The veterans of PCWorld know a thing or two about building PCs. So do the boutique system designers at Falcon Northwest. What happens when you pit them against each other to make the most powerful small form factor gaming PC possible? You get the latest must-see video over on the PCWorld YouTube channel, of course!
Falcon Northwest sent us the latest version of its long-running Tiki “mini-tower” design, rocking the latest Core i9-12900 processor and RTX 3080 Ti GPU. We’re pitting this all-air-cooled design, built by pros with decades of experience in tiny PC building, against Adam Patrick Murray’s own hand-built SFF machine. Adam’s PC uses off-the-shelf parts, but has an advantage with a larger, more capacious Lian Li case and NZXT liquid cooling on the Ryzen 5 5600X. Adam’s machine runs the same GPU, an RTX 3080 Ti.
Because of the difference in CPUs, we’re not going to compare the Tiki and Adam’s SFF in a direct horsepower match. We’re comparing the systems for managing heat under load, probably the most difficult part of SFF design. The comparison of the two systems is really about the differences in design philosophy between the extremely tight, all-air-cooled Tiki and the more flexible but less rigidly chambered Lian Li case with liquid cooling.
The results were surprisingly close. Across a series of benchmarks and stress tests, Adam’s custom-tuned machine ran just a few degrees hotter on the CPU side, with less variation thanks to the stable heat dissipation of the water cooling system. He also noted that the single-chamber design of the Lian Li Q58 case means the proximity of the GPU can actually contribute to CPU temps.
The graphics card, on the other hand, is running a few degrees cooler on Adam’s SFF. That’s partially thanks to less restricted airflow, partially thanks to a custom undervolt. For an exhaustive breakdown of the comparison (and a quick history lesson on mini-tower design), check out the full video—both the Falcon Northwest Tiki and Adam’s homebrew rig wind up performing (and looking) spectacular, a testament to the Tiki’s craftmanship. For more nerdy comparisons, be sure to subscribe to the PCWorld YouTube channel.
Michael is a former graphic designer who's been building and tweaking desktop computers for longer than he cares to admit. His interests include folk music, football, science fiction, and salsa verde, in no particular order.