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Review: Falcon Northwest's console-sized, 18-core micro PC is gloriously overkill

Gordon Mah Ung | May 28, 2015
Size doesn't matter: Falcon packs a 36-thread CPU, GeForce Titan X and the fastest NVME SSD into a PC not much bigger than a game console.

The chunky chip makes the already beefy Core i7-5960X CPU look positively anemic. As a Xeon, the E5-2699 V3 gives you 40 PCIe Gen 3.0 lanes and actually supports running in a multi-processor configuration, which is lingo for saying you can run two of these CPUs if you dare in the same in same PC.

The cores themselves, though, are still Haswell cores. Clock-for-clock, they should perform no better or worse than another Haswell core at the same clock speed. Since the Xeon has 18-cores under its lid instead of 8, it's actually a fairly hot chip, with a TDP rating of 145 watts. The Tiki keeps its thermals under control with an Asetek closed-loop liquid cooler.

I've put together a quick comparison chart of the Xeon and two other common high-end Intel chips here

Just why the hell do you need an 18-core CPU?

For most consumers, a quad-core is plenty, and many people don't even really need Hyper-Threading. But for the prosumer, who does encode video or earn a living money as a 3D modeler or generally runs multiple, multi-threaded workloads, a 6- or 8-core CPU pays true dividends and an 18-core takes that to the nth degree.

The fact is the Xeon-packed Tiki is massive overkill for someone who doesn't truly use workstation-class applications or isn't running 20 simultaneous virtual machines. But dammit, it's a glorious overkill in a way that's only possible on the PC. And, of course, for the .1 percent of power users, this many cores pays heavy dividends. More on this in our performance section later.

Intel 750-Series shines

Besides the CPU and GPU, Falcon pulls off a real nifty hat trick un getting an Intel 750-series SSD inside the Tiki. Most of you know the Intel 750-series drives in its PCIe-based trim, which our review put at the front of the class in performance. That's not even mentioning the support for NVMe. So how does Falcon get both a Titan X and the PCIe 750 in here if the board only has one PCIe slot?

Simple: Falcon uses the SFF-8639 version of the drive. It may look like a standard SATA drive but it's actually meant for server or workstation use. The drive connects to the Tiki using an MSI universal Mini SAS connector that fits into the board's M.2 slot. This gives it a full fidelity x4 PCIe Gen 3 connection, and I tested the drive easily hitting 2.7GBps of sequential read speeds. For comparison, the RAID 0 SATA setup in the Falcon Northwest Mach V reviewed here was in the comparative slow lane at 1GBps. 

Performance

None of this matters if the Tiki doesn't perform well. This is clearly no run of the mill computer, so I decided to see how it would perform against PCWorld's standard zero-point box using a bone stock quad-core 3.5GHz Core i7-4770K and the Tiki's big brother, the Falcon Northwest Mach V with an eight-core Core i7-5960X overclocked up beyond 4GHz. My test would be Maxon's CineBench R15, a popular highly multi-threaded 3D modelling benchmark.

 

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