Gaming laptops have come a long way over the past few years, but the vast majority of even top-end models are not ready for prime time when it comes to the next hot topic in PC gaming -- virtual reality. Origin PC is one of the very first PC makers to shoehorn the required desktop PC technology into a (somewhat) portable laptop body. For anyone interested in upcoming VR hardware such as the Oculus Rift, a desktop/laptop hybrid like the Origin PC Eon17-SLX fills this very specific hardware need.
Having desktop-level power in a laptop is something PC makers have been chasing for years. There was a time when serious PC gamers laughed at the poor schmoes playing on so-called "gaming laptops." These devices, no matter how heavy and bulky, just couldn't keep up with even midlevel desktop computers with half-decent graphics cards installed.
But PC makers and component companies have spent the past several years building laptop gaming hardware into legitimate platform for games from casual to hardcore. In particular, systems with Nvidia's GeForce 980M GPU, which we started seeing in the fall of 2014, are more than powerful enough to play any new game at full HD resolution (1,920x1,080 pixels) and high detail settings. Decent designs, from HP, Razer, MSI and others have also made some of these gaming laptops slightly more portable, and definitely more presentable, which is especially important for system that need to do double-duty as work or family machines, not just game centers.
Those with higher-resolution ambitions and bottomless pockets can always go for a fully tricked-out desktop with up to three Nvidia Titan X cards, but for everyone else, a standard gaming laptop with an Nvidia 900-series graphics card will do.
So, problem solved, and nothing more needs to be said on the subject, right?
Unless, of course, all this talk about virtual reality has started to take hold. The first generation of modern PC-based VR hardware is almost here, including the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive, and PC gamers are a prime audience for these devices. Try hooking up a brand-new $600 Oculus Rift headset to most gaming laptops, no matter how expensive, and it's just not going to work. Try the official Oculus Rift Compatibility Tool and see.
That's because of a quirk in the Oculus Rift system requirements (the hardware requirements for the HTC Vive have not been announced yet, but they will likely be very similar). A desktop graphics card, rather than a mobile one, is required. By way of a simplified explanation, it's not merely because of the graphics horsepower, but also because of how mobile graphics cards send their video signal, which travels through the integrated graphics system on the way to the HDMI port, and that extra step doesn't play nice with the first-gen Oculus Rift hardware.
Fortunately, Nvidia found a way to squeeze a shrunken-down version of the popular GeForce 980 desktop graphics card into a laptop. A handful of PC makers are building systems around this now, and the first one we've tested and reviewed is the Origin PC Eon17-SLX. Both Origin PC and others have occasionally slipped a desktop CPU into thick, bulky laptop body in the past, but this is the first time we're seeing a desktop GPU inside a laptop (some laptops, including models from Dell and Asus, as well as the upcoming Razer Blade Stealth, offer options for connecting desktop graphics cards housed in external add-on boxes).
Oculus calls systems from its official PC partners "Oculus Ready PCs," while Origin PC labels this system as "VR Ready." No doubt we'll see many subtle shadings of these terms over the course of this year.