Review: AVADirect W110ER

Gamers have long had two real choices if they wanted to go mobile: tote their monstrous desktop PC to the LAN party, or invest thousands in a beastly, oversized gaming notebook.

AVADirect would like to offer you a third option: the W110ER, an 11.6-inch gaming notebook.

AVADirect is an old-school custom computer builder, most of which went out of business in the late 1990s as cheaper yet equally customizable options became available from larger OEMs. But AVA is still kicking, thanks in part to its focus on high-end gaming equipment and oddball units like this.

At just 3.8 pounds, the W110ER is, to our knowledge, the smallest computer available that can be realistically described as a “gaming” PC. The only other real competitor is the Alienware M11x, an 11.6-inch model that weighs 4.4 pounds — and which is no longer being updated as of April 2012.

What makes the W110ER a gaming laptop and not a netbook (which it totally looks like) is of course its beefy specs. These would be impressive on any laptop, frankly: A third-generation 2.3GHz Core i7 CPU, 16GB of RAM (not a typo), 750GB hard drive, and an Nvidia GeForce GT 650M graphics card. Three USB ports (two 3.0), SD card slot, HDMI, and VGA output are included. No optical drive. Somehow that is all wedged into a machine with a mere 11.6-inch display running at 1366 x 768 pixels.

All of this power doesn’t disappoint. General performance benchmarks were very good (though not record-breaking), and the W110ER turned in gaming framerates above 40fps on all the titles I tested. These aren’t stellar in the abstract, but the numbers are perfectly playable and likely more than acceptable to a gamer waiting to catch his flight at LAX. For comparative purposes, on the synthetic 3DMark 11 benchmark, the pint-sized W110ER scored a P2439 rating. That’s pretty impressive considering the Alienware Andromeda X51 gaming desktop I reviewed in April scored a P3166.

Power does not come without a price, and on the W110ER that price is exacted in the form of usability. An 11.6-inch laptop means a full-size keyboard is out of the question, and the chiclets on the W110ER make even crummy netbook keyboards look great in comparison. Touch typing is tough, and even WASD game controls won’t be easy unless your hands are Snooki-sized. The rubbery trackpad and chintzy, recessed buttons are difficult to work with, too. Sure, real gamers will invest in a mouse and external keyboard for home use, but those aren’t real options when you’re mobile.

The W110ER is jammed full of high-end components and, as you might expect, this is a laptop that runs very hot. When running full bore, it gets uncomfortable in the lap surprisingly quickly, and even my wooden desk was left surprisingly toasty after a gaming session with the machine atop it.

Still, as truly portable options go for the PC gamer, the W110ER is probably at the top of the list. 3.8 pounds beats the hell out of the 8, 10, or even 13 pounds that a traditional gaming laptop saddles you down with. And the $1,354 price tag isn’t obscene, either.

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