Since 2011, Illegear has been supplying Malaysians with laptops based on many of the world’s best boutique manufacturers such as Clevo and Gigabyte. Featuring highly customisable parts that are built to order, Illegear gives gaming enthusiasts and even industry professionals an alternative to OEM manufacturers such as Dell or ASUS where the number of configurations for a given laptop model is often quite limited.
The S4 is the latest addition to the Illegear lineup, joining its 15-inch and 17-inch siblings, the S5 and S7. Does it have the horsepower to satisfy its demanding customers?
Upon unboxing the S4, I was immediately struck by how small it was. For a laptop boasting a potent GTX 970M, just a step below the benchmark GTX 980M, the 1-inch thick S4 is thinner than many budget laptops with far inferior specs.
Dressed up in an all-black matte design, the S4 is a welcome departure from loud, garish designs that laptops such as Acer’s Predator line or ASUS’s G series laptop embody. With only the distinct Illegear branding on its back, the S4 wouldn’t look out of place in an office. While the lid is made out of aluminium, the rest of the laptop’s body is constructed out of plastic. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as the entire laptop feels incredibly sturdy, with nary a hint of flex.
The S4 features a backlit, chicklet-style keyboard with a pretty comfortable layout. The keys don’t feature much travel, which is expected on a thin and light laptop like this, but they’re reasonably responsive and after a day with it, we had pretty much gotten used to it. The WASD keys are basically the only things that give away its gaming credentials, featuring red carat arrows. Despite the reduced size, navigational keys such as the Home and End buttons are featured on the right side, though the arrow keys do eat into the right shift key. The speaker grill sits above the keyboard, with the power button snug in the middle.
The trackpad is pretty large, and it also comes with two dedicated keys, which is always welcome in a sea of clickpads. It also helps that the keys feature pretty decent tactile feedback, making them a pleasure to use.
Despite its relatively slim profile, there is an abundance of ports to be found on both sides of the machine, ensuring all your devices have a home on the S4.
DECENT SCREEN AND AUDIO
The 14-inch screen on the S4 is a 1080p LCD panel, and it’s one of the better ones on the market. There is practically no backlight bleed anywhere on the panel, and colour reproduction is relatively good.
The anti-glare coating also means you can use the S4 in virtually any lighting condition without fear of reflections, which is an absolute boon compared to reflective displays like the one on the Razer Blade. One sore spot though is the relative dimness of the panel; when I first booted it up, we tried to up the brightness, only to discover it was already maxed out! Its weak brightness also means that despite its anti-glare coating, it can be hard to see the screen if you’re out in direct sunlight, or are sitting in front of a window.
Surprisingly though, even though it’s a pretty small machine, the audio from the S4 is actually quite good; it doesn’t have a subwoofer, but manages to output really rich sound with a really good soundscape. The volume also gets relatively loud, which is great when sharing multimedia with multiple friends. You’ll still want to get dedicated headphones or speakers, but in a pinch, the onboard speakers do an excellent job.
Well, this is the section that we’re all here for, and suffice to say, the S4 does not disappoint: featuring one of Nvidia’s’s best mobile graphics chip, the GTX 970M, the S4 basically laid low almost all of its competition. Even on its native resolution of 1920 x 1080, games ran buttery smooth, allowing me to achieve over 60 FPS even on high and very high settings.
Even on newer games like Fallout 4, setting the graphics to Ultra only dropped the frame rates to around 45, which was still perfectly playable. However, the chip, released almost 2 years ago, is starting to show its age as games such as The Division was barely able to break 30 FPS on the highest settings.
Additionally, the GTX 970M is still unable to truly take advantage of 4K; testing it on an external monitor, I wasn’t able to get past 20 FPS in most modern games on high settings, forcing me to drop the quality to achieve playable frame rates. If you’re looking to play on 4K, you might want to wait for Nvidia’s latest X80 chips.
Where the S4 impressed was despite its small footprint, GPU-z showed that there was no throttling whatsoever even at full load. This can also be seen during gameplay as there was almost no stutter even after hours of gaming. The system components also ran comparatively cool thanks to the twin exhausts found on the back of the machine, only reaching around 65 degrees Celsius.
The S4 is a great indication of things to come; with newer, more efficient chipsets, manufacturers are now able to churn out machines that can play even the most demanding games without weighing like a tank.
What they need to work on, however, is battery life. Even with brightness at 50%, and only running productivity apps, the S4 gave up the ghost after only about 150 minutes. The S4 may be light, but leaving the house without the huge charging brick may not be an option.
Of course, being a gaming laptop, battery life may not be such a huge concern to you, and the S4 is one of the best thin and light laptops on the market today. If portability is a concern for your gaming habits, the S4 may find a new home on your desk.
Verdict: Small and light gaming machine
Total Score: 8.4/10