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EUROCOM Monster Gaming Notebook Review

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
Desktop systems have the luxury of space for all of today’s high end components but gaming notebooks have continually struggled to attain manageable dimensions and thermal characteristics. They just didn’t have the space necessary to house the large cooling assemblies necessary to ensure low temperatures but change is in the air.

As the gaming market slowly shifts to more portable mediums, manufacturers are finding ways to adapt powerful hardware for use in the notebook market. While we have already seen the positives and negatives of this approach, the Eurocom Monster takes it to the next level. With a size of just 11.6”, this gaming notebook is anything but monster-like and flies in the face of the many huge 17” system cluttering other categories. However, Eurocom has still managed to packs a massive amount of horsepower into a such a small body.

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With a starting price of just $899, the Monster provides a well appointed, albeit extremely compact gaming platform. Its default configuration comes with an Intel i5-3210M, NVIDIA GTX 650M (with Optimus), 4GB of memory and a 500GB hard drive. Those are some generous specifications for a sub-$1000 notebook but just be warned that adding options or upgrades will cause the price to rapidly spin out of control. For example, the configuration you see above costs nearly $2,500, with the Extreme Edition processor alone adding nearly a grand to the bottom line. This is billed as a “desktop replacement” and with such a high price, expectations are understandably quite high.

So what can be configured on this notebook? Absolutely everything. Unlike Alienware, Dell, ASUS, HP and every other manufacturer of gaming notebooks, Eurocom takes pride in their ability to customize every one of their products to your specifications. Just glancing at the Monster’s ordering page will have enthusiasts salivating and bank accounts crying for mercy in no time.

There are however some limitations which are dictated by the abnormally small chassis. The Monster is only available with an 11.6” screen and NVIDIA’s GTX 650M is where the buck stops GPU-wise. Don’t expect massive resolutions here either since two different 1366x768 screens are available: the standard glossy version and one with a matte finish for an extra $120. To their credit, Eurocom offers professional screen calibration for $50 and will save the .icc color profile on your desktop.

Based in Ottawa, Eurocom’s standard 1-year warranty should provide hassle-free RMA shipping for Canadians while folks south of the border still get access to an expedited product support process through their US facility. There's even RMA options within the EU. In addition, since all of their CPUs use standard sockets and the GPUs are installed via an MXM module, this is one of the only companies which offers a full upgrade service for their existing notebooks. Everything from a GTX 680M to lower end parts are available depending upon your base configuration.

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From the outside, Eurocom’s Monster isn’t really much to look at, but this ugly duckling has a heart of gold. The simplistic two tone color scheme is backed up by an extremely durable rubberized finish, making it nearly impervious to scratches and fingerprints. Using a finish like this notably improves solidity as well and even though its lid does exhibit some flex, the Monster certainly feels like a well crafted device.

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While many gaming notebooks have gone with outrageous designs and eye-opening LED lighting effects, Eurocom has continued their neutral color scheme within inside and out. Some will like this approach while others won’t but we happen to appreciate the understated confidence exuded by the Monster.

It may be small, compact and fabricated primarily from plastic but there isn’t an exposed seam or material shift to be found here. In most cases smaller “boutique” manufacturers tend to lack the advanced OEM fabrication facilities enjoyed by top tier brands and their build quality suffers as a result. Eurocom has deftly avoided that fate.

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That well designed rubberized material we mentioned makes its way onto every surface you’ll likely come in contact with on the Monster. It provides an excellent gripping surface, ensuring this notebook stays firmly within your grasp and there’s no palm deviation when typing on such a confined space.

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Status indicator LEDs and a power button live on a small ridge above the keyboard and are well integrated into the chassis. Due to their positioning and small size, the LEDs (light blue for Power and green / yellow for HDD status, WiFi, etc.) won’t be too distracting while gaming or photo editing. However, the indents above both of these areas tend to catch grime and all sorts of other nastiness so have a Q-Tip on hand for cleaning.

One problem we did encounter was a lack of responsiveness from the power button. It typically took two presses before actually turning the system on or off.

