Sapphire Edge Mini PC Review

Indybird - 2011-02-09 21:31:52 in Prebuilts
Category: Prebuilts
Reviewed by: Indybird   
Reviewed on: February 14, 2011
Price: $300

Introduction:

It seems like computers are just getting smaller and smaller lately. Netbooks, Net-tops and mobile phones that are as powerful as desktop PC's from not that long ago are becoming more and more common. Packing a full PC into a small package has the advantage of taking up less space (obviously), lowering the cost and typically lowering the power usage. While all of this sounds great in theory, netbooks and net-tops end up being underpowered due to their low-power processors and integrated graphics that are really only capable of photo viewing, internet browsing and standard definition video.

Here is where the Sapphire Edge Mini PC comes into play. The Edge Mini PC definitely fits the main specifications of a net-top; it is extremely small; it will be relatively inexpensive and it will consume very little power (around 20 Watts). Right there, however, is where the similarities end. The Edge Mini PC utilizes the second generation NVIDIA ION 2 platform. This platform is comprised of an Intel Atom processor paired with a next generation NVIDIA graphics core. The Edge Mini PC was purpose built to be small form-factor, low-cost and low-power all without sacrificing any performance in the process. Let's see if the world of HD Video, parallel processing and multitasking is really available in such a small package.

 

Closer Look:

The Sapphire Edge comes in a pretty attractive glossy greyscale + blue box. Around the front you get a quick rundown of specs, list of features and included accessories. Moving over to the right side, there are the detailed system specifications. The back has a size comparison shot next to a hand that really shows off its size, a detail view of the rear ports and a description of the Edge’s capabilities. The packaging is pretty minimal; there is no wasted cardboard, foam or plastic here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Opening up the box you get a thin piece of cardboard and foam on top, with the computer directly under it wrapped in anti-static packaging. Under that are all of the accessories.

 

 

Included is a “Quickly Install Guide”, HDMI to DVI Adapter, HDMI cable, the stand, a Sapphire-branded USB flash drive containing the drivers and the power adapter.

 

 

With the more-than-adequate packaging and accessories out of the way, let's take a look at the computer itself..

Closer Look:

Here it is: the Sapphire Edge Mini PC in all its tiny glory. Even the scale picture on the back of the box doesn’t quite prepare you for just how thin it is. I immediately warmed up to the smooth curves of the case and the wavy look of the stand. For being so small and minimalist, the Edge's design really sticks out. The front is very simple, you only have the USB door to deal with. Moving over to the left side you have the power button and light, hard drive light and the Sapphire Logo. Around the back you have all of your I/O: VGA, HDMI, 2x USB 2.0, Ethernet, power and your microphone and headphone ports. The Left side has all of your product IDs and serial numbers along with another Sapphire Logo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The stand is connected via a thumb screw which is also slotted if you really want to get it tight. Along the bottom is the lower ventilation grill. On the top is main ventilation grill which produces a small warm air current while the PC is running.

 

 

As mentioned before, the power button is found on the left panel of the computer. The button doubles as an LED, while the hard drive LED is just below it. There is no reset button, but that would not be expected on a computer such as this. Behind the door on the front are two more USB 2.0 ports.

 

 

Now that we’ve examined the exterior, let's get it fired up!

Closer Look:

The Sapphire Edge has a user-accessible AMI BIOS. Being a pre-built, pre-tested and non-expandable PC, the BIOS doesn’t have many advanced options.

Main: Under the Main tab you’ll find BIOS Info, Memory Size and System Time & Date settings.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advanced: Under the Advanced tab there a few submenus. First is CPU configuration; this menu is less configuration and more specs and status. Next is SATA configuration; here you alternate between SATA controller modes and select the primary hard drive. Next under USB Configuration you’ll only find the controller Enable and Disable. Next under Hardware Health Configuration you check the CPU temperature, fan speed, adjust the fan control settings and monitor the system voltages. Lastly, under the Advanced tab is the Onboard Device Settings: here you can Enable/Disable the onboard audio, LAN and LAN boot ROM.

 

 

 

Power Settings: Here you’ll find ACPI configuration where you can change the suspend mode, and the APM configuration where you can control the Power-on settings.

