In the past, I’ve often failed to see the appeal of gaming orientated laptops, largely because their battery life is so short that taking one on a train journey or something seems a bit pointless if there’s no nearby wall socket handy. Still, sitting in the middle of the woods playing The Witcher 3 is kind of cool. The laptop I was using to do this is the ST-Plus from Thunderobot, a predominantly western company who are now seeking to move into the eastern market with their products. As this is my first laptop review let’s see if I can muddle through this with my already limited dignity intact.
Let’s talk about aesthetics and build quality before we get into the juicy details about what’s underneath. The body is made entirely of plastic which doesn’t quite give the same premium feel as something like brushed aluminium but does help ensure a reasonable weight of 2.5. It feels solidly built with little creaking, the exception being around the screen where a bit of pressure sees the whole thing flex. When closed this flex is notable, too, as you can apply some pressure to the back of the screen and watch the plastic bend inward. At about 1″ thick you’re going to notice this thing in your backpack.
At about 15″ x 10. 5″ x 1″ you’re going to notice this thing in your backpack, but all things considered, it’s reasonably compact for a gaming laptop.
From a visual standpoint, it’s nothing exciting, being finished with a light grey paint and bright orange logo on the back that’s cut out of the plastic. To be frank, I feel like it looks a bit cheap in comparison to some other high-end laptops, although it also doesn’t look as gaudy and tacky as many of the “gaming” laptops on the market which look like they were designed by someone who had watched too much bad sci-fi. You wouldn’t feel out of place taking this out of your bag during class or in a cafe.
Along the left side you’ll find the power connection as well as an Ethernet port and USB 3.0 slot. You’ll also find a USB Type-C. HDMI and two mini-display ports as well. The right sports another two USB connections, one USB 2.0 and one USB 3.0, plus 3.5mm jacks for your headset and microphone. The rear is left entirely for exhausting some of the heat that gets generated by the processor.
The screen is a 15.6″ 1920×1080 IPS panel with a 60Hz refresh rate. For the most part color reproduction is reasonable and the contrast is passable, but it isn’t particularly sharp with some noticeable fuzziness around text. The big weakness is glare from direct light, obviously a rather big problem when travelling on trains or just sitting at a cafe window. Even indirect light can result in a frustrating amount of glare, so you’ve got to be careful about how you orientate it. Sitting in my kitchen I still had to rotate the laptop to find a spot where the light wasn’t running the picture. With that said viewing angles are quite good, so if you fancy crowding a few people around to watch a clip or even a whole movie they shouldn’t have much trouble seeing what’s going on.
As for the audio the speakers deliver decent sound. There’s some tininess and the sound can come across as a bit flat, but for the most part the ST-Plus does the job of conveying gunshots, explosions, engines and the gratifying sounds of people being horribly murdered. Ain’t games wonderful? The only issue is that even at maximum volume they don’t sound particuilarly loud.
The keyboard sports RGB backlighting that can be customised if you fancy a little extra sparkle in your day-to-day life. More importantly, the keyboard itself felt surprisingly good for typing on. Sure, the membrane switches don’t provide the same level of near orgasmic satisfaction that their mechanical counterparts do, but they still felt nice, responding quickly without too much of that squishiness that membrane switches can sometimes have. The travel distance on the keys is short, but they provide enough feedback to ensure you’re never left unsure as to whether they activated or not. I wrote most of this review using it, and was genuinely happy with the experience. I’d have no problem doing my day-to-day work on it.
The trackpad is pretty damn good, too. It’s slightly sunken into the plastic body of the laptop and feels as though it’s made of the same material, and it tracked my movements very well with no notable lag or feeling of imprecision. Left and right clicks are handled by two seperate buttons below the trackpad itself, and they both feel okay. They have some wobble and the click sounds weedy, but those aren’t huge complaints.
Underneath the plastic shell sits an Intel i7-7700HQ quad-core processor running at 2.8Ghz with the capability to turbo-boost itself up to 3.8Ghz when needed, as well as a 4GB Nvidia GTX 1050 TI and 8GB of DDR4 RAM. Storage comes in the form of a 120GB SSD that contains Windows 10, ensuring snappy navigation throughout the OS, as well as a 1TB 7200RPM HDD for storing all those big game files. It’s a bit slow, but does the job.
For benchmarking I did two synthetic tests using 3DMark and Geekbench 4. On 3DMark I ran Firestrike where we got a reasonable score of 6838. On the Time Spy DX12 test it managed to get 2478. As for Geekbench 4 the single-core test resulted in a score of 2281, with a multi-core score 7530. Finally Geekbench 4’s compute test, running OpenCL, scored 75609.
