Origin Chronos (2019) review

Origin's Chronos PC is no looker, but it plays games with eye-popping detail

Tiny but mighty, the Origin Chronos will make you rethink the need for full-sized tower PC.
Tiny but mighty, the Origin Chronos will make you rethink the need for full-sized tower PC.
Tiny but mighty, the Origin Chronos will make you rethink the need for full-sized tower PC.

Highs

  • Very small footprint
  • Excellent performance
  • Lots of hardware customization
  • Beats many full-sized desktops

Lows

  • Can be noisy
  • Not much to look at

We love giant tower computers. They’re big, bold, absurd, and we frankly prefer our computers to look more like an alien monolith than a useful piece of modern technology. Yet our way of thinking is certainly on the out. Computers continue to shrink in size as they grow in power.

Which brings us to the Origin Chronos. The smallest desktop PC in the company’s line-up, the Chronos measures a bit less than a foot tall, four inches wide, and about 14 inches deep. That’s smaller than most A/V receivers, or about the size of Microsoft’s Xbox One X. It offers full-fat performance despite that. Our review unit came packing a Core i9-9900K and Nvidia’s RTX 2080 Ti, surely more than enough to please.

Maybe the question is no longer “why should I buy a small desktop?” Maybe it’s now “why should I buy anything but?”

Gaming desktop, or industrial machine?

There’s one immediate reason why a big desktop can be better. Design. A bigger desktop can offer more real estate to go wild with strange, unnecessary flourishes. Though often tacky, big desktops at least are something. Origin’s Chronos is… nothing.

Nothing? Nothing. Look at it. It’s a little metal box with a small badge on front. It’s not offensive, but it also doesn’t appeal, unless you want your computer to look like a few sheets of metal screwed together. This stands in stark contrast to Origin’s full-sized Millennium desktop, which has a unique and attractive custom enclosure.

You can add spice to the Chronos if you have money to spend. Origin offers a variety of custom color options and themes. If you have the cash, Origin will print (almost) anything you’d like on the Chronos’ flat, canvas-like flank. Competitors like Falcon Northwest and Digital Storm have similar options, though, and upgrading to metallic paint will set you back $250.

That’s the upside to Origin’s dull design. It’s not a looker, but it minimizes the tricks you must know to rework the internals.

At least it’s functional. The box-like Chronos can be set in either a vertical or horizontal orientation, depending on your needs, without restricting airflow. Pint-sized computers often appeal as a home theater PC, and the Chronos fits the part.

The front-facing port cluster also works in either orientation. It contains two USB-A ports, a headphone jack, and a mic jack. All of them are easy to access from any angle, and since the Chronos is small, you can potentially place it much closer to you on (or under) your desk.

Cramped internals, but they make sense

Cracking the Chronos’ case is simple in theory, but complicated in practice. Only two thumbscrews must be removed. That’s great, but prying the panel off is tricky. It requires some force to unseat the panel. Once loose, the CPU radiator becomes an obstacle. It’s screwed to the removable panel, yet not readily removable itself, so the panel remains tethered to the body by the radiator’s liquid cooling.

Origin Chronos review (2019 model)
Rich Shibley/Digital Trends

That’s not an uncommon issue for a small PC, so we can’t knock the Chronos too much for it. Still, this arrangement makes changing components more annoying and more precarious than with a larger system.

The video card is also complicated because it’s attached to the motherboard by a riser that angles the card so it’s parallel to the motherboard. Removing the card is a bit more difficult than normal, and you won’t be able to squeeze in an aftermarket card with a cooler that’s larger than stock. Again, though, this is a common sacrifice made by competitors like the Digital Storm Bolt and Falcon Northwest Tiki.

The Origin Chronos packs more graphics punch than you might expect.

Those problems aside, the Chronos is simple and relatively easy to work with. The RAM is readily accessible for upgrade, as is the hard drive. The CPU is also free of unneeded obstructions, so replacing it shouldn’t be more difficult than a larger case. That’s the upside to Origin’s dull design. It’s not a looker, but it minimizes the tricks you must know to rework the internals.

The Core i9-9900K flexes

An entry-level Origin Chronos will set you back at least $1,500 if you opt for an AMD Ryzen processor. Our upgraded review unit came with Intel’s Core i9-9900K, an eight-core beast that can reach clock speeds as high as 5GHz. It was paired with 16GB of 3200MHz RAM and a Samsung 970 PRO solid state drive, driving the price up to about $3,550.

That predictably led to great performance, though not any better than other systems with that same chip.

Compared to the Asus ROG Strix GL12XC, which also had a Core i9-9900K, the Chronos was a little slower. We’re not shocked. Origin’s desktop is much smaller, which leads to less thermal headroom, and potentially less performance.

It’s hard to be disappointed, though, because the Chronos’ results are still excellent. It hits a multi-core score of 32,328 in Geekbench 4 and transcoded a 4K trailer from h.264 to h.265 in less than a minute in a half.

These results are enormously fast. The Chronos is somehow quicker than the Alienware Area-51 R5 we reviewed in May of 2018, despite the fact that system had the 18-core Intel Core i9-7980XE. Oh, and the Alienware is about nearly four times larger.