 

 

Security: Here you can change the Supervisor password and User password to the core system.

 

Boot: Most users will probably only use this tab, and that would be to get their Operating System installed. The first sub-menu is Boot Settings Configuration where you can Enable/Disable Quick Boot, Quiet Boot, Bootup Num-Lock, Keyboard Error Display, and Hit “DEL” display. Next is your basic Boot Device Priority. And lastly is your hard drive selection.

 

 

You’ll notice that there are unfortunately no overclocking options. This probably due to the fact that there is not adequate cooling for overclocking in addition to the fact that the computer was designed to run a low-power, low-heat HTPC environment that overclocking would not be conducive to.

Specifications:


CPU
Intel Atom D510 1.66GHz with 1 MB Cache
RAM
2GB - DDR2-800
Storage
2.5'' SATA 250GB HDD
Graphics
NVIDIA ION2 with 512MB RAM
LAN
Built-in Ethernet supporting 10/100/1000 Mbps
WIFI
Built-in WIFI supporting IEEE 802.11 b/g/n
I/O VGA x1, HDMI x1, RJ45x 1, 4 x USB 2.0 Ports, Audio-In x1, Line Out x1
Power AC 100~240V 50/60Hz,19v~3.42A 65W
Dimensions 19.3(L) X 14.8(W) X 2.2(H) cm
Weight 530g

 

 

Features:


All information courtesy of Sapphire @ http://www.sapphiretech.com/presentation/media/?psn=0004&articleID=3252

Testing:

To test the Sapphire Edge Mini PC, I will be running a series of synthetic and real-world benchmarks designed to push the hardware to its limits and provide detailed results. For comparison I'll be testing it against two system builder NVIDIA ION boards: The ASUS AT3IONT-I and the Zotac IONITX-P-E. All comparisons are made at stock speeds with no modifications to the hardware or software.

 

Testing Setup:

 

Comparison:

 

Benchmarks:

Real World:

Scientific & Data:


 

Testing:

To start the testing we are running some system-specific benchmarks that represent the typical usage of this PC.

First up is iTunes. The measurement used is time (in seconds) to convert a 564MB uncompressed .wav file to a 160kbps MP3.

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lower is Better

 

Winzip:

 

VideoLAN VLC:VLC is an open-source media player designed to play most media files "out of the box". A recent addition to VLC is GPU acceleration of video playback.

Measurements are percent of CPU usage during video playback.

 

 

The Sapphire Edge performed fairly well in iTunes and Winzip.  It's obviously not going  to be setting any records here but these tests show that it is more than capable of the tasks it was designed for.

VLC on the other hand shows the advantage of having a powerful GPU in addition to the processor.  With GPU acceleration off, the video would lag at intervals during playback. Turning GPU acceleration on not only produced smooth framerates throughout, but it cut the CPU usage in half. 

Testing:

Next up in the testing is Apophysis. This program is used primarily to render and generate fractal flame images. We will run this benchmark with the following settings:

 

 

The measurement used is time to render, in minutes, to complete.

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

Lower is Better

 

Geekbench: is a series of benchmarks used to deliver comparable results across platforms. Benchmark score is the measure used.

Higher is Better

 

Bibble 5: is a flexible photo editing program that is highly multi-threaded. For this test we will be converting 100, 8.2MP files to a .JPG format. Time to complete the test is the measure used.

Lower is Better

 

 

PCMark Vantage x64: is used to measure complete system performance. We will be running a series of tests to gauge performance of each individual system to see which implementation, if any, rises above the others.

Higher is Better

The Atom is designed to primarily be a low-power processor, and that really shows here. Unfortunately none of the processing here could be offloaded to the ION GPU, so the tests took quite some time to complete.  

Testing:

SiSoft Sandra is a diagnostic utility and synthetic benchmarking program. Sandra provides detailed analysis of your hardware in order to provide more useful results. For this benchmark, I will be running a broad spectrum of tests to gauge the performance of key functions of the CPUs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Processor Arithmetic

   

Higher is Better

Multi-Core Efficiency

   

Lower is Better

 

Memory Bandwidth

   

Higher is Better

 

Cache and Memory

Higher is Better

 

Power Management Efficiency

 

Sandra really showed that the Sapphire Edge is overall about in the middle of the two ION boards.

