Leave the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One to living-room gamers who forgive their favorite game consoles for not hitting 1080p resolutions. The current breed of 17-inch gaming laptops, all powered by Nvidia's 800-series mobile graphics cards, can leave any living-room console in the dust, and have enjoyed something of a renaissance this year, with excellent performance, a good selection of new high-end games, and even new features and designs.
Two gaming laptops we've tested recently combine parts of this new gaming laptop landscape with big, chunky bodies that feel increasingly dated. You'll be forgiven for thinking you're seeing double when the Origin PC Eon17-S and are side by side, as both are built around the same Compal chassis (that's a Taiwanese company known for making tech hardware for clients including Toshiba, Acer, and others), each slightly customized to reflect their respective brands.
Both of these 17.3-inch laptops have similar specs (to a point), and both are also highly configurable with a variety of options for processors, storage, and graphics. Many of our impressions of the design and feel of these two laptops will be similar, but in this case, we're going to focus on the Origin PC version.
The Eon17-S has the same name as the past couple of generations of this product line. The most recent similar model we reviewed was a slightly different, which used an even bulkier body to fit in dual graphics cards.
Price and availability of specific components can shift in build-to-order systems, but our test unit came out to $3,505 here in the US, and would run for £2,258 in the UK and AU$4,326 in Australia, which is a hefty investment, even for hardcore gamers.
Why the price difference between two similar-looking 17-inch gaming laptops? Both have 16GB of RAM, the current Nvidia GeForce 880M GPU, and a combination of SSD and HDD storage (and you can adjust the level of storage to suit your budget). The big price difference comes from the CPU. Our Origin Eon17-S just happens to use a very expensive CPU you don't see very often (and that choice didn't seem to have a big impact on our gaming experience, either).
While both systems have Intel Core i7 CPUs from the current Haswell generation, the Origin PC has an MX, or "extreme" edition chip (the Core i7-4940MX), while the Digital Storm has an MQ chip, just a basic high-end quad-core chip. That adds more than $900 to the cost, versus a more common Core i7, and if you configured the Eon17-S with a same CPU as the Digital Storm, its price drops down to around $2,600.
Confused yet? No one said buying a build-to-order gaming PC was easy. Especially because you also have to consider the intangibles beyond the physical chassis and internal specs. With Origin PC, you're paying a premium for that company's high level of personalized service and support. The company was founded by former Alienware guys (from the pre-Dell days), and offers lifetime tech support, in the form of access to phone or email assistance, and labor on future upgrades and repairs is free. You'll have to consider how important that personal touch is, as it does cost extra compared to other vendors offering the same components.
In hands-on use, I found that both of these 17-inch laptops performed excellently when playing games, and there's always something nice about being able to set detail levels to "ultra" in games. Neither is going to win any beauty contests. If I were to spend $2,000 to $3,000 or more on a laptop, I admit I'd be pretty disappointed in not getting a slick show-off-ready body, especially with slimmer models, such as theand Razer Blade 17, making inroads as high-design gaming laptops, even if they can't yet match the performance of a desk-hogging monster like the Eon 17-S.
|Origin Eon17-S (2014)||Alienware 17 (2014)||Digital Storm Krypton|
|Price as reviewed||$3,505||$2,967||$2,240|
|Display size/resolution||17.3-inch, 1,920 x 1,080 screen||17.3-inch, 1,920 x 1,080 screen||17.3-inch, 1,920 x 1,080 screen|
|PC CPU||3.1GHz Intel Core i7 4940MX||2.9GHz Intel Core i7 4910MQ||2.8GHz Intel Core i7 4810MQ|
|PC memory||16GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz||16GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz||16GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz|
|Graphics||Nvidia GeForce GTX 880M||Nvidia GeForce GTX 880M||Nvidia GeForce GT 880M|
|Storage||(2) 120GB SSD 750GB 7,200rpm HDD||256GB SSD 1TB 5,400rpm HDD||256GB SSD, 750GB 7,200rpm HDD|
|Networking||802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.0||802.11a/b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0||802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.0|
|Operating system||Windows 8.1 (64-bit)||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)||Windows 8.1 (64-bit)|
Design and features
The actual chassis of the current Eon17-S differs somewhat from both the larger Eon17-SLX we reviewed last year and the similar-sizewe reviewed before that. But you'd still be hard-pressed to tell the difference at a glance. All are big, black, and boxy, and might have dropped onto a gamer's desk during any point in the past five or six years.
That's because this is essentially an off-the-shelf laptop case of the type that boutique PC makers such as Origin PC buy and then fill with custom components. You're still stuck with a thick, heavy machine that doesn't feel as if it was designed from the ground up for gamers, although Origin PC adds a handful of physical customization tweaks for character.
There's a custom A-panel, which is the panel covering the back of the lid. It's sculpted and angular, reminiscent of older Alienware laptops, and comes in a variety of custom colors. Your choice of red, black, or white is included, while other colors and designs run from $175 to $300.
A circular Origin PC logo is backlit on the touch pad, and it's a nice visual touch that gives the system a bit more of a custom feel. Although the nearly identical Digital Storm Krypton does the same thing, with its own logo backlit on the same touchpad.
The key faces on the not-quite-island-style keyboard are widely spaced, but the base of each key is wider and nearly touches its neighbor. The large keys are great for WASD gaming, but Alienware's soft-touch keyboard has a better overall feel. Every gaming laptop keyboard seems to feel the need to be backlit these days. In the Eon17-S, you can set three different zones with different colors under the keyboard, plus a separate zone for the touchpad. Alienware's system is somewhat more polished, with more zones and options, but overall, I like the look ofbacklit keyboard the best.
The display is a key component for a gaming laptop (and one area the otherwise excellent Lenovo Y50 falls down on). This 17.3-inch screen here has a native resolution of 1,920x1,080 pixels, which is the longtime standard for multimedia and gaming PCs, although some systems are boldly moving past that into 4K (or close to it) territory.
The screen on the Eon17-S has a matte finish, and includes a 45-day "no dead pixel" guarantee, allowing you to get a repair or replacement for any dead pixels, which is exactly the type of expanded coverage more mainstream vendors don't offer. Off-axis viewing is excellent, and there's little to no screen glare. Still, a more modern-looking system might have an edge-to-edge display, rather than a thick plastic screen bezel sticking out.
Audio from the branded Onkyo speakers is loud, and gets an additional kick from from a small subwoofer on the bottom panel. It's the same setup, including the Onkyo logo, as found on the Digital Storm Krypton, but I'm still a fan of good-quality headphones for a more immersive gaming experience.