Boutique gaming PC company Origin PC has been making built-to-order desktops and laptops, such as this Millennium model, for several years now. But thanks to an ever-changing roster of available components, today's system may be nearly totally different from an example only a couple of years old.
Case in point, our main interest in this desktop PC is the latest-and-greatest components packed into it, Intel's Core i7 Haswell-E processor and Nvidia's GeForce GTX 980 graphics cards, both parts new enough that this is the first system we've had a chance to test them in.
Many desktop and laptop gaming systems built by boutique companies are essentially high-end parts inside generic off-the-shelf cases, and these designs usually don't reflect the high prices and attention to detail found inside the plastic and aluminum cases. In this example, however, the Millennium is actually built into a very interesting box. The midtower desktop chassis, designed by Origin PC, works in both ATX and inverted ATX positions, and can rotate its motherboard and components by 90 degrees in both instances, giving you a total of four starting shapes.
If you need a refresher course on desktop building (and in today's laptop and tablet dominated world, who doesn't?), ATX is a common motherboard form factor, and in some desktop cases, including this one, you can choose whether the window on the side of the case, through which you can see the internal components, will be on the right or left side. Rotating the motherboard by 90 degrees puts the graphics cards at the top, pointing down, and can help with heat dissipation, and just looks cool.
You can get the Millennium from Origin PC starting for around $1,500, but that's pretty far removed from the configuration we tested. Moving up to one of Intel's new Haswell-E series CPUs, the octa-core Core i7 5960X, mounted on an X99 chipset motherboard, and adding not one or two, but three brand-new Nvidia GTX 980 graphics cards gives us a total price of $5,999.
Origin PC has an Australian site, and the closest available configuration there comes out to AU$7,406. For the UK, the company allows you to order from the US site (this would be £3,759), and then will contact you with a custom shipping quote.
Is that a realistic purchase for even the most serious PC gamers? Probably not, but it's a good opportunity to test this new Intel and Nvidia hardware, in a system built, tweaked, burned in, and backed up by people who know what they're doing. You can dial down to the lower-end Haswell-E chip, the six-core Core i7 5820, plus a single Nvidia GTX 980 graphics card for a more reasonable $2,853. If you're not interested in Haswell-E or Nvidia's 900-series desktop GPUs, there are many reasonably priced off-the-shelf gaming desktops out there from Alienware, Lenovo and others, but they certainly won't include the same bragging rights.
|PC Geekbox||Origin PC Millennium|
|Price as reviewed||$5,999|
|PC CPU||3.6GHz Intel Core i7-5960X|
|PC Memory||16GB 2,133MHz DDR4 SDRAM|
|Graphics||(3) 4GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 980|
|Storage||1TB SSD + 4TB 7,200rpm HDD|
|Optical drive||BD/DVD writer|
|Networking||(2) Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.0|
|Operating system||Windows 8 (64-bit)|
Design and features
It's almost shocking to see a big desktop PC box in 2014. Compared to the slim laptops that dominate the consumer computer market, occasional small-chassis desktops, or even power systems such as the elegant Mac Pro, the hulking Millennium body feels like a retro throwback to the days when full-size desktop was practically required for even midlevel PC gaming.
Even more shocking, the Millennium is actually what we'd call a midtower case, not even the largest of the large. A full-tower version, called the Genesis, is larger, and a sold-separately conversion kit can add the extra height and fan-or-hard-drive compartment that marks the difference between the two designs.
As it stands, the Millennium, a custom design from Origin PC, stands about 21 inches high, 24 inches deep and 9 inches (53.3 centimeters by 61 cm by 23 cm) across. Weight can vary depending on components, but averages about 60 pounds (27.2 kg). The next time you complain about a 5-pound laptop, keep that 60-pound number in mind.
With the previously mentioned variable mounting for four distinct internal layouts, you can stick the Millennium under a desk or next to a TV and almost always have it at a good angle for easy access to the internal components. Despite the massive price and heft, the case itself feels like it has too much plastic, and creaks a bit as it moves. The top panels, again mostly plastic, have cutouts and overhangs that look and feel like handles, but an included note warns against using them to lift or move the chassis.
Under the plastic, however, is what Origin PC calls a "server-grade steel frame." The metal frame helps with heat dissipation, especially important in this high-powered setup. There are also copious vents and fans, and a liquid cooling system for the overclocked CPU.
The hinged front door can be configured to open from the left or right, and inside you'll find five drive bays (one of ours was filled with a Blu-ray burner), and five vertically mounted hot-swappable hard-drive cages. Storage needs for computers are being pulled in two directions simultaneously, with cloud storage and services lessening the need for local storage, while large game downloads and 4K video files mean some people need more storage than ever.
Connections, performance and battery
Your connections, including video and networking ports, will depend on which components you choose. In our case, we had three video cards' worth of HDMI, DisplayPort and DVI connections. The easier-to-access ports on the top panel of the system included four USB 3.0 ports, headphone and mic jacks, fan controls and power and reset buttons.
