Small form factor PCs have never been more popular that they are now. It seems that for the majority of home users the idea of a small, stylish and unobtrusive PC is a very attractive proposition. For proof of this just look at how popular Apple’s iMacs have been.
Apple was the first manufacturer to produce a computer that people didn’t want to hide in a corner. For many buyers the iMac represented a desirable addition to their décor, rather than something that detracted from it. It took a while for the PC industry to catch up, but we’re finally starting to see PCs that wouldn’t look out of place in a modern living room.
The PowerQube Zero-One from CCL Computers certainly looks the part with a brushed silver finish and a bright blue power LED on the front. It’s slightly larger than other cube systems like the e-Style II from Evesham, but it’s not what you’d call large. Unlike the the Evesham which is based on a Biostar chassis, the PowerQube is built on a Soltek platform. There was a time when your only choice in the cube PC arena was Shuttle, so it’s good to see that there’s more variety available now.
Instead of the slide-down cover favoured by Biostar and Shuttle, this Soltek box hides its optical drives behind spring loaded flaps. The slightly larger dimensions allow for two optical drives rather than the single drive solution usually seen in cube PCs. When the eject button is pressed below either flap, the tray will push open the spring loaded flap and hold it down until you close the tray. This worked fine, but unfortunately the front of the chassis is a bit flimsy and it’s possible to just tap it nowhere near an eject button and witness both optical drives extend their trays.
The drives hiding behind the spring loaded flaps are both manufactured by Lite-On. The top unit is a DVD writer that can burn DVD-R/RW, DVD+R/RW and CD-R/RW media. Below this is a 16-speed DVD-ROM drive.
There’s another flap underneath the optical drives that houses a 7-in-one memory card reader. This is a great addition especially if you use a digital camera or PDA. Unfortunately, the card reader in our review unit refused to work. Not only did the card reader not function, but none of the USB ports worked either. We thought this was very strange indeed and after further investigation we found that when we disconnected the card reader the USB ports miraculously sprang into life. We assume that the card reader in this particular model was faulty which is why it also knocked the USB ports out when connected, but this should not be the case with production models. It’s definitely something worth checking straight away if you buy a PowerQube though.
There’s one final flap at the very bottom of the case which hides a plethora of ports. Here you’ll find two USB 2.0 ports, a FireWire port, an optical S/PDIF and headphone and mic ports.
Inside the PowerQube you’ve got some pretty meaty specs considering its diminutive size. An AMD Athlon XP 2800+ sits in the driving seat with 512MB of 333MHz DDR memory riding shotgun. Graphics come courtesy of a 256MB Sapphire Radeon 9600 card, even though the nVidia NForce 2 motherboard sports onboard graphics with dual VGA output. Storage is well taken care of by a 120GB Hitachi hard disk with a 7,200rpm spindle speed and 8MB of cache.
CCL has stuck with the NForce onboard sound since there’s no space inside the case for a sound card. This is no bad thing since you get a full 5.1 channel output, making it ideal for home cinema purposes. A set of VideoLogic ZXR550 5.1 channel speakers complement the sound chip and make the PowerCube a reasonable choice as a home cinema PC. That said, if you were going to use a small form factor PC as an entertainment centre in your living room, you’d probably want a TV tuner inside it like the Evesham e-Style II.