Origin PC’s EON11-S: A Mobile Media Creation Station
8/6/2012 by: Matt Brodnick
At E3 2012, Origin PC of Miami, Florida introduced me to their new line of fully customizable systems. Jokingly, I asked “How about an ultra-portable media editing suite?” Well, in a few weeks a large wooden crate arrived at my doorstep with a beefed up EON 11-S laptop!
Eddy Piedra, Marketing Specialist at Origin PC, hooked us up with the EON 11-S, a high performance platform in a netbook-like form factor. I do a lot of video and audio editing on location, with very demanding turnaround times. I wanted a system that was portable enough to be a light carry-on while powerful enough to handle the latest multimedia editing applications, such as Adobe Creative CS6, and Sony Vegas Pro. And hey - a couple rounds of Battlefield 3 every now and then wouldn’t be bad either.
Along with their 11-S, this Miami-born system builder has already received much acclaim for their meticulously built products, with many user reviews to follow. But these reviews sparingly touch upon user experience, mainly relying on numerical achievements, such as benchmarks, to weigh its worthiness. So this will be the first of a two-part review, starting with my real-world experiences using this laptop in the field, and then followed up by a more in-depth technical analysis by Anshel Sag, our testing manager.
From the outside, anyone passing by this laptop wouldn’t think twice about what performance lies inside. I even got a few complimentary sneers from more ‘extreme’ and ‘gaming’ enthusiasts. But this custom-built sleeper is driven by Intel’s Ivy Bridge i7-3610QM, 8GB of RAM, a 250GB solid state drive, and NVIDIA’s GT650 2GB graphics chip with Optimus technology that can handle the latest applications with ease - all weighing in at only 4 lbs (1.8 kg). That’s serious firepower inside something that comfortably fits into my backpack.
Like the name suggests, the 11-S has an 11-inch screen displaying at a 1366x768 resolution. While it may not be ideal for viewing full HD 1080p media, it’s perfect for viewing 720p content on the go. This may be the highest comfortable resolution for this screen size, but it’s enough to enjoy both work and play. Anything higher would cause unnecessary viewing strain. Regardless, this laptop also has an HDMI port to easily plug into any HDTV or external display, which is very helpful while editing video. A 1.3 MP webcam and mic sits above the screen, which works nicely on Google Hangouts and Skype calls.
This laptop is built with connectivity in mind. On the left shoulder, I have a Gigabit ethernet, VGA, HDMI, onboard audio ports, as well as two USB 3.0 ports. Below it sits a wide vent exhausting hot air from the quad-core chip inside. The bottom lip has your standard power indicator lights and even an SD/Memory Stick reader, which is very handy for offloading memory cards from certain DSLRs and camcorders. The right shoulder accommodates A/C power, a USB 2.0 port for mice or other peripherals, and a Kensington lock port.
As I mentioned earlier this model may not have the “looks” of high performance, with its low-profile matte design, but Origin PC also offers more aesthetic options to show off your powerhouse. Customers can select a variety of glossy back panels while ordering, but I wanted to stay with the standard, minimalist design. Anyway, if outside appearances are important to you, they can soup it up too.
Other than a preloaded Control Center suite, CPU-Z, RealTemp, and some wallpapers, the 11-S comes out of the box with a clean installation of Windows 7 Home Premium. They also preinstall their own version of TeamViewer remote access troubleshooting software, but no bloat otherwise, which is breath of fresh air.
If you purchased a new laptop over the past year, chances are you have a speedy solid state drive installed as the boot drive. And man, does it boot up fast. But the ideal SSD capacity for media editors would still be monstrous in price, because the large amount of space we need to fill hours of HD video and audio. I chose a 250GB SSD because its just the right size for my personal docs, apps, and mobile computing down the line. Thankfully there are USB 3.0 ports so I can point apps toward my terabytes of external media drives below my desk, and still retain enough bandwidth for smooth HD and RAW preview/playback.
After having several netbooks over the years, I’m already familiar with the crammed nature of compact, Chiclet-style keyboards. It’s not one of the most comfortable experiences in the world, but it gets the job done. The keys have decent response and typing is somewhat tolerable. But like other netbook keyboards, there is no space for a 10-key, and certain key sizes are sacrificed for space. Unfortunately on the 11-S, it’s the Right Shift key. Even while typing this review, my little finger would randomly hit the Enter and Up key. There are plenty of Function keys for control and connectivity, but the Right Shift key is more important than the arrow keys, now that we have touchpads with scrolling capability.
And like most laptops, the built-in speakers are tolerable at best, but I mainly wear headphones while mobile anyway. The onboard audio is driven by THX TruStudio Pro software, with enhancement and EQ features loaded in. When set to Headphone mode, these toggles are great for listening to music and movies, but may not be ideal for reference listening while editing.
