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Editors' note: Origin is no longer offering the Chronos with a Core i5 2550K chip featured in this review. An otherwise identical version is now available for $1,279 with an overclocked Core i5 3750K chip, and an Intel Z77 motherboard.
The Origin Chronos small form-factor PC helps illustrate why I did not give the Alienware X51 an Editors' Choice Award. Alienware crammed some nice design innovation into its little PC, but unlike the Chronos, the X51 still shows performance compromises due to its small size and, I suspect, Alienware's ties to Dell and the precautions necessitated by large-scale manufacturing. Origin navigates around the size issue with well-chosen components, and the company's independence and smaller manufacturing scale allow it the freedom to overclock. The result is a small gaming desktop I would recommend to anyone.
Our Chronos review system came with the Silverstone SG08 case option, the smallest Origin offers under its Chronos line. The case measures 7.5 inches high, almost 9 inches wide, and just under 14 inches deep, slightly larger overall than the Alienware X51 (13.25x3.75x12.25 inches), but still small enough to make for an unobtrusive living-room system.
The Chronos' size permits only a single graphics card, and Origin has also capped the power supply at 600 watts. That's a reasonable amount of power for a small PC, and almost double the capacity of the Alienware's X51 330-watt PSU. Practically speaking, it means you can use almost any current-generation graphics card in the Chronos. The chief innovation of the X51 is its ability to use a double-wide graphics card in a slim tower case, but the Alienware's smaller power supply means you're limited to midrange GPUs.
|Origin Chronos||Alienware X51||Velocity Micro Edge Z40|
|Motherboard chipset||Intel Z68||Intel H61||Intel P67|
|CPU||4.7GHz Intel Core i5-2550K (overclocked)||3GHz Intel Core i5-2320||4GHz Intel Core i5-2500K (overclocked)|
|Memory||8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM||8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM||4GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM|
|Graphics||1.28GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 560Ti||1GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 555||1GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 560Ti|
|Hard drives||750GB 7,200rpm||1TB 7,200rpm||1TB 7,200rpm|
|Optical drive||dual-layer DVD burner||dual-layer DVD burner||Blu-ray/DVD burner combo|
|Operating system||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)|
Compare the specs of the Chronos to those of the Alienware and you'll see the Origin's advantages pretty quickly. Our review configuration costs $200 more than the X51, but it also has a faster CPU and a faster graphics card, not to mention the ability to add an even more powerful GPU down the road. The Chronos has only a 750GB hard drive to the X51's 1TB model, but I'd happily sacrifice a bit of storage for better gaming performance.
If you're willing to spend a bit more for a gaming system, Origin also offers you more options. You can pay $1,049 for a Core i7-based X51, but that's the only flexibility Alienware gives you in terms of core components for the X51. On the Chronos configuration page, you can opt for top-end graphics cards from AMD and Nvidia, as well as an overclocked Core i7 CPU and up to three solid-state drive (SSD) options.
The SSD storage and higher-end graphics cards alone make the Chronos a more flexible system than the X51, and show how even Alienware has become vulnerable to owner Dell's recent trend toward offering fewer customization options. The fact that Alienware will not overclock the X51 out of the box also gives the Origin system a dramatic performance edge.
|Rendering multiple CPUs||Rendering single CPU|
In its price range, the Origin Chronos is the fastest midrange desktop I've seen. That's not a real surprise given its fast clock speed, although I wondered how the Chronos would compete on the Cinebench multiprocessing test. Its Core i5 chip is only a straight quad-core CPU, while the Core i7-2600 in the HP Pavilion HPE h8xt has a slower clock speed but more processing threads thanks to its Hyper-Threading boost. No matter. The Chronos system outperformed it heartily, and it's your best bet at this price if you need fast application performance.
|1,920x1,200 (DirectX 10, 4x aa, very high)||1,440x900 (DirectX 10, 4x aa, very high)|
|2,560x1,600 (DirectX 11, very high)||1,920x1,080 (DirectX 11, very high)|
|Extreme (1,920x1080)||Performance (1,920x1,080, 16x AF)||Entry level (1,680x1,050)|
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.
|Raw (annual kWh)||454.48|
|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.
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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
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