Scan MGW-20 workstation laptop hands-on preview and pictures

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In the world of laptops, there are only a handful of so-called original design manufacturers, companies that produce the bulk of notebooks which are then relabeled/rebadged by bigger names such as Apple, Dell or HP. In 2011, 94 per cent of laptops sold worldwide were built by these Taiwanese manufacturers which include the likes of Quanta, Compal, Wistron et al.

One of them is Clevo and that outfit specializes in high performance desktop replacement laptops. As such it designs and constructs laptops to scores of big and small brands. Essentially, Clevo provides with the barebone shell and retailers add in the components, for the end customer, on demand. We came across one Clevo-rebadged product recently when we did a hands-on preview on the Eurocom Racer 3.0 and you can have a look at the review of its predecessor, the Scan 3XS-MGW10, which we looked at in February 2013.

Today, we look at the Scan 3XS-MGW-20, one which is based on the Clevo P370EM base unit (as mentioned on the invoice) and is one of the biggest laptops I’ve ever handled. The online retailer beefed it up, prior to shipping it, with an Intel Core i7-3740QM processor (four cores, 6MB cache, 2.7GHz clock speed, turbo boosting to 3.7GHz) and 32GB of RAM (Corsair 1600MHz).

The processor is (still) an Ivy-Bridge, third generation model, which comes as a slight disappointment. Given that high-end mobile Haswell processors will require new sockets, it makes sense for companies to clear out as much stock as possible to avoid getting burnt.

Storage options include a 256GB Samsung 840 Pro SSD, a 750GB Western Digital Scorpio Black hard disk drive spinning at 7,200RPM, a SD card reader and a Samsung BD drive.

Displaywise, the MGW-20 is fitted with a massive 17.3in with a fairly reflective display with a full HD resolution, an Nvidia Quadro K5000M Kepler-based GPU with 4GB of RAM with Nvidia’s Optimus technology. The latter allows the system to use the onboard Intel HD 4000 Graphics under lighter loads. The K5000M is Nvidia’s most powerful professional GPU and comes with a whopping 1,344 CUDA cores with an equally high 100W TGP.

Connectors include four USB 3.0 ports, eSATA, HDMI, DisplayPort, four audio connectors, a gigabit Ethernet port and a dual-band Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6235 2x2 Wireless+Bluetooth adaptor.

Amongst other features available are Microsoft Windows 8 Pro, Kaspersky Internet Security 2013, an 8-cell Li-Ion battery (a 5,200mAh model), a fingerprint reader, Onkyo speakers powered by Sound Blaster X-Fi technology, a backlit keyboard (not sure why) with a dedicated numeric keypad and a 2-megapixel webcam.

We didn’t run any benchmarks but you can expect that beast to be one of the fastest portable workstations on the planet, one which should do really well in professional benchmarks like SpecViewperf, Cinebench or Pov-Ray. Expect the same to happen with more consumer-oriented ones as well.

The criticisms we raised for the Eurocom Racer 3.0 largely hold for the Scan MGW-20. It is an expensive piece of kit at more than £3,100, its battery life is ludicrously low and the power supply unit supplied seems to be heavier than my day-to-day laptop, the Toshiba Satellite Z830.

Then there’s the ongoing (personal) issue I have with the overall design and quality. Maybe it’s because reviewers are blasé and expect every laptops to look like a MacBook Pro but this laptop (and generally speaking almost all generic Clevo laptops) are as bland and conservative as it can get.

The keyboard keys are definitely not what we’d expect from a £3,000 laptop, as far as quality is concerned. Other than their “Scrabble” tiles feel, I abhor the fact that they’re not leveled as well. But ultimately, this laptop is not about the looks but what lies within it. And when it comes to value-for-money, the Scan MGW-20 gets five stars.

Configuring the Dell Precision M6700 workstation with roughly the same components as its Scan counterpart left us with a bill of nearly £5,400 excluding delivery. But if you can live without the K5000M (which costs around £1,250 on its own), then the newest Alienware 17 laptop, which comes with a Haswell i7-4900MQ and an Nvidia GTX780M GPU (plus an anodized aluminium chassis), fetches less than £2,700.

Why nobody in the world of non-Apple PC managed to come up with a laptop with a full HD display that doesn’t have a combined PSU/base unit weight of more than 4Kg and still packs a decent battery life is still beyond me. The new Apple MBP Retina Display manages to pack a much higher resolution display (2,880 x 1,800 pixels), up to seven hours battery life and still weighs only just over 2Kg; this is what laptop sellers and ODMs in general should aspire to.