With the GeForce GTX and RTX video-card line refreshes from Nvidia earlier this year, we’re starting to see a wave of revised gaming desktops from mass-market and boutique makers alike. One of the longest-operating latter players, Origin PC, has released a refresh of its skinny-midtower build, the Neuron ($2,399 as tested). With an understated, attractively minimal case, it’s great for space-strapped gamers, but the performance for the price in our test model was a step behind some recently tested options, such as the MSI Trident X. Origin gives its customers lots of options to customize a build, but know that you’re paying a premium to stuff it all in a slick PC this skinny and well appointed, relative to the performance stats alone.
Refreshingly Reserved, in a World of RGB
In a world where RGB has been done to death and has now entered the afterlife, some longtime gamers are looking for something a little more refined and sophisticated than a tower that just lays on the lights. To that end, the Neuron is an exercise in restraint. Origin has opted to include only two low-glow white LEDs behind the motherboard, matching the matte-white case that surrounds it.
That said, Origin being the custom-build company it is, you can also opt for a series of RGB-laced options, including RGB case fans, an RGB “Frostbyte” CPU cooler, Kingston DDR4 2,933MHz memory with RGB lighting (no 3,000MHz option available with the bling), and the case itself.
Speaking of the chassis, while most of what you see on the Neuron could rightfully be described as “basic,” one elegant touch is the panel that houses the component-facing side of the unit. An all-glass panel opens up with a simple pop of a magnetic latch, making it easy to access the boards within while also feeling a bit classy as you do it.
At 16 inches by 6.75 inches by 15.25 inches, the Neuron falls just in between the mini and medium-size cases, and it is smaller than Origin’s previous iteration of the Neuron line by a couple of inches on each side. Because it sports a MicroATX motherboard, we give it points for being on the smaller end of the scale versus other pre-built systems in this price class.
The glass part of the case can also be customized with UV-etched patterns, which, if you spend an extra $249 on top of that, can be “textured.” (Our test model came with only a standard clear glass panel, with no extras applied.)
Finally, one “interesting” design choice (read: confusing) is the inclusion of magnetic, non-permanent rubber feet on the bottom of the case. The feet are easily removable, a nice touch, but also tend to slip and slide independent of the chassis on our testing desk. The magnets that hold the feet in place aren’t as strong as the grip of the feet to the desk, which means if you just push the tower in one direction with your hand, it moves while the feet stay planted (or fall off completely, if pushed far enough to one side).
The idea here is that you can place the feet either on the bottom of the unit (while it’s in a vertical position) or on the broad side of the case (if laid down horizontally, with the glass window up). But given how few people would opt for their desktop to take up much more space with the horizontal option, I’d have preferred fixed feet, or at least ones held more firmly in place.
Simple to Dive In
As we mentioned in the previous section, Origin has made it simple to get into the guts of the Neuron with a hinged-glass panel that only requires a slight pull on the magnets to open. The build quality of this system feels well above average, adding a luxurious element to what might otherwise be a ho-hum outer look, depending on how you spec it out.
The case houses a MicroATX MSI B450M Bazooka motherboard, which had just enough space to expand to dual graphics cards if you so choose. Overall Origin has managed to pack a ton of power into a small space, thanks in part to its well-laid liquid-cooling solutions and careful measurements taken in all the right places. All told, the case features four chassis fans (two in the front, two in the back), along with the three fans that line the radiator for the Frostbyte closed-loop liquid CPU cooler.
These fans can make their presence known. Despite Origin’s careful guidance on how to best configure the fan system in the BIOS to cut down on noise, even with those options selected, the first sample of the Neuron that PC Labs received was overly loud, even at idle speeds (not to mention the kind of roar you’d get out of the fans when ramped up during a gaming session). Best I could make out, most of this noise was coming off the fans on the watercooler’s radiator, while the case fans and the GPU fan only added to the din when games or benchmark tests were running at full clip.
Because of this fan behavior, Origin sent out another Neuron with the BIOS bug fixed. I ran a host of gaming, CPU, and 3DMark stress-test benchmarks on this second unit, and the PC stayed extremely quiet the entire time, actually more so than expected.
The CPU cooler is attached to a Ryzen 7 2700X octa-core processor clocked to a stock of 3.7GHz. You can turn on the MSI board’s “Game Booster” technology, which will overclock the processor automatically depending on the requirements of the game you have running at any given moment. Similarly, you can pay for Origin’s own overclocking service, which will bring the base clock up to 4.3GHz at rest and at load.
Next to the CPU are two DIMM slots for the 16GB of DDR4 3,000MHz memory (supplied as two 8GB modules). The premium Kingston HyperX-brand memory is pretty much the standard for what you get in most prebuilt systems these days, so no surprises there.
I noted plenty of ports to choose from on this model, including two USB 3.0 at the front of the unit sitting on either side of mic/headphone jacks. On the back of the unit, I found DisplayPort and DVI outputs on the I/O panel, two USB 3.1 Gen 2 ports, four USB 3.1 Gen 1 ports, and a trio of ports for surround audio. Notable by its absence here: USB Type-C, though there is one on the video card (intended for use with future VR headsets).
The storage loadout in our build was configured as a 480GB M.2 PCI Express SSD as the primary drive, with a 2TB “Origin PC Approved” 3.5-inch hard drive, which despite our digging, didn’t yield any clues about the rated speed. That said, our PCMark 8 Storage test eventually clued us in further to what we might be working with (more on that below).
A So-So Performance Ratio
At PC Labs, we recently tested two other reasonably compact gaming systems that had configurations similar to the Origin Neuron’s: the MSI Trident X, and the Corsair Vengeance Gaming PC 5180. With the Corsair being the closest of the two (in processor configuration, RAM capacity, and equipped graphics card), I thought it best compare the Neuron against the metrics set by the Vengeance, as a control for our benchmark results.
All told, our Origin Neuron came in at $2,399, a tad pricey considering that MSI’s Trident X comes equipped with a similar configuration on most parts except the processor. The Trident X PC Labs tested was built around an Intel Core i9-9900K inside, while costing just $100 more at $2,499.
If you wanted to build an identical Origin Neuron system that had all the same elements as our Ryzen-based test machine, but with an Intel Core i9-9900K build instead, that would jack up the price to $2,986 at checkout.
Productivity, Storage, and Media Tests
PCMark 10 and 8 are holistic performance suites developed by the PC benchmark specialists at UL (formerly Futuremark). The PCMark 10 test we run simulates different real-world productivity and content-creation workflows. We use it to assess overall system performance for office-centric tasks such as word processing, spreadsheet work, web browsing, and videoconferencing. The test generates a proprietary numeric score; higher numbers are better.
Given that the Ryzen 7 2700X at 3.7GHz has universally benched just under the standard when compared directly against the 3.15GHz Intel Core i7-8700 (its cost-equivalent competitor), I was surprised to see how much better it scored in this department when compared against options like the Overpowered Gaming Desktop, which came standard with that very processor.
For example, in PCMark 10 the Neuron scored 6,338, compared to the Overpowered PC’s rank of 5,708. However, again, it bears mentioning that you could get the Trident X for only $100 more stocked with the i9-9900K, which in that configuration easily smoked both PCs with a score of 7,397. (And as much as we don’t believe it’s fair in a larger sense to outright compare a Ryzen 7 2700X to an Intel Core i9-9900K, as opposed to a Core i7, given the price that Origin is asking for this loadout, that’s a valid comparison.)
Next is Maxon’s CPU-crunching Cinebench R15 test, which is fully threaded to make use of all available processor cores and threads. Cinebench stresses the CPU rather than the GPU to render a complex image. The result is a proprietary score indicating a PC’s suitability for processor-intensive workloads.
The Neuron again surprised us in this department, scoring close to the Corsair Vengeance PC 5180 and Overpowered Gaming Desktop (DTW3) models, all three sharing the same Core i7-8700 processor. As this test takes less than a minute to run on powerful PCs like these, the Obelisk was also able to score close to the higher-wattage Core i7-8700K in the Lenovo Legion C730 Cube. For longer CPU-dependent tasks, the Core i7-8700 would fall behind because its power limitations allow it to maintain its Turbo Boost clocks only for brief stints.
We also run a custom Adobe Photoshop image-editing benchmark. Using an early 2018 release of the Creative Cloud version of Photoshop, we apply a series of 10 complex filters and effects to a standard JPEG test image. We time each operation and, at the end, add up the total execution time. As with Handbrake, lower times are better here. The Photoshop test stresses CPU, storage subsystem, and RAM, but it can also take advantage of most GPUs to speed up the process of applying filters, so systems with powerful graphics chips or cards may see a boost.