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The Monster’s connectivity options are befitting of any high-end notebook with a trio of USB ports (two 3.0 and one 2.0), a full size HDMI output, a LAN jack and standard VGA connector. There’s also a Kensington lock system and headphone / mic jacks. All of the ports are reality accessible, especially the all-important USB connectors which are just to the sides of the Monster’s palmrest.

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Some of you may have been wondering where the 9 in 1 card reader went and it’s actually located on the palmrest’s leading edge. It is flanked by power and charging LED indicators.

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Due to Eurocom’s use of high end components, the Monster’s underside is primarily dominated by air intakes and slightly oversized feet to ensure adequate air movement. A pair of down-firing speakers has been added though this setup lacks the added subwoofer included on some gaming-grade notebooks.

The top area’s finish doesn’t extend here which is completely understandable given the limited benefits it would have. However, the entire bottom panel can be removed for quick hardware change-outs.


A recent trend among many notebooks has been to directly integrate the battery into the chassis, eliminating the possibility of upgrades or change outs when it can’t hold a charge anymore. Eurocom meanwhile has remained steadfastly committed to a completely modular battery design. Now, their 6-cell unit does protrude from the chassis a bit but the front rubber feet compensate for this discrepancy, ensuring a level gaming surface can be maintained.

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Last but not least, we come to the power brick. This is usually something which can be glossed over but the one Eurocom shipped with our sample was laughably oversized when compared to the notebook’s minimal footprint. It also weighs in at nearly two pounds when the power cord is taken into account. Luckily, this is the optional 120W adapter so if you want something a bit more compact, opt for the 90W version.
 
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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Messages
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Keyboard & Trackpad / Screen & Audio Quality

Keyboard & Trackpad


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Due to such a small chassis footprint Monster’s chiclet-style keyboard hearkens back to the netbook generation, and that's not necessarily a good thing. It is compact and quite restrictive since Eurocom only had a limited amount of space to work with. Unfortunately, this leads to a situation where the key size has been maximized, resulting in very little distance between each of the individual islands. You’ll quickly find yourself making errors and over-reaching for certain keys, particularly when going from a standard keyboard to this one. Using it for extended periods of time gives a sense of claustrophobia and accuracy is next to impossible for anyone with slightly oversized hands.

There are however several redeeming qualities here. The keys exhibit an excellent amount of feedback, keyboard flex is virtually nonexistent no matter how hard this area is pressed and the space bar’s allotted footprint is quite generous. The inclusion of a non-slip palmrest pays dividends, particularly when gaming or using a word processing application. It keeps your hands firmly placed in a strategic location, regardless of how much sweat is involved. Nonetheless, expect your word per minute rate to be cut in half when using the Monster.

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An interesting aspect of this condensed keyboard is the juxtaposition between the items which were sacrificed to optimize space and those which came through unscathed. On one hand, all of the left-hand functions (Tab, Caps Lock and Shift) along with the right justified Enter and Backspace buttons are perfectly sized, making them accessible and easy to find for touch-typists. However, the right Shift button is minuscule and the arrow keys are crammed into an extremely confined space.

From a gaming perspective, the WASD and function buttons are quite small and actually locating them can in a pinch becomes a lesson in frustration. In addition, the lack of backlighting makes it very hard to situate your hands when using the Monster in a dark room.

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If you’re a gamer, the trackpad won’t be used all that much while playing and that’s a good thing. Its buttons are a bit hard to press and make a loud "clack" sound when pressed and its finger tracking has a serious case of Tourettes. Everyone needs a bit of resistance on their trackpad to ensure pointer accuracy but the textured, rubberized finish makes this one feel like the onscreen pointer is moving through a vat of molasses.

Double taps are all but ignored unless performed with excess pressure and pinch-to-zoom becomes a hopeless exercise. Then, at other times, it picks up phantom inputs or causes the pointer to jump around like some spasmatic rabbit, regardless of the sensitivity setting.

If we had one recommendation for Eurocom, it would be to ditch the textured finish and use a standard, slightly resistive surface here.


