Micro Express NB5720 notebook review: Performance isn’t always pretty

Micro Express NB5720 notebook review: Performance isn’t always pretty 

The
thin-and-light Ultrabook trend has even clunky laptops looking
relatively sleek these days. Micro Express’ NB5720 is far from a sexy,
stylish Ultrabook, but it looks pretty good for a boxy, half-plastic
laptop.
If you’re looking for style, look elsewhere. But if you place power,
performance, and price over prettiness, the $1599 NB5720 is definitely
worth a look. It’s not a total eyesore—it boasts a smooth, slate-gray,
brushed-aluminum cover with tapered edges and a minimalist keyboard
deck. But it’s nearly as thick as a brick—1.68 inches—and it weighs more
than several: 5.75 pounds. That’s a lot of bulk paired with a 15.6-inch
screen.
ROBERT CARDIN

The
NB5720 has a great collection of components, but it’s more than twice
as thick as the typical Ultrabook and weighs nearly 6 pounds.

But when you’re looking for a no-excuses laptop, what’s under the
hood is what really matters, and the NB5720 doesn’t disappoint on that
score. You’ll find one of Intel’s best fourth-generation Core processors
onboard, for starters (the 2.8GHz, Hyper-Threading–enabled Core
i7-4900MQ). That’s supplemented by 16GB of DDR3/1600 memory and a
discrete Nvidia GeForce GTX 765M graphics card. Storage comes in the
form of a 256GB SSD, plus a 750GB hard drive that spins its platters at
7200 rpm. 

When you’re looking for a no-excuses laptop, it’s what’s under the hood that really matters.

As
you might expect, this notebook burrowed through the bulk of our
benchmark suite like a woodchuck preparing for a honeymoon, producing a
Notebook WorldBench 8.1 score of 483. That renders it nearly five times
faster than our reference notebook, the Asus VivoBook S550CA, which has a
more humble dual-core, hyper-threaded, 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U
processor (from Intel’s Ivy Bridge family).

The Micro Express NB5720 produced the highest Notebook Worldbench 8.1 score we’ve seen to date. (Click to enlarge chart.)

It’s also slightly faster than the CyberPower FangBook EVO HX7-200
we reviewed in June—at least when it comes to all-around productivity
apps. That rig had a larger screen, but a smaller SSD (60GB) and a
slower mechanical hard drive (a 5400-rpm, 1TB model). CyberPower’s
system had a faster discrete video card—an Nvidia GeForce GTX 780M—which
contributed to higher performance in games. The FangBook also delivered
better battery life: 4 hours, 17 minutes to the NB5720’s 3 hours, 37
minutes.

The superior video card in the CyberPower FangBook helped it earn better benchmark scores in games such as BioShock Infinite.

Power and performance aside, the NB5720 has its pros and cons. The
system’s 15.6-inch, nonglare screen has native resolution of 1920 by
1080 pixels, and it looks great: it’s very bright, with accurate colors
and skin tones and sharply rendered text. Unfortunately, it’s not a
touchscreen, which is kind of a big deal if you’re using Windows 8. (You
can order your unit with whichever OS you like.)

Great keyboard 

Micro Express manages to make the NB5720’s keyboard deck look simple
and uncluttered while packing in tons of functionality. The deck
includes, besides a full-size keyboard, a ten-key numeric pad, a
trackpad with discrete mouse buttons, a fingerprint reader, and two
convenience buttons: “Airplane Mode” toggles your Wi-Fi on and off, and
“VGA” toggles between the discrete graphics card (when you need
performance) and the integrated GPU (when battery life is your
priority).
The keyboard, which has matte-black island-style keys, is comfortable
and easy to type on. In my tests, I managed 99 words per minute (I
typically average around 115 wpm), which is good for a laptop keyboard.
The medium-size trackpad is responsive, if a bit choppy. The discrete
mouse buttons are widely spaced and easy to press, but give little
feedback. So the keyboard is much better than the other input devices.

Terrible speakers

I’ve reviewed Micro Express laptops before, and they always have one
major, glaring problem: the speakers. I’d love to tell you that the
NB5720 is totally different, and that its speakers are excellent—but
they’re not. They’re awful. They are the worst speakers that I’ve ever
heard on a laptop, on a desktop, in a car, from a cell phone—anywhere. As I’ve said before,
if you enjoy hearing sounds, please do yourself a favor and do not
listen to these speakers. The speakers are located above the keyboard,
and they sound brassy, tinny, and shrill—and the sound only gets worse
at higher volumes.
Here’s the bottom line: This is a great laptop, if you can overlook a
few issues. It’s by far the fastest laptop we’ve tested, which is great
news if you’re looking for a powerful model to do your bidding (and you
don’t particularly care about looks). It’s a bit clunky and heavy, but
less so than a desktop replacement—and it outperforms most desktop
replacements.
But I’m not exaggerating when I say that the speakers are the worst
I’ve ever heard, and the lack of a touchscreen is a bit disappointing.
Still, if you don’t care about having a touchscreen, can tolerate the
short battery life, and have some great headphones (the headphone jack
is clean and delivers excellent sound, I’m happy to say), $1599 isn’t
much to pay for awesome performance. 
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