When You Want A Little Gaming: The AVADirect Nano Gaming Cubeby Dustin Sklavos on September 16, 2010 10:55 PM EST
Putting Together the Cube
Evaluating the AVADirect Nano Gaming Cube is different from handling the other desktops simply because its form factor warrants attention. The design is of an impractical mentality: we climbed the mountain because it was there. They built it because they could. It's a lot like the old Shuttle SFFs we used to review, only this isn't a proprietary case, motherboard, and PSU (thankfully!).
The SilverStone Sugo SG06 case is modded and literally stuffed to the gills. On the right-hand side of the machine (assuming it's facing you), ventilation holes were removed and a 120mm Scythe fan was added to improve cooling. That fan, along with the freakishly large Radeon HD 5870, makes it very difficult to take the case apart. There's just one large panel that bends over the top and sides, and it flexes mightily. It has to in order to fit around everything inside. Word to the wise: if you're going to buy the cube, you'd better buy it exactly how you want it, because everything is so tightly condensed inside (well-routed, but come on, the case is wee) that changing out anything will prove to be a real issue.
And then there's noise. The thing could be a lot louder, and I'm not sure exactly what could've been done to mitigate the problem, but as a whole it's fairly loud under load. Most of that blame can be shouldered by the cooling system on the Radeon HD 5870. Sapphire's Vapor-X system is ideal for a card placed in this kind of build, but it's still noisy, and the much needed ventilation on the side of the case does nothing to mask it. Suffice it to say, if you're sensitive to noise, the cube probably isn't for you.
Where I get really frustrated is the overclock. I've griped about it on the other boutique builds I reviewed and it only gets worse here. The problem is twofold. First, the nominal 3GHz overclock is of questionable value if the system is going to be used chiefly for gaming. The i5-750S at stock speeds will punch it up to 3.2GHz on two cores depending on system load and that's going to be better for certain games since the system seems to be fairly CPU-limited. With a turbo-free 3GHz performance is potentially left on the table for games like StarCraft II. It isn't a dealbreaker and it's not keeping games from being playable, but it's still a small issue.
The other problem is that the overclock is another lazy one. Chip features are disabled, and the voltage and clocks don't drop when the system idles. In a larger desktop this isn't as big of a deal, where the boutique machines can just laugh it off with a watercooling system while you try to figure out why your power bill is spiking. But in a Mini-ITX case where everyone's squished against each other and cold air is at a premium, any savings on heat and voltage is going to make a big impact on noise levels and system wear. Bottom line: if you're willing to cut out the side of the case and put a fan in, you should be willing to properly tune the processor to make the best of that effort.
Someone's probably already thinking that it's completely insane to even try and fit a card like the Radeon HD 5870 into a case like this. I think that person has missed the point entirely. First, the point is the fact that someone was crazy enough to even try to do it to begin with, so the fact that it was successful is really the achievement here. Second, as far as high-performance GPUs go, the 5870 is the most power you're going to get into a single card before you get to cards that most likely will overheat in a case like this: the GeForce GTX 470 and 480, or there's the dual-GPU HD 5970. And for the record: no, AVADirect does not support/offer any of those GPUs as an upgrade for the Nano Cube, and understandably so. If they don't overheat, they'll be obscenely loud, making you long for the halcyon days of the 5870's Vapor-X cooler.
As for the rest of the configuration, the 128GB Corsair Nova SSD sure is fast, but it's also not ideal. SSDs work best as system drives, where a more affordable mechanical drive can provide the kind of capacity needed to hold games that are only getting bigger and bigger as time goes on. The case is able to handle a 2.5" drive and a 3.5" drive, though: going for an SSD system drive and a substantial (hopefully cool-running) mechanical drive would probably be the way to go.