AOpen XC Cube EY855 review

Price when reviewed

There’s nothing more satisfying than building something, be it a model of the Cutty Sark made out of matchsticks or your own small-form-factor PC. You’ll get more use out of a PC, however, and AOpen makes it even more compelling with this new chassis.

AOpen XC Cube EY855 review

The EY855 variant of the XC Cube is quite unusual, as it sports a Socket 479 designed for Pentium M processors. We’ve been impressed by these electrically frugal chips in laptops before, and the promise of a powerful desktop system that doesn’t sound like a vacuum cleaner can only be good news.

We tested the XC Cube with the same components we used for the AOpen i855GMEm-LFS (see p68): a 1.6GHz Pentium M 725 with 512MB of PC3200 RAM split between the two RAM sockets. And the results were impressive. With an overall application benchmark score of 1.71, it’s actually faster than the 3.4GHz Pentium 4 550 XC Cube AV with 2GB of RAM (see p54). And the AOpen UX855GME motherboard is significantly faster than its mini-ITX cousin, the i855GMEm-LFS, which scored 1.59.

These results cast the Pentium 4 in an interesting light, as the Pentium M is largely based on the Pentium III. It houses a huge 2MB cache, with the advanced branch prediction and bus architecture of the processor using it to its full potential. As such, it’s an incredibly efficient chip.

And it isn’t just efficient at processing tasks. We compared the heat output with that of the XC Cube AV by placing a thermal sensor to the underside of the optical drives, directly above the CPU heatsinks, and turning off SmartFan to keep fan speed consistent. The 55mm fan on the Pentium M heatsink was barely audible, while the XC Cube AV’s fan made a passable impression of a carpet-cleaning unit. It did keep the system cooler at 33.5C, rather than the Pentium M’s 37.9C (which still isn’t hot enough to be of concern), but with a significantly audible sacrifice.

Dropping a Radeon 9800 into the 4x AGP slot and looping our tough Doom 3 benchmark for two hours didn’t result in any overheating problems either, so the case will cater for gaming needs. Using the Radeon 9800, we managed to get 28fps from Doom 3 at 1,280 x 1,024, and 38fps from Halo at the same resolution. This isn’t a machine for dedicated gamers though: the 4x AGP will prove a bottleneck for the current generation of high-end graphics cards, and the Pentium M itself isn’t as well equipped as a fast Pentium 4 to deal with the demands.

The rest of the system is standard SFF fare, with the inevitable accessibility issues for the system builder. The drive cage is held in place with two screws and needs to be removed to fit the RAM, as with all barebones systems. However, you’ll also have to fit the optical drive while the cage is out; cables on either side will otherwise block the screw holes. Getting the optical drive in the right position is tricky too. You’ll have to choose the model you use with care, as the front panel’s opening pin won’t work with drives with an open button more than 25mm from the front-right edge.

The rest of the system is relatively straightforward to assemble. The hard disk is mounted sideways and slides out via a thumbscrew. All the necessary IDE connectors are supplied, plus all the other cables are pre-attached and tied up neatly.

Although the Molex power connectors are in fairly logical positions – one next to the hard disk bay, for example – we still had to snip a few ties, and there aren’t any spares supplied. There are three free Molex connectors and a floppy drive power plug free, though, so even the graphics card can be powered without needing to double up connectors.

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