Gaming laptops have come a long way in the last five or so years. Huge gains in GPU/CPU efficiency and power have made it possible to transform the formerly chunky and heavy gaming form-factor into a sleek and comparatively thin package. As gamers get older, there is also a growing market for laptops that don't look like a young boy's cyberpunk wet dream... and a shift for a design aesthetic that is understated but pulsing with real power without the need to overtly show garish bling.
My most recent laptop has been the Dell XPS 15, as I got sick of the chunky and heavy gaming laptops that were previously available. The earlier generation of gaming laptops also tended to run hot and loud in addition to skimping on things like decent keyboards and mousepads which would make anything other than gaming a real pain in the arse! On the other hand, that wasn't abnormal for Windows laptops of that era to have really bad input devices...
Fast forward to the latest generation of gaming laptops that are elegant in style and form factor, whilst packing a huge amount of performance under the hood as well! XMG have long been known in Europe for their configurable machines with a focus on gaming hardware, and with the Fusion 15 (an Intel collaboration also known as MAG-15) it is attempting to blend productivity laptops (like the XPS series) with pure gaming power!
Needless to say, as I was going to have a laptop upgrade this year, this was the sort of laptop that caught my eye. Mechanical Keyboard, Windows Precision mousepad, 144 Hz IPS screen, RTX 2070 Max-Q, i7-9750H, 2 M.2 Storage slots, upgrade-able RAM and a 93Whr battery! This machine is the blending of the two worlds, with little in the way of compromise! Plus, XMG/Schenker have stellar after-sales support via their Reddit forum!
Out of the box, the Fusion 15 is sleek and mean looking machine. Weighing in at just under 2 kilograms, there is little in the way of external branding. If you tilt the lid just right, you can catch a glimpse of the XMG logo... a slightly different black on the black lid! Nice!
It is also a solid feeling machine, with metal (Magensium alloy) in all the right places. Just holding this machine, you can feel that it really means business!
On the underside is the access panel to various upgradeable components. In this day and age, too many laptops have gone for soldered and non-user accessible innards, which limits their flexibility and give the manufacturers a nice profit margin on "upgrades". Here, you can pretty much rip out everything except for the CPU and GPU... everything else is fair game! Even the battery!
You can see that they have also opened out a great deal of the underside for fan intake... two fans bringing in air from the bottom through so much grill space allows for some serious airflow to the vapour chambers and then out the sides and back.
On most gaming and productivity laptops, you want to have a decent range of port selections. The crazy thin and light ultrabooks tend to make you use dongles everywhere... but if you have a beast of a machine, you want the best of everything. Along the right hand side you have two USB 3.1 (Gen 1) ports and a full size SD card reader.
So many laptops drop the SD card reader... but for a musician, it is really handy to have these o be able to transfer audio from recording devices! Or Screenshots from the Nintendo Switch!
On the back is the power port (it is my first laptop with a rear mounted power input, good for desks... not sure yet about laps...), Ethernet and HDMI 2.0 ports. I don't tend to attach a secondary monitor, but it is nice to have that option... as are LAN connections!
In addition there is the USB type C port as well, a nice little bonus there!
... and finally, around the left hand side is the Mic and Headphone I/O and the last USB 3.1 port (this time, Gen 2) with power delivery.
So, as I mentioned before... my most recent reference laptop was the XPS-15 from Dell. The XPS is an amazingly built machine that is geared towards productivity with light gaming ability... and a phenomenal build quality!
The footprints of the two machines is pretty much identical... but the XPS has a slightly sleeker curve around the edges. The Fusion has more boxy sides that give it a clunkier look, not unpleasant... but more utilitarian. Otherwise, the thickness is pretty much similar.
The XPS is heavier though... slightly, but noticeably. It has more metal in the body than the Fusion and it shows in the weight of the machine. However, the build quality and flex of the screen is much stiffer in the XPS... it is the only part of the XMG build that I would have preferred to have been a bit better. Stiffer hinges for the screen and less wobble when the screen is out.
It is great that there is a nice feeling touchpad with Windows Precision drivers.... the XPS was the first laptop that I used with the WP touchpad, and it makes the old mushy and unresponsive touchpads of cheaper Windows laptops unusable. However, for some reason, the mousepad is just a little off centre, to the left... at least in comparison to the spacebar. I'm not sure why that is... but it is a little weird. But I will survive!
The keyboard is also something to write about as well... Mechanical Switches! No more mushy typing... real, solid haptic feedback from the keys... I LOVE IT!
... something hat you may have not noticed, but that I REALLY appreciate is the lack of the Intel/Nvidia stickers for branding. I hate having those stickers on my machines... and they are often just whacked on the keyboard area. The stickers are included in the box, if you REALLY have to have them. The clean black space makes the machine look that little bit more hungry and mean....
