Canadian PC manufacturer Eurocom is best known for hulking high-performance desktop-replacement notebooks such as the 17.3in. Panther 2.0 that we reviewed last year. With a name like 'Monster', you might expect the system reviewed here to be out of the same drawer — but you'd be wrong. In this case, Eurocom has shoehorned an excellent specification into an 11.6in. 'ultraportable' form factor — and, naturally, extracted excellent performance from it.
The 1.8kg Monster has been described as a 'gaming laptop' in a number of reviews, but Eurocom is keen to point out its appeal to professional users who require plenty of CPU and graphics horsepower and lots of storage — developers running multiple OSs on a series of virtual machines, for example.
The Monster is a conservative-looking beast with a solid grey-coloured chassis and a stippled, rubber-textured finish. It certainly looks and feels more like a business notebook than a flashy gaming rig. For the record it measures 28.7cm wide by 20.7cm deep by 3.71-1.27cm thick and weighs 1.8kg. Not the slimmest or lightest of ultraportables by any means, but no problem to carry around on a regular basis either.
The 11.6in. LED-backlit TFT screen is available in glossy and matte versions, both with resolutions of 1,366 by 768 pixels. Our review unit had the brighter (322-nit compared to 170-nit) matte display, which delivers a very clear and sharp picture with the brightness turned up. We had no readability issues even in a bightly lit office, although you do need to maintain a fairly head-on viewing position for best results. The matte screen costs £59 more than the default glossy option; both screens have a 1.3-megapixel webcam in the middle of the top bezel.
The keyboard is an 84-key, isolation unit with chiclet-style keys. The keys are quite small, but there's plenty of tactile feedback, and once you get used to it you can type at a good speed. People with exceptionally large fingers may find it a little awkward to use though. The two-button multitouch Synaptics touchpad has the same stippled, rubbery finish as the rest of the chassis, but is slightly indented within the wrist rest. It's a good example of the species, but we still prefer to use a good external wireless mouse wherever possible.
Processor options — all Intel — for the Monster 1.0 range from the relatively mundane Sandy Bridge Core i5-2410M running at 2.3GHz to the seriously fast Ivy Bridge Core i7-3920XM Extreme Edition, which runs at 2.9GHz or up to 3.8GHz with Turbo Boost. The difference in price between these CPUs is a startling £678, but there are several other Ivy Bridge Core i5 and Core i7 options, so you should be able to specify something to suit your requirements. Our top-end review unit had the Extreme Edition processor, backed up by 8GB of DDR3-1866 RAM (2x4GB).
The video subsystem is a dual-GPU affair comprising the CPU-integrated Intel HD Graphics 4000 and Nvidia's discrete GeForce GT 650M; Nvidia's Optimus technology handles automatic switching between the integrated and discrete GPUs so that (power-hungry) graphics muscle is only used when needed.
For storage, our review unit had a 750GB hybrid drive, the Seagate Momentus XT Hybrid. This 7,200rpm SATA III hard drive has 8GB of fast solid-state storage and uses algorithms to ensure that the SSD portion is used to deliver fast bootup performance and quick access to frequently used data. For storage expansion, there's a multi-format flash card reader on the front, on the left-hand side, that accepts a range of SD- and Memory Stick-compatible media.
Eurocom's gaming focus is evident in the choice of PCIe wireless adapter in our Monster 1.0 review unit — the Killer Wireless-N 1103 from Qualcomm Atheros (which bought Killer developer Bigfoot Networks in August 2011). This dual-band 802.11n module is designed to deliver a performance boost to applications (primarily online games, HD video and high-quality audio) that require low-latency network traffic, using proprietary technologies such as Advanced Stream Detect (automatic traffic prioritisation) and Visual Bandwidth Control (on-the-fly traffic control via the Killer Network Manager utility) to optimise performance. If you need Bluetooth, you'll have to select one of the other Wi-Fi options.
Connectivity is good for an ultraportable system, with Ethernet, VGA, HDMI, audio in/out and a pair of USB 3.0 ports on the left side, plus a third USB (2.0) port on the right. The back is occupied by the system's 6-cell 62.13Wh Li-ion battery, while the front has a pair of status LEDs and the aforementioned multiformat flash card reader.
The operating system on our review unit was Windows 7 Professional 64-bit, but you can specify Ultimate or Premium, or have an OS-free unit and install your own.
Performance & battery life
Starting with the basics, the Eurocom Monster 1.0's Windows Experience Index (WEI) of 5.9 (out of 7.9) is impressive. The lowest-performing subsystem (which corresponds to the WEI) is Primary hard disk (Disk data transfer rate), and 5.9 is a perfectly respectable score. The remaining scores are all excellent: 7.1 for Graphics (desktop performance for Windows Aero) and Gaming graphics (3D business and gaming graphics performance); 7.6 for Processor (calculations per second) and a perfect 7.9 for Memory (RAM) (memory operations per second).
Clearly, the Monster 1.0 is a very fast ultraportable, without any real chink in its armour — if you require absolutely top-notch disk performance, you can specify a 'pure' SSD rather than the hybrid SSD/hard drive used here (albeit at extra cost: a 480GB Intel 520 series SSD adds over £600).
We also ran Cinebench 11.5 to get a feel for the notebook's CPU and OpenGL performance. In the CPU test, a scene containing some 2,000 objects, which in turn contain over 300,000 polygons, is manipulated. A top score of 6.43 is extremely good — scores above 7 are usually only delivered by CPUs with more cores and threads.
In the OpenGL test the system runs a complex 3D scene depicting a car chase in which the GPU handles a huge amount of geometry and textures, plus a variety of effects including environments, bump maps, transparency and lighting. The Monster 1.0's top score of 49.02 is, once again, impressive:
We estimated battery life by measuring power consumption using a Voltcraft VC940 Plus multimeter with the system idle (at the Windows 7 desktop) and under load (running Passmark's Performance Test 7 benchmark), and dividing the 9-cell battery's 62.16Wh capacity by the resulting figures. We did this under the no-holds-barred Performance power setting and the frugal Energy Star power plans.
In Performance mode, average power consumption was 21.5W when idling and 72.4W under serious load, giving battery life estimates of between 2 hours 53 minutes and 51.5 minutes depending on how hard you're working the system. Energy Star mode made little difference, delivering 3h 3min and 52.5min respectively. You can probably get more from the battery by further tweaking the power management settings, but this is never going to be an ultraportable you can use all day without a recharge. A second battery, by the way, will cost you another £119.
Given the system's high-end specification, you may be worried about the cooling system. There's a single fan on the underside, which vents through a grille on the left-hand side. Fortunately the fan isn't too loud, and although the system runs quite warm after a while, this doesn't rule out using it on your lap.
Eurocom's Monster 1.0 is unique in our experience, delivering outstanding performance in an ultraportable form factor. It's not the lightest or most attractive of notebooks, but the specification is top-notch and the screen, keyboard and touchpad are all perfectly usable. It's not just for gamers either — plenty of professionals will be keen to get their hands on this system, if they can stomach the £1,546 (ex. VAT) price tag.