Connecting a computer to a television has long been a dream of PC gamers. In theory, it provides the best gaming experience possible, combing the big-screen beauty of an HDTV with the graphical firepower of a fully armed and operational desktop computer. Consoles can’t hope to keep up.
Yet a number of problems can block what seems an easy route to gaming nirvana. Desktops don’t easily fit in a home theater, and those small enough to squeeze in often do so by limiting the performance options. Plus, controlling a computer on a couch can be a pain, and the price of a powerful PC makes even the latest consoles look cheap.
Origin’s Omega home theater desktop is the latest in a long line of devices to tackle these problems. Its approach isn’t subtle. Our review unit arrived with an Intel Core i7-4790K, two GTX 980 Ti video cards in SLI, 16GB of RAM and a one terabyte Samsung solid state drive. Such impressive hardware results in a final price of $3,600 — not exactly PlayStation 4 territory.
There’s no doubt that Origin’s system is capable. But can it resolve the input and compatibility issues that have always made PCs feel out of place in the living room?
There’s been a recent burst of small gaming rigs like the Alienware Alpha and Syber Vapor that offer modest gaming chops in a small case. These blend seamlessly into a living room or man cave, but they have to make do with a single GPU which, in some cases, is a laptop chip.
Our Origin Omega review unit was a different beast. It arrived in a Silverstone GD09 case, which is 17 inches wide, 14 inches deep and seven inches tall. The enclosure alone weighs ten pounds, and fully equipped it’s closer to 25. While certainly not as big as a tower desktop, the Omega is a heavyweight by the standards of its category. Buyers can choose a different case, as there’s five options in total, but smaller enclosures won’t have room for the powerful hardware in our test rig.
The Silverstone GD09 is a handsome face for the Omega, and probably the best looking case option available. Its size can be an issue, but it will look right at home alongside a receiver – because it looks like one. A casual observer could easily mistake it for an amp, CD-changer, or some other piece of home theater equipment.
Along the front of the case you’ll find two USB 3.0 ports along with audio and headphone jacks. Numerous USB and video outputs are available around back, but what’s available will be determined by the hardware configuration you choose. There’s an intimidating eight motherboard options, two of which include on-board 802.1ac Wi-Fi with Bluetooth. Our review unit was not so equipped, and needed a USB adapter for wireless networking. The system did offer six hot-swappable 2.5” SATA drive bays however, which were located where you’d normally expect to find an optical drive.
Cramped on the inside
Opening the Omega’s enclosure, the Silverstone GD09, is relatively simple. Only three screws on the rear of the case secure the top panel, which slides back once removed. A little wiggle is need to coax the panel off, but not so much it’s unsettling.
The Omega is a heavyweight by the standards of this category.
Once you’re inside, it starts to get complicated. The Omega’s compact interior is precisely arranged, which doesn’t leave any room for easy upgrades or component replacement. Not a single piece of hardware can be removed without first removing other portions of the interior.
RAM replacement, perhaps the most common upgrade, is a particular chore. The DIMMs are located underneath the hot-swap drive bay (or optical device, depending on configuration), and rather close to the processor fan. Several screws and cords must be removed before it’s possible to access them. A more serious upgrade, like the motherboard, means stripping the case nearly bare.
Such compromises are to be expected in small, high-performance computers, but alternatives like the Falcon Northwest Tiki and Digital Storm Bolt do a better job of providing immediate access to at least some components. Of course, Origin offers several cases, so you may be better off depending on what you select.
Star of track and field
Origin shipped our Omega with an Intel Core i7-4970K, the quickest processor available with the system. It delivered predictably excellent performance in Geekbench.
No close examination is necessary to see what this system’s $3,600 price tag is buying. The Omega easily outruns everything except the Velocity Micro Raptor Z40, which was equipped with the same Intel quad-core. The Digital Storm Eclipse is a bit further behind (not bad, given its as-tested price of $1,500) while the smaller Syber Vapor and tiny Alienware Alpha are left in the dust. The Omega is almost twice as quick in single-core Geekbench, and almost three times quicker in multi-core.
Most competitors are easily defeated by the Omega’s powerful Core i7-4970K.
The Omega’s one terabyte Samsung 850 Evo solid state drive delivered tamer results, hitting a maximum read speed of 533 megabytes per second and a maximum write of 514MB/s. These numbers aren’t bad, but the Velocity Micro Z40 Edge nearly doubled them, and even an Intel NUC is quicker. A SATA drive like the Omega’s is no longer enough to provide cutting-edge results. Origin also equipped our review unit with a three terabyte mechanical disk for storing large files.
But enough about the hard drive. This system is meant to game, as evidenced by its twin GTX 980 Ti video cards. Futuremark’s synthetic test, 3D Mark, should give us a good guesstimate of how the machine performs.
3DMark Fire Strike
As you can see, the Omega comes close to hitting a new record high. It’s defeated only by the AVADirect X99 system, which is actually a bit interesting. The AVADirect macine offered two GTX 980s, but they were EVGA cards over-clocked from the factory.
That was enough to give them an edge over the Omega’s stock GTX 980 Ti cards in this benchmark. However, the AVADirect X99’s advantage did not always carry over to real-world game testing, as you’ll soon see.
This is where the Omega will fight for all the marbles. It’s designed to offer class-leading performance, and it certainly looks capable of that on paper. Does it deliver?
Blizzard’s action-RPG remains incredibly popular, but it’s really not a challenge for a system of this caliber. The game averaged 644 frames per second at maximum detail and 1080p resolution. Turning resolution up to 4K still resulted in an average of 181 FPS. That’s the second-highest result we’ve ever seen from the game at UltraHD – it’s defeated only by the Falcon Northwest Tiki Z, which had a GTX Titan Z dual-GPU video card.
