Sport & Auto
- About Future
- Digital Future
- Cookies Policy
- Terms & Conditions
- Investor Relations
- Contact Future
It has long been considered common wisdom that the smaller the size of a PC, the greater its compromises. Notebooks, no matter how fat, for example, will never touch the power of a desktop machine.
The same held true for small form factor rigs. But is that still the case? To find out how today’s SFF rigs compare with their full-size desktop brethren, we tasked five top PC makers with sending us their best and brightest, and, well, smallest machines.
We didn’t put any hard and fast limits on size or price. Instead, we wanted the vendors to go nuts with the definition of “small form factor rig.” As a result, what we received for our shoot-out was an incredibly diverse assortment of shapes and sizes that completely upended our old notions of the category. It also proved to us that small PCs can pack a mighty punch.
To judge these little wonders, we looked at price, aesthetics, power consumption, acoustics, and, of course, performance. What you’ll see is that this contest yielded some unexpected challengers and results.
Falcon Northwest’s FragBox is no new face around here. We’ve seen various iterations of this SFF over the years, but the latest is perhaps the most impressive. In a chassis that’s the second-smallest of the bunch—just slightly larger than CyberPower’s LAN Party Evo—Falcon manages to jam in not one, but two GeForce GTX 580 cards, along with a 3.4GHz Core i7-2600K overclocked to 4.2GHz.
Storage is handled by Crucial’s new 256GB M4 SSD and a 1TB Western Digital HDD. RAM is maxed out on the Asus P8P67M with 16GB of DDR3/1600.
There isn’t much space to work in the FragBox, but that also means it doesn’t take up much room either.
Despite the abundance of hardware in such a confined space, the FragBox is an amazingly well-behaved machine. It stood out in contrast to other boxes in this roundup whose dual videocards were pushed into thermal detonator mode by our gaming benchmarks, forcing the system fans to spool to noticeable or unacceptable levels.
The FragBox exhibited none of that. You could play a game for hours at 2560x1600 resolution and not notice that the machine was working hard.
So what’s the FragBox’s big problem? It’s majorly outgunned by the iBuypower, Origin PC, and AVADirect rigs’ four-way GPU setups and higher-clocked or higher-cored CPUs. It also doesn’t help that the FragBox is priced at a painful $4K. That’s the same as the iBuypower rig, which not only has dual dual-GPU cards, but a Blu-ray burner and more RAM. Heck, even the Origin PC is $200 less. Ouch.
The FragBox is amazingly quiet considering that it packs an overclocked Core i7-2600K and SLI’d GeForce GTX 580 cards.
What the FragBox does bring, however, is a top-notch build quality, acoustic bliss, and performance that’s damn respectable considering its displacement of roughly 1,200 cubic inches. By comparison, the three much larger rigs are about 2,000 cubic inches. So, while we can’t give the FragBox the nod for breakout performance, it offers the best blend of size and performance in a shape and size that meets the traditional definition of an SFF box.
An SFF rig with two GTX 580 cards in SLI!
Pricey; no Blu-ray drive?
|Processor||Intel 3.4GHz Core i7-2600K (over-clocked to 4.2GHz)|
|Mobo||Asus P8P67-M Pro (Intel P67 chipset)|
|Videocard||Two GeForce GTX 580 cards in SLI|
|Storage||256GB Crucial M4 SSD, 1TB Western Digital 7,200rpm|
|Optical||LG DVD burner|
|Case/PSU||Custom / Silverstone 1,000 watt|
|Zero Point||Falcon Northwest FragBox|
|Vegas Pro 9 (sec)||3,049||2,528|
|Lightroom 2.6 (sec)||356||300|
|ProShow 4 (sec)||1,112||883|
|Reference 1.6 (sec)||2,113||1,722|
|STALKER: CoP (fps)||42||83.8|
|Far Cry 2 (fps)||114.4||179.9|
Our current desktop test bed consists of a quad-core 2.66GHz Core i7-920 overclocked to 3.5GHz, 6GB of Corsair DDR3/1333 overclocked to 1,750MHz, on a Gigabyte X58 motherboard. We are running an ATI Radeon HD 5970 graphics card, a 160GB Intel X25-M SSD, and 64-bit Windows 7 Ultimate.
For our shoot-out, AVADirect came loaded for bear… as well as grabboid, sandworm, and arachnid, too. Yeah, basically AVADirect enters the scene packing a cartoonish amount of hardware firepower.
In what arguably pushes the definition of a small form factor rig, AVADirect’s Compact Gaming PC sports an Intel 3.46GHz Core i7-990X, 12GB of DDR3/1600, and two of AMD’s Radeon HD 6990 cards in CrossFireX mode.
Tucked in behind the 1,200W PSU are two Radeon HD 6990 dual-GPU cards and a Prolimatech Megahalem.
Also jammed into the Lian Li PC-V354R chassis are an Asus Rampage III Gene X58 board, a 250GB Intel 510 SSD, a 2TB Barracuda XT, and an LG Blu-ray burner.
Interestingly, instead of using a closed-loop liquid cooler, AVADirect cools the CPU—overclocked to 4.4GHz—using a gigantic Prolimatech Megahalem cooler.
This being our first encounter with a Radeon HD 6990 in a shipping system, we were curious to see how the new dual-GPU cards performed. It was hit or miss against the two rigs outfitted with Nvidia’s dual-GPU GTX 590 cards. In our Far Cry 2 benchmark, which is mostly a CPU benchmark these days, the AVADirect was even. But in STALKER: CoP, the quad-SLI configs blew the doors off the CrossFireX setup. In the Heaven benchmark, the AVADirect was about 17 percent slower, as well. The AVADirect got within striking distance in 3DMark 2011, but only if you consider a 7 percent disparity close.
AVADirect’s SFF is a head-turning rig loaded to the gills with firepower.
In app performance, the AVADirect’s hexa-core saves face by acing all other machines in Sony Vegas Pro 9 and also sliding past the Sandy Bridge boxes in our MainConcept test. The major problem with the AVADirect is acoustics. In CPU-only tasks, there’s no problem, but kick on any 3D game at higher resolutions for longer than 15 minutes and the fans in the system begin to howl at intolerable levels. Like ruin-your-music-or-gaming-experience kind of loud.
And that’s really a shame because when we originally uncrated the AVADirect box, we were floored by its configuration. Overall, performance, especially in multithreaded tests, is superb, but in gaming, the CrossFireX takes a back seat to quad SLI. Combined with the noise, it’s a deal breaker and a bit of a heartbreaker, too.
Hexa-core and CrossFire X in pretty compact package.
Unacceptably loud under gaming loads and pricey.
|Processor||Intel 3.46GHz Core i7-990X (overclocked to 4.4GHz)|
|Mobo||Asus Rampage III Gene (Intel X58 chipset)|
|Videocard||Two Radeon HD 6990 cards in CrossFire X|
|Storage||250GB Intel 510 SSD, 2TB Seagate Barracuda 7,200rpm|
|Optical||LG Blu-ray burner|
|Case/PSU||Lian Li PC-V354R / Silverstone 1,200 watt|
|Zero Point||AVADirect Compact Gaming PC|
|Vegas Pro 9 (sec)||3,049||2,142|
|Lightroom 2.6 (sec)||356||275|
|ProShow 4 (sec)||1,112||883|
|Reference 1.6 (sec)||2,113||1,499|
|STALKER: CoP (fps)||42||83.1|
|Far Cry 2 (fps)||114.4||202.2|
Our current desktop test bed consists of a quad-core 2.66GHz Core i7-920 overclocked to 3.5GHz, 6GB of Corsair DDR3/1333 overclocked to 1750MHz, on a Gigabyte X58 motherboard. We are running an ATI Radeon HD 5970 graphics card, a 160GB Intel X25-M SSD, and the 64-bit version of Windows 7 Ultimate.