Amazingly built, somewhat expensive...
I’m absolutely torn when it comes to this amazing gaming machine from MSI. On the one hand, I’ve never seen so much gaming prowess jammed into such a tiny package – this is truly an incredible feat of engineering. On the other hand, there’s that rather scary price tag, though this is the kind of machine aimed at those who care little for their bank balance.
This is by far the smallest PC I’ve ever seen to pack this level of hardware – it’s simply astonishing, with an interior capacity of a mere 6.5 litres. Measuring just 27cm high, with a width of 18cm, this tubular case borrows heavily from Apple’s cylindrical Mac Pro design. Opening the case reveals a tonne of proprietary components, all arranged to fill every square centimetre of the chassis. It’s a three-sided affair, and two of the sides are occupied by the coolers for the twin GTX 980 GPUs. A large fan resides at the top of the case, sucking air up through the bottom of the case. It’s an elegant solution, but it is a little rowdier than a standard PC case. I measured the fan noise while running the 3DMark Fire Strike test, and it peaked at 58dB – definitely noticeable up close, and on par with noisy gaming laptops. You’re either going to need to crank your surround sound system or wear headphones to block this out.
Considering the tiny size, the range of outputs on the rear is impressive. Four USB 3.0 ports, twin Killer Gaming network ports (courtesy of the Killer E2400 chipset), twin HDMI 1.4, twin mini DisplayPort 1.2 and twin Thunderbolt/USB 3.1 ports all manage to fit on the small rear panel. That’s all rather dandy, but it’s what’s inside that is truly gobsmacking.
At the core of this machine (pun totally intended) is Intel’s Core i7 6700K CPU, a quad-cored Hyperthreaded beast that hits a maximum speed of 4.2GHz. It’s also overclockable, but given the tiny dimensions of this case, we wouldn’t recommend it. A rather ridiculous 32GB of DDR4 2133MHz feeds this powerful CPU, which is in turn fed by twin 128GB PCIe Gen3 x4 SSDs in RAID 0 mode, along with a secondary 1TB 7200RPM mechanical hard drive. There’s also an 802.11ac Wi-Fi adapter, along with the aforementioned Killer Ethernet solution.
It’s all breathtaking stuff. But it’s the GPUs that really make this miniature monster remarkable – MSI has used its shrink-ray to squeeze twin GTX 980 GPUs inside this box. Thankfully they appear to run at top speed, hitting 1202MHz under load, just shy of the 1216MHz Boost speed of Nvidia’s reference design. They come with the full complement of 2048 shader units. Memory speed is clocked at 7GHz, but memory has been doubled to 8GB… per card!
The most surprising aspect of all of this is the power supply. MSI has managed to get all of this running with a meagre 450W power supply, which is simply astonishing. I’d never suggest building a PC with such a low-wattage PSU, as each GPU can demand up to 165W of power, for a combined total of 330W. This leaves just 120W for the CPU and other peripherals – talk about just scraping in.
As expected, performance is utterly bombastic. Sure, we’d have loved to see 980 Ti GPUs instead, but twin 980 GPUs still deliver incredible frame rates and are enough to power a 4K screen.
The question remains – is that $7000 price tag worth it? For the majority of us, hell no; we can build a faster machine for a good $2500 less, though our more affordable PC will have to fit inside a full-sized ATX tower. Yet MSI isn’t aiming this box at peons like you and I. It’s meant for the same people who bought the Apple Mac Pro because it was a thing of beauty, not because it delivered frames per dollar. It’s for those who want a tiny yet powerful PC to sit next to their $10,000 TV and $15,000 sound system, in which case it’s an absolute ripper of a machine.