Falcon Northwest Tiki-Z review

Who you callin' small? Falcon's mini Tiki Z packs a full-sized wallop

The Tiki Z crushed our expectations of what a mini-tower can do.
The Tiki Z crushed our expectations of what a mini-tower can do.
The Tiki Z crushed our expectations of what a mini-tower can do.

Highs

  • Extreme performance in a small package
  • Looks impressive
  • Can handle anything at 1080p or 1440p

Lows

  • Puts out a lot of heat
  • Some components difficult to upgrade

For over two decades the engineers at Falcon Northwest have set the standard for personalized, customized PC gaming rigs built just to your specifications. As other companies flood the market with cheap competitors and budget builds, few have stayed true to their mission as staunchly as Falcon, and this dedication is nowhere more evident than in the new Tiki Z.

The original Tiki, which first came out two years ago, is made to satiate all the desires of high-end gamers without demanding a high-end price (though it certainly has expensive configurations). The Tiki Z, though, amps the hardware up to 11 with an Intel Core i7 4790K, 16GB of RAM, two terabytes of SSD storage, and the card that is its namesake, Nvidia’s Titan Z. All of this is crammed into a system that takes up half the space of a normal mid-tower.

Can you have a great gaming experience without sacrificing legroom?

A tight fit

Much like iBuyPower’s SBX, the case of the Tiki is meticulously designed to fit every component that’s been slipped inside without a centimeter of excess space. A metal bracket holds both solid state drives, the mechanical drive and the optical drive into place. While the hard drives can be replaced the process requires a little patience and the removal of numerous screws. The RAM is hard to access until the hard drives are moved, and the same goes for the video card, which is installed at a 90-degree angle to its normal orientation through the use of a PCI spacer card.

The air vents on the side line up perfectly with those of the Titan Z, which makes sense considering the case was laser cut for the card, and the cables for the CPU liquid-cooler have but a few millimeters to move around once the outer shell is cracked open. Replacing the processor is a particularly difficult task, as the motherboard must be taken out of the case to remove the CPU cooler.

Falcon Northwest Tiki-Z
Bill Roberson | Digital Trends
Bill Roberson | Digital Trends

On the outside, though, the Tiki screams sexy. Its svelte, clean lines blend into a heavy, sturdy base, and everything about it reminds you it’s been built to make a statement. The Falcon Northwest logo is emblazoned by white LEDs on the front of the rig, and on the side the Titan Z is gently lit by the same color scheme. It seems the company knew which features would define this computer, and actively decided to accentuate them without being tacky.

Plug it in, plug it in

On the back of the Tiki you’ll find two HDMI 2.0 ports and two DVI, courtesy of the Titan Z. The motherboard is stocked with four USB 3.0 ports, four USB 2.0, and three audio jacks, representing line in/out, with an extra slot for the microphone on the side.

Two Wi-Fi antennas line an RJ45 Ethernet jack and SPDIF out closely, and the Tiki also comes with a single PS/2 input to accommodate any older keyboards and mice you might have laying around.

On the top of the case you’ll also find two readily accessible USB 3.0 ports, another audio out jack, and an additional microphone in.

A wolf in sheep’s clothing

The Tiki Z plowed through our benchmarks, proving a small yet properly built PC can punch above its weight.

Geekbench

In Geekbench tests the Z can only be compared with the absolute cream of the crop, coming just behind its bigger, badder brother, the Northwest Mach V, and slightly above AVADirect’s Z97 Quiet Gaming rig.

3DMark BenchMark

Cloud Gate/Fire Strike score – Higher is better

Crystal DiskMark’s read/write results were equally impressive, at 987 megabytes per second read, and 865MB/s write. These results come in just behind the Falcon Northwest Mach V but destroy less expensive mini-PC competitors, like the SyberPower Vapor, which reached sustained reads of 185MB/s.

Game Performance

Despite Nvidia’s claim that the Titan Z isn’t built with gamers in mind the card had no problem handling the best of everything we threw at it. While in 3DMark the Tiki was trounced by the larger Mach V (the first place it’s faltered yet), it still held its own against many options in a similar price range. The AVADirect Z97 Quite Gaming, for example, easily fell before the Tiki.

Diablo 3

Diablo 3 at 1080p gave the Tiki Z its easiest challenge. At low settings, the rig posted a maximum of 619 frames per second, a minimum of 484, and an average of 561. Ultra didn’t make the Tiki flinch, either. It hit a maximum of 588 FPS, a minimum of 448, and an average of 545.

Kicking the resolution up to 4K drastically cut framerates, but it hardly mattered. The average at low detail was still 227 FPS, with a maximum of 254 and minimum of 183. Even maximum detail resulted in an average of 186 FPS with a maximum of 206 and minimum of 169. Playable? You bet!

