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Maingear Pulse 14 review

A barebones gaming laptop without the barebones price

Maingear Pulse 14 review

Where the Pulse 14 falls dimensions-wise makes sense: Maingear is focused on price-per-part value over a cutting-edge design or materials. I'm sure that's at least half the reason why the company uses MSI barebones laptop cases.

As far as 14-inch gaming laptops go, the Pulse 14 isn't the thinnest or lightest around, at 3.8 pounds (1.72kg) and 13.31 x 9.5 x 1 inches, or 338 x 241.3 x 25.4mm (W x D x H). But it's by no means the chunkiest.

That might fall to the Alienware 14, at a hefty 6.16 pounds (2.77kg) and a thick 13.3 x 10.17 x 1.6 inches (335 x 258.35 x 41.7mm). Meanwhile, the Gigabyte P34G measures 13.4 x 9.4 x 0.83 inches (340.36 x 238.76 x 21.08mm) and weighs 3.9 pounds (1.76kg).

Maingear Pulse 14 review

Even with going the third-party route for its case, the Maingear Pulse 14 might not offer the best value around. Here is the Maingear Pulse 14 configuration given to TechRadar:

Spec sheet

  • CPU: 2.2GHz Intel Core i7-4702MQ (quad-core, 6MB cache, up to 3.2GHz with Turbo Boost)
  • Graphics: Nvidia GeForce GTX 850M (2GB GDDR5 VRAM); Intel HD Graphics 4600
  • RAM: 8GB DDR3 (1,866MHz, 2 x 4GB)
  • Screen: 14-inch, 1920 x 1080 FHD with AHVA
  • Storage: 500GB, 5,400 rpm SSHD hybrid with 8GB SSD cache
  • Ports: 2 x USB 3.0, USB 2.0, VGA (15-pin, D-Sub), HDMI 1.4, Mic-in, Headphone-out, SD card reader
  • Connectivity: Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6230 802.11n Wi-Fi (Killer Wireless N - Ultimate Wireless Network Accelerator), Bluetooth
  • Camera: 2MP, 720p Webcam
  • Weight: 3.8 pounds (on average)
  • Size: 13.31 x 9.5 x 1 inches (W x D x H)

The configuration you see above is what Maingear calls the "Better" setup for the Pulse 14, and it calls for $1,399 (about £825, AU$1,497). The company offers a low end version for $1,199 (around £703, AU$1,274). With that, you would lose the solid-state drive cache for a 500GB, 7,200 rpm drive, be bumped down to a dual-core Core i5 chip and suffer a small frequency hit to the RAM (1,600MHz).

Maingear Pulse 14 review

Looking for the best possible Pulse 14? Then you'll have to pony up a whopping $1,699 (about £996, AU$1,806) for the same CPU as the mid-range model, double the memory and a 256GB SSD (2 x 128GB in SuperRAID), 1TB HDD combo. Oh, and the same video card is offered across all configurations – strange indeed.

Now, when you consider the Alienware 14 comes in at just $40 less – $1,359 (around £797, AU$1,444) – for last year's GTX 750M, this Pulse 14 looks like a decent value. But Alienware also offers a slightly beefier Core i7-4710MQ chip, while essentially matching Maingear part for part elsewhere, in one of the industry's leading builds replete with custom keyboard and frame lighting. Plus, a GPU refresh from Alienware is inevitable.

It's really the Gigabyte P34G that throws Maingear's pricing into question. For $1,549 (about £908, AU$1,646) on Amazon, its only configuration, the recently-revised 14-incher sports a superior GTX 860M GPU, a slightly slower Core i7-4700MQ processor, 8GB of RAM and a massive 128GB SSD, 1TB HDD combo. Plus, the P34G is thinner and lighter than either laptop, and touts a backlit keyboard and easy overclocking software to boot. All that for just another $150? Not too shabby. And you might be able to find last year's model for around the same price as Maingear's.

Maingear Pulse 14 review

What Maingear touts as a differentiator in its notebooks is the custom paint jobs the company offers, which look gorgeous – I've seen them on previous models. But are they an extra $99 (around £58, AU$105) gorgeous? I'm not so sure. Sadly, our review unit was without any such glamor.

Even worse is that, for this price, the Pulse 14 has little in the way of extra features. No backlit keyboard here, even. (Though, it does come bloatware-free.) What you're getting for $1,400 isn't all that comparable to the competition. At any rate, let's take a look at how the laptop.