There is a pretty small package of extras, manuals and drivers. There is the obligatory type C dongle... which isn't really necessary for this laptop and drivers (on the USB stick) for the hardware (which can also be downloaded from the OEM website). These laptops are soft on the bloatware... but it does mean that you need to keep the hardware firmware updated yourself!
Included in the package were some software keys for some pretty awesome games like Gears Tactics. Unfortunately, these were keys for the Microsoft Store... which isn't my preferred gaming platform, however, free keys are free keys!
The power brick is a little bit on the larger side of things, so it is an additional piece of luggage for when you are travelling. However, if you are just out and about and using the laptop as a productivity machine, the huge battery will have you covered for the day.
The screen is a beautiful IPS, 144Hz screen with a good brightness to it. It is "only" 1080p, but that is a perfect match for the graphics card. No point having a high refresh screen if your GPU is struggling to pump out enough 4K pixels to make use of it. At the moment, I would have to say that 1080p is a nice sweet spot for 144Hz monitors paired with a decent mid-high range GPU like the RTX2070... for 4K, you will need at least the latest 3XXX series cards.... and that will cost you!
The only "extra" piece of software is a light control interface for the XMG/Schenker hardware. It's nice to have a laptop with minimal bloatware... no one likes spending the first hour of a laptop set up removing all sorts of crapware!
You are able to have per-key lighting on the keyboard in RGB! There are various presets and profiles... or you can create your own. In the end, I found one that I liked and that was also functional... I did like the more responsive or breathing style of backlights... but they are actually not that useful when you are typing in the dark! Having the key light up AFTER you hit it... well, it's cool... but not when you can't see the key that you want to hit!
The only "gamer" bling to the whole machine is a LED light bar on the front side, near the mouse pad. You can set this to various programs as well. I have mine fluctuating between a pulsing glow and just plain OFF. It is a really nice effect, but I find that in dark rooms, it is a bit too bright... I wish there was a way to lower the brightness levels of this particular feature!
In addition to BIOs level undervolting (the machine ships with a safe factory undervolt), there is the ability to set power and fan profiles. The power profiles are really quite useful for the times that you need to switch between being a full gaming beast and a more productivity focus.
Meanwhile, the fan profiles are useful for keeping the laptop cool or silent.... depending on your use case and external environment (are you in a library?....). Keep in mind that a more silent profile might result in a higher internal temperature which will then kick the fans into overdrive when the fan threshold is reached!
One really nice feature is that you can also set the level at which the battery will begin to charge, instead of keeping it constantly topped up and charging from full capacity. This will help lengthen the lifetime of the battery... again, a nice enthusiast level tweak from a company that knows it's audience!
So, this is the current load-out of my Fusion... fairly modest, but with room to kit out the RAM and storage easily. Temps run relatively cool for a gaming laptop, but I did notice that they had set the thermal throttling (viewing via CPU-Z) on the lower side in comparison to other gaming laptops (and even the XPS15). I don't really notice too much the throttling as it doesn't seem to be too aggressive when it starts to trigger, so I guess it is a good implementation to try and get some extra thermal headroom and longevity!
All keyboards have their own little quirks... and some are just that little bit more annoying than others. Of course, some of them will be tamed when your muscle memory gets the hang of the new layout. The slightly odd feature of this ISO keyboard was the extra key on the left of the ENTER key. Normally, there are only two keys on the left of the ENTER, but they have moved the "" key to this location... It took me a couple of weeks, but I have now stopped hitting the wrong keys in my right hand!
... and so my favourite backlight setting is RAINBOW! Arrived at after much consultation with my kids!
Wrapping up, the Fusion 15 is currently the best "fusion" of the productivity and gaming worlds in laptops. Decent build quality, user upgradeable components, great 144Hz performance on a lovely IPS screen, stellar IO in the form of mechanical keyboard and Windows Precision touchpad... and capped with a near flight limit 93 Whr battery (similar to the XPS 15).
This is a machine that is both a pleasure to game on and to write or edit audio on. I have very little in the way of complaints.... just little niggles about the sturdiness of the screen hinge, which I wished was of the same build quality as the XPS.
Now, there was some discussion about the potential upgrading of the Intel CPU and the Nvidia card to the Super version of the RTX 2070 Max-Q... however, in the end, the gains were incremental and XMG decided against it to keep with volume efficiency rather than minor performance gains. I think it was a decent choice... of course, it is nice to have the latest and greatest, but there is also the concept of diminishing returns! However, we will have to see what they will plan for Ryzen/AMD and the new Nvidia 3XXX series.... until then, this is one mean and powerful machine... that also looks the part, in it's understated black shroud!
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