Introduction and Design
Maingear crams beefy hardware in a 15.6″ chassis including a Core i7-2720QM CPU and GTX 485M GPU.
Viewed from a bird’s eye, gaming laptops seem to be a homogenous bunch. Although there are rare exceptions like the Alienware M11x, most are 15.6” or 17” models with quad-core processors and discrete mobile graphics, most frequently the Nvidia GTX 460M. The two gaming laptops we’ve most recently reviewed, the ASUS G53 and MSI GT680R, most certainly fit into this mold.
Upon closer inspection, however, the market for gaming laptops begins to expand and multiply into a wide array of options. While the big players like ASUS, Toshiba and MSI are happy to offer their pre-configured models with roughly similar hardware, customized rigs are as numerous as stars in the sky. Everyone has heard of Alienware, of course, but you may not have heard of companies like Origin, Falcon Northwest, AVADirect, AFactor Gaming, Malibal, Digital Storm and Maingear, just to name a few (or if you have, you may have only heard of their desktops).
Maingear’s eX-L15 is a stereotypical example of a custom gaming laptop. It’s big and it’s bulky, but its appearance is not much different from your average laptop. Inside, however, there is a buffet of high-end hardware.
The review model represents an upgraded variant. The Maingear eX-L15 is configured with a Core i5-2520 and GTX 460M by default, and when so equipped is priced at $1,550, which is more than the pre-configured options but competitive with other custom laptops. When upgraded to the tested specifications the price shoots up to $2,377. That makes the Maingear eX-L15 the most expensive laptop PC Perspective has reviewed, but this price tag is rather modest for a customized portable gaming rig.
Usually spending that much cash entitles the buyer to some luxury, however – can a small company like Maingear provide a laptop that feels worth the price of entry?
In a word, Maingear’s eX-L15 is monolithic. Like the ASUS G53, the eX-L15 takes an extremely conservative approach to design, forgoing even the slightest hint of LED accents or exuberant paintjobs in favor of a simple matte finish. The eX-L15 takes this aesthetic even further, however, by not even indulging in character lines. This laptop would not look out of place protruding from the ruins of an ancient alien civilization. While this might be labeled as boring by some, I find that the no-nonsense aesthetic gives the eX-L15 a formidable, even intimidating stance.
Plastic is the material of choice here, but not all plastics are the same. Those used on the Maingear eX-L15 are given a soft-touch coating on the lid and most of the interior, resulting in a pleasant, almost leathery texture. The only glossy plastic on the entire laptop can be found surrounding the display bezel, but the bezel itself is thin. Even die-hard matte finish fans should be able to tolerate it.
Once open, the Maingear eX-L15 reveals a dull but formidable interior. Maingear, unlike many other laptop companies, doesn’t engage in the practice of adorning their laptops with a million stickers – the only two to be found are small silver badges that blend in well enough. A sound bar can be found across the top of the keyboard, surrounded on both sides by blue indicator LEDs and a power button on the left. These indicators glow a dull blue that’s a bit hard to see in a bright setting, but the advantage of this dim lighting is a lack of distraction while gaming in a dark environment.
Build quality can only be described as robust. Although actually lighter than many competing 15.6” gaming laptops, the Maingear eX-L15 feels like a brick. Holding the laptop up from any one side resulted in absolutely no groans of protest from the laptop’s plastic, an indication that the chassis is rigid. The easily removed battery is located at the front right side of the laptop, and most internal components can be accessed by removing two service panels. These are held in by screws and aren’t difficult to open once the screws are removed.