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Game on: 3 high-performance laptops duke it out

June 22, 2012 06:00 AM ET

Eurocom Panther 4.0

Eurocom's Panther 4.0 stretches the definition of how large, weighty and costly a notebook can be.

The design of the Panther's black plastic and aluminum case has the look of a spaceship, with sharply angled corners, black indented grilles and lots of cooling vents. At 2.6 x 16.8 x 11.4 in., it's roughly twice the size of the Envy 17 -- in fact, it actually looks like two notebooks stacked on top of each other.

Eurocom Panther 4.0
Eurocom Panther 4.0

The Panther weighs 12.1 lb., one third more than the Envy 17. For most uses, a single adapter is plenty, but during all-out gaming, the Panther can be so power-hungry that it requires two huge 300-watt AC adapters and comes with a special cable for plugging both adapters into the system. (If you're just using one adapter and the system is getting overloaded, it will just shut down.) This brings the Panther to a hefty 19.1 lb. The system comes with a cloth bag that is just big enough to hold the system and one adapter, but not both.

For all-out gamers, though, Eurocom's big cat is worth every hulking ounce, because under the keyboard is one of the fastest and most capable processors that Intel sells. The second-generation Intel Core i7 3960X processor was designed for desktop PCs and has 15MB of cache, compared to the 6MB of cache that comes with the Envy 17 and MSI GT783 processors.

While the processor normally runs at 3.3GHz, Intel's TurboBoost technology can speed it up to 3.9GHz when needed. However, the Core i7 3960X uses over 100 watts of power, twice the electrical load of the processors used by the other two systems, and has four cooling fans that take up most of the inside of the case.

The review unit came with 16GB RAM (it can handle a maximum of 32GB) and has one of the most complex storage systems I've seen in a portable computer. In addition to a 750GB hard drive, it has a pair of high-performance 120GB solid state devices (SSDs) that can be set up as a RAID 0, 1, 5 or 10 array for either top performance or the peace of mind of never losing a bit of gaming data; Eurocom offers data storage options up to 4TB.

The Panther boasts two Nvidia GeForce GTX 580M 256-bit GPUs that run at 1.3GHz and have 384 processing cores. It comes with 2GB of dedicated video RAM, twice the level of the Envy 17.

Although it can't be overclocked for extra graphics potential, the Panther's dual GPU setup uses Nvidia's SLI technology to let you pick whether you want to use only one or both of the two GPUs. Nvidia provides optimal settings for a variety of popular games online.

There are three USB 3.0 ports (one more than either the Envy 17 or the MSI GT783) and a pair of USB 2.0 connections. In addition, one of the USB 2.0 ports does double-duty as an e-SATA port for using an external hard drive.

There's also a FireWire 800 port, along with DisplayPort, DVI and HDMI connections. But it lacks the MSI GT783's VGA port or the Envy 17's WiDi technology for wirelessly transmitting audio and video.

Opinions from the Masters School gamers

The Panther was high on the Masters School gaming club wish list for its aggressive appearance, ability to help you do better at games and its desktop-quality graphics. However, they were turned off by its size, price and loud fans.

  • "The graphics are perfection."
  • "Huge! I don't see anyone carrying this around."
  • "Insanely fast processing speed."
  • "Ferocious graphics."

For audio, the Panther offers the top-shelf THX TruStudio Pro, along with five speakers, but the system never gets loud enough for truly immersive gaming. It has traditional analog and line-in connections as well as an SPDIF digital jack for driving speakers.

While it matches the others with an SD card reader, the Panther adds an ExpressCard slot that can work with both 34- and 54-millimeter adapters. Finally, it offers Bluetooth, a Gigabit Ethernet port and 802.11n WiFi.

The keyboard is backlit and can be adjusted to a variety of colors and patterns, making it look like a rainbow at times. However, I found it to be bit distracting when my attention needed to be on the screen.

Eurocom includes a one-year warranty; upping the coverage to three years adds $300.

Test results

Plain and simple, the Panther is one of the most powerful systems I've tested. With 12GB RAM, it scored a phenomenal 2,943 on the PassMark PerformanceTest 7.0 benchmark suite of tests, 30% percent faster than the Envy 17 or MSI GT783.

When I tested it with 16GB RAM, its PerformanceTest 7.0 score rose to 3,542.9, easily blasting the others to oblivion. While it aced the Cinebench CPU tests with an 8.9, the Panther was in the middle of the pack on the graphics test, behind the Envy 17 with its AMD HD7690XT-powered video.

The Panther showed a richness of detail on the Portal 2 and Trainz simulations, delivering exceptionally smooth video, although the MSI GT783's screen was richer and brighter.

At a Glance

Panther 4.0
Eurocom
Price: $3,599 (base) / $5,290 (as tested)
Pros: Top performance, adjustable keyboard lighting, two graphics ships, RAID capabilities
Cons: Very large and heavy, requires two AC adapters, volume might not be enough for some gamers, short battery life, noisy

While it's doubtful that the Panther (or any of the others reviewed here, for that matter) will be used far from an AC outlet, the 5,300 mAh battery was able to power the system for a mere 49 minutes on a charge. That's one-third that of either of the two competitors and a mild disappointment.

With four fans inside, it was able to keep its cool, but the Panther was the loudest of the three during most gaming. It hit a peak temperature of 120 degrees Fahrenheit at its exhaust vent.

Bottom line

You know the old saying that if you have to ask the cost you probably can't afford it? With a price tag of $5,290, Eurocom's Panther 4.0 isn't quite in that league, but it comes close. This is without a doubt a technological tour de force and a superior gaming notebook, but one that is no doubt out of the economic reach of many gamers.



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