Gaming on a laptop used to be like signing up for a broadband connection in Australia. There were fast connections, reliable services and good deals — but you'd only be able to get two out of the three. With gaming laptops, you could either have a cheap system, great performance and quality-of-life options ... but not all three.
Kogan is pitching its Atlas Pro as a $1000 machine that covers all the bases. It's certainly priced competitively enough, and the presence of a discrete graphics card is enough to catch the eyes of people who want to do a little more than what the Intel integrated graphics chips are capable of. But does the Atlas Pro really meet Kogan's lofty goals?
What Is It?
It's the first in a new line of laptops from Kogan, the online retailer founded in 2006 made famous by various discounts, promotions and various controversies over the years. The Atlas Pro is targeting those who bang for their buck, while also aiming at people who want to get as much gaming out of their laptop as they do day-to-day work.
- Display: 15.6-inch 1920x1080
- CPU: 2.5GHz Intel Core i7-4710MQ
- RAM: 8GB DDR3 1600MHz
- GPU: NVIDIA 940M 2GB
- Storage: 1TB 5400 RPM Drive
- Dimensions: 374x252x31.4mm, 2.5kg
- 10/100 Mbps Ethernet port
- OS: Windows 10
The blurb advertises it as a "perfect choice for designers, gamers, professionals and students", and a large part of that comes down to the discrete NVIDIA 940M 2GB GPU. It's not actually a gaming GPU, and so doesn't carry the GTX label — NVIDIA's gaming line starts from the GTX 950M — but it's more powerful than a standard Intel integrated graphics solution.
The Atlas Pro's calling card is the quad-core Intel i7-4710MQ within, which has a base clock of 2.5GHz that can go up to 3.5GHz if the situation calls. The onboard Intel Graphics 4600 isn't the worst integrated graphics option Intel has shipped, either, although the presence of the NVIDIA 940M is a welcome sight for those who want to do a bit more than emails, web browsing and word processing.
There are some added bonuses under the hood though: the Atlas Pro comes equipped with a Sound Blaster Cinema 2 sound card — something you don't see every day — as well as an optical combo read/write drive, a 9-in-1 card reader, 3.5mm headphone jack, webcam, 2 USB 3.0 ports, Wi-Fi and a 10/100 Mbps (but not gigabit) Ethernet port.
What's It Good At?
The packaging is simple and unfussy
Most laptops around this price range will usually come with a Core i5 CPU, and having the quad core i7-4710MQ Haswell chip is handy for a suite of applications across the board. The clock speed is advertised at 3.5GHz, but it's worth noting that the fastest speed you can get when all four cores are operating is actually 3.3GHz. Still, that's more than what you'd get if you were rolling with an i5, and extra CPU grunt is never a bad thing.
The Atlas Pro's 940M isn't part of NVIDIA's gaming-oriented GTX line, but having the discrete GPU means you'll get better performance in games and applications that can take advantage of the hardware. It might not offer the "flagship graphics" performance that Kogan praised in its initial press releases, but some recent releases (such as Star Wars: Battlefront) simply aren't playable otherwise.
The 8GB RAM pairs nicely with the i7-4710MQ if you're playing something that relies more on CPU throughput than the GPU — the Civilization series comes to mind here — and while it won't win any awards for speed, the 1TB of storage goes a long way when you're filling up your Steam library, transferring movies or large amounts of RAW photos (as one might do with the card reader). Having a Full HD 1080p screen is a plus too, with quite a few rival offerings only sporting 1366x768-capable screens.
And some credit where it's due: while games this year won't run at spectacular frame rates, as the benchmarks showed, you can enjoy older titles just fine provided you're prepared to sacrifice a lot of visual quality. Kogan's also managed to squeeze a 10-key keypad into the keyboard, and while it's not a full keypad with the traditional layout, the inclusion is certainly welcome.
It's also not much, but the vents at the sides of the laptop also helped prevent the heat from venturing into the extremes. It results in a weird configuration of the ports on the Atlas Pro's left side, but that's undoubtedly preferable to having your knees overheat in sync with your Battlefront blaster.
