Gaming laptops aren’t new. Big box companies like Dell and MSI have been making rigs and labeling them as “desktop replacements” for years. For the average consumer, those systems are just fine, but there is a segment of PC gamers that insist on being able to tackle whatever comes at them at the highest resolution and with all the bells and whistles at Ultra.
When my MSI GT70 and I took a rough tumble down the stairs courtesy of a twisted ankle, I started looking for a new machine that could handle the likes of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and Batman: Arkham Knight, as well as any titles that should pop up for the next few years.
While I liked the MSI laptop, there were a lot of issues that I found in hindsight. This knowledge would greatly inform my purchase of a new gaming rig. I knew that I didn’t want another 17” laptop as it was incredibly heavy to carry around and a nightmare to lug to a trade show like E3. The MSI system was also incredibly loud, poured heat like a furnace, and driver updates for the 670M graphics card were very infrequent. I also realized that throughout the life of the machine I never used the included BluRay burner. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t as bad as I’ve made it sound. The machine was able to run nearly any game I could throw at it at amazing speeds courtesy of the combined hardware. SSDs in RAID0 kept it speedy, and the Steelseries keyboard simply couldn’t be beaten. Even for it’s faults, I knew it’d be hard act to follow.
I looked over the entire line of laptops at several companies. We’ve covered Origin PC’s products many times on Gaming Trend, so it seemed a logical choice to start my search there. I also dug deep into Razer, Falcon Northwest, and back into MSI, just to name a few. I laid down some basic criteria that I wanted to balance against purchase price, regardless of vendor:
- Lighter weight
- Reduced heat output
- Customization of component options
- RAID0 SSDs for storage and OS
- 980M Graphics Card
- 16GB of RAM or more
- HDMI output
It didn’t take long to weed nearly every manufacturer out based on those bullets. Dell / Alienware doesn’t make a laptop with a 980 option, pushing them immediately out of contention. Falcon Northwest featured a 980 graphics card, but their 15” laptop offering could only hold three drives, leaving either the OS or the storage drives out of a RAID configuration. Falcon checked every other box, so they stayed in contention. Razer’s offerings absolutely obliterated all challengers in terms of weight and portability, but due to the incredibly thin profile, the customization options were almost nil. MSI’s confusingly-named “Titan” (which does not have a Titan in it, instead sporting a 980M, a i7-4720HQ processor, and weighing in at 9.9lbs — the likely source of the name. Origin PC’s offerings, the EVO15-S and EON15-S, and EON15-X, managed to hit literally every one of my criteria, so I focused my efforts there.
If you are wondering about Origin PC’s pedigree, you aren’t alone — I want to know who I’m working with before I spend my cash, so I did a little bit of research. After Alienware was acquired by Dell in 2002, a few folks left the company with the goal of building the best high-performance gaming machines that can handle everything you might throw at it, using non-proprietary parts. Headquartered in Miami, Florida, Origin PC has been in business since 2009 and focuses heavily on high-quality builds specifically for gaming. They also offer lifetime phone and online support, 24/7/365, and serviced right here in the USA. Before any machine leaves, they also bake it in for 72 hours of testing, and run through a massive checklist before they ship. My curiosity satisfied, it was time to see what Origin PC had on offer.
The EVO15-S is the lightest option from Origin PC, offering up to a 970M GPU and a mobile platform as a trade for a shockingly light 4.3lbs weight and less than a inch of height. Shockingly light, but portability wasn’t my only need. The EON15-S rides right in the middle of the three, as you might expect, sporting a mobile processor but also pushing up to a 4GB 980M GPU and a 5.5lbs carry weight. The EON15-X, on the other hand, is a different beast entirely. Let me tell you why, in the end, it was the only choice.
Origin PC EON15-X Laptop
The EON15-X does something that I have only seen one other company pull off – they’ve put a desktop processor into the small form factor of a laptop, ranging from the Intel Core i5-4460S Quad-Core 2.9GHz to the Intel Core i7 4790K Quad-Core 4.0GHz. They also offer an NVidia GTX 980M, but unlike the desktop counterpart which has 4GB of VRAM, the EON15-X sports 8GB of VRAM. Next, you’ll choose between a 1080p LCD display, or the eyebrow-raising 3840×2160 QFHD option (also known as Ultra HD, which is just a slightly smaller size than 4K resolution). Throw in Kingston and Corsair memory options, and you have a laptop the way it was intended to be. I decided I’d take the heat risk on the desktop processor, because I knew I couldn’t pass up the 8GB of VRAM on the top-tier graphics card.
