What if you could have all of the power you’d normally expect from a huge tower, but cram it all in a box that’s roughly 14 inches long on a side? That’s the question posed by Maingear’s Torq, a tiny gaming desktop that’s about the size of two shoeboxes stacked on top of each other.
Despite its small size, it contains the latest hardware, including not just an overclocked Intel Core i7 quad-core CPU, but also Nvidia’s new GeForce Titan Z dual-GPU graphics card.
Even after receiving the Torq, we find it hard to believe that it actually exists. We’ve seen fast, slim systems in the past, but they’ve generally been limited to a single graphics card and a standard Intel quad-core processor. The Torq, however, offers Nvidia’s latest graphics card and an Intel Core processor overclocked to 4.7 GHz. These specs make it one of the most powerful desktops we’ve ever reviewed.
While this desktop’s footprint may be small, its price most certainly isn’t – at least when configured the way our review unit is. This config rings up at an astounding $8,200, which makes it the most expensive computer we’ve ever reviewed. So, is the Torq crazy good, or just plain crazy?
The future of desktop computing
Compact and painted in various shades of black and silver, the Torq looks like the AI core of an interstellar ship built a thousand years from now. While some portions of the system are familiar, like the ports and cooling vents, the overall look and feel of this desktop is like nothing we’ve ever seen. It’s dense, both visually and literally; the system weighs over 30 pounds, despite its diminutive proportions.
The chassis is built from a combination of metal and glossy plastic that provides a robust, premium feel. Picking up the system is easy, weight aside, and doesn’t illicit any hint of flex. Everything seems built to last; even the drab black-and-gray color scheme comes off more like something made by Audi than a computer company. A variety of other colors are available as well, but adding them costs $299 each, which seems steep given the Torq’s size.
Still, there are a few practical concerns. An internal optical drive is not available on fully liquid-cooled models. The front panel is limited to two USB 3.0 ports, a microphone jack, and an audio jack. The power and reset buttons are difficult to locate without referring to the manual. Plus, the system’s internal lighting, which can’t be turned off, generates a stunning 289 lux. That’s more than what some monitors put out with brightness set to max. All of these problems are mere annoyances, but they do detract from the Torq’s sense of quality.
The Torq boasts a respectable amount connectivity in spite of its size. The back panel includes a total of seven USB ports, four of which are 3.0, bringing the combined USB 3.0 selection (front and rear) to a total of six ports. Network connectivity is available through Ethernet or a built in Wi-Fi adapter, which supports the newest 802.11ac standard, and audio connectivity is provided courtesy of 5.1 surround sound and S/PDIF. Both of those are integrated into the Torq’s motherboard.
As we said, the Torq is dense. The mini-ITX motherboard sits atop the power supply and hard drives, and is flanked on three sides by the radiator, the liquid-cooling system’s pump, and the GTX Titan Z graphics card. Tubes of coolant snake between these components, and while they look cool, they also block access to the Torq’s innards.
The Maingear Torq is a technical achievement, no questions asked.
Not all versions of the Torq have full liquid cooling for both the processor and graphics card, but the unit we received would be incredibly difficult to upgrade in the future. Finding hardware that fits properly would be a challenge of its own, and the user would also have to find a way to tie it into the liquid cooling systems – or abandon that system and rely on air cooling, which may or may not work.
One computer, a fleet of options
Unlike many small PCs, which are typically forced into the role of budget or mid-range rig, the Torq spans the gamut of possibilities. The standard Torq starts at $1,599 and only liquid-cools the processor. While more mundane, this also frees up space for an optical drive. The Torq SS, which features full liquid cooling of the processor and graphics card, needs the optical drive’s slot for the coolant pump.
The basic $1,599 Torq includes an Intel Core i5-4690K processor, which is impressive, but then pairs it with an Nvidia GTX 750 Ti graphics card, which isn’t. Gamers will want to upgrade to at least the Radeon R9 270X. Fortunately, only adds $50 dollars to the price.
Opting for the Torq SS enhances cooling, as already mentioned, and the video card, which automatically upgrades to an Nvidia GTX 780 Ti card. In most other respects, the two configurations are similar, but the price bumps up to $3,299.
That’s a big change in MSRP, and it makes the Torq look less competitive as more and more upgrades are tacked on. An Origin Millennium with similar equipment is much larger, but it’s also less than $3,000, and Maingear itself offers larger, more powerful, and more affordable options like the Maingear Vybe. The novelty of size is costly with the Torq.
Powerful as the past
Our high-end Torq SS arrived with an Intel Core i7-4970K quad-core processor overclocked to a blazing 4.7GHz. This is the latest Devil’s Canyon hardware, so you’d expect it to knock older models out of the park – but that’s not exactly what happened.
The most telling comparison here is the Torq against the Falcon Northwest Talon, which we reviewed with a Core i7-4770K CPU overclocked to 4.5GHz. The Maingear’s newer Core i7 turns in a score of 159.1 in our SiSoft Sandra Processor Arithmetic test, which isn’t much better than the Talon’s score of 152.7. The Torq savages the CyberPower Zeus Mini’s score of 125, but the six-core Origin Millennium predictably cleans house, wiping the floor with every competitor here.
7-Zip only made matters worse. The Torq reported an average score of 25,998, which is less than the Talon’s average of 27,615. We’re not exactly sure why this occurred, but we speculate that it may be due to the Torq’s warmer internals, or simply disappointing performance from Intel’s Devils Canyon chip. Still, Maingear’s rig easily defeats the CyberPower Zeus Mini’s score of 22,371, while the Millennium once again emerges victorious, scoring 38,704.
