The third generation of Intel Core i-series CPUs from Intel are following the same general path as the second-generation chips. First to be released are the high-end quad-core Core i7 processors, followed a month or so later by the everyday dual-core versions found in most mainstream laptops.
What this means is that to be the first on the block with one of the new CPUs (formerly code-named Ivy Bridge), you'll have to get a high-end PC, typically the type aimed at serious gamers. Origin, a boutique PC maker founded by former Alienware employees, is one of the first companies to offer the new CPUs, in a refreshed version of its EON17-S gaming laptop.
New CPU aside, this $3,499 EON17-S is very similar to the previous model, which we reviewed in 2011. It's still based on a customized version of a Clevo 17-inch laptop chassis (Clevo is a Taiwanese manufacturer that makes generic laptops that other computer companies tweak and rebrand as their own). This Ivy Bridge version will also add a new custom panel on the back of the lid, but otherwise the chassis and interior are identical.
Note that the new lid panel wasn't ready in time for this review, so it's not reflected in the photographs or video here, but you can see it here, and the system can be ordered with either the old or new lid design. We saw the new lid design at CES 2012, and it has an angular, finned look that's clearly Alienware-inspired.
With Origin, you get first crack at the latest hardware, although the benefits of Intel's new Ivy Bridge CPUs are largely focused on the HD 4000 integrated graphics performance. With the powerful (and also new) Nvidia GeForce 675M graphics card included here, you probably won't get much of a chance to appreciate that.
Companies such as Hewlett-Packard and Dell offer more inventive proprietary industrial designs, but their systems lack the hand-assembled and tested boutique feel. The starting price for the EON17-S is a reasonable $1,592, but if you're looking for a dual-core Core i5 CPU, a mere 4GB of RAM, and other midlevel components, this is not the laptop for you. Anyone building an EON17-S from Origin's extensive list of customizations is probably looking for serious components.
|Price as reviewed / starting price||$3,499 / $1,592|
|Processor||2.9GHz Intel Core i7-3920XM|
|Memory||16GB, 1,333MHz DDR3|
|Hard drive||240GB SSD (2x120GB) / 1.0TB 5,400rpm|
|Graphics||Nvidia GeForce GTX 675M / Intel HD 4000|
|Operating system||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)|
|Dimensions (WD)||16.2x10.9 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||17.3 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||8.6 pounds / 11.1 pounds|
Even apart from our previous EON17-S review, the basic black design of the chassis might look familiar. That's because the system is build around a Clevo laptop chassis, which is par for the course from smaller PC makers who can't design and fabricate their own custom laptop shells (as Apple, Dell, HP, and others do). Instead, companies such as Origin take an off-the-shelf body and customize it, adding value by hand-assembling and testing the systems, overclocking parts, and making minor cosmetic changes.
Origin always included a custom back panel on the laptop's lid. The previous default is a black brushed metal design with an Origin logo stamped on it. That's the design on this Ivy Bridge laptop, but from now on, the previously mentioned finned design will be offered (although you can also choose this older lid design, and custom colors and art are available at an additional cost).
The nearly feature-free interior is the same as in the 2011 version of this laptop. It has an older keyboard style you don't see very often anymore, with keys that touch at the base, but taper up to a separated flat surface on top. You might call it semi-island-style. The keyboard is serviceable but clacky, and thankfully backlit, which makes a big difference when trying to activate any of the alternate function keys (for example hitting Fn+F3 to mute the speakers). Similar to on Alienware laptops, the keyboard backlight color can be adjusted, and split into three different zones, but the options are not nearly as detailed as what Alienware offers.
The touch pad is basic, with a fingerprint reader nestled between the left and right mouse buttons. Other desktop replacement laptops have larger click-pad surfaces, but for gamers it may not be a deal breaker -- you'll probably be using a mouse or game pad most of the time anyway. But for casual Web surfing or times when you're not using a mouse, it's merely adequate.
