Storage And Audio Performance
Our Panther 5D sample shipped with a trio of 256 GB Crucial m4s configured in RAID 5, giving us a decent balance between performance, capacity, and data protection.
We measured respectable sequential read speeds from the array, though writes aren't particularly impressive. This could be hampered over time since you don't get the benefit of TRIM, forcing you to instead rely on Crucial's own garbage collection routines.
The Panther 5D offers a great deal of flexibility for storage configurations. Dialing in the right combination of performance and data protection is as simple as making changes in the notebook's firmware, or simply ordering from Eurocom with the arrangement you plan to use.
Audio fed to external amplifiers via the analog headphone jack sounded very good. The optical digital output works well if you have an external DAC. Additionally, I didn't have any trouble hooking up to a receiver via HDMI. There wasn't any buzzing or popping to report from the analog outputs, either.
I set up multi-channel output through the analog jacks, HDMI output, and TOSLINK interface without any issues.
Testing Through Headphones
As part of my usual testing routine, I like to listen to music through multiple sets of headphones. Through the very sensitive Etymotic HF3 in-ear buds, there was no unwanted noise to report, and music playback sounded good. Audio quality was also good from the slightly bass-heavy Bowers and Wilkins C5 earphones. I also had good experiences with the very detailed and slightly bass-shy Shure SE425.
Additionally, I auditioned a couple of pairs of traditional over-the-ear headphones. The 32-ohm Grado SR125s sounded good. With Sennheiser's HD 600s plugged in, the headphone output drove the difficult 300-ohm load to solid listening levels.
Music through Sennheiser's HD 600s was neutral, detailed, and had a wonderful sense of rhythm and pace. I found myself listening to entire albums played back from the Panther 5D’s headphone jack instead of my normal dedicated amplifier. With all of the software processing disabled, I found the Panther 5D to be nothing short of excellent.
With all of the audio hardware I tried, there was very little distortion, no background noise, and no hiss. I got an excellent sense of detail with wide stereo separation. The overall tonal balance was great. The low bass had a strong impact without being bloated. Above all, the sound straight out of the Panther was involving.
In short, the Panther 5D probably has the best headphone output of any notebook I have ever used.
If you do need to tweak the sound, the equalizer in the Sound Blaster Console is excellent.
We were less enthused with the Sound Blaster headphone optimizer. The software appears to crossfeed audio to make headphones sound more like listening to speakers in a room. Unfortunately, the effect takes away from the excellent performance of the Panther’s built-in headphone amp.
Unfortunately, the built in speakers sound like they come from a clock radio. They seem much better tuned for vocals than music. The subwoofer does help with upper bass, but not as much as we've heard from other systems. Even with extensive tweaking using the bundled software, the built-in speakers cannot compare to other high-end laptops. Game sound effects, movie vocals, and teleconferencing are fine; the lack of low bass and high treble detract from the impact of sound, but dialog is at least very clear.
The Panther 5D offers a ton of analog and digital audio I/O, along with the software to adjust those connections. While the notebook's built-in speakers leave us unimpressed, its headphone output is excellent.