Origin’s founders know a thing or two about manufacturing no-holds-barred PCs: They all worked at Alienware before Dell acquired and commoditized the boutique builder (much as HP would do with Voodoo PC just a few months later). The Origin Eon 17-S reviewed here is the epitome of the boutique notebook PC, a budget-be-damned monster that destroys both benchmarks and bank accounts.
Origin doesn’t build their rigs from scratch, though. The reason why the Eon 17-S looks so ordinary on the outside is because its foundation comes from the Taiwanese notebook manufacturer Clevo. Origin buys the skeleton (chassis, motherboard, keyboard, display, etc.) from Clevo, and then you as the customer get to choose which components (CPU, memory, video card, hard drive, and so on) go into it. Origin then puts it all together by hand and ships it to you. For an additional fee, Origin will overclock the CPU ($50 to $75, depending on the chip) and the GPU ($50).
You could overclock the machine this yourself, of course, but having Origin do it means it’s guaranteed to be stable, and it’s covered by the company’s excellent warranty: Replacement parts for one year (with free shipping within the first 45 days), and no-charge labor and 24/7 tech support for the life of the computer (extended warranties are also available). Origin also provides a no-dead-pixels guarantee for 45 days. And for an extra $30, your PC will arrive double-packed in a signature wooden crate. This is the first time we’ve ever needed a screwdriver before we unpacked a computer; but we must admit to being a little disappointed when we opened the crate only to find an ordinary cardboard box inside.
We were pleased to see that Origin provides not only a Windows 7 disc, but also a second disc containing a hard-drive image. If you ever suffer a catastrophic failure, you’ll be able to restore your machine to a fresh-from-the-factory state. That won’t recover your data, of course, so protect yourself with an automated back-up routine.
Based on the Eon 17-S’s gargantuan proportions and elite parts list, we were surprised to discover that the machine weighs just eight pounds, 3.2 ounces (10 pounds, 11.6 ounces when you add its power brick). While you wouldn’t want to go jet-setting around the world with that much weight hanging on your shoulder, it would be easy to bear when traveling to a LAN party; especially since you’ll be the envy of the crowd when you got there.
The machine we reviewed was packing heat, starting off with Intel’s best mobile CPU: The brand-new Core i7-3920XM Extreme Edition, featuring the all-new Ivy Bridge microarchitecture. This quad-core, hyper-threaded monster—among the first CPUs to feature Intel’s 3D Tri-Gate transistors — leaves the factory running at 2.9GHz, with a “Max Turbo” frequency of 3.8GHz, but Origin has goosed it further to 4.5GHz. The machine is outfitted with 16GB (four 4GB sticks) of DDR3, 1,333MHz memory running in dual-channel mode.
The Tri-Gate design used in all Ivy Bridge processors is a radical departure from previous transistor designs. A conventional transistor operates by controlling the flow of electrical current from a source to a drain, rapidly switching the current on and off by opening and closing a gate. When the gate is open, current flows through the transistor’s inversion layer; when it’s closed, no current should flow, but a tiny bit of it leaks and is essentially wasted (with heat as a byproduct).
The gates in Intel’s Tri-Gate transistors operate the same way, but each gate is wrapped around a three-sided silicon fin that results in an inversion layer with much more surface area. This increased surface area gives the gate more control over the flow of electrical current through the transistor; allowing more current to flow when the transistor is in its on state, and reducing current leakage when the transistor is in its off state. End result: The latest chips are both faster and more efficient.
The Eon 17-S boots quickly, thanks to the presence of two 120GB Corsair SSDs operating in RAID 0. This storage is supplemented by a 2.5-inch, 5,400 RPM, 1TB Western Digital Scorpio Blue mechanical hard drive in the optical drive bay. If you find that’s still not enough space, you can plug external drives into the notebook’s USB ports (two USB 3.0, one USB 3.0/eSATA combo, and one USB 2.0) or its IEEE 1394 FireWire port. There’s also a multi-format flash memory card reader for good measure.
You can connect the Eon 17-S to just about any digital display you can think of, thanks to the presence of DVI, HDMI, and DisplayPort connections on its backplane. But having that third drive in the optical drive bay means you don’t get an optical drive—Blu-ray or otherwise. You can configure your machine however you’d like, of course, but we don’t like having to make that tradeoff. An external Blu-ray player will add $73 to the price tag; a Blu-ray burner $125. You’ll also need Blu-ray player software, which tacks on another $47 (for a copy of PowerDVD 12 Ultra). Our configuration included both the software and the burner, so you could instantly shave $172 off its price tag if you didn’t want either.
Graphics and audio
Ivy Bridge processors include the new Intel HD Graphics 4000 integrated graphics processor, Intel’s first integrated GPU to support Microsoft’s DirectX 11 API and Shader Model 5.0 technologies. The previous-generation Intel HD Graphics 3000 was limited to DirectX 10 and Shader Model 4.0, which forced gamers to dial back image quality and level of detail.
