FIC Piston

Neither boom box nor nuke, FIC’s Piston is the wackiest small formfactor we’ve seen to date.

Built by the company that brought us the fabulous Condor SFF, FIC’s Piston offers its own innovations in small-formfactor design. First, it’s cylindrical, which makes it good for, umm, we don’t really know what. Second, it features an integrated DVD decoder chip that lets you play DVDs or audio CDs without having to boot into the OS. This is a nifty feature, for sure, but on our unit, we had to manually select our video output mode every time—once set, the device should have remembered our selection. FIC said it was looking into the problem.

Building the Piston was easier than we expected, but that’s only true if you buy a unit equipped with the optional optical drive. Wrestling the drive into these cramped quarters would be a bitch. As it is, we struggled to install the PCI Express videocard, thanks to a tight-fitting power cable. The Piston has only enough room to fit medium-powered single-slot PCI-E cards, so don’t expect to jam a 6800 Ultra or x850 into the Intel 915G-based box.

The Piston’s biggest downfall is its nonstandard shape. A cylindrical case just isn’t convenient. You can’t stack anything on the unit, and the plastic rod on the PC’s underside that keeps the case from rolling off your desk and down the stairs is flimsy. Plus, the Piston runs extremely hot, trading cooling-solutions for quiet operation, and it is indeed quieter than other Pentium 4 SFF boxes we’ve seen recently.

Unfortunately, unlike FIC’s Condor, the Piston’s unique design doesn’t appear to offer any real-world benefit.
Gordon Ung

+ BEER Integrated TV tuner, “instant-on” DVD,
built-in speaker.
- BEER BELLY Odd shape, tight fit for videocard, no additional add-in card slot.

Month Reviewed: June 2005
Verdict: 6