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.

Playing Some Small Games Conclusion: Good Things in a Small Package?
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  • MeTechE - Thursday, September 16, 2010 - link

    Perhaps you would be interested in my current computer as a powerful Mini-ITX setup done right. I have a OC'd i7 785K with 2x4GB of ~1400MHz DDR3 on a H55N-USB3. The ATI Radeon 5770 is perhaps underpowered compared to the rest of the build but it fit the budget.

    Most surprising was the 16K/14K/19K Read/Write/Copy performance I got from the RAM http://imgur.com/fEjj3.png . That bandwidth along with the CPU OC allows my rig to bench competitively with my friends 4Ghz i7 920.

    Don't let one bad configuration spoil the Mini-ITX fun.
    Reply
  • mados123 - Saturday, September 18, 2010 - link

    What case is that in? Reply
  • Huacanacha - Saturday, September 18, 2010 - link

    I'm planning to build a very similar mini-ITX gaming machine for about the same budget:
    - Lian-Li PC-Q08 case
    - Core i5-760
    - Gigabyte or Zotac MB (GB has USB 3.0, Zotac USB 3.0 + wifi)
    - Intel 160GB SSD + 1TB green HD
    - ATI 5850/5770 (actually waiting to see if 6770 comes out this year)
    - 4GB DDR3
    - Slim DVD (may drop as don't need)
    - 500W modular PSU
    - Windows 7 Home Premium

    Total is about $1500. The case is much nicer looking than the Sugo and should be better for noise & heat, but then again it's also a fair chunk larger I believe. I think I'll take my proposed build over the AVADirect one, but it's nice to see custom built SFF gaming PC's starting to appear... I'm all for the bang-for-cm^3 concept!

    This will be hooked up my living room TV, and probably mainly used for playing Civ 5 :)
    Reply
  • anactoraaron - Friday, September 17, 2010 - link

    "Meanwhile the pair of GTX 470's in the iBuyPower Paladin XLC blows everything away, much like the leafblower it sounds like under this kind of load." Looking at graphs makes some forget this 'noise' produced by the first fermi. The noise reminds me of a case fan I had on a heavily oc'd P4 that went by the name of 'tornado'. At the time I lived in an apartment and that fan was so loud the downstairs neighbor complained about the noise LOL! Noise yes, but man that thing could move some air (which one needed to do sometimes with stock P4's). Reply
  • Von Matrices - Friday, September 17, 2010 - link

    I have a GTX 470 SLI system, and while the cards are definitely louder than any previous cards I have had, I wouldn't exactly compare their sound to a leaf blower. Granted I'm using the proper spacing of the cards (2 empty slots between them), but they only make a low-pitched rumble when at load. I'd much rather have the noise of two 470's than the whine of the 60mm fan on the Radeon 9800 Pro I had a few systems ago. That fan was just plain annoying. Reply
  • Kibbles - Friday, September 17, 2010 - link

    I have almost the same setup except with a 5770 and I run 160blk with no voltage increases and with turbo and c-states still enabled. It wasn't even much work.
    I just went
    166 -> unstable
    165 -> stable-ish
    164-> runs fine
    back off a couple just to be safe -> 160
    Probably took me but a whole 30mins.

    I expect more from a system that's $1.5k+, since mine was under $700.
    I guess you do get a 750S vs regular 750.

    What kind of core temperatures where you getting?
    Reply
  • vol7ron - Friday, September 17, 2010 - link

    I agree, price looks high for what you get.

    I think your OCing is a bit discouraged, though. Even though there are failsafes these days, it's still advised to go from what works to what doesn't, when figuring out the proper setting; rather than going from what doesn't work, to what does.
    Reply
  • Kibbles - Friday, September 17, 2010 - link

    True
    If I was starting from scratch, I'd go up 5mhz at a time, and then ease back for longterm stability. But in my case I knew from reading around, the ballpark where the OC should be at. So I skipped that first step. Plus, I wasn't altering any of the voltages. For a builder that's going to be making a bunch of these, I would think they could do that too.
    Reply
  • sprockkets - Friday, September 17, 2010 - link

    They took this case and modded it:

    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N8...

    Sad. They took out the 300w 80PLUS FSP power supply and put in an junky Athena.

    And btw, the new SFF Shuttles can be upgraded with mini itx boards, such as this one:

    http://global.shuttle.com/product_detail.jsp?PLLI=...
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, September 17, 2010 - link

    Which is why I said the "old Shuttle SFFs". That said, my experience over the past five years is such that I would never buy anything with a Shuttle mobo. Every one of the test Shuttle SFFs died within three years of the review. :-\ Reply

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