11 July 2009

iBuypower M865TU

Reviewed by: John R. Delaney
Review Date: July 2009

Nearly all of today’s powerful gaming notebooks have at least one thing in common: They are typically bulky, desktop replacement–size systems that can weigh upwards of 11 pounds. The iBuypower M865TU ($2,049 list), on the other hand, is different. It delivers gaming-class power in a 15-inch chassis that won’t break your back. Unfortunately, you’ll have to lug around the power adapter, too, because this system’s battery life is woefully short.

There’s nothing fancy about the M865TU’s design.

The M865TU looks more like a business system than a gaming notebook. Eschewing the flashy finish and lighting effects found on systems such as Alienware’s M17 and Toshiba’s Qosmio X305-Q708, it uses a lightly textured black case accentuated by two thin bands of silver trim. The case has a very solid feel to it and sports a dual-hinge mechanism that keeps the lid firmly in place without the need for a latch. Beneath the lid is a matching keyboard deck with a full-size black keyboard and a smallish (also textured) touch pad and button assembly.

The keyboard keys are well-spaced and responsive, but the mouse buttons are a bit stiff and require a heavy touch. There’s a fingerprint reader sandwiched between the mouse buttons, and three programmable quick-launch buttons and a power switch are at the top of the deck. Missing are dedicated media buttons and volume controls.

The system weighs in at 7.3 pounds, which is about average for a 15-inch notebook but several pounds lighter than the bigger rigs. But throw in the sizable AC adapter, and you’re looking at 9.1 pounds of travel weight. As it turns out, you’ll want to keep the adapter handy, but more on that later.

The 15.4-inch display has a resolution of 1,680x1,050 and sports a high-gloss antiglare coating, which is reflective but produces vivid colors and wide viewing angles. The panel does a great job of handling fast motion and looked wonderful while playing a round of Far Cry 2. We didn't notice any motion errors, and gameplay was very smooth. The speaker system was weak, however, and would benefit from even a small subwoofer.

The M865TU offers a better-than-average feature set. Scattered along the front, back, and sides are HDMI and DVI video outputs; three USB and one eSATA/USB combo port; a FireWire port; and Gigabit Ethernet and modem jacks. You also get a seven-format flash-memory-card reader, a multiformat DVD burner, a 2-megapixel Webcam, an ExpressCard/54 slot, and headphone, microphone, and S/PDIF audio jacks. For those who still use an analog display, a DVI-to-VGA dongle is included in the box. The roomy 500GB 7,200rpm hard drive comes with Windows Vista Home Premium (64-bit) and is free of the usual bloatware, although you do get a neat little Webcam app from BisonCap.

The AC adapter adds almost 2 pounds to the travel weight.

Configured with Intel’s 3.06GHz Core 2 Duo processor, 4GB of quick DDR3 RAM, and Nvidia’s GeForce GTX260M graphics with 1GB of DDR3 video memory, the M865TU turned in some remarkable scores on our benchmark tests. Its score of 5,230 on Futuremark’s PCMark Vantage 64-bit test was the highest we’ve seen from any notebook as of this writing, and its score on the 32-bit test was more than 600 points above the average for a desktop-replacement notebook. It handled our iTunes encoding test in 2 minutes and 52 seconds, which is a record time for any notebook, and it needed only 4 minutes and 47 seconds to complete our Windows Media Encoder test, which was slower than the Qosmio X305 and the MSI GX720 but still 25 seconds faster than the average time for its class.

Connections include DVI, HDMI, eSATA, and USB ports.

Its 3D performance was good but not awe-inspiring; a 3DMark06 score of 9,601 while running at its native resolution (1,680x1,050) lagged behind the Qosmio as well as the Asus W90Vp-X1 but was still better than the Gateway P7808u FX gaming notebook and Lenovo’s ultra-expensive ThinkPad W700ds.

While its score of 98.4 frames per second (fps) on our demanding Company of Heroes DirectX9 (DX9) gaming test was right around average for a gaming system, the M865TU should have no trouble handling DX 9 games with a fair amount of eye candy turned on. Its DirectX 10 (DX10) score of 33.6fps was decent, but you may want to ratchet down the special effects for DX 10 gaming. Battery life was disappointing; the eight-cell battery lasted a measly 1 hour and 38 minutes on our DVD rundown test, which is what you’d expect from a big, 17-inch-plus notebook but not from a 15-inch system. By way of comparison, Dell’s Studio 15 lasted 2 hours and 54 minutes.

If you’re looking for a solid gaming notebook that you can actually travel with, and you can live without a fancy gaming-style finish, the iBuypower M865TU is for you. There are less-expensive gaming notebooks around, but they don’t offer the same level of performance and features as the M865TU. While you can get better gaming performance, too, you’ll pay a premium for those notebooks. And as of right now, there isn’t one ├╝ber-system that dominates the competition in all categories, so regardless of what you buy, you’ll be making some trade-offs.

We wish the iBuypower M865TU lasted longer between charges and offered a more robust audio system, but overall, this is a very good 15.4-inch gaming notebook that offers enough performance for moderate gamers and even serious gamers who can't splash out for a deluxe model.
Price (at time of review): $2,049 (list)

Editors' Rating

Great performance; sturdy build quality; good selection of ports

Poor battery life; low-powered speakers; ho-hum design

Editors' Take
This gaming laptop offers solid performance and above-average connectivity in an uncommonly portable 15-inch frame. The battery life is subpar, however.

iBuypower M865TU
Price (at time of review): $2,049 (list)

Key Specs
Processor: 3.06GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9900
Memory: 4GB RAM
Storage: 500GB hard drive
Optical Drive: DVD±RW
Screen: 15.4 inches (1,680x1,050 native resolution)
Graphics: Nvidia GeForce GTX260M (1GB)
Weight: 7.3 pounds
Dimensions (HWD): 1.95x14.3x10.6 inches
Operating System: Windows Vista Home Premium (64-bit)