|Introduction and Specifications|
|Falcon Northwest is a big name in a very niche market of luxury PCs. The company is known for special touches like custom cases (think FragBox) and mind-blowing, artist-rendered panel images. The company has also built the rest of its reputation on blazing PC performance. Falcon Northwest recently shipped its Tiki to take on the other small form factor rigs we’ve tested of late.
The Tiki is small enough and light enough that it could be your next LAN-party rig, but it’s really meant for your desk. And although it’s much, much smaller than your old full- or mid-tower system, it’s going to draw a lot more attention, by virtue of its statuesque design. The Tiki has a clean, dark chassis with hard lines and a laser-cut, backlit logo that shines bright even when the room’s lights are on. But the most striking aspect of the system’s exterior is the granite base. The Tiki certainly makes a statement.
We’ll take a closer look at the Tiki’s design on the next page, but we’ll start with the most important part of any high-end system: its guts. The Intel Core i7-4770K Haswell processor, which launched in the second quarter of the year, features four cores at 3.5GHz, a 3.9GHz Turbo capabilities. The CPU is a solid choice for a high-end gamer and Falcon keeps it humming with a custom closed-loop cooling system.
Graphics come courtesy of a single EVGA GeForce GTX Titan card. Fitting such a powerhouse into a mini tower requires plenty of consideration for heat dissipation, not to mention decent spatial organization skills. We recently reviewed the AVADirect Mini Gaming PC, which also included a Titan and Core i7-4770K, so that system is likely to be the Tiki’s biggest competition among the SFFs in our benchmark charts on the following pages.
Falcon Northwest rounded out the major components in this system with two 8GB DDR3 DIMMs and three drives. The 3TB Western Digital hard drive gives the system plenty of storage, but the primary OS drives caught our attention: two 480GB Crucial M500 SSDs in RAID-0. Putting the drives in a striped array gives the Tiki and extra performance bump, which ought to help in the benchmarks.
Other components of note include the 450W Tiki-specific SilverStone power supply and the Asus Z87 Maximus VI Impact, which is a mini-ITX style motherboard that provides Gigabit LAN and plenty of USB 2.0 and 3.0 ports. All this will run you $3,857 (if you configure an identical system to our review unit), so let’s take a look at the design features that make up some of that lofty price tag.
|Design and Layout|
|The Falcon Northwest Tiki is remarkably tough-looking, considering its size. The system stands only 13 inches tall, and it’s a mere 4 inches wide, but the granite base gives it a very solid look. The base holds the Tiki firmly upright; you won’t knock it over unintentionally, and it doesn’t rock or sway when you bump your desk.
The only lighting you’ll see from the outside is the Falcon Northwest logo, which is a backlit cutout of a falcon. The rest of the front panel is completely free of ports or drives, which are at the top of the system, instead. There, you’ll find two USB 3.0 ports, headphone and mic ports, the power and reset buttons, and a slot-loading DVDRW. Putting the ports and buttons up top makes sense, but it’s also the source of one our very few complaints about the Tiki: the reset button is too easy to press. During the review process, we accidentally reset the system a couple times by inadvertently touching the button while attaching USB devices. As complaints go, this is pretty minor, but a recessed reset button would have made more sense here.
Unlike typical towers, the Tiki has only one removable side panel. Pull it off, and you’ll find that the radiator for the Asetek cooling system is attached to it. The system’s tubes are long enough to allow the panel to lie flat while you’re working on the interior, but it would be tricky to actually lie the Tiki flat and work inside it.
Inside the Tiki, the layout looks nothing like an ordinary desktop. For one thing, the power supply is at the front of the system, with an extender cord providing the PSU power port at the back of the rig. The motherboard sits at the bottom of the system, putting the memory in reach for upgrades. (You won’t be upgrading the memory if you opt for 16GB, as that’s the motherboard’s max.) That upgrade would require some fancy finger work – you’ll likely have to unplug a few SATA cables to make it happen, but the DIMMS are far better exposed than we’ve seen in many other systems, particularly SFFs.
