Origin Chronos review:

Origin Chronos

The Origin's gaming powers are equally formidable. Its GeForce GTX 560 Ti graphics card is a solid midrange GPU, and it again delivers category-leading performance. Its best score came on our demanding Metro 2033 test. This card can't really handle that game at its maximum settings at 2,560x1,600-pixel resolution, but on a 1,920x1,080-pixel display it can deliver reasonably smooth performance. That kind of speed, previously unheard of in systems under $2,000, should give you the confidence that the Chronos will run any current and near-future PC game at above-average image quality on a high-resolution monitor.

The one drawback of the Chronos, which is common to all small-form-factor PCs, is that it can only support a single graphics card. The benefits of dual-card configurations have waned in the past years, since graphics processors have arguably improved more quickly than game software. Two or more cards will impart greater speed if you're playing at resolutions above 1,920x1,080 pixels, or for multimonitor gaming. If that's your goal, a full-sized tower is a better option than any small-form-factor PC.

At least based on its game-console-size case, the Alienware X51 seems designed for the living room. The Chronos takes a more traditional approach with its off-the-shelf small chassis, but it's no less suited to a living room or any other environment where you might be sensitive about your PC's size or its appearance. The Chronos also has the connectivity to support a living-room installation, with a Mini-HDMI output on the graphics card, and both analog and S/PDIF audio outputs. For data you get a standard assortment of USB 2.0 jacks, as well as a pair of USB 3.0 ports to go along with them.

Describing the expandability of the Chronos is easy because there isn't any. The dual-slot GPU takes up the lone card expansion slot, and the RAM and the hard-drive openings are all occupied. The Alienware X51 and most other small-form-factor PCs are similarly limited.

Juice box
Origin Chronos  
Off (watts) 1.01
Sleep (watts) 1.69
Idle (watts) 65.9
Load (watts) 314.71
Raw (annual kWh) 454.48
Energy Star-compliant No
Power consumption cost (@$0.1135/kWh) $51.58

The Chronos' power consumption falls about where I would expect given its configuration. The older Velocity Micro Edge Z40 system consumes more power, but while it's slower than the Chronos, it also has slightly older hardware, which likely explains its higher annual energy cost.

Origin boasts a one-year lifetime in-house phone and online service for the Chronos, as well as lifetime labor coverage. The default parts warranty only covers you for a year, though, with free repair shipping within the first 45 days of purchase, a welcome bonus. You can also opt to upgrade the warranty for a fee through a variety of optional plans.

Alienware made a great impression with its slim X51 gaming desktop, but the Origin Chronos shows how independent boutique PC vendors still have the edge for hard-core gamers looking for maximum performance. The Chronos might cost a little more, but thanks to its overclocking and superior game and application performance, you absolutely get your money's worth.

Find out more about how we test desktop systems.

System configurations:

Alienware X51 (Core i5-2320, January 2012)
Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit; 3GHz Intel Core i5-2320; 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 555 graphics card; 1TB 7,200rpm hard drive

HP Pavilion HPE Phoenix h9z
Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit; 2.8GHz AMD FX-8100; 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1GB Nvidia Geforce GTX 550 Ti graphics card; 1TB 7,200rpm hard drive

HP Pavilion HPE h8xt (Core i7-2600, August 2011)
Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit; 3.4GHz Intel Core i7-2600; 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1GB AMD Radeon HD 6850 graphics card; 1.5TB 7,200rpm Seagate hard drive

Origin Chronos
Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit; 4.69GHz Intel Core i5-2550K; 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1.28GB Nvidia Geforce GTX 560 Ti graphics card; 750GB 7,200rpm hard drive

Velocity Micro Edge Z40
Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit; 4GHz Intel Core i5-2500K (overclocked); 4GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 560Ti graphics card (overclocked); 1TB 7,200rpm Hitachi hard drive

What you'll pay

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