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FIC Condor SFF FIC Condor SFF: A gamer's best friend? That's FIC's catch phrase, and we take them to task in our latest review.
Date: November 5, 2004
Manufacturer:
Written By:

Inside the Condor, everything is well laid out. I do like the fact that FIC pre-wires a lot of the peripherals, and use some cable management to keep things clear. There are also a couple lone cable clamps which can be used for things such as SATA cables.

On the left half of the chassis, we have access to the internal drive bays. Typical layout may be a CD-ROM, floppy and hard drive, but it is possible to forego the floppy for an additional hard drive.

The Condor uses an Intel D865GWV motherboard. We did a search on Google and Intel's site, but found no information about the motherboard itself. The chipset though supports Hyper-Threading, Dual Channel DDR, SATA, USB 2.0, and Intel's Extreme Graphics 2.

As for the board, FIC ditched the typical Intel retention bracket in favor of a screw mounting system for the heatsink as mentioned earlier. There are only two DIMM slots present, supporting up to DDR400 ram. From our testing, ram support seems to be quite solid, accepting our Corsair TWINX PC4000 Pro and Kingston HyperX PC4300 (automatically downclocking to DDR400), though not without a bit of work on our part.

As mentioned earlier, there is one AGP and two PCI slots available on the Condor. In theory, you should have no problems fitting AGP cards with enormous two slot coolers, such as the GeForce 6800 Ultra, though given the meager 200W power supply, getting the card to work is not guaranteed. We had no problems with an ATI Radeon X800 Pro to work, despite the recommendation of a 300W PSU. On a side note, we didn't have any problems with an AIW VE and AIW 9600 XT, which has been reported as having issues with the FIC Ice Cube (no boot or sudden shut downs).

The integrated peripherals are what we would call standard fare. Nothing really stands out, which is a bit of a surprise considering who the Condor was designed for. The Realtek ALC202A is an 18-bit, full duplex AC'97 2.2 compatible stereo audio CODEC capable of stereo output. The Intel 82562EZ LAN controller supports 10/100 speeds, so no Gigabit LAN here. Intel's Extreme Graphics 2 is serviceable for desktop work, but anybody interested in 3D gaming will definitely want to consider an AGP card in its place.

Other than the pre-wired front output connections, there are two IDE, one floppy and one SATA connection available for the user. IDE1 is pre-wired with a round IDE cable, but you can move it to IDE2 if you wish to use an IDE hard drive on IDE1, and keep the existing IDE cable for the CD-ROM on IDE2. Something to keep in mind if you wish to do that though; there is not much slack with the IDE cable as it runs under the motherboard. We found plugging in this cable into IDE2 with another cable in IDE1 to be a bit difficult, but not impossible.

BIOS

In regards to the motherboard BIOS, your options are very limited. While the Condor is targeted towards the gamer/enthusiast market, we found it strange that there were almost zero tweaking options available. We're sure the Intel branded motherboard is the root cause for this, but to allow no adjustments in simple things like FSB and memory timings is unacceptable. FIC knows how to put together a good motherboard, and in our opinion, they should have modified an i865G to suit their needs. I suppose the bright side of all of this is by forcing the user to stay within their hardware's specifications, heat and/or instability will be less of an issue.

Installation

Setting up the Condor is relatively a problem free affair, though there are inconveniences worth pointing out. While installing the drives is quite easy with the Condor's opening method, I did find it to be a hassle getting the motherboard half setup. If you've never tried it, installing heatsinks and peripherals sideways is not only difficult, but potentially dangerous if you're not careful to secure the motherboard while pushing in a card.

This is difficult to do with the motherboard "standing up", so thankfully, FIC included a couple of locks that you can undo to lay down the motherboard half. By pulling the locks up, you release a couple of tabs that separate the two halves. You may need to loosen some wires, but ours came apart without any problems.

Installing the CD-ROM was our first step, and that was as easy as pushing the drive in through the front until it was flush with the inner bezel. The hard drive was next, and that is done by pushing the drive in from the inside of the case. In both cases, there is a locking mechanism to secure the drives, and tool-free. The preinstalled IDE cable runs under the motherboard and out from perpendicular sides, with one end going into the IDE1 connection, and the other to be used with the CD-ROM. As mentioned earlier, there is a free IDE connection for the hard drive, or you can use the SATA connection if the drive is SATA rather than PATA.

