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Miami's Origin makes computers that are out of this world

In case you missed it, here's my story on Origin that ran in this week's Business Monday:

You don't go to Origin to simply fight aliens. You go to Origin to fight aliens with a processor that can reveal the sunlight glimmering off the slime dripping from the creature's fangs. And you do it with a computer that carries an otherworldly price tag, starting at $5,000.

The three founders of the boutique PC shop in South Dade know a thing or two about alien technology. They were some of the top execs of Alienware, a similar high-end computer maker that started in a Hialeah garage in 1996, and was acquired by Dell in 2006.

Origin_foundersUnhappy with the direction Dell was taking Alienware and the fact that the computers were no longer built in Miami, Kevin Wasielewski, Richard Cary and Hector Penton pooled their savings together and parted ways from the mother ship to start Origin in May 2009. The company has six full-time and 10 part-time employees. (Pictured from left to right: Penton, Wasielewski, Cary. Photos by Patrick Farrell / Miami Herald Staff.)

"We wanted to get back to our passion and what we loved doing,'' said Wasielewski, chief executive of Origin and former vice president of marketing at Alienware. "This economy is not the best economy to start up something like this. But we took a look at the competitive landscape and saw Alienware built this market and vacated the market, so the opportunity was there.''

The first Origin desktop and laptop went on sale in November. With less than seven months on the market, the computers have already garnered high praise and respect from the gaming and computer media -- a rare accomplishment for a new player in this specialized field. Wasielewski said the company has tripled monthly revenue, selling more than 50 units a month, and a new laptop will be unveiled in two months.

Cary was Alienware's vice president of supply chain and manufacturing, and Penton was in charge of customer support. The contacts they built while at Alienware for about 10 years now lets them deal directly with giants like Microsoft, Intel, AMD and Nvidia.

"A company our size normally doesn't deal with these large companies,'' Wasielewski said.

Origin_green In an unmarked warehouse across the street from Tamiami Airport, employees build custom-order computers that are the very definition of excess. In the Genesis desktop, tubes of neon-glowing liquid cool down a six-core processor that's decked with the best-of-the-best chips on the market. The technology within these computers won't be seen in retail stores for months.

The desktop tower can weigh 60 to 80 pounds and customers typically spend around $5,000 -- but extra features can push it more than double that price. And that's not counting a customized paint job.

So it goes without saying that an Origin customer is an aficionado. The world of custom computers is comparable to that of custom cars -- you know about every part, and want to have a conversation with the maker over every component.

"Origin offers a tremendous number of customization options,'' said Scott Stein, senior associate editor of tech publication CNET.com. But when the competition also can also offer the same goods, its customer service becomes the bigger selling point.

This is not your typical PC shopping experience. There are no parts in stock at the Origin warehouse because of the many options available. For example, a customer can choose from 30 different types of graphics cards.

It's that choice and conversation with staff that Wasielewski said will help the company gain footing against established firms like Alienware, Velocity Micro, Maingear and Falcon Northwest.

"They do provide a level of processing and graphics that you don't see in retail,'' Stein said. But for the vast majority of people, the power is just not necessary. He said it becomes a matter of computing faster -- but not necessarily better -- than computers in the $2,000 range at retail.

These machines are for people who want to turn up their gaming graphics to the max and be able to display the movement of dew sparkles on every blade of grass. And it's also useful for professional 3D animation designers who can use programs to process their creations in a few hours, versus letting it process overnight.

The Genesis was awarded CNET's Editors Choice stamp of approval in March. The review went on to hail it as the ``fastest gaming performance we've seen'' and praised the case, ``which makes it easier to swap hard drives in and out than those of any of its competitors.''

The hard drives themselves pop in and out of the front panel as easy as a USB memory stick.

Origin's laptops, the EON15 and the EON18, stand out for having an HDMI In port -- something that lets the computer act as a monitor screen for an outside device, such as an Xbox 360.

Popular Science highlighted the EON18 in its April issue as the first laptop to run Intel's fastest mobile processor and two high-end graphics cards without overheating.

Origin projects to hit revenue of more than $2 million by December, Wasielewski said. Its sales are mostly in the United States, but it ships throughout North America, Australia and Japan.

Joel Santo Domingo, lead desktop analyst for PCMag.com, said the high-end PC consumer is a repeat customer and usually upgrades to the best every two years. Origin offers a lifetime of free labor and support to keep that customer hooked.

The high-end gaming computer market makes up less than 1 percent of the total consumer computer market, according to Gartner analyst Mikako Kitagawa.

But even so, it's a closely followed market, because the technology is about three years ahead of what is equipped in the average computer, Domingo said, even if most of it is just for showing off.

"It's for the cost-no-object type of user, willing to spend top dollar for the latest technology to get their game experience to the level they can brag about,'' Domingo said.

Domingo is waiting on Origin to send a computer to test and review. And getting review copies out is Wasielewski's biggest challenge.

The more models he can ship, the more exposure he gets. But it's a challenge to afford sending out multiple review computers in one month.

"Our biggest challenge now is the awareness factor, and how do we get our name out there without just investing a huge amount of money in marketing. The Alienware brand name is extremely well known throughout the gaming community. We want that to be mentioned. But we don't want that to be mentioned as the only thing. 'Oh they're the Alienware guys so therefore they're good,' '' Wasielewski said. "It's, 'They're the Alienware guys so they know what they're doing, and they're taking it a step further.' ''



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