- Review Price: £1457.00
Anyone who’s been reading the site for a while will know that I’m quite a fan of small form factor PCs. These days there’s very little reason to have a big box sitting on or even under your desk. Few will argue that the company that really started the SFF revolution was Shuttle, but lately there have been some serious challenges for the SFF throne, with Biostar leading the charge. I was therefore pleased when Mesh sent me a small form factor PC based on Shuttle’s latest design.
There’s no denying that this is a good looking PC, in some ways even better looking than the Biostar iDEQs. The main body of the system is finished in matt black brushed alluminium, but the it’s the front that makes it look special. The centre fascia on the case has a dark mirrored finish, that looks seriously cool. Embedded in the mirrored fascia are the power and reset buttons which are interspersed with a bright blue power light and a yellow hard disk indicator light. Also integrated into the fascia is a 6-in-1 card reader, making it simple to transfer pictures from your digital camera or data from your PDA.
Above the fascia is a Sony DVD writer. When you’ve only got room for one optical drive, this is a pretty good choice. This drive will write DVD+R/-R at eight-speed and DVD+RW/-RW at four-speed, which is pretty much cutting edge right now. You can of course also burn CD-R and CD-RW media as well, which should cover pretty much all of your potential needs. The drive is also black to match the case.
Below the mirrored fascia is a decent array of ports. Here you’ll find two USB 2.0 ports and a four-pin FireWire port, as well as line-in, mic and headphone sockets.
Anyone who still uses legacy devices (like myself) will be glad to see both a parallel and serial port at the rear of the case. This is one area where I found the Biostar iDEQ lacking, although I’ve since found myself a parallel port cable to attach to my iDEQ. Also at the back you’ll find a 10/100 Ethernet port, two more USB 2.0 ports, a six-pin FireWire port, another set of analog audio connections and optical digital in and out ports.
Despite its small dimensions, Mesh has equipped this Shuttle X box with a formidable armoury of components. The CPU of choice is an AMD Athlon 64 3000+ backed up with 512MB of PC3200 DDR SDRAM. Not a bad base specification, but Mesh has really pushed the boat out with the graphics solution. Sitting in the single AGP slot is an ATI Radeon 9800XT graphics card. This card comes fitted with 256MB of memory and is currently top of the tree in the graphics arena. The graphics card alone shows that Mesh is aiming this PC at the home entertainment market, but there is a lot more inside this little box to make it appeal to the target user.
The single PCI slot is filled with a Black Gold digital TV tuner. This means that you can use the Cubex64 for watching TV and as a digital video recorder as well. Since this is a digital tuner you can access all of the freeview channels, just in case you want to watch multiple repeats at various times of the day. Of course you will need pretty good reception in your area to make full use of the digital tuner, but if you’ve got a strong signal you’ll be able to use this little cube as your TV and VCR combo. You can even download electronic programme guides from the Internet to make sure that you never miss an episode of 24. You even get an infrared remote control so you can control the TV tuner just like any other TV. The 160GB S-ATA Maxtor hard disk should be able to store a fair amount of recorded TV, but at least you can burn anything you want to keep off to DVD to make sure that your disk doesn’t fill up.
Mesh hasn’t skimped on the screen – supplying a ViewSonic VG910s 19in TFT display. This isn’t quite as nice as the ViewSonic VP range of monitors, but it’s a lovely screen nonetheless. The silver bezel is reasonably narrow and the front fascia hides a set of small stereo speakers. The sound from the speakers is a little tinny, which is to be expected, but you probably won’t be using them. Both D-SUB and DVI inputs are present and Mesh supplies both cables with the Cubex64. Connecting the screen up to the Radeon 9800XT via DVI produces a sharp and clear image, and negates the need for any image adjustment. The native resolution of 1,280 x 1,024 is the same as you’ll find on a 17in TFT, but many people will prefer the slightly larger physical area of a 19in display.
Sound is handled by the onboard AC97 5.1-channel audio chipset. The signal is pumped out to a set of Creative I-Trigue 3300 speakers. Now this isn’t the best set of 2-channel speakers out there from an audio point of view, but they do look very good, especially next to a system like this. That’s not to say that the sound is terrible, it’s just not as good as say, a set of Logitech Z3s.
Input devices are also impressive, with a wireles keyboard and mouse from Logitech. Logitech’s new “low profile” keyboards take a bit of getting used to, but I found the mouse to be just the right shape for my hand.
Hammering home the gaming aspect of this system is a pretty good bundle. In the box you’ll find Championship Manager Season 03/04 a game to which many of my friends are sadly addicted, Lock On: Air Combat Simulation, and more to my own taste, a full retail copy of XIII. To help you make the most of the bundled games Mesh also supplies a Logic3 StarFighter joystick, which is basic, but usable all the same. However, I did like the Nostromo Speedpad game controller. This is a strange cross section of keyboard combined with various controls and buttons that fall under your thumb and fingers perfectly. This is an ideal companion for first person shooter inthusiasts since the integrated wrist rest saves you from RSI, while allowing you to control your game as if you were using the keyboard, but with a few more handy controls at your fingertips.
Microsoft Windows XP Home comes preinstalled on the Cubex64+, as does Microsoft Works Suite 2004. The latter is a good compromise for the home user, since it includes Microsoft Word, which is pretty much the most used application in MS Office in the home.
As far as performance goes, the Cubex64+ turned in some impressive numbers despite its size. The SYSmark and PCMark scores are respectable enough, but when you look at the 3D scores, you can see that this is a great little games box. But then, with a Radeon 9800XT inside it I would have hoped it would be.
There’s no denying that there is a lot of kit squeezed into this little cube shaped bundle, and at £1,457 it’s not exactly cheap, but still feels like a bit of a bargain. Considering the high-quality components and sleek design, the Cubex64+ is definitely worth every penny. And as if the specification wasn’t high enough already, Mesh has wrapped the whole thing up in a three year parts and labour warranty, with the first two years on-site.
Mesh has taken a great little small form factor box and built a high-quality and well specified PC around it. The price may seem high, but when you consider how much kit you’re getting and how good it looks, the cost of the Cubex64+ is well and truly justified.
Score in detail