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Falcon Northwest's Tiki
Our GeForce GTX Titan review card came to us wrapped inside of the system you see pictured below.

This is the Tiki, from boutique PC builder Falcon Northwest. The Tiki is one of a new breed of compact gaming systems that seems to be taking the custom PC builders by storm. Nvidia asked Falcon to send us this PC in order to demonstrate how a GTX Titan card might be used. Apparently, boxes from custom shops like Falcon have accounted for about half of GeForce GTX 690 sales, and Nvidia expects that trend to continue with the Titan.

Also, as I've said, things are getting a little weird in the PC market, and many folks seem to be expecting compact systems like this one to become the new norm. If that happens, well, cards like the Titan could still have a nice future ahead of them after the iPad-wielding reaper comes for our full-towers. I've included the gamepad in the shots above to offer some sense of scale, but I'm not sure the pictures do the Tiki justice. The enclosure, which is Falcon's own design, is just 4" wide and roughly 15" deep and 15" tall. The base is granite, if you can't tell from the images, and the whole system feels like it's chiseled from one block of stone. It's heavy and dense, but it must pack more computing power per cubic inch than anything else I could name.

Pop open the side, and you'll begin to get a sense of the power lurking within, which pretty much amounts to most of the best stuff you can cram into a PC these days. The motherboard is the Asus P8Z77-I Deluxe Mini-ITX board we recently reviewed, and it houses the top-end Ivy Bridge processor, the Core i7-3770K. Storage includes a Crucial m4 SSD, WD Green 2TB hard drive, and an optical drive. The CPU is cooled by an Asetek water cooler, and the compact PSU comes from Silverstone.

The Tiki is impressively quiet when idle, about as good as any well-built full-sized system of recent vintage, and its acoustic footprint doesn't grow by much when gaming. With Titan installed, it's a stupid-fast gaming PC that emits only a low hiss.

Working inside the Tiki isn't easy, though. You can kind of see in the picture that the video card plugs into a spacer plugged into a PCIe header that comes up out of the motherboad and does a right turn. One must remove the plate holding the system's storage in order to extract the video card.

I guess that's my builder mentality talking. When we talked to Falcon Northwest's Kelt Reeves, who designed the Tiki, about this issue, he likened working with the Tiki to building a laptop. That's no big deal to Falcon, since, as Reeves put it, "We're the people you call when you want someone else to scrape their knuckles and handle the tech support."

We considered using the Tiki system as the basis for all of our testing, but unfortunately, that wouldn't fly. You see, while the GTX Titan card will fit into this box, many other cards will not, including the GeForce GTX 690 and any sort of multi-card config. Instead, the Tiki became our go-to system for quick sessions of Borderlands 2 when taking a break from work.

The Titan's competition
Our time with the Titan and proper drivers hasn't been long, so we've tried to focus our testing on a narrow group of competing solutions. From Nvidia, the Titan's closest siblings are the GeForce GTX 680 and 690, which we've talked about already. The Titan's rivals from the AMD camp include the Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition and, well, two of the same. Turns out two of AMD's fastest cards in a CrossFire team will set you back less than a single Titan card.

Here's a look at our 7970 GHz Edition CrossFire team mounted in our testbed system. These are reference cards that came directly from AMD. Heck, for the first time in ages, I believe every card we're testing is a stock-clocked reference model. Purists with OCD, rejoice!

I should mention that there are other options with similar performance. For instance, although AMD never did launch its promised dual-GPU Radeon HD 7990, several board makers have offered dual-7970 cards for sale. Unfortunately, we don't have one on hand, so we decided to focus on two discrete cards in CrossFire for testing. We'd expect the performance of the dual-GPU cards to be very similar to our dual-card team. Similarly, we had the option of testing dual GeForce GTX 680s in SLI, but our past testing has proven that they perform almost identically to the GTX 690. Just keep in mind those other options exist when it comes time to sum everything up.

Peak pixel
fill rate
GeForce GTX 680 34 135 135 3.3 4.2 192
GeForce GTX Titan 42 196 196 4.7 4.4 288
GeForce GTX 690 65 261 261 6.5 8.2 385
Radeon HD 7970 GHz 34 134 67 4.3 2.1 288
Radeon HD 7970 GHz CrossFire 67 269 134 8.6 4.2 576

Here's a brief overview of how the contenders compare in key theoretical peak graphics rates. One interesting feature of the numbers is the fact that the Radeon HD 7970 GHz straddles the space occupied by the GTX 680 and the Titan. The 7970 matches the Titan for memory bandwidth and nearly does for peak shader throughput, but it's substantially slower in terms of ROP rates and texture filtering capacity.

Meanwhile, the multi-GPU solutions look very nice in these compilations of theoretical peak performance, but these numbers assume perfect scaling from multiple GPUs. As you'll see soon, that's a very rosy assumption to make, for lots of reasons. Yes, those reasons include problems with multi-GPU micro-stuttering, which our latency-focused game benchmarks are at least somewhat capable of detecting. We have expressed some reservations about the limits of the tool we use to capture frame rendering times, especially for multi-GPU solutions, but absent a better option, we still think Fraps is vastly preferable to a simple FPS average. We'll have more to say on this front in the coming weeks, but for today, our usual tool set will have to suffice.