Falcon Northwest Tiki (2015) review

Falcon Northwest's Tiki torches pudgy performance desktops

From the overclocked CPU to the 980 Ti, the Falcon Northwest Tiki proves that everything’s faster in the northwest.
From the overclocked CPU to the 980 Ti, the Falcon Northwest Tiki proves that everything’s faster in the northwest.
From the overclocked CPU to the 980 Ti, the Falcon Northwest Tiki proves that everything’s faster in the northwest.

Highs

  • Beautiful, sturdy case
  • Top of the line performance
  • Compact size
  • Competitive price
  • High-end assembly and support

Lows

  • Noisy at full load
  • Needs an external Wi-Fi antenna

If you haven’t heard of Falcon Northwest, you’ve been missing out. The small boutique, which has been around since the early 90s, has built a reputation for carefully crafted, heavily customized PCs. The Tiki is the company’s shrunken-down gaming computer, just four inches wide and 13 inches tall. Yet it uses every inch to its fullest and supports a wide range of configurations.

Our review unit was equipped with an octa-core Intel Core i7-5960X, which had been overclocked to a speedy 4.3GHz. That was backed up by 16GB of RAM and a GTX 980 Ti video card. For storage, the Tiki included a 512GB m.2 SSD alongside a 6TB mechanical data drive. All of which was packed into a case not much larger than an Xbox One.

The specifications make it clear this isn’t your average small form-factor PC. Falcon Northwest is trying to bundle an enthusiast computing experience into a case that looks like home theater equipment. But can a computer this small really compete with larger desktops?

Big things come in small packages

For such a small computer, the Tiki is seriously heavy. A big reason for that is the base, a solid piece of solid aluminum carefully milled to support the rest of the system. It adds literal gravity and weight to an otherwise unassuming computer, and serves the practical purpose of keeping the skinny system upright if it catches an errant elbow.

The Tiki presents a clean face, with just the Falcon Northwest logo and soft LED lighting. The standard ports and disc drives you’d normally find on the front have been moved to the top of the case, with custom fan grills cut into the sides and rear. It’s designed to look monolithic, and accomplishes that goal by cutting back on clutter. If you want more flair, though, Falcon Northwest can accommodate you with a wide variety of custom paint choices. Almost anything is possible, if you’re willing to pay.

Pulling into port

The Tiki packs in ports without sacrificing style. On top of the case, you’ll find a pair of USB 3.0 ports, dedicated 3.5mm audio in and out, and an optical drive slot.

Everything is packed in a case that’s not much bigger than a Xbox One.

The motherboard’s rear panel is equipped with two USB 2.0, four USB 3.0, and two USB 3.1 ports for high speed read and write operations. It also sports a PS/2 port for mouse or keyboard, an eSATA port for external drives, two gigabit Ethernet ports, five 3.5mm audio connections, and an S/PDIF for digital audio out.

You have full access to the GPU’s ports, which in the case of the 980 Ti means three DisplayPort, one HDMI, and a DVI plug. The Tiki has two ports on the back for attaching an included Wi-Fi antenna, which you’ll need, because reception is spotty at best without it.

And yet, a surprising amount of space

Pop off the side panel on the Tiki and you’ll be pleased to find that almost all the internal components are easily accessible. A modular power supply is a must in a case like this – there’s no room for extra cables to just hang out.

There’s easy access to your CPU, radiator, and RAM without moving other parts. With a little work, you can access your SSD and HDD, and the ports on the side of the PSU. Getting to the graphics card would take a lot of work, but is possible if absolutely necessary.

Falcon Northwest Tiki (2015)
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

A system this small will never be as easy to upgrade as a full tower desktop, but the Tiki does a much better job of accommodating future growth. Its layout is simple to understand, and most components are easy to locate. It’s more intuitive than some larger systems, like the Origin Omega.

Photo finish for fastest PC

Every Falcon Northwest PC is custom made to order. Our was tricked out with some of the higher end offerings in the Tiki line. The processor was an eight core Intel i7-5960X, which has a base clock of 3.4GHz out of the box, but Falcon Northwest overclocked it to a blazing fast 4.3GHz. There’s also a full 16GB of RAM, a 512GB SSD, and a 6TB mechanical data storage drive. The graphics card was an Nvidia GTX 980 Ti with 6GB of RAM. The card isn’t overclocked out of the box, but the system already has EVGA’s Precision software installed if you want to try your hand at it.

High end parts means high end performance, and the Tiki is no exception. Its overclocked CPU flexed its muscles in our GeekBench performance test, and is easily in the fastest three chips we’ve tested to date. The Tiki beats out quad-core chips in similarly sized systems like the Omega and Micro Z40 Raptor handily, and falls closer to full-size systems with eight cores like the Falcon Northwest Mach V and AVADirect X99 in terms of performance.

Geekbench

If you want top-end performance from your SSD, you’d usually use a RAID array. While a lot of Falcon NW systems do, it’s absent from our Tiki review unit. It’s an available option with 1TB SSDs, but it’s going to cost you around $800. Instead, our review unit makes use of a 512GB M.2 form factor drive, the performance of which beats out even a RAID array.

With a read speed of 1616 megabytes per second, and a write speed of 1553 megabytes per second, it’s by far the fastest drive we’ve tested. It beat the Intel 750 Series SSD by a substantial margin, and had over three times the average performance of a standard SATA SSD.

Of course, the Tiki is a gaming PC, so it has to be able to impress graphically. It didn’t disappoint there, and once again played outside its weight class, beating every other single-card system in Futuremark’s 3DMark test. It might not look that impressive when you compare it to the systems below, until you remember that it’s up against the fastest gaming machines we’ve tested, like the Origin Omega and AVADirect X99, both of which had multiple graphics cards.

3DMark

Its score was a lot closer to those full sized systems than it is to the Digital Storm Eclipse, another small form factor PC. Most systems sacrifice power to fit into a smaller package, but the Tiki makes no excuses.

Gaming

Outside of more traditional benchmark tests, we have to make sure the Tiki is up to snuff in the games that users actually want to play.

Diablo 3

The Tiki handled the newest Diablo game without breaking a sweat, averaging 353 frames per second at 1080p with the settings turned up to very high. That’s not the best rating we’ve seen, but it is a jump over the other systems that have a similar footprint. The Eclipse only managed 244, and the Micro Z40 Edge only averaged 221 frames per second.

Turned up to 4K with the settings at high, the Tiki averaged 139 frames per second, putting it in the same range as multi-card systems, and just 6 frames per second lower than the Falcon Northwest Mach V from late last year.

Civilization: Beyond Earth

From the overclocked CPU to the 980 Ti, the Falcon Northwest Tiki proves that everything’s faster in the northwest.

While Beyond Earth isn’t the most graphically demanding game, lots of units on screen can stress many processors. Not so with the Tiki’s Core i7-5960x. The overclocked eight-core chip made quick work of rendering troops and cities. At 1080p, the Tiki kept up with the other, larger high-end systems, averaging a steady 149 frames per second at the highest graphical settings.

When you plug it into a 4K monitor, the Tiki really shines. At 90 frames per second average at maximum settings, the Tiki had the best score of any system we’ve tested so far, coming in just above the Mach V’s 84 frames per second.

Battlefield 4

In order to get Battlefield 4 to run at anything lower than the 200 frame per second engine cap at 1080p, you’ll have to turn it up to ultra settings. When you do, the average framerate drops to about 172, which is still higher than a lot of our test systems.

At 4K resolution, the Tiki was once again only beaten by systems with multiple graphics cards. Even when you turn the settings up to ultra, the average framerate is around 56 per second. The Titan X is able to run Battlefield 4 right at 61 on its own, and dual-card machines push up into the mid-70s.

Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor

1080p Shadow of Mordor with the graphics turned up and the HD texture pack installed can be demanding, to say the least. That doesn’t deter the Tiki, though, and it still holds a 130 frame per second average, beaten only by the Omega and the AVADirect, both of which have two video cards in SLI.

At 4K resolution, with the settings turned up to ultra and the HD texture pack on, the single 980 Ti is working overtime to manage 51 frames per second average. That’s a strong result, but it falls a bit behind systems that have multiple cards like the Origin Omega and the Falcon Northwest Mach V from 2014.

GTA V

Rockstar’s instant classic is the newest addition to our testing suite, and the Tiki comes incredibly close to setting a new performance record on 1080p. With an average 133 frames per second, it’s just one behind the Omega, which has two video cards, but due to irreconcilable graphical issues while running in SLI, was just tested with one card running.

With a 4K resolution monitor, the Tiki is so close to the Origin Omega that it’s almost a tie. At ultra 4K, GTA V runs at a 57 frames per second average, just behind the Omega’s 58, again with just one GTX 980 Ti running. The AVADirect X99 beats them both at 64 frames per second, but it also had two GTX 980s working together to achieve that score.

Hot and quiet

The Tiki doesn’t use much energy given its excellent performance. At load, 383 watts might seem like a lot, but it’s less than most comparable systems. It’s also less power than any system with more than one GPU by at least 50 watts, despite the 980 Ti and the octa-core chip needing all the wattage they can get. At idle, it drops down to a reasonable 53.5 watts, which is right in the same range as most other high-end desktops.

Despite claims that the system runs whisper quiet, we didn’t find that was always true. The fans kick in on the radiator for the CPU’s liquid cooler, and get noisy when they do, up to 47.4 decibel peak, but they usually cool down again with 10 or fifteen seconds. When idling, the system is basically at the passive noise threshold.

An essential warranty

One of the benefits of buying a Falcon Northwest over another brand of gaming machine is that Falcon doesn’t bog down its computers with bloatware. Granted, they come with software pre-installed, but it’s intended to speed up the processes of the computer and keep everything running smoothly. Drives are pre-configured, the Nvidia control panel is installed and ready to go, and Falcon even includes software for overclocking your components.

Falcon Northwest Tiki (2015)
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

The company doesn’t just take care of your system before it heads to you, as the standard warranty covers the machine for up to three years. If you need to send the system in for repairs for some reason, you’ll have to pay for shipping to Falcon for repairs, but the warranty covers the return shipping to you. These terms are better than average, as some competitors offer just a one-year standard warranty.

And the award goes to…

Falcon Northwest continues to set the bar for what a performance gaming machine can be. The Tiki crams all of the performance of the Mach V from late last year into a box less than half the size, and sells it for two-thirds the price.

For just $4,045 you receive staggering performance that’s neatly packaged. It’s only $400 more than the Origin Omega we reviewed, and the Tiki is smaller, quieter, and easier to upgrade. You also can’t get the octa-core Intel chips in the Origin Omega, and depending on the case you buy, Origin may not offer overclocking.

The Tiki is $200 less than a comparable Digital Storm Bolt 3, which has a similar case and footprint. It’s also about $200 less than the AVADirect X99, but AVADirect doesn’t offer the 980 Ti as an option. The only real benefit of that machine over the Tiki is its dual video cards, but with two 980s the price shoots up to $4800. None of the competitors offer a M.2 SSD, which provides top-tier read and write performance.

This tiny rig can take on gaming computers twice its size, and manages to hold its own thanks to top-end components and exemplary overclocking and tuning. It also boasts a beautiful, sturdy, and well organized case. Despite its small stature, the Tiki won our hearts and showed off the power of custom casing and building expertise. Only Falcon Northwest could be responsible for this fully armed and operational battle station, and you can witness its power without suddenly silencing your wallet.

Highs

  • Beautiful, sturdy case
  • Top of the line performance
  • Compact size
  • Competitive price
  • High-end assembly and support

Lows

  • Noisy at full load
  • Needs an external Wi-Fi antenna
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