PowerSpec is far from a household name, even among gamers who will be considering the PowerSpec 1510 gaming laptop ($1,199), but it’s a name that rings true in this case. The laptop’s specs (an Intel Core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM, and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 graphics card) are indeed powerful, and when you consider the price, this PC represents an excellent value. In fact, one of the only laptops that comes close to matching its blend of price and performance is the PowerSpec 1710, a 17-inch version with identical specs and similar performance, and a price tag that’s just $100 higher. But here’s the catch: You can only buy it in a Micro Center store, which are located mostly in the Midwest and on the East Coast.
Powerful and Inexpensive, but Kind of Boring
Undoubtedly powerful and relatively inexpensive, the PowerSpec 1510nevertheless lacks one thing that the PowerSpec 1710 mostly manages to pull off: a good-looking enclosure. There is little to adorn the bulky, somewhat tired-looking chassis of this 15-inch rig other than copious amounts of black plastic and a tiny silver border around the ports and the air intake on the rear edge. To add to the blandness, the entire package looks bulky. It measures 1.25 by 15.25 by 10.75 inches (HWD), making it 25 percent thicker than its otherwise larger sibling, which measures 1 by 16.5 by 11 inches. It weighs 6.25 pounds, or about 1.5 pounds less than its larger sibling.
There are further aspects of the design that give away the PowerSpec 1510’s low price, such as the lack of paint on the port labels. Even in a brightly lit room, you’ll have to squint to make out the markings, which are simply etched into the plastic. This practice is not uncommon on laptops, and most gamers are probably able to identify a port’s function by sight, but it’s still worth noting, since the PowerSpec 1710 includes clearly readable labels.
The actual port selection is generous, especially considering the inclusion of two USB-C ports on the left edge and three display outputs (two Mini DisplayPort and one HDMI). Unfortunately, there is no support for Thunderbolt 3 for connecting a speedy external drive that you might be storing your massive game collection on. Fortunately, there’s adequate space across the internal storage—a 1TB hard drive and 250GB NVMe M.2 SSD—to store smaller collections. The PowerSpec 1710 does have Thunderbolt 3 support.
Other I/O options include two USB 3.0 ports on the left edge and one on the right, in addition to an audio input and output, a headphone jack, a gigabit Ethernet port, and a full-size SD card slot.
As unimpressive as the PowerSpec 1510’s bulky case might look, it is luckily able to accommodate a much more effective cooling system than the one in the PowerSpec 1710, which means that it suffers from almost none of its sibling’s cooling problems. I’ll address the cooling capabilities later when I talk about gaming performance, but just know that if you plan to game on your lap, you should forget about looks and buy a laptop like this one that’s not going to feel like it’s burning a hole in your thighs.
The 15.6-inch, full HD (1,920-by-1,080) display comes with a matte finish to guard against glare from the lights in your gaming den. It’s pretty effective, although I noticed a few more reflections in this screen than I did in the matte display on the PowerSpec 1710. Thanks to In-Plane Switching (IPS) technology, colors stay accurate and text remains readable even when you view it from extreme angles. To help reduce the annoying tearing effect while playing graphics-intensive titles, the display comes with Nvidia’s G-Sync technology to synchronize the screen’s refresh rate with the frame rate from the GTX 1070 graphics card.
The three-zone RGB backlit keyboard includes a numpad and full-sized directional keys, which are two luxuries common on larger laptops but sadly missing from most of today’s consumer ultraportables. Key travel is good and the sturdy case means that there’s almost zero keyboard flex, but the switches are slightly wobbly. They’re fine for casual gaming sessions while you’re traveling, but for more serious ones at home you’ll want to connect an external keyboard and mouse.
Although the touchpad isn’t clickable, it’s generously sized, accurate, and quite responsive—so responsive, in fact, that I did not need to crank up the sensitivity using the Windows Settings app like I often do. As an added bonus, there’s a fingerprint reader located between the touchpad’s right- and left-click buttons, a feature that’s missing from the PowerSpec 1710.
The HD webcam takes high-quality video that’s perfectly adequate for streaming your gaming sessions to Twitch. There are no built-in IR sensors, however, which means no logging into your Windows account using face recognition. When it’s time to take a break from gaming to watch some YouTube videos, the stereo speakers will offer pleasingly crisp audio since they’re located in the display hinge and angled slightly so they’re facing you.