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Getting to Work
Many media editing programs now support GPU accelerated computing, including Adobe and Sony programs, which is great because both suites recognize that the CUDA-capable GT650 was available to use. This shaved off lots of time from rendering and processing 1080p and RAW footage from both the internal SSD and external drives.
These applications typically demand lots of processing power and memory, and 8 GB of RAM is just enough to support these programs. While I typically run upwards of 16 GB on my main desktop rig at home for more intensive projects, the content I create on this laptop has no more than 2-4 video layers at a time, and still have enough left over to run lots of processes in the background. The 3610QM is a real performer when called upon, crunching out lots of tasks while somehow fitting into such a small package.
The glossy screen is bright and easy to read, and has a decent viewing angle. However, the LCD’s color and contrast skews at any angle other than looking straight on, and may not have the best color accuracy. Setting up playback through the HDMI port to an external monitor was a breeze, and didn’t cause a hiccup in performance. Once I had a 24’’ 1080p preview monitor at my side, having an 11-inch control display wasn’t so bad. Again, I probably wouldn’t be doing any serious editing on a such a small screen, but at least the option is available with a simple connection.
To prevent turning into a dull boy, I treat myself to a few rounds of Battlefield 3 now and then. With NVIDIA’s Optimus Technology, the 11-S switches its graphics processing to the GT650, pushing about 40-60 FPS in Battlefield 3 at around Medium to Medium-High settings, without post processing. Of course this depends how large the map is and your viewing distance, but one thing's for sure - an 11-inch screen is far from ideal for competitive gaming.
Objects and enemies are very tiny, and I found myself frequently squinting and craning my head to see distant enemies. I made some console tweaks to make the HUD less intrusive, but ultimately enemies at far distances had the upper hand in visibility.
That doesn’t mean all hope is lost for mobile gamers. Most games in all categories work just fine. Portal 2, Dead Island, Diablo III, and a bundle of Indie releases tested flawlessly at comfortable performance and visual quality settings without hiccups. I found that games that work the best on this laptop are ones that don’t require much viewing depth.
Casual movie and television viewing in 720p looks fine on this 11-inch screen, but it’s best experienced when plugging into larger, richer displays. The GPU drove streaming HD and Blu-Ray quality media into a 65’’ Samsung LED HDTV through the HDMI port, smooth as butter. Although the audio signal from the HDMI port would randomly drop out, so I had to plug a separate set of speakers through the onboard controller instead.
Mobility in Mind?
While building your EON 11-S, there are many CPU choices to select, from Intel’s power-efficient i5 dual cores to their more power-hungry i7 quad cores. But at what point will users start balancing between performance and mobility?
The battery percentage immediately spirals downward when unplugging the A/C power, giving me at most 2 hours of uptime. This is even after setting the laptop to ‘power save’ mode in the Control Center, downclocking the chip to half speed. Furthermore, models equipped with an i7 chip come with a necessary 120W A/C power adapter brick that adds a bit more luggage to my commute.
This may be cumbersome to those who are accustomed to smaller A/C adapters, but it’s a small tradeoff for better performance. Of course, power users would probably not be running intensive computing or gaming while on battery. But I hoped there could be a more aggressive power saving mode for when we just need to update statuses, create documents, and maybe some light multitasking.
Because of the added horsepower, there’s also more heat. The left shoulder becomes pretty toasty while the CPU churns, even during basic multitasking. Any peripherals or devices that are hooked up to the left side can become equally as warm when the system is under load. So I’ve jumped several times when my metallic USB drive or headphone connector was hot to the touch, after work or gameplay.
So is the EON 11-S a keeper for ultra-mobile media creators? Yes, with a few accommodations. This particular custom build definitely has the performance and connectivity to match, but favors it over the mobile experience. The 11-S packs a serious punch for both work and play in such a small package, but with its size and visibility, Origin PC should market this model as a robust ultralight rather than a gaming laptop. Sure, they can fit strong hardware inside to support the latest games and apps, but the gamers and power users who could benefit from this form factor would be a very niche audience (myself included).
Origin PC also builds EON 15 and 17-inch gaming laptops that have the same, if not more hardware expandability than the 11-S. These models would be better options for those who want serious gaming on the go, on screen sizes that are more comfortable for many hours of use. Combine that with their lifetime customer support and meticulous quality assurance testing, and you’ll see that the engineers at Origin PC are passionate about their work.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of our EON 11-S review, where our lab manager, Anshel Sag, will dig even deeper into the EON 11-S and run a broad series of benchmarks and games to help quantify the performance that we talked about during this review.
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