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The Origin of Speed: Origin's Genesis Gaming System
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Date: Jan 21, 2010
Section:Systems
Author: Joel Hruska
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Introduction and Specifications

Last week, we brought you a preview of newcomer Origin PC's Genesis desktop and announced a system giveaway (details available here).  At that time we noted that "there's a new company joining the ranks of boutique system builders with customization options that could turn the head of even the most die-hard DIY-er. The paint is scarcely dry on the Origin logo—the business opened on November 17th—but the corporation's three founders each spent a decade at Alienware prior to founding Origin. "

Now it's time to investigate the system's actual performance as shipped. With a list price of $4999 as configured, this particular Genesis system is breathing some rarefied air indeed. Our expectations are similarly high; any company marketing a $5000 system has to demonstrate it's got all its bases covered. We were happy with Origin's warranty terms and promise of lifetime support when we previewed the system; let's see if the company's hardware selection and system performance are commensurate with its lifetime support and personalized care.

   
Origin PC Genesis Desktop Gaming System - As tested, flat black...

Origin PC Genesis Desktop Gaming System
System Specifications

Processor
Intel Core i7-920 2.66GHz (base, 3.8GHz Factory OC)

Motherboard

EVGA X58 Classified

Operating System
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)

Memory
6GB Corsair Dominator DDR3
DDR3-1600MHz

Graphics Cards

2x ATI Radeon HD 5970 

CPU Cooling

Koolance High Performance Liquid Cooling

Audio

Onboard

Hard Drive
Intel 80GB MLC SDD
2x RAID 0 (1TB Western Digital 7200 RPM)

Optical Drive
12X Blu-ray Burner

Accessories
Logitech G9X Laser Mouse
Logitech Gaming Keyboard G110

Case
Corsair Obsidian Series 800D
Width: 9.0" (229mm)
Depth: 24"" (609mm)

Height: 24" (609mm)

Power Supply
1200W ThermalTake Toughpower

Available Expansion Slots
1x PCIe x16

1x PCI

1x PCIe (SATA)


Front Panel I/O Ports

4 USB 2.0
1 FireWire 1394A

1 Headset
1 Mic


Rear Panel I/O Ports
1 PS/2 keyboard

1x SPDIF Input

1 CMOS Reset

8 USB 2.0
2 RJ-45 Gigabit Ethernet
1 IEEE 1394A
1 eSATA
8-channel audio I/O
1 SPDIF Digital/Optical Output

Warranty and Support

1 year limited parts

(2-3 year options available)

Lifetime free online/phone support

Lifetime free labor


 
Our review unit, in the flesh
Price: $4,999.00 USD (as tested)


As high as the $4,999 price tag is, our tested configuration is scarcely Origin's affordable model; it's possible to build a system using the company's configurator for less than half that price. The rig we've got is obviously meant as a flagship for the company—let's see if Origin has what it takes to hang with the big dogs.    


Origin Cracked Earth paint customization option

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Test System Configurations
 

We tested the Origin PC Genesis system as configured below, using the BIOS settings and drivers Origin shipped to us. Our three comparative systems were chosen to target a wide range of prices and various hardware configurations. This review gives us the opportunity to pit the overclocked 3.8GHz Core i5-750 system we reviewed last month against a similarly-clocked Core i7; we'll also evaluate how much additional oomph a brace of 5970s running in Quadfire CrossfireX mode can deliver over the Alienware ALX's dual 5870's.


For a More Detailed Look At The Origin PC Genesis' Internals
Be Sure To Check Out Our Preview Article

HotHardware's Test Systems
Performance Comparisons

System 1:

Origin Genesis

Intel Core i7-920 @ 3.8GHz
EVGA X58 SLI Classified
6GB Corsair DDR3-1600
2x ATI Radeon 5970 Crossfire
2TB WD Caviar Black RAID 0
Win 7 Home Premium x64

Price: $4,999 USD


System 2:

Digital Storm i750

Intel Core i5 750 @ 3.8GHz
EVGA P55 FTW ATX
4GB Mushkin DDR3-1600
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 275 SLI
1TB WD Caviar Black
Vista Home Premium x64

Price: $ 1896.00 USD


System 3:

Alienware Aurora ALX

Intel Core i7 975 3.33GHz
Alienware X58 MicroATX
6GB Corsair DDR3-1600
ATI Radeon 5870 CrossFire
1TB Seagate HDD RAID 0
Vista Home Premium x64


Price: $ 4,074.00 USD


System 4:
CyberPower Gamer Extreme 3000 

Intel Core i7 860 2.8GHz
Asus P7P55D Delux P55
4GB Kingston DDR3-1600
EVGA NVIDIA GTX 295
1.5TB Seagate HDD
Vista Home Premium x64

Price: $ 1,599.00 USD


One difference between the Origin PC and the rest of the systems listed is that the Origin system is the first 64-bit Windows 7 rig we've benchmarked. This discrepancy could impact our comparative testing, but the impossibility of retesting all the systems in question means a break point is required.

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SiSoft Sandra



Preliminary Testing with SiSoft SANDRA 2009
Synthetic Benchmarks


We began testing with SiSoftware's SANDRA, which stands for System ANalyzer, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant. The 2.67GHz Core i7 920 Origin sent proved rock-solid-stable at 3.8GHz, never crashing or destabilizing even under maximum load.




The Core i5 at 3.8GHz puts up a strong fight in Sandra's baseline CPU performance benchmark, but the Core i7's HyperThreading gives it an edge in both ALU and FPU performance.




If you're wondering about the difference between the arithmetic and multimedia tests, it's laid out in Sandra's help file. Both benchmarks measure CPU performance, but the Dhrystone/Whetstone benchmarks measure a processor's raw capability to execute integer or floating point instructions. Sandra's multimedia suite is designed to test the various SIMD capabilities of a processor. In the company's own words: The test involves the generation of Mandelbrot Set fractals that are used to realistically describe and generate natural objects such as mountains or clouds. By using various multi-media extensions better performance is achieved.

Again, Origin leads the pack thanks to its high clock speed and HT.




Here, the Alienware ALX's faster memory bus gives that system a slight edge. Don't expect the bandwidth difference to have much of an impact on our actual tests though—consumer applications and games are typically more latency-sensitive, than bandwidth-sensitive. Even the Core i5-750, at 'just' 18GB/s of memory bandwidth, is amply provisioned for even the nastiest desktop apps.




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PCMark Vantage


 

Next, we ran the test systems through Futuremark’s latest system performance metric built especially for Windows Vista, PCMark Vantage. This benchmark suite runs through a host of different usage scenarios to simulate different types of workloads including High Definition TV and movie playback and manipulation, gaming, image editing and manipulation, music compression, communications, and productivity. We like the fact that most of the tests are multi-threaded as well, in order to exploit the additional resources offered by quad-core processors. We used the 64-bit version of the benchmark and defragmented the hard drive immediately prior to running it. The test was looped 3x. One thing to keep in mind when comparing PCMark Vantage results is that the benchmark's margin of error is fairly wide—we'd estimate 5-7 percent. Relevant factors include  whether or not the hard drive was defragmented immediately prior to the run and whether Vantage was run immediately following OS+driver installation, or only after a full suite of tests and other benchmarks had been run.


Since the Origin PC used an Intel SSD instead of a standard hard drive, we avoided defragging the drive in favor of using Intel's TRIM utility.
 

Futuremark PCMark Vantage
Simulated Application Performance



PCMark Vantage includes a number of subtests that ostensibly isolate and focus on different types of workloads, but it's obvious that storage access speeds and transfer rates have an inordinate effect on the benchmark's results. The performance gap the benchmark's results imply aren't apparent in subjective real-world use; the Origin PC doesn't "feel" twice as fast as the Digital Storm Core i5 system we reviewed last month.

We're not implying that there's anything wrong with Vantage, per se, but it's important to know what's being measured and what the measurement means, particularly when a delta this size becomes apparent.

