|Introduction and Specifications|
|We’ve been hankering to test out one of CyberPowerPC’s new Zeus Mini SFF gaming desktop models ever since we got some hands on time with it at CES, so we were happy to unpack the black and neon green Zeus Mini-I 780 that CyberPowerPC sent us this week.
Small form factor (SFF) PCs are something of a trend these days, and frankly, it’s refreshing to see powerful machines on the market that don’t take up much space and and don’t weigh 50 pounds.
However, there are two big challenges a SFF machine must face. One is engineering a system that can fit all of those high-end components into a tiny space while still dissipating heat effectively. The other is reasonable end user serviceability. Being able to easily work inside a machine can be an important feature to those who drop the cash on a killer gaming rig from a boutique manufacturer. CyberPowerPC has accepted the challenge of making a system that alleges to make upgradability a cinch while also building an SFF rig that can keep pace with the performance of gaming systems without such space limitations.
The CyberPowerPC Zeus Mini measures just 4.4 inches wide and stands a mere 13 inches tall with a depth of 17.4 inches. Inside is an Intel Core i7-4770K processor (3.5GHz) with an EVGA Superclocked GeForce GTX 780 GPU with 3GB of GDDR5.
CyberPowerPC opted for 16GB of G.Skill Ripjaws X 1866MHz DDR3 system memory (8GB x 2) as well as a 120GB Samsung 840 EVO SSD (SATA 6Gbps) for snappy performance, and there’s also a spacious 2TB (7200 RPM, 6Gbps) HDD, as well.
To cool those smoking hot components, CyberPowerPC implemented a Cooler Master Seidon 120M liquid cooler along with a couple of strategically placed vents and a single fan. Other features include an ultra quiet Corsair 650W PSU, a magnetic WiFi antenna, and an 8X DVD±R/RW/4X + DL Super-Multi optical drive.
There’s something to be said about the overall design of the system and of the chassis, which we’ll delve into next.
|Design and Layout|
|The CyberPowerPC Zeus Mini-I 780’s chassis is cool without coming off as too flashy. It’s black metal all the way around except for the black plastic front panel and the neon green grills on the two side panels. These, as well as grill designs on the top, bottom, and back of the chassis aid in heat dissipation while contributing to the overall look of the case.
The company included a black plastic stand for the Zeus Mini-I 780, and although it’s nice to have accessories, we’re not sure it’s entirely necessary; the system stands up just fine on its own, with no balance problems of any kind. We suppose the extra stability couldn’t hurt though, especially if it’s at a LAN party and an adjacent player gets wild after consuming a little too much Mt. Dew.
The Zeus Mini-I 780 boasts a tasteful green lighting setup that perfectly complements the neon green grills. The side fan lights up brightly, and the power button and front transparent slits get the same treatment. It’s just enough to impress without being ostentatious.
The front panel houses the slim optical drive, the power button, and some slick-looking lights, with two USB ports and audio jacks parked off to the side. The back panel has DVI-I, DVI-D, HDMI, and DisplayPort courtesy of the GeForce GTX 780 GPU, as well as a PS/2 port, two USB 2.0, four USB 3.0, DVI, two HDMI, and dual Ethernet ports. There are also two connectors for the included WiFi antenna as well as five audio jacks and S/PDIF.As we mentioned earlier, CyberPowerPC is touting the Zeus Mini’s upgradability as a selling point, so we spent some time elbow deep (well, wrist deep, as this is a small chassis) in the machine to see how easy it is to access and swap out components.
It is true that CyberPowerPC used off-the-shelf parts, so that’s a great start. If you want a new graphics card, processor, cooling system, or what have you, you can just buy a new one. The question is how easy is or isn’t it to get to those parts?
That said, there’s a good reason for the PSU to be pushed back that far: It allows much easier access to the motherboard, RAM and CPU socket. You still have to remove a side fan to get that access, but otherwise there aren’t really any impediments. With the side fan removed, you can also access all the cables that are connected to the motherboard--power cables, front panel headers, fan headers, WiFi module, and so on.
You may be wondering how exactly CyberPowerPC managed to squeeze a 4.25-inch tall graphics card into a chassis that only measures 4.4 inches in depth, and the answer is that they used a riser adapter that plugs the GPU in at 90 degrees, parallel to the motherboard.
