SavRow Katana 3D-9 review

£2005
Price when reviewed
The chassis of SavRow’s latest power notebook isn’t a unique design – it shares its external features with Rockdirect’s Xtreme Ti. But it’s no less impressive for that, not least in terms of its size. This is truly a desktop replacement, weighing in at a hefty 5.6kg, placing it outside the bounds of something you could feasibly carry around every day.

Inside the Katana is a desktop processor, in the shape of Intel’s Pentium 4 560. This runs at 3.6GHz with 1MB of Level 2 cache and, with its higher clock speed, performs faster in single-threaded applications than the new dual-core designs. The 560 is partnered with a full gigabyte of DDR2 PC4200 SDRAM running in dual-channel mode. Unlike Rockdirect, SavRow has fitted just the one hard disk to the Katana rather than a RAID array, but it’s a fast 7,200rpm Fujitsu disk. However, it’s only 60GB in size – we expect more in a machine at this price.

Bear in mind, though, that SavRow’s philosophy is all about tailoring machines to customer’s individual requirements – to the point of providing a personal website showing the build progress of any machine you order – so this isn’t set in stone by any means. The personal touch also extends to setting up the default Outlook Express installation with a private email support account. And, as usual with SavRow systems, the hard disk is configured with two partitions, one for system files and one for data, increasing the chances of salvaging documents if Windows ever becomes damaged and needs a reinstall.

The highlight of the Katana’s components, though, is the mobile workstation graphics chipset: nVidia’s Quadro FX Go1400. The basic specification differs from the ATi FireGL V5000 fitted to the Fujitsu Siemens H230, with 12 pixel pipelines and five vertex engines.

Where Fujitsu Siemens goes for a design free of what you might call gimmicks, the SavRow’s chassis yells at you with a bright front-mounted blue-LED screen, used in conjunction with the accompanying transport controls to play audio CDs (but not DVDs) when the main machine is powered off. When the machine itself is switched on, the display shows the time by default, although you can deactivate this in the BIOS. An integrated subwoofer endows the Katana with sound quality exceeding most notebooks – good enough for background music while you work.

With all that space around the 53mm-high casing, you’d expect more than the average number of ports and connectors, and you won’t be disappointed. In addition to the usual FireWire, USB ports and so on (see specifications below), there’s a media card reader able to accommodate SD/MMC, Memory Stick, CompactFlash and SmartMedia. There’s even a webcam hidden in the screen surround. But the main bonus is the DVI connector in addition to the VGA D-SUB, enabling a direct output to a digital panel.

Unlike the H230, the Katana has a screen that bows to the trend for shiny, wide-aspect displays. No bad thing in itself, but not ideal for a machine likely to be running applications that demand attention for several hours at a time; those reflections will tend to take their toll on concentration levels. And the screen, while large and wide, doesn’t quite have the resolution of the Fujitsu: at 1,680 x 1,050 pixels, it gives you 156,000 fewer pixels to play with. But with the increased size and lower resolution does come greater legibility of icons and text. Continuing the ergonomics theme, keyboard layout and size is good. That said, given the area on offer, it could still be better with, for instance, a full-sized left Shift key and a slightly deeper key travel.

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