Review: AVA Direct Clevo W880CU

Seeing — and lifting — the AVA Direct Clevo W880CU brings back fond memories of days gone by. Those were the days when laptop makers didn’t give a flip about how big and bulky their laptops were, as long as they managed to wedge every last state-of-the-art component into the system. Battery life didn’t matter and neither did looks. Also irrelevant was price: Gaming nuts would pay upwards of five grand for these machines.

In recent years, the market has changed, as vendors have managed to get high-end components into slimmer, sexier chassis and keep prices headed downward, too. Today, you can get a top-performing laptop without the bulk and without much effort.

And so the Clevo W880CU arrives, a machine trapped in the past, despite modern amenities bolted onto it, including a USB 3.0 port, 1080p display and a pre-release version of Nvidea’s new GeForce GTX 480M graphics card. Under the hood, just about everything else is up to snuff, too: 1.73-GHz Core i7 processor, 4 GB of RAM and a 500-GB hard drive. About the only piece lacking, on paper at least, are a Blu-ray drive (the 1080p screen isn’t nearly as dazzling with old DVDs), and a brightness upgrade on said LCD — it’s the dimmest screen we’ve seen in more than a year.

Performance-wise, the W880CU is top-notch. Both general apps and gaming benchmarks set records, if by very small margins — both about 5 percent higher than our former record-holder, the BFG Deimos X-10 we tested back in October. However, it’s worth noting that the Deimos cost $1,500 more than the W880CU, weighed 13 pounds, and had to use two GTX graphics cards to achieve its numbers; the Clevo only needs one to muscle its pixels around.

While the W880CU is awfully fast, you’re unlikely to fall in love with its usability or looks. The trapezoidal case design is hopelessly dated and difficult to work with, the numeric keypad bafflingly puts the right arrow key where the “0” key should be, and numerous ports (including the power adapter) are hidden behind a giant, hinged flap on the back of the laptop. Seriously, a flap?

In our testing, the W880CU also suffered from instability that, while not quite massive, was serious enough to force us through several reboots during testing. Merely playing a DVD managed to crash the computer in colorful fashion, and the whole machine vibrates dangerously when a disc is spinning. A collection of sporadic, random error messages didn’t instill additional confidence, either.

Driver upgrades and patience may help matters, but that’s asking a lot from someone who has shelled out $3,000 for ultimate performance.

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