Sure, the same processor in a larger desktop might be quicker. But, what’s more important to you? A five percent (or less) boost in processor speed or a desktop that’s so small you could sit your monitor atop it and mostly forget about it?

We’re equally impressed by the hard drive.

Origin Chronos review (2019 model)
Rich Shibley/Digital Trends

Our review unit came with a 512GB Samsung 970 Pro solid state drive. It performed extremely well, hitting a maximum read speed in excess of three gigabytes per second, and a maximum write speed of 2.3 gigabytes per second. Those are the best speeds we’ve witnessed so far from a single solid state drive in a desktop computer.

Load up your favorite game and be amazed

As with its processor, the Chronos packs more graphics punch than you might expect. Our review unit came with Nvidia’s RTX 2080 Ti, the video card every PC gamer dreams of. It’s highly visible, mounted alongside a vent cut-out in the side of the case that makes the card, and its lighting, easy to see.

Looks are one thing, but performance is what counts. The Chronos has what counts no matter the game you throw at it.

3DMark’s Fire Strike test puts the Origin Chronos off to a strong start. Its score of 26,821, driven by a single RTX 2080 Ti, is on par with an Alienware Area-51 R5 with two GTX 1080 cards. Digital Storm’s Aventum X also makes for a solid comparison. While quicker with a score of 33,927, its dual RTX 2080 Ti setup doesn’t widen its lead as much as we’d expect. Overall, the Origin Chronos is the quickest single-GPU system we’ve tested so far.

Now, let’s move on to real-world gaming.

Sid Meier’s Civilization VI represents one end of the spectrum. This beautiful turn-based strategy game places a heavy load on the processor, but the Core i9-9900K easily handles the task. Stunning speed is the result. The Origin Chronos averaged 135 frames per second at 1440p resolution and Ultra detail. The next fastest desktop we’ve recently reviewed, the Falcon Northwest Tiki, only hit 94 FPS. That story repeated itself at 4K resolution, where the Chronos hit an average of 127 FPS while the next-quickest system, Alienware’s Area-51 R5 hit 85 FPS.

On the opposite end of gaming is Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, a heavily GPU-bound game that challenges today’s best video cards. It was no challenge for the Origin Chronos at 1440p resolution and Ultra detail, as we saw an average of 85 FPS. That beats the Alienware Area-51 R5 with twin GTX 1080 video cards! 4K was naturally more taxing, but the Chronos still turned in an average of 49 FPS. That’s impressively close to the 60 FPS most gamers prefer. It beats the Alienware’s dual-GTX 1080 setup once again and comes within 5 FPS of the 2018 incarnation of Origin’s Millennium, which had two GTX 1080 Ti cards.

Origin Chronos review (2019 model)
Rich Shibley/Digital Trends

All this leads to a quite simple conclusion. The Origin Chronos is fast. Real fast. It’d be a great choice for driving a 1440p monitor with a 144Hz refresh rate, or a 4K monitor with a 60Hz refresh rate. A larger desktop with a twin RTX 2080 or 2080 Ti setup, like the Digital Storm Aventum X, is the only way to see better performance. But don’t forget – the Aventum X is over six times larger than the Chronos, and weighs in at nearly 100 pounds.

It’s remarkable to see the Chronos go so far while remaining compact, and it boosts the argument that a small desktop can make sense. Not just for suffering Facebook and shopping on Amazon, but also for hardcore gamers or professionals who need a seriously capable rig.

A note about noise

Ok, but packing this power into a small package does cause a problem. Just ask our ears.

The Origin Chronos at least sidesteps annoyance. Its sound is characterized as more of a constant, gentle whirr, like a big storm blowing outside your home. Yet a big storm it remains, and we couldn’t help but notice it whenever we spun up a benchmark or loaded a game.

It’s not so loud to become unacceptable, but the noise does take away from the Chronos’ size. This is a small desktop you could place near you. Perhaps under a monitor. Perhaps in a home theater, where it’d be used for entertainment. The noise, though, will be disruptive. You won’t want it near you, or in a quiet home theater, unless you happen to play every game and watch every movie with a pair of headphones on.

Our Take

The Origin Chronos is a compact computer that will make you question why anything larger is necessary. It’s not exciting to look at it, but it’s exciting to own.

Is there a better alternative?

Falcon Northwest’s Tiki remains our favorite among tiny custom desktops because it’s both fast and great to look at. The Chronos is more affordable however, with a lower starting price of $1,500, compared to the Tiki’s price of at least $2,100.

Other competitors, like the Digital Storm Bolt, can match the Chronos’ hardware, but its size that really defines Origin’s option. The Chronos is smaller than average, so it’ll fit places where the Tiki or Bolt can’t.

How long will it last?

The Origin Chronos we reviewed had best-of-the-best hardware, so we’re sure it would last at least five years. Entry-level models will likely need a GPU upgrade after a few years of service. The Chronos’ size will limit your options, but replacing the GPU isn’t too difficult.

Every Chronos comes with a 1-year parts replacement warranty. However, shipping is only covered for 45 days. We’d prefer to see a 1-year shipping warranty as well.

Should you buy it?

Yes. The Origin Chronos even in its own class of custom gaming mini-towers, yet it doesn’t pay for that in performance, and it’s not more expensive than competitors. If maximum speed in minimum size is your goal, the Chronos is what you want.

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