Powerful gaming PCs commonly come with big, beefy graphics cards requiring correspondingly cumbersome and unwieldy system cases which really don’t look good in a typical living room. Som if you want something closer to the size and convenience of a console system, you will usually have to make large sacrifices when it comes to graphics power – which would probably negate one of the main reasons to go with a PC system in the first place.
Chillblast’s Nano PCs have for a long time offered a good balance of size and performance, by making use of small form factor Mini ITX components: The system case, motherboard and graphics card are all considerably smaller in size than in a desktop PC, making them easier to transport to LAN parties, or to tuck away next your living room TV.
What you gain in compactness, you often lose in terms of reduced internal expansion room, fewer motherboard slots, and crucially for a gaming system, a limit on the size of the graphics card you can fit in the case. Previous high-end models have used the popular GeForce GTX 970 from Nvidia (see last year’s Chillblast Fusion Nano review), which optionally comes in a Mini ITX format, but the GTX 970 is a few steps down from the top of the ladder when it comes to performance.
Chillblast Fusion Nano Fury review: Price
With the new Fusion Nano Fury, Chillblast has replaced the GTX 970 with the R9 Nano from AMD – a graphics card packed with AMD’s top tier R9 Fury graphics technology, but specially re-engineered to fit into small form factor PCs. The result is a Mini ITX PC capable of previously unheard-of gaming performance, although it does come with a 38 percent price premium of the Nvidia-based model. That means it will cost you £1379.99 from Chillblast’s website.
That sort of money can buy you a lot of traditional desktop PC, or a gaming laptop. So you really need a good reason to want a compact gaming PC, as you’ll get better value from a full-size machine. Don’t forget that the Fusion Nano Fury is backed by Chillblast’s five year collect and return warranty, the first two years of which cover both parts and labour.
It’s also available in various colours: red, blue, black, green, gold and silver/grey.
Chillblast Fusion Nano Fury review: The AMD Radeon R9 Nano
AMD’s R9 Nano is a curious graphics card which might not make much sense at first glance. Priced and specified as a top-tier graphic card, it’s based on the same “Fiji” chipset as the company’s flagship R9 Fury, but its stricter power limits prevent it from running flat out at the highest possible speeds.
Based on a 28nm manufacturing process and featuring 4GB of AMD’s ultra-fast 4096-bit High Bandwidth Memory (HBM), the R9 Nano offers all the same features as its full-sized stablemates. These include Virtual Super Resolution (VSR) for squeezing 4K-like quality onto lower-resolution screens and genuine 4K support on UHD displays. It also delivers enough performance to play several games at these ultra-high resolutions. It comes with the same 4096 stream processing units found in the flagship R9 Fury X, but uses only a single 8-pin power connector rather than two – limiting the total power available to the board. This causes the card to throttle back on performance to stay within its reduced power consumption parameters and is the main reason why the R9 Nano is slower than the R9 Fury X with such similar internal hardware.
The R9 Nano therefore isn’t the right choice for a standard-sized PC where better performance can be had without the power and cooling constraints imposed on the smaller model. This means when buying a compact system such as this, your first priority has to be size, with performance coming a close second.
Put one in a Mini-ITX case, however, and you have a card which thoroughly outclasses anything else in its category.
Chillblast Fusion Nano Fury review: Design
If you’ve not used a Mini ITX PC before, then you may be surprised at just how much smaller they can be than a standard desktop model. The Chillblast Fusion Nano Fury is housed in a Raijintek Metis system case and looks undeniably cute, with a clean, minimalist design and expensive brushed metal texture.
The case has been modified by Chillblast to include a ‘blowhole’ (actually a suckhole) in the roof. This allows external airflow directly onto the graphics card. It can also provide a bit of a hazard for any small items which may fall onto the case, as there’s no dust filter or mesh protecting it. There is however, a fan guard in place which will prevent the same happening with larger objects.
A pair of USB 3.0 sockets is also provided on the top of the case, installed either side of the usual headphone and mic ports. The right hand side of the case consists mostly of a window, through which the internal components can be seen – although much of the view is obscured by the power supply.
Space is at a premium here, so there’s no optical drive bay and no room for any additional externally-facing card slots one the graphics card is in place. Our review sample come in black, but you’ll be spoilt for choice from a range of colours including red, green, silver, blue and gold. Overall we were very impressed with the external build quality and design of the system.
Chillblast Fusion Nano Fury review: Features
Inside the case, we find a highly-specified system, featuring an Asus Z170I Pro Gaming Mini ITX motherboard with a 3.5GHz Intel Core-i5 6600K processor installed, overclocked to 4.4GHz. The CPU is cooled by a Corsair Hydro H75 liquid cooler and the system comes with 16GB of Crucial 2133MHz DDR4 RAM.
High speed storage comes in the form of a 250GB Samsung SM951 PCI Express SSD, with a 1TB Seagate SSHD hybrid drive providing additional capacity.
With all of these components in place, there’s very little room to manoeuvre, especially with the twin fans fitted to the radiator of the CPU cooler, so this is definitely not a system designed to be upgraded internally, unless it’s by replacing components. The most you could do would be to fit a second 2.5” drive for some extra storage space.
Chillblast Fusion Nano Fury review: Performance
The Chillblast Fusion Nano Fury performs very well indeed. A PCMark 8 Home result of 5369 points places it among the fastest Core i5-6600K based PCs we’ve tested, despite its small physical size. The PC also runs relatively quietly, although we did notice that the graphics card emits a noticeable whine when under heavy load. It comes not from any fans, but rather from the electrical coils on the board. This seems to be an unfortunate aspect of the R9 Nano’s design and one you’ll just have to live with. Thankfully it only becomes noticeable during flat-out gaming when here are likely to be many other sounds going on to drown it out.
Storage performance (PCMark 8 Storage score: 5084 points) is also particularly good, thanks to that Samsung PCI Express SSD, so if you install your larger games on this drive you should experience reduced loading times.
However, it’s really the gaming performance we’re interested in and here the Fusion Nano Fury doesn’t disappoint. Compared to a similarly specified PC fitted with a GeForce GTX 970, Alien vs Predator frame rates leap from 91fps to 167fps at 1080p. It’s a similar story across the board, with the R9 Nano comprehensively trouncing the GeForce GTX 970 over a wide range of benchmarks and seemingly pulling further ahead the more you throw at it in terms of desired resolution and quality settings.
Chillblast Fusion Nano Fury review: Bottom line
The Chillblast Fusion Nano Fury may be expensive, even taking into account AMD’s recent price reduction on the R9 Nano graphics card. However, it’s also one of the fastest gaming PCs you can get in this form factor and capable of delivering high-performance gaming in a living room friendly PC. If you’re going to use it on a 4K TV, then be aware that the lack of HDMI 2.0 support will limit your refresh rates to 30Hz – to get 60Hz, you’ll have to use a DisplayPort output to a PC monitor. There’s no need to have a 4K TV to take advantage of the extra processing power however, as the VSR feature can squeeze much of the 4K goodness into a standard 1080p output – and without the 30Hz limitation.
This PC is excellent value for money for those who need it, but use on a standard desktop, there’s less incentive to buy such a system unless space is really tight, or you envisage frequently moving the system from place to place.