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Cinebench R10

 
Cinebench R10
3D Rendering

Cinebench R10 is an OpenGL 3D rendering performance test based on Cinema 4D from Maxon. Cinema 4D is a 3D rendering and animation tool suite used by 3D animation houses and producers like Sony Animation and many others. It's very demanding of system processor resources and is an excellent gauge of pure computational throughput. Cinebench is a multi-threaded, multi-processor aware benchmark that renders a single 3D scene and tracks the length of the entire process. The rate at which each test system could render the entire scene is represented in the graph below.


Cinebench is a perfect example of how HyperThreading can boost CPU performance over and above a frequency increase. The Core i5-750 and the Origin PC are running at the same clock speed, but HyperThreading gives the Origin rig a 16.7 percent speed boost clock-for-clock.

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3DMark 06, 3DMark Vantage

Futuremark 3DMark06
Synthetic DirectX Gaming


3DMark06

3DMark06 is an aging benchmark now, but it still serves as a useful benchmark of GPU capability, particularly when combined with its bigger brother, 3DMark Vantage. We ran the test at default settings and looped it three times to obtain a more reliable result. Texture and AA settings were left in the default position (optimal and off respectively).


Our first 3D benchmark, and our first chance to see the twin Radeon 5970 cards in action. Origin's Genesis system is 15 percent faster than the Digital Storm we tested last month, but the gap isn't as wide as one might expect, given the sheer amount of GPU power at the Genesis' command. At 1280x1024 and standard settings, it's entirely possible that the benchmark isn't giving the four ATI GPUs enough of a workout to stretch their legs.

Futuremark 3DMark Vantage
Synthetic DirectX Gaming


3DMark Vantage

The latest version of Futuremark's synthetic 3D gaming benchmark, 3DMark Vantage, is specifically bound to Windows Vista-based systems because it uses some advanced visual technologies that are only available with DirectX 10, which isn't available on previous versions of Windows.  3DMark Vantage isn't simply a port of 3DMark06 to DirectX 10 though.  With this latest version of the benchmark, Futuremark has incorporated two new graphics tests, two new CPU tests, several new feature tests, in addition to support for the latest PC hardware.  We tested the graphics cards here with 3DMark Vantage's Performance preset option, which uses a resolution of 1280x1024. As always, tests were looped 3x.


When we move to the newer 3DMark Vantage, the gap between the GTX 275's in SLI and the quad-GPU Origin Genesis configuration increases to 21 percent. Given the performance pattern we've seen thus far, it's likely that the gap between the Genesis and its competitors would continue to widen as detail levels and AA/AF levels increased.
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Left 4 Dead, Batman: Arkham Asylum

Left 4 Dead
DirectX Gaming Performance


Left 4 Dead

Left 4 Dead is a co-operative, survival horror, first-person shooter that was developed by Turtle Rock Studios, which was purchased by Valve part-way into development. Like Half Life 2, the game uses the Source engine, however, the visual in L4D are far superior to anything seen in the Half Life universe to date. The game pits four Survivors of an apocalyptic pandemic against hordes of aggressive zombies. We tested the third mission (Blood Harvest) with a complete run through "The Bridge" level,  8X anti-aliasing and 16x anisotropic filtering were both enabled and all in game graphical options were set to their maximum values.



L4D doesn't put that heavy a load on the GPU; our results here imply that it may not be the best test vehicle for demonstrating performance deltas between uber high-end GPUs.

Batman - Arkham Asylum
DirectX Gaming Performance


Batmat:Arkham Asylum

Batman: Arkham Asylum is a third-person action game developed by Rocksteady and is arguably the best comic book videogame of all time. Cast as the Dark Knight, you track down the Joker and bring him back to Arkham Asylum, Gotham's home for the criminally insane. However, the Joker escapes and takes over the asylum filled with hundreds of villains, which you must battle in this dark and creepy world. Gameplay consists of fist fighting, attacking from the shadows, and exploration. We tested the game using the built in benchmark at 1900x1200 with no anti-aliasing, PhysX off, and every graphical options set to their maximum values.



Again, there's evidence that even a 1900x1200 maximum detail configuration isn't enough to push the envelope on some test systems.

