In Greek mythology, Chronos is the god of time. He is an all-consuming entity that can be delayed, but never resisted. This makes it a fitting name for Origin to bestow on its small form-factor computer of the same name. The miniaturization of technology is an unstoppable force. Hardware that was once massive inevitably becomes smaller, more efficient, and more affordable.
This is mostly a good thing, but it has a down side too. Persistent refinement can push a product to a point where a particular piece technology loses the parts of its identity which made that product category desirable to its primary audience in the first place.
Sure, the Chronos’ Intel Core i7-4970K quad-core CPU, Nvidia GeForce GTX Titan Z graphics card, and 16GB of RAM represent an impressive trio of core specs. However, what also determines whether a small form factor PC sinks or swims is how well it balances the benefits of miniaturization, with the upgrade-ability that enthusiasts expect from high-end PCs.
Has Origin maintained this balance in the Chronos?
Editor’s note: Due to the Titan Z’s appearance in this system, Origin has actually referred to this system as the Chronos Z in its conversations with Digital Trends. However, Origin’s site doesn’t make any references to anything calling itself the Chronos Z. The only thing close to that is the Chronos, which you can outfit with a Titan Z. So, that’s what we are calling it.
Hands on video
Origin debuted new cases earlier this year for its Genesis and Millennium desktops, but the Chronos wasn’t a beneficiary of those additions. Instead, it relies on the company’s old strategy of providing several different case choices. The Chronos was shipped to us in Silverstone’s RVZ01 case, which is among the smallest, though not the most eye-catching PC boxes out there. In fact, the RVZ01 is quite plain. The exterior wears a combination of matte black plastic and metal accompanied by a small, removable Origin logo.
At least the case does its job from a functionality standpoint. On the front panel, there’s a slot loading optical drive, two USB 3.0 ports, and individual headphone/microphone jacks as well. These are located towards the lower right part of the front, but they’re easy to access because of the case’s small size. The RVZ01 can also be laid on its side in theory, but you’ll need to support it with a stand of some sort. There are fan vents on both sides of the case. Sitting the rig flat on its side will impede cooling.
Around back, our review unit includes four more USB 3.0 connectors, four USB 2.0 ports, a single PS/2 port, Ethernet, and three audio jacks. The Titan Z graphics card provides two DVI outputs, along with HDMI, and DisplayPort.
Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are included as well, but only if you upgrade to the ASUS Z97I-PLUS motherboard.
Digging inside the Chronos can be a chore. The most serious problem is the large piece of plastic that holds the graphics card, optical drive, and up to two solid state drives in place. This spans the upper half of the case, and can be difficult to remove.
You’ll need to take out no less than 11 screws to replace the optical drive or the graphics card. There’s a PCIe riser card to deal with too. While it’s not complex, it’s crammed tightly between the graphics card, and a bunch of power and SATA connections.
Digging inside the Chronos can be a chore.
Another annoyance is the CPU radiator and fan, which are attached to the main side door. This means you can’t fully remove the door without removing the fan as well. That adds another four screws you’ll need to take out. Even then, the radiator hangs in the breeze, ready to catch a stray finger or elbow.
The case does have some positive attributes though. Both the solid state and mechanical hard drives (our review unit came with both) can be replaced with relative ease. Plus, the RAM is entirely free of obstruction. As a result, it’s pretty easy to upgrade these components.
The limitations of Silverstone’s RVZ01 case only come to light when it’s time to upgrade a major component, like the video card or CPU. Considering that the Chronos includes such powerful hardware, you probably won’t be upgrading the CPU or graphics card anytime soon.
Powerful, but doesn’t surpass the competition
Our review unit arrived with an Intel Core i7-4790K processor paired with the company’s “overclock high” option, which runs as high as 4.8GHz. Our review unit targeted a maximum of 4.7 GHz, which it hit often. Even so, the Chronos isn’t the most powerful gaming rig we’ve recently reviewed.
The Digital Storm Bolt II and Maingear Torq proved themselves to be faster in our CPU tests, earning respective scores of 152.1, and 159.1 GOPS in our SiSoft Sandra Processor Arithmetic test. The Chronos’ score of 149 isn’t far behind, but it’s a defeat none the less. 7-Zip’s file compression benchmark tells a similar story. The Chronos earned a score of 25,432, which is considerably behind the Bolt II’s result of 26,543, and the Maingear Torq’s mark of 25,998.
The Origin Chronos’ 3DMark Fire Strike score is one of the best we’ve ever seen.
Further redemption came courtesy of 3DMark tests, as you can see above. The Chronos got a Cloud Gate test score of 31,544, while earning 15,154 in the demanding Fire Strike test. The Origin Chronos’ 3DMark Fire Strike score is one of the best we’ve ever seen.
