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Eurocom Panther 5SE review: 12-core Xeon server power in laptop form

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  • Editors' rating
    8.5 Excellent
  • $2,999.00

Pros

  • Multiple CPU, GPU, RAM and storage options
  • Good choice of server and desktop OSs
  • Exceptional performance
  • Solid design and construction

Cons

  • Bulky and heavy
  • Noisy in operation
  • Short spacebar
  • Expensive

Once a year, we like to get hold of performance-laptop specialist Eurocom's flagship system, just to see what the leading edge of mobile functionality and performance looks like. Last year's offering was the workstation-class Panther 5D. This year, Eurocom sent us the Panther 5SE, which it describes as "a new, innovative category of server-class heavy-duty Intel Xeon-based laptop".

We wouldn't argue with that description, but for completion's sake we'd add 'expensive': although the Panther 5SE's base price is a relatively modest £1,941 (ex. VAT), our well-specified 12-core Xeon-based review configuration came in at £5,245, while a fully maxed-out chassis would set you back nearly £10,000. Obviously server-class components in a laptop form factor are not everyday requirements, but in situations where a network needs setting up in a challenging location, a luggable clamshell server -- even one weighing over 7kg with the power brick -- would be a credible option.

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The 17.3-inch Eurocom Panther 5SE weighs from 5.5kg, although our review unit came in at 6.02kg. Image: Eurocom

Design

The Panther 5SE is, appropriately, a black-clad beast -- although unlike a real black panther, this 17.3-inch system can hardly be described as sleek. It plants a hefty 41.9cm by 28.6cm footprint on the desktop and is no less than 5.77-6.21cm thick (16.76 x 11.44 x 2.31-2.48 inches). The entry-level configuration weighs 5.5kg (12lbs) according to Eurocom's website, but our review unit tipped the scales at 6.02kg, to which you'll need to add 1.41kg for the brick-sized (19.5 x 9.5 x 4cm) 330W AC adapter, giving a grand total of 7.43kg (16.38lbs).

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The Panther 5SE's 330W power brick weighs 1.41kg. Image: Eurocom

Although it's not officially 'ruggedised', the Panther 5SE's sheer bulk lends it a feeling of solidity. The lid has a bit of flex, as you'd expect with a 17.3-inch screen, but feels robust enough to take a reasonable amount of pressure, while the hinge keeps the screen firmly where you put it. The base section, meanwhile, is solid and capacious enough for you to comfortably rest your elbows on the 11.5cm area between the keyboard and the front edge while reading on-screen content. That's not something we'd do on many laptops.

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The screen is a 17.3-inch LG/Phillips LGD02C5 LED-backlit unit with a full-HD resolution of 1,920 by 1,080 pixels, giving a pixel density of 127.3ppi. We had the matte-finish version of the LGD02C5, which makes for less reflectivity in brightly-lit offices or outdoors; image quality is good, too, although viewing angles from this TN panel are not up to the level you get from IPS screens.

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The Panther 5SE's sturdy but bulky chassis has plenty of room for ports and slots. Image: Eurocom

The full-size 102-key keyboard includes a separate number pad and is generally comfortable to type on, the hefty base section providing a very solid typing platform. The spacebar is quite short though, at 9cm, and is displaced further to the left than you'd expect using the touchpad as a visual reference. You get used to it after a while, but at first we found ourselves hitting the '\' key to the right of the spacebar by mistake often enough to be irritating. The touchpad is a two-button unit with gesture and scrolling support, featuring an optional fingerprint reader nestling between the buttons.

The keyboard is RGB backlit and comes with a somewhat eccentric utility that allows you to set various patterns, including a 'dancing' one that flashes different colours across the keyboard in a most distracting fashion. After playing with this briefly, we set it to a muted and unchanging blue. There are Fn key combinations to access this utility, and also to toggle the backlight on and off, and boost or decrease brightness.

Not surprisingly, the Panther 5SE is well supplied with ports and slots of various kinds. The left-hand side, from back to front, has DVI-I, HDMI and DisplayPort 1.2 video-out connectors, along with RJ-45 Ethernet, two USB 3.0 ports, a USB 3.0/eSATA port and a FireWire-800 connector. Beneath these ports sits a tray-loading multi-format optical drive. On the right-hand side there's a further two USB (2.0) ports and a quartet of audio jacks -- headphone, microphone, SP/DIF audio out and line in. The Panther 5SE has a 5.1 speaker system, including a subwoofer, which will prove handy if you want to use this powerful laptop for a spot of after-hours gaming. The front of the system has an ExpressCard slot and an SD card slot, stacked vertically on the left-hand side.

