- Review Price: £1395.00
So far, Cryo’s impressive Nano remains the gaming PC with the best performance to size ratio that we’ve ever tested. However, it was just a tad too large to comfortably fit in the small form factor (SFF) category. On the flip side, the DinoPC Mini Carnivore was certainly small but lacked the graphical grunt to be considered a ‘real’ gaming machine. So all told we’re understandably excited to be looking at the Nano’s smaller brother, the Cryo Pico.
This compact gaming beast is based on the same mini-ITX form factor as the Mini Carnivore, but its larger case has made room for one impressive spec-list: an overclocked Core i5 CPU is joined by a Radeon HD 5870 graphics card (still one of the best-performing graphics cards around), 4GB of RAM and a 60GB SSD for the OS and applications, with a traditional 500GB hard drive thrown in for storage. That should be plenty of power to tear through any game now and in the near future.
First off, we would just like to complement Cryo on its naming scheme: short, snazzy and to the point. Likewise, packing its machines in strong wooden crates rather than cardboard boxes earns brownie points, though undoing the 16 screws that hold the lid closed is a bit of a pain.
Thankfully, Cryo listened to our few complaints about the Nano, and the Pico shows no sign of superfluous and ugly finishes or sharp logo plates. Instead, the Cryo logo can now be found on a bubble sticker on the front panel. It’s not the most elegant design touch we’ve seen but thankfully is fairly easy to remove should you wish (we would – Ed.). If removed you’re left with the Lian-Li Q08 case that houses the Pico in its original brushed black metal glory. Lian Li is known for its simple, smooth lines and the Q08 is no exception, making for quite an eye-pleaser.
The case’s front is lit up by the blue LEDs embedded in the huge transparent 140mm front fan, nicely matching its blue-backlit power button. The smaller reset button doubles as a hard drive activity indicator, though here the intermittent backlighting is – somewhat jarringly – red rather than blue. Indeed, the Q08’s looks are very similar to Lian Li’s V351 which housed Cryo’s Nano, though obviously it’s a lot smaller at 227 x 272 x 345mm.
One of the advantages of the Q08 over other (smaller) mini-ITX chassis is that it uses standard-sized components. Thus it comes with a 5.25in optical drive (hidden behind an attractive and sturdy hinged metal bezel) rather than a slimline model, has plenty of room for a standard power supply, supports the biggest graphics cards and up to five 3.5in hard drives, all making it cheaper and easier to upgrade. As standard the optical drive fitted is a DVD-rewriter, though Cryo offers a Blu-ray upgrade for £76, which is reasonable value for a 10x drive.
Two USB ports on the Cryo Pico’s front wear the blue livery of USB 3.0, but that is in fact all they do; the DFI Lanparty MI-P55-T36 mini-ITX motherboard doesn’t support USB 3.0 so these blue ports are actually ordinary USB 2.0. If you prefer to have USB 3.0 support Cryo will swap the Lanparty for the same Gigabyte GA-H55N-USB3 board found in the DinoPC Mini Carnivore and, since you can’t add a USB 3.0 expansion card to a mini-ITX motherboard without sacrificing the dedicated graphics card, it’s an option we’d generally recommend. However, this will lower the overclock from 3.8 to 3.6GHz, as Cryo has informed me it can only use the stock cooler with the Gigabyte board for now (a small price to pay – Ed).
Around the PC’s back we have six more USB ports (one of which doubles as powered eSATA), two PS2 ports, eight-channel digital and analogue audio jacks and Gigabit Ethernet, while a Radeon HD 5870 graphics card provides twin DVIs, HDMI and DisplayPort.
Opening the Cryo Pico is not as easy as with most PCs thanks to Lian Li’s use of half a dozen screws per side panel. However, due to this machine’s limited upgrade potential it’s not as much of a problem as on most systems. Inside things are slightly messy despite some attempts at cable tidying, due mainly to Cryo’s use of a non-modular 650W Corsair power supply.
The Pico is powered by a dual-core Core i5 655K Clarkdale CPU. This runs at 3.2GHz by default but Cryo guarantees an overclock of 3.8GHz on all Core i3/5 CPUs (when using the LanParty motherboard). While not as impressive as the 4GHz + we saw on its Nano, this is one of the sacrifices you make for the Pico’s smaller size.