It’s a very clever way of managing the space, but the major drawback is that it’s difficult to remove the thing. In fact, we don’t think you can take it out without removing the cooling system’s radiator, which is by no means especially difficult, but it is four more screws and another part hanging out of the chassis while you fiddle with the GPU.
CyberPowerPC securely mounted the 120GB SSD and 2TB HDD in the same drive cage, but the drive cage itself affords no access to the user without a great deal of effort. This is the process: First, you have to remove the side panel (1 screw) and the front panel; next, off comes the radiator (4 screws), which you must gently shove back so that you can fit a tiny precision screwdriver into the space in order to remove the optical drive (3 screws).
That’s right--the optical drive has to come all the way out and be disconnected from its cable. Then, you must take out all the screws holding the drive cage to the chassis frame (another 6 screws).
At this point, with a growing pile of fasteners, your ordeal is far from over. You have a few courses of action, none of which are particularly convenient. You can try to remove two of the cross members of the chassis frame, which was our first option.
Option number two would involve pulling out the graphics card and rotating the drive cage 90 degrees inside the chassis, but--alas, you’d have to remove the cooling radiator in its entirety first, and to do that you’d need to remove that pesky cross member.
A third option would mean pulling out the PSU and dropping the cage down into that vacated space. Or at the least, you could perhaps use that space to try and get at the SATA and power cables and screws and remove or replace the drives that way.
In sum, it’s extremely easy to access most of the system’s goodies; there are a couple of minor difficulties that we’ll chalk up to the facts of life with an SFF; but it’s difficult to get to the storage drives without disassembling half the system, and that’s a significant hurdle.
Let’s cram these parts back into the Zeus Mini’s chassis and get down to the business of benchmarking this thing to see how it can fly.
|SiSoft SANDRA and Cinebench|
|First up, we ran the Zeus Mini through SiSoft SANDRA and Cinebench. The SiSoft suite offers as a range of diagnostic and system utilities, including several benchmarks. These tests are designed to test particular components, including the processor, memory, graphics card, and the computer's main storage device.
SiSoft SANDRA has a variety of tests that stress specific components or simulate certain tasks. We put the iBuypower Chimera 4SE FX Ultimate through the CPU Arithmetic, Multimedia, Memory Bandwidth, and Physical Disks tests. SANDRA receives frequent updates, so if you use the benchmark, check to make sure you have the latest version.
Although it by no means posted the best scores in the processor tests, the Zeus Mini-I 780 hit appropriate marks for the CPU/GPU combo it has inside. Among other similarly-spec’d systems, the Zeus Mini did respectably, as well.
The 16GB of RAM and speedy SSD pull their weight in the Memory Bandwidth and Physical Disks tests as the Zeus Mini held its own against the competition.
Based on Maxon Cinema 4D software, this test uses a 3D scene and polygon and texture manipulation to assess GPU and CPU performance. We usually opt for the Main Processor Performance (CPU) test, which builds a still scene containing about 2,000 objects, for total polygon count above 300,000. We run the test twice: once with only one processor core enabled, the next time with all CPU cores blazing. Cinebench displays its results in points.
The Zeus Mini posted scores a bit below much of the field, but note that some of the similarly-appointed systems come equipped with factory overclocks, whereas our system’s Intel Core i7-4770K runs at stock speeds.
|PCMark and 3DMark Tests|
|Futuremark is one of the best-known benchmark providers around. We use the PCMark line to give us a sense of a computer’s overall capabilities and we’ve found the 3DMark line to be a good indicator of gaming performance. The new 3DMark FireStrike test is designed to challenge even high-end systems like the CyberPowerPC Zeus Mini.
PCMark 7 runs through the types of tasks your PC is likely to encounter during ordinary home and office use. It tests the system’s graphics capabilities as well, but it isn’t mean to test the limits of high-end, discrete graphics card. Look at the two PCMark benchmarks as an indicator of a system’s general usage performance.
All things considered, the Zeus Mini posted a great score in PCMark 7. All of the systems that scored higher are equipped with beefier GPU setups with the exception of the Digital Storm VIRTUE, which has a factory-overclocked CPU.