Both of the SSDs and the hard drive are easy to reach. Falcon Northwest glued the SATA and power connectors in place, which is helpful both for the ride to your door and any traveling you do with the Tiki down the road, if you decide to leave it intact. Of course you can easily pull it off if you're the kind that wants quick access and removal of components. The DVD-RW drive sports a sticker with the customer’s name, the date of manufacture, and the product number, which is a nice touch that will help with support calls.
That said, just about everything you’d need for a support call is in your binder. Falcon Northwest ships the Tiki with an oversized, zippered binder that includes extra cables and connectors, as well as detailed setup and troubleshooting instructions. It also features your build checklist, complete with benchmark numbers that were taken shortly before the Tiki went out the door. Falcon Northwest also gives your purchase a luxury touch by sending a separate care package that includes coffee, a mug, a T-shirt, and a mouse pad, all of which are branded.
Of course, none of this luxury matters if the system isn’t smokin’ fast. Let’s dig into the Tiki’s benchmarks.
|PCMark and 3DMark Tests|
|We kicked off our testing with the venerable PCMark system benchmark, as well as the more game-oriented 3DMark 11 and the newest test by Futuremark: 3DMark Fire Strike. Over the years, Futuremark has made a name for itself with intense benchmarks that provide consistent results for comparing granular and big-picture performance.
For comparison purposes, we lined the Falcon Northwest Tiki against other SFFs that we have tested recently, including AVADirect’s Mini Gaming PC and Maingear’s Potenza Super Stock. We also added some larger desktop systems to the mix, like the Digital Storm VIRTUE and CyberPower’s Gamer Xtreme 5200, to give you a sense of how the small form factor Tiki stacks up against bigger rigs. As you’ll see, the Tiki handles itself just fine.
The Tiki’s PCMark 7 score was untouchable. It bested even the larger standard desktop systems. The score suggests that the Tiki is likely to be more than capable of handling your day-to-day computing needs. And given the GTX Titan in the system, general usage probably isn’t your priority – gaming is. So, onwards to the gaming tests.
With 3DMark 11, the Tiki finds a few competitors, but it’s still near the top of the chart. The rig pulls nearly even with the similarly-configured AVADirect Mini Gaming PC and is only decisively bested by CyberPower’s full-sized gaming rig.
This time around, the Tiki pulled ahead of the AVA Mini PC, providing slightly better frame rates and a noticeably better overall score. The Fire Strike test is designed specifically for Windows 8 and for modern cards, so it’s an important test for current gaming systems.
|Unigine Heaven and Valley Tests|
|Based on the Unigine game engine, the Unigine Heaven and Valley benchmarks dramatic 3D tours of exotic environments, complete with dynamic skies, tessellation, and SSAO (screen-space ambient occlusion).
With the Unigine tests, the Falcon Northwest Tiki returned to battling the AVADirect Mini PC, landing just behind it in most cases. The frame rates in Valley test are particularly close between the two; both system pummel rigs that were tested with (slightly) older NVIDIA graphics cards.
|SiSoft SANDRA and Cinebench|
|Before we fired up the game demos, we ran the Tiki through SiSoft SANDRA and Cinebench. These tests are designed to test particular components, including the processor, memory, graphics card, and the computer's main storage device.
Here, those striped SSDs really come into play. The Tiki blew past other systems with the fastest drive read times by far. Putting two M500s into as PC isn’t cheap, and configuring them in RAID-0 means that your OS drive is dang fast. The playing field leveled out in the Arithmetic and Multimedia tests, but even here, the Tiki scored well.
The Falcon Northwest Tiki is the clear winner here, which isn’t too surprising, given the Core i7-4770K processor and the liquid cooler, which pulls heat to the radiator and exhausts it from the side of the system with a fan. The Tiki bested even the desktops in these benchmarks.
|Gaming Benchmarks: Far Cry 2 and Lost Planet 2|
|With synthetic benchmarks completed, we dove into some of the best-known and graphics-intensive games in the market. We started with Far Cry 2, which won’t strain a modern system, but will give us a look at the rig’s DX10 capabilities. Then we took a look at Lost Planet 2, which boasts DX11, tessellation, and some stunning water effects.
