Best desktops of 2016: HP Omen X

Omen X desktop

The Omen X desktop from HP is one of the boldest PC designs of the year, taking what could have been a cool but not exactly groundbreaking cube shape and standing it on one edge for a sharp, angular look.

The first thing everyone does when they see the sign of X is to reach out and gently shake. Even on a fringe that looks shaky, the station is actually rock-solid, and it’s dangerous to detonate.

Omen X desktop

Why is this desktop balanced on one edge? It’s actually a pretty brilliant idea that makes it very easy to access the ports, the drive bays, and even the interior of the system. With standard desktops, you usually have to (carefully) lie them down on their side, or else crawl up next to them on the floor. That makes removing the side panel difficult to start with, and also makes working inside the case, swapping out hard drives and graphics cards, a hassle.

In the Omen X, you just pop off the side cover, and everything’s already at an ergonomic 45-degree angle and easy to reach. It’s easiest on a desk or table, but works fine on the floor as well.

Omen X desktop

Three ways to get into the Omen

 

Configured this is a very basic build, NVIDIA 1080p card, Intel Core i7 processor and a combination of 256 gb SSD and 2 tb hard disk storage. Now HP runs $ 2499 on a website, a similar configuration for a price of £ 2499 or $ 4499 in Australia. And it has a few CPU, GPU and storage options.

But, that’s not the only way to get the Omen X experience. As the big, airy case is sure to appeal to DIY-style system builders, HP offers the case itself, minus any components, for $599 or £549. It’s not currently available in Australia, but that price converts to about AU$800. To address the elephant in the room right away: That’s an insane price for a PC case, even one as nice-looking and feature-filled as the Omen X. It’s hard to imagine spending more than $200 on an empty case, even at the high end.

Omen X desktop

If you want something really high-end with speciality components, extreme overclocking and a custom paint job, HP is going to kick you over to a well-respected gaming PC custom builder named Maingear. They’ll take the basic Omen X case and build you the very expensive gaming desktop of your dreams, starting at $2,999 — that’s about £2,365 or AU$4,025.

Price as reviewed $2,499
PC CPU 4GHz Intel Core i7-6700K
PC Memory 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,400MHz
Graphics 8GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080
Storage 256GB SSD + 2TB HDD
Networking 802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.?
Operating system Windows 10 Home (64-bit)

 

Enter the cube

 

There’s plenty of room for two graphics cards and even liquid cooling in the main compartment, and that’s because this cube is cut into separate quadrants. The power supply is tucked away in its own zone, and all the hard drives are in a separate zone — makes cooling and cable management much easier.

I like four hot-swappable drive bays, with the fabric easily accessible from the outside, and each loop turns the cage out. Most of the ports and rear panels are connected, but a few, including some USB 3.0 and USB-C, are also easy to access because they point you to a 45 degree angle.

The front lights can be customized with different colors, or to show CPU use through a simple included app. It’s not nearly as customizable or flexible as case-lighting apps from Alienware or Razer, but you can still use it to cook up some cool color combos.

As with any big gaming desktop, performance is going to largely depend on the specific components you invest in. A single Nvidia 1080 GPU and a Core i7 6700K is more than enough for current games at high detail settings and even up to 4K resolution. Mafia III, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided and other games all played smoothly in hands-on testing.

In benchmark tests, the system performed well, which HP attributes to its system tuning and the case’s design emphasis on keeping temperatures down. It wasn’t as fast as an insanely overclocked $6,000 boutique desktop from Origin PC, but was as good or better than other desktops in its price range.

Virtual reality also performs well here, plus it helps to have enough USB ports for a VR headset plus accessories. I’m making this my initial test bed for the new Oculus Rift Touch controllers, which require an extra USB port for the second sensor that comes packed in with them.

 

Thinking outside the box

 

Some visitors to the CNET PC testing lab thought the Omen X was just too big, and questioned the unusual design. I liked it a lot, and especially appreciated the modernist, minimalist look (no side-lit glass panels or extraterrestrial architecture), but the point is made that a Falcon Northwest Fragbox or Origin PC Chronos can offer similar high-end performance in a much smaller package.

But I also found that the omen X is very easy to use, considering I always insert and unplug the accessory, often need access to the internal situation. Premium payment, but once you spend $ 2500 or more on a desktop game, you may not seek the lowest cost option.

That said, if anyone ever catches me paying $599 for an empty PC case, please confiscate my credit card immediately.

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