How much is a gaming laptop worth? That depends on how much of a gamer you claim to be. Not that many years ago, gaming laptops were the domain of boutique outlets that focused on build-your-own solutions. These companies, such as Voodoo and Alienware, have since become more mainstream, bought out by larger PC manufacturers, and offering a more commoditized product. Companies such as Origin are refocusing on the boutique angle for gamers, promising a more personalized touch, better customer service, and a wider variety of components.
Origin started up last November, staffed by a number of ex-Alienware employees. It has two laptop models: the EON15 and the EON18. Both feature a huge number of processor and graphics card options, but both also feature a chassis made by Clevo, an outside-sourced company that makes somewhat generic bodies for a number of laptop manufacturers (including the Malibal Veda, a laptop we reviewed last year).
Why go with a laptop like the EON18? Simply put, its upper-range options add up to some of the beefiest portable gaming rigs currently in existence. However, Origin isn't the only company that offers a construct-your-own approach to computing. We give a slight edge to the company for the friendly "local boutique" feeling and the Alienware background of its staff, but that doesn't explain away the slightly generic look of the current laptop chassis. If you spend a lot on a desktop replacement laptop, we'd think you'd want it to look like a million bucks (even if it cost somewhat less).
|Price as reviewed / starting price||$4,499 / $1,765|
|Processor||2.0 GHz Intel Core i7 920XM|
|Memory||8GB, 1,333 MHz DDR3|
|Hard drive||500GB 7,200rpm + 80GB Intel SSD (3 hard drive bays)|
|Chipset||Mobile Intel PM55 Express|
|Graphics||Dual Nvidia GeForce GTX 285M|
|Operating System||Windows 7 Ultimate (64-bit)|
|Dimensions (WD)||17.3 inches x 11.3 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||18.4 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||12.7 / 15.3 pounds|
A thick mountain of piano-black glossy panes and glowing LED lights, the EON18 admittedly is an attention-grabber at first glance, if only for its sheer size. It actually comes across as more muted than an Alienware laptop, with an overall look more akin to Toshiba's Qosmio line of big-screened multimedia laptops. The weight and dimensions of the EON18 almost certainly ensure that it'll never be carted around casually; this beast will either be planted on a desk or carried with care when traveling or going to a friend's house to play.
Our unit came in black (with a large backlit Origin logo across the lid), but optional solid or metallic finishes are available in eight different colors for an extra $179. On top of that there are airbrushed designs starting at $279, or even fully customized art requests starting at $159. Origin will even replace the logo on the back of the lid with one of your own for a price starting at $499.
Inside, the epic amount of flat palm rest space is actually a bit of a detriment to comfortable use. The raised keyboard, which is disappointing and not backlit, has relatively tiny keys for the EON18's size, and quite closely resembles some of the Chiclet-style keyboards we've seen on recent Asus laptops. The similarity includes a slightly cramped number pad and arrow keys that cut into part of the bottom of the number pad's lower left corner, giving them strange placement. Not backlighting the keys at all on a machine this massive and black renders often-used buttons hard to find. Yes, there are eight widely spaced and backlit buttons, labeled G1-G8, that span the left of the keyboard and are programmable for gaming macros or other uses. They're so large, however, that they shift the keyboard off to the right a bit farther than we're used to.
The touch pad is part of the same glossy, flat surface as the rest of the palm rest, defined only by an embedded backlit blue LED rectangle around it. It's great to have lit borders to make out the pad with peripheral vision, but the pad has no texture difference or physical borders, making it way too easy to overshoot and lose your footing without constantly looking down and readjusting. The flush button-bar beneath is, similarly, too small for the space provided. We kept our gaming mouse plugged in and avoided using the touch pad whenever possible, and we imagine most users will do the same.
The highlight of the EON18 is its 18-inch, 1,920x1,080-pixel display, which has strong colors and brightness and a wide viewing angle. It looked equally good playing Blu-ray discs and playing games. The audio part of the EON18, however, left something to be desired. The multispeaker laptop has Dolby Home Theater optimization and can output its audio to 7.1 surround, but Blu-ray movies never played back loudly or crisply enough. Overall system volume for a machine this size was a little weak, which was surprising; then again, we had the same issues with the Malibal Veda, which shares the same body.
|Origin EON18||Average for category [desktop replacement]|
|Video||DVI-out, HDMI-out, HDMI-in, Coax-in with digital TV tuner||VGA and HDMI or DisplayPort|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone jack, mic jack, line-in, S/PDIF-out (Dolby 7.1)||Stereo speakers with subwoofer, headphone/microphone jacks.|
|Data||3 USB 2.0, 1 USB/eSATA combo port, multiformat card reader, mini-Firewire||4 USB 2.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth|
|Optical drive||Blu-ray drive||DVD burner [high-end: Blu-Ray]|
The config of the EON18 we reviewed is, technically speaking, a beast. Its port selection is vast, including both HDMI-out and HDMI-in, a rarity. A Blu-ray player (although this system already has one), Flip camera, or game system could theoretically be plugged in, using the EON18 like a TV set. The addition of a TV tuner turns the system into an entertainment system perfect for the dorm room of a student with lots of disposable income.
Configuration is Origin's chief selling point, so it should be no surprise that there is an astonishing number of options for building a system. Processors range from a 2.53GHz Core 2 Duo P8700 at the low end to a quad-core 2.0GHz Core i7-920XM Extreme (which is what we tested). Graphics start with a single Nvidia GeForce GTX 280M and go up to dual Nvidia GeForce GTX 285M GPUs. RAM maxes out at 8GB. There are a whopping three hard-drive bays, which can each be filled with hard drives up to 1TB (an extra $136 each), or 512GB SSDs at an extra $1,385 apiece. By our calculations, upgrading across the board can launch the EON18 into an upper range of over $8,000 dollars. Origin says that the EON18 support USB 3.0 and DirectX 11, and that it will offer ATI graphics options soon.
As to which configuration a potential consumer should consider, we'd obviously say somewhere in the middle. Our $4,499 system is impressive but excessive; as is the case with most computer technology, the highest-end leaps up in an almost asymptotic curve.
Included software on the EON18 is pretty bare-bones, intentionally so: AVG antivirus comes on the hard drive, but isn't installed. Other software can be custom-installed by Origin upon request.
The quad-core Core i7 Extreme processor this Origin EON18 has is Intel's current top of the line for laptops, and the benchmark results tell the tale. It's one of the fastest laptops we've laid our hands on, and it's almost certainly more computing power than you'll ever need. We say "one of the fastest" because the Alienware M15x, which had the same processor in our $3,199 configuration, edged it out slightly.