Manufacturers, especially of the boutique variety, know that enthusiasts’ PCs can get out of control easily—some of the huge systems and cases we’ve seen here over the years bear that out. So who can blame some system makers for wanting to swing in the other direction? The AVADirect Mini Gaming PC Core i5 Z77 is exactly the opposite of a towering tower: It’s short and squat, looking like it’s longing to hide behind one of its bigger cousins. The good news is that this desktop’s diminutive dimensions don’t prevent it from achieving most of its gaming goals. But if you want the fastest or most flexible gaming computer out there, even of the small-form-factor style, this is not it.
Design and Features
For the space-challenged, the Mini Gaming PC is ideal. Measuring approximately 15.5 by 9.6 by 13.9 inches (HWD), it takes up not much more space than an average-size subwoofer. Whether it looks better than one of those depends on your personal tastes. Its off-white coloring, accented with tinges of black along the edge of the front panel and on the fan grille on top, isn’t the height of chic, but it’s not bad. More problematic are the handles. We appreciate having them attached to the front and rear sections of the top panel, as they make this system even simpler to carry from place to place. But we don’t like how much they flex when you lift the system up; even if they are actually secure, they don’t feel like it.
Something else that not all users will appreciate is evident once you open the Mini Gaming PC’s side panel: This system has limited upgradability due to how tightly packed together its components are. AVADirect has developed some ingenious methods for getting around the space restrictions, such as by having the power supply bay (occupied by an 850-watt PSU) open externally, the Nvidia GeForce GTX 680 video card secured on the back panel, and the 3.5-inch drive well that opens out the side panel so you can quickly access the 240GB Vertex 3 solid-state drive and 2TB Seagate hard drive. But there’s almost no room for removing the giant heat sink atop the Intel Core i7-3770K processor (which has been overclocked from 3.5GHz to 4.4GHz), and good luck getting at the 8GB of included RAM (which can theoretically be increased to as much as 16GB). As for the additional expansion slots—there aren’t any, so forget about popping in, say, a sound card or a PCI Express–based storage device. (At least the Blu-ray combo drive in the sole 5.25-inch external bay would be easy to remove and replace if you wanted.)
To perform surgery inside the Mini Gaming PC at all, you’ll need to unscrew and remove both the handle assembly and the top panel—and even then, the cramped nature of the case means that doing any work will not be painless. AVADirect obviously intended this computer primarily (if not exclusively) for those who are happy with using what comes out of the box.
Connectivity options are fine given how little surface area is available for them. On the right side panel you’ll find the headphone and microphone jack and two USB 3.0 ports; gracing the motherboard’s I/O port on the rear panel are eight USB ports, four each of 2.0 and 3.0; one Ethernet jack; two eSATA ports; and standard three-port audio (rather than surround sound) and S/PDIF out. There are also technically video output ports (HDMI, DisplayPort, and DVI), but you don’t need to worry about them because you’ll be using the two DVI ports, HDMI port, and DisplayPort jack on the video card when you hook up the Mini Gaming PC to a monitor.
Should you run into any problems, the Mini Gaming PC is covered by a three-year parts-and-labor warranty, and AVADirect offers free lifetime tech support.
The Mini Gaming PC unsurprisingly held its own against similarly equipped systems we’ve tested recently, though it took first place in only one of our tests. That would be Futuremark PCMark 7 overall system benchmark test, on which it scored 6,259—not significantly higher than either the Cyberpower Gamer Xtreme 4000SE (6,032) or Falcon Northwest Tiki , but higher nonetheless. On our other tests the Mini Gaming PC performed credibly, scoring 8.99 on our CineBench R11.5 rendering test, and needing 55 seconds to convert a video in HandBrake and 2:28 to apply a dozen filters and effects in Adobe Photoshop CS5. In all these cases the Mini Gaming PC was outmatched by the Editors’ Choice Maingear Potenza Super Stock , which needed finished with ratings of 9.57, 51 seconds, and 2:16, respectively.
Living up to its name, the Mini Gaming PC is also solid for entertainment purposes—but the other systems we’ve reviewed have done better in one area or another. The Cyberpower 4000SE and Maingear Potenza computers beat it on frame rates in Crysis (129 frames per second, or fps, at 1,280 by 720 and with medium details, versus 124fps; the Maingear Potenza, with 65fps, beat both at 60fps when we upped the resolution to 1,920 by 1,080 and the details to high), and the Falcon Northwest Tiki just edged it out with Lost Planet 2 at 1,920 by 1,080 with high details (94fps versus 90fps). Scores in our Futuremark 3DMark 11 gaming graphics benchmark test were a bit closer overall, though the Maingear Potenza reigned supreme with 15,119 at the Entry preset and 5,100 on Extreme—the Mini Gaming PC, with 13,888 and 3,261 respectively, couldn’t quite compete.
Whether the AVADirect Mini Gaming PC Core i5 Z77 is an outstanding choice depends on a lot of the attendant factors. Though it wraps everything in a compact, original package, its somewhat cheap design and challenged expandability make it less than absolutely perfect for the gamer who likes to maintain control over the hardware. The Maingear Potenza isn’t much better in that area, admittedly, but with an even smaller footprint, a more mature appearance, superior performance, and a lower price, it compensates nicely for the benefits it takes away. Its handles may make the Mini Gaming PC a little easier to carry around, but otherwise the Maingear Potenza offers more to grab onto.
More Desktop reviews:
|Primary Optical Drive||Blu-Ray Disc|
|Processor Family||Intel Core i7|
|Graphics Card||nVidia GeForce GTX 680 SLI|
|Operating System||Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium|
|Storage Capacity (as Tested)||2240 GB|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc