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Maingear Nomad 17 Ultimate Review
The Maingear Nomad 17 Ultimate gaming laptop is fierce and fast, with gaming hops and a paint-job that lesser systems would envy.
- Screaming fast Intel Core i7-3840QM quad-core processor
- Gorgeous Nvidia GeForce GTX 680M
- 1080p matte-finish display
- Automotive-style paint jobs bring a custom splash of color to an otherwise bland design
- Short battery life, even for a gaming rig
- Single graphics processor
Gaming laptops may be pricey. They may be big, and heavy, and they may not be very portable. But the combination of powerful parts and flashy designs hold a special place in my heart, because the quest to make a competitive gaming machine translates into really powerful laptops that can be used for nearly anything. The Maingear Nomad 17 is no exception. It’s equipped with a beefy quad-core Intel processor, Nvidia graphics, and a paint job that would make most muscle cars jealous.
Despite the Nomad moniker, you won’t be toting the laptop around with you every day. With the exception of the Razer Blade (2012), gaming laptops are far from portable, being loaded down with big cooling fans and larger power bricks. The Nomad 17 measures a beefy 2.6 by 16.8 by 11.5 inches (HWD) and weighs a hefty 8.1 pounds—10.25 pounds if you bring along the giant AC adapter. As a rule, gaming laptops are considered portable only when compared with their desktop counterparts.
Regardless, the Nomad 17 looks great, with a brightly colored lid and bold black racing stripes. Our review unit came in Rosso Scuderia Red, but Standard Black, Plum Crazy Purple, Alpine White, Vertigo Blue Mica, and Organic Green are also available options. And though it’s a plastic lid, these are hand-painted, automotive-style paint jobs. And while the stripes may not make it go faster, they do make it look cool—an important addition to an otherwise unremarkable chassis.
The construction is largely plastic, with a wedge shape that opens up into two large cooling vents in the back. The chassis isn’t quite as boxy as the Clevo-designed black box of the Origin Eon 17, but it’s still pretty chunky. The Nomad 17 features a 17.6-inch display with 1,920-by-1,080 resolution, a matte-finish to prevent glare, and it looked great through all of our gaming and video tests. Joining the large LED-backlit 17-inch display are two Dynaudio stereo speakers and an integrated subwoofer, made all the better with THX TruStudio Pro sound.
The full-size chiclet keyboard and number pad get blue LED backlighting for gaming in the dark, and the 4-by-2.2-inch trackpad has a separate button bar to avoid the cursor drift and click-and-drag problems experienced with clickpads.
The large frame of the Nomad 17 means there’s ample room for features. You’ll find two USB 2.0 ports, three USB 3.0 ports, an eSATA port, card slot, Gigabit Ethernet, HDMI and VGA output, and connectors for headphones, a mic and S/PDIF audio. The Nomad 17 has wired Gigabit Ethernet along with 802.11n Wi-Fi, and you also get Bluetooth 4.0 for connecting your favorite wireless headset.
The Nomad 17 is also equipped with two 128GB solid-state drives (SSD) in SuperRAID—MSI’s own tweaked version of RAID0—showing up as a single speedy 256GB solid-state drive, with 233GB available out of the box. While an SSD will lend itself to speedy performance, the total capacity is a far cry from other high-end gaming systems, which often boast 1TB or more of storage space. You also get a tray-loading optical drive with DVD-RW support, but it can also be configured with Blu-ray for those who want it ($148 for the Blu-ray reader, $179 for the Blu-ray burner).
Because Maingear’s systems are custom made to order, there is zero bloatware on the Nomad 17, only Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit operating system and the drivers needed for various components, along with installers should you want either Microsoft Essentials AV or Apache Open Office. Maingear covers the Nomad 17 with a one-year warranty, but bolsters it further with free phone support for the life of the system. For even more coverage, extended warranties are available (Two year for $179; three years for $259).
The Nomad 17 is outfitted with a powerful 2.8GHz Intel Core i7-3840QM quad-core processor that combines with 16GB of RAM and a Nvidia GeForce GTX 680M graphics processor (with 4GB of its own dedicated memory) to produce superb performance on and off the gaming grid.
It cranked through PCMark 7 with a score of 5,328 points, on par with the Editors’ Choice Eurocom Scorpius (5,317 points) and ahead of top performers like the Alienware M17X R4 and the MSI GT70 One-276US. The only recent gaming rig with better performance is the Origin EON17-SLX, which scored 5,886 points with its own crazy fast overclocked processor and dual graphics. Similar results were seen in Cinebench, where the Nomad 17 scored 7.19 points, topped only by the Origin (7.44) and the Eurocom (7.31). For a better idea of what this raw power means for non-gaming tasks, the Nomad 17 tore through our Handbrake and Photoshop multimedia tests in 35 seconds and 5 minutes 57 seconds, respectively. The Nomad 17 may be made for play, but it will dominate at more mundane tasks just as well as any game.
The key area of performance for any gaming rig, however, is graphics. In 3DMark 11, running at Extreme settings, the Nomad 17 scored 2,593 points. Though it was topped by systems running two graphics cards instead of one, it still held its own—even at 1080p resolution and crazy-high detail settings, it ran Aliens vs. Predator at 77 frames per second (fps) and Heaven at 61 fps. Bottom line, whatever your game of choice, this laptop can run it with every little eye-popping detail.
The only weak point in this assault is battery life, but that’s the Achilles heel of any powerful gaming rig. Powerful components demand a lot of power, and a lot of cooling, which in turn demands a lot from the battery, even the 9-cell 87Wh Li-Poly battery found in the Nomad 17. In our battery rundown test the system lasted 1 hour 6 minutes, which means you’ll rarely be lugging this thing away from a power outlet. It’s a little short overall—similar systems like the Origin EON17-SLX (2:21) and the Asus G75VW-DH72 (2:32) lasted longer—but only the built-to-roam Razer Blade provides any significant amount of battery life (3:53).
The Maingear Nomad 17 Ultimate is not without its imperfections—like a smaller storage and short battery life—but for a mid-range gaming rig, there’s a lot to love. From the racing-inspired paint-job to the quad-core processor and amped up graphics, this rig puts a lot of gaming horsepower at your fingertips, and does so for a fairly reasonable price. Costing $300 more than the Editors’ Choice Alienware M17X R4 is balanced out by the fact that it’s more powerful, with better graphics. The Alienware will keep its Editors’ Choice crown for midrange gaming laptops, but the Maingear Nomad 17 is still one of the best we’ve seen in the category.
Compare the Maingear Nomad 17 Ultimate with several other laptops side by side.
By Brian Westover, PCMag
- Type: Gaming, Media, Desktop Replacement
- Processor Name: Intel Core i7-3840QM
- Processor Speed: 2.8 GHz
- Operating System: Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium
- RAM: 16 GB
- Weight: 8.1 lb
- Screen Size: 17.6 inches
- Screen Type: Widescreen
- Graphics Card: Nvidia GeForce GTX 680M
- 2nd Graphics Card: Intel HD Graphics 4000
- Storage Capacity (as Tested): 256 GB
- Networking Options: 802.11n
- Primary Optical Drive: Dual-Layer DVD+/-RW