Normally, when reviewing a desktop PC, we try to avoid car metaphors. The occasional “horsepower” will slip by the editors in a discussion of processing power, but extended metaphors about drive trains and brake lines don’t really have a place in a review for a device that has neither. However, this review may have one or two extra terms from the garage, because the design is named with auto shop jargon, inspired by the V8 engines of classic muscle cars. The Velocity Micro Edge Z30 SmallBlock ($1,799 direct) takes the SmallBlock name from the case design, a small form factor mini-ITX tower that crams a potent mid-range gaming PC into a small black metal case, which is decidedly blocky.
Design and Features
The Z30 SmallBlock’s compact mini-ITX chassis measures only 12.75 by 8 by 9.1 inches (HWD), making it small enough to keep on your desk or entertainment system. Made from aluminum with a satiny black finish, the small chassis has a minimalist, understated elegance. The front of the chassis is almost blank, with a small power button in the center and a hinged panel concealing the optical drive. There are two USB 3.0 ports on the right corner of the machine, but they are positioned in such a way that they are nearly hidden, maintaining the blank featureless face of the machine.
On the back of the system, you’ll find six additional USB ports (four USB 2.0, two USB 3.0), a PS/2 port, outputs for DVI, VGA, HDMI, and DisplayPort, and Gigabit Ethernet. There’s also output for audio—with Realtek ALC887, the Edge Z30 SmallBlock offers 5.1 channel surround sound.
Open the side panel—both side panels can be removed, and are held in place with a single screw—and you’ll see that there’s a whole lot under the hood. Our review unit came outfitted with an Asus H81 motherboard, with a 3.5GHz Intel Core i7-4771 quad-core processor and 16GB of RAM. All of this, plus a CPU cooler, are tucked behind a full-size ATX PSU—the Corsair CX430M (430 Watt)—and an Nvidia GeForce GT 760 GPU. It’s a tight squeeze; there’s just enough room for the full-length GT 760, but not enough space for a longer card.
The cramped conditions do mean it will get a bit hot—during our testing, it reached 111-degrees Fahrenheit (as measured by a Fluke IR thermometer) —but it stays functional and quiet, thanks to passive air cooling. Vents in the top of the chassis allow heat to escape, while a vented underside let cool air in, and the basic upward flow of heat provides all the airflow necessary.
Drives and storage had to be installed strategically to fit into the small space, with a tray-loading DVD+-RW dual-layer drive up top, a 2.5-inch 250GB Samsung 840 EVO solid-state drive in the bottom of the chassis (it serves as the boot drive for the PC), and a 2TB, 7200rpm hard drive attached vertically to the inside front panel of the chassis. There’s not really any room for expansion, but there is one PCIe 16x slot open, but you’ll have trouble taking advantage of it given the scarcity of space in the tower.
Preinstalled on the system is the Windows 8.1 (64-bit) operating system, and very little else. Our machine came with the OS, drivers for the Nvidia GPU, Samsung Magician (for drive management and optimization), and StarDock Start 8, which gives you the old Windows Start Menu. Other than that, you’ve just got lots and lots of storage space, waiting to be filled with your game and media libraries.
Velocity Micro covers the Edge Z30 SmallBlock with a one-year warranty on parts and labor, lifetime phone support during regular business hours, and Velocity Micro’s lifetime upgrade plan, which lets you return the system to the factory for maintenance, tuning, and discounted upgrades.
Equipped with a quad-core Intel Core i7-4771 processor and 16GB of RAM, it’s no surprise that the Edge Z30 SmallBlock offers outsized performance. It scored 8.15 points in Cinebench, leading the likes of the Lenovo Erazer X700 (7.94 points), the iBuypower Revolt R770 (7.48 points), and the V3 Gaming Traverse (7.88 points), only falling behind the Editors’ Choice Maingear Potenza Super Stock (9.57 points). In PCMark 7, the Z30 SmallBlock actually raced to the lead, scoring 6,657 points, ahead of all four comparison systems. In multimedia tests, that processing power translated into short work, finishing Handbrake in 29 seconds and Photoshop in 2 minutes 49 seconds.
All that horsepower combined with the Nvidia GTX 760 graphics card to deliver high-octane gaming performance. The Edge Z30 SmallBlock revved through 3DMark 11 with 11,933 points (Entry) and 2,874 points (Extreme)—highly respectable scores. In actual gaming tests the performance was impressive, cranking out 53 frames per second (fps) in Aliens Vs. Predator at 1080p resolution and full detail settings, and outpacing that with 125fps in Heaven under similar settings. While other systems may have offered even higher numbers—most notably the V3 Gaming Traverse, thanks to an absurdly powerful processor—the Edge Z30 SmallBlock will be able to handle any of the latest games with ease, and even future titles with higher graphical demands will be easy work.
The Velocity Micro Edge Z30 SmallBlock is a compact take on a familiar system, but the combination of the small design, the strong performance and relatively affordable price keep it on our shortlist. While the Maingear Potenza Super Stock remains our Editors’ Choice for the mid-range gaming category (largely for its potential for future upgrades), the Velocity Micro Edge Z30 SmallBlock pulls in at a close second.
|Primary Optical Drive||DVD+/-R/RW SuperMulti|
|Processor Family||Intel Core i7|
|Storage Type||HDD, SSD|
|Graphics Card||Nvidia GeForce GTX 760|
|Operating System||Windows 8.1|
|Storage Capacity (as Tested)||2250 GB|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc