Extraordinary gaming proficiency. Plenty of storage, plus speedy M.2 SSDs. Stylish, relatively compact tower. Easy access for maintenance and upgrades. Customizable case and RAM lighting.
Pricey as configured.
- Bottom Line
The Origin Neuron is a stellar gaming machine with practically unrivaled gaming power housed in an elegant design. It's our top pick for high-end gaming desktops.
Consumer gaming and 3D performance are being pushed to absurd new heights on the back of Nvidia's Pascal graphics architecture and Intel's latest generation of processors. Both of these platforms are on full display in the Origin Neuron (starts at $964; $3,900 as tested), with dual GTX 1080 Ti graphics cards and an overlocked Core i7-7700K processor. These components help the Neuron blow past competitors in our gaming tests, it's also speedy with productivity pursuits, and comes with a huge amount of storage to boot. This configuration is expensive, but for what you get and relative to the Editors' Choice Digital Storm Velox, the pricing is fair. Given its superior performance and overall execution, the Origin Neuron is our new top pick for high-end gaming desktops.
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Form, Function, and More
Built into Phanteks' Enthoo Evolv mATX case, the Neuron is relatively unassuming if you look at it head on, but there's a lot to like inside once you start poking around. Its black aluminum frame stands 17.8 by 9 by 15.7 inches (HWD), with tempered glass panels on both flanks. The left side is nearly a full window, while the right is backed with aluminum and has a small cutout window for the SSDs. The case isn't a small-form-factor design, but it's on the smaller side for traditional towers. For size comparison, the Velox stands 22.2 inches tall, 9.25 inches wide, and 19.5 inches deep, taking up much more space.
The panels on either side are actually doors on rear hinges, held closed magnetically toward the front. They both swing open easily, making for one of the most accessible cases I've seen in a while. This lets you in to either side of the tower, which is good for swapping out components and cable and storage management beneath the motherboard. Having such easy access to the space with no screws or removable doors makes it a breeze to pop open and work in the case despite the size, and everything is organized neatly within. This includes neatly cut and routed cables, which are clipped together and funneled behind the motherboard.
The CPU cooler stands vertically along the front panel and vents out the front, with a rear case fan in the back and slits along the top panel for more ventilation. The top panel lifts away if you remove one rear hand screw, though there's not much reason to take it off. The bottom of the case is raised about 2 inches by front and back feet, so most of the bottom is above surface level. This allows the bottom vent more room to breathe, and a removable filter over it keeps out dust and debris. The front panel pops off, revealing case fans behind another removable dust filter. The Editors' Choice CyberPower Gamer Master Ultra, one of the first Ryzen-equipped systems we reviewed, uses the same case. CyberPower plastered its logo over the corner of the door window, whereas Origin places a smaller logo on the front panel and on the CPU cooler.
Since the case on our review unit is all black, the only color comes from an array of LED lights. The customization is handled through the included Asus Aura software, for which there's a slight learning curve. It's not immediately clear where each setting is (the arrow to switch between each lighting element is particularly small), but once you spend some time poking around, you should get the gist of it. The color and effects of an interior LED light strip, the RAM, the LED ring around the power button, and a slim strip on the front panel can all be changed.
The RAM in our unit is G.Skill TridentZ RGB, which is illuminated in customizable segments. You can change the colors of five discrete sections of each stick, which can lead to some cool designs and color combinations, or make lighting "flow" down each stick in conjunction with the case lighting, which is a really cool effect. All of the lighting can also fade in and out slowly, or you can have the LED strip and RAM alternately strobe on and off.
The case is not only well designed for maintenance, but is packed with the high-end components you'd hope for at this configuration's price. Everything is powered by an 850W EVGA SuperNOVA G3 power supply, which can run the demanding dual graphics card setup (two Nvidia GTX 1080 Tis in SLI), and the wattage leaves you some headroom. A lightning-fast Intel Core i7-7700K processor, overclocked to 5.0GHz out of the box, serves as the heart of the system. To supplement that, there are 32GB of the 3,000MHz G.Skill memory in our model, and since it's set up as four 8GB sticks, there are no free DIMM slots.
Storage comes in the form of two 250GB Samsung 960 EVO NVMe M.2 SSDs in a RAID 0 array, along with two 2TB Seagate Firecuda hybrid drives—a one-two punch that delivers a massive amount of storage and a super-fast boot drive. It adds to the price, for sure, but if you do a lot of media work, you'll appreciate the added speed, and there's more than enough room for many projects and games. As configured, there are still two 2.5-inch and two 3.5-inch storage bays free.
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The Neuron won't leave you wanting for connectivity options. At first glance, it doesn't seem as if the case has any front-facing ports, but a small panel at the top retracts to reveal two USB 3.0 ports, as well as a headphone jack and a mic jack. The top panel has no ports, just the LED-ringed power button. The rear panel holds the vast majority of connections: There's a USB-C port, a USB-A port, four more USB 3.0 ports, and two USB 2.0 ports. Via the graphics cards, there are a total of seven DisplayPort connections and three HDMI ports. The system also has built-in Bluetooth and dual-band 802.11ac wireless. Origin includes lifetime 24/7 support and free lifetime labor, alongside a one-year part-replacement warranty.
Insane Power for Gaming and Productivity
With such premium parts, it's no surprise that the Neuron is a performance dynamo. If you're paying for a dual 1080 Ti desktop, you should expect no less than top-end speed, which it delivers across all tests. In terms of general productivity, it was one of the fastest computers we've tested. Its PCMark 8 Work Conventional score beat all comers, such as the Digital Storm Velox, the 2016 Falcon Northwest Talon, and the Maingear Rush X99 Super Stock. In the multimedia test results (timed Photoshop and Handbrake tests, plus the CineBench score), the Neuron didn't lead the pack in such dominant fashion, but it was right up there with the best of the category.
Gaming and 3D performance is where the Neuron really separates itself from the pack. The competitors are all fast desktops, many of which are equipped with GTX 1080s in SLI, but the 1080 Ti upgrade pushes the Neuron to the front, scoring a category-best 21,481 points on 3D Mark's Fire Strike Extreme test. Its Cloud Gate score is on the top end, as well. It should be noted that in real-world use, the Falcon Northwest Talon's dual Pascal Titan X cards should provide more power, which doesn't fully translate on the synthetic tests, but the Talon configuration we tested rings north of $9,500.
The Heaven and Valley gaming tests tell the same story of the Neuron's capabilities. Set to Ultra quality and 1080p resolution, the Neuron averaged 278 frames per second (fps) on Heaven and 175fps on Valley. When cranked up to 4K, the desktop averaged 95fps and 113fps on these same tests, proving it's more than capable of smooth 4K gaming. I further confirmed this by playing DOOM in 4K at maximum settings, and the in-game frame counter hovered around 100fps or higher for most of my gameplay. I also played The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt in 4K with all the settings and effects on Ultra, and had a smooth experience.
A Clear Leader in Desktop Gaming
Sure, the Neuron is more expensive than single-GPU desktops like the Gamer Master Ultra, but you get what you pay for. It's still thousands of dollars less than other high-end systems like the Falcon Northwest Talon or Maingear Rush X99 Super Stock (though those PCs do come with their own top-end advantages), and the stylish but functional case provides a great home for the premium hardware. If you can afford the high-end components, it's tough to beat the power, design, and organization offered by the Origin Neuron. The Digital Storm Velox (Core i7-7700K) is a fast computer, but it's also even more expensive than the Neuron, which is a superior all-around performer with better graphics cards. For its design, pricing, and impressive gaming capability, the Origin Neuron is our new Editors' Choice for high-end gaming desktops.
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Matthew Buzzi is a junior analyst on the Hardware team at PCMag. Matthew graduated from Iona College with a degree in Mass Communications/Journalism. He interned for a college semester at Kotaku, writing about gaming. He has written about technology and video game news, as well as hardware and gaming reviews. In his free time, he likes to go out with friends, watch and discuss sports, play video games, read too much Twitter, and obsessively manage any fantasy sports leagues he's involved in. More »
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