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When it comes to gaming, DinoPC's Mini Carnivore matched our expectations pretty well. It's certainly the most capable gaming system of its size we've ever looked at, but don't expect to be able to play the latest titles at anything but their most basic. We decided to throw this SFF PC in at the deep end and tried getting Crysis to run. Surprisingly, it offered a (barely) playable experience. Because Crysis generally seems to run smoother than most first person shooters at sub-30fps, we managed a just about playable 23.7fps at 1280 x 720 and High Detail. Kick detail down another notch and it actually runs quite well, though you do lose out on significant visual appeal.
Despite being a more recent, DirectX11 title, Stalker: Call of Pripyat is generally less demanding than Crysis. However, with the resolution hitched up to 1,920 x 1,200 the Mini Carnivore still struggled, providing an average of 25.6fps.
Now we're getting more within the Radeon HD 5570's capabilities. A few dips here and there aside, Call of Duty 4 ran at a smooth 30.6fps average at 1,920 x 1,200. To put this into perspective, in the same test the Mesh Cute only gave us 15fps at 1,280 x 720. To sum up then, DinoPC's machine performs adequately for casual gamers and those happy to play at lower resolutions.
So how does the Mini Carnivore hold up overall? The answer to this question is complicated, and depends largely on your needs. If you're a gamer to whom size is more important than performance, this is pretty much as good as it gets; though we'll be reviewing a few truly high-end mini-ITX gaming systems shortly, they will inevitably be slightly bigger.
As a home theatre PC (HTPC) this £550 (£709 with Wi-Fi N and a Blu-ray writer) DinoPC SFF holds up fairly well. Its attractive front, low profile, quiet operation (when not under heavy load) and relative expandability (including USB 3.0) make it an interesting option here. The Mesh Cute does offer a 1TB hard drive, Blu-ray player and Wi-Fi N dongle for around the same £550 price as the Mini Carnivore, but it's also bigger, noisier and less powerful. Our favourite option for HTPC duties, however, is still the even smaller Dell Inspiron Zino HD, which can currently be had with 6GB of RAM, a Blu-ray drive and 1TB HDD for that same £550 – much better value than when we reviewed it.
Last of all there's the Mini Carnivore's application as a general-purpose small desktop system. For daily office and productivity it's overpowered, and something like the Acer Aspire Revo will do the job just fine for around £200. However, if you are a demanding user and want something that has a smaller footprint than your keyboard, DinoPC's smallest PC is an excellent choice.
Bringing USB 3.0 and (barely) playable DirectX 11 graphics to the table for the first time in a PC this small, DinoPC's Mini Carnivore is simply the most powerful PC of its size we've come across and doesn't demand too much of a premium for its diminutive dimensions. However, its appeal is not universal: for demanding gamers it's not powerful enough, while for many other users it provides more power than they'll need, leaving cheaper alternatives as the better option.
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