The Neuron scored in the middle to low range on this test, though we’re not going to hold it against the machine as this is still well within the acceptable zone for anyone who wants to use this PC to edit photos daily.
3DMark Sky Diver and Fire Strike
3DMark measures relative graphics muscle by rendering sequences of highly detailed, gaming-style 3D graphics that emphasize particles and lighting. We run two different 3DMark subtests, Sky Diver and Fire Strike, which are suited to different types of systems. Both are DirectX 11 benchmarks, but Sky Diver is more suited to laptops and midrange PCs, while Fire Strike is more demanding and made for high-end PCs to strut their stuff. The results are proprietary scores.
For its class, the Neuron performed right on par with what we’d expect from a system kitted out with an RTX 2080. It was slightly under the comparable Corsair Vengeance Gaming PC 5180 by an imperceptible amount in the Sky Diver test (300 points), but saw a slightly larger gap between the two on Fire Strike (a difference of minus 1,400).
Next up is another synthetic graphics test, this time from Unigine Corp. Like 3DMark, the Superposition test renders and pans through a detailed 3D scene and measures how the system copes. In this case, it’s done in the company’s eponymous Unigine engine, offering a different 3D workload scenario than 3DMark, for a second opinion on the machine’s graphical prowess. We present two Superposition results, run at the 720p Low and 1080p High presets.
This test did not do the Neuron any favors, scoring significantly lower than the competition with 159 frames per second (fps) at 720p, and 118fps at 1080p. This is well below what competing systems like the Trident X and Corsair Vengeance 5180 posted, although this benchmark isn’t necessarily the only indicator of how well a desktop will perform in actual games.
For that we have…
Real-World Gaming Tests
The synthetic tests above are helpful for measuring general 3D aptitude, but it’s hard to beat full retail video games for judging gaming performance. Far Cry 5 and Rise of the Tomb Raider are both modern, high-fidelity titles with built-in benchmarks that illustrate how a system handles real-world video games at various settings.
These are run on the maximum graphics-quality presets (Ultra for Far Cry 5, Very High for Rise of the Tomb Raider) at 1080p, 1440p, and 4K resolutions to determine the sweet spot of visuals and smooth performance for a given system. The results are also provided in frames per second. Far Cry 5 is DirectX 11-based, while Rise of the Tomb Raider can be flipped to DX12, which we do for this benchmark.
The Neuron did more than enough to justify its cost with its 1440p and 1080p results on both Far Cry 5 and Rise of the Tomb Raider (ROTR), but it just missed the coveted 60fps mark in Far Cry 5 when turned up to 4K. It redeemed itself slightly on the ROTR numbers however, cresting just above 62fps at 4K, which means that anyone with a 4K 60Hz monitor (which is to say, pretty much everyone who owns a 4K monitor) will still be able to game at the same rate that their screen refreshes the image.
As mentioned earlier, I would hope that the Neuron’s cooling was up to par, given the profusion of fans on the chassis, radiator, and GPU. Luckily, all that air power pays off, and the Core i7-8700K stayed well under temperature at just 68 degrees C during the peak of our 10-minute stress test. The same was true for the GeForce GTX 2080 card inside, which didn’t inch above 64 degrees C, just about the same mark that we got during our independent testing of the Founders Edition version of the card when it released last year.
The only odd bit was the heat exhaust pattern, seen in the FLIR imaging above. The heat didn’t really evoke any kind of consistent path leaving the case; it just seemed to swirl around in a triangle pattern before eventually dissipating after enough cycles in the same direction.
A Solid Gamer That Almost Strikes a Nerve
The Origin Neuron is an on-par-performing prebuilt desktop in a nice small-footprint case, but it’s outpaced, alas, by other desktops just a little bit stronger in the price-to-performance department. Even though this system certainly gets the job done, for only $100 more you could have Intel’s top CPU (the Core i9-9900K) installed in an MSI Trident X with the same amount of RAM, more SSD space, and the same graphics card.
To be sure, the Neuron has some interesting design elements, but looks are only one part of the puzzle. If you’re keen on the chassis, it won’t disappoint. Just know that you can find better-value prebuilt systems that perform above the mark set by the Neuron.