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Tiger Moth Laptop
Built by Chillblast
Reviewed by David Williams
September 2014

Introduction

This review of Chillblast's Tiger Moth laptop is a first for me - I've not attempted a review of this sort before. Nor am I an experienced laptop user, which has made preparing this review more of a challenge. Now, I'll try to talk you through my experiences with the Tiger Moth. Unlike most reviews, there are very few images, but a lot of writing. If you want to skip the bulk of the narrative, that's fine with me - just jump to the final couple of sections dealing with the plusses and minuses, together with my conclusions. If, after reading my final remarks you're interested enough to scan through the more detailed sections, then I'll be happy!

Some Background on Chillblast

Chillblast is a UK computer manufacturer based in the South of England. Starting out as a specialist importer of niche overclocking products, Chillblast has evolved into one of the most highly respected and decorated desktop PC builders. Whilst many retailers outsource their PC building to other firms rather than build and test them in-house, Chillblast's engineers build their systems themselves. The system then is fully tested and has to pass stringent quality control, before being optimised and set up by a highly trained software team.

Chillblast has also won every major PC builder award currently available in the UK computer press, including hundreds of individual product recommendations in the most respected IT resources.

All of Chillblast's products, whether desktop or laptop, can be customised during the ordering process. You simply choose from a selection of options for processor, memory, graphics card, etc. The system under review is called the Tiger Moth, and is configured specifically for flight simulation, in this case Microsoft Flight Simulator X. The Tiger Moth can also be configured for X-Plane and P3D. The review system (FSX) specification follows.

Tiger Moth Specification (FSX)

The system delivered for the review was as follows:

Model:         Fusion
Processor:   i7-4710MQ CPU @ 2.50 GHz
Bus type:     64 bits
Ram:           8 GB
Hard Drive:  1 TB Hybrid SSHD
GPU:            nVidia GTX 860M

  The hybrid SSHD boots up and performs like an SSD and functions up to 3 times faster than a traditional HDD. The GTX 860M has a similar specification to the (desktop) GTX 760, with 1152 Shaders and 96 Texture Units, but with slightly slower graphics and memory clock rates, smaller Memory Bus and lower Bandwidth. Note that the Tiger Moth does not have a CD/DVD drive. With downloadable add-ons being the order of the day, this will not be an issue unless your broadband transmission speeds are limited. An external optical drive is available as an optional extra.

The software installation is basically as follows:

O.S. Windows 7 (Service Pack 2)
FSX Gold Edition/Acceleration

In addition, several Orbx scenery areas (PNW, NCal, etc.) and Aerosoft's Manhattan-X, were installed, to assist in the review process. The performance of the Tiger Moth with these and other add-on sceneries, is dealt with in a following section.

Setting up the Tiger Moth

Basically, this amounted to signing for the delivery, unpacking the box and opening the lid of the laptop. Yes, it was actually that simple! Now, I have to admit here, that I am not a laptop person. O.K., my wife has one, but she won't let me near it! So, it was with some reservations that I pressed the power key...

Up came Windows 7. The FSX icon was prominent in the tray at the bottom of the screen, together with Internet Explorer (aarghh!). Ben at Chillblast had given me carte blanche to install any utilities that I might need, but first I wanted to inspect the system. This turned out to be a straightforward 64-bit W7 residing on an unpartitioned C-disk. The familiar 'Microsoft Simulator X' was where it should be - together with all its contents: Addon Scenery, Autogen, etc. I also found folders for Aerosoft and Orbx, resulting from the installation of their scenery.

Without pausing, I clicked the FSX icon. Sure enough, the splash screen came up and the primary menu page appeared after less than a minute. A good start. I thought. Throwing caution to the wind, I clicked the 'FLY NOW' button and soon found myself sailing through the air above Friday Harbor with snowy Mount Baker peeping over the foothills to my right. Luckily, it was daylight, and with very little wind to disturb the microlight, I flew serenely on. No change in engine note, no deviation in direction, no change in elevation - I'd never flown so smoothly before! Wow! - Yes, you've guessed - no flight controls!