Working through customization, Origin PC offers up the chance for flames and half a dozen colors, but for $150 bucks you can upload your own logo or artwork, though doing that adds a few days to the ship date. Working through the customization, I selected the 1080p output, 16GB of Corsair Vengeance memory clocked in at 1600MHz, and dropped the OS back to Windows 7 (it comes with 8.1, stock). From here, I selected a RAID0 option with a pair of 240GB m.2 SSD drives for the OS. Knowing that I’d want a little bit of storage space, I also picked up a single 750GB 7200RPM hard drive as I already had a matching drive to build my RAID array when the system arrived. Knowing that the system needed to arrive in one piece, I opted for the ORIGIN Wooden Crate Armor option. Selecting a 3 year part replacement and free shipping with lifetime labor support warranty, I hit the purchase button and eagerly waited.
Seven days after placing my order, the crate shown above arrived. If I thought the Wooden Crate Armor option was a joke, it’s clear now that Origin PC takes their shipping very seriously. Eight wood screws later, I was opening the oversized box. Inside I found my laptop inside a soft padded bag, suspended in what amounts to a plastic web to ensure it didn’t move around. The packaging was as well-designed as the products it protected. Also included was my backup disc for Windows 7, a thumb drive with a restore image, a wristband that said “PWNED!”, and a hardware driver disc.
Cosmetically, I went with the flat black option — mostly because it goes with everything. This is provided by a Clevo P750ZM chassis. The system features a full-sized non-mechanical keyboard, with an ample-sized touchscreen that has two buttons underneath. In the center of the two keys is the oft-used fingerprint reader. Above the keyboard lies a central power button with lights on the sides and a long Onkyo sound bar just underneath the screen. The texture of the laptop surfaces feels not unlike a rubber coating. As Origin PC didn’t go with an aluminum chassis, the heat is jettisoned out of the rear and bottom ports, leaving the surface of the laptop completely cool.
Given the presence of the desktop processor and the 980M GPU, you’d imagine it would have been hot enough to fry an egg. Thankfully, the high efficiency cooling and layout design solves that problem rather easily. The graphics card and CPU vents directly out of the larger ports in the back, and the processor is located near the F12 key instead of in the center as it would be on most other laptops. On the flip side, the rubberized surface does hold oils from your skin, leaving a residue that I’m not sure how to safely wipe away other than with a dry rag.
On the right side of the system lies a single USB 3.0 port, with the sundry sound ports you’d expect. Three USB 3.0 ports are situated on the left side of the machine, alongside an e-SATA, a 6-in-one SDCard reader, and a Gigabit Ethernet port courtesy of an Intel AC 7265 chipset which also handles the Bluetooth 4.0 delivery. On the rear of the machine are a pair of 1.2 Displayport ports, as well as an HDMI 1.4 connection spot. The system weighs in at 7.4lbs with a wingspan of 15.2 x 10.31 x 1.40 inches (W x D x H), delivering portability with roughly 2.5 hours of battery life when on the go. It was time to see what was under the hood.
Speed, glorious speed!
The first thing I wanted to do was shore up the speed of the mechanical drives. The system contained the pre-installed 750GB 7200RPM drive, but I wanted to build it into a RAID0 array for maximum speed. Pulling a few screws, I was able to reach the drive storage section underneath the keyboard. Slipping the second drive into place and putting a small piece of foam on top to dampen any vibration, I closed it up. Powering the system up, I dropped into the RAID configuration tool, built an array, and let the system crank up fully for the first time.
The system booted up just inside of 22 seconds for the initial load. That number was pretty amazing, but after adding antivirus and configuring the system for normal use, that number settled to 32 seconds and remained there — the bulk of that time coming from the RAID drive check.
