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FIC Condor Review

Highs

  • Very innovative design
  • plenty of room for hardware components
  • good cooling

Rating

Our Score 7
User Score 10

Lows

  • Weak power supply
  • no FireWire support
  • flimsy door latches
FIC has always been on the forefront of design and the Condor does not disappoint.

Summary

The FIC Condor is a step in the right direction for FIC, but there are many improvements that need be implemented in future system development. This includes fixing the buggy door latch on the front of the system, building a more robust spring mechanism for the DVD/CD drive door, including a more powerful power supply, and relocating the digital audio out port to the rear.

Is the FIC Condor the perfect system for a gamer that wants to be semi-portable or doesn’t have enough room? If it wasn’t for that measly power supply the answer might be “yes” but since the Condor can’t support the latest video cards power requirements, we have to say “no.” But with support for the latest Intel processors and with a slick design and form factor, the system just might be attractive enough for the casual gamer.

FIC has always been on the forefront of design and the Condor does not disappoint. But for them to market this system towards the gaming community just doesn’t make much sense. Almost anyone looking for a small yet powerful Pentium 4 based system, that doesn’t plan on hardcore gaming, should consider the Condor. But FIC needs to put a bit more work into the product for it to be popular among the power users.

Home Theater enthusiasts may want to look towards offerings from MSI or Shuttle while hardcore gamers not adept to building their own systems might want to consider the Monarch Hornet or Falcon Northwest Frag box systems instead.

Introduction

In the consumer electronics and computer marketplace, FIC may not be a brand that many readers are familiar with. And even though they produce a wide-range of products, the company can easily be overlooked because many of their products are produced for other companies. You do not see a lot of products branded under their FIC company name, but as an OEM/ODM manufacturer, their products are being re-badged and sold under big names such as Intel and Gateway.

But FIC has been making small form-factor (SFF) barebones systems for quite some time now an has made some waves with their ICE Cube brand. We were first made aware of FIC’s latest SFF design, the Condor, at CES 2004, and looked forward to getting our hands on this innovative design.

A barebones system is a good way for a do-it-yourselfer to build a new computer without having to put everything together. Barebones means that you must supply most of the hardware including the processor, memory, hard drive, DVD/CD drive and a video card if the motherboard doesn’t include on-board video. Most SFF systems come this way now, allowing PC builders to tailor the system to their specific usage. Priced at around $260 retail, the FIC Condor is being targeted towards gamers because of its radical design concept and support for high-end components.

Components and Configuration

The Condor packs a motherboard, power supply and room for two 3.5-inch hard drives and one 5.25-inch optical drive. Based on Intel’s i865G Springdale chipset, the Condor supports Pentium 4 and Celeron processors from the Northwood and Prescott families. It does not support the older Willamette core. The chipset also supports up to 2GB of PC3200 DDR SDRAM, a 4/8X AGP video card, two ATA 100 devices, and two SATA devices. For expansion the system comes with two available PCI slots and a full sized AGP slot, which is typical of most SFF systems. There is no IEEE1394/FireWire support on this system but it does have a total of six USB 2.0 ports. The motherboard also features an integrated Intel graphics processor. For complete specifications please click on the specifications tab located above this review.

Design and Features

Many great design concepts either skew towards the radical to the minimalist. On the radical side, companies like Alienware, Falcon Northwest and VoodoPC have come up with very innovative and new designs. And on the minimalist side products from companies like Sony and Apple are more function than form, with style coming from subtle lines and soft colors. The FIC Condor tends to lean towards the radical end of the spectrum.

Unlike other SFF systems, the FIC Condor is more rectangular than square in design with a height taller than its competitors. And also unlike some others, it does not have a handle on the top for easy carrying. We were told that the FIC Condor was developed jointly between Intel and FIC and was primarily intended for the Japanese market. But as gamers here in the U.S. have already known, a portable system usually makes a better gaming system, so FIC decided to bring the Condor Stateside.

From an aesthetic perspective the FIC Condor seems to take design cues from Robocop. A dull, flat silver color is highlighted by black on the bottom and a few shiny mirror-like plastic panels on the front and the top. The front face is very clean looking with the DVD/CD drive and the floppy drives hidden behind vertical plastic doors that open once their button is activated. This is highly unusual for an SFF system as well – all of the drives are positioned vertically. The power button is located in the middle of the front of the case while the audio and USB ports are located behind a black lower door which flips open when you press on the face plate.