No problem, I thought - a quick scan of the keyboard controls (Settings>Controls>Buttons/Keys) would soon get me going (see the Appendix for more details of key assignments for FSX). I'll admit I was soon in trouble and I remembered my first flights with FSX using the keyboard, when I found attempting even the basic Tutorial Missions virtually impossible. So, I've always had some form of joystick and therefore avoided learning how to fly from the keyboard. No doubt younger readers, particularly from the gaming lobby, will be more adaptable and able to overcome this issue - I have to admit abject failure, sorry!

The solution? Just plug in your USB controls. I'm a helicopter fan - call me a rotorhead - so I just plugged my Komodo cyclic and collective, together with the CH pedals, into a 4 port hub, and into the Tiger Moth's USB. Of course, the default settings did need some adjustment, but I was soon back in control and enjoying the view, which is incredibly good. The combined power of the i7 and the 860M quite literally blows you away.
First Impressions of the Tiger Moth

I needed some flying hours to get to know the Tiger Moth, so I chose a fairly standard FSX mission - the Kwazulu Rhino Rescue. As you probably know, this starts with a helicopter, the default 206B, and changes to fixed wing, with the DC-3. I'd flown the mission many times, but only delivered the rhino once. Would the Tiger Moth improve my performance?

After cutting a few branches off the tree by the veterinary lab, I started again and managed to get airborne without further mishap. Finding the injured rhino was straightforward and trapping the poachers was made significantly easier by the smooth 30 FPS setting - no stuttering making eye/control co-ordination straightforward. Once in the DC-3, the rhino started the usual perambulation, but that quietened down after the vet had tranquilised herself and stopped having hysterics. Landing at Newcastle was accomplished and the reward granted.

First impressions of flying? With controls - excellent. Maybe a slight worry about the size of the instruments as displayed in the virtual cockpit, but that's down to the high resolution of the GPU and the relatively small screen size.

Planning for a Regular Flight.

As luck would have it, a flight leg on Mutley's ATWC was up for grabs - from Palermo to Elba, about 300 nautical miles and 3 hours in the air if I used the DC-3, which is my preferred fixed wing aircraft. I would require a flight plan, so it was off to TA Software to download Plan-G. It was also an opportunity to test how the Tiger Moth handled the installation of new software. The 27 Mb exe was soon downloaded and run. Tim Arnot's Plan-G, which to my mind is the finest piece of freeware available to simmers (Thanks, Tim!), organised the FSX database and I entered the departure airport, Palermo (LICJ). Jeppesen's SID chart for LICJ identified KERON and GIANO waypoints. No STAR for Elba's Marina di Campo airport, so simply head for the VOR ELB, which is some 7 nm east of LIRJ. Approach from the sea for RWY 34 looks preferable to the sharp descent over the hills for RWY 16. The flight plan is saved and we now just have the scenery to find and install.

I found Palermo's Punta Raisi airport (LICJ), by Skara Scenery, from Fly Away Simulation. An excellent photo-real scenery pack for the whole of Elba, and including LIRJ, was available from the Italian designers blogfsx.forumfree.it - a large download at just under 500 Mb and containing virtually every building on the island. Again, installing the scenery into the Tiger Moth's FSX was straightforward.

So, onto the tarmac at Punta Raisi - an afternoon flight to take advantage of the setting sun for some nice screenshots, and we were off. You can find a more detailed PIREP of the flight here:

http://forum.mutleyshangar.com/index.php/topic/13874-leg-65-palermo-licj-to-elba-lirj/

This, actually, was one of the most enjoyable ATWC flights I've flown. The Tiger Moth behaved perfectly and the external views over the Med were better than I'd ever seen before - certainly a quantum jump from my desk-top. Remember, plain vanilla FSX - no extras - but the cloud formations, sun and water effects, were excellent. All down to the GTX 860M with help from the i7 processor. This was an eye opener for me, I hadn't expected such good results.