Screen Quality


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Eurocom’s Monster uses a small 11.6” screen which certainly won’t win any awards for color reproduction or contrast but it is still quite acceptable for most uses. Regardless of the professional calibration (a $50 option) we still found certain hues to be under-saturated and blacks lacked richness and depth. This is to be expected from a TN panel but it is still unfortunate since the matte screen on our unit cost an extra $120. At the very least, an IPS panel should be offered as an add-on for true connoisseurs.

On the positive side, this panel is a perfect companion for gaming, exhibiting no apparent ghosting and extremely quick response times. Luckily, the lack of color saturation becomes a secondary concern in these scenarios.

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As with all TN panels, this one’s viewing angles are anything but stellar. Any deviation from perpendicular on both the vertical and horizontal axis will lead to washed out colors and drastic reduction in contrast.

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The true limiting factors here are size and brightness. The Monster just isn’t big enough to house a larger display and its tiny 11.6” panel feels horribly constrained, reducing in-game immersion and making us yearn for slightly more real estate. And although reflections are nonexistent with the matte option, the screen lacks sufficient backlight output, resulting in a washed out appearance when used in environments with a lot of ambient light.


Audio Quality


The Monster doesn’t incorporate the stand-alone sub-woofer of Alienware’s M14x and some other gaming notebooks but it is still capable of delivering adequate sound reproduction. Its speaker output remains blissfully distortion-free until volume reaches extremely high levels while bass and treble remain tightly under control. At no time did we hear the telltale vibrations that typically cloud most notebook speakers when they’re pushed above a certain volume.

Under no circumstance the Monster’s down-firing speakers match the sonorous output of its immediate competition but there’s been an effort to optimize certain aspects of the audio experience. The THX Optimizer software allows for some impressive headphone performance and its Surround options do broaden the soundstage. This was also the only notebook I’ve reviewed to date which was able to communicate with my Sony noise canceling earphones without signal distortion.
 
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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Included Software / Upgrade Options

Included Software


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Eurocom will be happy to sell the Monster sans operating system and leave you to your own devices but we opted for the full installation. Luckily, this is actually one of the cleanest examples of Windows 7 we’ve ever seen on a notebook. It avoids all of the pointless add-on fluff which typically gets included with Alienware, HP and ASUS notebooks while still incorporating a number of useful applications which enhance the overall experience. All told, Windows 7 idles with less than 900MB of memory being used.

The few non-standard pieces of software include the control stack for the included Killer network card and audio enhancement courtesy of THX.

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One of the more interesting additions is a custom Control Center which grants access to a wide variety of notebook-centric options. Here’s you’ll have quick access to everything from the touchpad interface to wireless network settings to battery extension controls. It’s all quite straightforward and each button will open its associated application.

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When the Killer network card is installed, its application is a must in order to achieve optimal network performance. Without going through its entire setup process, we actually found that Windows’ default sharing center played tug of war with the network card, resulting in dropped WiFi signals or packet conflicts. At least the Killer software is easy to navigate and it gives a dizzying array of options.

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Last but not least we have THX TrueStudio Pro which essentially gives the user preset audio settings which are optimized for either Surround, Headphone or Stereo setups.


Upgrade Options


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Eurocom bills the Monster as a fully upgradeable notebook and they actually sell component kits for previous generations in order to bring them up to today’s standards. That’s a completely unique aspect which isn’t offered by any of the competitors.

Luckily, Eurocom has made the innards of this notebook easily accessible for end users by using a simple sliding mechanism for the entire bottom panel. Just remove the battery, flick a switch and move the base forward.

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Once the panel is removed, all of the components are easily accessible and more importantly, can be replaced in a matter of minutes. There is a pair of memory slots which can hold a maximum of 16GB spread across two 1600MHz 8GB SODIMMs. Even the WLAN module can be swapped out for a different unit.

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All of the components are housed on an Intel HM76 Express motherboard with the CPU being covered by an easily removable copper contact plate and heatsink. The GPU meanwhile uses a standardized MXM module (rather than being soldered directly to the motherboard) and is hidden under a blower fan. This fan actually pulls double duty as the main source of airflow for a combined graphics processor and CPU heatsink that extends to the chassis’ very edge.

