The small form-factor (SFF) PC is a growing trend, a breed of Windows PC that is built into a smaller box than your typical tower. Popularised by Shuttle to the point where ‘shuttle' has become almost a generic word for a compact computer around 10in wide and 8in high, we have here a system assembled by Mesh, based on a Sugo case from Silverstone in Germany.
Despite the small size, Mesh has managed to squeeze in some high performance components, creating a little PC that could take on the fast full-size machines we see in our monthly Charts section. An Asus motherboard is fitted with an E8500 Intel Core 2 Duo processor running at 3.16GHz - in our experience a very good start for those seeking a nimble machine. This is joined by an nVidia 9800GTX graphics card made by Evga, a 500GB hard drive and 4GB of RAM. Windows Vista Home Premium 64-bit edition ensures the machine actually uses the full RAM quota.
As a complete package just shy of £800, Mesh also includes a Hanns-G 22in LCD monitor, Logitech S220 stereo speakers and Logitech cordless keyboard and mouse.
With the help of its quick processor and capable graphics card, the Mesh Stylus 9800GTX system turned in some impressive measurements. WorldBench 6 scored it at 116, a figure comparable to most under-£1000 systems we've tested recently, while the graphics test was equally inspiring.
After crunching through our legacy FEAR test with a score of 164 frames per second, we set it the tougher challenge of Crysis. Even here, a framerate of 56fps and 36fps for High and Very High detail settings at 1024x768 shows that the 9800GTX-equipped Stylus could take on modern games without difficulty.
It wasn't until we stretched to 1440x960 resolution at VH settings that the system dropped to a more sluggish, but still playable, 25fps average.
One of the attractions of the SFF PC is that it can slip into places where you might not want a full-size tower - for example in the living room. To help keep it visually unobtrusive, the Silverstone case has a slightly less PC-like front panel, taking a high gloss black fascia that has only visible cutouts for two optical drives.
Fitted to the top bay in our sample was an LG Blu-ray Disc drive (read-only), also up to reading and writing CDs and DVDs. At front bottom, a mirror-finished flap pulls down to reveal two concealed USB ports, mic-in and speaker-out 3.5mm minijacks, and even a full-size FireWire 400 port.
Yet as a discreet lounge PC, the Mesh Stylus 9800GTX has one obvious shortcoming, and that is one of noise. Unlike some stealthy systems that use more subtle passive cooling, Mesh has this compact computer fitted with a total of five cooling fans - two for the 500W HEC power supply, one chassis-mounted close to the hard drives' bay, one fitted in the graphics card, along with the main Akasa CPU heatsink-cum-fan unit over the processors.
Given the fact that many warm-running components are fitted in close proximity, this cooling regime could be seen as a reasonable precaution for system longevity. But the effect, while not quite in the Harrier jump jet league, combines to make a far-from-silent PC that you might be thankful to boot down of an evening.