Although Futuremark’s 3DMark 11 has been around for several years, it still provides a good look at a system’s gaming capabilities. It's also handy tool for benchmarking machines that still run Windows 7. We ran this benchmark on the Performance preset, at 1280 x 720 resolution. If you download the free version of this benchmark, make sure you're using the Performance preset to avoid comparing scores that were run with different test configurations.
The next test we chose was Futuremark’s newest: 3DMark Fire Strike/ Fire Strike is designed specifically for high-end gaming PCs like the Zeus Mini. Because Extreme mode is geared towards systems that have multiple graphics cards in CrossFire or SLI configurations, we opted for Normal mode, which runs at 1920 x 1080.
Although the Zeus Mini technically landed towards the bottom of the pack, it’s worth noting that its score keeps it within range of the whole middle of the field. Two of the systems that blew it out of the water came packing dual GPU setups.
Overall, our system performed solidly in the 3DMark FireStrike and Graphics scores. You could argue that it did exceptionally well in the spate of subtests, as none of the other systems really blew it away with just a couple of exceptions.
|Unigine Heaven and Valley Benchmarks|
|Based on the Unigine game engine, the Unigine Heaven and Valley benchmarks take users through dramatic 3D tours of exotic environments, complete with dynamic skies, tessellation, and SSAO (screen-space ambient occlusion).
Unigine Heaven provides heavy tessellation use and a dynamic sky to stress modern graphics cards. The Valley benchmark, on the other hand, is loaded with vegetation. The benchmark tours a forest thick with flowers, boulders, and rivers. We ran the test at 1920 x 1080, on Ultra Quality and with the Extreme Tessellation option.
There’s not much to say here except that the Zeus Mini performed precisely as expected, posting scores commensurate with its specifications.
|Gaming Benchmarks: Far Cry 2 and Lost Planet 2|
|With the synthetic benchmarks completed, we dove into some real-world in-game testing. We started with Far Cry 2, which won’t strain a modern system, but will give us a look at the rig’s DX10 capabilities. Then we took a look at Lost Planet 2, which boasts DX11 support, tessellation, and some stunning water effects.
When it comes to lush vegetation in a steaming, sinister jungle, no one pulls it off quite like Ubisoft does in its Far Cry series. Far Cry 2 uses high quality textures, complex shaders, and dynamic lighting to create a realistic environment. The benchmark demo runs you through multiple areas of the map and from several different angles, while explosions and other events take place.
Same song, second verse: The Zeus Mini hung pretty tightly with other Intel Core i7-4770K systems here, especially those with similar graphics setups.
We used Lost Planet 2 to test the system’s DX11 performance. This game’s benchmark features soldiers attempting to take down a massive beast that seems to shrug off their firepower. There is a ton of action in the five or so minutes that the benchmark runs, and we’ve seen the test stutter when being run by lesser systems. We used Test B and set all graphics settings to High Quality. We also boosted the Anti-Aliasing setting to 4x before we ran the benchmark.
There’s a little more separation in this DX11 title between the systems, and the Zeus Mini is in the slower category. However, it left all of the single-GPU based systems in the dust (save for the Titan equipped AVADirect machine) and actually posted a better score than the Digital Storm VIRTUE system.
|Gaming Benchmarks: Metro 2033 and S.T.A.L.K.E.R.|
Metro 2033 is your basic post-apocalyptic first person shooter game with a few rather unconventional twists. Unlike most FPS titles, there is no health meter to measure your level of ailment; rather, you’re left to deal with life, or lack thereof, more akin to the real world with blood spatter on your visor and your heart rate and respiration level as indicators.
The Zeus Mini arguably did even better in Metro: 2033, as it was just a few FPS away from all but the dual-GPU Maingear EPIC RUSH and CyberPowerPC Gamer Xtreme.
Call of Pripyat is the third installment of the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series. We ran this test with all settings on Ultra and with DX11. As with our other benchmarks, we ran S.T.A.L.K.E.R. at three common display resolutions. This is one of the longer benchmark demos, and it runs through several different scenes, then provides the average frame rates for each scene. We recorded the frame rates from the Sun Shafts module.