On the back of the system there are four USB ports, PS2 keyboard and mouse ports, and audio inputs and outputs. The only digital audio output is located on the front of the system which doesn’t make much sense. Most gamers use headphones when taking their system with them and would the analog audio output – making it more useful on the rear. Conversely, home theater enthusiasts typically would use the digital audio port, but it would make more sense for that to be located on the rear of the system.

One cool feature about the FIC Condor is how you access the inside of the system. By sliding a button forward on the top of the system, the FIC Condor opens like a suitcase revealing the components on the inside. This feature is reminiscent of the old Apple G4 tower systems and how they would open. This makes it easy to build a system based on the Condor and easy to upgrade, but a side-effect of this (or perhaps the reason) is the vertically mounted optical drive.

The FIC Condor

Opening the bottom reveals front USB and audio ports

One major concern we have with this system is the power supply. Rated at only 200 Watts, gamers will have to carefully choose which video card they want to use with this system. The new NVIDIA 6800 video card for example recommends that you use a 350 Watt power supply while the 6800 Ultra recommends a 480 Watt power supply. ATI’s video cards are not as power hungry, but we have to question whether a 200 Watt power supply is sufficient enough. Falcon Northwest’s Fragbox II was just announced at the time of this review and features a 520 Watt power supply in a small form-factor design.

Setup and Testing

The FIC Condor comes packaged in a fairly exciting box that clearly indicates the system is geared towards gamers. The system comes with a software driver CD, manual, two SATA hard drive cables, power supply cable and some screws. Also included is a heatsink/fan for the processor, which is usually included with small form factor systems. While many other SFF systems exhaust the processor heat out the rear, the Condor’s heatsink/fan is designed to exhaust up, through vents at the top of the case. Since there are only two fans that circulate the air inside the system – the CPU fan and the power supply fan – to help with the circulation, FIC made sure that the vented holes at the top allowed enough hot air to escape.

The installation manual and software that comes with the Condor is pretty mundane and only gives you what you need rather than a bunch of useless software. The English translation of the manual could definitely be better.

Using the slider located on the front of the system, we opened the Condor to install our hardware components. Once the system folds open, there are two latches which connect the sides of the system. If you undo the latches you can separate the two sides completely. The motherboard is vertically mounted on the right hand side of the system chassis – which is another departure from other SFF systems, which usually locate the motherboard on the bottom panel. The cables are cleverly organized and tied together to maximize system cooling on the inside.

Installing our system drives was simple enough. You will want to make sure that your DVD/CD drive has mounts to hold the media into place since the drive sits vertically. We noticed while installing our DVD drive that the front door closes using two springs that are visible when the door is open. The two springs resemble the same type of springs that are found in ball point pens. They appear to be very fragile and look like they could come undone fairly easy if the user is not careful. In our opinion, this is a poor design since most gamers use their systems very heavily and would be popping discs in and out of the drive. MSI, for example, makes sure to hide the spring loading door mechanism in their systems.

Another major problem we had was that occasionally we could not get the main door closed on the system. No matter how hard you pushed, the latch simply would not catch. Our test system was like this right out of the box and only after continually messing with it where we able to get the door to remain shut. Wondering if this was an isolated case, we headed over to our local Fry’s to test out the FIC Condors there. According to the Fry’s sales rep, they have had many returns due to a faulty door latch. We eventually found out that the door would not latch unless the two sides of the system were lined up perfectly. So if you open then close the system as if you were going to access the motherboard, this might fix the problem if your door latch is not working.

Conclusion

The FIC Condor is a step in the right direction for FIC, but there are many improvements that need be implemented in future system development. This includes fixing the buggy door latch on the front of the system, building a more robust spring mechanism for the DVD/CD drive door, including a more powerful power supply, and relocating the digital audio out port to the rear.

Is the FIC Condor the perfect system for a gamer that wants to be semi-portable or doesn’t have enough room? If it wasn’t for that measly power supply the answer might be “yes” but since the Condor can’t support the latest video cards power requirements, we have to say “no.” But with support for the latest Intel processors and with a slick design and form factor, the system just might be attractive enough for the casual gamer.

FIC has always been on the forefront of design and the Condor does not disappoint. But for them to market this system towards the gaming community just doesn’t make much sense. Almost anyone looking for a small yet powerful Pentium 4 based system, that doesn’t plan on hardcore gaming, should consider the Condor. But FIC needs to put a bit more work into the product for it to be popular among the power users.

Home Theater enthusiasts may want to look towards offerings from MSI or Shuttle while hardcore gamers not adept to building their own systems might want to consider the Monarch Hornet or Falcon Northwest Frag box systems instead.

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