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Falcon Northwest Tiki review: A compact powerhouse for virtual reality

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There is no shortage of desktop PCs (and even a handful of laptops) that meet the minimum specs required for the first generation of consumer virtual reality headsets. Both the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive ask for recent Intel Core i5 or i7 processors, either an Nvidia 970 or 980/980ti graphics card, plus the right combination of RAM, video outputs and USB inputs (parallel requirements for AMD-based CPU and GPU are just as strict).

001falcon-northwest-tiki-2016.jpg
8.6

Falcon Northwest Tiki

The Good

Insanely powerful, thanks to the very high-end parts in this configuration, yet still compact enough to not hog your desk. Expert construction, a sturdy chassis, and a clean understated look.

The Bad

Very expensive, even configured with lower-end parts. The internal components aren't as easily accessible as in a standard tower. New high-end graphics card hardware may (or may not) be right around the corner.

The Bottom Line

The Falcon Northwest Tiki is the most powerful, and most expensive, VR-ready PC we've tested to date.

Easy enough, if you're willing to spend $1,200 or more, but most of the desktops we've tested that fit the bill are gaming rigs in the most classic sense of the word. That means they're big, they're heavy and their designs lack a certain cosmopolitan flair. (That's if we're being generous. If not, we could say they look like big dorky gaming machines.)

001falcon-northwest-tiki-2016.jpg
Sarah Tew/CNET

Fortunately, a handful of companies have managed to squeeze the required hardware into much smaller, more attractive boxes. Of the VR-ready desktops we've looked at, Alienware (owned by Dell) offers a reasonably priced X51 mini-tower at the low end of the spectrum; and we tested a midrange, midprice version of the excellent Origin PC Chronos (which includes clever removable magnetic rubber feet). But the most powerful VR-ready PC we've tested to date is the Falcon Northwest Tiki, a mini-tower desktop that manages to fit in more powerful components and more storage than we've seen in any of the full-size desktops in our VR-ready lineup.

Of course, it's also the most expensive. This benchmark-crushing configuration costs around $4,900 in the US (that's about £3,434 and AU$6,376, but non-US orders will have to contact the company for a custom quote), and includes an extreme edition Intel Core i7-5960X CPU, Nvidia GeForce GTX 980ti graphics card, and a very fast 512GB PCI Express SSD plus a whopping 6TB of standard hard-drive storage. Note that as component prices shift, the exact cost of any build-to-order PC can move up or down a bit. If you stick to parts at the lower end of the required VR spec, the price can get down to around $2,000, but at that point, you might as well opt for something like the entry level Asus or Alienware $999 (after bundled Oculus discount) specials.

SYSTEM NAME

Price as reviewed $4,900 (approx.)
PC CPU 3GHz Intel Core i7-5960X
PC Memory 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2133MHz
Graphics 6GB NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 Ti
Storage 512GB SSD + 6TB 5700rpm HDD
Optical drive DVD Burner
Operating system Microsoft Windows 10 Pro (64-bit)


If you're serious about VR, and are ready invest in a $600-$800 headset, plus a compatible computer, it's worth thinking about future-proofing. The base Core i5/GeForce 970 combo should run any of the first wave of Rift/Vive experiences at the required 90 frames per second per eye, but most of those games are fairly simple experiences, in many cases little better than demos. What happens when the next generation of VR games, or the one after that, comes closer to top-end PC game graphics? To run those future experiences at 90fps, you'll need a very powerful machine, and that's why it may make sense to buy for next year's games, rather than the ones available right now.

001falcon-northwest-tiki-2016.jpg
Sarah Tew/CNET

Keep in mind, however, that the current generation of Nvidia graphics cards has been around for almost two years, and an update is widely expected sometime later in 2016. What that might mean for VR is unknown, but a GeForce 980 or 980ti is going to be more than good enough for high-end gaming for a good while to come.

The Tiki reviewed here came with a custom blue paint job, which adds a hefty $375 to the cost (but it's got an automotive-like shimmer and looks great). The heavy aluminum base is painted to match, and provides a major point of design differentiation between this and the Origin PC Chronos, another mini-tower VR-ready PC. The Chronon sits on removable magnetic rubber feet, which allows it to shift between vertical and horizontal setups. While the Tiki can't lie on its side with the base attached, it does anchor the system, and prevents anyone from accidentally knocking it over, as one might conceivably do when tethered to a vision-obscuring virtual reality headset. Both designs have their advantages.

001falcon-northwest-tiki-2016.jpg
Sarah Tew/CNET

Most of the ports and connections are on the back panel, including the direct-from-the-GPU video outputs required for virtual-reality hardware. There are not front ports, but a couple of USB ports and audio in/out jacks are on the top panel (although the audio jacks really should be labeled). So far, the Velocity Micro Raptor is the only desktop we've tested with a special set of VR-ready connections on the easy to reach front panel.

