A movable feast of computing

GCN Lab review: The laptop-like Raptor 4 is actually a portable server with impressive power and features


[IMGCAP(2)]As Sigmund Freud might have said, sometimes a laptop is just a laptop. But this is not one of those times.

The Ace Raptor 4 looks like the biggest laptop PC ever built, as though it were specifically designed for a National Basketball Association center with huge hands. It measures 12 inches long, 15 inches wide and 2.35-inches thick. And at 11.5 pounds, it is a bit too heavy to just whip out when you need to type a couple of quick e-mails in an airport lounge. A good way to think of the Raptor 4 is that it's movable but not really portable.

Obviously, there is more to the Raptor 4 than just being a laptop for giants. It is a pretty ingenious server setup in a laptop form factor.

When we first saw this configuration at the FOSE trade show, we were impressed enough to give the Raptor 4 our judge's award based on the implementation of a great idea: making a truly portable ' or at least movable ' server. But we really wanted to kick the tires and give the Raptor a full workout, so we had one sent to the lab.

[IMGCAP(1)]The Raptor 4 we tested turned out to be a true workhorse. Powered by an Intel Xeon X3350 processor running at 2.66 GHz, it smoked most workstation computers with a score of 1,327 on our Pass- Mark Performance Test 6.1 benchmarks from PassMark Software.

For comparison, the fastest ultraportable laptop in the most recent roundup scored 497. Most servers we have looked at since implementing the new benchmarks have tested in the 800s.

One reason for its prime performance is its 1.3 GHz front-side bus and huge 12M cache that keep data from getting trapped moving around the system. And the 4G of RAM does not hurt its performance.

Even the Raptor's storage is set up in a server configuration. The 840G of storage can be configured to Redundant Array of Independent Disks 0, 1 or 5. The unit we tested was set up in RAID 1 for complete redundancy in case either storage drive fails. This reduced the amount of storage available, but complete redundancy in a mobile server is a good idea. If you don't care to go that way, you can opt for RAID 5, which offers some protection, or RAID 0, which gives you access to all available storage at the risk of a single drive failure killing all your data.

Our storage was distributed across three drives, with a 200M boot drive and two 320G storage drives that mirrored one another because of the RAID level setting. The storage drives spun at 7,200 rpm, and although not as fast by the PassMark benchmarks at reading and writing data as some drives we have tested on desktop systems, they were extremely speedy for a laptop configuration.

The Raptor 4 we tested came with Windows XP Pro, as we requested, but it can also be loaded with the 64-bit edition of XP, Windows 2003 or 2008 Server, Linux, or the 32-bit or 64-bit version of Vista.

Another area where the Raptor shone ' and where most servers don't ' is in 3-D graphics. It flew through our 3-D and 2-D tests, beating every laptop and server we've ever tested. Most of the time, we don't test servers for 3-D graphics because they are almost never used in this way. But the Raptor has two nVidia GeForce 8700M video cards. They make the Raptor more versatile than normal servers despite its smaller size. You could use the Raptor for computer-aided design applications or 3-D modeling.

The Raptor has a 17-inch screen with a maximum resolution of 1,920 x 1,200. The screen combined with the 3-D graphics would make the Raptor a good presentation device, especially for more than just a couple of PowerPoint slides.

Needless to say, video looks great. But it also sounds great because the Raptor has four built-in speakers and a subwoofer. This is no substitute for a stereo, but it's the loudest sound we have heard from a laptop. There is also a DVD+/-r/RW Dual Layer drive so you can write and read DVDs and a 2 megapixel, built-in video camera. The camera and video cards make the unit a good teleconferencing station.

The Raptor's expansive girth leaves a lot of room for ports. It has a Gigabit LAN and 56K modem port in addition to seven-in-one card reader and Epresscard 54 slots, four USB 2.0 ports, a FireWire port, and Digital Visual Interface and VGA outputs. Because of the dual video cards, the Raptor is capable of driving two simultaneous external displays. And the Raptor comes with a full-size keyboard, something it would be silly not to have, given its size.

One thing to remember is that even though the Raptor looks like a laptop, it's not one. There are a lot of components to power, not to mention the huge display, and that means its battery life is worse than the fuel economy of a Humvee.

When we pulled the plug for our battery testing, which consists of a worst-case scenario in which we run a movie onscreen until the unit dies, we could actually watch the battery meter showing the drain. The system went from a full charge to completely dead in just 18 minutes, 28 seconds. That's long enough to move the Raptor from one conference room to another but not enough to do any work. Your mileage might vary under better circumstances, but not by too much. The Raptor is also expensive, though a good value if you need power with a little portability.

The government price of the unit as tested is $4,799, which is $1,000 less than the retail price. You can downgrade to just one video card, which makes the price $4,349, an option if you don't need to drive multiple external displays. You can also upgrade both video cards to SLI-capable 8800GTSs with 1G of video memory, which drives the price up to $5,249.

At that price, nobody who does not need a portable server is probably going to go out of their way to buy one. However, if you are looking for a highly versatile server that is extremely portable compared to a normal desktop or rack-mount configuration, there is nothing better than a Raptor 4.

It even ships with an oversized carrying case that looks like a standard laptop bag, only much bigger.

Ace Computers, (847) 952-6900, www.acecomputers.com

About the Author

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.


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