Update (12/28/2012): We want to congratulate Daniel in Texas on winning this beautiful machine. Daniel sent over a couple of shots of his Tiki in action. Check it out:
Thank you to everyone who entered, and to Falcon Northwest and Nvidia for sponsoring the contest. You can be sure there will be plenty of hardware to give away in 2013.
In college, I wanted my PC to be the centerpiece of my dorm room—the one thing that shouted "this is Chris'" amongst a jungle gym of identical bunk beds and desks. Right there in the room I’d rip the covers off of Slot 1 Pentium IIs, wire up thermoelectric coolers, and load up full-tower cases with fans to keep my overclocked creations running stably. 3dfx’s Voodoo3 and Nvidia’s TNT2 were the fastest graphics chipsets available back then.
The need for aggressive cooling (and correspondingly roomy enclosures) on high-end hardware persisted through the Core 2 generation. Although history remembers the Prescott-based Pentium 4s as some of Intel’s hottest CPUs, the Yorkfield-based Core 2 Extreme QX9770 was a 136 W part, and the QX9775 dissipated up to 150 W. It’s fairly amazing to an “old-timer” like me, then, that the company’s current desktop flagship is rated at 77 W.
I won’t bother to rehash the same efficiency-oriented focus in 3D graphics, except to say that, today, you can get remarkable performance from very capable components without generating obscene heat or noise.
Falcon Northwest’s Tiki Enters The Lab
It’s in the spirit of better efficiency (getting more performance output from less power input) that Falcon Northwest first sent me its Tiki. The small system was a striking departure from the systems I built for myself more than a decade ago, but it still managed to incorporate a Core i7-3770K overclocked to 4.3 GHz, a terabyte of solid-state storage, and a 3.5” disk drive. Even more impressive was that my review unit included a GeForce GTX 680—a card able to completely outclass its predecessor and use less power at the same time. In fact, I found it to be 44% more efficient than the GeForce GTX 580 in an index of six games running at 1920x1080.
Clearly, the scalability of such a configuration is limited. I get that. You can’t add a second graphics card down the road. It’ll never be your storage server. And there’s little chance of swapping in a newer motherboard and processor on your own two years down the road. But that’s not what this is about. Rather, Falcon Northwest is cramming as much performance as you can get from any system with a single GPU into a chassis smaller than most ATX motherboard boxes.
Is that enough performance for you, specifically? Well, check out GeForce GTX 680, Part 2: SLI, 5760x1080, And Overclocking and Intel Core i7-3770K Review: A Small Step Up For Ivy Bridge, both of which I wrote. The GTX 680 can handle Battlefield 3 at 5870x1080 using the Ultra preset and still average 60 FPS. And the Core i7-3770K is only going to be beaten by 130 W Sandy Bridge-E based CPUs in threaded apps. For anything I do on the desktop, the Tiki is plenty lethal.
As a hardware enthusiast, I have a compulsion to put everything together myself. But this was something I simply couldn’t replicate on my own using off-the-shelf components, and I was impressed as a result. So much so, in fact, that I invited the company’s president, Kelt Reeves, to write a story for me about how the Tiki came to be—from concept, through trial and error, to eventual productization. The result was Meet The Tiki: Core i7-3770K And GeForce GTX 680 In A Mini-ITX Box?
The comments in that piece were overwhelmingly positive. Kelt did a great job keeping it real with the Tom’s Hardware audience, and you all seemed to enjoy following the Tiki’s journey. Afterward, Kelt and I discussed an idea to get a customized version of the Tiki into the hands of a Tom’s Hardware reader.
Three months later, I present to you this one-of-a-kind work of art:
The specifications were a collaboration between Tom’s Hardware and Falcon Northwest. I like Intel’s Core i5-3570K for its price/performance. Although I originally recommended a GeForce GTX 670 for its value proposition, Kelt talked me into OKing a GeForce GTX 680, since this was a machine to give away and the extra expense would go to improve your gaming experience. A 256 GB Crucial m4 and 2 TB Western Digital hard drive were an easy balance between fast flash-based storage and plenty of space for user data, while 16 GB of Crucial DDR3-1866 memory is overkill for now (but forward-looking enough that you won’t have to worry about RAM for a while). A 450 W power supply drives the whole thing.
Cooling is covered by an Asetek closed-loop system with its radiator attached to the case’s side panel. The GeForce card is a standard reference design, so it stands vertically on a riser card, exhausting out the back.
The configuration Kelt sent to our SoCal office was a clean, classy, matte black, with top-mounted USB 3.0, power, and reset buttons. The Tiki we’re giving away sports a custom Exotix paint job. It’s all-white with the Tom’s Hardware logo and hammer on the right (bleeding over to the front), and Nvidia’s logo on the left. The GeForce GTX 680’s 195 W TDP is a big reason this system is even possible, so we were delighted that the company wanted to help with Falcon Northwest's build.
See For Yourself: We’re Giving It Away
What do you have to do to get your hands on this beautiful, fast, and, most difficult to achieve, quiet little machine? Simply enter the sweepstakes. The build itself would cost just under $2500 if you were to buy it from Falcon Northwest. But the paint job is a nearly-$1000 creation, making this the smallest $3500 PC you’ve ever seen.
As always, we are legally obligated to limit entries to residents of the United States, excluding Rhode Island (in Rhode Island, we’d have to file a statement with the secretary of state and pay a $150 filing fee; yay, bureaucracy). Other countries have their own fees, taxes, and laws. It’s unfortunate that we’re not able to extend these contests to all of our readers, but we hope you understand why this is the case.
With all of that out of the way, enter to win this beautiful custom-painted Tiki, brought to you by Tom's Hardware, Falcon Northwest, and Nvidia.