What price will you pay for glory? Origin PC is hoping that it's a lot. Founded earlier this year by former Alienware executives, this ambitious startup is looking to reclaim the space it says was ceded by Alienware after its acquisition by Dell. The company's first laptop, the EON18 (starting at $2,276; $5,952 as configured) boasts some of the best specs we've seen yet, including a Core 2 Extreme processor, dual Nvidia graphics chips, and dual solid-state drives. This 18.4-inch monster also has multiple lighting effects, and can be decked out with a custom airbrushed paint job. Plus, Origin PC promises customer service with a personal touch. All of these ingredients add up to a killer rig, but not one that outperforms the competition.
The EON18 defies the notion of portability. Measuring 17.3 x 11.8 x 1.7 inches and weighing 12.5 pounds, you may need a hand truck to cart this system around. Its power brick alone weighs 3.0 pounds; that's more than most netbooks. Nevertheless, the EON18 is about a pound lighter than the ASUS W90, another 18-inch behemoth.
The lid of our review unit came with a custom bright red and orange flame motif, somewhat reminiscent of the Toshiba Qosmio X305; it was attractive without being ostentatious. An Origin logo in the middle is backlit in blue, which proved to be a nice contrast. One neat feature that Origin offers is that customers can submit a custom design, which is then airbrushed onto the lid by Killer Paint. Also, Origin will replace its backlit logo on the lid with one of your own choosing. The price and time it takes to paint will vary, but we imagine it will be at least $259--the cost of one of the two designs offered by Origin.
Overall, our system had a nice look, but the design doesn't seem as menacing as the Alienware M17x or M15x, which has a heftier--and perhaps sturdier--magnesium-alloy chassis. However, Alienware doesn't let you completely customize the lid of its systems--you can only choose from black, red, or silver.
Inside, the EON18 is all about black gloss, from the display to the keyboard deck to the palm rest. This includes the touchpad, which is set off by a thin, blue, backlit border. It's a fairly slick look, but picks up fingerprints faster than a detective at a crime scene.
To the right of the keyboard are eight user-definable buttons that gamers will appreciate. However, they're almost too spread outp; it's a borderline uncomfortable reach for your pinkie finger when your left hand is perched over the WASD keys.
Above the keyboard are a number of touch-sensitive buttons that all responded well. The left-most button lets you change the lights behind the speaker grilles (other backlighting remains blue). The others control the webcam, Bluetooth, cooling fan, Wi-Fi, and audio equalizer presets. At the far right is a button to mute the speakers, and hemispherical touch controls to raise and lower the volume.
Owing to its spacious chassis and three fans blowing air out from the underside of the system, the EON18 never got overly warm. After playing a Hulu video at full screen for 15 minutes, the temperature of the touchpad was 84 degrees Fahrenheit, the space between the G and H keys reached 95 degrees, and the middle of the underside was 88 degrees. We don't consider any of those temperatures to be uncomfortable to the user.
Keyboard and Touchpad
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When you have an 18-inch system, there's a lot of space for the keyboard. And while we generally like the EON18's island-style layout--the keys offered excellent response, travel, and have the right amount of friction--the arrow buttons and number pad could've used a little more attention. They're crammed next to the keyboard in order to make room for the custom buttons on the left side, which have a huge amount of space around them.
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The touchpad is nicely sized at 3.1 x 1.9 inches, but given the amount of space on the deck, it should be a bit larger. Despite its glossy surface, though, there was very little friction; this is something of an anomaly when it comes to touchpads, and one that we welcome. Regardless, most gamers are likely to use a mouse for finer movement. Origin offers both Razer and Logitech mice ranging in price from $37 to $129.
Display and Audio
The 18.4-inch display on the EON18 is massive. With a resolution of 1920 x 1080, colors were bright and crisp. The reds and golds of Tony Stark's suit in a Blu-ray of Iron Man gleamed, and subtle changes in the darkest areas of night scenes came out well, too. While the display has excellent viewing angles--the image was still clear almost 180 degrees horizontally, and still looked good tilted as far back as it would go--the glossy finish kicked back a ton of reflections. It's best to use this machine in a dimly lit room.
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For a $6,000 system, the EON18's audio was a little flat. Despite the ability to change equalizer settings by pressing the button above the keyboard, we were underwhelmed at the quality. Bass wasn't all that driving, and higher notes and noises weren't well defined. Sound effects were decent during game play--there was plenty of separation to know when baddies were coming at us from the sides--but it was more noticeable when watching movies and listening to music. While loud enough to fill an office, Kanye West's "Homecoming" sounded tinny and, when using the bass preset, the track sounded muddy and muffled.
Ports and Webcam
There's a lot of space on this chassis for ports, and the EON18 doesn't disappoint. On the left are two USB, DVI, HDMI (which is compatible with version 1.3), FireWire 400, Ethernet, a 7-in-1 card slot, and an ExpressCard/54 slot. On the right is a third USB port, a combo eSATA/USB, and four audio connections: S/PDIF, line-in, headphone, and mic.
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While conversing with a friend over Google Video Chat, the webcam produced decent video that recorded movement well, but was somewhat muted in tone. Fortunately, the included BisonCam software let us add some more color to our cheeks. The embedded mic also picked up our voice well; our caller had no problem hearing us.
