In the field of smaller diminutive personal computers, consumer choice is increasingly challenged by market saturation. Our options are many; we have all sorts of Home Theater PCs and ways for system builders to craft their own tiny boxes with micro ATX and the newly offered mini-XT motherboards. The later are virtually bite-sized. If I were a betting man, I’d put coin on these as the foundation for which companies will forge their highly anticipated Steam Boxes. If you remember, this is the expected open-platform for tiny PC’s built with Steam baked in. They have been the highlight of much speculation by both press and gamers.
Chipset maker AMD has worked with their GPU end partner Sapphire to offer something similar. The Sapphire Edge VS8 Mini-PC with AMD’s A8-4555m 1.6GHz APU is here. It may not be the best box for fraggin’ aliens, mixing mana or virtually driving fast and furious. But it could be ideal for Moms, kids and office workers who need a versatile solution that can stream wireless media for presentations and such, handle video conferences, run HD media and still offer up some casual gaming performance–while staying cool, quiet and cost-effective. Plus it’s the smallest PC I’ve ever seen packing Windows 7 Ultimate, high-end connectivity options, multi channel audio support and more (though its predecessor is smaller by comparison).
This is a cool looking PC. It’s about the size of a diary or small notebook (the ones you write in not type on -ed). It’s super slim. Honestly I’ve seen hard drives thicker than this thing. The SD card slot is seated on the front, as is a pair of high-speed USB 3.0 ports. When booted up, a white illumination outlines the front for a really cool effect, especially in low light settings. The unit is cut with ample ventilation and rests angled upward on its included stand.
At the rear Sapphire has packed in a great selection of connectivity options. From the top we have a mini DisplayPort (1.2), a single HDMI-out, 4x USB 2.0 ports, Realtek PCI Express Gigabit LAN ethernet port, power adapter input, 1x headphone jack, 1x microphone jack and a single optical out port. It’s impressive to see such high-end connex like PCI express LAN adapter, DisplayPort and HDMI on such a inexpensive rig. It means, the unit is ready for the upper tiers of HD resolution– 2560 x 1440 and 2560 x 1600 (1440p and 1600p respectively) with supporting display types. Sapphire has also included the necessary DVI and HDMI cables.
The unit is powered by AMD’s A8-455M 1.6 GHz Quad-core APU (accelerated processing unit) with its AMD Radeon HD 7600G GPU. Memory is 2x 2GB of DDR3. Sapphire has chosen a humble storage solution in Western Digital’s 500GB 5400rpm SATA hard drive. It’s definitely not the swiftest and I question their capacity choice. Rounding out the internal hardware is 802.11b/g/n WiFi, Bluetooth 3.0 support and Realtek ALC 8-channel HD audio. The latter is where that optical-out connection will come in real handy. The inclusion of 8-channel audio is near-opulence and not even seen on some full ATX-size desktop motherboards.
It’s all powering, tried and true Windows 7 Ultimate operating software. It does ship with a driver and utility CD. Yet more current GPU drivers are available online. Plus the unit does not have a CD slot/player. Apart from a couple limited media playback applications and the AMD utility suite for the Radeon 7600, the Sapphire VS8 is light on included software. This I appreciate greatly. The hard drive is not immense on space and no one likes taking time to delete unwanted bloatware. It left us plenty room to install our needed benching tools.
Running PC Mark 7 we see the VS8 comes in below the pack. Some key upgrades could fix that. But it goes beyond what’s purported on the company documentation. Sapphire quotes a score of 1562–we hit 1594. In our tests the computation score hits over 1000 points higher than the 1779 quoted by Sapphire. We reached and impressive 2806. The benchmark scored the hard drive lower than the company’s findings. I suspect this is due to the games and testing software I’ve installed. Less available space will result in a performance hit. I’m betting Sapphire ran their tests on a drive less weighted down. The end result is still impressive stuff!
The Sapphire EDGE VS8 has strength and offers impressive performance well beyond its stature. Intensive video editing and high-end graphic-intensive gaming are its few but challenging scenarios. I played 2D side-scrollers Trine 2, Shank and Mark of the Ninja without incident. But games like BF3 and even CoD: Black Ops 2 at 1080p are beyond what the VS8 is capable (at 720p you get sub -30fps). So a bit of casual gaming can be done. The unit really shines in HD videos, general computing and HD audio. It’s massively easy to set up and use. It runs cool with the GPU and CPU never passing 65 degrees Celsius. It’s quiet and sucks about 17-35w of power (depends on application).
It lends itself to a great many usage scenarios–from the obvious personal and office use to corporate retail, service worker use, and more. However, the storage choice is the system’s Achilles heel. A 500GB 5400rpm SATA drive is not only super slow, but also about half of what I would consider an ideal storage capacity. Cracking the system open to manually change the HDD is an easy enough endeavor. Just remove a few screws and it pops off. An SSD would supply the best performance increase. But they’re expensive and offer little storage space. The USB 3.0 ports could be used for a beefy external HDD solution. Or an internal hybrid SSHD is another option. We’ll be looking at a couple in the coming weeks. Stay tuned on that.
The VS8 does not come with a keyboard or mouse. I’m sure the omission helps keep cost down. Yet something like this could greatly enhance the diminished motif. A remote device, either Bluetooth or otherwise would help.
The Sapphire EDGE VS8 is still a marvel that comes highly recommended. It performs as well as some desktops or laptops for half the size at an attractive price point. Plus users can upgrade the memory and hard drive if needed.
Sapphire EDGE VS8 Mini PC
· Great performance
· HD ready (1080p, 1440p, 1600p)
· HDMI, DVI, Optical cables included
· Bluetooth and WiFi
· SD card reader and 2x USB 3.0
· Slow HDD
· No input device included
· Driver CD supplied but no CD drive
The Sapphire EDGE VS8 Mini PC is available at Amazon for $417.42