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Falcon Northwest Tiki
The fastest micro-tower to enter our Lab
Here’s a little inside OEM trivia: Falcon Northwest is one of the most competitive system builders we deal with. The company flat-out doesn’t ever like to lose a showdown on performance grounds. Price? Fine. Bundle? OK. But when it comes to performance, Falcon will sacrifice almost everything to win in that category.
That’s just what the company has done with the latest iteration of the Tiki, which damn near maxes out what can be done in a machine of this size.
For example, the 3.5GHz Core i7-4770K in this machine is clocked as high as in the Maingear full-tower rig with custom water cooling that we reviewed in August: 4.7GHz. Falcon does this with the aid of an Asetek 120mm cooler that magically folds into the slim chassis. Of the boxes here, only the iBuypower Revolt and Falcon Northwest Tiki pack liquid cooing. The Revolt’s cooler is bigger at 140mm but its chassis is also pudgier.
Alongside the Tiki’s OC’d Hassy, we also find a GeForce GTX Titan, which, true to Falcon’s competitive spirit, is also overclocked.
The Tiki pushes its CPU as hard as any full-tower box.
The Tiki isn’t watered-down in storage, either. You get two 240GB Crucial M500 SSDs in RAID 0 and a 3TB Western Digital Green drive. Despite its micro-tower form factor, you should be able to easily push 2TB in SSD and 4TB in HDD. Not bad for such a tiny box.
Amazingly, all this runs off of a 450-watt Silverstone PSU. This is down 50 watts from the 500-watt units in the iBuypower Revolt and Digital Storm Bolt. We’re actually impressed that all three boxes buck Nvidia’s mandate of a 600-watt minimum for the Titan. Will there be problems long-term? We guess not, as each vendor would have to eat the cost of replacing a bad PSU (all of them offer a three-year warranty). It’s more likely that the 600-watt spec by Nvidia is based on a full-tower application, which could run multiple hard drives and a dozen fans if so desired by the builder. A micro-tower, on the other hand, is inherently limited to two SSDs, a hard drive, and a single GPU.
Getting inside the Falcon is a very straightforward, almost mid-tower-like affair. Remove two thumbscrews in back and slide off the side door. The 120mm Asetek’s radiator is attached to the door and can be easily removed, if need be. With the door off, you have easy access to the GPU, RAM, and drives. One problem, though: If you need to access the back of the motherboard to futz with a cooler backplate, you’ll have to pull the board, as it doesn’t have the giant cut-out in back like the Digital Storm Bolt, nor can you pull off the right side of the case. As with like the Digital Storm and iBuypower boxes, getting to the GPU is work. It’s not horrible, but it’ll take a few minutes. Surprisingly, this makes the Alienware X51 R2 the easiest box in which to access to the GPU.
In all four units, access to the critical components really isn’t bad. It’s not as easy as a mid-tower or full-tower, of course, but it’s actually easier than most shoebox SFF cases and systems we’ve wrenched on.
Externally, there’s very little difference from the first Tiki we reviewed in August 2012. Well, except for the paint. Falcon had its internal case painter apply a custom copper paint job. It’s certainly smooth and high-quality, but like any custom paint job, its appeal is subjective (kind of like a beige Dream Machine, right?). In the Tiki’s case, most of the editors on staff found it to be garish, but as it’s custom at the time of order, you could specify a more subdued shade.
The granite base was also a source of debate among staffers. We’ll admit that the aesthetic isn’t for everyone, but we’ve come around on its utility. Falcon Northwest has always said the heavy granite base helps prevent the system from getting knocked over. Most of us scoffed at that likelihood, but after taking the Alienware X51 R2 to a small LAN party and seeing how tippy a 3–4-inch-wide system can be when placed on a folding plastic table, we’re more convinced of the granite’s usefulness. The Falcon Northwest Tiki isn’t tipping over unless you shove it. We have to point out, though, that with the Alienware X51 R2, we could just lay the box flat on an unstable surface. The Tiki has no such option for that orientation.
You can easily access the RAM and CPU under the Asetek cooler.
In performance, it was no surprise that the Tiki cleaned everyone’s clocks. With its Core i7-4770K at 4.7GHz and its overclocked Titan, it made quick work of all three of its challengers. And we don’t mean by margin-of-error spreads, either. The Falcon Northwest is large—er, small—and in charge. From CPU-centric tasks to gaming, the Falcon had an edge over the others. Against its old foe and nemesis, Alienware’s X51 R2, the Falcon Northwest Tiki was nearly twice as fast in almost all of the benchmarks. If it took almost 4,000 seconds for the X51 R2 to encode a video, it took half that time for the Falcon Northwest Tiki.
There is a cost to all this performance, though. The Tiki under heavy CPU duress can get loud. Fortunately, it’s not the shrill fan noise or never-ending whir that plagued machines of five years ago, but loud nonetheless. Acoustically, it was slightly louder than the Alienware (which also gets loud when its CPU is pushed hard) but quieter than the Digital Storm Bolt. At idle, the Falcon Northwest Tiki was as quiet as an agnostic mouse having an existential moment, but render a video hitting all eight threads of the chip for 25 minutes and it’ll get noticeable. The GPU, for its part, is better-behaved even under heavy load.
The only other dig we have against the Tiki is its price. The system comes in at $4,443, which is more than twice as much as the iBuypower Revolt and more than three times the price of the Alienware X51 R2. Part of the price is the paint job, which costs $900 itself. Even with that removed, it’s still a lot of cabbage at $3,500, but it does have far more storage onboard than the others here.