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The Panther 5SE chassis has room for four cooling fans, although only three are installed here. The 120GB SSD is on the left, under the (removed) battery, with the two 1.5TB hard drives stacked vertically in the central bay. Image: Charles McLellan/ZDNet

Server-class components in a clamshell chassis need plenty of cooling, and the Panther 5SE certainly is well equipped on that front. There's room for four large fans on the underside of the system, which is raised off the surface by four chunky rubber feet to allow for air intake; the backplane is entirely occupied by vents to expel warm air. Not surprisingly, the Panther 5SE isn't exactly quiet when the fans are operating, although you won't notice them too much in an averagely noisy office.

The battery, which Eurocom describes as a 'built-in UPS', is a 78.44Wh unit mounted on the underside that, as we shall see, cannot be expected to power the Panther 5SE for more than an hour or so.

Features

The star of the Panther 5SE show is its CPU, the 12-core/24-thread Xeon E5-2697 v2, which runs at 2.7GHz (3.5GHz in Turbo Mode) and has a TDP of 130W (hence the need for all that cooling). You can configure plenty of less expensive Xeon models, starting with the 2GHz E5-2620, or E5-2620 v2. In our review system, the top-end 12-core CPU was supported by the maximum 32GB of RAM in four 8GB DIMMs.

The GPU in our review system was an Nvidia Quadro 5100M with 1,536 parallel CUDA cores and 8GB of dedicated video memory. There are multiple GPU options, ranging from the entry-level 3GB, 960 CUDA-core Nvidia GTX 670MX up to a pair of SLI-enabled Quadro 5100Ms, which would add no less than £2,747 (ex. VAT) to the base price. You can also specify from a smaller selection of AMD GPUs, including the Radeon R9-M290X.

As you'd expect in a server-class system, there's a multitude of storage options. Our review unit had a 120GB Crucial M500 SSD boot disk, plus two 1.5TB Hitachi Travelstar hard drives, which spin at 5,400rpm. The chassis accommodates up to four 2.5-inch drives if you sacrifice the optical drive, giving a maximum capacity of 6TB; you can also specify a range of preconfigured RAID levels (0, 1, 5, 10). A wide variety of storage options are available, including faster-spinning 7,200rpm hard drives, hybrid drives and more capacious (up to 1TB) SSDs.

Networking services are supplied by a wired Intel 82579V Gigabit Network Connection with one RJ-45 port and an Intel Dual-Band Wireless-AC 7260 module, which supports both wi-fi (802.11a/b/g/n/ac) and Bluetooth 4.0. If you need a second Ethernet connection, you can always add one via the front-mounted ExpressCard slot.

Our review unit was supplied with Windows 8.1 Professional, but Eurocom also offers Windows Server 2012 and 2008, Windows 7 Professional and Ultimate, Red Hat 6.4 Enterprise Server Edition and VMware ESXi.

Performance & battery life

Given the specifications described above, it should come as no surprise to find that the Panther 5SE is an excellent performer.

Since our review unit was supplied with Windows 8.1 Professional, we started by examining its Windows Experience Index, or WEI, which generates scores out of 8.9 for the processor, memory, graphics and disk subsystems. As the screenshot below shows, both the CPU and Memory subsystems get perfect scores, with the two GPU scores (D3D and Graphics) coming in at an impressive 8.1. The Disk subsystem brought up the rear with a still-creditable 7.8:

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For a more challenging workout, we ran Maxon's Cinebench R15, under which the Panther 5SE delivers impressive CPU and OpenGL scores:

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Disk performance is clearly important in a server. We ran the Atto Disk Benchmark on both the SSD and hard disk components, with the following results:

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The 120GB Crucial M500 SSD delivers fast read performance at 274.5MB/sec, but write speed is around half that, at 139.8MB/sec. Both SSD transfer rates are higher than those delivered by the 5,400rpm, 1.5TB Hitachi Travelstar hard drive -- 110.0MB/sec read and 109.3MB/sec write. If that's too slow, you might want to specify the less capacious but faster 1TB, 7,200rpm Travelstar model.