I wanted to record these conclusions immediately, so I made a couple of short videos (see Appendix for details). Video capture - using Screencast-O-Matic, which I find more user friendly than FRAPS - went very well with no reduction in frame rate, and the resulting MP4's a good basis for editing.

Frame Rate Benchmarks Using Manhattan-X Scenery

I'd asked Chillblast to install the Aerosoft Manhattan-X scenery in order to run some frame rate benchmark tests. You may remember that, soon after its release in 2009, Joe Lawford had published a review of Manhattan-X scenery on Mutley's Hangar - here's the link:

http://www.mutleyshangar.com/features/mutley/manx.htm

In his review, Joe recorded frame rates of less than 20 fps when running Manhattan-X on his desk-top, which was a reasonably high performance machine for the time (see the Performance section on page 3 of Joe's review). Now, in my experience, flying helicopters in FSX at less than 20 fps can be problematic as any significant (time) delay between control input and visible movement can lead to over-correction and instability. I was therefore keen to find out how the Tiger Moth would perform with Manhattan-X as it is a favourite scenery add-on for me, and had been designed specifically with helicopter flying in mind.

Starting off at the Port Authority's helipad, near the tip of Manhattan, I took off in the default Bell 206B, as used by Joe in his review. I was impressed - high 30's FPS, and with DX-10 Preview, which I don't normally use, I was introduced to VC shadows - brilliant! After flying around Ground Zero, I headed over towards the Empire State and landed at the old Pan-Am helipad atop the MetLife Building over Grand Central Station. During this short flight, the frame rate did not dip below 30 FPS, and often exceeded 40 FPS. This certainly confirmed that the Tiger Moth's performance was more than enough to accommodate Manhattan-X. An excellent result!

So, the Tiger Moth clearly was capable of supporting FSX, but how did it perform otherwise? The following sections detail my impressions of operating the Tiger Moth:

Laptop Display

The nVidia GTX 860M GPU installed with the latest Tiger Moth provides you with an incredible 1920 x 1080 x 32 display for FSX. Make no mistake, this affords the screen-shot aficionado with possibly the highest definition possible without recourse to multiple screens. As mentioned above, the GTX 860M is equivalent to the (desk-top PC) GTX 760, having the same number of Shaders (1152) and Texture Units (96). The frame rate benchmarks with Manhattan-X underline the Tiger Moth's performance with this GPU, so you can expect stutter free flying with even the most complex sceneries.

However, you may find that the actual size of the screen is a disadvantage in that you need to be close to the display in order to take in all that detail. Of course, that is the nature of laptop computers - you don't get the portability without some degree of miniaturization. I have to admit that the size of the screen, despite the high resolution, lowered the immersion factor while flying. The small screen offers a somewhat limited view, and this reduction in flight perspective can be a problem, particularly if you're used to a larger monitor.

Another issue for me was the FSX text size, as used in the pop-up menus and on-screen text information for LAT/LON/ALT/MSL/etc. This latter text (usually in red), was very difficult to read - even with my reading glasses! In fact, I had on occasion, to use a magnifying glass to read the FPS data.

Also, my full size helicopter type controls, including pedals, require me to sit further from the screen than would be the case with a basic twist-grip joy-stick controller, which would be more compatible with close-up viewing. However, you would probably not consider these full size controls if you were intending to use the Tiger Moth in the mobile situations it was designed for.

Second Monitor Option

Now, the Tiger Moth gives you the choice of plugging in a second monitor, via its HDMI port, so I was able to connect the 22" monitor that I normally use with my desk-top. Windows 7 gives you 2 display options: Duplicate and Extend. In the first, the second screen duplicates what is displayed on the laptop. This is an ideal workaround for the problems of display size mentioned above. With this option, there was no noticeable drop in FPS when running FSX, as the GTX 860M has little or no extra work to do.

The second option enables you to extend the Tiger Moth's display area onto the 2nd monitor. I found this most useful in that I could move the FSX display window to the 2nd monitor and run Plan-G simultaneously on the laptop display with no discernable reduction in FPS. I also used this option to open a New View in FSX, Un-Dock and move this back to the laptop screen. This facilitated a more detailed view of the instrument panel when displaying the VC on the larger monitor. This did reduce the FPS by around 10%. The more complex External Spot View, had a greater impact on FPS, as you'd expect.

The Keyboard

The Tiger Moth keyboard matches the dimensions of the laptop, not only in that it is smaller than a normal (desk-top) keyboard, but also in that there is no room for a separate Numeric Key-Pad. For normal keyboard work (i.e. typing) this is not a problem, although I initially had to take care when pressing the 'Space Bar' as it often missed the spaces I required (this problem disappeared with practice). The laptop designers have incorporated the 'missing' Numeric Key-Pad keys into the Tiger Moth's keyboard by adding a special 'Fn' key, located next to the 'CTRL' key. With this 'Fn' key pressed, the main Function Keys (F1, F2, etc) gain alternative functionality, i.e. 'F9' = Increase Screen Brightness. Additionally, a block of keys in the centre of the keyboard, i.e. '7', '8', '9', '0' through to 'j', 'k', 'l', ';' and '.', '/', provide you with the Numeric Key-Pad keys. Not, perhaps, the most easy to use alternative, but with practice, this does provide the required functionality to use the FSX Slew commands. Spot View control is achieved with the 'Shift' + 'Up Arrow', 'Left Arrow', etc. keys. Again, you can pick up this mechanism fairly quickly.

The Touchpad

I have to admit that I did not get on with the Tiger Moth's Touchpad. Despite persevering with it for the whole of the review, I found that even at its simplest setting (i.e. no multi-finger strokes or gestures enabled), the Touchpad introduced a variety of unwanted commands. Whilst this had little effect on FSX's operation, the Touchpad pointer could not be relied on to move to the desired screen position (to select an icon, folder or file, or place the cursor within text) without mutating from the normal 'Arrow' to one or more alternatives. This might be the Scroll pointer, which would take you to the next web page if you were browsing, or move your cursor away from its current text position to a place in another paragraph. Alternatively, an unidentified, round pointer would remain stationary on the screen despite all attempts to move it via the Touchpad. Now, several laptop users have said they use an external mouse, particularly for critical operations like image editing, so maybe this problem with the Touchpad could be resolved in this way. Certainly, if I were to be using the Tiger Moth on a long term basis, I would connect a mouse. However, for the purposes of this review, I felt that this was incompatible with the concept of portability and simming on the move, as it were.

Mains Power and Battery Performance

The Tiger Moth's external mains supply enables its CPU and GPU to operate at 100% of their normal clock rates. However, when the mains cable is disconnected, and the Tiger Moth relies on its internal battery, the CPU and GPU clock rates are reduced (under-clocked) in order to extend battery function. Thus, when running FSX with Manhattan-X scenery, the FPS of high 30's was achieved with power coming from the mains supply. When using only the internal battery, the FPS reduced to below 20 FPS - a reduction of almost 50%. This clearly will not be a worry if there is power where you intend to use the Tiger Moth. Additionally, FSX makes higher demands on both the CPU and GPU, often requiring the internal cooling fan to be used. This fan, together with the power going to the CPU and GPU, can reduce the energy in the battery more rapidly than other, less power-hungry applications. With FSX running, you can expect the battery to last at least 3 hours, more if the scenery/aircraft complexity is low.

Simming on the Move?

This is clearly the main advantage of a machine like the Tiger Moth - you can go anywhere and fly. Well, up to the limits of the battery, if you can't get mains power. This certainly meets the requirements of any simmers who want to take FSX with them, be it on holiday, or simply to the living room whilst their partner watches TV, perhaps? Maybe this mobility is limited by the type of flight controls you prefer, but, in essence, you can take the laptop anywhere.

But there are other interesting options. The power of the Tiger Moth, and its price, makes it a potential alternative to replacing that old desk-top with a more up-to-date model. In fact, this option has crossed my mind several times during the review, as my own PC needs replacing. The i7 + GTX 860M combination inside the Tiger Moth is a very attractive proposition, plus the fact it would take up a lot less room. I'm sure my wife would appreciate a tidier study, too!