Synthetic tests are great, but they don’t paint the full picture. To flesh out how the Chronos performs in graphics-heavy workloads, we gamed with it. Our real world gaming tests consist of Total War: Rome II, Battlefield 4, and League of Legends, all of which were benched at 1080p.
Total War: Rome II
This demanding game tends to lean more on a PC’s processor than its graphics card, and it has proven to be a bit of a handful.
The tiny Chronos handled it well though, averaging 103 frames per second (FPS) at Medium detail, with a maximum of 119, and a minimum of 83. At Extreme detail, the average fell to 77FPS, with a maximum of 89, and a minimum of 63.
Digital Storm’s Bolt II, by comparison, hit an average of just 61FPS at Extreme, and the Maingear Torq was 10 frames slower at the same setting, averaging 67FPS. Count this as a win for Origin.
The Chronos did well in Battlefield 4. At Medium detail, it averaged 195FPS, with a maximum of 201 (this is the engine’s frame-rate cap), and a minimum of 158. At Ultra detail, the game still averaged 150FPS, with a maximum of 179, and a minimum of 109.
These scores once again lead the pack. On Ultra, the Digital Storm Bolt II hit an average of 132FPS, while the Maingear Torq managed an average of 146FPS. All three systems handle the game very well, but the Origin has the edge.
League of Legends
The world’s most popular PC game isn’t a major challenge for systems of this caliber, but its fast-paced game-play demands smooth performance from any PC that runs it. Origin’s Chronos doesn’t disappoint.
At Medium detail, it produced an average of 261FPS, with a maximum of 364, and a minimum of 193. Very High detail reduced the average to 192FPS, with a maximum of 273, and a minimum of 149.
Digital Storm’s Bolt II leads here, as it hit an average of 195FPS on Very High. The Maingear Torq, which averaged 187FPS, falls behind. This is nit-picking, however, as all three systems deliver buttery smooth game play. A few frames make little difference when the frame-rate is close to 200FPS.
A howl of a good time
Though its case is tiny, the Origin Chronos offers three large fans. Two are positioned above the video card, while a third is paired with the liquid-cooled processor’s radiator. At idle, they generate a modest 42.6 decibels of noise. This is higher than the Bolt II’s 41.3dB, and the Torq’s 40.3dB, but it’s still within the limits of what we find to be tolerable.
From a value perspective, the Chronos is a winner.
When gaming though, the chorus of noise generated by the fans grows much louder. In such instances, the volume spikes to an alarming 53.5dB. That’s way more than the Torq’s 45.1dB, and slightly louder than the Bolt II’s 51.3dB. In fact, the Chronos is the loudest gaming desktop we’ve reviewed this year.
It’s also a power-hungry beast. On average, it demands 91.6-watts at idle, 177.6-watts at full processor load, and a shocking 565-watts at full gaming load. That’s way more than the Bolt II’s 322-watts, and even more than the Torq’s-510 watts. The Chronos may be small, but it sucks down huge amounts of power.
The Chronos comes standard with a one-year parts replacement warranty, lifetime labor, lifetime 24/7 phone support, and 45 days of free shipping for repairs. This can be upgraded to a two-year warranty for $170, or a three-year warranty for $270. Both extended warranties cover the cost of shipping for their duration.
This is slightly more generous than Digital Storm’s offer of just three years of free labor, and matches the phone support offer as well. Maingear has them all beat in this area though, as the Torq carries a standard two-year warranty.
Origin has an “Evolve” upgrade service that covers two years for $20, and three years for $40. If you get this service, you’ll be able to send your system in for an upgrade with free labor and free shipping for the duration of the contract.
You’ll still have to pay for the hardware though.
Our Origin Chronos review unit rang up at $4,800. That’s a lot, but it’s much cheaper than the Maingear Torq’s as-tested price of $8,200, and $1,600 less than the Bolt II. While there are some differences in hardware between them, all three systems were reviewed with an overclocked Intel quad-core CPU, and an Nvidia GTX Titan Z graphics card. This is why they offer similar performance. From a value perspective, the Chronos is a winner.
However, the Chronos isn’t without problems. It’s in the middle-of-the-pack in terms of upgrade-ability. While it offers more than the Maingear Torq in this area, the Bolt II has it beat. The Chronos is also the least attractive, the loudest, and the most power hungry of the three. Each of these problems puts a small dent in its score and, when added together, prevent this rig from earning an Editor’s Choice award, despite its value.
Enthusiasts should check out this rig’s other cases. They are larger, more welcoming to upgrades, and likely quieter. Overall, the Origin Chronos is a powerful beast that offers good value, but is weighed down by some notable flaws.
- Very compact
- RAM and hard drives are easy to upgrade
- Excellent gaming performance
- 840 EVO 1TB hard drive is lightning quick
- Less expensive than similarly equipped competitors
- Looks dull
- Video card and optical drive are difficult to replace
- Runs loud in games, chugs power