As we said, Falcon doesn’t care if it doesn’t win the love of accountants; it just wants to prove that it can make the fastest computers around. With this Tiki, the company accomplishes that. There’s no doubt which machine here is the fastest, or the most expensive.
|CPU||3.5GHz Core i7-4770K @4.7GHz|
|Motherboard||Asus Maximus VI Impact|
|RAM||16GB G.Skill Ripjaws DDR3/1866|
|GPU||GeForce GTX Titan|
|SSD||Two 240GB Crucial M500 in RAID 0|
|HDD||3TB Western Digital Green|
|ODD||Slot-fed Panasonic UJ-265 Blu-ray burner|
|PSU||450-watt Silverstone ST-45SF|
|W x H x D||5 x 14 x 15 inches|
Falcon Northwest Tiki
Doesn’t advance far enough forward
Alienware kicked off the micro-tower revolution with its original X51. Prior to that, most performance-oriented small-form-factor boxes used Mini-ITX motherboards in shoebox-shaped chassis.
The X51 was different. Starting with the same basic shell and shape as a business-class small form factor, Alienware set out to address the business box’s major weakness: graphics. Most PCs of that size use either integrated graphics or low-TDP, half-height GPUs with minimal chutzpah.
Alienware changed the game by making these thin form factors capable of, well, gaming, by squeezing in full-size GPUs. The rest, as they say, is history, and the three other followers here show the strength of the design, with more competitors likely on the way. What can we say? People want big desktop gaming performance but in a box small enough to be confused with a game console.
So, without a doubt, Alienware deserves credit for moving the ball forward on small, fast PC performance. But does Alienware/Dell keep the forward momentum going with the R2 version of the X51? Unfortunately, no. More on that in a bit.
We checked with our resident Macsexual and he said the Alienware was the coolest-looking of the four
Getting into the X51 is pretty simple. Undo one screw and slide off a side panel to access the GPU and CPU. RAM is also there, tucked in under the air intake for the CPU. If you look at a picture of the X51, you might think replacing or upgrading the GPU would be a serious pain in the butt, but it isn't. Remove two screws holding the GPU in place and then carefully lift out the card. In fact, a GPU swap is actually easier here than with the three other boxes, despite its intimidating looks. Getting at the unit’s sole hard drive—a 2TB 7,200rpm Seagate Barracuda, in our case—is done with the GPU lifted out. Again, it’s really not daunting—we know because we’ve done it several times with the original X51.
And that, sadly, is our problem. Despite the R2 moniker, the X51 R2 is largely the same as the original, and carries the same shortcomings, too. The primary shortcoming is its storage subsystem. The Seagate 2TB 7,200rpm Barracuda is a fine drive but it ain’t no SSD, and booting and other disk I/O–intensive tasks are simply painful. While the three others here boast the optimal setup of SSD-plus-HDD, the Alienware is stuck with a hard drive as its only option. The only way to add an SSD would be to buy a 2.5-inch-to-3.5-inch bay adapter and jettison the hard drive.
Getting into X51 is actually very easy despite the daunting looks of the guts.
The other limitation is in power. The three other rigs here pack 450-watt or 500-watt PSUs, which is apparently enough, believe it or not, to run a GeForce GTX Titan card. When Alienware designed the X51, it moved from an inboard PSU used in most business small form factors to an external power brick. It’s a hefty brick and it puts out 330 watts. That’s not bad, but it’s not enough to run much more than the GeForce GTX 670 in the box. Now, let’s be fair to the GeForce GTX 670; it’s still a great card and, frankly, should play the vast majority of today’s and tomorrow’s games at 1080p resolution with a few knobs turned down a bit, but it’s getting to be a bit elderly.
In the processor department, the Alienware X51 packs a Haswell Intel Core i5-4430 quad-core part without Hyper-Threading. It’s got a 3GHz base clock with a Turbo Boost of 200MHz. As it’s not a K part, overclocking isn’t possible. Period. In performance, as you can imagine, the Alienware X51 R2 doesn’t take home any trophies. We’re not even sure it gets the consolation prize, a certificate created in Broderbund Print Shop 3.0 and spit out on a dot-matrix printer five minutes before the game was over. For example, the Falcon Northwest Tiki is damn near 100 percent faster than the Alienware X51 R2 in everything. And we mean everything. From gaming chores to CPU tasks, the Falcon laps the Alienware X51 R2 almost every single time. It’s not much better against the iBuypower Revolt or Digital Storm Bolt, either.
Before you start saying that it’s just our opinion, man, we’ll acknowledge that the Alienware X51 R2 sets the bar in pricing. The box as configured tips the credit card at $1,350, which makes it the most affordable micro-tower in this roundup. In real-world use, the Alienware X51 R2 will fill the needs of 75 percent of gamers, too. In fact, we took the Alienware X51 R2 to a small LAN party and for gaming at 1080p it performed admirably and got a lot of admiring looks, to boot.
But we have to say, at $1,350 you might think you’re getting a lot of value, until you eye the iBuypower Revolt. Sure, the Revolt is $1,999 but you’re getting a GeForce GTX Titan, an SSD, and a Core i7-4770K with liquid cooling and overclocking capability. If we had to pick a machine that gives you the most bang for the buck, we’d pass over the Alienware X51 R2 and go straight to the iBuypower Revolt, which really packs in the value.
To close this off, we have to again remind people that Alienware kicked off this wave of micro-towers, and we have no doubt there will be an X51 R3 in the future. We just really hope the R3 carries the ability to mount an SSD as well as a hard drive and the ability to run the top-end GPUs. It’s a worthy box, but it falls short against the competition.
Alienware X51 R2
|CPU||3.2GHz Core i5-4430|
|GPU||GeForce GTX 670|
|HDD||2TB Seagate Barracuda|
|ODD||Slot-fed Blu-ray combo drive|
|PSU||330 external power brick|
|W x H x D||3.75 x 14.7 x 12.75 inches|
Click the next page to see our overall conclusions.