When it comes to finding a decent-spec notebook you will be overwhelmed with options. If you’re after something slim and stylish you’re likely to be stung for a hefty premium by Apple, Sony, Samsung and so on. If you’re after something with a decent amount of CPU and GPU horsepower then you’re likely to be dragged into the depths of gaming notebooks (like those made by ASUS, MSI, Alienware and so on) even if you don’t want to game. So where do you go if you’re looking for something in between? Something that has style and is fairly slim but still has a fair amount of performance to allow you to be productive and game? Well PC Specialist are always a good place to start because you can customise just about any base notebook to have anything you want. Today we have a mid-range PC Specialist Cosmos II notebook in for testing and it looks like an epic all-rounder. With a dual core Haswell Core i5, an Nvidia GTX 850M 2GB graphics card, 8GB of RAM and a 1TB SSHD it has a great balance of performance, functionality and most importantly value. The design may be a little plain-Jane for the style conscious notebook buyer but if you’re happy for simplicity then this could be the ideal notebook for you. Below you can see the specifications of our PC Specialist Cosmos II notebook as we have it configured. You can change and configure just about every aspect of the Cosmos II if for whatever reason you need more or less of something.
- Name: PC Specialist Cosmos II
- Case: Cosmos Series
- Motherboard: Generic Intel HM86
- Processor: Intel Core i5 4210M dual core processor
- Processor Cooler: Generic low profile integrated notebook cooling solution
- System Memory: 1 x 8GB Kingston HyperX Impact 1600MHz
- Main Boot Drive: 1TB Seagate Hybrid Gen3 5400RPM SSHD w/ 64MB Cache
- Additional Storage Drive(s): Not included.
- Graphics card: Nvidia GTX 850M 2GB DDR3
- Power Supply: 120W AC adapter
- Optical Drive:Generic 8X DVD-RW/24X CD-RW
- Wireless: Intel N135 802.11N 150mbps and Bluetooth
- Monitor: 15.6 inch matte Full HD LED widescreen (1920 x 1080)
- Peripherals: Integrated chiclet-style keyboard and 2 button touchpad-mouse
- OS: Windows 8.1 64 Bit
- Warranty: 3 Year (1 month collect and return, 1 year parts, 3 years labour)
- Price: £697 including delivery and VAT as configured. (Pricing links on final page of review)
- Weight: 2.6kg
Packaging & Accessories
PC Specialist are no strangers to building and shipping systems and notebooks to customers so I wasn’t surprised to see our review sample come in virtually bomb proof package. Not only is the notebook box well protected inside another outer box, but you also find the notebook comes with more foam protection inside the inner box.
The notebook box comes with a convenient carry handle, if you ever need to move all the parts around or send it back to PC Specialist for repairs then you should definitely keep hold of this.
Included is a 120W AC adapter, 5600 mAh battery, UK power plug, a user guide, a driver & utility DVD and a Nero12 essentials trial version disc.
The included adapter is manufactured by Chicony Power Technology and is good for 120W of output which is required for this notebook.
The required battery provides 62.16 watt hours and is Lithium-Ion.
A Closer Look
The Cosmos II has a very clean design thanks to the matte black/dark grey uniform colour scheme, the deployment of a matte full HD screen is also nice – I for one hate glossy screens on a notebook.
At the top of the screen we find a 2MP webcam with a microphone.
Down below the screen we find the speaker system going across in a sound-bar like way.
The keyboard is chiclet-style and is fairly sturdy although there is a little flex in the centre. The key travel is quite small so the typing experience is quite average but the spacing is fair enough and I like the full size backspace enter and shift keys.
The touchpad offers a left and right clock and a very large trackpad area. The gesture controls on the touchpad appear to be non-existent, I couldn’t get any swipe gestures working when I tested this notebook.
The Cosmos II has a fairly thin profile at just under 2cm thick. The front has some LED lights and an SD card slot.
The right hand side offers audio ports, a kensington lock, a USB 3.0 port, USB 2.0 port and a DVD drive.
