Falcon Northwest Proves Micro Desktops Don't Have to Cut Corners
If you're after a powerful gaming PC in a small form factor, you should seriously consider the Tiki from Falcon Northwest.
The slim gaming PC entered puberty earlier this year with Alienware's diminutive X51, which for all its accomplishments in the size department, demonstrated lackluster performance. Now, there's a new kid on the block: Falcon Northwest's Tiki--a boutique, micro-desktop, that doesn't need to sacrifice power in order to maintain a small footprint. The tradeoff is the price tag; the Tiki starts at $1,545, though a typically above average config hovers just over $2,000. This may be more than most gamers are willing to spend. If form factor and good-looks aren't critical requirements, you could build a PC with off the shelf parts that's cheaper and more powerful than the best Tiki config. but it's not meant to be compared to such builds. When good-looks and performance outweigh trivial considerations, like a budget, the Tiki stands atop its pedestal of granite (not an exaggeration), looking down upon the relative big-uglies of the competition.
Falcon Northwest supplied GameSpot with a slightly better than average review build that clocks in at $2,046. It doesn't pack the company's best available CPU or GPU, but it's still a powerhouse of a gaming PC that features an NVIDIA 670 GTX, 3rd generation Intel Core i5 clocked at 3.40 GHz, 8 GB of 1866MHz RAM, liquid cooling, and a 256 GB SSD. An internal 450w PSU supplies the juice, seriously one-upping the X51's external power brick. For all the sacrifices Alienware made for the X51, it's doubly impressive Falcon Northwest was able to wrangle the PSU within the already stuffed chassis, leaving plenty of room for a full, dual-slot, graphics card.
The Tiki is small, no doubt, measuring just a hair larger than the X51. Measurements for the two are as follows:
Such minor differences are largely negligible. In terms of raw power, the Tiki smokes Alienware's beefiest kit, but again, it comes with a higher price tag. Like all manufacturers, prices fluctuate with the market, integrating price drops and increasing their selection of available parts as they become available.
|Tiki: Cheapest Gaming Config||Intel Core i5 3450K 3.1GHz||NVIDIA GeForce GT 640 (2GB)||Tactical 1866MHz 8GB (2x4GB)||Caviar Green 2TB||Slot-Load DVD Writer||$1,545|
|Tiki: Review Config||Intel Core i5 3570K 3.4GHz||NVIDIA GeForce GTX 670 (2GB)||Tactical 1866MHz 8GB (2x4GB)||m4 SSD 256GB||Slot-Load DVD Writer||$2,045|
|Tiki: High-End Gaming Config||Intel Core i7 3770K 3.5GHz||NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680 (4GB)||Tactical 1866MHz 16GB (2x8GB)||m4 SSD 128GB + Caviar Green 2TB||Slot-Load Blu-ray Reader||$2,753|
The Tiki is quite heavy, but more accurately, compact and sturdy. The case is comprised primarily of steel, and in case you haven't noticed, the base is a solid block of granite. At first glance, it's an odd marriage of materials, but it ultimately works. In addition to completing the showpiece aesthetic, it prevents the top heavy case from tipping over. Of course, should you find it not to your liking, four Phillips-head screws are all that stand in your way from removing it completely.
With so many beefy components under the hood and so little room for airflow, water-cooling is a crucial component to the Tiki's technical success. While NVIDIA graced us with a cooler GPU solution this generation, Intel's Ivybridge chips produce noticeably higher temps than its predecessors. This is even more so when the machine is overclocked, a service Falcon offers for free, and one you should take advantage of. At full load, overclocked to 4.3 GHz (during Turbo boosts), the CPU temps topped out at a respectable 56 Celsius. Running the Far Cry 2 benchmarking tool topped the GPU out at 73 Celsius, which is well within the realm of viability. Under full load, the radiator fan spun up to an audible level. Still, in most circumstances, the Tiki is practically silent, only occasionally emitting the near-silent gurgle of the water pump.
GameSpot's review unit came with a solo SSD hard drive and a slot-loading optical drive. Amazingly, there's room for one additional 2.5" and 3.5" drive, respectively. The 3.5" bay is readily accessible; when you open the case, the bay and screw mounts are front and (more or less) center. It'll take a little extra leg work to mount a second 2.5" drive; you need to undo five screws, disconnect SATA and power cables from all present drives (including optical), and finally, dettach the large mounting plate. Once removed, simply secure the new drive with the appropriate mounting screws and reverse the disassembly procedure.
Upgrading or switching out RAM sticks is finicky and, frankly, a potentially stressful experience. The ASUS P8Z77-I Deluxe ITX board utilizes a single retention mechanism for its DIMM slots and while it's easy to release the retainer, sticks don't simply slide out. The nearby components and cramped space surrounding the RAM make it difficult to get a firm grip on the non-retained end of the stick, and since it doesn't just pop right out, we refrained from pursuing its removal any further.
The front of the case is void of any inputs, simply featuring a rear-illuminated cut-out of Falcon Northwest's logo. On top of the case are two USB 3.0 ports, headphone and mic ports, the slot-loading optical drive, and the power and reset buttons. Towards the back is a passive vent, situated above the GPU, complimenting additional vents on each side.
There are a total of eight USB ports on the back, half of which are USB 3.0, and 2 eSATA ports, rounding out storage connectivity. Network and wireless communications are handled via ethernet, WiFi, and Bluetooth. The motherboard' s onboard video supports HDMI, Display Port, and DVI-I, while audio is carried over stereo TRS (3.5mm) line-out, or via SPDIF (optical), capable of 5.1 channel surround sound. The GTX 670, obviously, comes with its own array of video-out ports: HDMI, Display Port, DVI-I, and a DVI-D port.
In the case that you ever run into software issues and wish to reset back to factory settings, Falcon Northwest kindly includes a USB stick that will wipe and restore your boot drive back to factory settings. Other pack-ins include a leather case chock full of useful, although obligatory, goodies: a power cable, two SATA data cables, two wireless antennas, a DVI to VGA adapter, a copy of Windows 7 Home Premium, and documentation detailing your individual rig, including test results, parts lists, and the motherboard handbook.
Performance is going to vary from one conglomeration of parts to the next, obviously, but GameSpot's review unit fared exceptionally well when put to the test, utilizing Metro 2033 and Far Cry 2's benchmarking utilities.
Far Cry 2 – Ultra
Settings: Demo(Ranch Small), 1920x1080 (60Hz), D3D10, Fixed Time Step(Yes), Disable Artificial Intelligence(No), Full Screen, Anti-Aliasing(8x), VSync(No), Overall Quality(Ultra High), Vegetation(Very High), Shading(Ultra High), Terrain(Ultra High), Geometry(Ultra High), Post FX(High), Texture(Ultra High), Shadow(Ultra High), Ambient(High), Hdr(Yes), Bloom(Yes), Fire(Very High), Physics(Very High), RealTrees(Very High)
- Total Frames: 1522, Total Time: 12.36s
- Average Framerate: 123.14
- Max. Framerate: 176.05 (Frame:0, 0.01s)
- Min. Framerate: 97.52 (Frame:1008, 8.09s)
Far Cry 2 was no match for the GTX 670 and the Core i5, cranking out an average of 123 frames per second. With every setting maxed out, the frame rate never dipped below 97 FPS, a respectable figure for a demanding DirectX 10 game like Far Cry 2.
Metro 2033 – Very High
Options: Resolution: 1920 x 1080; DirectX: DirectX 11; Quality: Very High; Antialiasing: MSAA 4X; Texture filtering: AF 16X; Advanced PhysX: Enabled; Tesselation: Enabled; DOF: Enabled
- Total Frames: 1783, Total Time: 59.84995 sec
- Average Framerate: 29.89
- Max. Framerate: 60.46 (Frame: 1683)
- Min. Framerate: 11.06 (Frame: 943)
Benchmarking Metro 2033 produced lower numbers when it was all said and done, but it's an incredibly demanding game, especially when maxed out on DirectX 11. Scaling it back to "Medium" quality improved things slightly:
Metro 2033 – Medium
Options: Resolution: 1920 x 1080; DirectX: DirectX 11; Quality: Medium; Antialiasing: MSAA 4X; Texture filtering: AF 16X; Advanced PhysX: Enabled; Tesselation: Enabled; DOF: Enabled
- Total Frames: 2690, Total Time: 59.87547 sec
- Average Framerate: 45.03
- Max. Framerate: 73.51 (Frame: 2578)
- Min. Framerate: 14.55 (Frame: 997)
Tuning down the settings to "Medium" produced much better result. It may sound like a compromise, but within Metro 2033, you are still treated to a bevy of visual flourish. Generally speaking, 30 FPS is the threshold for playability. The average rate of 45 FPS, with momentary dips below 30 is acceptable in most cases, but it's not quite good enough. After another round of tweaks to the settings, a sweet spot was found:
Metro 2033 – Medium (No D.O.F. or Adv. PhysX)
Options: Resolution: 1920 x 1080; DirectX: DirectX 11; Quality: Medium; Antialiasing: MSAA 4X; Texture filtering: AF 4X; Advanced PhysX: Disabled; Tesselation: Enabled; DOF: Disabled
- Total Frames: 5004, Total Time: 59.91217 sec
- Average Framerate: 83.62
- Max. Framerate: 169.43 (Frame: 4701)
- Min. Framerate: 18.74 (Frame: 1506)
Once Depth of Field processing and Advanced PhysX was disabled, frame rates received a huge boost. An average rate of 83 FPS is nothing to shake a stick at. Do note: though the minimum frame rate hovers around 19 FPS, this came as a surprise; the FPS readout never appeared to dip below 60 FPS when viewing the benchmark in real-time.
In terms of performance, GameSpot's review build leaves something to be desired, but with high standards like Metro 2033's extreme settings and requirements, the GTX 670 fares quite well. Without room for an SLI setup, or the larger (but entirely too expensive) GTX 690, it will be hard for any rig to score higher on gaming benchmark tests than our Tiki configuration did.
Recommending the Tiki depends on your individual needs; if you want a powerful, affordable, gaming rig, and aesthetics are the least of your concerns, then you should look elsewhere. If, however, you want a compact show piece that delivers excellent gaming performance, choosing the Tiki is an easy decision. It looks great, packs a punch (at a cost), and is reasonably priced for the level of performance and quality of design.