Packed with a 2.53-GHz Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9300 processor, 8GB of DDR3 RAM, and two 160GB Intel SSDs, it's no surprise that the EON18 blew away all but one performance benchmark to date. Its PCMark Vantage score of 11,039 was almost twice as high as the Alienware M15x (6,543), the previous record setter, to say nothing of the desktop replacement average (4,208). Needless to say, this machine handled everything we threw at it with ease.
A lot of this muscle has to do with the EON18's twin 160GB SSDs; they creamed our LAPTOP Transfer Test, copying 4.97GB of multimedia files in just 51 seconds, a rate of 99.8 MBps--four times the average, and a new record for notebooks. This rig booted Windows 7 Ultimate in a brisk 54 seconds, which is 12 seconds faster than the average.
Transcoding a 5-minute-and-5-second MPEG-4 to AVI using HandBrake took just 2:52, almost two and a half minutes below the average; that time shortened to 1:39 when we used vReveal, a program that takes advantage of Nvidia's CUDA technology. Even better was the quad-core performance: using Oxelon Media Converter, we transcoded the same file in just 56 seconds.
The reason the EON18 lacks a Core i7 processor is because Intel has yet to support SLI for its newest CPU, which means that Origin wouldn't have been able to put dual Nvidia GeForce GTX 280M GPUs inside this notebook, each with 1GB of memory. It looks like a wise choice. On 3DMark06, the EON18's score of 13,158 simply crushed the average (6,750), and was bested only by the Alienware M17x (13,463). In 3DMark Vantage, the EON18 scored 12,049, which is almost two and half times the average (4,960).
Similarly, the EON18's gaming scores were sky-high, but they weren't the highest. Not surprisingly, it aced World of Warcraft, clocking in at 59 frames per second at 1920 x 1080 and graphics set to Ultra. In Far Cry 2, the EON18 averaged 99 frames per second at 1024 x 768, and 55 fps at 1920 x 1080 with the graphics on Very High. By comparison, the desktop replacement averages are 67 and 32 fps, respectively. When we cranked the effects on the EON18 to the upper limit--Ultra High--the average barely moved, falling to 52 fps.
Granted, the Alienware M17x has a smaller screen, but its 8GB of RAM pushed its Far Cry 2 score to 69 fps at full HD and graphics on Very High. Are you going to notice the difference? Probably not, but bragging rights should include frame rates.
In Call of Duty: World at War, we were treated to luscious jungle scenes on Pacific islands, and enjoyed excellent detail in explosions and foliage. Even at full HD, we were able to get 72 fps, as measured by fraps. When saving the world in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, frame rates at 1080p were an even better 89 fps. Action was amazingly smooth, and detail, like chevrons on a uniform, extremely crisp. The amount of dust and snow blowing through the air lent an even more realistic quality to the action.
Wi-Fi and Battery Life
The EON18's connectivity was good, but not great. At 15 feet from our access point, we saw throughput of 20.4 Mbps, a few hairs above average. At 50 feet, the EON18's throughput--12.6 Mbps--was 3.7 Mbps below average.
Endurance is somewhat of a non-issue on notebooks this size; nevertheless, the EON18 saw 1 hour and 9 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test (Web surfing via Wi-Fi); the typical desktop replacement gets 2:33.
The EON18 sucks up power like a Dyson does dirt, so it's no wonder that the notebook scored 154.1 on our LAPTOP Battery Efficiency Rating, more than double the average of 70.4 and, unlike most benchmarks, the lower the score the better. It was higher than the Alienware M17x (125.2) by a fair amount, too.
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Believe it or not, the $5,952 configuration we tested isn't the most expensive. Adding a third 160GB Intel SSD (for a total of 480GB) would bring the final price to a whopping $6,526. Even a comparable Alienware M17x with dual 256GB SSDs costs $5,838.
Don't feel like selling a share of Berkshire Hathaway to subsidize your next gaming rig? The EON18 has a more reasonable starting price of $2,276, which includes a single Nivdia GTX 280M GPU, a 2.53-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8700 processor, a 250GB hard drive, 2GB of RAM, and a DVD Burner. In between the configuration for the Haves and the config for the Have-Mores are a number of options for processors, hard drives, and the like.
Software and Warranty
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Thankfully, the EON18 comes with no trialware whatsoever. That means no 60-day trial of Microsoft Office, no annoying MacAfee pop-up windows, nothing. It's rather refreshing. Our system came with nothing more than the aforementioned BisonCam app, CyberLink DVD Suite, and Microsoft Games for Windows. Origin will preload the system with software of your choosing, too.
When you pay a lot for anything, you want some assurances, and Origin looks to distinguish itself from its competitors in this area too by offering a lifetime phone and labor warranty, as well as a one-year part replacement guarantee and free shipping warranty. Additionally, each customer gets a dedicated support team, which includes those who helped build the notebook.
Yes, the Origin EON18 costs and weighs as much as a good used car, but it performs more like a Ferrari--if Ferraris came with howitzers. It blows by almost every other gaming notebook--and for $5,952, it should. But even in a market segment where cost is no object, some may find the EON18's price difficult to swallow when the Alienware M17x offers better gaming performance and costs over $1,000 less. Ultimately, it all comes down to how much you think the extra level of design customization and customer support is worth.