Just a few car lengths back in the rearview mirror, yesterday’s 4K-capable gaming PC was a massive semi-truck of a PC tower loaded with multiple graphics cards. The HP Omen Obelisk (starts at $ 919.99; $ 2,423 as tested), a compact MicroATX-based gaming desktop, lets you zoom away from that rig and never glance back. It packs all the power you need to run the latest AAA titles. A handsome, compact tower with excellent gaming performance, the Obelisk offers a high level of quality and easy upgrades. Only the processor air-cooling of our test unit and its slightly steep price gave us second thoughts. We found recent alternatives from Corsair and MSI slightly more compelling.
Light It Up in RGB Style
Part of HP’s premium Omen sub-brand, an offshoot of its acquisition of boutique vendor Voodoo PC a while back, the Omen Obelisk can be factory-customized with your choice of AMD or Intel processors and Nvidia graphics cards. Starting in March 2019, it will be available with Intel’s flagship Core i7-9700K and Core i9-9900K eight-core processors, liquid-cooled, for a starting price of $ 2,249. For now, though, the Core i7-8700-equipped model I’m reviewing here, paired with a GeForce RTX 2080 graphics card, has no trouble driving a 4K screen.
The build quality of the Omen Obelisk is something I’d expect from a premium aftermarket machine. The metal side and top panels give the case a solid feel that you just don’t get with plastic designs.
The Obelisk sits somewhere between a small-form-factor (SFF) tower and a mid-tower, at 17.1 by 6.5 by 15.5 inches (HWD). Its relatively short height means it shouldn’t block your view if you put it on top of a desk. It’s hard to go smaller than this without encroaching on serviceability or expansion capability. This Obelisk test unit weighs 22 pounds.
The full-view tempered-glass side panel and interior RGB lighting set it off from a distance…
The case interior and the Omen logo on the front are separate lighting zones. You can change their patterns and colors, or turn the lighting off, in the preinstalled Omen Command Center software…
I found the software simple enough. I especially like that different lighting profiles can be assigned when the computer goes to sleep. You can store your preferences in four profiles.
The front-panel port selection is fair, comprising a USB Type-A 3.0 port with sleep-and-charge capability, a second USB Type-A 3.0 port, and headset and microphone jacks. It’s unfortunate that the Obelisk lacks a media card reader.
On the opposite end, the motherboard includes five USB Type-A ports (four are version 3.0, while the uppermost one is version 3.1), a USB Type-C 3.1 port, and an Ethernet jack, as well as headphone, line-in, and line-out audio jacks.
Note that you don’t get breakout ports for surround-sound speakers or an S/PDIF optical output. Internally, the Obelisk has a Realtek 802.11ac wireless card and Bluetooth 4.2.
Removing the left side panel is easy: Just press the release button on the back of the tower, and the panel angles to the side and then away. It clicks effortlessly back in place, a testament to the case’s exacting build quality.
A 9.5-by-9.5-inch MicroATX motherboard dominates the case interior. The diminutive processor air cooler at its center looks out of place in this otherwise high-tech scene. HP plans to offer liquid cooling on Omen Obelisk models equipped with a Core i7-9700K or Core i9-9900K processor. I’d be tempted to fork over the extra cash for looks alone; showing off a stock Intel cooling setup isn’t the best use of a case window. (See our preview of the liquid-cooled Obelisk from CES 2019.)
Next to the CPU cooler are two DIMM slots for DDR4-2666 memory. The premium Kingston HyperX-brand memory shown here is, notably, standard in the Obelisk. It gives the interior an aftermarket touch…
The twin-16GB-DIMM, dual-channel setup (for 32GB total) is the maximum this Obelisk model supports. Obelisk models equipped with the Core i7-9700K and Core i9-9900K processors will sport four DIMM slots, supporting up to 64GB of memory in a four-16GB-DIMM configuration.
The motherboard has a single M.2 Type-2280 (80mm) slot for SSD storage. Our test unit has an SK Hynix-brand 512GB PCI Express drive, partly visible above next to the DIMMs. It would have been nice to see a heat spreader on top.
The Obelisk’s other storage comes in the form of two 3.5-inch bays, arrayed vertically behind the front panel. Both have pinch-to-slide-out caddies and require no tools to install a drive. A 1TB drive is installed in the upper bay of this review unit. A second power connector is close by if you want to install another drive, but you’ll need to supply your own SATA cable. You can customize the Obelisk with drives in neither, one, or both bays.
So much for the storage. The 10.5-inch-long GeForce RTX 2080 graphics card is impossible to miss…
A much-appreciated support bracket on its end makes it look even longer. The card’s blower-style cooler sends air out the back of the case. Underneath it is the power supply, a 500-watt 80 Plus Bronze-rated unit in our test configuration. It’s a required upgrade from the base 300-watt model if you opt for the GeForce RTX 2080 graphics card. I’d recommend the upgrade regardless, as it gives you headroom for future graphics-card upgrades.
The power supply isn’t modular, so there are unused, tied-off cables throughout the case interior. The wiring could be more concise in general. It’s a relief that the cables, like the rest of the case interior, are blacked-out to hide the effect somewhat. The bottom-mounted nature of the power supply means you won’t have a power cable dangling from the top of the tower. In front of the power supply is a removable and washable air filter, a feature I always like to see…
The filter is cleverly secured by magnets. Air pulled through it is extracted by the lone 80mm case fan at the rear of the tower.
The Omen Obelisk includes a basic wired keyboard and mouse, but you can upgrade to HP’s premium versions for a matched experience. (Note the prices of the following peripherals are not factored into the price of our Obelisk review unit.)
Omen Sequencer Keyboard
The Omen Sequencer ($ 179; on sale for $ 149 at this writing) is HP’s flagship gaming keyboard. Its uses what HP calls optical-mechanical blue switches for a faster response time than a traditional mechanical keyboard.
I didn’t notice a difference in that regard next to other keyboards I use in practice, but the Sequencer’s mechanical switches do have wonderfully tactile feedback. Consider yourself informed: The clicks and clacks emanating from your keystrokes will be heard by all within earshot.
The keys are exposed above the brushed-aluminum keyboard deck for an ultramodern look…
The per-key backlighting pools under each key to enhance the effect, not to mention that this design makes the keyboard easier to clean. The backlighting is configurable in the Omen Control Center software, which stores four profiles. The metal structure of the Sequencer contributes to its hefty 2.5-pound weight.
The keyboard has one USB port built into the top left corner, although it lacks a headphone or a microphone jack. The 6.5-foot braided cable is overly thick to the point where it’s hard to bend. The cable isn’t detachable.
Physical volume controls are something I never tire of seeing, so the massive metal roller at the top right of the Sequencer is a real treat…
It out-Corsairs Corsair’s similar rollers, and its weighty feel and textured metal surface make it a cinch to raise or lower the volume as quickly as you want. There’s a mute button to its left, and four media-playback keys lie just below.
Five macro keys line the left edge of the keyboard. The macro editor in the Omen Control Center software lets you assign shortcut, multi-key, application launch, or text shortcuts. For multi-key shortcuts, you can control the delay between the keystrokes…
The software doesn’t let you remap other keys besides the five macros, which is unfortunate, as I would have used it to correct the one layout deficiency on this keyboard: the replacement of the Home key with an Omen key, which launches the Omen Control Center.
Pricey as it may be, the Omen Sequencer is a viable pick for a top-end gaming keyboard, and a good compliment to the Obelisk. Its software isn’t as fully-featured as you’ll get from Corsair or SteelSeries, but its other features more than match up.
Omen Reactor Mouse
The Omen Reactor ($ 84; on sale for $ 64 at this writing) is an optical gaming mouse. It’s for right-handers only; the thumb ledge on its left edge signals that.
All six buttons are programmable in the Omen Control Center software. I found the two on the left edge within easy thumb reach. The DPI button between the left- and right-click buttons increments anywhere from 800dpi to today’s typical high-end-mouse peak of 16,000dpi…
The Omen Control Center also allows you to configure the Reactor’s two RGB lighting zones. One unusual feature of this mouse is its adjustable-height palm rest. You can slide the switch on the right edge and angle it to your liking.
I didn’t like the Reactor’s other unique feature, its metal-sheathed cable, quite as much. It looks striking, to be sure. But I had to ensure that too much of the cable didn’t droop over the edge of my desk, or it tended to add resistance and generally pull the mouse in that direction because of the cable’s sheer weight.
In addition, the cable made a loud sound dragging across the surface of my desk. The upside of this cable design is that it always lies flat and doesn’t tangle. If it solves problems for you, it may well be worth the trade-offs.
Omen Mindframe Headset
The Omen Mindframe ($ 199; on sale for $ 149 at this writing) is a high-end gaming headset with what HP says is a world first: active earcup cooling. Thermoelectric coolers inside the earcups chill the aluminum speaker grilles.
The earcup coolness is a somewhat disorienting feeling. While nothing that physically touches your ears is cold, you can tell the earcups have a mild, refrigerator-like atmosphere. The speaker grille is indeed cold to the touch.
It’s a cool technology in more ways than one. I’m not sure if I’d miss it were it not there, but I sure don’t mind having it. The cooling can be adjusted or turned off in the Omen Control Center software…
From a sound-quality standpoint, the Mindframe is purely a gaming headset. Its virtual 7.1 surround technology emphasizes distance above all, so you can tell if sounds are coming from near or far. That’s useful in games, less so in music. For non-gaming applications, I found the Mindframe’s sound to be hollow and distant. It’s not an apples-to-apples competitor, but the Bose Soundlink II delivers superior sound quality for similar money.
In true gaming style, the Mindframe has RGB lighting on each earcup. Together, the lights on the earcups comprise one lighting zone for which you can adjust colors and patterns in the Omen Command Center.
The flip-to-mute microphone worked very well in my testing. For regular audio conferencing, I didn’t like how the earcups, while not fully isolating, didn’t allow me to hear my own voice. On the contrary, I found the isolation helped to drown out background noise. I also found the physical volume roller behind the right earcup to be a nifty convenience feature that I wish appeared on more headsets.
A self-adjusting headband helps to distribute the Mindframe’s not-insignificant weight across your head. It’ll leave your hair pushed down in that spot, so people will know you’ve been wearing a headset if you have any kind of a ‘do. The moisture-wicking fabric covering the earcups was comfortable for many hours.
4K-Ready Gaming Performance
Okay, enough of the side bits…on to testing!
This Omen Obelisk configuration on hand (specifically, model 875-0030qd) is a built-to-order one. Factory customization is one of HP’s strengths; competitors, like Lenovo, typically offer only fixed configurations. Our $ 2,423 Obelisk configuration includes a Core i7-8700 hexa-core processor, the current top choice; an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 graphics card, 32GB of memory, a 512GB SSD for primary storage, as well as a secondary 1TB hard drive. It’s covered with a one-year limited warranty.
The Core i7-8700 has six processing cores and up to a 4.6GHz Turbo Boost frequency to make short work of almost any task. The chip has a thermal design power of 65 watts, putting its performance between the 45-watt Intel chips typically found in gaming notebooks, and the beefier 91-watt chips like the Core i7-9700K and Core i9-9900K that HP plans to offer in the Obelisk.
The price-to-performance outlook of our Omen Obelisk configuration isn’t as good as you can get from the Lenovo Legion T730 Tower. It offered a Core i9-9900K processor and the same graphics card as our Obelisk for $ 2,039 at this writing, albeit with half the memory (16GB) and SSD storage (256GB). The more compact MSI Trident X also offers a Core i9-9900K for similar money, though with half the memory (16GB). Then again, HP is known to have sales, and I suspect the Obelisk will be competitively priced when it’s available with the newer 9th generation Intel chips.
I compared the Omen Obelisk 875-0030qd to these gaming desktops in our comparison charts:
The Corsair Vengeance Gaming PC 5180 shares a nearly identical loadout with our Omen Obelisk. Meanwhile, the Overpowered Gaming Desktop (DTW3) should perform similarly, equipped with a last-generation GeForce GTX 1080 Ti graphics card that’s roughly equivalent to the GeForce RTX 2080 in the Obelisk. The MSI Trident X, powered by Intel’s Core i9-9900K eight-core flagship, will outclass them all. Last, I included the Lenovo Legion C730 Cube for a sense of scale; it’s half as expensive as our Obelisk mostly because it has a mid-level GeForce GTX 1060 graphics card.