Eurocom used a standard-height M4 C400 SSD in our sample but this can be substituted with any 2.5” drive. It’s held in place couple of screws and uses a padded caddy to eliminate vibrations if a high capacity HDD is used.
 
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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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System Benchmarks

System Benchmarks


These system benchmarks will cover the basics of a notebook’s sub-system performance along with Startup and Shutdown times. For PCMark 7 the standard test is used for most notebooks but entry level models are tested using the Lightweight Test. WPrime tests CPU performance and finally, Crystal Diskmark will give us an idea of storage (HDD or SSD) performance.

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Even by desktop standards, the Monster is a fast computer. Its Crucial SSD provides extremely quick boot times along with a distinct edge in PCMark 7 which tends to favor SSDs. Meanwhile, the WPrime processor benchmark shows the fastest results we’ve seen from a notebook. That’s impressive considering this one’s diminutive size.
 

SKYMTL

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Messages
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Productivity Benchmarks

Productivity Benchmarks


In this section we will be benchmarking programs which many people use on a daily basis. WinRAR will show how well a given system’s CPU, memory and storage subsystem performance work together to compress a large folder with 2.5GB of information contained within. Meanwhile, we use DriverHeaven’s Photoshop Benchmark and CineBench to recreate a professional usage environment of photo manipulation and rendering. MediaCoder x64 is also included in order to show CPU video transcoding performance within a free, vendor agnostic and multi threaded program.

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Eurocom has packed some incredible specs into the Monster’s limited confines and these results show exactly that. The 8GB of memory and i7-3940XM processor haul things along at a blistering pace.
 

SKYMTL

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Entertainment Benchmarks / Network Performance

Entertainment Benchmarks


With a swift propagation of online and disk-based high definition content, testing a notebook’s performance in this area is critical. In order to accomplish this, a 720P YouTube Flash video clip is played through Google Chrome with hardware acceleration enabled.

The Blu Ray tests are conducted through Cyberlink’s PowerDVD 11 Ultra once again with hardware acceleration enabled if the system supports it. The video was run directly from the notebook’s hard drive. If the notebook doesn’t support 1080P input to its screen, we output the video via HDMI or DisplayPort to a 1080P HDTV.


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With NVIDIA’s GTX 650 alongside an eight thread processor, the Monster flies through these benchmarks.


Network Performance


One of the most important aspects of any portable device is its ability to connect to wireless networks. A weak wireless card, insufficient insulation around the receiver or a badly placed antenna could all lead to connection issues and poor signal reception. There’s nothing more frustrating than getting booted from the ‘net due to insufficient signal.

In this simple test, we set up a wireless router (D-Link DIR-825) in six pre-determined locations within our 3-floor home at a rate of two locations per floor and each connected to a host PC. The notebook is placed upstairs (on the 3rd level), the router is connected to and a 1GB folder of information is transferred over to the host PC over the network. Typically, the transfer takes 5 to 20 minutes depending upon signal strength, etc.

The numbers you see below indicate how many connection points each notebook could recognize and then complete a successful file transfer. Naturally, higher recognized connection rates and successful file transfer numbers indicate better wireless performance.

Note than the floor plate between the basement and first level is concrete, which will prove to be a significant challenge for the penetration of wireless signals. The locations chosen range from 20 feet to approximately 50 feet away from the tested computer.


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Perhaps these results aren’t that surprising considering the top-shelf Killer network card housed within the Monster but they are still a sight to behold. This is actually the best result we’ve seen in our WiFi testing….ever.
 

SKYMTL

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Messages
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Gaming Benchmarks (Synthetic)

Gaming Benchmarks (Synthetic)


The gaming tests seen below are relatively straightforward with a mix of DX11, DX10 and DX9 games being used in order to ensure full compatibility with every system. 3DMark06 and 3DMark 11 (for supporting systems) are used as well. They are all run in-game three times over so as to ensure accuracy with all settings as indicated in the charts below.

