Chillblast Helix 2 17in review: Plenty of power, less of the bulk
Cast your mind, if you will, back to the mid-2000s: PC gaming was very much an activity relegated to the basement-dwelling sort, who shunned outdoor activities in favour of CRT screen glow and a packet of Wotsits. It was an age when high-end computers were built to look like something out of Blade Runner or The Matrix – everything was green and blue lights, perspex cases and brightly-coloured plastics.
Thankfully, in 2015, we’ve put those years behind us and Chillblast’s Helix 2 is as sure a sign as any that a gaming machine doesn’t need to look garish to be taken seriously. Behind its sleek and minimalist design, you’ll find a gaming laptop most other manufacturers would cram into a shell nearly twice as thick.
While the Helix 2 is incredibly thin for a gaming laptop at 22mm (27mm including the rubber feet), it’s still a large laptop by any definition. It doesn’t help that it also weighs a meaty 2.66kg, but its minimalist design at least helps it look less of a lump.
Open it up and you’ll be left in no doubt about the purpose of this machine. It has a huge, 17in Full HD screen that feels far larger than it should, thanks to a broad black surround. At the screen’s base sits a chunky power switch begging to be pressed, which delivers a satisfying click, a flash of blue LEDs under the chiclet keyboard and a roar of fans as it boots up. It’s the PC gaming equivalent of pushing “Start” in a Bentley Phantom.
To help soften the impact of the Helix 2’s massive 419 x 287mm footprint, Chillblast has made it incredibly thin. With the screen up, its body is only 13mm thick (18mm including the rubber feet) with a 9mm thick lid. Compared with the Dell Alienware 17 R2’s 37mm width, it’s positively slinky.
Inside the Helix 2’s svelte frame beats the heart of a 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-4720HQ CPU with 16GB of RAM and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 970M with 3GB of GDDR5 video RAM. When you don’t need the 970M to do heavy lifting, the Helix 2 also features Intel’s HD Graphics 4600 GPU, which is more than capable of running less-demanding games.
In terms of storage, the Helix 2 has a 120GB mSATA SSD, which keeps Windows ticking over nicely, and a 1TB hybrid drive for mass storage. If that’s not enough, there are four USB 3 ports, as well as an SD card slot to connect your external storage.
The Helix 2 also comes with everything else you’d expect from a high-end gaming laptop, including HDMI output, Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11ac wireless, a 1080p front-facing video camera, Intel High Definition Audio, and a removeable 60Wh battery.
As mentioned earlier, the Helix 2’s Full HD 17.3in IPS screen really swallows you whole. With a luminance of 296cd/m2 and contrast ratio of 1,082:1, it isn’t as bright as the Alienware 17 R2, but it does have a higher contrast ratio. However, like the Alienware 17 R2, this display struggles to reproduce richer and more saturated colours, adding a cool tinge to onscreen images.
That aside, the IPS screen has impressively wide viewing angles, no visible ghosting and its matte finish stifles reflections from nearby light sources. The response time also seems high, but screen tearing was prevalent during our gaming benchmark tests. This isn’t really an issue with the panel itself, but is instead due to uncapped frame rates. So if you’re adamant that 60fps isn’t smooth enough for you, the Helix 2’s panel will throw a spanner in the works.