Heading into the final weeks of what we'll look back on as the pre-VR era, a surprising number of desktop computers are landing here at the CNET Labs. Maybe it's really not all that surprising, as the two big mainstream virtual reality headsets expected this spring both require the kind of computing muscle only a desktop can provide.
The Oculus Rift and HTC Vive both need desktop processors and, more importantly, desktop graphics cards, to run, according to their published system requirements. That's led to a series of Oculus-ready PCs, officially promoted by that Facebook-owned company (including the recently reviewed Dell XPS 8900), as well as a steady stream of PCs calling themselves more generally "VR-ready."
We first spotted this new small desktop design from Origin PC at CES 2016, where it was presented as a compact, arguably portable, gaming rig that could work with the Oculus Rift and other VR gear. The company says this system is specifically targeted at VR enthusiasts and VR developers (and that developers can contact the company for special pricing).
The very powerful base configuration, at $1,799 in the US (that works out to £1,635 and AU$2,418, although shipping these US-made systems overseas may be cost-prohibitive), is what we've tested here. Nearly every aspect of the system, including the graphics, memory and storage, are configurable or upgradable. The base model includes an overclocked Intel Core i7 processor (at 4.7GHz), 8GB of RAM, a storage combo of 250GB SSD and a 1TB HDD, plus an Nvidia GeForce GTX 970 graphics card.
You might spend a bit less on that component set elsewhere, but this version includes not only the overclocked CPU, but also a water-cooling setup -- which is key with hot components packed into in a small case like this -- and lifetime 24-7 US-based support, including lifetime free labor for repairs and upgrades.
Origin PC Chronos
|Price as reviewed||$1,799|
|PC CPU||OC 4.7GHz Intel Core i7-6700K|
|PC memory||8GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,133MHz|
|Graphics||4GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 970|
|Storage||250GB SSD + 1TB 7,200rpm HDD|
|Networking||802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.0|
|Operating system||Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit)|
Many gaming PCs from boutique PC builders are essentially off-the-shelf components in an off-the-shelf chassis, perhaps with a custom paint job and some hand tuning and performance tweaking. The Chronos VR is an original Origin PC case design, made of steel and measuring a compact 11.75 inches high by 4 inches wide by 13.75 inches deep. It's big enough to fit in a full-size high-end graphics card (such as an Nvidia 970 or 980), but can just about squeeze into a large backpack for occasional travel.
By far, my favorite feature of this compact design is the included set of magnetic rubber feet. Yes, it's odd to get so enthusiastic about rubber feet when you have a massively powerful gaming PC in front of you, but it's a great little attention-to-detail addition that has real practical advantages.
The four rubber feet are round, with a thin magnetic circle pressed into the center of each one. The default configuration is to place the system upright, with the backlit window cutout on the left panel (through which you can see the side-mounted video card), and the feet on the bottom.
But, with just a little force the feet pop off, and you can flip the entire system so that the right side panel becomes the bottom. Place the four magnetic feet on that panel and you now have a low, wide chassis that looks like a game console or piece of stereo equipment. One small fan vent would be facing down in this configuration, but the rubber feet give it some separation from the floor, and bigger vents are along the other, exposed, panels (speaking of which, the system is generally quiet, but the fans can occasionally spin up loudly). If you're a stickler for aesthetics, the Origin PC logo on the front panel actually rotates so it can always appear upright.