If you’d asked me a month ago about gaming on a laptop, the answer would have been swift: don’t bother. But that’s all changed after spending time with this monster of a machine. I’m not going to sit here and pretend that it would ever replace a strong desktop model, but for a laptop that is going to last a few years, this is just the ticket.
First things first, it’s a heavy computer. It also gets fairly warm, so I’d recommend using it on a table, or at least having a barrier between your knees and the fans underneath. The side fans kick in as and when needed, quickly extracting heat audibly, but with a 17″ inch screen, the Helix is a big unit. With HDMI out, there’s no reason you can’t throw Steam into big picture mode, connect a wireless controller (via a USB dongle – speaking of USB slots; there’s a generous four, here) and sit on the sofa playing the latest games in nearly the highest resolution.
I say nearly, because it can handle a decent resolution of gaming that at least matches, if not improves upon the the PS4 and Xbox One’s visual fidelity. Playing Project CARS, I couldn’t quite squeeze ultra settings out of it while maintaining a high frame rate, though dropping it to high gave a near 60fps-smooth look. As with all PC games, there’s a lot of settings to tinker with, and turning off this, that, or the other enables you to push the hardware and squeeze every last drop of power from the GeForce GTX 970M. The point I’m making, here, is that there’s plenty to drag out of the Helix 2, but you aren’t going to be able to just hit “ultra” on everything, which is no surprise for a laptop, obviously.
The video above shows Project CARS running on the laptop on battery power, and captured with nVidia’s Shadowplay feature – a background recording app that lets you select quality of recordings. As you can see, there are no performance hitches during gameplay, and it looks pretty damn good. Interestingly, the battery started to run out, so you’ll see Steam notifications appearing as I raced. It very much became a “race the battery” mission, as I was sat away from a power socket and wanted to push as hard as I could. A second video is viewable here, of the same settings but with a Kart race.
Battery life is worthy of note, though in standby (closing the lid) it drained faster than I was expecting. It’s not going to last hours if you’re playing an intensive, modern game, and (again) Project CARS drained the life away very quickly, while less visually intensive games like Not a Hero allowed for a longer session. Either way, gaming on the go is totally achievable with the Helix 2, just have a power cable handy to top up the battery when you realise you’ve been playing for over an hour.
Of course, you don’t just use a laptop for gaming, and it’s a mean podcast machine, too, thanks to the aforementioned USB slots. A heavy Blue mic in one side, a decent pair of headphones into another, and there’s still two spare slots. Using free software like Audacity to record vocals is a breeze, as is editing video. The 8GB of RAM means it can take most things you can throw at it. Indeed, I never came across a moment it was lacking. Sure, against my own machine (16GB RAM, 4GB GPU) it’s never going to stack up, but we’re talking a portable device against a home-built tower that was designed to be future proof and upgradeable, and thus, that’s not a fair yardstick to measure against.
That said, the SSD means it boots up faster than lightning strikes. I counted less than ten seconds to a usable windows environment, which no matter the type of device, is incredibly fast. It’s so quick that it relegated the need to close the lid – it just seemed smarter to shut it down and save power. Put simply: I’ve never encountered a machine that boots faster than the Helix 2.
We’ve not covered the basics, though, so enamored with the high-end stuff am I. There’s a decent music player here, too, and throwing on a YouTube video (or Spotify, whatever’s your poison) and banging it up loud is pretty good. Not incredible, but for a laptop… yeah, well worth mentioning. The in-built mic is serviceable, though not really good enough for anything outside of a skype video call with your friends, though the webcam is fine, even if you lose the mobility of a separate device.
To this day I’ll argue that a laptop keyboard and mouse is the devil’s work. While the Chillblast doesn’t convince me otherwise, it does keep things simple. The trackpad has clickable buttons at the base that are hidden to the naked eye, and the keyboard is well spaced and comfortable (for a laptop, that is). It doesn’t reinvent the design, nor should it – things are kept simple, allowing the money to be better spent on that SSD hard drive, and i7 processor.
I want a Chillblast laptop. It doesn’t have to be this one (though this one is brilliant), but I do want one. They’re built with quality in mind, and it shows. Robust yet sleek, powerful yet quiet, this is something you’ll be only to glad to add to your insurance. Gaming on the go has too long been on a 3DS or PS Vita, now I can take my Steam cloud saves and ignore people on a whole new level. It’s pricey, and I remain unconvinced that having a laptop as a primary device is ever ideal, but it’s brilliant nonetheless.
Read our Chillblast Fusion Raptor review.