Micro Express KHL9070: Good Performance, Disappointing Features
At a Glance
Micro Express KHL9070
The specs and benchmark numbers make this laptop seem like a great bargain, but Micro Express obviously cut corners to reach the affordable price.
Laptop buyers may not be as familiar with boutique vendors like Micro Express as they are with big brands like Dell or HP, but smaller vendors can sometimes be more agile in getting hot new products to market. Case in point: The Micro Express KHL9070 is the first portable to hit our labs carrying Intel's latest Core i7 620M chip paired with ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5650 graphics. It isn't the most powerful desktop replacement laptop we've seen, but it isn't the most expensive one, either--in this model, Micro Express brings you the latest Intel CPU line and DirectX 11 graphics for $1299 (as of February 2, 2010).
Unlike the desktop Core i7 processors, which are all quad-core CPUs, the laptop variants are often dual-core. Such is the case with the Core i7 620M, which runs at 2.67GHz. It's a powerful CPU for a laptop, and it offers very good performance: The KHL9070's WorldBench 6 score of 119 is among the fastest we've seen from a production notebook. As for the graphics, the Mobility Radeon HD 5650 is roughly equivalent to the 5570 version for desktop PCs. It isn't a barn-burner, but it is suitably fast for the latest 3D games, and it offers DirectX 11 compatibility to boot. We had no problem playing Left 4 Dead 2 at its highest settings with antialiasing enabled, and in Modern Warfare 2 we needed to back off from the highest settings only a little. As you would expect, battery life on a high-powered system like this is a bit limited: In our tests, the battery died after about two and a half hours.
Judging from the performance-test results, you might think the KHL9070 is a high-end laptop with a reasonable price--but once you look closer, you can see where Micro Express cut corners. First, there's the RAM: This system is equipped with high-speed 1333MHz DDR3 memory, but just 2GB of it. Second, only the 32-bit version of Windows 7 Home Premium is installed. Considering that 4GB of RAM and 64-bit Windows are now coming standard on sub-$1000 laptops, we have to wonder why anyone would buy a desktop replacement that offered less. Though the limited RAM didn't have a great impact on the KHL9070's WorldBench 6 scores, it could make a difference when the laptop is running demanding games or multitasking in several complex applications. The screen is a little disappointing, too: The color and contrast are all right, but the 1366 by 768 resolution is a bit low for a screen measuring nearly 16 inches. We're used to seeing 1600 by 900 or higher at this size and price point.
On the sides of the KHL9070 are four USB ports (three on the front right and one on the left rear). They bear the little lightning-bolt symbol that typically means they can be powered during the system's sleep mode, so you can charge your USB devices (phones, music players) without having to turn the laptop on. You'll even find a physical button on right side of the keyboard to enable this feature. The only problem is, we couldn't get the function to work, and we couldn't find a software or BIOS setting for it.
The keyboard is easy to type on, and the touchpad is nice and accurate, even though the single-bar button feels sort of mushy. A small button next to the touchpad disables it completely, which is quite handy when you're playing games with an attached mouse. The headphone and microphone jacks are on the front edge beneath the touchpad, as is the multiformat card reader. This arrangement keeps wires and prongs from jutting out of the sides and getting in the way of your mouse (if you're using one), which is another boon for gamers.
Unfortunately, the overall build quality seems sort of cheap. The shell, which has a plasticky and imprecise feel, flexes more than we'd like and has an ugly seam on the face near the top of the keyboard. The integrated speakers sound pretty good and contribute to an enjoyable media-watching experience, though the bass frequencies are a little underrepresented.
If you're looking for a good price on a laptop with a powerful CPU and a latest-generation graphics processor, the Micro Express KHL9070 may fit the bill. If you're prepared to spend around $1300 on a laptop, however, we suggest looking for something with a higher-resolution screen, more RAM, and slightly better build quality, even if it costs you a little more.