The left hand side has the charging port, ventilation outlet, a VGA out, gigabit ethernet, eSATA, HDMI out and a USB 3.0 port.
The hinge on the Cosmos II is fairly strong and the laptop will go back about an additional 45 degrees from being in the upright position.
The top is as plain as you can get, the plastic top has a brushed aluminium effect.
The bottom has four rubber feet, a couple of battery locks and intakes for all the cooling.
We opened the Cosmos II up to show you what the internals look like. You only have to take out two screws and slide the cover towards the battery area to access the internals. Inside everything is easily upgradeable: you can see the 2.5 inch drive, the wireless card, the mSATA slot, the SODIMM slots and even the CMOS battery are all easily accessible.
To test each system or notebook, we want to stress every component to check stability and performance, giving us an idea as to why those particular components were picked for this particular system or notebook. We use a wide variety of software applications to gain the broadest spectrum of results for comparing multiple aspects of performance
- Acoustic dBA meter
- AC “Killawatt” power meter
- 3DMark 11
- AIDA64 Engineer
- Cinebench R11.5
- Cinebench R15
- Passmark PerformanceTest 8.0
- PCMark 8
- Super PI
- Unigine Heaven 4.0
- Unigine Valley 1.0
- Bioshock Infinite
- Metro Last Light
- Tomb Raider
System Performance – PCMark 8
The PCMark 8 Home benchmark includes workloads that reflect common tasks for a typical home user. These workloads have low computational requirements making PCMark 8 Home suitable for testing the performance of low-cost tablets, notebooks and desktops. Home includes workloads for web browsing, writing, gaming, photo editing, and video chat. The results are combined to give a PCMark 8 Home score for your system. Download here.
3DMark and 3DMark11
The new 3DMark includes everything you need to benchmark your hardware. With three all new tests you can bench everything from smartphones and tablets, to notebooks and home PCs, to the latest high-end, multi-GPU gaming desktops. Download here.
3DMark 11 is a DirectX 11 video card benchmark test for Windows that is designed to measure your PC’s gaming performance. 3DMark 11 makes extensive use of DirectX 11 features including tessellation, compute shaders and multi-threading. Download here.
Unigine Heaven and Valley
Heaven Benchmark with its current version 4.0 is a GPU-intensive benchmark that hammers graphics cards to the limits. This powerful tool can be effectively used to determine the stability of a GPU under extremely stressful conditions, as well as check the cooling system’s potential under maximum heat output. It provides completely unbiased results and generates true in-game rendering workloads across all platforms, such as Windows, Linux and Mac OS X. Download here.
Valley Benchmark is a new GPU stress-testing tool from the developers of the very popular and highly acclaimed Heaven Benchmark. The forest-covered valley surrounded by vast mountains amazes with its scale from a bird’s-eye view and is extremely detailed down to every leaf and flower petal. This non-synthetic benchmark powered by the state-of-the art UNIGINE Engine showcases a comprehensive set of cutting-edge graphics technologies with a dynamic environment and fully interactive modes available to the end user. Download here.
Bioshock Infinite, Metro Last Light and Tomb Raider
BioShock Infinite is the third and last game in the BioShock series. It is a first-person shooter video game developed by Irrational Games and published by 2K Games. BioShock Infinite supports dynamic shadows, post-processing, light shafts, ambient occlusion, object level of detail, Diffusion Depth of Detail, FOV adjustment controls and other advanced DirectX 11 features.
Metro Last Light
Metro: Last Light (formerly Metro 2034) is a first-person shooter and horror video game developed by Ukrainian studio 4A Games and published by Deep Silver for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. It was released in May 2013. The game is set in a post-apocalyptic world and features a mixture of action-oriented and stealth gameplay. Metro: Last Light features technology which boasts new lighting effects and improved physics claimed to set a new graphical benchmark on the PC and consoles.
In Tomb Raider, the player is confronted with a much younger Lara Croft who is shipwrecked and finds herself stranded on a mysterious island rife with danger, both natural and human. Tomb Raider is a demanding game offering up ultra quality textures, full DirectX 11 support, SSAA, FXAA, MSAA and AMD TressFX technology.
