Small Introduction, Grand Entrance

Usually the review hardware we handle is offered to us, cherry picked by the OEM or dealer as something they want to draw some attention to. The Nano Gaming Cube from AVADirect is different: this one is personal. Our review unit has been shopped around to other sites, but no one bothered to really put it through its paces or even take pictures of the inside of the thing just to figure out what kind of prestidigitation had to occur in order to produce a Mini-ITX gaming system. I had to see it for myself. It may be a curio, it may be impractical, but it's also damn tiny for what's inside it.

AVADirect Nano Cube Specifications
Processor Intel Core i5-750S @ 3GHz (166MHz Bclk with x18 multiplier)
(spec: 4x2.4GHz, 45nm, 8MB L3, 82W)
Chipset DFI Lanparty Motherboard with P55 chipset
Memory 2x2GB Kingston DDR3-1333 (expandable to 8GB)
Graphics Sapphire ATI Radeon HD 5870 Vapor-X 1GB GDDR5
(1600 Stream Processors, 870MHz Core, 5GHz Memory, 256-bit memory bus)
Hard Drive(s) Corsair Nova 128GB SSD
Optical Drive(s) Pioneer Slim DVD+/-RW
Networking Intel Gigabit Ethernet
Audio Realtek ALC885 HD Audio
speaker, mic, line-in, and surround jacks for 7.1 sound
Front Side Optical Drive
2x USB 2.0
Headphone and mic jacks
Top Nothing
Back Side 2x PS/2
S/PDIF and TOSlink digital audio jacks
6x USB 2.0
Gigabit Ethernet jack
Speaker, mic, line-in, and surround jacks
2x DVI-D
AC Power
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Dimensions 8.7" x 13" x 5.1" (WxDxH)
Weight N/A
Extras AthenaPower 470W MiniITX Power Supply
Modified SilverStone Sugo SG06 Case
Overclocked from warehouse
Warranty 3-year limited warranty and lifetime phone support
Pricing Priced similarly to configuration (9/13/2010): $1,582

The configuration of the Nano Cube is a thoughtful one, starting from the low-voltage processor. An Intel Core i5-750S at stock runs at a low clock speed of 2.4GHz, but also has a TDP of just 82 watts. With two active cores under Turbo Boost, that speed jumps up to a respectable 3.2GHz; the 750S overall seems to sit nicely in between Intel's mobile quads and the higher wattage standard desktop chips. For this build, though, the 750S runs at an overclock of 3GHz, all the time. It won't turbo up to 3.2GHz, and this might not have been the right call as we'll discuss later.

This juncture might be a good place to mention that our review unit is a bit out of date, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. The DFI board is less than ideal and hopelessly outdated as far as the I/O goes on the back, but newer boards available shore up its shortcomings. The Gigabyte board available brings USB 3.0 to the table along with all the ports you've come to know and require, and the Zotac boards integrate much needed wireless networking. Since we're in Mini-ITX land, though, we're still stuck with just two memory slots, which in our build are populated with a pair of Kingston 2GB DDR3-1333 DIMMs. AVADirect also offers a newer Silverstone SG07 chassis, which is slightly longer but comes with a 600W PSU, removing the need for the $60 AthenaPower PSU used in our test system.

The rest isn't that exciting. AVADirect continues their tradition of equipping review units with 128GB Corsair Nova SSDs, and we can't complain, though we might suggest going with a larger mechanical drive just to have the storage space required for gaming: 128GB just isn't enough. There's also an attractive slot-loading DVD writer, and a staggering 470-watt Mini-ITX power supply from AthenaPower. The company isn't exactly reputable but they're pretty much the only ones making small power supplies with enough juice to feed a Radeon HD 5870.

Oh yeah, there's a stonking big Sapphire Vapor-X Radeon HD 5870 in the case. That third-party cooling system is pretty much essential for cooling the 5870 inside the tiny SilverStone Sugo SG06 case; that, and the ventilation on the side that brings cool air from outside the case into the card. Fitting the Radeon into the case is really the crowning achievement of the AVADirect Nano Cube, and the case actually feels stuffed.

Exactly How Much Power You Can Fit in a Mini-ITX Case?
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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 . 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.
  • mados123 - Saturday, September 18, 2010 - link

    What case is that in?
  • 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 :)
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • 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?
  • 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.
  • Kibbles - Friday, September 17, 2010 - link

    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.
  • sprockkets - Friday, September 17, 2010 - link

    They took this case and modded it:

    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:
  • 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. :-\

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