And then, you have the possibility of having a second sim machine, making multi-player sessions an option. This would be most useful for me as I'm developing multi-player missions for FSX and need such a facility for testing. Those of you who make videos could also benefit from having a totally controllable camera base for those more sophisticated shots.

Pluses & Minuses

The concept of having a portable simming machine will be attractive to many of you, whether you need FSX to be with you when you're away from home, or to give you that extra bit of flexibility for simming around your house and garden. If that is the case, then the Tiger Moth will certainly fit the bill - the i7 + 860M enables it to run FSX spectacularly well and the screen resolution is more than ample for both screenshots and videos.

You may want to consider external controls, as flying with the laptop keyboard is not straightforward, but a small, twist-grip joy-stick will resolve this. You might also want to connect an external mouse, as the touch-pad does take some getting used to. Lastly, you can plug in your bigger monitor or wide-screen TV via the HDMI interface to give you a simming facility as good as any mid-range desk-top PC.

So, the Touchpad and the Tiger Moth's screen size were the only problems I faced when carrying out this review. But then, I'm not used to laptops so I'm at a disadvantage to those of you who regularly use one. However, in the few weeks that I used the Tiger Moth, I can say that the experience has been most enjoyable and I can recommend it to anyone who wants a small, portable simming machine.

Value for Money

And the cost of the Tiger Moth? The system provided by Chillblast for this review retails at £899 (inc VAT but excluding FSX Gold Edition/Acceleration, which most of you can install yourself). The i7 + GTX 860M combo puts the Tiger Moth ahead of most gaming laptops in terms of performance, whilst it's diminutive size keeps the price down to an acceptable and affordable level. O.K., you could self-build an equivalent desktop machine for less, but that's not comparing horses for courses. The Tiger Moth is aimed at simmers who want mobility, and to my mind, it delivers.

Conclusion

The Tiger Moth was designed for simming on the move and its excellent performance with FSX is proof that this is possible with the i7 + GTX 860M combo. Whilst I had some reservations about screen size and touchpad operation, those of you with laptop experience will probably not have the same difficulties. The options to use a second monitor and/or external mouse also help to reduce these problems and, furthermore, open up the possibilities of using the Tiger Moth as a replacement for an ageing desktop PC. Lastly, in terms of value for money, the Tiger Moth is a cost effective option for those of you looking for that extra degree of mobility for your simming.
Appendix

I thought that flying FSX with just the keyboard should be relatively straightforward. Of course, I'm used to a larger desktop style keyboard, with separate numeric key-pad, so I had to experiment a little to find out that the Up/Down/Left/Right arrows emulated the missing joystick's elevator and aileron controls. In the Buttons/Keys table, the Flight Controls' Centre All key was assigned to the Num 5 key. The numeric keys are colour coded in blue in the middle of the keyboard and require the Fn key, also blue, to be pressed simultaneously. So, Num 5 is Fn + 'i'. Once you've found these Num keys, it's pretty straightforward, but it does need the keyboard to be well lit, so flying in a darkened room may be more difficult. The rudder control key assignments were available as Num 0 (Fn + 'm') and Num Enter (Fn + Enter). Throttle control involved the F1 to F4 keys, no problem there for those of you with nimble minds and fingers!

More details about the videos using the Elba scenery. The first, an evening helicopter flight around Portoferraio, is here:

https://vimeo.com/101956762

The second, a repeat of the ATWC Leg from Palermo shows the DC-3 approach to LIRJ:

https://vimeo.com/102267230

Both videos were captured using Screencast-O-Matic and subsequently edited with Windows Movie Maker WMM 6.2.

Scores:
   ● Performance (FPS): 10/10
   ● Screen definition: 10/10
   ● Build Quality: 10/10
   ● Operation: 7.0/10
   ● Documentation and support: 9.0/10
   ● Value for Money: 9.0/10

The Chillblast Tiger Moth is awarded a Mutley's Hangar score of 9.2/10,
with an "Highly Recommended" and a Mutley's Hangar Silver Award.

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