Wireless connectivity includes 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.1. Oddly, there’s a SIM card slot on the left edge. There’s no cellular modem, though, so the useless slot is perhaps a vestige of the capabilities of whichever laptop this case held before PowerSpec chose it. Note that you cannot customize the laptop before you buy it; as with the PowerSpec 1510, there’s only one configuration.
PowerSpec includes a one-year parts and labor warranty.
The PowerSpec 1510 has enough graphics horsepower to give you a smooth and immersive gaming experience, even if you play the latest titles on their highest-quality settings at the maximum resolution (1,920 by 1,080) that its screen supports. I recorded frame rates of about 100 frames per second (fps) on our Heaven and Valley game simulations running at Ultra quality and maximum resolution. We generally regard 30fps as the minimum and 60fps as the comfortable level, so the PowerSpec 1510 has a significant cushion in case your favorite games are more demanding than our tests.
Our 3DMark benchmark tests, which spit out proprietary scores, are further evidence of the PowerSpec 1510’s gaming prowess. The laptop achieved a best-in-class score on the grueling Fire Strike Extreme test (7,819), far outpacing its similarly priced competitors, which mostly are equipped with GTX 1050 Ti GPUs. In fact, all of its gaming benchmark results are best-in-class, edging out even the identically powered PowerSpec 1710, in part because that machine has more pixels to power.
Even better, I noticed none of the heat problems that I experienced with the PowerSpec 1710, with its case bottom that reached temperatures in excess of 100 degrees when I tested it. The PowerSpec 1510’s fans did spool up considerably during the gaming tests, but the bottom and sides of the case were comfortably warm to the touch. That should offer quite a bit of headroom if you plan to overclock the GPU, which you can do using the pre-installed software.
The major thing you won’t get from the GTX 1070 in this laptop is good 4K gaming performance if you decide to connect an external 4K display. For that, you’ll need a machine with at least a GTX 1080.
When it comes to everyday computing, the PowerSpec 1510 is again a solid performer thanks to its Intel Core i7-7700HQ running at 2.8GHz. But all of its competitors have the same processor, so the PowerSpec 1510’s advantage here is much smaller. It posted a class-leading score of 3,532 on the all-encompassing PCMark 8 tests, which measures tasks like word processing, videoconferencing, and web browsing. That’s just a few points higher than most of its competitors, like the Asus ROG Strix GL53V (3,507).
The gaps are similarly narrow on the specialized multimedia tasks like video encoding using Handbrake and editing images in Photoshop. The PowerSpec 1510 is great for these tasks (especially our series of Photoshop filters, which it applied in just longer than 3 minutes), but it’s not materially faster than any other gaming machine with the same CPU.
The same goes for battery life, with a time of 4 hours and 57 minutes on our video-rundown test. That isn’t horrible (the Lenovo Legion Y520 lasted for just 3:35, for example), but it means that you’ll mostly be using the PowerSpec 1510 while it’s plugged in.
Get Thee to a Micro Center
If you don’t mind a stodgy case design, you can get similar performance out of the PowerSpec 1510 as you’ll get from its larger and more stylish cousin, the PowerSpec 1710. The PowerSpec 1510 is also a better choice if you plan to overclock the GTX 1070 GPU, since its case handles heat much better than the larger laptop. Ultimately, though, the price difference between the two models is so small that the better-designed PowerSpec 1710 is even more of an excellent value and therefore a better choice for most casual gamers.
The fact that no other manufacturer comes close to offering the combination of price and features that these two laptops boast bodes well for PowerSpec’s future in the gaming laptop market. That’s assuming, of course, that the company manages to keep the prices this low in an era of GPU shortages. At present, one thing is clear: If you’re in the market for a midrange gaming laptop and are lucky enough to live near a Micro Center (the only place these laptops are sold), you should probably go buy one (or the PowerSpec 1710) right now.
Other options: Spend significantly more money for a gaming laptop with equivalent horsepower, such as the Alienware 15 R3, or choose a machine with a slightly less powerful GTX 1060, such as the Acer Aspire V17 Nitro.