Gaming PCs are a difficult part of the market, because it's tough for assemblers to balance acceptable performance in the latest games with an attractive price. While of course there will always be those who would rather build their own system, many prefer the security and ease of buying a pre-built system backed by a complete guarantee. The best games-PC vendors will thus offer a combination of customisable and prebuilt systems, and that's exactly what market newcomer Ultimo PC brings to the table.
What we asked for was the smallest PC the company could offer, with gamer-friendly specifications for under £1000. Ultimo's answer arrived as the PC Nano NN Series, and nicely within budget at £949.99.
For this outlay, you get a 'mini chassis', with an Intel Core 2 Duo E8400 running at a speedy 3.00Ghz and cooled by a Thermaltake Blue Orb Mini. A 64-bit version of Windows Vista Premium makes full use of the four gigabytes of 800MHz Corsair DDR2 RAM, and a 500GB Samsung Spinpoint hard drive takes on storage duties. AMD's ATI 4850HD, which won our coveted Recommended Award, makes for a highly capable, relatively small and quiet gaming card.
Ultimo isn't as big as the likes of Dell and HP so understandably it uses commercially available cases, rather than custom built ones, across its range. Obviously, this can be an advantage or a down-side, depending on the quality of the case used. The Nano NN comes in a Thermaltake Lanbox HT, which initially surprised us by its sheer size. At 300 x 430 x 230mm (WxDxH), it isn't quite the svelte figure we were expecting and it's quite heavy to match, with the case alone weighing 7.5kg. One will certainly have to take Ultimo's "three times smaller than a gaming system" with a generous pinch of salt.
Nor does this compare very well to a SFF (small form factor) PC from Shuttle, like its 220 x 325 x 210mm model P2 4800P. But to be fair, a comparable specification from that company will set you back around £1500 MSRP, with only a one year warranty compared to Ultimo PC's three-year effort.
Getting back to the Lanbox HT, the front panel appears a little cluttered, but overall it makes a solid, clean impression. The whole case is constructed using steel, and the front section sports a black brushed metal finish, while the rest of it is glossy piano black. At the front you'll find two 7.4in drive bay covers with integrated optical drive front ends, one of which is taken up by a Samsung 20x Lightscribe DVD-writer. Below these is a 3.5in wide two-tone display which can be used to display things like case temperature, date, time, weather forecast, etc.
There's a range of media buttons below this, including volume and track controls, which combined with the screen, the right components, and the bundled remote make for a great Home Theatre PC setup. To the right of these is a large chrome power button, two garish LED indicators (combining both red and blue LEDs in such close proximty does nothing for the aesthetic) and below these a smaller chrome reset button.
To the left we find a vertically oriented empty 3.5in bay, which ideally should have contained a memory card reader. Underneath this reside 3.5mm headphone and microphone jacks, two USB2.0 ports and a FireWire port.