Different laptops are designed to cater to the needs of different folks. Some laptops are tiny. Some are ruggedized. Some are chonky, so-called ‘desktop replacements.’ And some laptops, Ddear Reader — some laptops look the benighted fusion of a late-90s Thinkpad and a Swiss Army knife.
Behold the prototype Aurora 7, as built by Expanscape (best check with Alienware about that name, guys):
According to the company, the Aurora 7 is a laptop “built without compromises.” For once, this kind of vague promise may actually hold marketing water, and I have to give the company some kind of credit, here. Plenty of companies are willing to shove ridiculously hot components into a tiny chassis, but not many companies are willing to create laptops with arbitrarily absurd specifications and then publicly grade themselves on their own failure to ship you hardware you don’t need. Observe:
This list of features and capabilities mixes the prosaic with the peculiar. Pascal-era graphics and a six-core CPU aren’t noteworthy features in a laptop these days, but four NICs and two wireless cards? A full “NO NONSENSE” 104-key keyboard? What does a nonsensical keyboard even look like? And why are concepts like “Structural Rigidity” listed at just 80 percent? What does it mean to have a 70 percent score in the “ability to swap wiring with easily attainable parts,” or “easily replaceable batteries?”
It Gets More Interesting, the Deeper You Go
The system itself is built around a desktop Core i9-9900K plugged into a Z170 motherboard. No, the Z170 chipset does not normally support the Core i9-9900K, but the folks at Expanscape weren’t going to sweat a little thing like normal hardware support.
There are a total of seven screens, including two 17.3-inch 4K panels in portrait mode and two 17.4-inch 4K panels in landscape mode. Panels 2 and 3 have different contrast ratios and maximum brightness levels from Panels 1 and 4, which is going to make the machine tough to use in a true multi-panel mode. Discerning enthusiasts know that when you go multi-monitor, you always use matched panels whenever possible. I demand that my Swiss Army Laptop use matched panels.
Displays 5, 6, and 7 are all 7-inch 1920×1200 panels in 16:10 mode. I am charmed by the decision to deploy 16:10 on a 7-inch panel, ensuring that while I won’t be able to read the text, I’ll love the aspect ratio.
There are two batteries, one for the laptop parts, and one for the displays alone. The internal battery capacity is 82Wh, while the screen battery is a 148Whr pack. Battery life is for the whole system is somewhere between 28 minutes and an hour, though you can get 2 hrs 20 minutes if you only power the displays. Why you’d be able to power the primary PC off AC but not the screens is unexplained.
This laptop is the most glorious trainwreck I’ve ever seen. Why are there four NICs? Why are there two different wireless radios? Why is it based around a desktop CPU and GPU? What’s the point of the integrated Arduino? Why the modded Z170? I have so many questions.
ExtremeTech does not have an award category for “Best Worst Laptop,” but if we did, we’d award it to the Aurora 7, hands down. This is the type of machine phrases like “impressively bad” were coined to describe. This is a laptop that can do everything except function as a laptop without causing pelvis fractures. The creators note, a tad apologetically, that it’s not yet legal to carry on a plane due to the size of the second battery. And again — gloriously — it weighs twenty-six pounds.
The Aurora 7 succeeds beautifully as some kind of postmodern commentary on the difficulties of balancing work and home life in our Zoom-blighted age. As far as laptop designs go, however, you’ll probably want to give it a pass.