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Far Cry 2, Crysis

FarCry 2
DirectX Gaming Performance


FarCry 2

Like the original, FarCry 2 is one of the more visually impressive games to be released on the PC to date.  Courtesy of the Dunia game engine developed by Ubisoft, FarCry 2's game-play is enhanced by advanced environment physics, destructible terrain, high resolution textures, complex shaders, realistic dynamic lighting, and motion-captured animations.  We benchmarked the graphics cards in this article with a fully patched version of FarCry 2, using one of the built-in demo runs recorded in the "Ranch" map. Of the three available, we used the Ranch (Short) option.  The test results shown here were run at a resolution of 1920x1200 with 8X AA and Ultra High Quality presets enabled concurrently.


In just a few short months, the Alienware Aurora has gone from being the uncontested Far Cry 2 performance leader to an uncontested second place. The four HD 5970 GPUs in the Origin Genesis give it a 47 percent boost over the dual 5870 configuration.

Crysis v1.21
DirectX 10 Gaming Performance


Crysis

Crytek's game engine visuals in Crysis are some of the most impressive real-time 3D renderings we've seen to date on a computer screen. The engine employs some of the latest techniques in 3D rendering like Parallax Occlusion Mapping, Subsurface Scattering, Motion Blur, and Depth-of-Field effects, as well as an impressive use of Shader technology. The single player, FPS Crysis is a smash-hit, and rightfully so. We patched the game to v1.2 with all of the game's visual settings to 'High' at 1920x1200 resolution to put a significant load on the systems' graphics engines being tested.


The Genesis's configuration gives it a substantial boost in Crysis, as well. The Aurora's dual 5870s and the dual GTX 275s in the Digital Storm system both perform excellently, but the paired 5970's in the Origin Genesis put the system in a class of its own.

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Stability, and Power Consumption


Power consumption was measured at the wall using a Kill-A-Watt power meter; the numbers given are indicative of the system's total power draw. We measure four specific states:

  • Idle: The system is booted and left with no background tasks running for 15 minutes.
     
  • Load:  This state models real-world power consumption when the machine is being used for computationally intensive tasks, including 3D gaming, rendering, or data analysis. The applications we use to determine an accurate value for load power can vary depending on the component or components being tested. For Origin's Genesis PC, we measured load power while looping our Crysis benchmark.
     
  • Peak: Peak power consumption is the maximum amount of power we were able to draw at the wall. Unlike idle and load measurements, peak power should not be treated as a realistic measure of a system's power consumption. We derive this value by simultaneously executing multiple programs (usually synthetic) that we've specifically chosen for their ability to create worst-case thermal/power consumption scenarios.
At present, we test peak power by running Prime95 across n-1 of the available cores on a system. The last core is reserved for executing the OpenGL GPU stress test program Furmark. In order to ensure a system is entirely stable we loop our peak power tests for a total of eight hours.



If you've ever tut-tutted at an 800W or higher PSU while telling yourself that no consumer really needs more than 400-500W, here's proof to the contrary. The culprits behind the numbers, if you want to call it that, are the Genesis' dual Radeon HD 5970 cards—but before you snark ATI for the 5970's potential power consumption, remember that the two dualie cards represent a total of:
 
  • 6400 stream processors.
  • 320 texture units
  • 4GB of video RAM
And so on, and so forth. ATI specs each 5970 card for a maximum of 294W of power, so it's not particularly surprising to see the Genesis pull these kind of numbers. What's most important is that the system remained stable, despite the fact that we tasked the power supply with providing ~93 percent of its rated power for eight hours straight.


Thermaltake's Toughpower 1200W PSU
 
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Acoustics


How We Test:



Just in case you're dying to know what it looks like.

Decibel levels were measured at the rear of the system at a distance of one foot using a standard decibel meter. Measurements were taken in a carpeted room in which the system sat equidistant from the walls or furniture. All external fans, including furnace blowers or air conditioners, were shut down for the duration of the test.

Subjective Analysis:

One of the limitations of decibel measurement is that it tells us very little about the characteristics (read: annoyance factor) of any particular sound. We've set aside this space in the acoustic section to discuss the non-quantitative aspects of a system.