Testing:

ScienceMark tests real world performance instead of using synthetic benchmarks. For this test, we ran the benchmark suite and will use the overall score for comparison.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher is Better

Cinebench 11.5 is useful for testing your system, CPU and OpenGL capabilities using the software program CINEMA 4D. We will be using the default tests for this benchmark.

Higher is Better

 

HD Tune measures disk performance to make comparisons between drives or disk controllers.

   

Higher is Better

   

Lower is Better

Sciencemark starts off by affirming the fact that the Atom D510 is slightly faster that the ASUS Atom, but not quite as fast as the Celeron in the Zotac. The HD Tune results show that the 2.5 inch drive used in this low power PC compared favorably in the burst speed and CPU usage categories. But then again you are comparing a low power, lower speed design with a 7200 RPM mechanical drive. Even so, the results show that the HDD is more than capable.

Power Consumption:

The Sapphire Edge was designed to be a media focused PC, making it a prime candidate for an HTPC.  Low power usage is definitely preferred in HTPC .  All of the scenarios were conducted using a WattsUpPro power meter using the average power consumption over five minutes for each run.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lower is Better

 

 

Temperatures:

Temperature is another concern with Home Theater PCs.  In a typical home theater setup, amplifiers and televisions are going to run hot. So, a PC is going to be running in proximity to these and it is important that they naturally run cool.  To simulate a maximum load on the processor and graphics core, I ran SuperPi and FurMark 1.8.2 simultaneously to get the whole system's temperature up.  Measurements were taken with the computer out in the open with a constant ambient temperature of 20°C during the entire test.

 

Lower is Better

 

These last two tests really show just how efficient the Sapphire Edge really is.  Under 100% load on the CPU and GPU, I couldn't get it to use more than 29 Watts.  As if that wasn't impressive enough, the processor temperature maxed out @ 38°C.  During all of these tests, the internal fan at most, produced a light whirl which, from even a short distance, was inaudible.

Conclusion:

I truly believe that Sapphire has found a sweet spot for media PCs.  The Edge Mini PC really impressed me with its design, performance and feature set.  For all of my life, computers have been getting smaller and smaller; but all of that didn't prepare me for the Edge.  An enclosure the size of a paperback book containing a more-than-capable media PC was somewhat alien to me.  Despite its tiny proportions, the design really catches your eye.  Sleek curves and the wavy stand ensure it will fit in with any entertainment center. Connectivity, however, was sort of a mixed-bag. Though you're supplied with four USB 2.0 ports, HDMI and built in Wireless-N, the lack of a camera card reader was quite surprising.

We are all aware that the Atom D510 is no speed-demon when it comes to processors and while this was fairly evident in the synthetic benchmarks, the real world tests showed more than adequate performance.  However, where the Sapphire Edge really shines is with its ION2 GPU.  If the application supports GPU acceleration, or better yet NVIDIA CUDA, then the Edge tears through it with minimal CPU overhead.  This means that multitasking during Full HD playback is possible without compromising either task.  In the overall performance, the Edge proved to be slightly faster than its system builder cousin, the ASUS ION board, and overall fast enough to handle most media tasks.  Where the Sapphire Edge Mini PC has absolutely no competition, is in its power consumption, temperature and noise. During full CPU and GPU load, the Mini PC maxed out at only 29 Watts (About ten times less than a typical desktop PC). Thirty eight degrees Celcius on the CPU, and with only the faintest whirring sound from the fan.  

Though not specifically touted as such, the Edge Mini PC was made to be a media center PC.  The compact size allows it to fit in any home theater setup. The HDMI and integrated wireless makes it easy to connect and the ION platform delivers top media performance without heat and heavy power usage.  The only con I can see is that there is no integrated media card reader, and though that's a fairly important feature in a media PC, it doesn't make or break it.  At the expected $300 price tag, the Sapphire Edge Mini PC is a no-brainer purchase for anyone looking for an easy-to-setup, compact home theater PC.

 

Pros:

 

Cons: