Reviews: Gaming

Aftershock Helix makes a decent ultrabook debut

Aftershock's Helix has plenty of ports and connectors - unusual for an ultrabook. The key feature is the Thunderbolt 3 port that lets the Helix connect to the optional eGPU.
Aftershock's Helix has plenty of ports and connectors - unusual for an ultrabook. The key feature is the Thunderbolt 3 port that lets the Helix connect to the optional eGPU.PHOTO: AFTERSHOCK

This competitively priced model can become something greater but is still a work in progress

A gaming PC outfit decides to branch out into mainstream computers with an ultrabook - portable but not gaming-grade. But this ultrabook can run the latest video games, if it is connected to an optional external graphics card enclosure (eGPU for short).

If you had guessed that I am talking about Razer, which launched the Blade Stealth ultrabook and the Razer Core graphics dock last year, you'd be correct.

However, it can also describe local custom PC builder Aftershock, which is following Razer's playbook by introducing its own ultrabook, as well as selling an eGPU from a third-party manufacturer.

The Aftershock Helix ultrabook is slim with a silver aluminium chassis. It is handy enough for a 13.3-inch laptop, but there are far slimmer and lighter ones. It is not a unibody design as I could see the seams where the bottom plate of the laptop can be removed.

It looks almost generic with its nondescript design. It also feels slightly dated. The bezel around the screen seems like something from 2015, and not the ultra-thin version found on the newest ultrabooks.

The touchpad is relatively small, an issue that is exacerbated by its distinct button row.

The keyboard, though, has decent key travel. Its backlight has four adjustable levels of brightness.

  • TECH SPECS

    PRICE: $1,399

    PROCESSOR: Intel Core i7-7500U (2.7GHz)

    GRAPHICS: Intel HD Graphics 620

    RAM: 8GB DDR4

    SCREEN SIZE: 13 inches, 1,920 x 1,080 pixels

    CONNECTIVITY: 1 x Thunderbolt 3 port, 2 x USB 3.1, mini-DisplayPort, HDMI, Ethernet, SD card slot, audio jacks

    BATTERY: 36 watt-hour

    RATING

    FEATURES: 4/5

    DESIGN: 3/5

    PERFORMANCE: 3/5

    BATTERY LIFE: 4/5

    VALUE FOR MONEY: 4/5

    OVERALL: 3/5

My review unit comes with a 1,920 x 1,080-pixel IPS screen. It offers very good viewing angles and colours look vibrant and accurate. However, I would have preferred a slightly brighter display.

Unusually for an ultrabook, the Helix has plenty of ports and connectors. The Ethernet LAN port and SD card slot are especially useful. The key feature, though, is the Thunderbolt 3 port that lets the Helix connect to the optional eGPU.

The Akitio Node eGPU (no graphics card included) sold by Aftershock is already being sold at a few local stores, though, from my research, it is cheaper to buy from Aftershock at $399.

It is a no-frills enclosure that holds a single full-length graphics card. It connects to the Helix (and other compatible Windows 10 laptops) via the Thunderbolt 3 interface. Its 400W power supply unit can support a high-end graphics card. In fact, the unit that Aftershock loaned me for testing has Nvidia's powerful GeForce GTX 1080 graphics card installed.

Unlike other such enclosures, the Node does not come with extra USB, LAN ports or fancy LEDs. On the other hand, it is more affordable than rivals like the Asus ROG XG Station 2 ($888).

In Crysis 3, the Helix, assisted by the GTX 1080 in the Node, managed around 68 frames per second at the highest setting. The game would have been unplayable without it.

However, the Node's internal cooling fans are fairly audible while running. The Helix, too, does not run silently - its fan spins up during more intensive computing tasks.

In general PC performance, the Helix scored 3,320 in PCMark 10, compared with 3,438 for the similar Acer Swift 3. Despite its relatively modest 36 watt-hour battery, the Helix lasted a decent 6hr 17min in our video-loop battery test.

In typical Aftershock fashion, the Helix is priced competitively at $1,399 for an Intel Core i7 model with 8GB of system memory and a 250GB solid-state drive (SSD).

Upgrading to a 4K display adds $135 to the bill.

•The Helix is a decent, inexpensive ultrabook with the potential to become more than that with its eGPU accessory. But there is still much work to be done before it can compete with the industry's bigger names.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 28, 2017, with the headline 'Aftershock Helix makes a decent ultrabook debut'. Print Edition | Subscribe