Eurocom Panther 5D review: Top-performing mobile workstation, at a price

Summary: If you need a transportable workstation with top-notch performance for demanding design, visualisation, analysis or content-creation work, Eurocom's Panther 5D delivers the goods — if you can stomach the price.

  • Editors' rating:
    8.0
  • User rating:
    0.0
  • RRP:
    USD $6,627.00
    GBP £5,071.00

Pros

  • Outstanding specification and performance
  • 8-core Xeon E5-2687W processor with 32GB of RAM
  • Dual Nvidia GeForce GTX 780M graphics cards
  • SSD and hard drive storage, plus Blu-ray optical drive
  • 3D-capable 17.3-inch display
  • Copious configuration options

Cons

  • Bulky and heavy
  • Very expensive
  • Poor battery life
  • Noticeable fan noise

Do you have around £5,071 (ex. VAT; £6,085 inc. VAT) to spend on a laptop? Clearly that's an unusually large amount to shell out for a (nominally) portable computer — but then, the Panther 5D from Eurocom is no ordinary laptop.

The 17.3-inch Panther 5D occupies a very spacious chassis that can accommodate a wide range of components — it can be configured as a workstation, a server or (with the right screen and glasses) a serious 3D laptop. We looked at a 3D workstation-class model powered by a 3.1GHz Intel Xeon E5-2687W processor, 32GB of RAM and a pair of Nvidia GeForce GTX 780M graphics cards.

Given the spec and Eurocom's track record in creating high-performance laptops, we expected this system to generate top-notch benchmarks, and it delivers. But does the Panther 5D have everything else that a CAD/CAM specialist or high-end content creator, for example, requires?

Design

This a large, heavy, black Panther with just some Eurocom branding on the lid and beneath the screen to draw the eye. Also noticeable with the lid open are the backlit keyboard (which has enough room to fit in a separate numeric keypad), an array of LED-illuminated buttons and status indicators between screen and keyboard, and a blue LED strip separating the touchpad from its two buttons separated by a fingerprint reader. Most of the lid and wrist-rest area has a brushed-aluminium finish, except for various accents and the screen bezel, which are shiny black plastic.

ec-panther-5d-main
The base configuration of Eurocom's Panther 5D workstation/server-class laptop costs £2,499 (ex. VAT). Our 'mid-range' review unit came in at just over £5,000 (ex. VAT). If money is no object, you can configure it with components adding up to well over £10,000 (ex. VAT). Image: Eurocom

This hefty — and we mean hefty at 5.5kg — system stands on four substantial rubber feet that raise the underside off the desk surface to allow airflow into the quartet of fans located there. There are vents and grilles dotted around the chassis — at the back, beneath the screen and at the front. Such a heavy-duty cooling system gives a clue to the power of the Panther's components. Fan noise is noticeable, but we didn't find it unduly distracting — at least in a normal office environment.

ec-panther-5d-bottom-2
Four fans and copious vents around the bulky chassis are testament to the power of the Panther 5D's internal components. Image: Eurocom

The display is an LG-made matte-finish, 17.3-inch 3D-capable panel with a full-HD native resolution of 1,920 by 1,080 pixels. The screen delivers a bright, sharp image with good viewing angles (particularly in the horizontal plane). Eurocom supplied a pair of £46 (ex. VAT) Nvidia 3D Vision glasses with which to test the screen's most advanced capability. However, this reviewer's lifelong lazy eye, which renders such technology useless at best and headache-inducing at worst, means we'll have to pass on an evaluation of that component.

ec-panther-5d-keyboard

The backlit keyboard, with its separate numeric keypad, offers a very stable typing platform thanks to the 5.5kg Panther 5D's extremely solid build. The two-button multitouch touchpad sits in an enormous wrist-rest area that's quite convenient, and safe, to lean on with the elbows when reading or reviewing on-screen content.

There are plenty of ports and slots scattered around the Panther 5D's bulky chassis. On the left, from the back, you'll find: DVI-I, Ethernet (RJ-45), HDMI 1.4a, DisplayPort 1.2, USB 3.0, USB 3.0/eSATA combo, FireWire 800 and USB 3.0. Underneath these ports is a tray-loading Panasonic Blu-ray/DVD drive (UJ260AF). On the right there are two USB 2.0 ports and four audio jacks (headphones, microphone, S/PDIF and line out). The power input (from a literally brick-sized power brick) is the only port on the back, which is otherwise entirely taken up with fan vents, while the front carries a multi-format flash card reader, more fan vents and a couple of power status LEDs.

The underside of the Panther 5D has a large panel that, on removal, reveals an impressive array of fans and heatsinks. Two of the four fans cool the pair of Nvidia GPUs, while the other two look after the CPU and motherboard.

ec-panther-5d-bottom
Two of the fans cool the Panther 5D's dual Nvidia GeForce GTX 780M graphics cards, while the other two look after the Xeon E5-2687W processor. Image: Charles McLellan/ZDNet

Another panel houses the system's three internal 2.5in. bays, two of which were filled in our review unit. The other removable component on the underside of the system is the 78.44Wh Li-ion battery, to the left of the drive bays.