CPU Performance – Cinebench and SuperPi
Cinebench R11.5 and R15
Cinebench is a widely respected benchmark for testing the performance of x86 CPUs. The program allows you to test single and multi-threaded performance as well as GPU performance by rendering with Open GL. Download here.
Super PI is a single threaded benchmark that calculates pi to a specific number of digits. Super PI is a single threaded benchmark ideal for testing pure, single threaded x87 floating point performance and while most of the computing market has shifted towards multithreaded applications and more modern instruction sets, Super PI still remains quite indicative of CPU capability in specific applications such as computer gaming. Download here.
AIDA64 Engineer is a streamlined Windows diagnostic and benchmarking software for engineers. It has unique capabilities to assess the performance of the processor, system memory, and disk drives. AIDA64 is compatible with all current 32-bit and 64-bit Microsoft Windows operating systems, including Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012. Memory and cache benchmarks are available to analyze system RAM bandwidth and latency. Download here.
SSD, HDD and USB 3.0 Performance
AIDA64 Engineer is a streamlined Windows diagnostic and benchmarking software for engineers. It has unique capabilities to assess the performance of the processor, system memory, and disk drives. AIDA64 Disk Benchmark determines the data transfer speed of hard disk drives, solid-state drives, optical drives, and flash memory based devices. Download here.
CrystalDiskMark is a portable storage drive benchmark utility that enables you to measure sequential and random read/write speeds on different block size data. CrystalDiskMark will work with any storage drives including hard drives, SSDs and USB flash drives. Download here.
Passmark PerformanceTest 8.0
The PassMark Advanced Network Test (which is part of PerformanceTest) is designed to test the data transfer rate between two computers both of which must be running PerformanceTest. One of the computers must act as the server and will sit waiting for a connection. The other computer acts as a client. It connects to the server machine and sends data to it for the duration of the test. You can download a trial version of PerformanceTest fromhere.
For this test we use the ASUS RT-AC68U wireless AC gigabit router and pump data from the test system or notebook through the ASUS router into our Intel Gigabit enabled test system. We connect to the ASUS router with a Cat6 cable when testing ethernet and wirelessly when testing WiFi performance.
Noise, Power Consumption and Temperatures
The amount of noise produced by any computer is a vital consideration for most buyers, even gamers don’t really want a noisy PC because less noise is always better. We use an acoustic dBA meter held 2 feet behind our test system at idle and under load to get the idle and load noise levels for the system. For idle we allow the system to sit at the Windows desktop, for load we let Unigine Heaven 4.0 and Prime95 to loop together – we take the acoustic measurements 5 minutes into both of these scenarios.
To test power consumption we measure the total system power draw during idle and load scenarios. For idle we allow the system to sit at the Windows desktop, for load we let Unigine Heaven 4.0 and Prime95 to loop together – we take the power measurements from the “Killawatt” AC power meter 5 minutes into both of these scenarios at the same point.
To test thermal performance we measure average CPU and GPU core temperatures during idle and load scenarios. For idle we allow the system to sit at the Windows desktop, for load we let Unigine Heaven 4.0 and Prime95 to loop together – we take the temperature measurements from within CPUID HWMonitor 5 minutes into both of these scenarios at the same point. For load we take the average of the maximum temperatures, for idle we take the average of the minimum temperatures.
Powermark is designed for professional testing labs. More than 500 leading hardware review sites use Powermark to measure battery life. Powermark delivers accurate results from realistic productivity and entertainment scenarios yet is easy to install and simple to use. Custom settings and command line options are included should you need them. Find out more here.
The PC Specialist Cosmos II starts from £470 including VAT and delivery, the configuration we reviewed costs £697. You can configure just about every aspect of the PC Specialist Cosmos II with the system configurator page here. The Cosmos II comes with a standard 3 year warranty which offers 1 month collect & return, 1 year parts and 3 years labour. The warranty can also be upgraded in the system configuration.
