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If you want a high-performance, overclocked PC, you're usually going to end up with a big, heavy beast – like the CyberPower Infinity i7 Phoenix. On the other hand, small form factor (SFF) machines tend to compromise dramatically, and if you do want a powerful one you usually end up paying a significant premium for a machine that doesn't offer much flexibility. Common limitations include needing to use slim-line optical drives, only being able to install a single hard drive or small video card, and small, noisy fans – and that's if you avoid systems from the likes of Shuttle with proprietary (i.e. non-replaceable) motherboards.
As one of the few assemblers to offer high-performance gaming PCs in relatively small chassis in the UK, can Cryo change all that? Well, on paper the company's Nano certainly makes for an impressive attempt. Housed in an attractive SFF Lian Li case with optional custom "Graphite" finish, the Nano offers a water-cooled, overclocked Core i5 or i7 processor, up to 8GB of RAM, as much as 6TB of hard drive storage (in various configurations including SSD+HDD and RAID), and pretty much any graphics card setup you can afford, up to twin ATI Radeon HD 5970s - all installed in a high-end Asus Republic of Gamers micro-ATX board.
The system we were sent will set you back just under £1,000 and provides a Core i5 overclocked to over 4GHz, an ATI Radeon 5850, a DVD-rewriter and 500GB hard drive. So, it's relatively modest considering some of the options on offer but it still should be an adequate gaming system.
The first, very pleasant, surprise came when the system arrived; unlike even the most expensive PCs we've had in to date, which all came in various cardboard boxes, the Cryo is packaged in a very solid wooden crate lined with thick foam and sporting rope carrying handles – nice! Though we were slightly less enthusiastic after removing the 14 screws that hold the lid closed, this is undoubtedly the best-packaged system we've come across, and lends the Nano a feel of class before it's even out of the box.
At 279 x 262 x 373mm (WxDxH), the Lian Li PC-V351 is barely small enough to still be called a SFF case. With its brushed metal sides and tight, unbroken lines it's a very attractive box though. Unfortunately, our model came with the aforementioned Graphite finish (offering "aerospace-grade carbon fibre and chrome construction"), which is supposed to not only lend a uniquely attractive visual impact but also help shield the PC from EMF for whatever that's worth.
I say unfortunately because, in real life, the graphite finish (which is only applied to the two sides of the case) really isn't that attractive. Personally, I think the carbon fibre panels look inferior to the brushed aluminium they hide, and while this might be subjective, the poor finish and fit of the panels is anything but. It's especially noticeable around the side connectivity, where cut-outs are sloppily done by hand.
Another negative is that these custom carbon fibre panels block the case's second 5.25in external bay so you can't add a second optical drive or memory card reader at a later date, not to mention that they make plugging USB devices in less secure due to the increased width. Considering you have to cough up an extra £230 for the privilege of owning the custom Graphite finish we heartily recommend avoiding it, especially as without it the Nano looks stunning.