Novatech Maxfire Laptop 

An alternative to the 'big name' PC manufacturers, we've been very impressed with this laptop from UK supplier Novatech.

My wife has been using my hand-me-down Toshiba notebook for a couple of years now. I tend to give notebooks a pretty hard time so it wasn't in the best of states when she got it. It is now 6 years old, and the kids have managed to break the key-top from the letter 'I'. I really had little choice but to find a replacement!

Having had a less than happy experience with my last purchase of a laptop from Dell I wanted to try out someone else.

My brother recommended Southampton based Novatech to me a while back and I had brought an excellent if basic desktop machine from them so I decided to investigate their laptop offerings.

I settled on the Maxfire range. I bought this back in March this year and so their specs have changed a little. the following summarises the spec I chose:

  • AMD Turion 64 bit 2.2GHz processor
  • 1G of DDR memory
  • 100 GByte HDD
  • Built-in DVD Re-writer
  • 15.4" wide-screen LCD
  • MS Windows XP Professional

This combination came in at just shy of £800 including VAT which for that specification seems to be very reasonable.

The machine arrived very promptly, well packed and nothing missing. With battery this laptop weighs in at 3.2Kg, although for some reason it feels fairly light.

Powering up the laptop for the first time went smoothly and I was very impressed with the brightness of the screen.

As well as the standard features that you'd expect with a laptop, this one came with a few well thought out extras. The extras don't really add cost, but I think they do show that they have been thinking about their customers:

  • A switch to turn off the fans. It's a widescreen bright LCD screen ideal for watching movies, the last thing you want though is a whirly noisy fan lowering the atmosphere!
  • A built in card-reader for various media format cards
  • A physical switch to turn off the built in 802.11 wireless card. This would reduce battery drain and if you're not using it then turn it off. Much easier with a switch than hunting around in a settings menu buried deep in Windows.

Unusually most of the connections for this laptop are down the right-hand edge. The only connector on the back is for an external monitor.

Connectors are provided for S-Video, Firewire and 3xUSB-2. On the left-hand edge you have access to the DVD writer plus modem and wired 100BaseT Ethernet connection. There is no PS/2 mouse connector, serial or parallel ports, a trend which is becoming more comon with laptops these days but worth knowing if you've got an old printer that doesn't support USB.

The 802.11g interface works flawlessly, which is quite something considering our house is very long, with the broadband access point at one end of the house and the study at the other. A single access point can't get the whole distance and so we have 2 wireless bridges beaming the signals through and around various walls. The old Toshiba with a PCMCIA wireless card could only just lock onto the signal and you have to be pretty sure not to walk in front of the machine!

We've burnt a number of DVDs on the laptop. This isn't something I can claim to do a lot of and I found it slow and laborious, but no slower than the 3GHz Dell laptop that I use. The DVDs worked fine in a standard DVD player after writing.

Overall the system performs very well. In use it appears very responsive, much more so than other machines I've used. Build quality is good and seems fairly robust. We've allowed the kids to play a couple of games on it and it survived, which I happen to think is a pretty good test!

Footnote : The Toshiba, now 6 years old, has not yet reached the end of the road. A little battered, but still operational it has now passed down to the kids, who don't seem to have a problem with the lack of a letter 'i' key-top. This must just about be a record for a laptop in almost continuous use! I hope that in 6 more years I'll be able to report back on the Novatech with the same praise!

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