The 17.3-inch display has a native resolution of 1,920x1,080 pixels, which is what one should expect from even a midpriced 17-inch laptop. The display is crisp and bright, and it's great that Origin offers its No Dead Pixel Guarantee. Customers have 45 days to return any system with a dead pixel, a type of coverage more mainstream vendors do not offer. Audio was above average, thanks to THX support and Onkyo speakers, but you'll still want headphones or external speakers for serious gaming or movie watching.
|Origin EON17-S||Average for category [desktop replacement]|
|Video||HDMI, DVI, DisplayPort||VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort|
|Audio||5.1 speakers with subwoofer, headphone, mic, line-out, optical line-out||Stereo speakers with subwoofer, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||2 USB 3.0, 2 USB 2.0, 1 USB/eSATA, SD card reader, mini-FireWire||4 USB 2.0, SD card reader, eSATA|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth|
|Optical drive||External Blu-ray drive||DVD burner, optional Blu-ray player|
While other laptop makers are slowly dropping legacy ports to save a few bucks, Origin gives the EON17-S a few that we rarely see any longer, including a DVI port and FireWire, and that's in addition to the more common HDMI, DisplayPort, and eSATA connections. You'll see USB 3.0 become more common as the Ivy Bridge HM77 chipset adds native support.
Extreme customization remains the biggest reason to pick Origin, and there's a huge number of possible component combinations. There are 23 separate hard-drive options, which can be spread across three drive bays (if you knock out the optical drive), including solid-state drives (SSDs) of up to 512GB -- which are an expensive option, at more than $900.
GPU options include the Nvidia GeForce 675 used in our system, as well as GeForce 660M and 670M cards and a couple of pro-level Quadro choices. At the time this review was written, the older second-gen Intel Core i7 CPUs were still listed on Origin's Web site, but starting April 29, those should be replaced with third-generation models. Many Origin laptops offer overclocked parts, and the Intel Core i7-3920Xm we tested was overclocked to 4.5GHz. Overclocking can lead to overheating and stability issues if not done properly; we ran this system through extensive tests, including gaming, video encoding, and battery rundowns, and never had a problem.
For one of the very first PCs with Intel's new Ivy Bridge chips, one would expect the performance numbers to be impressive. Even though Ivy Bridge is not expected to offer a huge performance boost in general over Sandy Bridge CPUs, the combination of the new top-of-the-line CPU, plus the overclocking, 16GB of RAM, SSD drives, and so on led to some fantastically high scores on our standard benchmark tests. The closest competitor was an Asus N-series laptop set up by Intel with another of the high-end Ivy Bridge Core i7 CPUs. Of course, for nearly $3,500, we'd expect unprecedented scores, even if your everyday use will never really be able to take advantage of all that horsepower.
The real Ivy Bridge improvement comes from the Intel HD 4000 graphics. A high-end gaming laptop such as this is in some ways a terrible example, as it includes a top-of-the-line Nvidia discrete GPU, and you'll never use just the integrated graphics for gaming. However, we ran several tests with both the Nvidia and Intel HD 4000 graphics to see how much of an improvement Intel has managed to make.
In our very challenging Metro 2033 test, the system ran at full 1080p resolution at 20.3 frames per second with the Nvidia GPU, and 8.8fps with the Intel HD 4000 graphics. It's a backbreaker of a test, so these are actually good scores. In Street Fighter IV at a mainstream-friendly 1,366x768-pixel resolution, the Nvidia GeForce 675M ran at 216fps, while the Intel HD 4000 ran at a very playable 31.7fps. Further examples are available in our gaming benchmark charts below.
All this is to say that the HD 4000 integrated graphics are definitely better than the HD 3000 Sandy Bridge version, but this still isn't going to replace a dedicated GPU. The extremely powerful Core i7 processor also throws off the curve -- we'll have to wait a month or so to see what kind of performance HD 4000 offers with mainstream Core i5 CPUs.