The configuration options for this system are countless, but we were primarily interested in testing this version because of the just-released hardware inside. That includes an Overclocked Intel Haswell-E Core i7 5960X, three Nvidia GeForce GTX 980 graphics cards, and Intel's new X99 chipset, by way of an Asus X99 motherboard. That's all supported by 16GB of DDR4 RAM (something new for X99 systems), a huge 1TB SSD and a further 3TB of HDD storage.
Surprising no one, this system was incredibly fast on our normal PC benchmark tests. There's little to compare it to directly, as the Intel and Nvidia components are brand-new, and we typically focus on mainstream consumer computers that rarely cost more than $1,500. The closest recent hardware include a lower-cost Lenovo Erazer desktop, which has a single previous-gen Nvidia GPU (for about $1,500), and last year's high-end professional-grade Mac Pro. In single-app tests, designed for much more pedestrian hardware, these systems traded the top spot around, but were generally very close. In a multitasking test, however, the Millennium was a clear leader.
But what you're undoubtedly really here to see is how this system worked for PC gaming. Our standard high-end benchmark, running the challenging game Metro: Last Light at high/ultra settings at 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution typically tops out at under 25 frames per second, even on gaming laptops costing several thousand dollars. The Millennium, and its (very expensive) triple-GTX 980 setup, ran that test at 109 frames per second, far beyond what any PC we've previously tested has done. The aforementioned Lenovo Erazer, with a single Nvidia 780 GPU, ran the same test at 21 frames per second.
In our more mainstream BioShock: Infinite test, again at 1080p resolution and high settings, the Millennium ran the game at an astonishing 166 frames per second, while the X510 ran it at 83. A high-end gaming laptop from Alienware and a slightly older dual-video-card small-chassis desktop from Falcon Northwest turned in respectable scores as well, but nothing comes close to the Origin PC -- of course, we'd expect nothing less for $5,999.
But any of the systems mentioned here are perfectly fine for playing games at standard 1,920x1,080 HD, either on a monitor or hooked up to a big-screen TV. The real reason to invest in a monster system such as this is the promise of 4K gaming. Few, if any, PCs we've tested can do more than plod along at 3,840x2,160, even if you crank the detail levels in games way down. Hooking the Millennium up to a 65-inch 4K television we were able to run both of our test games at reasonable frame rates at the TV's native 4K resolution. Keeping the detail levels at high/ultra for our tests, Metro: Last Light ran at 21 frames per second and BioShock Infinite ran at 60.7 frames per second.
Dialing the detail levels on both down to medium gave us a much smoother experience, and the clarity of the higher-resolution experience more than made up for the loss detail. That said, high-end 4K gaming, for now at least, will continue to involve a trade-off between resolution and detail level. For what it's worth, industry experts, including people at Nvidia, have told us to go with the higher native resolution and dial down the game settings for the most optimal, immersive experience.
The market for $6,000 desktops is a small one, at least compared to the market for $400 Chromebooks or $999 MacBooks. If you're looking for PC gaming on a budget, Lenovo's Y50 gaming desktop is an excellent value, and Alienware has a $550 set top box, called the Alpha , coming soon for console-like easy hookup to a 1080p TV.
But if you want to the be first on your block playing Titanfall, Dead Rising 3, Metro: Last Light, or any other high-end, high-detail PC games at eye-popping 4K resolution, this expensive Millennium build will certainly impress. Our positive impressions of Origin PC's attention to detail, careful construction, and hands-on support (including lifetime tech support access and labor for repairs) is well known. While you're paying a premium for that level of service, including the protective huge wooden crate the system ships in, there are only a couple of boutique vendors I'd feel confidant that can handle both system building and long-term support for such a large investment.
Origin Millennium PC (Overclocked)
Windows 8.1 (64-bit); 3.6GHz Intel Core i7-5960X; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,133MHz ; (3) 4GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 980; 1TB SSD, 4TB 7,200rpm HDD
Lenovo Erazer X510
Windows 8.1 (64-bit); 3.5GHz Intel Core i7-4770K; 16GB DDR3 SDRAM 1600MHz; 2GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 760; 8GB + 1TB SSHDAlienware 17 (2014)Windows 7 Home Premium (64.bit); 2.9GHz Intel Core i7-4910MQ; 16GB DDR3 SDRAM 1600MHz; 6GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 880M; 256GB SSD, 1TB 5,400rpm HDD
Apple Mac Pro (2013)
Apple OSX Mavericks 10.9; 3GHz Intel Xeon E5-1680 (8-core); 64GB DDR3 SDRAM 1867MHz; (2) 6GB AMD FirePro D700; 1TB Apple SSD
Falcon Northwest Fragbox v3 (Overclocked)
Windows 8 (64-bit); 4.5GHz Intel Core i7-4770K; 16GB DDR3 SDRAM 1800MHz; 3GB Nvidia Geforce GTX 780; (2) 960GB SSD RAID 0