Although the Falcon Northwest Tiki and AVADirect Mini Gaming PC provided identical frame rates in Far Cry 2 at 1280 x 1024, the Mini Gaming PC eked out a lead of a couple fps in our other two test resolutions. The remaining systems weren’t able to keep up.
Here, the Falcon Northwest Tiki left the other SFFs behind and even offered better frame rates that CyberPower’s Gamer Xtreme 5200. The action was fluid and the explosions looked impressive.
|Gaming Benchmarks: Metro 2033 and S.T.A.L.K.E.R.|
By now, the Tiki/ Mini Gaming PC rivalry has been well established, so it’s a little surprising to see the Tiki break away in Metro. It had notably better frame rates in the higher two resolutions that we tested.
Interestingly, the Tiki didn’t perform as well as we expected in the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. test, though it still managed to outscore most of the other systems. Still, AVADirect’s Mini Gaming PC took the crown, here.
|Gaming Benchmarks: Batman: Arkham City and Hitman: Absolution|
|To wrap up the game benchmarks, we ran Batman: Arkham City and Hitman: Absolution. Both games offer DX11 gaming modes and advanced graphics technologies, including tessellation.
The Falcon Northwest Tiki handled Batman without trouble, putting up the highest frame rates we’ve received from an SFF, though it tied with the AVA Direct Mini Gaming PC at 1280 x 1024. At 1920 x 1080, it posted 112 fps, which is speedy.
Hitman: Absolution can bring a lesser gaming system to its knees, but the Falcon Northwest Tiki blazed through it, posting 67.84 fps at 1920 x 1080. Weirdly, its performance dropped a bit at the lowest resolution in our test.
|Power Consumption and Noise|
|Small form-factor PCs typically aren’t power hogs compared to mid- and full-tower gaming systems. Size and heat constraints play a role, as do the other components in the rig. SFFs generally have only one discrete graphics card and don’t require the big, bulky radiators and system fans that bigger desktops do. To test the Falcon Northwest Tiki’s power consumption, we used a power meter at the outlet to measure the system at idle. Then, we ran Prime 95 and FurMark, to engage the Tiki’s resources and recorded the wattage again.
The Tiki proved to have a fairly low draw, even under load. Chances are, this isn’t news that will affect your buying decision, but it’s worth keeping in mind. Noise, on the other hand, is an important issue for many buyers. When it comes to noise, the Tiki is as stealthy as it looks. Even under load, there was no significantly annoying output to speak of.
|Performance Summary and Conclusion|
|Whether you’re planning to buy a full-size gaming PC or an SFF, many of your considerations will be the same. Performance is critical, of course. And, if you’re looking at luxury rigs, then unique features and extras are important, too. You’re paying for a system that stands out.
The Falcon Northwest Tiki nails the luxury SFF category. With its granite base and backlit logo, the Tiki is striking. Every inch of the system shows Falcon Northwest’s attention to detail, and even the littlest things get some love - a prime example being that the side panel’s two screws include tiny washers. The glue that secures the cable connectors to the Tiki’s components is another nice touch. These aren’t hugely significant things, to be sure, but that’s the point of buying a luxury rig – everything is handled expertly. No part of the system should look like it was just thrown together. It's about attention to detail.
That luxury extends to the buying and ownership experience, as well. The Tiki arrived in custom packaging and its accessories (the binder and care package) are excellent. The Tiki's warranty includes overnight shipping for repairs for the first year, which is above and beyond most typical warranties.
On the performance side, the Tiki is at the top of its class, providing real firepower and plenty of storage for a typical gamer. The RAID-0 SSD setup is a standout feature here, giving your OS subsystem some extra oomph. Given that the scale is tipped so much more toward the pros than the cons for the Tiki, we feel very comfortable recommending it. If PC lux is your gig, the Tiki is a solid bet.