Small form factor (SFF) PCs have come a long way in the past couple years. Early units were more proof of concept, packing in decent features into a small package, but they were never quite up to the standards set by full-sized computer systems. That has changed somewhat since, as they've become somewhat expandable and upgradable, as well as offering modern chipset features enthusiasts have come to expect in any computer.
FIC are no strangers to small form factors, releasing a number of units to address markets from business users to enthusiasts. Their Ice Cube VL67 was a great mini computer as it paired the i865G chipset with a slightly different, albeit functional look from conventional SFFs at the time. Despite the changes over the years, many SFF PCs, including the Ice Cube, were still limited in the amount of expansion they could do, particularly in the expansion card area. which we'll be looking at today, addresses the shortcoming, as well as offering new features unseen in SFFs until now.
|Intel Pentium 4 processor up to Northwood 3.06Ghz or Prescott 3.6GHz, FSB 533/800Mhz
|Intel 865G & ICH5
|Intel 865G integrated graphics
|2X DIMM DDR 333/400 Mhz; up to 2GB
|1 X AGP slot
2 X PCI slots
|Intel 82562EZ (10/100)
|ICH5 with ALC202A
The FIC Condor
Despite the availability of new AMD and Intel CPUs, the Condor is strictly a Pentium 4 Socket 478 system. The i865G is a decent chipset, but hardly cutting edge today. There is a new Condor (and new Ice Cube) currently in the works, so that is something to keep in mind if you're shopping for a new barebone. That being said, the Condor does support the latest Socket 478 CPUs, including the Prescott, as well as two PCI slots and one AGP, which is one more expansion slot available that your typical mini computer.
The Condor differs from the "cube" look we're accustomed to, going for a more traditional shape which is "rectangular". Don't let the design fool you however, as the Condor is significantly smaller than most mid-tower cases, as pictured above against the Lian Li PC65.
The chassis is constructed primarily of steel, making the Condor a little heavier than aluminum based SFFs. While the steel is heavier, the properties of the metal should make the chassis much more robust. As the Condor is targeted at gamers, the tougher case should be more resistant to the bumps LAN goers may go through during transport. With that in mind, the Condor, even when fully loaded, is quite a bit lighter (and obviously smaller) than your typical mid-tower.
While the chassis is made of steel, the outer shell is plastic. Though we mentioned the bumps may not damage the chassis itself, the outer shell can certainly scratch or crack with enough force.
The front of the case sports a number of doors to stealth the input connections and drive bays. The main doors are opened in two ways; the floppy drive can be exposed by pushing the smaller mirrored door to the right, which will release the lock to it, while the side mounted CD-ROM is exposed by pressing the eject button located on the left half of the front bezel. The power button is recessed in the area of the mirrored door, and interestingly enough, there is no reset button here.
The design works well enough, but there are a couple problems we foresee with this method of drive hiding. For one thing, the button for the CD-ROM door is only good for ejecting the drive tray. If you wish to use the "play" or "skip" button on the drive, you will not be able to unless you manually open the drive door. We did not test the door with a slot loading drive, but ideally you would not use such a drive with the Condor as the disc can certainly be scratched over time if it grinds up against the door often enough.
Another problem we see is with the CD-ROM door itself, which uses a couple of springs to help the door close when the CD-ROM drive is closed. These springs are very fragile, along with being fully exposed, so some care must be taken to avoid breaking or losing them. Finally, FIC's eject system does not close the drive, and unless you have hands the size of Tinkerbell, you will not be able to use the drive's eject/close button and will have to push the drive tray closed. Most new drives will automatically shut once you give it a slight push, but some older drives do not, so keep this in mind.
At the bottom of the front bezel is another door which hides the two USB 2.0 ports, the headphone jack, and optical digital out. Simply press on the top of this door and the door slowly lowers itself to expose these connections.
Moving to the rear of the unit, we have all the IO connections, which are, from left to right; mouse and keyboard PS/2, VGA, four USB 2.0, one 10/100 RJ45, and three audio. We can also see the power supply fan exhaust, which is quite a bit larger than those found on other SFFs, as well as the three expansion slot shields. The shield is secured by two small Phillips screws, and both need to be removed in order to add any expansion cards.
For cooling, there is a number of ventilation holes scattered throughout the Condor. We already pointed out the PSU exhaust on the rear, and to compliment it are holes on the bottom on the unit as well as the top. The Condor is designed to draw cool air from the bottom of the chassis and vent it through the top, and this is done via a Tai Sol CPU heatsink.
The aluminum heatsink uses retention screws rather than Intel's clip design. As you can see from the images, the heatsink works a little differently than the typical cooler in that air is drawn through the side, rather than from the top. The air travels through the heatsink duct and exits from the other side of the fins (and out the top of the Condor). A TIM is pre-applied to the heatsink and does a fair job unlike TIMs we've used in the past. If you do plan on upgrading often, we do suggest removing the TIM beforehand and applying thermal paste as TIMs traditionally are difficult to remove once they are used.
On the bottom the Condor are a couple of hinges next to a couple of feet. These hinges serve to keep the Condor together when opening it. On the top, there is a silver slide tab which is the lock for the Condor.
With the Condor facing you, pulling the slide tab towards you will open the Condor up. The unit opens from the left side, and rests on the table/floor, while the right side remains upright. One benefit of this method of opening the Condor is it is much quicker to get in and out of the chassis than most SFFs, but I did find certain upgrades a bit trickier to do, which we'll explain later on.