Next up was the CPU and heatsink. Installing the CPU is straightforward, and once that is done, place the heatsink on top with the fan facing the inside of the case (or bottom if you're doing this with the Condor upright). With a narrow Phillips screwdriver, tighten the screws (I prefer tightening opposite screws at a time) until they are thumb tight. The screws are pressure sensitive, so don't worry too much about over tightening, but make sure it's secure. Once that is done, plug the fan into the 3-pin connection, and you're done with that step.

The ram slots are keyed, and pretty obvious so I expect none of our readers to have problems with this step. To take advantage of Dual Channel, make sure you use two sticks of ram, preferably identical models. Last step is to install your AGP or PCI cards into the appropriate slots. I did have some problems with the internal power supply cables getting in the way with their default layout, but that was fixed by moving them to allow the cards to install.

Once all the power and peripheral connections are done, close the Condor back up and you're ready to go. Total installation time for us was 15 minutes, so it's about as easy as it gets.

Overclocking

In case you glossed over the BIOS section of the review, there are no overclocking options available on the FIC Condor.

Test Setup

FIC Condor i865G: Pentium 4 2.4C (12x200: 2.4GHz), 2 x 512MB Corsair TWINX PC4000, ATI Radeon X800 Pro, 120GB Maxtor SATA 7200rpm, Windows XP SP1, ATI Catalyst 4.9.

Shuttle SB61G2V3: Pentium 4 2.4C (12x200: 2.4GHz), 2 x 512MB Corsair TWINX PC4000 Pro, HIS Radeon X800 Pro, 80GB Maxtor SATA 7200rpm, Windows XP SP1, ATI Catalyst 4.9.

Albatron PX875P Pro: Pentium 4 2.4C (12x200: 2.4GHz), 2 x 512MB Corsair TWINX PC4000, ATI Radeon X800 Pro, 120GB Maxtor SATA 7200rpm, Windows XP SP1, ATI Catalyst 4.9.

Going up the FIC Condor will be a Shuttle SB61 SFF which uses the same i865G chipset. The video card, ram and hard drive differ, but shouldn't impact our results as the video card and ram will be clocked at the same speeds as the Condor. Onboard audio was enabled in the BIOS, but not used during game testing. We're not going to be presenting Intel's Extreme Graphics 2 scores as we feel it would be a waste of our reader's time.

We threw in a standard motherboard into the mix in the form of the Albatron PX875P Pro. The Albatron board uses an i875P chipset, and while we're expecting it to be the fastest of the bunch, remember that this is a full sized ATX board and not a direct competitor to the two SFFs. We did think our readers would be interested nonetheless in how the Condor's i865G would compare to it however, which is why we included it.

Test Software is as follows:

SiSoft Sandra 2004 - Our standard synthetic benchmark suite. While it doesn't provide real-world information, it does give us a base for the rest of the tests.

Business Winstone and Multimedia 2004 -A scripted benchmark using real-world applications. Higher numbers are better.

SYSMark 2004 Office - Another scripted benchmark using real-world applications. Like the previous tests, higher numbers are better.

PiFast - A good indicator of CPU/Motherboard performance is version 4.2, by Xavier Gourdon. We used a computation of 10000000 digits of Pi, Chudnovsky method, 1024 K FFT, and no disk memory. Note that lower scores are better, and times are in seconds.

TMPGEnc 2.521 - We used an Animatrix file, titled , and a WAV created from VirtualDub. The movie was then converted it into a DVD compliant MPEG-2 file with a bitrate of 5000. Times are in minutes:seconds, and lower is better.

CDex Audio Conversion Wav to MP3 - CDex was used to convert a 414MB Wav file to a 320kbs MP3. Times are in minutes:seconds, and lower is better.

Quake 3, Return to Castle Wolfenstein, Unreal Tournament 2003 @ 640x480 - While higher resolutions tax the video card, lower resolutions rely on CPU and subsystem speed. These results are real-world, and higher scores are better.

Doom 3, Far Cry @ 1280x1024 Performance Test - Since FIC is marketing the Condor for gamers, we used to benchmark two popular titles at a resolution we feel most of you would be comfortable playing at with an X800 Pro.

All benchmarks will be run a total of three times with the average scores being displayed. Any system tweaks and ram timings were configured to the best possible for each platform. We'll see if this will have a huge impact on the Condor given it's lack of user customizable adjustments.

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