Civilization V: Beyond Earth
The latest entry in this long-running strategy game franchise is surprisingly demanding, even at lower resolutions. We recorded an average framerate of 149 FPS at 1080p and maximum detail. Importantly, the minimum framerate was 87 FPS, so it was a smooth experience in even the most taxing situation.
Even 4K did little to hold the system back, as it turned in an average of 90 FPS with all settings at max. That’s a new record, beating the Falcon Northwest Tiki Z and AVADirect X99 desktop.
DICE’s incredibly popular first person shooter is slowly slipping from the ranks of most demanding games. The dual-card Omega steamrolled it at 1080p resolution. Even maximum detail ran at an average of 195 FPS. That might’ve been higher, if not for the game engine’s cap of 200 FPS.
4K was the real challenge – and the Omega proved up to it, hitting an average of 77 FPS with a minimum framerate of 66. That defeats every system we’ve reviewed, albeit by just a few frames per second.
Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor
This cross-platform title set the standard for what “next-generation” games can do in both gameplay and graphics. Its special “ultra” texture pack, which we installed, eats gobs of RAM. At 1080p, though, it was no sweat for the Omega, which averaged 130 FPS.
Upping the resolution to UltraHD finally revealed something that can conquer the Omega. With all details at maximum the average FPS came in at 51, which is off the desired target of 60 FPS. Still, the performance is solid enough to provide a playable experience, especially if you don’t mind V-Sync, or own a G-Sync monitor.
In this case, the Omega didn’t manage the highest result we’ve seen. The AVADirect X99 andFalcon Northwest Mach V beat it by a few frames per second. In fairness to the Omega, though, those systems are both full tower desktops.
We ran into an obstacle running Grand Theft Auto V with SLI enabled. The benchmark would not run properly due to issues with world lighting not loading. Despite our best efforts, the problem could not be resolved.
As such, we fell back to running the game with a single GTX 980 Ti, but fortunately that was enough for smooth gameplay. At 1080p and details set to maximum, using FXAA rather than MSAA, the game averaged 134 FPS. Cranking detail up to 4K with the same settings selected reduced the framerate to 58 FPS, which is practically the 60 FPS ideal. These results are still the second-best we’ve recorded, coming in just behind the AVADirect X99.
Origin ships the Omega with Windows, of course – it’d be foolish to rely on Steam OS or any other alternative. That said, Windows is not optimized for use from a couch, and that leads to some issues.
The Omega is incredibly powerful, but that comes at the cost of your eardrums.
Manipulating the interface is difficult, even with the Logitech K400 keyboard and touchpad combo provided by Origin. The keyboard is annoying to use while sitting, and encourages bad posture if left on a coffee table.
The company offsets that slightly with software that lets you use an Xbox controller as a mouse. However, we found this caused issues in some games, particularly GTA V; it registered simultaneous mouse and gamepad input with this feature turned on. That made the game’s camera go berserk.
Windows’ lackluster couch experience isn’t anyone’s fault. Alienware is the only company that provides a custom interface for couch gaming, but its paired with a far less capable computer. There’s no competitor leaving Origin in the dust, yet it’s still a problem.
At idle the Omega emits nary a peep, as its GTX 980 Ti video cards and beefy Noctua air cooler (yes, this system is air cooled) are very effective at dispelling what little heat builds up.
Load a game, though, and the PC’s character changes quickly. The fans kick up to a roar as the tightly packed video cards work to keep temperatures down. Fan noise rises as high as 46.2 decibels, which is very noticeable in a quiet room. Still, the Omega isn’t any louder than competitors, and is quieter than many desktops.
The system’s moderate fan noise is the consequence of surprisingly low power draw. We registered an average consumption of just 75 watts at idle, and no more than 385 watts at load. That’s astounding given the system’s performance, and shows how efficient today’s hardware has become.
Origin offers a one-year standard warranty with 45 days of free shipping and lifetime labor. This means components are covered for a year, and Origin will pay for labor even after the first year is up, but you’re on the hook for shipping after just a month and a half. We’d like to see a longer shipping warranty.
Longer warranties are available lasting one, two or three years. All these warranties cover shipping for their duration, and pricing is on par with other boutique PC builders. However, a few competitors offer much better terms. Falcon Northwest, for example, provides a three-year standard warranty with every Tiki, Fragbox and Mach V, and the company covers overnight shipping both ways for the first year.
ConclusionThe Origin Omega is a technically incredible system. It delivered record-setting scores in several games, and was at or near the top of its category in all benchmarks. Hard drive performance was the only exception.
Origin’s secret sauce is its support for up to three video cards in SLI. While there are many competent competitors, few are built to handle more than one card. The most comparable alternative is likely the Falcon Northwest Fragbox, but even that system is more conspicuous, and thus not as well suited for living room use.
There are problems that offset Origin’s performance. While a Fragbox with similar hardware rings up within $100 of the Omega, the Falcon system has a three-year warranty, while the Origin does not. It’s also quite difficult to upgrade the Omega, a problem that likely stems from the company’s continued use of off-the-shelf enclosures.
Windows is also a thorn in the system’s side. Though it makes some attempt to solve the problem, there’s no way to overcome the fact that Microsoft’s operating system just isn’t meant couch gaming. The experience has holes no matter the controller or interface used.
Such niggles ultimately offset the Omega’s advantages. Yes, this is a quick computer, and if you want to play 4K games on your television this is likely the only PC currently available that’s suited for the job. But as with any cutting-edge experience, you’ll have to put up with the flaws early adopters often experience, and that frustration is hard to ignore.
- Class-leading processor performance
- Easily handles games, even at 4K
- Wide variety of customization options
- Large for a living room PC
- Difficult to upgrade
- Using Windows from a couch remains awkward