The CryoPC Nano is quite a feat in PC construction - a very fast, relatively compact and even rather quiet performance PC.
Performance computing hardware is not hard to acquire these days. With the help of a modern quad-core CPU running beyond 3GHz, a fire-breathing graphics card and a handful of hard disks RAIDed together, it's easy to build a PC that will crunch Mandlebrot fractals as soon as look at them, or calculate Pi to n-million places in the time it takes to boot Windows Vista. Or even just play the latest 3D games at HD resolutions, with three-figure framerates to boot.
Problem is, all that firepower will cost you - in the pocket, in desk space, and most insidiously, in the sheer racket from a cacophony of cooling fans entrenched to ward off inevitable meltdown. No more true than when the topic of 'overclocking' is uttered.
British performance PC specialist CryoPC seems to have got around all these issues, though. Its created a very fast, relatively compact and even rather quiet PC, dubbed the CryoPC Nano. It's quite a feat in PC construction.
From the outside, we're greeted by a cubish box, roughly 12in wide, 14in deep and 11in high, and a clean front panel sporting a blue-backlit Cryo badge. The CryoPC Nano is based on a Lian Li V351 case, and CryoPC also offers it with carbon-fibre side panels, as supplied to us, for an extra £225.
A tray-load DVD-RW optical drive is fitted to the right side, while the rear is festooned with socketry, and of a higher grade than that usually found on PCs that fill our test centre and reviews pages. Unfortunately, holes cut out for a FireWire 400 and two USB on the right panel let the side down, quite literally, as they were roughly finished by hand.
From the back you can address eight USB, FireWire 400, eSATA, a Toslink optical audio output, along with two DVI, HDMI and DisplayPort from the ATI Radeon HD 5850 graphics card. And the sound card provides multi-chanel analogue audio out on six 3.5mm mini-jack sockets.
See also: Sapphire Radeon HD 5850 1GB review
The CPU at the heart of this CryoPC Nano is an Intel Core i5, a 750 part originally specced for 2.66GHz, but here overclocked all the way to 4.06GHz. Keeping that cool is the key to success, and here we have a Corsair H50 liquid cooler, a one-stop sealed solution that includes a copper CPU cooling plate feeding a radiator with integral cooling fan. Corsair also supplies the 650W power supply, and high-performance 1600MHz DDR3 RAM.
A low-noise case fan is courtesy of Noctua, while the hard drive is an advanced high-performance disk from Samsung, a 500GB Spinpoint F3. For motherboard, CryoPC has selected an Asus Maximus II GENE P55. This little board is a microATX type with four memory slots (two empty after 4GB installed here), and two full-length PCI-Express slots.
Three different BIOS profiles are ready-installed, and from which you can select your preferred profile anytime before boot. There's 'Gaming' with hyperthreading and cores disabled to optimise on higher clock speeds; a 'stock' Intel configuration; or the 'Cryo Boost' setting, which gives the 4GHz+ clock speed. We used this custom but suggested setup for our lab benchmarking.
Our first graphics test is something of a walkover for any recent graphics card, but for the record the CryoPC Nano hit an average of 321 frames per second in the FEAR game at Maximum quality settings. We reset screen resolution from 1024x768 to the game's highest of 1600x1200, where it still sprung along at an all-too sprightly 174fps. So far, so easy.
Crysis gives modern PCs a steeper challenge. Configured with our basic test of 1024x768, DirectX 9 at High quality, the Nano sailed through at 94fps. At 1440x960, Very High quality and DX10, it halved its framerate to a still very playable 43fps. But since HD is de rigeur these days, we upped the resolution to 1920x1080.
Even at High quality, we were seeing an average of 53fps with the CryoPC Nano. It wasn't until we'd inched up quality to Very High that the game was slowed to a point approaching our minimum 25fps threshold, where we noted a framerate of 31fps.
So with the CryoPC Nano's gaming credentials not just checked but applauded, we gave the Nano a workout with our Worldbench 6 performance benchmark. And were astonished to find a final score of 162 points, a full 10 points clear of the fastest system we've tested in the past.
Admittedly, we don't review overclocked systems in our desktop PC reviews section, as rashly hotrodded PCs give rise to reliability nightmares, especially when fitted with no-name power supplies and inadequate cooling, combined with insufficient long-term QA testing. It's just too tempting for vendors to ramp up core voltages or fiddle with jumpers, leading to systems that can't withstand the extra load in the long-term.
For the CryoPC Nano, we soak tested for days without incident, and internal temperatures stayed cool enough for consistent operation. And all that without the soundtrack of a squadron of Harrier jump jets.
Given its size and appearance, and quiet operation, the CryoPC Nano can stand duty as an especially well specified media centre. While not completely silent, it would be unintrusive enough for many users - although there is the issue of power consumption.
With the CryoPC Nano under load playing games, we saw power draw figures hit a 249W high. And sat idle and unattended (with Windows 7's Power Options set to 'Balanced', to allow dynamic underclocking) the Nano still consumed 114W. The quarter-kilowatt figure is the more troubling for the electric meter, but do remember that long-term idling, as domestic entertainment devices are wont, will also contribute to a bigger bill.
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