Thursday

Origin Eon 11-S review


 
The 11-inch gaming laptop is the textbook definition of a niche product. In fact, up until now, there's really only been one serious entry in that category, Dell's Alienware M11x. Origin (coincidentally co-founded by some former Alienware employees) has recently gotten into the game with the Eon 11-S, which the company describes as a "compact high-performance laptop."
And it's just in time, too, as the Alienware model has been unceremoniously discontinued. That's a shame, as we liked the M11x, even if it wasn't the most practical for either serious PC gamers or portability obsessed travelers.
The Eon 11-S isn't anywhere nearly as portable as other 11-inch ultraportables, or even 13-inch ultrabooks, but it's at least small enough to fit into a messenger bag.

The system starts at $999, but that number can be a bit deceiving. For that entry price, you only get a Intel B960 Pentium Dual-Core Processor (trust me, you don't want that). At least it's coupled with a Nvidia GeForce GT 650M GPU, but plan on upgrading to at least a current Intel Core i5, bringing the starting price to $1,136. Our review unit included an Intel Core i7-3612QM CPU, 8GB of RAM, a 750GB hard drive, and an external Blu-ray drive, bringing the price up to $1,542, which actually seems like a much better bang for your buck than the $999 configuration.
Of course, having high-powered hardware and using it to play a game on the 11-inch 1,366x768-pixel screen may be overkill, but I suspect many gamers will use the Eon 11-S like I did, by connecting it to a 1,920x1,080-pixel monitor, and only using the built-in screen occasionally.
Price as reviewed / Starting price$1,542 / $999
Processor2.1GHz Intel Core i7-3612QM
Memory8GB, 1333MHz DDR3
Hard drive750GB 7,200rpm
ChipsetIntel HM77
GraphicsNvidia GeForce GT 650M / Intel HD 4000
Operating systemWindows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)
Dimensions (WD)11.2 x 8.1 inches
Height1.4 inches
Screen size (diagonal)11.6 inches
System weight / Weight with AC adapter3.8/4.8 pounds
CategoryUltraportable
Like Origin's other laptops, the Eon 11-S has a thick, generic look to it. That's because it's based on a slightly customized version of an 11-inch laptop body from Clevo, a Taiwanese manufacturer that makes laptop bodies that other computer companies tweak and rebrand as their own. This is par for the course from smaller PC makers who can't design and fabricate their own custom laptop shells (as Apple, Dell, HP, and others do).
In its current lineup, Origin adds a custom back panel on the laptop's lid. It's an angular, finned look that's clearly Alienware-inspired, but in the case of the 11-inch version, it fortunately doesn't add much extra thickness. Still, if you're spending $1,500 or more on a high-end laptop, you'd probably prefer a sleeker, more unique look.
The keyboard -- again part of the generic Clevo design -- is workable but underwhelming, with small island-style keys. There's a full compliment of media and system controls as Fn+F-key alternate functions, and the left Shift, Tab, and other important keys are nice and big. The right Shift key does get unfairly shrunken down, and the WASD keys used in many games may be too small for hefty fingers.
The touch pad is no-frills, with small, clacky left and right mouse buttons. For gamers it shouldn't be a deal breaker -- you'll probably be using a mouse or game pad most of the time anyway. For casual Web surfing or times when you're not using a mouse, I found the surface to be big enough for comfortable scrolling, at least in relation to the 11-inch body.
The 11.6-inch screen is one of the system's big selling points, but also it's weakest link. The native resolution of 1,366x768 pixels is the same as you'll find on a majority of 11-, 13-, 14-, and 15-inch laptops. That one-size-fits-all approach isn't always the best, and I find that the 1,366x768-pixel resolution works better on 11- and 13-inch laptops than larger screens, where it can start to feel toy-like.
It becomes an issue here if you have a high-powered CPU/GPU combo, but can only crank games up to 13x7. I suspect that most of the time you'll do what I did, which is to connect the HDMI output to an external monitor running at 1,920x1,080 pixels.
Origin Eon 11-SAverage for category [ultraportable]
VideoVGA plus HDMIVGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort
AudioStereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacksStereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks
Data1 USB 2.0, 2 UDB 3.0, SD card reader2 USB 2.0, 1 UDB 3.0, SD card reader
NetworkingEthernet, 802.11n Wi-FiEthernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband
Optical driveNoneNone
With HDMI and a couple of USB 3.0 ports, you're really not missing out on much in the way of connectivity. Some 11-inch laptops (as well as Apple's new 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display) skip the Ethernet jack in favor of a USB dongle, but I was pleased to see it included here, as I wanted a hard line or download big PC game install files.
The Intel Core i7-3612QM included in this test system isn't even as high as you can go. The top choice is a 2.7GHz Intel Core i7-3820QM, which is a $251 upgrade from the $1,542 our build cost. I counted 23 hard-drive options, from 320GB platter drives (we had a 750GB one), to 512GB solid-state drive options for an additional $800 or more.
In our benchmark tests, the Eon 11-S performed well, but it's a tough system to judge. You can compare it to other 11-inch laptops, but the components (and price) are in an entirely different category, or you can compare it to other Ivy Bridge gaming laptops, which have the benefit of using faster, hotter components. The 11-S held its own even against those systems, falling a bit behind the Maingear EX-L 15 and the Samsung Series 7 Gamer, but still showing off its high-end quad-core CPU.
Those bigger gaming laptops had GPUs such as the new Nvidia GeForce GTX 675M, versus the GeForce 650M here. It's still more than powerful enough for all but the most extreme gamers. The Eon 11-S ran our Street Fighter IV test at its 1,366x768-pixel native resolution at 113.4 frames per second, and the very challenging Metro 2033 test at 19.3 frames per second at the same resolution.
Anecdotally, I connected to a 1,920x,1080-pixel external display and fired up Diablo III at full 1080p resolution, with most of the in-game settings on high, and it was extremely playable. For a portable machine meant for travel, LAN parties (do people still have those?) and the like, this feels like a very reasonable compromise to make, and still leaves you with the ability to play any new or upcoming PC game with decent results.
Mainstream (Avg watts/hour)
Off (60%)0.47
Sleep (10%)1.01
Idle (25%)18.94
Load (05%)48.42
Raw kWh Number66.04
Annual Energy Cost7.50
The battery life expectations one generally has for an 11-inch laptop may be unrealistic here, with all this high-end hardware and only so much space in the small chassis for a battery. Still, the Eon 11-S ran for 3 hours and 8 minutes on our video playback battery drain test, which is pretty impressive for a gaming laptop. If you're actually hitting the GPU by playing a game, your battery life will likely be shorter, but this is considered quite good for a gaming laptop of any size.
Origin supplies a detailed multipage checklist covering its assembly and testing, hand-signed by the techs responsible. The default mail-in warranty is for one year, but with only 45 days of free shipping. Adding $70 will get you free shipping for the full one-year duration of the warranty, or two- and three-year terms are also available. A three-year plan runs $269. The system includes lifetime phone support and labor (assuming you pay for parts), which is a nice touch, as is the 45-day guarantee of no dead pixels on the display.
The best-known 11-inch gaming laptop, Alienware's M11x, has exited stage left, leaving room for Origin (and a couple of other boutique PC makers) to cater to the presumably small but serious audience for on-the-go gaming. If you make sure to build out a specific configuration that will work for you (the config reviewed here seems like a good place to start), the Eon 11-S can be both a docked gaming monster at home and a fun travel companion.