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When it comes to technology, smaller is better – or at least usually more desirable. Unfortunately powerful gaming PCs tend to be big, hulking brutes, like the DinoPC 6th Sense. This is why the Award-winning Cryo Nano came as such a pleasant surprise: it was a system that didn't compromise on power to achieve its relatively small size.
Now we're looking at the Chillblast Fusion Panzer, a machine that straddles the line between 'compact enough to carry around' and 'big enough to allow for full-sized motherboards'. Interestingly, it not only offers very similar specifications to the Nano - including an overclocked Core i5 750 processor and Radeon 5850 video card – but demands a very similar price of £985. Though the Chillblast doesn't offer water-cooling, you do get a larger hard drive and more significantly, its motherboard offers support for USB 3.0 and SATA 6Gb/s – a significant advantage in terms of future-proofing.
Chillblast's smallest gaming machine achieves its relatively diminutive dimensions by using NZXT's Panzerbox case. With dimensions of 24.5 x 45.5 x 45.5cm, this mostly aluminium mini tower is around 10cm shorter and shallower than your average full-tower PC case yet is about the same width. The effect is a case that looks considerably smaller than it actually is (it is in fact about the same height and depth as most mid-tower cases but 10cm wider). The top and most of the case's front are mesh, separated from the matt metal side panels by subtle plastic rails. It feels very solid yet still remains the lightest gaming PC we've reviewed after the CyberPower Infinity i5 Hercules SE.
Despite its overall impression being positive, the outside of the case does have its bad points too. General build quality is excellent, but the tiny power and reset buttons (which ideally shouldn't be the same shape and size) are alarmingly wobbly. They don't actually feel like they're going to fall off and they have a nice strong springiness to their action but the overall impression isn't good.
Likewise the removable panels are held in place by regular screws rather than thumbscrews. It's a long time since we've come across an enthusiast case that didn't offer tool-free panels, and thus it's annoying to have to get out a screw-driver just to open it up. Worst of all, this is actually Chillblast's fault, as the NZXT Panzerbox originally comes with thumb-screws, making the entire case tool-free. Note to PC assemblers: don't make cases more difficult to work with than they were originally!
NZXT's Panzerbox offers three 5.25in front bays, one of which Chillblast has filled with a DVD Rewriter. Thanks to the case's good selection of top panel connectors and the motherboard used, connectivity of the Fusion Panzer is actually the best of any sub-£1,000 PC we've come across. On the sloped section at its top, the case offers two USB ports (unfortunately too close together), silver microphone and headphone jacks, and an eSATA port.
At the back the Asus P7P55D-E LX USB 3.0 motherboard provides two PS2 ports, six USB 2.0 and two USB 3.0 connections, another eSATA port, a Gigabit Ethernet socket and digital optical plus 3.5mm analogue audio outputs. Twin DVI, HDMI and DisplayPort video outputs come courtesy of the Radeon 5850.