A hulking 6kg-plus beast like the Panther 5SE isn't a laptop you should expect to use much on battery power. If you do become disconnected from the mains, the standard 78.44Wh li-ion battery won't keep you going for long: we measured the system's power draw at around 83W when idling and 206W when running the demanding Cinebench R15 CPU test. That translates to expected battery life of between 0.94h and 0.38h depending on what the system is doing.

Conclusion

A server-class laptop is clearly a specialist purchase, but Eurocom has managed to pack a set of powerful components into a clamshell form factor without making too many compromises. It's expensive though, so you'll need to make a good use case for buying one.

Specifications

General
Packaged Quantity 1
Embedded Security Trusted Platform Module (TPM 1.2) Security Chip
Processor / Chipset
CPU Intel Xeon E5-2620 / 2 GHz
Max Turbo Speed 2.5 GHz
Number of Cores 6-core
Cache L3 - 15 MB
Chipset Type Intel C600
Cache Memory
Type L3 cache
Installed Size 15 MB
Memory
Max Supported Size 32 GB
Technology DDR3L SDRAM
Speed 1600 MHz / PC3L-12800 - 1600 MHz
Form Factor SO-DIMM 204-pin
Slots Qty 2
Empty Slots 0
Storage
Interface Serial ATA-600
Optical Drive DVD±RW (±R DL) / DVD-RAM
RAM
Memory Speed 1600 MHz
Memory Specification Compliance PC3L-12800
Configuration Features 2 x 8 GB
Technology DDR3L SDRAM
Installed Size 16 GB
Rated Memory Speed 1600 MHz
Display
Widescreen Display Yes
Type LCD
Diagonal Size (metric) 43.9 cm
Display Resolution Abbreviation Full HD
Audio & Video
Graphics Processor NVIDIA GeForce GTX 670MX - 3 GB
Hard Drive
Spindle Speed 7200 rpm
Type HDD
Capacity 1 TB
Input
Type keyboard, touchpad
Localization & Layout US - English (QWERTY)
Features backlighting, multi-touch touchpad
Communications
Wireless Protocol 802.11a/b/g/n
Wireless Controller Intel WiFi Link 6300 - PCI Express
Wired Protocol Gigabit Ethernet
Processor
CPU Type Xeon
Processor Number E5-2620
Manufacturer Intel
Clock Speed 2 GHz
Optical Storage
Drive Type DVD SuperMulti
Type DVD±RW (±R DL) / DVD-RAM
Battery
Capacity 78.44 Wh
Technology lithium polymer
AC Adapter
Input AC 120/230 V (56 - 60 Hz)
Connections & Expansion
Slots 1 x ExpressCard/54 (1 free)
Interfaces 3 x USB 3.0
2 x USB 2.0
eSATA
FireWire 800
DisplayPort
HDMI
Headphone output
Microphone input
SPDIF out
Audio line-in
LAN
Header
Brand EUROCOM
Product Line EUROCOM
Model Panther 5SE Mobile Server
Country Kits Canada, United States
Packaged Quantity 1
Compatibility PC
Networking
Data Link Protocol Ethernet, Fast Ethernet, Gigabit Ethernet, IEEE 802.11a, IEEE 802.11b, IEEE 802.11g, IEEE 802.11n
Interface (Bus) Type PCI Express
Ethernet Controller(s) Intel 82579V
Wireless NIC Intel WiFi Link 6300
System
Notebook Type notebook
Platform No OS
Hard Drive Capacity 1 TB
Embedded Security Trusted Platform Module (TPM 1.2) Security Chip
Security Devices fingerprint reader
Miscellaneous
Security Trusted Platform Module (TPM 1.2) Security Chip, fingerprint reader
Included Accessories power adapter
Monitor
Diagonal Size 17.3 in
Dimensions & Weight
Width 16.5 in
Depth 11.3 in
Height 2.8 in
Manufacturer Warranty
Type 1 year warranty
Mainboard
Chipset Type Intel C600
Physical Characteristics
Weight 12.13 lbs
Video Output
Discrete Graphics Processor Yes
Graphics Processor NVIDIA GeForce GTX 670MX
Graphics Processor Series NVIDIA Geforce GTX
Video Memory
Installed Size 3 GB
Service & Support
Type 1 year warranty
Service & Support Details
Type limited warranty
Full Contract Period 1 year

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