There’s a bit of backsliding for the Zeus Mini in S.T.A.L.K.E.R., as its 117.2 FPS puts it behind almost all of the other systems. True, it’s again within a few FPS of several systems that scored better, but it’s significantly behind several others.
|Gaming Benchmarks: Batman: Arkham City and Hitman: Absolution|
|Few games do dark and moody like the Batman series. We ran both Batman: Arkham City and Hitman: Absolution with graphics settings at or near the max, including tessellation.
Batman: Arkham City is the second in the trio of Batman: Arkham games. Released in 2011, it continued the dark narrative themes created by the 2009 Batman: Arkham Asylum game and added new gameplay mechanics, as we as a bigger environment. A newer title, Batman: Arkham Origins was launched in late October. For this test, we turned on Nvidia PhysX and cranked the detail to Very High.
In Batman: Arkham City,the Zeus Mini hung right with the AVADirect, Digital Storm VIRTUE, and iBuypower Chimera rigs, although the group scored below the trio of lead systems.
Our final game benchmark of the review is of Hitman, the blockbuster series that follows an assassin as he finds himself go from hunter to prey. The benchmark routine makes use of Hitman: Absolution's support for Global Illumination, which provides realistic lighting, but also hammers on NVIDIA-based graphics cards. The benchmark shows a throng of people watching fireworks in crowded city square.
In our final gaming benchmark, the Zeus Mini again slipped down the totem pole a bit, finishing just ahead of the AVADirect Mini and Digital Storm VIRTUE but well behind the rest of the field.
|Power Consumption and Noise|
|When you’re working with a gaming system, high power consumption is to be expected. But there are major differences in the amount of power different systems draw, even (and maybe most importantly) at idle. So, it doesn’t hurt to know how your potential rig would stack up to other, similarly configured PCs on the market.
At idle, the Zeus Mini was one of the most efficient systems in our bank, but under a heavy load of Prime95 and FurMark, the story’s different. Its 405W draw was far more than all but the dual-GPU systems. The most glaring discrepancy is between it and the Digital Storm VIRTUE, which posted just 275W under load, despite having similar components.
Usually, a system with lots of powerful components like this one will kick up a lot of noise under load but will be relatively quiet at idle. However, the Zeus Mini was completely consistent; it emitted perhaps a bit too much hum at idle, but under load it didn’t become noticeably louder, which means your gaming experience will be relatively quiet.
|Performance Summary and Conclusion|
|Performance Summary: Although the CyberPowerPC Zeus Mini-I 780 didn’t particularly separate itself from the pack in our spate of benchmarks, it posted scores that were almost universally expected, considering its components. Thus, the system performed well, posting scores that only fell behind better-equipped, more expensive systems.
That’s not to say that the Zeus Mini is lacking in any aspect of performance; for example, it breezed through all of our gaming benchmarks, hitting frame rates far above what’s necessary for smooth playability. This machine has the components and horsepower to handle virtually anything you can throw at it.
In addition to rock solid performance and relative quiet performance under load, CyberPowerPC built a machine that’s attractive and cool without being ostentatious. The black chassis is sturdy, and the neon green grills pop against the dark color. Further, the case lighting is striking, providing just the right amount of bling.
In terms of accessibility, CyberPowerPC hit the mark for most internal components and connections. Things are tight, to be sure, but with minimal effort you can adjust most of what you need to, including motherboard headers, the CPU, GPU, cooling system, and so on.
However, the storage devices are positioned in such a way that they’re difficult to reach, even if you disassemble most of the PC. Even assuming that you don’t mind the tedious business of removing (and keeping track of) lots of screws, the fact that you have to take so much apart significantly increases the odds that you’ll damage something, such as the plastic case fan or optical drive cover.
Zeus Mini-I models start as low as $685, but our Zeus Mini-I 780 came in at $1,859 as configured. Looking at the value from a cost-for-performance standpoint, this system really stands out against the systems we pitted it against in our benchmarks. The Digital Storm VIRTUE ($2,563), AVADirect Mini ($2,614.84), and CyberPowerPC Gamer Xtreme ($2,199) all cost significantly more.
Compared to many other options for high-performing gaming rigs--not to mention ones wrapped in a SFF package--the CyberPowerPC Zeus Mini-I 780 is a system with attractive looks, solid performance, and a competitive price tag.