A quick crack check of some of the various programs I use frequently yielded jaw dropping results. Adobe’s Photoshop suite seems to take longer to boot with every expansion as it loads a vast array of libraries upon execution. With this system, Photoshop booted in a eye-popping two seconds. Steam opened as if it was running in the background the whole time! Microsoft Word 2013 snapped open in 2.5 seconds. While this system is designed to be a gaming machine, it serves handsomely as a productivity rig thanks to the extra cores of the processor. Image and video work are easy work for the EON15-X.
At the end of the day, if you are reading this review you are likely here to find out how it handles games. I tackled a variety of titles across several genres to ensure that it could speak to whatever type of games moves you. Specifically, I used Tomb Raider, Company of Heroes 2, Metro Last Light, Metro 2033, Dragon Age: Inquisition, Crysis 3, and Dirt Rally. I also dropped in PC Mark, 3D Mark, and Catzilla for the more synthetic benchmarks.
For all of the games except the Metro series, the benchmarks were well within a relatively succinct reach between the minimums and maximums. Metro 2033 and Metro Last Light, on the other hand, has a benchmarking utility that is designed to bring any system to its highest highs and then drag it to its lowest lows. As such, the scale ranges from the high 20s and low 30s to the mind-boggling 160fps range. Thankfully, the average makes more sense with scores just shy of 40. As such, to keep the scale easier to read, I’ve separated them out, as you can see below:
It’s hard to know what to make of the wild swings in the Metro tests, but in practice the game is as smooth as glass. In fact, I never encountered a framerate hitch in any of the titles I tested that showed a framerate below 30 during gameplay.
Moving into the synthetic benchmarks, I unleashed system-killer 3D Mark on the EON15-X. It’s noteworthy that the receipt for the machine provided the numbers from when Origin PC had already run this and other benchmarking utilities to test the machine prior to shipping — an added touch of quality I’ve not seen from any other company. Below are my tests, which lined up with the numbers I received from Origin:
As you can see, the EON15-X scores not only more than double what is considered to be top marks for a “gaming laptop”, it almost reaches the highest scores for a desktop. This is made all the more impressive as this is done with a mobile version of the 980 GTX graphics card, and without any overclocking of any kind — these are ‘stock’ numbers.
Our PC Mark 8 scan went equally well, with the ‘casual gaming’ framerate topping out at 138 fps. The overall score came in at 5673, but without context that is just a number. Searching across the Internet, I found a few scores that I’ve anonymized for this review. One user had a score of 4621 by using an overclocked FX-8350 processor at 4.8GHz, an EVGA GTX980 SC ACX2.0 4GB GPU, and 12GB of 2133 G.Skill running in their desktop. Another user scored 5205 with an overclocked i7 3770K processor at 4.2GHz, an SLI pair of EVGA GTX 970 4GB GPUs, and 16GB of Kingston Black 2133MHz memory. This trend continued and confirmed what I had come to understand with these tests — the EON15-X will outperform all but the most expensive and overclocked PCs on the market.
Catzilla is one of those benchmark tests you have to see to believe. Essentially, a giant cat has come to destroy a city using lasers from its eyes. This creates a whole lot of physics to feast your eyes on as buildings crumble, and more lighting sources and detail than you can shake a stick at. I ran the score and picked up a score of 11182. Again, without context this didn’t help me much, but when I filtered the scores to compare the EON15-X to just the laptops that have run this test I was shocked at the result. This laptop is literally the fastest in the world. When was the last time you scored #1 on a benchmarking test leaderboard?
One of the most amazing things during all of these tests is that the temperature of the processors remained fairly low. The system, during normal operation, is 100% silent. I figured it’d sound like it was about to take flight during benchmarks or heavy gaming, but somehow, that’s not the case. While I wouldn’t keep it on my lap for gaming, it certainly remains very quiet regardless of task.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
There is no doubt that people like me are eyeing The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt as a reason to buy a system like the EON15-X. If you buy it relatively soon, you’ll even get The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt for free with your purchase. The question is, how does it perform? Even as powerful as this system is, can it run with everything turned on? The answer is yes, but it comes with a caveat.
