standard isolated or island style keyboard that are found on many systems. The problem is they didn't span the entire width of the deck which means the keys are smaller than usual. This will cause issues for many users particularly if you have larger fingers. The keyboard also lacks backlighting which is common to most gaming specific laptops to assist when playing in darker environments. The trackpad size is also a bit on the small size. It is textured like the palmrest areas but its slightly recessed to distinguish it. It works fine enough when browsing and all but any serious gaming is going to use an external device.
In terms of power, the Maingear Pulse 11 comes with a six-cell battery pack with a 62WHr capacity rating. Since this is a system that is design for performance, it isn't likely to have a long running time. In my digital video playback tests, the laptop was able to run for roughly three and a quarter hours before going into standby mode. This is pretty typical for a standard laptop system but well below what most of the 11 to 13-inch laptops can achieve with their power efficient designs. Even Apple's MacBook Air 11 with a battery of just over half the capacity achieves fifteen more minutes in the same test. Gaming of course takes more power so expect much closer to half this amount before needing a charge.