Origin's Genesis isn't particularly quiet—no system this powerful can be without incurring huge additional expenses on customized cooling—but the noise the system does produce is pitched more towards a box fan than a dentist drill. When we raised the question of system noise to Origin, the company assured us that it evaluated system acoustics extensively before shipping a system, and was willing to work closely with any customer who had concerns about a system's acoustic profile.

All of the fans in the Origin rig, including those attached to the Koolance liquid cooling system are Cooler Master 120mm A12025-20RB-3BN-F1 models. This is the same fan CM uses on its well-regarded Hyper 212 (not the 212 Plus). Cooler Master rates these fans as 19dbA at 2000 RPM. In a nod to the fact that not even high-end enthusiasts enjoy banshee-like volumes, Origin included a foam pad between each fan and the case wall, which should reduce the chance of sympathetic vibration.

By The Numbers:

The categories below correspond to the power consumption categories we detailed on the previous page.

If the 66dB peak volume level has your eyes bugging out, keep in mind that's only after the system has been pulling 1.1kW of power for eight hours. Under load, the system's dB output is a manageable 55dB. While still higher than we personally prefer, we have to allow for the system's component load-out—there's always a trade-off between speed and sound at the highest point on the performance curve.
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Performance Summary, Conclusion


Performance Summary:  All the system configurations we tested qualify as fast, but Origin's Genesis waves at fast while rocketing past it in the left-hand lane. Best of all, Origin doesn't compromise build quality or component stability in an attempt to juice their system farther. This is a rig that's absolute top of the line now, and will carry any buyer for years to come—DX11 games, even when plentiful, won't be an issue. Short of opting for an Intel SSD RAID 0 or an even more esoteric storage solution, there's not much an end user could do to improve system performance at the moment. 



The big question, of course, is whether or not it ever makes sense to buy a $5,000 computer, period, even if you can afford one. To that end, we'd like to share a few observations. First, it's important to remember that a Genesis rig doesn't have to cost $5,000—opting for a stock Core i7 2.67GHz processor, a 750W Corsair PSU, and a single Radeon 5870 knocks 50 percent off the price tag.

Price is not the only factor in the equation. The reason enthusiasts typically buy from a boutique builder in the first place is because they want the advantages that come with having someone else do the work without having to spend several hours digging bloatware off the system or calling some foreign country for tech support, in the event that a component fails. The question of which boutique builder builds the best system is only partially related to price—the scope and depth of a company's customer service is a huge factor.


In this area, Origin delivers in spades. In our discussions with the company, we repeatedly proposed hypothetical scenarios that gave the manufacturer plausible ground on which it could deny warranty coverage or claim that its "lifetime" labor guarantee had been voided because of specific actions by the customer. No matter what scenario we came up with (and we got creative), Origin's responses always honored the spirit of their warranty as well as the literal agreement.

Here's one example, with our question in italics:

Generally speaking, most OEMs stop considering a computer to be "theirs" if / when the customer replaces the motherboard and / or the processor. Do you have any sort of predefined point at which a system stops being an Origin PC and no longer qualifies for lifetime labor / phone support? To what degree does Origin need to be involved in the part upgrade / replacement process in order for a system to continue to qualify as an Origin desktop?

And the response, from company CEO Kevin Wasielewski:

We do not have any predefined point where the labor / phone gets cut off. The life time Phone/E-support and labor is truly for life. We will always try to help answer a customer's question or problem. The only thing we require is to be notified of any hardware changes so that we can update the customer's records and provide accurate support and advice going forward. Think of it as what you probably go through all the time. Friends and family probably come to you for advice and help. Once you become part of the ORIGIN family you can always come to us for help and advice.

Buy an Origin system, and you buy access to a service agreement that's treated with respect, good faith, and value. That's what the company essentially guarantees, and it's consistent with the tone of our conversations. The company is new, but as far as we can tell, it's nailed its priorities right out of the gate.



  
  • It's fast.
  • Excellent customer support.
  • Did we mention it's fast? Like, "tear-the-boxers-off-a-cheetah" fast.     
  • Ultra Expensive
  • Can be somewhat loud
  • Doesn't come with helper monkey.



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