Features

You can specify a variety of Intel Xeon processors for the Panther 5D, ranging from the 2GHz 6-core E5-2620 to the 3.1GHz 8-core E5-2687W (£1,253 over the base CPU) in our review unit. You can also configure the Panther 5D around a 3.5GHz 6-core Core i7-3970X processor (£566 over the base CPU). These LGA2011 CPUs are anything but power-frugal, with TDP ratings ranging from 95W up to 150W.

Our review unit had the current maximum memory complement: 32GB of 1,600MHz DDR3 RAM deployed as four 8GB SODIMMs. The entry-level configuration, costing £225 (ex. VAT) less, is 16GB (4x4GB).

Perhaps the highlight of our review system is the pair of powerful SLI Nvidia GeForce GTX 780M graphics adapters, each with 4GB of dedicated DDR5 graphics RAM, offering a total of 3,072 CUDA cores (1,536 per GPU). This configuration costs an extra £619 (ex. VAT) over the entry-level setup — a single 4GB 1,344-CUDA-core GeForce GTX 680M card. If you're prepared to shell out a stonking £2,375 (ex. VAT) over the base GPU price, you can have a pair of Nvidia Quadro 5000M professional graphics cards, each with 4GB of ECC RAM.

The Panther 5D's chassis has room for three internal 2.5in. drive bays, two of which were filled in our review system. The OS (Windows 7 Professional 64-bit) and applications are loaded onto a 240GB Micron M500 solid-state drive (£44 ex. VAT over the entry-level 5,400rpm 1TB Hitachi hard drive), and there's a 1TB 7,200rpm Hitachi Travelstar hard drive for data storage (£184 ex. VAT extra). You can have up to four drives, if you're prepared to sacrifice the optical drive (a Matshita UJ260 Blu-ray writer in our case) for a fourth drive bay. If storage capacity and reliability is paramount, you could populate the Panther 5D with four 1TB drives, configured as RAID 0, 1, 5 or 10.

A desktop replacement system like the Panther 5D is going to spend most of its time on a wired Ethernet connection, but Wi-Fi (2.4GHz 802.11b/g/n) and Bluetooth 4.0 are also available via a BigFoot Killer Wireless-N 1103 module. Dual-band (2.4/5GHz) 802.11a/b/g/n options are also available.

Performance

Given its specification, it should come as no surprise when we describe the Panther 5D as fast. But how fast? We ran a number of benchmarks to find out.

First up is Maxon's demanding Cinebench 11.5, which comprises CPU and OpenGL components. The Panther 5D scored 11.6 points on the CPU test and 42.1 frames per second in the OpenGL test — numbers that mean more when compared with the all-in-one desktop HP Z1 Workstation that we reviewed last year, which the Panther 5D beats by 66 percent and 61 percent respectively:

ec-panther-5d-cinebench

Turning to Futuremark's stable of 3DMark tests, we ran the 3DMark Fire Strike DirectX 11 benchmark for high-performance PCs, at which the Panther 5D excelled:

ec-panther-5d-fire-strike

The Panther 5D also delivered a stellar score on the DirectX 10-oriented 3DMark Vantage benchmark:

ec-panther-5d-3dm-vantage

When it comes to disk performance, the Atto Disk Benchmark puts the 240GB Micron M500 solid-state drive at 259.4MB/s write and 538.1MB/s read (below, left), and the 1TB 7,200rpm Hitachi Travelstar hard drive at 128.8MB/s write and 130.5MB/s read (below, right). These are respectable, if not stunning, figures:

ec-panther-5d-atto

Battery life

Nobody should expect a 5.5kg, 17.3-inch 8-core-Xeon-based mobile workstation with dual Nvidia graphics cards to last long on battery power. Even so, the Panther 5D's 78.44Wh lithium-ion battery is really no match for the system's power draw, which we measured under idle and load conditions with three different screen brightness settings (25, 50 and 100 percent). Dividing average power draw (W) into battery capacity (Wh) gives an estimate of battery life:

ec-panther-5d-battery
Idle = idling at the Windows 7 desktop; Load = running the Cinebench 11.5 CPU test; screen brightness settings = 25%, 50% and 100%. System power draw was measured using a Voltcraft VC 940 Plus multimeter.

On this basis, don't expect the Panther 5D to last longer than an hour or so if you lose access to mains power.

Conclusion

You might think, at £5,071 (ex. VAT; £6,085 inc. VAT), that the Panther 5D configuration reviewed here is ludicrously expensive. However, Eurocom's panoply of options means that, if money really is no object, you can fill its roomy chassis with components that add up to well over £10,000.

Obviously even the 'mid-range' review unit is only for serious power users who need top-notch processor, graphics, memory and (to a lesser extent) disk subsystems for high-end design, visualisation, analysis or content-creation work. The Panther 5D shows what can be done with the clamshell form factor, and we look forward to seeing how the latest mobile workstations from leading vendors like Dell and HP match up to it.

Topics: Laptops, Hardware, Reviews

About

Hello, I'm the Reviews Editor at ZDNet UK. My experience with computers started at London's Imperial College, where I studied Zoology and then Environmental Technology. This was sufficiently long ago (mid-1970s) that Fortran, IBM punched-card machines and mainframes were involved, followed by green-screen terminals and eventually the pers... Full Bio

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