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The Razer Tomahawk N1 gaming desktop hands-on review: No tools necessary

When you buy a desktop, it’s an investment. If you’re down to get your hands dirty and open it up, it has much longer legs than your average laptop. But what if you want that future-proofing without the hassle of screws and tools and thermal paste?

The new Razer Tomahawk N1 Gaming Desktop is one answer to that problem. It’s a tiny PC that doesn’t lose any of its modularity thanks to the use of what’s called the Intel NUC Compute Element. Don’t let that scare you — it might be one of the simplest and most intuitive gaming PCs ever made.

A desktop unlike any other

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The Tomahawk I saw is still a prototype, meaning it was missing important details on front-facing ports and a power button. But what I did see, I liked.

The chassis itself is similar to the Razer Core external graphics card enclosures, and features an all-black finish and a tool-free method of getting direct access to your components. A simple twist of the handle unlocks the back and lets you pull it out in one easy pull. No screws, levers, or latches. Impressively, it’s not much bigger than the Razer Core, despite being a complete system.

The one big difference in the chassis is that the Tomahawk features a larger open window on the side to get a drool-worthy glimpse of your graphics card. Like the Razer Core, the Tomahawk supports full-length GPUs, even up to something as powerful as the Nvidia RTX 2080 Super.

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Once you do get inside, you’ll find the heart of the Tomahawk — the thing that makes it tick. The Intel NUC 9 Extreme Unit, as it’s called. This is a compute element that plugs right into one of the two available full-sized PCIe slots. In this single package is everything you need for a PC — the processor, memory, and storage. It’s not flashy, but it makes for one tidy piece of kit.

Don’t let the small, modest package fool you, either. Inside is a powerful processor, up to a 9th-gen Core i9 H-series chip. That maxes out at an 8-core, 16-thread CPU capable of handling some serious content creation tasks like video editing or music production. It is a mobile processor, though, and quite a powerful one.

You can also configure it with up to 64GB of DDR4 RAM. The board also includes room for two M.2 slots for additional storage, as well as the power supply.

The road to expansion

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Razer says it does intend on packaging everything together, possibly even including the graphics card. It has to be a full PC gaming experience right out of the box. So why not just buy a small mini-ATX case, or even a smaller gaming PC like the Lenovo C730 Cube?

For one, the Tomahawk seems significantly easier to upgrade. Sure, you can’t get in and upgrade your processor separate from your RAM — and that might bother the average gamer more than Razer thinks. After all, even many laptops allow for memory expansion.

But as long as Intel continues to support it, it should make for a great way to upgrade your rig with almost zero effort. Not everyone who likes PC gaming wants to deal with thermal paste. Concepts like the Tomahawk play directly toward that audience, and could even make some strides in expanding it.

The Tomahawk is the first of its kind (outside of Intel’s own NUCs), but I doubt it’ll be the last. The NUC concept has always been niche, but with the compute element, it’s starting to feel like it could grow into something more.

Razer hasn’t announced pricing details yet for the Tomahawk N1, but it’s scheduled for launch sometime in the first half of 2020.

Follow our live blog for more CES news and announcements.

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Luke Larsen
Luke Larsen is the Senior editor of computing, managing all content covering laptops, monitors, PC hardware, Macs, and more.
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