It’s backed by 4GB of 1,600MHz DDR3 RAM, which fills both of the motherboard’s available memory slots, with a clean install of Windows 7 64-bit taking full advantage.
Storage is more interesting, with a 60GB Corsair Force series SSD as the main system drive. Based on the new SandForce controller that’s been stirring up a storm, this lightning-fast drive means everything you install on it boots in a snap. It’s not only noticeable when booting Windows, but also when starting applications and loading games. For storage there’s a slightly miserly 500GB Samsung hard drive, but you can upgrade to a healthier 1TB model for £25.
(centre)Performance is great for such a small machine, with the Pico outgunning our other two compact gaming systems, the Nano and Panzer.(/centre)
As far as cooling goes, the transparent, backlit 140mm fan at the front is a case original, while Cryo has replaced the top 120mm fan with a quieter Noctua model. Likewise a 120mm Noctua is installed on the custom CPU cooler, which is no less than the distinguished Scythe BIG Shuriken, ironically a low-profile cooler. Its performance is impressive considering its small size, keeping the overclocked CPU below 50 degrees on average even under load.
Unfortunately, despite its custom fans and the effort put into its cooling, the Pico is not exactly a quiet system. It’s not too intrusive though and certainly not out of line with many tower systems, but we were hoping the extras would have helped to make it stand out in this regard.
Naturally, the most important element of any gaming PC is its graphics performance, and we couldn’t wait to see how the mini-ITX Cryo Pico held up. Thanks to its HIS Radeon HD 5870, the Pico breezed through most of our game results. Starting off with the ultimate stress-test for any gaming system, Crysis ran perfectly at High Detail.
Even cranking the settings up to Very High Detail while keeping resolution to 1,920 x 1,200 returned a playable 32.2fps average in what is still one of the most demanding games ever made. It’s a very impressive show from a PC this small!
After chomping through Crysis for lunch, the Pico had Stalker: Call of Pripyat for dinner and Call of Duty 4 for supper, yet it still came back for more..
Essentially, the Pico will run any game out there with ease, at least if you don’t go above Full HD resolutions. Of course that’s no less than what you would expect from a gaming machine costing nearly £1,400, but taking its small size into consideration the performance on offer here is impressive regardless.
This brings us neatly to value considerations. If you spec up the exact machine we’ve reviewed on Cryo’s website you’ll get a price of £1,438 (from the £995 base configuration) but as a loyal TrustedReviews reader you can call up and quote TR to get that down to £1,395. Unfortunately, component prices have reversed the usual trend to become more expensive in recent months, so you’re not paying quite as much of a premium for the Pico’s small dimensions as you might think – especially when considering Cryo’s decent overclock, high-end components and notable two-year RTB warranty.
Yes, you can get an equally powerful setup for quite a bit less if you settle for a tower system, but that’s not the point. If you’re looking for something to take along to LAN parties without compromising on performance, the Cryo Pico should be one of your primary candidates. As mini-ITX gaming systems become more popular we’ll be seeing more choice in this segment, but for now it’s one of the very few options out there.
One thing to keep in mind (for those not adverse to building their own system or lucky enough to find an assembler that offers systems based on them) is that a similarly-sized Shuttle barebones like the SX58J3 will give you support for Intel’s top-end Core i7 CPUs and four RAM slots – in addition to the ability to install two single-slot graphics cards for some CrossFire or SLI action. That’s more than any mini-ITX board can offer right now, yet Shuttle’s solution is far more expensive and its scarcity in pre-built systems mean the SX58J3 is not going to be an option for many.
Offering a choice of overclocked processors, top graphics cards and various motherboards, we have a new small gaming system performance king from Cryo in the form of the Pico. However, it’s not the quietest PC around nor the smallest high-end mini-ITX system we’re likely to see in the near future, so it might be worth waiting to check out some forthcoming contenders to the SFF throne.
Addendum 19-07-2010: Both the spec as reviewed and the base configuration (which drops the SSD and downgrades to a 400W PSU and Radeon HD5770, but should still give you competent gaming performance) have dropped by £100 since time of writing, and when quoting TR can now be had for £1,295 and £895 respectively.
Score in detail
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