Compact gaming PCs can be tricky to get right. With the limitations of a smaller enclosure, sacrifices typically have to be made and, while space-saving solutions are nice, who really wants to restrict in-game performance for the sake of a smaller footprint?
It's a fine line, but UK system integrator PC Specialist reckons it has the best solution in the form of the Vanquish Prodigy. Priced at £899, this 'compact gaming PC' takes the sort of components you'd expect in a larger machine and packages them in a Mini-ITX BitFenix Prodigy chassis that's currently all the rage.
The chassis is the integral component of any compact build, and PC Specialist's choice is an interesting one as the BitFenix Prodigy has lots of promise coupled with a few irksome shortcomings. On the one hand, the chassis looks extremely smart - in either black or white, both of which are offered by PC Specialist - and despite its compact 250mm x 404mm x 359mm dimensions, the 26-litre interior has plenty of room for high-end components.
On the other hand, the Prodigy feels like a first-generation product that buoyantly attempts to fulfil its purpose yet doesn't mind falling short of the mark. As far as Mini-ITX chassis are concerned, this one isn't actually that small, and is made to look taller through the inclusion of 'FyberFlex' composite handles on the top and bottom.
The rubber-like material makes the handles feel smooth to the touch, and they're a real boon for LAN-party regulars, but here's the thing; they don't provide the most stable base. The flex in the chosen material gives the chassis an undesirable wobble, and it doesn't have a lot of grip - plugging a USB stick in one of the side-mounted ports without moving the entire chassis is a challenge in itself. It's an aesthetically attractive design, but if BitFenix has a v2 in the pipeline, we're hoping for FyberFlex handles up top and a traditional, four-foot base at the bottom.
Look past the wobble and what you have is a mid-sized Mini-ITX chassis that can house some serious hardware. There's room for liquid-cooling radiators, graphics cards measuring up to 320mm in length, multiple drive bays and a 180mm power supply mount.
There's enough scope to conjure up a powerful machine, and PC Specialist delivers exactly that by selecting a range of components that match up to the system's chosen purpose. For the £899 fee, gamers get an Intel Core i5-3570K processor overclocked to a tasty 4.4GHz, 8GB (2x4GB) of Kingston HyperX Beast memory, an Asus P8ZZ-I Deluxe Mini-ITX motherboard with integrated Wi-Fi and a 2GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 660 graphics card.
The Vanquish Prodigy's core components are sound and ideally-suited to a full-HD gaming machine, and PC Specialist has most of the trimming spot on as well. A Corsair Hydro Series H40 is on hand for CPU cooling duties, quick system response is ensured by a 120GB Kingston V300 SSD, ample storage is provided by a 1TB secondary hard disk, a DVD writer is pre-installed, power is provided to the system by a reliable Corsair TX650, and Windows 8 is the operating system of choice.
BitFenix's Prodigy may not be one of the smallest Mini-ITX chassis, but on the flip side there's ample room for all of the aforementioned hardware. PC Specialist's build is well put together and, considering the size constraints, we don't envy whoever had to put it together. Cable management is about as good as it's going to get in a PC of this size, and more importantly there's a clear path for airflow.
What's interesting is that PC Specialist has opted to re-configure some of the Prodigy's default components. The rear exhaust fan is a four-pin 120mm Corsair unit (not the three-pin fan supplied with the Hydro H40) and the front intake fan is a three-pin 200mm Corsair A2020M12S. The end result, as we'll demonstrate later in the review, is excellent cooling performance coupled with sub-par noise credentials.
Worth noting, also, that the supplied Asus motherboard has only two available fan headers. PC Specialist has both the intake and exhaust fans connected directly to the board, while the Corsair Hydro H40 pump is attached to the power supply via a molex-to-three-pin adaptor.
We were surprised to find that our review sample shipped with only the bottom two-bay drive cage. The Prodigy chassis officially has five bays, but PC Specialist removes the upper drive cage prior to shipping presumably to aid airflow. We'd rather see it included, with the customer then having the option to keep it in or take it out.
Overall, build quality is good and there's very little wrong with the component selection. And though there's no option to change the CPU, PC Specialist's web-based configuration page does provide a decent range of options elsewhere. Graphics can be bumped up to GeForce GTX 670 or Radeon HD 7870 levels, the amount of memory can be doubled up to 16GB, a good selection of SSDs or HDDs is available - as is an optional Blu-ray upgrade - and the power supply can be bumped up to 850W if you feel the need. For those who prefer not to dabble with liquid cooling, the Corsair Hydro H40 can also be downgraded to an Arctic Cooling Freezer 11.
This is an attractive build for a couple of obvious reasons - it's smaller than most gaming PCs yet equally powerful - yet it's the price tag that's arguably most enticing. Pricing up the individual components suggests that building a system such as the Vanquish Prodigy would set you back approximately £1,000. In this rare scenario, PC Specialist's building it for you, applying a stable overclock, shipping it to your door and attaching a three-year warranty for £100 less. Good deal? Let's find out.