Consoles will have a hard time sustaining eye contact with the Origin Chronos. The good news is that for its small size, it’s carrying an impressive amount of power—in our case, an i5-4690k and GTX 970—though this can vary with custom builds. It’s a powerful machine whose performance exceeds that of any console on the market and can run some intensive games with ease, but it comes with a rather large, pulsating achilles heel.
As a throwback to last generation’s game consoles, the Origin Chronos often emits a sound not unlike a person in the next room shaking around a bean in a tin can. Why they're doing it, who knows? Maybe you should check on them, see if everything is okay. The sound is shrill and tinny, accompanied by a low hum during more intensive tasks. Granted, the Chronos is pushing hard for its size, so it has to stay cool in a super small space. The fans might get drowned out by enough audio, but if the acoustics in your place are cold, expect popcorn ambience whenever you’re gaming. Edit: See our update below for our experience with a quieter replacement Chronos system.
The machine’s monochromatic cube aesthetic isn’t a stellar look, but it at least remains inconspicuous in a dark corner of an entertainment suite. As a squarish block of pseudo-obsidian, it’s easy to miss. But, unless you can find a dusty nook and appropriate ambience to cloak your shiny black square thing, don’t be surprised if someone asks, “Why the hell is that shiny black square thing doing a tinny impression of a Tuvan throat singer?”
Okay, so it’s really loud and square. But so are professional weightlifters. The point is, when I turned the settings in Metro: Last Light all the way up, all the noise and trouble felt worth it.
Well, almost worth it. My time setting up the Origin Chronos wasn’t easy. The very first time I booted it up, it crashed immediately after hitting the desktop. There was a lot of spittle and cursing, and a stubborn thrill from figuring it out, but ‘simplicity’ didn’t cross my mind.
As it turns out, the CPU was overheating. In a prebuilt living room machine whose configuration costs approximately $1,904 . Phew. It’s hard to say how many people this problem might hit; it’s a major inconvenience, but to be fair, every PC enthusiast can be expected to troubleshoot at some point. We’re not dealing with proprietary hardware here, just a tightly packaged custom build. But to face issues right out of the gate (our gate: opening the box it came in with a crowbar) is asking too much for a prebuilt system.
After a talk with Origin’s 24/7 tech support line encouraged me to crack the Chronos open again, I determined the issue was the fans periodically getting caught due to misalignment during shipping. I realigned the fans, but one, no matter what I did, ended up catching on its casing as it spun. It’s wrong to lay the blame on Origin for a shipping issue; PCs are fragile, especially one as compact as the Chronos, but it sure wasn’t fun navigating the dense interior with my fat fingers. The case also uses regular screws instead of thumb screws to hold its casing together, which makes opening it even more of a pain. I imagine someone without any hardware experience would just opt to send the machine back in.
Small case, big picture
After that panicked troubleshooting, the Chronos runs like a dream—a dream that involves consistent video driver crashes during heavy Chrome use, but blame may lie with Nvidia for that. Games look slick, and most modern PC-pushers run on their higher settings with ease. If I pushed too far and tried to max things out, frames dropped considerably, but the games look pretty damn sharp anyway.
Its not a 4K machine, but the configuration options on the Origin website support a Titan Z, if you have the spare change. And if you’re still not pleased and have yet more money to spend, the Origin Chronos is still a PC, modifiable in just about any way. Dig into that dense assemblage if you’re brave enough, but it’s somewhat beside the point for someone interested in a prebuilt living room machine.
So, the games look great, it’s super noisy, and difficult to troubleshoot, even for someone with experience. My time poking around inside the chassis only invigorated my respect for the engineers at Origin who figured out how to pack everything inside such a small space. But is it worth it? Here’s what you’re getting in that complex, compact box versus doing it yourself:
|Origin||Approximate retail price|
|Intel Core i5 4690K Processor||$240|
|ORIGIN FROSTBYTE 120 Sealed Liquid Cooling||$110|
|NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970||$325|
|450Watt SFX Series PSU||$70|
|8GB ORIGIN PC powered by HyperX 1866 Mhz (2x4GB)||$50|
|240GB Samsung SSD 840 EVO||$132|
|2TB 7200 RPM Seagate||$77|
|Silverstone SG13 Chassis||$40|
|Windows 8.1 Home (Origin’s now offering Windows 10)||$120|
That’s an approximate $587 difference. Keep in mind that a big chunk of that gap can be diffused into labor, of which there would be a considerable amount—that case is tiny—and warranty service. The Chronos comes with lifetime 24/7 tech support and a lifetime labor warranty that shifts the workload to Origin in case an upgrade is in order. So, depending on how much time you’d save building a similar machine on your own and how much use you might get out of the warranty services, that $587 difference is either a bargain or not worth it. Again, this drives home who the Chronos is for: folks without expertise that want a simple, small, living room PC.
The Origin Chronos is a paradox for purchasers. On the whole, it’s a fine PC. It pushes hard enough to facilitate a good time for most of a modern PC gamer’s needs. But as a prebuilt living room device, it’s harder to recommend. If you’re new to PC gaming and want a simple, small, albeit loud plug-and-play solution, then the Chronos is a fairly safe pick. If you’re already a PC prodigy, you might be better off trying your hand at a quieter build.
Update: We thought the Chronos' fans were operating normally after re-seating them, but Origin believes the system noise is the result of damage during shipping. We'll be checking out a second Chronos system and reporting back on how loud it is.
Update 2, 9/9/2015: After publishing the review, Origin got in touch regarding the noise problems of our review model and sent in a replacement to see if the issues were isolated to a faulty machine. The replacement Chronos ran much quieter overall. When put under significant stress, running Metal Gear Solid 5 in 4K, for example, it becomes a much breathier machine, as expected for jamming so much power into such a small space. You'll hear a noticeable white noise, like an early Xbox 360 cranking into full gear. But it’s easier to recommend as a living room PC since it no longer makes such a ruckus when not at full power.
Whether or not the Origin Chronos is for you still depends on personal budget, time, and PC building skill. If you have the time and skill, you’re likely to find value in your own build. If you just want a functional, small, powerful PC, and now—the Chronos might work for you.