Though base versions of the Torq have a Seagate 1TB hybrid drive, our review unit relies on a pair of 500GB solid state drives configured in RAID 0, along with a mechanical drive for mass storage. We tested this with PCMark 8’s storage benchmark, which reached a score of 4,942. The Zeus Mini and Millennium scored 4,991 and 5,019 respectively, but the Talon scored a slightly slower 4,896. All of these scores are indicative of excellent storage performance.
3DMark is a synthetic gaming test that puts this rig’s GTX Titan Z graphics card to the test. As you can see above, though, the Torq proved to be more than capable, scoring 29,255 in Cloud Gate, and 14,066 in Fire Strike. These results best all challengers, though it should be noted that the Millenium included three GTX 780 Tis, and 3DMark can only properly test up to two.
Real World Gaming
Synthetic benchmarks don’t always guarantee dominance in the titles gamers enjoy most. To further explore how the Torq performs, we loaded Total War: Rome 2, Battlefield 4 and League of Legends, a test suite that provides a variety of challenges. All games were tested at 1080p resolution.
Total War: Rome II
This strategy game from The Creative Assembly is always a tough challenge, because it’s often limited by the processor rather than the GPU. Maingear’s system proves that point, as it manages an average of only 79 frames per second at Medium detail, with a maximum of 112, and a minimum of 49.
Turning graphics up to the Extreme preset decreased the average to 69 FPS, with a maximum of 82, and a minimum of 50. These results beat the Zeus Mini, but are slightly behind the Talon, which scored an average of 74 at Extreme detail. Still, the Torq’s hardware provides smooth gameplay.
Maingear’s rig turned in an average of 188 FPS in Battlefield 4 with detail set to Medium. The maximum was 200 (the game automatically caps framerate at this figure), and the minimum was 152. Changing detail to Ultra lowered the average to 146 FPS, with a maximum of 175, and a minimum of 104.
These numbers are excellent. The Talon managed an average of only 106 FPS at maximum, and the Zeus Mini only hit 58 FPS. The Torq even defeats the Radeon R9 295X2’s average of 113 FPS. Gameplay was incredibly smooth, and never showed a hint of hesitation or stutter.
League of Legends
As the least demanding game in our list, we weren’t surprised to see League of Legends offer the Torq a minimal challenge. At Medium detail, the game scored an average of 256 FPS, with a maximum of 340, and a minimum of 170. At Very High detail, the average decreased to a still-blazing 187 FPS, with a maximum of 285, and a minimum of 103.
This is quicker than the Talon, which averaged 176 FPS at Very High, and the Zeus Mini, which averaged 140 FPS. While all of these systems provide plenty of grunt, the Torq is the clear victor.
What’s that noise?
Keeping an overclocked quad-core CPU and a dual-GPU video card cool in a small enclosure is a major challenge. Maingear tackles the problem with a full liquid cooling system that is routed through both the processor and the video card.
If an AI ever takes over the world, it will probably run on a Torq.
Our wattmeter caught the Torq consuming 140 watts at idle, and up to 510 watts at full load. These numbers exceed the Talon, which consumed only 70 watts at idle and 349 watts at load, and the Zeus Mini, which never needed more than 346 watts. Still, high power draw is to be expected given the Torq’s hardware, and the system seems efficient overall. The Millennium, for example, eats twice as much power at load.
All versions of the Torq ship with lifetime phone support and a two-year warranty that covers system defects. Shipping costs are completely covered for the first 30 days. Though this is much better than what you’ll receive from a major name brand, it’s about average compared to boutique firms.
Most Falcon Northwest systems come with either a one year or three year warranty, depending on the model, and will cover shipping for one year. However, the Talon has a different warranty that does not include shipping cost. All systems come with lifetime phone support.
Origin, meanwhile, usually ships systems with a shorter one year warranty and lifetime phone support, but fully covers shipping for 45 days. Origin also sells a unique, optional future-proofing service that minimizes upgrade costs in exchange for an up-front fee.
The Maingear Torq is a technical achievement, no questions asked. It’s simultaneously one of the smallest gaming PCs we’ve ever reviewed, and one of the most powerful. There’s a whiff of sci-fi to the entire Torq experience. Sure, it runs Windows like anything else, but just look at it. If an AI ever takes over the world, it will probably run on a Torq.
Of course, the military program working on said AI may end up getting cut due to budget problems. While the Torq starts at a reasonable $1,599, the price of this system rises astronomically as upgrades are tacked on. Grabbing the $3,299 Torq SS means that you’ll be paying a premium of at least several hundred dollars over an equivalently quick mid-tower PC, and, as we said, our maxed-out review unit rings up at an astounding $8,200. That’s even more than the six-core, tri-SLI Origin Millennium we reviewed earlier this year.
Packing so much hardware into a small space hurts more than just your wallet. Servicing or upgrading the system will prove to be difficult at best, the optical drive is lost to the liquid cooling system, and fans drone constantly in order to keep the system cool. Sure, the Torq is small and powerful, but it also must sacrifice a lot at the altar of size.
Most gamers will be better off with a slightly larger system, even if it’s still a tiny rig like the Falcon Northwest Tiki or Maingear’s F131. That said, the Torq’s more affordable configurations make some sense. They offer better hardware value and include an optical drive, yet feature the same futuristic enclosure. The Maingear Torq could be a great LAN box or the perfect PC for a tiny office if you restrain yourself from checking off all the options.
- Tiny, futuristic-looking enclosure
- Great connectivity for its size
- Quick over-clocked processor
- Excellent gaming performance
- High-end configurations are very expensive
- Full liquid cooling means no optical drive
- Difficult to service or upgrade
- Droning system fan