Opening up the DinoPC Mini Carnivore’s case is easy as pie: simply remove three large thumb-screws and slide the top off. Inside, things are necessarily cramped and somewhat messy, thanks in part to the custom 150W power supply being non-modular and lacking cable braiding. Nevertheless, most of the major air-flow routes – especially for the CPU with its stock Intel cooler – are left relatively unimpeded, and DinoPC has done a decent enough job of cable tidying.
In addition to the 80mm CPU and 50mm graphics card coolers, the only other cooling is provided by an 80mm fan on the case’s side, which is speed adjustable on-the-fly using a small hardware switch at the PC’s rear. To be honest, with all these small fans we were expecting the Mini Carnivore to be loud, but thankfully that didn’t turn out to be the case. While certainly audible, the hum it produces is not particularly annoying or distracting, and if you put this little machine under your television you shouldn’t notice it except in the quietest moments. Predictably, the graphics card was the main noise culprit, so if passively-cooled 5570s come to market you can make it even quieter. For now though, its noticeable hum when taxed is the price you pay for its relatively powerful DX11 capabilities.
Impressively, under load the Mini Carnivore never became more than warm to the touch, and CPU temperature remained below 60 degrees at all times. Equally impressive was this tiny PC’s power usage, with the highest we measured being 95W. This might seem a lot compared to the Acer Aspire Revo and Mac Mini, which use roughly a fourth of this, but again the graphics card is largely to blame here.
Because of its mini-ITX form factor, the only free slot or connector on the tiny Gigabyte GA-H55N-USB3 motherboard is a single SATA port, which you can use to add a second 2.5in hard drive in the free drive bay right next to the installed Fujitsu 320GB model. Unfortunately, this hard drive runs at a rather slow 5,400rpm (rather than the 7,200rpm of 3.5in and faster 2.5in HDDs) which can noticeably affect performance on occasion. Both of the motherboard’s memory slots are filled with unadorned sticks of Simtronics DDR3 1,333MHz DDR3 RAM, and 4GB is the highest pre-installed capacity available. Naturally DinoPC supplies a 64-bit version of Windows 7 to make the most of it.
(centre)The Mini Carnivore outperforms other SFF machines we’ve looked at, though obviously it can’t match the far bigger and £100 more expensive Cyberpower Infinity i5 Achillies XT.(/centre)
In terms of general performance, the Mini Carnivore more than holds its own against anything in a similar size bracket. Because of its faster Intel dual-core Core i3 530 processor, which runs at 2.9GHz by default, it easily outstrips the Dell Inspiron Zino HD and Mesh Cute (despite the Carnivore’s slower hard drive). The i3 530 will handle all but the most heavily multithreaded tasks effortlessly, and as it’s socket 1156 there’s plenty of upgrade potential (though you’ll need to keep the weak 150W power supply in mind). What these benchmarks don’t show, though, is how the slow hard drive will make everyday use a little frustrating as boot, game-loading and file-access times will all be quite long. To counter this you can opt for an SSD upgrade, though if you aren’t prepared to install it yourself this will set you back another £160 for a 128GB Kingston from DinoPC.
Thanks to the Sapphire ATI/AMD Radeon HD 5570 video card, all kinds of advanced video processing will be handled effortlessly, with full support for GPU acceleration, Blu-ray playback and decoding of HD audio. This also brings the advantage of DirectX 11 compatibility, though we’ll see in a bit whether the card’s performance is adequate for games to benefit.