Compact design doesn't lend itself to upgradability
While perhaps better known for it's full-size gaming behemoths, Origin PC is far from a one trick pony. Dig into their website, and you will come across a range of options, including an attractive small-form factor build known as the Chronos. Don't let its small size fool you however, as this computer has been designed to pack some serious power into a tight space. Offering builds based around both the Z170 and X99 platforms, the Chronos can be configured to meet just about everyone's needs. Our particular build came fully stocked with an Intel Core i7 6700k and Nvidia GTX 970, providing more than enough power to run most games flawlessly at high settings, as well as to drive either the HTC Vive or Oculus Rift VR.
Size isn't everything
Measuring in at just under 12 inches tall, 14 inches deep, and four inches wide, the Chronos is shockingly small. Despite having seen these numbers before receiving the actual computer, we still did not truly grasp how compact the design was until we pulled it out of the box. In fact, the best size comparison we can find is that of an Xbox One, which is only about one inch smaller than the Chronos in all three dimensions. This gives the Chronos the flexibility to not only be placed under a desk as a main gaming rig, but also integrated into a home theater setup for big-screen gaming and HTPC use.
Speaking of flexibility, the Chronos also comes with four magnetic feet that can be attached to any of the computer's four sides, which makes us seriously wonder why this is not a more common offering on small PCs. The magnetic hold is more than strong enough to instil confidence in the feet, and the ability to simply pull them off and rotate the system at any point is incredibly convenient. The OCD crowd will also appreciate the rotating Origin PC logo found on the front of the case, allowing the case to look "properly" oriented whether positioned vertically or horizontally.
In terms of design, Origin PC seems to have taken a very simplistic route with the Chronos. The case is nearly a perfectly rectangular box, with only a few fan vents spread around the sides, and a single window designed to highlight the installed graphics card. By default, the outer shell is also coated in flat black with a few small red accents, however, this can be changed during the ordering process for a $250 premium. Standard connectivity includes two front-facing USB 3.0 ports, as well as mic and headphone ports, while the rear connectivity will depend entirely on the motherboard you choose.
At what cost?
Packing this much hardware into a tight space does not come without consequences, so we made sure to spend some time looking into potential issues. First and foremost, heat dissipation can quickly become a problem in builds as small as the Chronos. In order to test this, we started by recording some base readings, which showed an average CPU core temperature of 24 degrees Celsius (75F) and a GPU core temperature of 31 degrees (87F). Next, we fired up the Engine Heaven Benchmark and let it run for 10 minutes before recording the new CPU average temperature of 38 degrees Celsius (100F) and GPU core temperature of 88C (190F). While 88 degrees is definitely in the upper echelon of temperature ranges you would want in a graphics card, it is in no means outside of the boundaries the GPU has been designed to operate within.
After testing temperatures, we cracked out a dB meter and got to work on testing the systems noise pollution in a few different scenarios. Unfortunately, we don't have access to a completely soundproof testing room, so we began by making note of the ambient noise in the room, which worked out to be roughly 43dB. After turning on the system and letting it sit idle, we saw readings rise to around the 60dB range, while putting the Chronos under load ramped this up a little further to a 66dB. By comparison, a Power Mac G5 under load produces around 54dB of sound pressure, while an "average" conversation is known to be around 60dB.
So what do these numbers mean for day-to-day usage? Well, the Chronos produces fan noise, there is simply no getting around that fact. Whether this is enough noise to bother you, though, is a highly personal affair. If you frequently game with headphones on, then it is likely you will never even notice the noise. Likewise, if you use a solid set of desktop speakers, then game sounds and music will easily cover the noise. The only time the noise may become an issue is if you are trying to do some work without any other background noise. Personally the whirr of the fans was never enough to bother us, but if you are looking for near-silent operation, then you may need to look elsewhere.
The base Chronos ships with an Intel Core i5 6500 processor, 8GB of RAM, a 120GB SSD, and a GTX 950 graphics card for $1,450. As we mentioned earlier, the system we received was not the base model, and features an Intel Core i7 6700k overclocked to 4.6GHz, 8GB of RAM, 250GB of SSD storage, and a GTX 970. All of these upgrades bring the cost up to $1,849, but provide enough power to meet the needs of today's major VR products. We unfortunately do not have an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive on hand to test the performance in this regard, but Steam's VR test ensured us that the system would have no issues.
If you are looking for even more performance, Origin PC has you covered, offering build options that can run well up over $4,000. Looking to do some heavy video editing? Upgrade to the brand new Core i7 6950X Deca-Core processor from Intel. Desire top-tier game rendering? Swap out the base video card for Nvidia's GeForce GTX 1080 Founders Edition. When it comes to part selection, the Chronos includes a solid range of options, as well as the comfort of knowing that everything you pick is compatible with each other.
Normally, this would be the part of a computer review where we break out into detailed benchmark results, however, with the Chronos we are going to keep these limited. Due to the highly-customizable nature of the Chronos, everyone's build will be slightly different, and therefore return different performance results. Rest assured though, as Origin PC only uses quality parts in their builds and runs a gamut of tests on a system before sending it out, and that means you will always get the most out of the parts you choose.
With our particular build, we saw PCMark 8 return a result of 5,298 in the Creative test, which just barely trails behind the 5,646 score that our $4,000 Millennium build returned just over a year ago. We followed up this test with the Fire Strike Extreme and Fire Strike Ultra benchmarks from 3DMark, which really showed the advantages of the dual GTX 980s in our Millennium. The Chronos was able to put up respectable scores of 5,030 and 2,552 in the tests -- but this pales in comparison to the Millennium, which scored 11,665 and 6,472.
Much like the rest of Origin PC's lineup, the Chronos feels like a very purposefully-designed offering. It may not offer all of the bells and whistles you will find in the company's larger builds, but this small-form factor still offers plenty of options to make each system feel unique. Not only that, but the selection of components lets you create a system that ranges anywhere from base VR support all the way up to extreme performance. As you may expect, you are paying a premium for Origin to pick out the parts and put them together -- just don't forget that with this price, you also get lifetime 24-7 support.
If you are looking for a new Windows-based computer that packs a lot of power into a small space, you will be hard-pressed to find a better pre-built offering then the Chronos. The design gets so many of the little details right, down to the magnetic feet that make switching the orientation a breeze, while offering a great selection of internal components to pick from.