The original Corsair One was a head-turning small-form-factor gaming desktop, a tightly designed machine with the fist-force of a much larger build. The new Corsair One i160 (starting at $2,999, and $3,599 as tested) packs an even bigger wallop, winding up more power inside the same compact case. This model boasts an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Ti graphics card and an Intel Core i9-9900K processor to push super-high frame rates and perform any professional task you throw its way. Upgradability is limited, given the special design, but you can add to its 32GB of RAM and capacious storage, and improving on the parts inside would be a tall order, in any event. The upgrade restrictions may daunt some shoppers, and this is an expensive PC, but the Corsair One i160’s clever design and pure performance are enough to earn it our Editors’ Choice for small-form-factor gaming machines.
Still a Winning Chassis
Despite its epic internal upgrades, the Corsair One looks almost identical to the previous version on the outside. The measurements remain exactly the same, at 15 by 6.9 by 7.9 inches (HWD). This remains an impressively compact footprint, especially considering how much more muscle is inside the new model. Unlike most power-packed desktops, it’s not difficult to fit this one on your desk, allowing it to be seen and giving you easier access to the ports. Compared to the slim MSI Trident X (15.6 by 5.1 by 15.1 inches) and chunkier Corsair Vengeance Gaming PC 5180 (13.8 by 10.9 by 15.7 inches), the Corsair One is downright small.
You’ll want it to be seen, too. The core design remains a stylish-looking pillar with some flashy but tasteful modern flair. The case is made of black aluminum, so it feels high quality, and it’s completely smooth on the front face. Each side panel is flecked with ventilation openings that double as aesthetic detail. The openings for cooling fade into a nifty visual effect from top to bottom, blending functionality into the outer design of the chassis.
The front corners include the most eye-catching aspect of the design, apart from its shape: Two zigzagging LED strips run from top to bottom on each side. These have been upgraded from last time, and now each stripe has four individually customizable light “zones.” Using those, you can get a nice moving-color gradient effect going that makes it look like the light is flowing down the case. Out of the box, these are set to a static Tron-like light blue, but you can easily change them in the included Corsair iCUE software.
This brings us to The $3,599 Question: What parts are compacted into this small case that could possibly justify that kind of price? Answer: surprisingly powerful ones.
In this, the higher-end of the two configurations, Corsair installed Intel’s top-end mainstream CPU, the Core i9-9900K, as well as Nvidia’s peak gaming GPU, the GeForce RTX 2080 Ti. Also in the chassis is 32GB of memory (via two 16GB sticks of Corsair Vengeance DDR4), and a 480GB PCI Express M.2 NVMe SSD paired with a 2TB hard drive. Both the graphics card and the processor are liquid-cooled, with vertically oriented radiators, again impressive for the system size. It’s all supported with a two-year warranty.
In the $2,999 version, the Core i9 processor gets swapped out for an Core i7-9700K, and the graphics card is bumped down to “only” a GeForce RTX 2080. The other components remain the same, and given that these two “downgrades” are still mighty potent parts, the entry-level version looks plenty powerful. That said, just note that the benchmark and performance numbers that follow are for the $3,599 unit I have on hand.
While these are all standard market parts, the case design leads us to the Corsair One’s biggest downside: You can’t upgrade much of it. A major positive for desktops, normally, is that you can buy new parts and swap them in for your current crop once they start to show their age. In the case of the One, it’s configured just so to fit the components precisely within the compact confines of the case. As such, it’s not really made to be fiddled with by the consumer post-purchase, meaning that most of the system is set in stone at point of purchase.
That won’t be a problem for quite some time, given the potency of the parts, but it does make this more like buying a very pricey gaming console. (Obviously, no current gaming console can get close to the power here.) Even so, the lack of upgradability is likely to be a deal-breaker for at least some shoppers. Some users will want to tinker by adding more RAM, roomier storage, or an even better graphics card down the line, and only some of that is possible here. You can upgrade the RAM and storage without voiding the warranty (any damage you may cause while doing so is not covered), but the graphics card and CPU are carefully rigged for the layout and cooling setup (more on that in a moment), and not meant for DIY access.
That said, buying better core parts than what’s inside, particularly the GeForce RTX 2080 Ti (a roughly $1,300 video card at the time of this writing), is not exactly an economical proposition. At the moment, it’s not really even possible. Theoretical, parallel-priced upgrades years down the line will add up to at least half the cost of replacing the whole system, if performance really has become enough of an issue by then to begin with. If you’d rather not think about your build and like the compact design, this won’t be an issue for you.
The components themselves are not the only internal upgrade. In order to get such powerful (and thus, heat-producing) pieces inside the same-size chassis, Corsair reconfigured the arrangement for superior cooling. The components have been placed to maximize airflow and use natural convection to keep hot air flowing out the top of the system, with the help of a top-mounted 140mm maglev-bearing fan.
It’s a comprehensive system that includes the CPU and GPU cooling, as well. The CPU and GPU each use independent waterblocks, pumps, and radiator assemblies, but the CPU’s block is more advanced. It can read the temperatures of both the CPU and the GPU, and adjust system fan speeds accordingly, without the need for software. This allows the fan to cool the system properly under heavy load, and spin down to a much quieter level (even stopped, if not needed) while idle or doing light work.
Finally, the ports. The tower is small, but it holds a standard suite of physical connections between the front and back panels…
The former holds two USB 3.1 ports, an HDMI port (nicely placed here for use with a VR headset), and a headphone jack. The rear has two USB 2.0 ports, three USB 3.1 ports, a USB Type-C port, an Ethernet jack, and three DisplayPort outputs. Wireless connections include both 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.2.
Bench Testing: Small Tower, Major Power
For testing, I pitted the Corsair One i160 against several other gaming desktops that run a range of sizes and components. In the table below, you can see the configurations of the comparison units for easy spec-checking.
The Corsair Vengeance Gaming PC 5180 and MSI Trident X are on the more compact side for premium gaming desktops, but they are still not quite as small as the Corsair One. The Acer Predator Orion 5000 is a squat, but more traditionally shaped, desktop tower, while the Velocity Micro Raptor Z55 is a full-size tower, on the slim side, with a quality boutique-vendor spin.
Productivity and Storage 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 jockeying, Web browsing, and videoconferencing. The test generates a proprietary numeric score.
PCMark 8, meanwhile, has a specialized Storage test that we use to assess the speed of the PC’s storage subsystem. This score is also proprietary to the test.
Despite some stiff competition, the tiny Corsair One i160 led the way here. The storage scores are about equivalent, given the presence of speedy boot SSDs across the board, but the Corsair machine was a tick above on PCMark 10. While the Corsair One is technically the fastest here, the differences between these systems shouldn’t be too obvious in everyday personal and office use; they’re all snappy machines equipped for much more strenuous tasks.
Media Processing and Creation Tests
One such task 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.
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. 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 Corsair One i160 isn’t as dominant here, but it’s still one of the quicker performers. For a tiny box, it hangs well with the larger competition, performing well on these demanding multithreaded tasks. That’s largely down to the CPU, so it’s not too surprising, as we know what the Core i9-9900K is capable of as a chip. Still, it’s possible for a system’s thermals to restrict performance, but Corsair seems to have admirably avoided that even in such a tight space. If you want to use this system as your one-stop shop for gaming and media production, you won’t be disappointed.
Synthetic Graphics Tests
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 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.
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.
As with the CPU, these results have much to do with the raw power of the RTX 2080 Ti, but again, it’s impressive to see it running effectively in a case this size. These numbers hint at strong real-world game performance, as well, but not as clearly as our next benchmarks do. So, on to those.
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. Far Cry 5 is DirectX 11-based, while Rise of the Tomb Raider can be flipped to DX12, which we do for this benchmark.
Our suite of gaming benchmarks is still relatively new, and so we don’t have quite enough data for comprehensive tables just yet. Still, I tested the Corsair One (which, yes, is mainly testing the RTX 2080 Ti), and it passed with flying colors. On Far Cry 5 set to maximum settings at 1080p, 1440p, and 4K, it averaged 151fps, 133fps, and 75fps, respectively. On Rise of the Tomb Raider, it averaged 177fps, 147fps, and 80fps, respectively. Those are fantastic scores, especially on the very demanding 4K side. On the two more common resolutions, those frame rates are incredibly high, and fall nowhere near the danger of dipping below 60fps. They’re appropriate frame rates for leveraging a high-refresh-capable gaming monitor.
Even most high-end gaming PCs struggle to hit 60fps at 4K. Yes, this is an expensive system, but I assure you that not every pricey machine can hit those highs. And, at the risk of repeating myself, it’s pulling it off in a much smaller form than most (which contributes to the cost). The Corsair Vengeance 5180 and MSI Trident X, with their non-Ti GeForce RTX 2080 cards, could not reach 60fps in Far Cry 5, and barely did so in Rise of the Tomb Raider (though they are also less expensive).
Small-PC Hounds, This One Is the One
The Corsair One i160 may surprise you with its potency. The price obviously hints at something powerful, but this slim, attractive box can hang with much bigger machines, and the design really is admirable.
On the minus side of the slate, you are paying a keen premium for the bespoke compact shape, which also adds the downside of limiting most upgrades. If upgrading a machine often is something you do, this design isn’t for you. But for the many gamers who are content to plug and play, few prebuilds will perform better for the cubic volume than the Corsair One i160. It’s our latest Editors’ Choice for small-form-factor gaming desktops.