Productivity, Storage, and Media Tests
PCMark 10 (Productivity Test) and PCMark 8 (Storage Test)
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, spreadsheeting, Web browsing, and videoconferencing. The test generates a proprietary numeric score; higher numbers are better.
PCMark 8, meanwhile has a Storage subtest that we use to assess the speed of the storage subsystem. This score is also a proprietary numeric score; again, higher numbers are better.
The Omen Obelisk is third in the lineup with an excellent score. It’s a smidge off the Corsair Vengeance Gaming PC 5180, which, despite sharing the same Core i7-8700 processor, may have been able to sustain higher CPU clocks because of its liquid cooling. The Core i9-9900K chip in the MSI Trident X predictably put it out front.
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 Obelisk scored 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.
Although technically in last place, the Omen Obelisk has nothing to be ashamed of; a time of 148 seconds indicates it would serve just fine as a photo-editing platform. The ample 32GB of memory in our test unit is ideal for tasks like this.
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.
The demanding Fire Strike test shows the Omen Obelisk at a minor disadvantage next to the Corsair Vengeance Gaming PC 5180, despite sharing the same processor and graphics card. As I mentioned, the liquid cooling in the Corsair desktop may have helped its performance. Meanwhile, the Core i9-9900K processor in the MSI Trident X continued to make it uncatchable among this lot.
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 rendered 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.
The numbers at the 1080p High setting reflect what we saw in the 3DMark test, with the Omen Obelisk slightly behind, but not to a degree that would be noticeable in real-world applications. The GeForce GTX 1060 in the Lenovo Legion C730 Cube is completely outclassed here, but its GPU is less than half as expensive as the GeForce RTX 2080 in the Obelisk.
Real-World Gaming Tests
Far Cry 5 and Rise of the Tomb Raider
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 the benchmark.
It’s a close race among the leading units, as the 3DMark tests foreshadowed. The Omen Obelisk is last in that group, but by a margin that narrows as the resolution increases. The very potent Core i9-9900K in the MSI Trident X doesn’t give it a significant advantage over the HP at 4K, where the graphics card is the bottleneck.
Without doubt, though, the Omen Obelisk has 4K-worthy numbers. Stick to the GeForce RTX 2080 if you plan to game at that resolution.
The pedestrian look of the CPU air cooler in our Obelisk review unit is, fortunately, misleading. It kept the Core i7-8700 CPU to the mid-70-degree C range under our stress tests, which is more than acceptable. It would have been nice if HP made an upgraded air cooler available in the Obelisk, or better yet, an option for liquid cooling without having to get one of the top CPU choices.
The GeForce RTX 2080 graphics card reached 85 degrees C under gaming workloads. That’s high, considering Nvidia rates the GPU for 88 degrees C, but that is typical performance for a blower-style cooler. (I saw similar thermals from the blower-style coolers on Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 10-series Founders Edition graphics cards.)
The collective sound from the active fans in the Obelisk could have been quieter. Fan whine isn’t present, but motor noise is, and it’s audible over mild background noise under full load. Putting on a pair of closed headphones or using moderate speaker volume is enough to drown it out.
RTX Exclusivity Comes at a Price
The HP Omen Obelisk is a refreshing choice among mass-market gaming desktops. Premium features like a designer case, multi-zone RGB lighting, a tempered-glass side panel, and removable dust filters give it that aftermarket vibe that’s so often missing among gaming PCs from the mainstream makers.
This Obelisk also earns high marks for balancing its compact design with end-user serviceability. Despite being smaller than the average mid-tower, nothing inside is proprietary; its components can be readily swapped for aftermarket versions.
The Obelisk model we reviewed was expensive for its level of components. Competing machines like the Lenovo Legion T730 Tower deliver more CPU power for the money but trail the Obelisk in other areas. The Obelisk faces its stiffest competition from aftermarket specialists and DIY PC builders.
In fact, it’ll be challenging to match the Obelisk’s feature set without taking one of those paths. Once it’s available with Intel’s 9th Generation Core processors and liquid cooling, we’ll be smitten. For now, we’re confident that most buyers would be pleased with this machine, but might be more keen on the look and loadout of the Corsair Vengeance mentioned earlier, or on the space savings of the MSI Trident X.