But since even the best integrated graphics processors remain 98-pound-weaklings compared to the best discrete GPUs, and this one needs to drive a 17.3-inch LED-backlit display with native 1080p resolution. To that end, Origin includes a video card based on Nvidia’s best mobile graphics processor—the GeForce GTX 675M—supported by 2GB of dedicated GDDR5 memory. When you don’t need that much graphics horsepower, Nvidia’s Optimus technology automatically switches the Eon 17-S to the Intel HD 4000 to extend its battery life.
Although the display is a glossy design, we had fewer specular reflection problems than we’ve encountered with similar mirror-like monitors. This TN panel doesn’t boast the excellent off-axis viewing properties that we saw with HP’s Envy 14 Spectre ultrabook, but its easily the equal of most 17-inch desktop displays.
We also weren’t impressed with the Eon 17-S’s audio performance, despite the presence of THX TruStudio Pro and the Onkyo 2.1-channel speaker system. But we suspect most gamers will don headphones, and anyone who connects this system to their home-theater system will use HDMI for audio output (the machine is also equipped with optical digital and analog audio outs).
Keyboard and trackpad
The Eon 17-S is equipped with a great LED backlit keyboard (ours arrived set to indigo, but you have six other choices that you can divide into three zones). The keys provide excellent tactile response, with just enough resistance to prevent inadvertent key presses while our fingertips rested on top of them. Although there seems to be plenty of room between the main keyboard and the speaker grill, there are no dedicated buttons for media playback. There is a row of indicator lamps here that inform you of the status of power; Caps, Num, and Scroll lock; Wi-Fi; and Bluetooth.
We were thoroughly unimpressed with the trackpad, which sports a fingerprint reader between its left and right mouse buttons. The trackpad supports multi-touch gestures, but it’s engraved with tiny horizontal grooves that made it nearly impossible for us maneuver the mouse pointer with anything approaching precision. It felt as though our finger was constantly being trapped in the grooves and force to move left or right when we wanted to move the cursor diagonally. You’ll never use the trackpad for gaming, but we found it annoying for everything else.
Battery life and overall performance
The Eon 17-S delivered very good battery life considering its power-sucking components and the size of its display. The Battery Eater benchmark we usually use wouldn’t run on this machine, so we used an old standby: The movie rundown. We plugged in the optional USB Blu-ray burner ($125) and played a movie until the battery got so low that the computer went into hibernation after an impressive 90 minutes and 12 seconds.
The Eon 17-S chewed through our other benchmarks like a beaver on a bender, delivering scores close to what we expect to see from high-quality desktop rigs. PCMark 7 returned a score of 5,692 (with Entertainment and Productivity subscores of 4,907 and 6,065, respectively). The SiSoft Sandra Processor Arithmetic benchmark returned an impressive 102.68 GOPS, and our 7Zip benchmark reported a staggering 23,896 MIPS.
With 3DMark 11 in performance mode to evaluate DirectX 11 performance (video resolution set to 1280×720), the Eon 17-S scored 3,665 3DMarks; when we switched to extreme mode to test at the display’s native resolution of 1920×1080, the machine scored 1,146 3DMarks. We ran a second synthetic DirectX 11 benchmark, Unigine’s Heaven, and the notebook delivered an impressive 30.6 frames per second at 1920×1080 resolution with 8x antialiasing enabled and all other values at default. When we enabled tessellation at “normal,” the benchmark results dropped to 23.7 fps—that’s good for any single-GPU machine.
We also tested the machine with Metro 2033. With the game’s built-in benchmark in DirectX 11 mode, quality set at high, 4x multi-sample antialiasing, 16x anistropic filtering, and PhysX and tessellation enabled, the Eon 17-S delivered a very strong 29.67 frames per second.
The Eon 17-S was extremely quiet at idle and only slightly noisier when performing lightweight tasks, such as web browsing and email. Playing games caused its fans to spin faster, but the noise levels weren’t remotely objectionable.
Origin’s Eon 17-S reminds us of Brienne of Tarth, the star-crossed female knight from Game of Thrones: It’s massively powerful, but very plain to behold. If that bothers you, spring for one of Origin’s optional finishes (which range from $99 to $249), or go whole-hog with a completely custom paint job ($149 and up). But when you’ve already spent $3,597 for a notebook PC, it’s hard to think about spending even more for mere appearances.
If we were to throw any more money into this configuration, it would go towards upgrading its audio capabilities (Origin offers several Creative USB audio solutions) and a better wireless network adapter (Intel’s Ultimate-N 6033 dual-band module costs an extra $48, or you can add the Killer Wireless-N 1103 NIC for $44). Or you could go the other direction and build your own Eon 17-S with lower-performance components: Prices start at $1,592 for a machine equipped with an Intel Core i5-2520 dual-core proc, 4GB of DDR3, and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 660M. But where’s the fun in that?
- Overclocked top-of-the-line components deliver incredible performance
- Very nice display
- Pedestrian looks
- Poor trackpad
- No optical drive (bay occupied by third hard drive)