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AVADirect Nano Cube review:

AVADirect Nano Cube

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MSRP: $2,266.00
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The Good Small case with high-end gaming capability; three-year parts and labor warranty.

The Bad Too many expandability sacrifices, even for small form factor PCs; unwise internal fan wiring; slower application performance than PCs that cost $1,000 less; missed digital media opportunities; daunting online configurator.

The Bottom Line AVADirect's tries to distill as much gaming power as possible into its Nano Cube, but the extra small case requires too many sacrifices next to even standard small form factor PCs. Gaming purists with a need for an extra tiny PC might appreciate the Nanon Cube, but even they should be wary of everything you need to give up for this tiny desktop.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

CNET Editors' Rating

6.5 Overall
  • Design 5.0
  • Features 6.0
  • Performance 8.0
  • Support 5.0

AVADirect's $2,266 Nano Cube tries to take on Shuttle's XPC H7 5800 at its own small form factor game. Both systems come with smaller-than-normal SFF cases, and each requires sacrifices, even more than with a standard SFF PC, in exchange for its tiny dimensions. Therein lies our problem with this subcategory in general. We can imagine a few scenarios where you might value small size in a gaming PC, but we're not sure we can envision many that justify such limited expandability and features, especially when the price premium is so high. Unless you truly need a gaming system to cram into the smallest possible space, you're much better off making room for a traditional, slightly larger small form factor gaming PC.

Among SFF PCs, the Nano Cube is one of the smallest we've seen in a standard toaster-style layout. At 7.25 inches high, 8.75 inches wide, and 11.25 inches deep, it's about an inch and a half shorter than the 12.8-inch-long Shuttle XPC H7 5800. You get most of the features we expect in a modern PC in the Nano Cube, including a DVD burner, wireless networking, and a decent selection of ports and inputs, including eSATA. The case doesn't allow room for a media card reader, however. AVADirect has also jammed in a double-wide GeForce GTX 295 graphics card, taking up all of the internal card expansion space.

  AVADirect Nano Cube Shuttle XPC H7 5800
Price $2,266 $2,849
CPU 2.83Ghz Intel Core 2 Quad Q9550s 2.93GHz Intel Core i7 940
Motherboard chipset Nvidia NForce 730i Intel X58
Memory 4GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM 6GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM
Graphics 1792MB Nvidia GeForce GTX 295 1GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 285
Hard drives 120GB OCZ Vertex solid-state hard drive 500GB 7,200rpm
Optical drive dual-layer DVD burner dual-layer DVD burner
Networking Gigabit Ethernet; 802.11b/g Gigabit Ethernet; 802.11b/g
Operating system Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) Windows Vista Home Premium 32-bit SP1

Looking at the specs you can see that AVADirect and Shuttle took different strategies. Shuttle opted for a Core i7-capable motherboard and an up-to-date Core i7 940 chip. AVADirect went with the same Zotac mini-ITX motherboard we saw in the Maingear Pulse, which only supports Intel's Core 2 Quad line-up. AVADirect makes up for it in the graphics card. Shuttle sent in a fast single-chip GeForce GTX 285 (a card Shuttle no longer offers in that system, incidentally), but AVADirect went with a dual-chip GeForce GTX 295. We'd make the same choice if we were building a gaming configuration, as the extra graphics horsepower will allow for smoother high-resolution gaming. The more recent CPU in the Shuttle lends itself better to productivity.

A few other factors come into play for the AVADirect. First, it has a 120GB solid-state hard drive. That means better performance in programs that ping the drive heavily, as in iTunes during a batch audio file conversion and game loading times. Shuttle has a standard 500GB platter hard drive, which trades a bit of performance for larger storage. AVADirect's SSD might speed loading times in games, but with newer titles like Dragon Age: Origins requiring around 20GB just to install, and no spare drive bay in the Nano Cube, unless you're a highly disciplined storage space manager you'll need to switch to slower networked or external storage before long. AVADirect offers a variety of standard hard drives as alternatives to an SSD, which we think makes more sense for a system with only one hard-drive bay, despite the performance hit.

Finally, the AVADirect system also has the 64-bit version of Windows 7 Home Premium, while our Shuttle review unit only came with the 32-bit version of Vista Home Premium. The 32-bit OS will affect the Shuttle's Photoshop score in particular, but otherwise, as you'll see in our charts the Shuttle is clearly the application performance winner.

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Multimedia multitasking (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Cinebench
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering multiple CPUs  
Rendering single CPU  
Velocity Micro Edge Z30
18,796 
4,553 
Asus Essentio CG5290-BP007
16,229 
4,066 
Shuttle XPC H7 5800
13,902 
3,359 
Maingear Pulse
12,529 
3,512 
AVADirect Nano Cube
12,486 
3,487 

Based on their similar size and expansion restrictions, the AVADirect and Shuttle make good performance competition for one another. We can also compare a handful of other systems with the AVADirect. The Velocity Micro Edge Z30 is one of the best midtower gaming PC's we've seen this year, and only costs around $1,300. The Asus Essentio CG5290-BP007 is an even more affordable desktop, coming in at $1,200. We didn't find it surprising that the AVADirect and the Maingear were so close in performance, either. Each system has the same Core 2 Quad Q9550S processor. For most nongaming tasks, we expect you'll find the Nano Cube fast enough. Just be sure to note that for roughly $1,000 less, you will find much better application performance in a standard midtower system.

Crysis (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,600 x 1,200 (high, 4x aa)  
1,280 x 1,024 (medium, 4x aa)  
AVADirect Nano Cube
42 
52 
Maingear Pulse
18 
25 

Far Cry 2 (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,920x1,200 (DirectX 10, 4x aa, very high)  
1,440 x 900 (DirectX 10, 4x aa, very high)  
AVADirect Nano Cube
67 
68 
Maingear Pulse
34 
48 

The Nano Cube achieves better performance overall on our gaming tests. It's the fastest system of the five in our comparison on three of four gaming benchmarks. It only falters on Crysis at 1,280x1,024, which suggests that its older quad-core CPU could be creating a processing bottleneck, or that the game itself isn't scaling well across both graphics chips. Regardless, Crysis works as a kind of worst-case-scenario gaming test, so we can't be too disappointed in the AVADirect hitting a relative speed bump at a lower resolution. We expect that the Nano Cube will handle aggressive resolution and image quality settings on most, if not all, PC games.

The Nano Cube's upgradeability is a different story: it offers none. Both RAM slots were occupied in our review unit, and the double-wide graphics card takes up both expansion card slots. Even getting inside the case to poke around is a chore. A fan attached to the case cover is of course also wired to the system's power supply. Taking off the cover is already difficult because of the compact case and tight fit, but having to undo the fan cable in the process complicates opening the case to the point where you could damage the system if you're not careful.

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