It's telling that the very first thing I did with this new Windows 8 version of the Origin EON17-SLX desktop replacement gaming laptop was to try and swipe past the Windows 8 lock screen with my finger.
But, unlike the majority of Windows 8 laptops we've tested and reviewed so far, this is not a touch-screen laptop. Instead, it's essentially the same EON17 you'd have been able to buy prior to the October launch of Microsoft's new operating system, just with Windows 8 included as the default (the company says that most customers still opt for Windows 7 at this point). As such, you'll probably spend a good deal of time in the classic desktop view, from which games may be easier to launch, and where expert users will find more of the tools and settings they'll want to experiment with to maximize performance.
This very high-end configuration includes an overclocked Intel Extreme Core i7-3940XM Quad-Core CPU, dual overclocked Nvidia GeForce GTX 680M graphics cards, and a combination of two 120GB solid-state drives (SSDs) and a 1TB hard-disk drive for storage, all of which adds up to $4,522. The inclusion of the three hard drives means no built-in optical drive, but you can add an external Blu-ray writer and CyberLink's PowerDVD 12 Ultra software for about $140.
This is without a doubt one of the most powerful laptops to ever cross the threshold of the CNET Labs, and it easilly handled any PC game I threw at it. It's expensive, to be sure, even if you dial down the customization options to the $1,888 starting point, which brings me back to my primary longstanding complaint about nearly every boutique gaming laptop -- almost all are built into a slightly 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), or some other similar outer shell.
It's functional, but also looks like a laptop from several years ago, before the massive 2011-2012 shift to thinner, lighter laptops across the board. It doesn't look like you something you spent $4,000 on. You end up with a real powerhouse laptop that falls down on design, but adds value through Origin's hand-assembling and testing process, optional overclocking, and excellent service and support, far beyond what mainstream PC makers can offer.
It's a fantastic gaming machine -- especially important with this being such a great year for high-end PC gaming -- but as Doctor Zira said in "Planet of the Apes" to Charlton Heston's character: "All right, but you're so damned ugly."
|Price as reviewed / starting price||$4,522 / $1,858|
|Processor||3.0GHz Intel Extreme Core i7-3940XM|
|Memory||16GB, 1,600MHz DDR3|
|Hard drive||120GB SSD (x2), 1.0TB 5,400rpm HDD|
|Graphics||Nvidia GeForce GTX 680M (x2) / Intel HD4000|
|Operating system||Windows 8|
|Dimensions (WD)||16.5x11.3 inches|
|Height||1 - 2 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||17.3 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||9.3/13.2 pounds|
Design and features
The matte black chassis of the EON17-SLX might look familiar -- again, that's because Origin and other PC makers have used some variation of this Clevo case to make high-end laptops for years. It's a trade-off, to be sure: the best parts and expert assembly and service, in exchange for a less-than-sexy outer wrapper.
This latest version is ever so slightly different from the last 17-inch Origin laptop we saw, but you'd have to compare them side by side to notice. Different parts of the keyboard tray have a brushed-metal finish now, and the audio output jacks have moved from the left side panel to the right side panel. The rear of the system now tapers slightly, instead of being squared off.
The end effect of the changes is minimal, and you won't see any major structural changes, such as adding separate media control buttons or rearranging the keyboard. The touch pad, however, has been upgraded to a button-free clickpad, with the fingerprint sensor that used to sit between the left and right mouse buttons now being set off to the far right side. If you choose Windows 8, the new touch pad supports all the new multitouch gestures for Win 8 navigation, but I still find using a touch pad less than optimal for a lot of Windows 8 tasks.
The keyboard is a less common variant of the typical island-style keyboards found on most laptops. The key faces are widely spaced, but the base of each key is wider and nearly touches its neighbor. The large keys and full-size number pad make typing easy and error-free, but the keyboard has a lot of flex, especially in the middle -- another example of a nonpremium feel. A few layout oddities add frustration; most notably, the Windows key, which is very important in Windows 8, is now on the right side of the spacebar instead of the left.
The keyboard is backlit, which makes it easier to find media control button combos during a low-light PC gaming session (such as Fn+F3 to mute the speakers). You can launch a command center app that lets you adjust the color and pattern of the backlight across three different zones on the keyboard. It's not as advanced as the keyboard backlight options offered by Alienware, but it's still probably more options than you'll ever need.
The 17.3-inch display has a native resolution of 1,920x1,080 pixels, which we've seen become more common even in smaller 13- and 15-inch laptop screens recently. The display is crisp and bright, and is additionally covered by Origin's 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 from the Onkyo speakers is loud and fine for basic gaming or video playback, and can be adjusted via a Sound Blaster control panel, but you'll still want headphones or external speakers for a realyl immersive experience.
|Origin EON17-SLX||Average for category [desktop replacement]|
|Video||HDMI, 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||4 USB 3.0, 1 USB/eSATA, SD card reader||2 USB 3.0, 2 USB 2.0, SD card reader, eSATA|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth|
|Optical drive||None (External options available)||DVD burner or Blu-ray player|
Connections, performance, and service
I may knock the Clevo case design as old-fashioned, but this newer version is ruthless in cutting out-of-date ports such as DVI and VGA video outputs. You get a healthy number of USB 3.0 ports, and something I always appreciate, an eSATA port -- especially useful for hooking up a large external drive to store game downloads, movies, and other big files.
There are nearly limitless ways to configure the EON17-SLX, which is part of the appeal of Origin's offerings. Even the base config, at around $1,800, gets you a quad-core Core i7-3610QM processor and Nvidia GeForce 670M graphics, but only 4GB of RAM and a 320GB HDD. This build is close to being over the top, with its overclocked Intel Extreme Core i7-3940XM Quad-Core CPU, dual overclocked Nvidia GeForce GTX 680M graphics cards, and a combination of two 120GB SSDs and a 1TB HDD, and it costs just over $4,500. If you're leaning toward the base configuration, there are less expensive ways to get those same parts, but if you're aiming for premium performance, you definitely can find some builds between those two price bookends that will hit your personal price/performance ratio.
It's not a surprise that this system was well ahead of most of the other recent gaming and performance laptops we've tested recently. It's hard to imagine, outside of cranking the details settings in high-end games all the way up to "ultra," how even an enthusiast would even be able to make use of that much raw processing power, but at least your sizable investment will be future-proofed for a long while to come (of course, the laptop shopper most interested in a $4,000 gaming system is likely to want to get upgrade envy at least annually).