Shootouts

Small form factor gaming desktop shootout: Punching above their weight

By Koh Wanzi - 28 Oct 2017

Conclusion

And the best mini gaming PC is…

Small form factor gaming PCs are an up and coming niche that looks like it could have considerable mass appeal. We’re at the point in system and hardware design where it’s possible to fit the power of a full-sized desktop into a chassis just a fraction of the size, so there are really few trade-offs if you decide to go this route.

The systems reviewed here are testament to the fact that a small and powerful system is entirely possible today. However, what’s interesting is that they all go about doing it in slightly different ways.

There’s the Zotac for those who want the smallest possible footprint, and the ASUS for those who want a little more bling to their system. On the other hand, the Aftershock and Dreamcore machines favor the DIY route, with plenty more customization options and performance.

 

Aftershock Impulse V2

The Aftershock Impulse V2 is a smartly designed mini-ITX PC with the power of a full-fledged gaming tower. It makes few compromises in terms of specifications and performance, and manages to maintain full upgradeability, with the freedom to swap out things like the GPU, memory, and storage drives. It even avoids one of the pitfalls of systems in this category by fitting the power supply unit in the chassis itself, so there’s no need to contend with a clunky power brick.

But best of all is the fact that it is quite a bit cheaper than the Dreamcore One while offering very similar specifications. The Dreamcore has an Intel B250 board versus the H110 one on the Aftershock, a higher clocked MSI GPU, and a larger 250GB SSD, but those differences aren’t that apparent in real-world usage. As a result, the Aftershock Impulse V2 comes across as an overall better choice at an attractive S$1,840, and also saves you the trouble of dealing with a bulky power adapter. This may not be the fastest system you can get, but it's definitely the most well-rounded option from a performance and value perspective. As such, the Aftershock Impulse V2 gets our nod for the best overall winner of this shootout.

 

ASUS ROG GR8 II

The ASUS ROG GR8 II sits in an awkward position here. It’s a reasonably capable gaming desktop, but it still falls short when compared to the competition. At S$2,149, it’s not unreasonably expensive, but it still fails to match its rivals in terms of specifications and price. The Aftershock Impulse V2 is cheaper, but it’s also more powerful, has more upgrade options, and boasts a better chassis design with its integrated power supply. The ROG GR8 II’s most striking feature would probably be its customizable RGB lighting, but unless you must have that, it’s difficult to overlook the limitations of the soldered NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 3GB graphics card. Ultimately, it lacks truly compelling features to help it stand out, despite coming with an Intel Core i7-7700 processor, the best CPU of the lot.

 

Dreamcore One

The Dreamcore One is a top contender for first place. It has all the right ingredients, with a good mix of upgradeability, performance, and an attractive design. It also distinguishes itself with higher-end components than the Aftershock Impulse V2, such as a third-party Noctua cooler (instead of Intel’s stock cooler), a higher-clocked MSI graphics card, and an Intel B250 motherboard. In addition, it arguably has a more compact footprint, with a narrow base that will sit comfortably on the most space constrained desk. The problem is that it is also more expensive than the Impulse V2 at S$2,320, and isn’t significantly faster. Power users might appreciate the additional expansion options that the B250 chipset offers, but most folks probably won’t notice the difference. That said, the Dreamcore One remains a solid choice, especially if its particular design appeals to you.

Having said that, we decided to award it our Gaming Rig award as an acknowledgement of its thoughtful selection of better performing components. It includes things like the aftermarket cooler by default, and this attention to detail is testament to its focus on performance. 

 

Zotac Magnus EN1070K

Zotac’s mini PC may be the most interesting of them all. It’s absolutely tiny, and yet packs enough performance and I/O ports to rival the likes of the Aftershock and Dreamcore machines. That’s extremely impressive, but it also comes at a price. At S$2,437, this is the most expensive system in this shootout, and it caters to a very specific breed of users. This means those who absolutely must have a powerful system with the smallest possible footprint, and who are willing to put up with its limitations. For example, it uses an MXM graphics module and a 35W T-series CPU, so upgrade options are limited, even though you can take it apart quite easily. Fortunately, this system also offers the largest SSD of the lot at 500GB, so that scores it some additional points, especially considering how small it is compared to it others.

While the Magnus EN1070K may not be the fastest or most upgradeable system, its tiny size means it stands in a class of its own. It takes the term small form factor desktop to another level that the other systems cannot match, and for a PC that barely takes up any space on your desk, there's simply few others like it. As a result, we're giving it our Editor's Choice award because of the outstanding complement of features and performance it offers in such a compact chassis. 

Ratings Breakdown
  Aftershock Impulse V2 ASUS ROG GR8 II Dreamcore One Zotac Magnus EN1070K
Design 8.5 7.5 8.0 9.0
Features 8.0 8.0 8.5 8.5
Performance 8.5 7.5 8.5 8.5
Value 9.0 7.5 8.0 8.0
Overall 8.5 7.5 8.5 8.5
Price (S$) $1,840 $2,149 $2,320 $2,437

 

Final Ratings

Aftershock Impulse V2.

Click here for rundown of pros/cons

ASUS ROG GR8 II.

 

Click here for rundown of pros/cons

Dreamcore One.

Gaming Rig Award

Click here for rundown of pros/cons

Zotac Magnus EN1070K.

HWM+HWZ Tech Awards - Editor's Choice Awards

Click here for rundown of pros/cons

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