Discovering the balance between power and cost is an art that few gaming laptops manage to master. Illegear’s new Z5 gaming laptop presents multiple configurations for customers to attempt to find a balancing point that they can live with. This could possibly mean many things for many people. For us, it means taking a look at the best that the Z5 has to offer and find out if it is worth the price tag.
The Z5 bears the stylings of a modern gaming laptop. It features plenty of sharp angles and grilled vents to evoke imagery akin to a high performance sports car or jet fighter. A slight depression sits at the top of the cover, providing an interesting concave look to the machine.
Where the aesthetic value of the look crosses the threshold of looking “cool”, the materials used to accomplish this façade disappoint. Simply holding the top of the display tells users that many expenses were spared in the construction of the Z5. The flimsy plastic is simply unpleasant to hold, and creates a disconnect with what looks like a premium grade product.
This lack of build quality continues to the hinge, where the grade of the plastic is particularly noticeable. The display wobbles at the slightest touch, and it does not inspire confidence in the Illegear Z5’s ability to survive sustained use. In fact, there was little confidence that it would make it to the end of the review period without cracking. Potential buyers should take a little extra care when opening and closing the hinge. On the bright side, the plastic doesn’t smudge very easily and doesn’t suffer from the same finger print magnet problem of other gaming laptops.
The island style keyboard is rather unexceptional, at least in terms of layout and design. The macro keys are located somewhat disturbingly close to the power button; it shouldn’t matter, but seeing any other keys located near the power button always makes me a little nervous. There is that chance that a wrong key press ends with a computer in sleep mode and many unhappy teammates.
Aside from that, the many ports are sensibly located around the sides of the Illegear Z5; two USB ports line the left and right sides of the machine, with the HDMI, RJ45, and VGA ports located on the back. The right side USB ports are of the 3.0 variant, while the two on the left are split between a USB 3.0 and a USB 2.0 charging port.
It should be noted that the left USB 3.0 port on this review unit had some issues with staying connected to an external HDD. It kept disconnecting and prevented the transfer of our benchmarking software. It could just be a faulty connection on this unit, but it takes a few more points off from the total build quality score.
Our review unit of the Illegear Z5 is no slouch when it comes to hardware. Running on an Intel Core i7-4720HQ, 16GB Dual Channel DDR3 RAM, an NVIDIA GeForce GTX970M 3GB DDR5 and a 128GB Crucial M550 mSATA SSD, it performs admirably during gaming sessions. Additional storage space is courtesy of a 1TB 7200rpm Hitachi HDD also installed in the machine.
These are pretty much the top of the line specifications for the Z5, and the basic system is far less powerful; although it will be substantially cheaper. The 15.6-inch Full HD IPS/AHVA display also received a professional colour calibration according to the delivery sheet, which is another touch that customers can request when buying an Illegear Z5.
Despite the colour calibration, the display is still a little on the warm side. Whites have a slight yellowish tinge, especially when the machine is on low power mode when unplugged. Colours are reasonably reproduced, although those who prefer something more vibrant may have to tweak some settings. I prefer to see the display as avoiding colour saturation that appears on many smartphones these days. It works just find for gaming, especially with being able to stare at the screen for many hours at a time.
Those concerned about the GeForce GTX 970 memory leak issue that turned into a fiasco for NVIDIA shouldn’t be worried about the GTX 970M. For one, it comes standard with 3GB of GDDR5 VRAM; and there have been no records of any memory problems surrounding the discrete GPU.
How a gaming laptop feels while gaming is possibly the only reason someone would be interested in buying one. While the Illegear Z5 has some physical shortcomings, it performs magnificently in its intended task. This naturally comes at a cost, but that might be worth having to the right person.
The keyboard is quite obviously designed for gaming, and it certainly feels like the alignment was made with FPS games in mind. The keys themselves provide just the right amount of haptic feedback with their resistance, and makes it very easy to get a feel for the movement. There was almost no adjustment period for jumping into games with the Z5’s keyboard. On the other hand, the layout of the keys is biased so far to the left that it makes regular typing awkward. The keyboard is essentially meant to do one thing, and it will do that one thing very, very well.
That being said, the macro keys are much too far away to be useful in any sort of game that would need them. Fortunately, I do not play MMORPGs and believe that macros are unsporting in any other game.
One issue lies with the touchpad, which could either be a small problem or a massive headache. While the touchpad is large and well situated in the middle of the laptop, the actual usable area is tiny. I am not sure what is wrong with it, but large portions of the the surface are far from smooth and are genuinely difficult to slide around on. With that being said, the touchpad is not exactly a big deal for a gaming laptop. Most gamers will be using a mouse, because nobody in their right mind is going to game on a touchpad. However, those non-gaming moments that require a mouse can become tiresome.
Portability is becoming less of an issue with gaming laptops, and the Illegear Z5 is similarly easy to transport. It doesn’t weigh much, and the 15-inch display allows it to fit into most laptop bags. The only thing that needs to be watched is the hinge, which, again, feels rather flimsy and might not enjoy a bump or two.
Benchmarking the Illegear Z5 was an interesting experience. While its scores are admirable, it had the small problem of crashing while running the 3DMark Sky Diver test. This happened twice and forced the test to be reset.
In addition to this, the driver for the GTX 970M cannot be updated through the NVIDIA GeForce Experience software. The update process requires circumventing the normal NVIDIA update process and manually installing the driver. A task that took a total of five hours to track down a source for the drivers.
As far as actually playing games goes, the Illegear Z5 works wonders for a gaming laptop. It doesn’t quite manage to get Crysis 3 to hit 30 fps on Ultra High settings, but it does manage a very respectable average of 80 fps on medium. Battlefield 4 is no problem for the Z5 as well, as the popular online shooter only slows down when turned up to maximum. Overall, this is a very good score for a gaming laptop.
Battery life clocks in at two hours and thirty-four minutes on the PCMark 8 home conventional benchmark. This naturally will be substantially lower when playing games, but it shows that the Illegear Z5 is capable of lasting at least as long as the competition.
Users will be fine with watching a movie (or two if they’re short) while away from a power source. However, it will definitely need to be plugged in for gaming sessions. One day we will have the battery power to build a gaming laptop capable of going for hours while away from power outlets, but it is not this day.
It is not easy to find a gaming notebook to compare the Illegear Z5 with at this price point. A lower end version is comparable with the Acer Aspire V Nitro NX.MQLSM.002, which at RM3,699 comes close to the starting price of the Z5, which starts at RM4,099. The tradeoff is substantial, with the Aspire V Nitro shipping with a 1TB HDD, 8GB SSD, and a GTX 860M with 2GB of VRAM. However, to reach that price point the Z5 will have to drop down to only 8GB RAM, a single 1TB HDD, and a GeForce GTX960M with 4GB of VRAM…and no Windows OS. At the most basic level, it looks to be a better choice to go with the Aspire V Nitro; but those with more to spend can make the Z5 a substantially better choice.
Alternatively, the RM6,232 price tag on this particular version of the Illegear Z5 is quite close to the RM6,469 asking price of the Dell Alienware 15. In exchange, the Alienware 15 promises half as much RAM, a slower HDD, and no SSD. For this sacrifice, customers will likely get a much better finish, less glossy plastic, and a hinge that is less likely to cause concern.
The Illegear Z5 does what it sets out to do, and that is provide an affordable gaming laptop. It has fantastic hardware for the price point, and is capable of providing value for what a user is paying. It doesn’t overheat, it doesn’t make a racket when pushed to the limit, and it is reasonably comfortable to use for long gaming sessions.
The tradeoff is a less than stellar build quality, one that may not hold up to being transported around. Which is a pity, since everything else about the Illegear Z5 screams for it to be taken around and gaming. It is a great machine for LAN parties with limited space, especially for those who use public transportation and need a light machine with lots of power.
Is it worth the price? I would wager that it is not. While there is plenty of firepower under the hood, the construction doesn’t guarantee the safety of all that ordinance. However, it does fit into a very niche price point; one that sits neatly in the middle of the price spectrum. That, alone, presents an interesting question for those who have a very specific budget.