As a special offer to our readers PC Specialist are offering the Cosmos II notebook, as configured for this review, for an impressive £649. If you’re interested in purchasing the Cosmos II we strongly recommend you to take advantage of this special discount. You can buy the PC Specialist Cosmos II with the special eTeknix review price of £649 by using this link.
PC Specialist’s Cosmos II is a brilliant versatile notebook. The phrase “it does what it says on the tin” is very apt here, there are no surprises or things hidden away you just get a well built and well configured notebook. The configuration we were sent is great, the combination of the dual core i5 processor and the Nvidia GTX 850M offers up solid gaming performance, snappy CPU performance and still gives you great battery life of over 4 hours under constant usage. This may not seem like much but from our testing this put the Cosmos II on par with a Samsung Ativ book “ultrabook” style notebook, except the Cosmos II has significantly more performance and screen real estate, and while we’re on the subject of the screen kudos to PC Specialist for the matte finish because it looks great! While the Cosmos II isn’t a “bargain basement” 15.6 inch laptop, like the kind you see on deal websites like HotUKDeals for £300~, it does offer outstanding value for money. For £700 (or just £649 using the eTeknix review link) you have a notebook that is capable of being a gaming notebook, a workstation, a media centre or even just something powerful to take with you to university or college. Being someone who recently came out of university I am quite sad I didn’t have something like this to get me through. It has enough storage and power for the kind of business applications we had to run (like ArcGIS) but it is also light enough at 2.7kg to be carried around without much difficulty.I also like the easy-upgradeability of the Cosmos II. As we mentioned you can take the bottom panel off with just two screws and you can easily upgrade or change the RAM, the 2.5 inch drive, the wireless card, the mSATA device and so on.
On the down side there are a few things that are worth mentioning. This notebook does attract finger prints on the bottom, although the top is fairly finger print resistant and that’s the part you see the most so that’s good. Secondly, the keyboard is a bit lacking in tactile feedback which is fairly common for most notebooks in the sub-£1000 price range. The key spacing on the keyboard is nice and they also offer lots of function keys which comes in handy but the keyboard could be better quality, LED backlighting would be a great option for them to add too. The trackpad also wasn’t the most inspiring, I found the lack of swipe gestures a bit of a pain in Windows 8.1 especially considering the display isn’t touch either. However, on the whole the trackpad was still fairly responsive and the mouse buttons offered a good tactile feedback. Again, like the integrated keyboard, you can’t actually change the trackpad which is a little disappointing seeing as everything else is customisable. I don’t like the inclusion of Bullguard antivirus software as it interferes with a lot of programs and is quite irritating. In my testing I found that Bullguard actually throttled the speed of the ethernet, once I uninstalled Bullguard ethernet performance more than doubled. However, in the system configuration tab PC Specialist do give the option to choose no AV software and you can easily uninstall it if you do end up getting a notebook with it on. The 1TB SSHD was perhaps the “weakest link” in the Cosmos II, even with an SSHD cache the fact it was only 5400 RPM meant performance was fairly average. Although I will say that the SSD cache does help with boot times, they were surprisingly fast easily taking less than 30 seconds, and generally speaking most applications felt like they were on an SSD. The only issues come when you’re installing, writing, editing or copying large files that exceed the SSD cache, then you’ll notice it is a 5400 RPM mechanical hard drive at heart.
- Competitive pricing – nothing can match this at its price point
- Good all rounder – gaming, productivity, everyday tasks
- Fairly thin and light for a 15.6 inch notebook
- Easily upgradeable
- Highly customisable
- Average keyboard and trackpad
- The 5400RPM 1TB SSHD can be a bottleneck sometimes
- Styling is fairly plain and minimalist
“The PC Specialist Cosmos II is a powerful notebook “all-rounder” that is capable of meeting the needs of a modern PC user. Sensible component selection, great value for money, clean design choices and great performance make the Cosmos II a definitive choice for its price point. ”
Thanks to PC Specialist for providing this review sample.