Evesham Quest Explorer review

£595
Price when reviewed
In 2003, AMD beat its much bigger rival when it brought 64-bit computing to the desktop. On the notebook side, Intel charged ahead with the Pentium M – the first mainstream mobile processor designed from the ground up instead of being adapted from a desktop chip.

The latest twist in this tale of one-upmanship is a new 64 mobile processor. AMD’s 64-bit chips have appeared in notebooks before, usually in bulky desktop replacements with minimum battery life. Now, AMD hopes to challenge Intel with smaller and lighter form factors based on its Turion 64-bit mobile processors, and the Evesham Quest Explorer is the first example we’ve seen.

This notebook is powered by a Turion MT-34. It isn’t the fastest of the Turion chips, but is the fastest of the low-power 25W versions, running at 1.8GHz with 1MB of Level 2 cache. The TDP (Thermal Design Power) of 25W compares pretty well with Intel’s standard Pentium M chips, which range from 21W to 27W.

With a performance heritage from its Athlon 64 architecture and a low-power make-over, AMD already has much to shout about. But there’s another factor that could be more significant: price. Evesham offers the new chip for less than £600 in the Quest Explorer. The Turion’s nearest competitor is Intel’s budget Celeron M processor, and it’s worth bearing this in mind when judging test results. Memory allocation is 512MB (2 x 256MB PC2700 DDR SDRAM) with a generous 80GB 5,400rpm hard disk for permanent storage.

Our benchmarks ran to an overall score of 1.52 – about what we’d expect from a good 1.6GHz Pentium M system, and somewhere between a desktop Athlon XP 2200+ and 2400+. In short, it’s very healthy for the price, and means you won’t be wanting for power.

Where the Turion isn’t able to match the Pentium M, at least in this configuration, is the amount of cooling required. While the majority of Centrino notebooks are quiet most of the time, the Quest’s fan kept on cycling on and off every few minutes during everyday business use. In our busy office, it wasn’t a problem, but in a quiet home study it could become tiresome.

As such, we weren’t expecting the battery to cope with more than a few hours of light use, so just over four hours under the circumstances is surprisingly good. Total weight is in line with the 15in screen, and at 2.9kg it’s suitable for short journeys. The chassis is up to the task, although the styling and flimsy trim reflect the affordable price. Most importantly, the keyboard is firm rather than bouncy; although there are better boards out there, this is fine to type on all day.

The screen has a few weaknesses, though. Poor vertical viewing angles significantly alter the contrast when you’re not viewing it from dead-centre; this does diminish the Quest’s appeal. What’s more, there isn’t much protection behind the TFT panel.

Since the notebook holds the battery along the rear, most ports are further forward and easy to reach. There are four USB 2 ports but no FireWire, although Evesham has pushed the boat out with a dual-layer, dual-format DVD burner in the optical bay. It’s also good to see 802.11b/g WLAN in such a well-priced notebook.

So we’re left with mixed feelings. There’s some impressive performance for the price, but the overall impression isn’t exactly quiet or svelte. It’s better than having a desktop processor if you’re after mobility on a budget, though, and by adding a generous 80GB hard disk and DVD burner Evesham has ensured it will be a useful system for some time to come.

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