The bigger the gaming laptop is, the more powerful it is. At least that's been the experience I've had in my gaming laptop-reviewing career. A bigger chassis means more bells and whistles, better heat management, and a larger, more vivid display.
I've equated smaller size with sacrifice, so when Origin PC first unveiled the EON-11s, an 11-inch portable gaming machine and one of the more affordable units they offer, I was impressed by the engineering but sceptical of its capabilities.
Now that I've spent a couple of weeks caressing its keys with my own hands? I'm impressed. And a little squinty.
When I compare the form factor of the EON-11s to a netbook, bear in mind that I've not been testing out a system with one of the fancy new moulded panels Origin PC is so very proud of. Instead, my review unit came with the basic Origin panel, a flat black textured number that really does enhance the illusion that this is the sort of machine you could pick up for a couple hundred bucks at Wal-Mart.
When a real customer purchases an 11-S, they are given the choice of three moulded coloured panels, seen above, for no additional charge. What's the difference? I'd say it's the difference between someone swiping the unit or handing it in at the counter when you accidentally leave it at Starbucks. Some appreciate the flash; I'm perfectly fine without.
EON-11 Review System Specs
- Intel Core i5-2520 Dual-Core Processor (2.50GHz), 3MB Cache
- 8GB DDR3 1333MHz1
- 750GB SATA 3.0Gb/s, 7200RPM, 16MB Cache HDD
- Single 2GB GDDR3 NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M w/ Optimus 1.2 Technology
- Wi-Fi Link 802.11A/B/G/N Wireless LAN Module with Bluetooth — up to 300 Mbps
- SAMSUNG USB 2.0 External Slim Portable Blu-ray Writer 6X BD-R/8X DVD+/-R/24X CD-RW
- CyberLink PowerDVD 12 Ultra — 3D Blu-ray
- One Genuine MS Windows 7 Home Premium 64-Bit Edition
- One-year part replacement and 45-day free shipping Warranty with DVD image and lifetime labour/24-7 support
Total Configured Price: $US1429 Starting Price $US999
The simple back panel of my unit nicely accentuates the no-frills interior of the EON-11s. It's got a perfectly capable 11.6-inch HD 1366x768 display; a plain vanilla keyboard of the limited variety often found on, say, a netbook; a textured two-button touchpad that melds nicely with the base; and that's pretty much it. The power button is a black square of plastic with a blue accent light.
They've managed to cram quite a few ports onto the sides of the unit, aided by the fact that there's no internal optical drive on the unit. That sacrifice allowed engineers to fit two USB 2.0 ports, three USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI out, a VGA port, a sport for a network cable and the obligatory headphone and microphone jacks. To load my copy of Diablo III on the EON-11s I used the optional Samsung portable USB Blu-ray writer.
Indeed, only the Origin logo beneath the display betrays the fact that this is anything other than a limited-power budget notebook. It even has the battery life of a netbook, easily running for five or six hours during non-graphics intensive work, thanks to NVIDIA's Optimus Technology.
The true power of the EON-11s lurks beneath this unassuming exterior. Configurable with up to an Intel Core i7-3612QM quad-core processor with up to 16GB of memory and a standard 2GB GDDR3 NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M handling video, Origin can pack a lot of power into this tiny package.
My review system wasn't quite all that. Mine came outfitted with an Intel Core i5-2520 dual-core processor and 8GB of RAM. While not the most robust configuration, at $US1429 (including the external Blu-ray writer and software) the price is nowhere near as outrageous as one would expect from such a minuscule machine.
And really, who needs the highest configuration when you can run Diablo III at the highest settings at frame rates approaching 60 frames per second? You? Well then you should probably go for the highest configuration then. Just saying.
All in all, the EON-11s handling gaming tasks far better than I expecting. Battlefield 3 ran at a nice clip, barely dipping below 40 FPS on High (Ultra ran between 20 and 30). Tera, my current MMO poison of choice, barely blinked when I set the graphics to max.
The only feature of the 11s that performed to my lowered expectations was the display. A smaller display means smaller text; smaller text means UI adjustments, holding the laptop up to your face, squinting, or possibly having your glasses prescription updated. That's not so much a problem with Origin's display as it is my eyes, though I would have loved a panel with a wider viewing angle — distortion comes quickly when tilting the screen or turning it left to right.
And the sound, well. It's good enough for a laptop with two tiny speakers on the underside of the unit. It positively sings with headphones on. I'm sure you can find a pair somewhere.
Alienware's recent discontinuation of its M11x line of compact laptops would seem to indicate that the market for a compact and capable PC gaming system just isn't there. If it was a factor of price, then the EON-11s is in trouble — a starting M11x runs $US999, $US200 more than the lowest-end Alienware machine. The discrepancy makes sense, as Origin PC is its own company and Alienware is a Dell subsidiary, but it's still a difference.
However, if a market does indeed still exist for tiny laptops that can play Diablo III, Origin PC's EON-11s has the market sewn up. Not only is it a powerful little bugger, it's available with options that don't mark you as a target for the hordes of gaming laptop thieves I'm convinced roam the streets of America.
Special thanks to Origin PC for sending an 11-inch laptop in a crate that I now have to screw back together for the trip back.