There is no doubt that this game is absolutely gorgeous, and a quick look at the video below will show you the bells and whistles that make it all happen:
If you pick up the newest drivers from NVidia, and you pop open the GeForce Experience, it’ll recommend that you run things on High for almost everything, and Ultra for some others, but you need to turn off the incredibly gorgeous HairFX technology. I’m here to tell you that they are wrong. You can, in fact, turn up everything to Ultra, push every option to the limit, and turn on those gorgeous hair effects. Here’s that caveat that I mentioned…you won’t get 60fps.
Benchmarking with FRAPS and with Shadowplay I found that my framerate with everything truly maxed out (at 1080p resolution) I found that my framerate hovered around 42fps, with no drops below 38 even during the most intense of combat. Since the game has been out for a matter of hours, people have only begun to scratch the surface on optimizing all of the hidden little options. Further driver refinements will push those numbers up over time, I’m sure (and you can check out a huge tweaking guide from NVidia right here already). If you were thinking this machine might be great for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, wonder no more. Using the HDMI-out option I’m able to play the game from my comfortable couch on my huge TV in the living room. It doesn’t get better than that.
Bits and Pieces
There are little things that make a world of difference in a system build. On a desktop PC, interchanging parts is as easy as cracking the case and giving the component a good yank. On a laptop, fiddling with the internals is often a daunting task for most users, and one that might void your warranty. The EON15-X makes this easy, allowing you to reach nearly every component with just a few screw pulls. This allows you to swap physical and m.2 drives fairly easy, change the memory, and even swap out the graphics card. Yes, you heard that right – the EON15-X has a user-replaceable GPU.
Origin PC has opted for a chassis that uses the MXM graphics card form factor. These cards are ultra-slim, but use a socket instead of being hardwired to the motherboard. If there is a reason to recommend the extended warranty (and consequently the labor coverage) for your new system, it’s this simple bit of knowledge: when a new card comes out, Origin PC will change it for you. Much of what stops people from choosing a mobile platform is the inability to replace parts, but with easily accessible memory and storage and a replaceable graphics card, it is certainly getting easier to suggest a more portable platform.
One of the other nice things about using vendor agnostic hardware to build a system is that it tends to drive component prices down. I was able to find a spare battery for just 65 dollars on Origin’s website. Having purchased a replacement battery for my MSI at more than triple that price, it was a welcome sight.
There is another nice option built directly into the system — a secure hard drive. Built directly into the OS partition of the main drive array is a 1GB secure drive. This drive doesn’t show up in Windows Explorer, only becoming visible when unlocked with a fingerprint. This keeps your secure files truly secure. While there are certainly other methods (and I won’t argue their merits here), a super-secret drive that only your fingers unlock is a nice added touch.
A few challenges to supremacy
The EON15-X is an absolutely amazing piece of hardware, but it’s not without fault. The display is an LCD, using Twisted Nematic (TN for short) display technology. TN displays have become increasingly fast, with response times in the 2ms to 1ms range, but at a cost — viewing angles. The EON15-X’s display is absolutely amazing, but moving out roughly 30 degrees from a straight-on orientation causes the screen to wash out a bit, losing color saturation and making it hard to view. It’s not going to affect your game time in any way, but if you are trying to show the latest Star Wars trailer to a group of friends, some of them might need to squeeze in a little bit.
If there is one thing that the MSI series laptops do extraordinarily well, it’s sound. Adding in a paltry 1 Watt subwoofer and pumping up their speakers a little bit gives it a richness of sound I’ve not heard on any other laptop, including the EON15-X. The Onkyo soundbar is very serviceable, giving a decent and rich pallet of sound, but comparatively it’s the single thing I miss about the other rig. Ultimately you’ll have more than enough thump in your games thanks to the Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi MB3 software. There are three settings in the software — Music, Movie, and Game. In practice I found that the Game setting was the best balanced, even if the bass feels a little light.
The last thing that might give somebody a moment of pause is the elephant in the room — the price. This level of power doesn’t come cheap, and as configured this laptop hits around $2700 USD. If you place a value on bleeding edge when coupled to portability, there isn’t a system that matches the EON15-X. Like the saying says, “You get what you pay for.”