It was last September that we dealt with the second edition of Sapphire’s incredibly likeable miniature PC, one that immediately won us over with its appearance and high degree of functionality (in terms of what it was made for, of course). The time was nigh for a third iteration, which seems to stick to the tried-and-true formula by all means – it’s somewhat faster than its predecessor and somewhat more power-efficient.
Physically, Edge HD3 is exactly the same as “number two”, which was itself identical to the original HD. This can’t be taken as a drawback, though, since the appearance is very elegant and fits virtually all environments. Some would prefer rounded edges over the current straight ones, but since this is the third generation sporting the same looks, the redesign is likely to happen with the next one.
The main changes have happened under the hood, it seems. As a reminder, Edge HD2 had a somewhat faster Intel Atom CPU (1.8 GHz versus 1.66 GHz) than HD, as well as DDR3 memory instead of DDR2, which made it marginally faster. Edge HD3 uses a full AMD platform, however – more specifically, we’re dealing with the Brazos-generation Fusion APU, combining the system and graphics processors into a single chip. We were expecting to see an Ontario model, as it has a TDP of only 9 W, but luckily, Sapphire opted for a Zacate model, and the fastest one available at that, with two cores clocked at 1.6 GHz, 1 MB cache and Radeon HD 6320 graphics. With a TDP of 18 W and the Hudson southbridge, this system’s consumption peaks at 22.7 W.
Edge HD2 was using Intel’s Atom D525 (13 W together with integrated graphics) and NVIDIA’s ION2-based chip with a GeForce core (12 W), which yielded a total consumption of 25 W, making the newer model seem more efficient. However, Intel’s GMA graphics wasn’t used, so the consumption is practically the same. However, we don’t doubt Sapphire’s reasons to switch to an entirely AMD-based platform (most likely due to the fact that E-450 and the appropriate southbridge cost less than the previous combo), and the users shouldn’t either – the AMD version is faster overall, while the newer graphics chip contains a more advanced HD video decoder.
The complete switch to AMD brought forth another much-anticipated novelty – two USB 3.0 ports replacing the two USB 2.0 ports on the front mask. Since Hudson only offers two USB 3.0 ports natively, the back connectors had to remain on the USB 2.0 standard, but that’s nothing to complain about, as these two ports are most commonly used for the mouse & keyboard combo, devices who couldn’t care less about USB 3.0; it’s the portable storage department where it counts, and HD3 ensures that you can access them as neatly as possible.
The RAM quantity has been increased too, from 2 to 4 GB. Instead of the usual DDR3-800 modules, we were greeted by DDR3-1333, although in single-channel mode. However, synthetic tests showed no performance improvement in this respect; we can’t tell whether this is due to the different operation of AMD’s memory controller compared to Intel’s, or simply because the memory bandwidth is shared with the graphics chip (ION2 had its own 512 MB RAM). Either way, quantity precedes speed, so thumbs up for this change.
The bundle has been slightly impoverished compared to Edge HD2, primarily with the absence of the Vesa carrying bracket, convenient for attaching the PC to a wall or an HDTV set. This isn’t such a critical problem, since Edge already has a functional base for keeping the PC vertical, but it could’ve been useful in specific situations, if a user really wanted to hide the PC entirely.
The first Edge had its driver bundle on a USB stick. The second one had a factory DVD and a separate backup partition on the hard disk. This one only has the DVD, so unless you have access to another PC or internet-enabled device, you won’t be able to bring the system up to speed from scratch.
As for the positive things – there’s an HDMI cable included in the bundle, as well as an HDMI-to-DVI converter in case you’re running on a DVI monitor. This covers the widest array of users, as virtually all HTPC buyers have one of these two connectors available. The PC has the old D-Sub (VGA) output too, but without a supplied cable, as it’s there just to be sure. This is no problem at all, as the VGA cables are routinely provided with projectors and older monitors, and you probably have two or three of these lying around the house somewhere. HD3 can pride itself not only on its USB 3.0, but also the 802.11n Wi-Fi module, so that you can stream video from the internet or another PC with ease.
Edge HD2 existed in a cheaper version with no operating system preinstalled (i.e. with the practically useless FreeDOS) and a more expensive one with the 32-bit Windows 7. Edge HD3 only has the former option, which is an economically justified call, having in mind the retail prices of Windows these days and the stiff competition on the market.
The previous two Edge models did exactly what they were supposed to, and they did it great. The hardware refresh in HD3 doesn’t change this. H.264 video is as smooth as ever, even in 1080p, while the adequate dual-core CPU and ample RAM make short work of office applications. Note that we did all our testing on 32-bit version of the respective programs, in order to maintain maximum compatibility with tests done on previous editions of this model (or more specifically, the 32-bit Atom CPU). 7-Zip and Cinebench have 64-bit versions that would probably have scored a bit better, but this isn’t all that relevant for the simple fact that you definitely won’t be buying this PC in order to perform numerically intensive tasks.
The noise emitted by the PC is very low, although it becomes noticeable when the PC is under full load for an extended period of time (mostly during benchmarks in our case). If you only care about watching films, rest assured that you won’t hear a thing (from inside the enclosure, that is). In any case, you’re able to manually set fan RPM rates from inside the BIOS.
Results and conclusion
|Results||Edge HD2||Edge HD3|
|7-Zip 9.20 comp./decomp. [kB/s]||1.960 / 35.570||1.771 / 30.503|
|Cinebench R11.5 OpenGL [fps] / CPU [pts]||6,87 / 0,56||8,58 / 0,65|
|Everest memory read/write/copy [MB/s]||4.561 / 3.569 / 3.646||3.856 / 3.795 / 5.103|
|Everest memory latency [ns]||94||84,9|
|HD Tune Pro 4.5 read [MB/s] / Access Time [ms]||65,8 / 16,8||73,3 / 17,6|
|3DMark Vantage, performance preset (Total/CPU/GPU)||870 / 1.766 / 745||1.031 / 1.973 / 890|
|Resident Evil 5, 1280x720 medium [fps]||18,9||14,5|
|Unigine Heaven, 1280x720 medium [fps]||8,7||8,3|
|Processor||AMD E-450 1,6 GHz (1MB cache, dual-core)|
||Radeon HD 6320 (384 MB, 80 SP, 8 TMU, 4 ROP)|
|RAM Memory||4 GB DDR3-1333 (single channel)|
||Samsung HM321HI (32 GB, 8 MB, 2,5")|
|Connectivity||2 x USB 3.0, 2 x USB 2.0, D-Sub (VGA), HDMI, 1Gbit LAN, stereo out, mic in|
||193 x 148 x 22 mm|
If you’re a proud owner of Edge HD or Edge HD2, there’s absolutely no reason to exchange it for the new version; it’s clear that HD3 is merely a refresh targeting new customers. The price may be a problem for potential buyers, as it’s slightly higher than the one currently stamped onto HD2, which has a remarkably similar configuration. We can’t blame Sapphire for this, as we know that the price hike was caused by alleged flood damage to the Asian hard disk manufacturers (despite the fact that production has long since been normalised and continued with the usual yield). Still, HD3 is still a model to have over any other, as it’s irresistibly attractive and just head-and-shoulders above office or HTPC systems, which require a lot more space for the same features. If you manage to surpass the financial issue, Edge HD3 is to become part of the furniture as much as your favourite chair or couch; the impression of reliability and efficiency it leaves is much more durable than its price tag.