Unlike some of the bigger VR-ready tower PCs we've tested, upgrading the Tiki is not as simple as sliding a side panel off. A couple of thumbscrews get you into the right side panel, and reasonably easy access to the CPU and hard drives. The graphics card looks like it would take some serious screwdriver time to unhook, and everything is so tightly packed into the water-cooled interior that there's not a lot of room to play around.

But with a top-of-the-line configuration like this, you likely won't have any reason to get upgrade envy, at least for a while. In our testing of application and game performance, plus some VR testing, this very expensive Tiki configuration beat every PC we put it up against.

That's not unexpected, considering only the Velocity Micro Raptor Z55 had a GeForce 980Ti GPU, and only the Tiki was configured with a Core i7-X processor. Even more noteworthy, it's the first (and to date only) system to score a perfect 11 out of 11 in Valve's SteamVR test, which measures potential virtual-reality performance. For non-VR gaming, the Tiki was a dream, easily playing games like Fallout 4, The Division and Mad Max at ultra detail settings, even up to full 4K resolution.

001falcon-northwest-tiki-2016.jpg
Sarah Tew/CNET

Conclusion

For anyone who wants to go big into VR, whether it's developing games and apps, or just playing them, choosing the right VR-ready PC is just as important as choosing between the Oculus Rift or the Vive. We've tested and reviewed many desktops (and one laptop) that either meet or exceed the minimum required specs, but this is both the most powerful and most expensive configuration on our list.

That doesn't mean you need to drop almost five grand on a VR computer. Even a hand-crafted system like the Falcon Northwest Tiki can be configured very nicely for between $2,000 and $2,500. If you're not willing to spend at least that much, check out the VR-ready PCs being promoted by Oculus and others that can get down as low as $999, but be prepared to invest in upgrades or a new system in a couple of years.

Multimedia Multitasking test 3.0

Dell XPS 8900 257Alienware X51 248Origin PC Eon17-SLX 151Acer Predator G6 143Lenovo Ideacentre Y900 143Velocity Micro Raptor Z55 125Origin PC Chronos 123Falcon Northwest Tiki 120
Notes: Shorter bars indicate better performance (in seconds)


Geekbench 3 (Multi-Core)

Falcon Northwest Tiki 24461Origin PC Chronos 19398Velocity Micro Raptor Z55 19162Origin PC Eon17-SLX 18083Lenovo Ideacentre Y900 16753Acer Predator G6 15678Dell XPS 8900 11025Alienware X51 10995
Notes: Longer bars indicate better performance




3DMark Fire Strike Ultra

Falcon Northwest Tiki 4421Velocity Micro Raptor Z55 4011Origin PC Eon17-SLX 3374Acer Predator G6 3193Origin PC Chronos 2867Lenovo Ideacentre Y900 2812Alienware X51 2548Dell XPS 8900 2502
Notes: Longer bars indicate better performance


SteamVR performance test

Falcon Northwest Tiki 11Velocity Micro Raptor Z55 10.5Origin PC Eon17-SLX 8.5Lenovo Ideacentre Y900 8.1Acer Predator G6 7.6Origin PC Chronos 7Dell XPS 8900 6.5Alienware X51 6.4
Notes: Longer bars indicate better performance

System Configurations

Acer Predator G6 Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 4GHz Intel Core i7-6700K; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2133MHz; 4GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 980; 256GB SSD + 2TB 7200rpm HDD
Alienware X51 Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.7GHz Intel Core i5-6400; 8GB DDR4 SDRAM 2133MHz; 4GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 970; 1TB 7200rpm HDD
Origin PC Chronos Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); OC 4.7GHz Intel Core i7-6700K; 8GB DDR4 SDRAM 2133MHz; 4GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 970; 250GB SSD + 1TB 7200rpm HDD
Lenovo Ideacentre Y900 Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 4GHz Intel Core i7-6700K; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2133MHz; 4GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 980; 256GB SSD + 2TB 7200rpm HDD
Dell XPS 8900 Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.7GHz Intel Core i5-6400; 8GB DDR4 SDRAM 2133MHz; 4GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 970; 1TB 7200rpm HDD
Origin PC Eon17-SLX Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 4.5GHz Intel Core i7-6700K; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2133MHz; 8GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 980; 256GB SSD + 1TB HDD
Velocity Micro Raptor Z55 Microsoft Windwos 10 Home (64-bit); 4GHz Intel Core i7-6700K; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2133MHz; 6GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 980 Ti; (2) 256GB SSD RAID 0 + 2TB HDD
Falcon Northwest Tiki Microsoft Windows 10 Pro (64-bit); 3GHz Intel Core i7-5960X; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2133MHZ; 8GB Nvida GeForce GTX 980 Ti; 512GB SSD + 6TB HDD 5700rpm
001falcon-northwest-tiki-2016.jpg
8.6

Falcon Northwest Tiki

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 9