Civilization: Beyond Earth

Sid Meier’s Beyond Earth has proven itself a bit of a divider between what makes a good rig, and what makes a great one. The game’s graphics aren’t hugely impressive, but a large number of objects can be on screen at once, and the game relies on a balanced relationship between CPU and GPU to achieve optimal results.

The Tiki Z was able to breeze through even the most intensive scenes in our 1080p benchmark without issue. At medium we saw a maximum of 287 FPS, a minimum of 86, and an average of 173. Tuned to ultra, again the Z only budged slightly to a maximum of 236 FPS, a minimum of 78, and an average of 101.

Ultra HD brought the results down to earth, however. At medium the average framerate dropped to 104 with a maximum of 134 and minimum of 80. Very high came in at an average of 67 with a maximum of 86 and minimum of 37. That’s still playable, but the occasional dips in the upper-30s can cause noticeable stutter.

Battlefield 4

Battlefield 4 was able to achieve stellar results. At medium detail and 1080p the computer essentially maxed out, topping at 201 frames per second, hitting a low of just 194, and averaging a median of 198. The Tiki barely blinked when we cranked everything up to ultra, posting yet another 201 FPS maximum, a minimum of 164, and an average of 187.

Playing the game at 4K was, as usual, a demanding graphical treat. Medium wasn’t too much to handle, as it averaged 110 FPS with a maximum of 135 and minimum of 93. Ultra, though, hammered the average down to 48 FPS with a maximum of 61 and minimum of 31. That’s still playable, but it’s not perfectly smooth.

Shadows of Mordor

Finally, we come to the game that separates the men from the boys. Shadows of Mordor can bring even powerful gaming desktops to their knees. How does the Tiki Z measure up?

At 1080p and medium detail we achieved a maximum of 208 FPS, a minimum of 71, and an average of 134. Pushed to ultra the Tiki Z still held its own with a maximum of 111 FPS, a minimum of 47, and an average of 75.

Falcon Northwest Tiki-Z
Bill Roberson | Digital Trends
Bill Roberson | Digital Trends

4K finally broke the Tiki Z, however. At medium the average came in at 50 frames per second with a maximum of 62 and minimum of 37. Playable, but not ideal. Ultra further decreased the average to 34 with a maximum of 62 and minimum of 26. This is tolerable, but uneven frame pacing causes obvious stutter and hesitation.

Loud, hot American summer

At idle the Tiki Z is whisper quiet, clocking around 20 decibels on our meter, which is still well below most gaming rigs out there right now. Once we got into the thick of it, though, it was hard to hear the bullets whizzing past our head over the blast of the Titan Z’s boisterous fan, which registered almost 51dB at load.

On the outside, the Tiki Z screams sexy.

Another problem we found with the design of the Tiki Z came in the form of an unrelenting torrent of heat that poured out its vents every time we gamed. Sitting beside this rig is borderline uncomfortable while running top of the line games. Even with a window open and the cold rushing in, this thing pumped out warmth like a space heater.

This is not unexpected. When components this powerful are cramped in a small case all the heat has to go somewhere, and it can turn extended frag sessions into a sauna.

Power Draw

The Tiki drew a decent amount of power for computer in such a compact shell, but that wasn’t too alarming considering what it’s equipped with.

Falcon Northwest Tiki-Z
Bill Roberson | Digital Trends
Bill Roberson | Digital Trends

At idle it drew a typical amount of power for a computer this quick, around 110 watts, which is just under what we rated for Falcon’s macro-tower cousin, the Mach V. At load things jumped up considerably however, to about 580 watts during the most intense moments of our Furmark benchmarking test.

Warranty

The Tiki Z comes standard with Falcon Northwest’s three-year parts and labor warranty, that also includes a one-day shipping guarantee for all defects which might surface over the first year of ownership.

Conclusion

The Tiki proves that you don’t need a premium plot of real estate for a premium gaming experience and still comes in under the sticker price you’d expect from a machine this luxurious. Yes, the approximately $4,900 price tag is significant, but it’s reasonable for a desktop this powerful.

Also remember that half the MSRP is wrapped up in the Nvidia Titan Z. That makes the rest of what’s received look even more reasonable. Even when we tried to build a comparative machine on our own online, we only came about $200 under what the Tiki Z, and that’s not including the sleek, anodized custom aluminum case.

Overall, the Tiki Z is a great way to round out Northwest Falcon’s PC gaming lineup, and its micro-tower manageability makes it a solid pick for gamers who want maximum power out of minimum space.

Highs

  • Extreme performance in a small package
  • Looks impressive
  • Can handle anything at 1080p or 1440p

Lows

  • Puts out a lot of heat
  • Some components difficult to upgrade
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