General Analysis and Conclusion
The three machines we worked with in this round-up unintentionally offered a nice swath in representation of price points, features and performance in the field. All three machines are very capable of small to medium 3D print jobs and each offer its own set of performance characteristics and compromises. The Cube 3D clearly was the easiest machine to work with of the bunch, though it was also the least configurable in general. The Cube does have the added connectivity feature of WiFi, however, which is a nice plus. Prints from the Cube were clean and solid but in the middle of the pack in terms of quality. The Up! Mini ended up impressing us the most in terms of overall precision, though we wish its build platform was a little bit bigger. Finally, the Solidoodle 2, frankly, gave us some indigestion trying to get it to perform to its fullest potential. We knew the capabilities were in there, however, so with perseverance and education, we prevailed with very respectable prints. The SD2 is also dirt-cheap by comparison; so if you want to dip your toe in the field and learn about it in the process, this machine has the lowest cost of entry by far.
Print Speed and Noise -
Measuring print speed with each of these machines isn't as straight-forward as it may seem. Each printer, with the exception of the Cube, needs to be calibrated somewhat to get a desired print quality. As such, though the Solidoodle 2, for example, wanted to fly through prints, we had to slow it down to get the desired quality we were looking for. In addition, when you consider the Up! Mini also prints raft bases and support structures for its models, it's easy to see that you can't really get a clean apples to apples comparison when it comes to speed. However, in general, we'd offer that all three machines were reasonably close in terms of print speed, with the Cube taking the least amount of time in general to build, seconded by the Up! Mini and then the Solidoodle 2. We had to slow down the SD2 more often than not, just to get the precision we wanted but in reality, all three printers completed models within several minutes of each other.
In terms of noise, the Cube was easily the loudest of the trio, with an audible whine emanating from its cooling fan. The Up! Mini and Solidoodle 2 were noticeably quieter, save for the Mini's random loud beeps at warm-up.
Left to Right - Up! Mini, Cube 3D, Solidoodle 2
For the budding 3D creationist, any one of these machines will do the job nicely, it just depends on your requirements and budget. If you've got a bit more dinero and want to get up and printing quickly and reliably, the Cube is probably for you. It's the most fool-proof of our round-up. If you're willing to gets your hands dirty a bit more and learn a few things along the way, the Up! Mini can offer impressive, precise creations, so long as you don't need them to be too large. To be fair, the Up! Plus, for $1299, will get you the same precision and a 5.5-inch build area.
Then there are our friends at Solidoodle. For the lowest cost of entry, a Solidoodle 2 will give you a spacious 6-inch print bed and the ability to create some impressive builds, but you have to be willing to learn the ropes and tweak things along the way. That said, we'll give an honorable mention to the Solidoodle Support staff. We peppered them with questions during testing and they were more than accessible and helpful. Not to mention they have a published Skype user account that you can ping on a moment's notice during business hours.
For all of these products, we have no problem fully recommending any of them, if you're a 3D printing veteran or new to the technology. As greenhorns, we had a blast working with these machines and the companies behind them. They're easily all worthy of Hot Hardware's recommendation and we look forward to future products and technologies from 3D Systems, Solidoodle and PP3dp.
Up! Mini 3D Printer
Cube 3D Printer
Solidoodle 2 3D Printer