Sapphire EDGE-HD review

Atom-powered miniature PC with Nvidia ION 2 graphics
Photo of Sapphire EDGE-HD
£250

At first sight, the EDGE-HD from Sapphire looks more like a miniature media-streaming device. Small, slim and coated in a black, rubberised casing, it’s hard to believe this is in fact a fully-functional PC.

Given its size it should come as no surprise that it’s not exactly a powerhouse – but it’s certainly capable of far more than simply streaming music and movies. But more on this in a moment…

Small but fully-functional
Designed to be stood upright (a detachable stand is included), the EDGE-HD isn’t festooned with buttons. In fact, aside from a power switch it doesn’t have any buttons at all. Sadly, there’s no card reader at the front – a surprising omission – but all the usual suspects can be found at the rear, including HDMI and VGA outputs, two USB 2 ports (another pair of USB 2 ports are at the front), LAN and audio in/out sockets. An optical output would have been nice, but in fairness to Sapphire there really is very little room for it.

The first thing you’ll notice when switching on the Sapphire EDGE-HD is that it appears to have no operating system installed. Actually, that’s not strictly true: freebie MS-DOS-style OS FreeDOS comes preinstalled, but its command-line interface and lack of features mean you’ll soon want to ditch it in favour of something else.

Installing an OS
If you have a copy of Windows, the EDGE-HD will happily run it. With no built-in DVD drive, however, you’ll either need to use an external drive or a USB key to install it. We opted for the latter and installed Windows 7 Home Premium. Once complete, it became clear that neither the wireless nor wired network connections had been recognised. Thankfully Sapphire includes a USB stick with all the necessary drivers, and we were up and running within a matter of minutes.

With plenty of free Linux-based operating systems available, many people will prefer to avoid Microsoft altogether. We tried out the popular Kubuntu distro, and all the EDGE-HD’s components (such as the wired and wireless network cards) were recognised. However, the HDMI output refused to carry audio, so we had to resort to using the analogue audio outputs. This left us wishing Sapphire had taken the time to preinstall a fully working Linux distro instead of the woefully restrictive FreeDOS.

Specifications
Operating system choices aside, you’re probably wondering what the EDGE-HD is like in terms of performance. Sapphire has opted for a desktop version of Intel’s popular Atom processor, in the form of the Atom D510; a dual-core chip with a clock speed of 1.66GHz. This is paired with 2GB of DDR2 memory and Nvidia’s ION 2 graphics chipset.

It’s not the most powerful of setups, but then you wouldn’t expect a PC this small to be lightning fast. That said, both Windows 7 and Kubuntu zipped along smoothly, and it had no problem smoothly playing back Full HD video. Gaming, however, isn’t to be recommended, and most of the titles we tried would barely run at all.

Other specs include a 250GB hard drive (this is a notebook-style 2.5in model), 802.11n wireless and Gigabit LAN. There’s no keyboard or mouse included, though, so you’ll need to supply your own. Needless to say, there’s no monitor, but Sapphire does throw in an HDMI cable, along with an HDMI-to-DVI adapter.

With so little room inside the chassis, a fan is required to expel the heat generated by the crammed-in components. Although you’ll hear it whirring away in a quiet room, it’s by no means noisy: you’d be hard-pressed to hear it while using the device to watch a film, for example. The chassis does get quite warm, though, so we’d recommend giving it plenty of breathing space.

Company: Sapphire

Positives
  • Surprisingly decent performance from a very compact machine.
Negative
  • Only bundling the rudimentary FreeDOS means some rather unnecessary setup niggles.

Verdict

If you're looking for an ultra-small PC, Sapphire's EDGE-HD will undoubtedly appeal. Its simple-yet-attractive design impresses, and the inclusion of an HDMI output makes it perfect for use as a home theatre PC. However, you're clearly paying a premium for its diminutive design, and considering it doesn't come with Windows pre-installed, we were hoping it might be a bit cheaper. If you can cope with a slightly larger chassis, Dell's Inspiron Zino HD 410 is a better value option, but this is still an impressive mini PC from Sapphire.