Real testing was done via a suite of games, and inbuilt benchmark tools were used whenever possible with the highest quality presets available in the game’s options menu, with the exception of Rise of the Tomb Raider where only FXAA was used at the game’s on advice and The Witcher 3 where Nvidia’s Hairworks was disabled. For titles without inbuilt benchmarking tools I fired up FRAPS and ran my own tests. In Cities Skylines I spent an hour building a small community of around 3,500 residents before using FRAPS to benchmark a few minutes of gameplay involving me zooming in and out of the city. For The Witcher 3 I began a new game of the Heart of Stone DLC, taking a gallop on my horse through a small village and into a large city. Finally, The Phantom Pain was an airport assault where I first attacked the area via a helicopter with minigun attached and then jumped down for some closer action. Keep in mind that The Phantom Pain is capped at 60FPS, hence the highest you see is 62FPS.
Looking at the graphs it’s easy to see that the combination of the i7-7700k and GTX 1050 TI isn’t good enough to hit 60FPS at 1080p with the settings cranked up, especially with some of the more demanding games like The Witcher 3, The Division and even Cities Skylines which only came out with a 40+ average despite it being a small city. With that said, some tweaks in the settings will net you those 60 frames per second without having to sacrifice too much visual fidelity on most titles, with bigger sacrifices obviously having to be made sometimes for the more power hungry games. And if you’re looking to play less stressful games like League of Legends or CS:GO then there’s not going to be an issue in terms of performance. Still, it shows that the GTX 1060 is the better choice for 1080p gaming, which is actually what the St-Pro laptop has.
Power comes at the cost of heat, and according to CPUID the ST-Plus can get rather hot. During benchmarking it noted the CPU reaching 84c, with the GPU hitting 88c. Of course, this was the system being pushed to its limits so you can expect it to run a bit cooler in real-world conditions with settings tweaked, but even then there’s a lot of heat being generated which bleeds through to the keyboard more than I’d like. More of a problem is how the GPU blows its hot air straight out of the right side of the laptop which is where right-handed people like myself will often be using a mouse for gaming, and being continuously hit with 80c+ air can become somewhat uncomfortable.
And when those fans start ramping up to combat the heat so does the noise. Under a full load the ST-Plus muddles the sound from its own speakers, so it’d be advisable to wear headphones in order to hear everything when gaming.
For battery testing I set the speakers to 50% and screen brightness to max before disabling the RGB backlighting on the keyboard. Then I set Windows 10 to balanced power mode, and to put the laptop into sleep mode when the battery reached 10%. The laptop was fully recharged before each test was started, and then Windows in-built battery tracker was used to calculate the amount of time between the power cord being pulled out and the laptop’s battery giving up. I began with the hardest test by putting Firestrike’s combined graphics and physics test in an infinite loop, adjusting none of the default graphical settings. Firestrike is hugely demanding, and thus managed to chew through the battery in just 41-minutes. With that done I charged the battery up and then set DiRT Rally to medium settings before putting it on a looped benchmark, again with the speakers at 50% and maximum screen brightness. This time the ST-Plus managed to last 72-minutes which is obviously nowhere near the length of a good gaming session. In other words, if you want to game for an extended period you’re going to have to plug the ST-Plus into the wall. Less demanding titles should provide more time, though. The final battery test was a 1080p video file played via VLC, once again on an infinite loop until the laptop put itself to sleep once the battery dropped to 10%. This is the lightest of the three tasks and so it managed 3-hours and 45-minutes of continuous play.
The small 47w battery life means if you want to do any gaming it either has to be a very undemanding title or a very short session unless you happen to be near a wall socket. You won’t even get a lot of sustained usage just watching movies off the HDD or on Youtube, either. With that said gaming laptops aren’t known being frugal when it comes to power, and the battery life I saw during testing puts it firmly in the “average” category. The trade-off for having powerful components to run games is that they chug power like an alcoholic chugs beer.
Thunderobot have a tough job ahead of them trying to move into a market dominated by big names like Alienware, Asus and Dell. Sadly their ST-Plus doesn’t manage to make enough of an impact as it’s no cheaper than other laptops in the same price/performance bracket, coming with a hefty RRP of 1,299 euros. There are other options, like the Dell Inspiron, that boast the same specs at a cheaper price with a considerably better battery life, although you do get a pretty crappy screen. Or you can opt for something roughly the same price boasting a superior GTX 1060 with about the same battery life or perhaps even a bit better in some cases.
With all that said it’s still a good laptop in its own right, it just doesn’t do much to stand out from the crowd. My experience with it was generally pretty good, from the quick start-up and snappy Windows navigation to playing games. The build quality is quite good, the specs are solid, the screen is okay and the keyboard is a pleasure to use. It isn’t a bad laptop. It’s just sitting in a crowded market.