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The first gaming benchmarks show the Monster staying ahead of Alienware’s M14x but trailing ASUS’ extremely capable G75VW with its GTX 660M graphics card. Nonetheless, getting this kind of performance from a product that’s no bigger than the netbooks of yesteryear is impressive.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Joined
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Messages
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Location
Montreal
Gaming Benchmarks (In-Game)

Gaming Benchmarks (In-Game)


The gaming tests seen below are relatively straightforward with a mix of DX11, DX10 and DX9 games being used in order to ensure full compatibility with every system. 3DMark06 and 3DMark 11 (for supporting systems) are used as well. They are all run in-game three times over so as to ensure accuracy with all settings as indicated in the charts below.

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In-game testing pretty much reflects the results we saw in the synthetic programs like 3DMark. The Monster is easily able to drive its low resolution screen, remains ahead of Alienware’s offering and could probably return some decent results when outputting a 1080P signal via the HDMI port.
 

SKYMTL

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Messages
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Location
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Battery Life

Battery Life


Battery longevity is one of (if not THE) most important aspect of any mobile device which is why we are breaking this section down into three distinct tests. The “Standard Workload” represents relatively light usage with a Flash-enabled web page being refreshed every 30 seconds. Our “Heavy Workload” runs a looped 10 minute automatic script that reflects a professional usage pattern of photo manipulation (Photoshop CS5), word processing (Microsoft Word), drafting (AutoCAD 2011) and file compression (WinRAR). Finally, the “Gaming” test runs a timedemo loop of Far Cry 2 DX9.

All tests are run until the battery reaches 5% with the Balanced battery mode enabled and the screen at 75% brightness. Wireless is also turned on but any backlit keyboard functionality is turned off.


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We typically don’t expect much from gaming notebooks in the battery life department but despite its ultra high end processor, 6-cell battery and discrete graphics card, the Monster returned some great results. When used in a standard pattern with word processing or web surfing, NVIDIA’s Optimus kicks in, shuts down the GTX 650M and allows for nearly 4 hours of runtime. That won’t get you through a long distance flight but we’re certainly not complaining.

Unfortunately, when the going gets tough, the 6-cell battery just can’t keep the juice flowing to the standard voltage i7-3940XM and the graphics processor for all that long. When gaming, battery life drops like a stone to just over an hour.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
Temperatures / Acoustical Testing

Temperatures


Temperature testing is quite straightforward: we load the system with a loop of Far Cry 2 in order to stress the dedicated GPU (if there is one) while the CPU load is handled by a loop of WPrime 32M. Battery power is used during these tests. Temperatures are recorded with HWInfo and GPU-Z. Remember that this is a worst case scenario test so typical usage patterns will result in slightly lower temperatures.

Meanwhile, exterior temperatures are taken with a calibrated Fluke infrared thermometer at various locations on the notebook chassis. For comparison’s sake, we consider exterior readings of under 30°C to be perfectly suitable for on-lap usage while temperatures between 30°C and 40°C will start to feel a bit toasty. Anything above 40°C is uncomfortable and care should be given before placing it on your lap.


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With the graphics processor and CPU sharing the same heatsink assembly and cooling fan, some sacrifices were bound to be made. Unfortunately, that sacrifice is CPU temperatures which shoot up dramatically when the Monster is under constant load. This is actually quite worrying since 97° is just eight degrees below the i7-3940XM’s thermal threshold.

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Incredibly, even though the Monster doesn’t have great interior temperatures, it remains absolutely cool to the touch even after an hour of gaming. There is one area which tends to get a bit toasty but even that doesn’t get into worrying extremes.


Acoustical Testing


No one likes a loud laptop so in order to objectively determine acoustical properties, we use a calibrated decibel meter which is placed 16” away from the keyboard. A loop of WPrime is used to load the system and replicate a high usage scenario.

Any result under 35dB can be considered no louder than general background noise and usually won’t be noticed. Between 35dB and 45dB is still perfectly acceptable for notebooks yet will be much more noticeable than lower frequencies and likely won’t be heard over the noise of typing. Finally, we consider any result above 45dB to be unacceptable for a mobile device.


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The Monster is actually one of the quietest gaming notebooks we’ve come across despite the high interior temperatures. It is great to see but we would have rather seen a few decibels more if it meant a cooler running CPU.
 

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