What's It Not Good At?
At this price you'd expect function over form, and the Atlas Pro is suitably chunky
If you're paying only $1000 for a laptop with a discrete GPU, there are going to be trade-offs — and some are easier to live with than others. It starts with the overall build quality and extends to the battery, gaming performance, the chiclet keyboard, weight, heat and the sound (not the sound card itself, but the sound the laptop makes under load).
The weight and build quality is the first thing you'll notice. There's no fancy materials used for the build design, and the cheapness of that is most felt in the trackpad. It's not terrible — two fingers on the right edge of the trackpad functions as the scroll wheel, and the left and right buttons are separated — but it doesn't feel great to use, and it's a little too sensitive when it comes to detecting single finger presses.
The chiclet keyboard isn't great to use either. It's especially uncomfortable and will be instantly noticed by League of Legends or StarCraft 2 gamers, titles that require a lot of repetitive keyboard presses. And while the inclusion of a keypad was welcome, the compromised layout is a touch frustrating.
It's also worth noting that despite the inclusion of the NVIDIA 940M, you'll spend most of your time playing games at 1280x720 pixel or lower resolutions just to maintain a decent frame rate. That's better than not being able to play at all, but the visual effect of not playing at the Atlas Pro's native resolution will make a lot of games look blurry and muddy. That'll sour the experience for many, and in some games where identifying small targets is a high priority — such as Unreal Tournament or Star Wars Battlefront — it can ruin the enjoyment altogether.
The battery's performance isn't fantastic either. You'll get about 5 hours in low intensity situations, and playing anything strenuous will leave the Atlas Pro gasping for air within 90 minutes. That's fairly standard for a laptop of this calibre, but it means that if you want to game on the go, don't expect to do it for very long.
Should You Buy It?
The Atlas Pro comes with few frills
When the Atlas Pro was first advertised, Kogan made a massive deal of the Atlas Pro's credentials as a gaming machine. Having the NVIDIA 940M makes the Atlas Pro a more viable gaming machine than rival offerings, but it's not powerful enough to use exclusively as a gaming machine and the trade-offs are uncomfortable enough that they outweigh the advantage of being portable.
The rule of thumb when purchasing any gaming laptop still applies: go for the most powerful GPU you can find, and work backwards from there. An extra $100 or $200 can make the world of difference when it comes to a laptop, and the range of alternatives you have once you expand your budget just that little bit further is what really hurts the Atlas Pro.
The Acer Nitro VN7-571G, for instance, is going for $1219 at MSY right now and has the more efficient i7-5500U CPU and a NVIDIA GTX 950M. The GTX 950M carts the 940M around the park, so much so that from a gaming perspective you could drop down to an Intel i5 and still be better off.
You can also pick up an Alpha N550RC from Metabox with an i5-6300HQ and a GTX 950M. The Atlas Pro has a better performing CPU, and is cheaper. But an extra few hundred will get you a faster hard drive, a better built laptop and just a nicer product.
The Atlas Pro's greatest appeal is when everything else is available at standard prices. But the minute anything else becomes discounted, Kogan's flagship laptop starts to lose its appeal. If you're only going to be using it on a desk, and have a separate mouse/keyboard that you can keep plugged in then you can negate a lot of the frustrations around its day-to-day use.
But if you're going to be taking the Atlas Pro on the road a lot, there are so many other laptops that are simply nicer to use and much nicer to travel with. The extra performance of the Intel i7 and the 940M can't negate how unpleasant that keyboard is, and anyone looking at the Atlas Pro as a gaming machine would be well advised to spend a little more for something sporting a GTX 950M.
In short: if $1000 is the absolute upper limit of what you can spend, and there are no discounts available, the Atlas Pro offers enough all-around performance to justify a look. But buyers are always advised to shop around, and given the discounts available over Christmas it's not hard to find alternatives that you, or your giftee, would be much happier to live with.