The Helix isn’t perfect, and its screen and battery life are adequate rather than impressive. However, it manages to provide high-end performance at a competitive mid-range price, and will appeal to gamers who want a laptop that won’t break the bank – or their back.
Gaming laptops are often built like tanks, but when nVidia unveiled its GTX 800M series of graphics processors earlier this year it promised that the power-efficient chips would make it possible to develop a new generation of slimmer, lighter gaming laptops. See also: Best gaming laptops: 6 best power laptops for games reviewed.
It’s taken a while for these new laptops to surface, but following our recent review of Gigabyte’s impressive P35W v2 we now have another relatively sleek gaming laptop in the form of the 17-inch Chillblast Helix.
The 2.66 kg Helix is a little heavier than its Gigabyte rival (2.5 kg), and you certainly won’t want to carry it around in a backpack all day. Even so, it’s only slightly heavier than many 15-inch Windows laptops, and its 21.8 mm chassis makes it easy to pick up and carry.
The slimline design does mean that Chillblast has jettisoned the DVD drive, so you’ll need to find a USB drive if you’re installing games from optical disc.
The chassis is nice and sturdy, and provides good support for the 17.3-inch screen. We also liked the feel of the keyboard, which has a nice, firm action on the keys – although moving the Windows key over to the right of the Space bar – while common to gaming laptops – still feels odd to us and took a little while to get used to.
Connectivity is good, with four USB 3.0 ports, and two Mini DisplayPort interfaces along with HDMI for connecting to a larger display. There are also separate ports for headphone, microphone and external speakers, although the internal speakers provide plenty of volume and even a fairly respectable bass sound, so you can play games or listen to a few songs without needing to plug in another set of speakers. (See also: the 15 best laptops: the best laptops you can buy in 2014.)
Chillblast Helix review – display
We weren’t particularly impressed by the screen, though. As we’ve come to expect for this size, the 17.3-inch screen provides 1920 x 1080-pixel resolution, but it’s not as bright as we liked and viewing angles taper off noticeably at around 120 degrees.
It’s adequate for streaming video and web browsing, and you can lurch from side-to-side a bit during hectic gaming sessions without losing sight of your target, but we’d hope for greater brightness and contrast from a laptop costing over £1000.
Battery life was relatively short too, giving us just 3 hours and 45 minutes of streaming video – even when we switched to the less power-hungry integrated HD 4600 graphics. But, of course, a laptop of this size and weight isn’t going to stray too far from a mains socket, but that’s about long enough to crash on the couch and watch three episodes of Game Of Thrones between charges.
Crucially though, the Chillblast Helix delivers the goods better it comes to speed performance. Our review unit came hot off the production line with a quad-core Intel Core i7 running at 2.5 GHz, 8 GB memory, nVidia GeForce GTX 870M graphics, and both a 120 GB Samsung 840 EVO solid-state drive and 1 TB hard disk.
Chillblast Helix review – benchmarks
Ordinarily, that conventional hard drive would be something of a performance bottleneck, but the SSD restores performance considerably, allowing the Helix to restore from suspend in 9 seconds when using the Windows 8 fast-start option, and to hit a decent score of 5710 points in the PCMark 7 system benchmark test.
We’ve seen higher scores – many gaming laptops exceed 6000 points with that particular benchmark – but only from more expensive laptops using larger, dedicated solid-state drives.
Its scores of 3014 and 3400 points in the Home and Work suites of PCMark 8 also suggest that the Helix is more than capable of handling a wide range of demanding tasks.
But of course, it’s gaming performance that really counts here. And while the GTX 870M used by the Helix isn’t quite top-of-the-range it still provides speeds that will satisfy all but the most hard-core gamers.
It breezed to 142 fps when running our Stalker: Call of Pripyat casual gaming test at native 1920 x 1080 resolution.
We then tried the more demanding Batman: Arkham City test. That game defaults to 1600 x 900 resolution with DirectX 11 turned off, which produced a smooth 55 fps, but turning DX11 on and stepping up to 1920 x 1080 with all graphics settings on High only caused that score to dip slightly to 50 fps. (See also: the 15 best laptops: the best laptops you can buy in 2014.)
Chillblast Helix: Specs
- 17.3-inch (1920 x 1080 pixel, 127.34 ppi) matt anti-glare TN display
- 2.5 GHz Intel Core i7-4710HQ (3.5 GHz Turbo)
- Intel HD Graphics 4600 + nVidia GeForce GTX 870M (2 GB)
- Windows 8.1 (64-bit)
- 8 GB DDR3L RAM
- 120 GB Samsung 840 EVO mSATA SSD + 1 TB hard disk
- 802.11b/g/n/ac with 2×2 MIMO (Intel Centrino 7260)
- Bluetooth 4.0
- 1x HDMI 1.4, 2x DisplayPort
- gigabit ethernet
- 4 x USB 3.0
- SDXC card slot
- 720p webcam/microphone
- 1x headphone, 1x microphone socket, 1x line-out
- 60 Wh lithium-ion battery
- 419 x 287 x 21.8 mm
- 2.66 kg