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The OG Micro-tower
Remembering the HP Firebird 803
We largely credit Alienware’s X51 with spawning the current micro-tower revolution but we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Hewlett-Packard’s contribution back in 2008 with the Firebird 803. The Firebird 803 was a scaled-down version of the honking-huge Blackbird 002 and was comparable in size to today’s micro-towers.
So, why did the Firebird 803 fail? There are probably a lot of reasons, but for us the main problem was a lack of industry-standard parts. At a time when tower PCs all used off-the-shelf parts, the Firebird 803’s mix of laptop and desktop parts was off-putting. It sported a liquid-cooled Core 2 Quad on a proprietary motherboard using an nForce 760S chip, it used SO-DIMMs, and graphics were handled by two mobile GeForce 9800S parts in SLI.
Among the Firebird’s missteps: no PCIe slot for any potential to upgrade. It was essentially a big laptop on a stand with liquid cooling. So, technically, it’s actually fair to give the Alienware X51 full credit for inventing the micro-tower. It isn’t just the size, it’s also the use of an industry-standard discrete GPU.
We couldn’t recommend the Firebird back in its day and we probably wouldn’t today, either, but looking back on our review it’s interesting to note what we wrote: “Beyond just the Mad Max world we’re hurtling toward where everyone has to knife-fight for a liter of gasoline, this could very well be the future of high-end computing. PCs have grown smaller over the years and add-in cards fewer. With external graphics on the way, it’s quite possible the Firebird is a precursor of what an enthusiast PC will look like in 2013.”
The benchmarks show us what these mighty mites are really made of
In selecting benchmarks for the four micro-towers in this roundup, we decided to reach outside our standard suite of system tests. These machines, after all, seem primarily aimed at gamers, so in addition to our standard CPU-centric benchmarks, we also ran the rigs through off-the-shelf games as well as the new 3DMark and the popular Unigine 4.0 benchmark. As the boxes are limited to single GPUs, we also decided that in addition to 2560x1600 testing, we’d see how these machines run at the far more realistic resolution of 1920x1080.
If you’ve read the reviews or just peeped the specs of each individual box, it should be no surprise that the Falcon Northwest Tiki easily took first place at anything that’s performance related. Its heavily overclocked Core i7-4770 Haswell chip handily sprinted past the stock-clocked iBuypower Revolt and even the clocked-up Digital Storm Bolt with its Ivy Bridge Core i7-3770K. Let the naysayers continue their hating on Haswell, but there’s no doubt here that Ivy Bridge is at disadvantage against Intel’s newcomer.
The Tiki didn’t just win the CPU tests, either; its overclocked GeForce GTX Titan also gave this rig a noticeable performance advantage in gaming at both 1920x1080 and 2560x1600. So let’s just declare this roundup done and over: The Falcon Tiki is clearly faster in every performance category we evaluated. Again, if you didn’t get the memo: It’s the fastest micro-tower we’ve ever tested. It’s also the most luxuriously outfitted, with its RAID 0 SSDs and 3TB HDD.
But who gets the silver medal in this contest? That’s a far tougher call. The Digital Storm Bolt actually has a slight edge over the iBuypower Revolt and is technically second place in performance. You can thank its 4.35GHz Core i7-3770K for that. The Bolt also has the most reasonable storage subsystem, whereas iBuypower decided to kick drive capacity out the door in pursuit of a lower cost. Lower cost is not something to be trifled with, though. The Digital Storm Bolt is almost $1,400 more than the iBuypower—yes, it’s faster, but just by a smidgen. And in the very important acoustics category, the liquid-cooled and stock-clocked iBuypower Revolt is the clear winner. The machine simply doesn’t get loud the way the three others do. So, taking into account cost and noise and very close performance scores, we’re putting the iBuypower Revolt in second place overall. But it takes the first-place prize for bang-for-the-buck. We originally thought that honor would go to the $1,350 Alienware X51 R2, but the iBuypower at $2,000 gives you so much more that we think it’s a much better value.
That leaves the Alienware X51 R2 in last place. Some of you probably saw that coming. The fact is, you can buy three Alienwares for the price of one Falcon, so is it even a fair contest? While its size definitely puts it into the same class, Alienware needs to step up with the third generation of the X51 to make it a bit more competitive with the newcomers, because the other three boxes here certainly won’t be the last to emulate the X51’s form factor.
|Falcon Northwest Tiki||Digital Storm Bolt||iBuypower Revolt||Alienware X51 R2|
|Premiere Pro CS6 (sec)||2,100
|Stitch.Efx 2.0 (sec)||693||770||842||1,122|
|ProShow Producer 5.0 (sec)||1,176
|X264 HD 5.0 pass 1 (fps)||95.2||84.6
|X264 HD 5.0 pass 2 (fps)||20.3||17.2||16.4||11.54|
|Metro Lastlight 25x16 (fps)||27.8||24.7||24.4||15.0|
|Metro Lastlight 19x10 (fps)||48.5||41.8||42.5||27|
|Hitman Absolution Ultra 25x16 (fps)||44.9||41.8||42.1||25.9|
|Hitman Absolution Ultra 19x10 (fps)||70.3||62.9||63.9||41.7|
|Tomb Raider 25x60 (fps)||52.7||44.7||43.8||18.3|
|Tomb Raider 19x10 (fps)||83.3||70.1||69.9||43.2|
|3DMark 11 Overall||X5,417||X4,944||X4,931||X2,285|
|3DMark Firestrike Extreme (score)||5,206||4,645||4,715||2,652|
|3DMark Firestrike Extreme (graphics)||5,402||4,770||4,925||2,800|
|3DMark Firestrike Extreme (physics)||12,975||11,719||10,577||5,992|
|Unigine 4.0 25x60 (fps)||40.9||34.2||35.3||20.0|
|Unigine 4.0 19x10 (fps)||71.0||58.5||58.6||35.5|
Best scores bolded.
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