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Sapphire Edge HD3: AMD E-450 Mini PC

Only in the third iteration of Sapphire’s Edge HD mini PC was AMD hardware incorporated into the design, unusual for a company that features AMD (ATI) GPU video cards exclusively. The HD3 sports an AMD E-450 APU, 4GB of RAM, a 320GB hard drive, front-mounted USB 3.0, and wireless connectivity all in a svelte package less than an inch thick.

Sapphire Edge HD3 Mini PC

March 12, 2012 by Lawrence Lee

Product Sapphire Edge HD3
Mini PC
Manufacturer Sapphire
MSRP £290 (including VAT)

Sapphire is a manufacturer best known for graphics cards and a long partnership with AMD/ATI. They also dabble in motherboards and mini PCs. The Edge HD and HD2 were their first mini PCs, using a form similar to that of the Asus Eee Box but even smaller. These vertically mounted nettops were powered by an Intel Atom processor and Nvidia ION graphics (an odd choice given their predilection for AMD hardware). In their latest version, the HD3, the heart of the machine is an integrated AMD APU which incorporates a dual core CPU, a DirectX 11 GPU, and the memory controller all sharing the same die.


The box.

The E-350 APU has been used in a variety of nettops and netbooks over the past year and offers a big performance boost over Atom offerings, while its HD 6310 graphics also delivers an upgrade over ION. The HD3 uses an E-450, which is identical except for slightly higher CPU and GPU speeds. Also included are 4GB of RAM, a 320GB hard drive, wireless 802.11n, gigabit ethernet, and even USB 3.0. The one thing not provided is Windows; instead, the H3 ships with FreeDOS pre-installed.


Accessories.


The Edge HD3.

The bulk of the retail box is taken up by a number of accessories: A driver disc and documentation, AC power adapter, vertical stand, HDMI to DVI adapter, and even an HDMI cable which is rarely provided gratis with any product. The PC itself is packed in a separate compartment protected with a foam lining. The Edge HD3 is a thin device, less than an inch thick, constructed primarily of plastic with a touch-inviting, soft, suede-like rubber covering much of the exterior.

Though the APU driving the system is quite energy efficient, the limited space means a low profile heatsink with a small fan running at high speeds. The last AMD nettop we reviewed, the Viako Mini-Letter ML-45, managed to cool its E-350 APU adequately with a reasonable noise level, but its enclosure was substantially larger. Cooling will be a greater challenge in this slimmer form factor, which incidentally seems perfect for mounting behind a monitor, but such mounting hardware is noticeably absent.

Sapphire Edge HD3: Specifications
(from the product
web page
)
CPU AMD APU E450 1.65GHz
Memory 4 GB DDR3 So-DIMM
Storage 320 GB SATA 2.5” Hard Drive
Graphics AMD Radeon HD6320
LAN 10/100/1000 Mbps Built-in Ethernet
Wireless 802.11b/g/n Built-in Wireless Network
I/O 1 x VGA(D-sub) Port
1 x HDMI Port
1 x RJ-45 Gigabit LAN
2 x USB 2.0 Port
1 x Audio-in
1 x Line-out
2 x USB 3.0 Port
Power 65 W AC 100~240V 50/60Hz, 19v~3.42A
Dimensions 19.3 x 14.8 x 2.2 cm cm (L / W / H)
Weight 530 g net weight
Operation System Pre-installed Free DOS
Accessory 1 x HDMI cable
1 x HDMI to DVI adapter
1 x Quick Install guide (QIG)
1 x Chassis Stand
1 x Power cord
1 x Power Adapter
CD Driver

PHYSICAL DETAILS

The Sapphire Edge HD3 is compact, even by nettop standards, measuring 19.3 x 14.8 x 2.2 cm or 7.6 x 5.8 x 0.9 in (L x W x H). Horizontally, its footprint is approximately the same as a 5.25" optical drive, but substantially thinner.


A small power button/LED and hard drive activity LED are located on the top cover, flush with the rest of the surface. A small rubber compartment on side edge pulls out, revealing a pair of USB 3.0 ports.


A series of ventilation slits are provided on the shorter sides of the machine. On the left side is a screw mount for a stand to orient the system vertically.


When mounted upright, the air is drawn from the bottom and exhausted out the top, following the path of natural convection.


Rear connectors: VGA, HDMI, 2 x USB 2.0, RJ45 (gigabit ethernet), AC power, line-out, and mic.


The Edge HD3 has no visible screws on the exterior, but the internals can be accessed by carefully inserted a small flathead screwdriver under the top and bottom covers and gently prying it open around the edge. This will leave marks on the casing, so we don’t advise doing so without good purpose.

Inside we found a Samsung 320GB 5400 RPM hard drive and a single SO-DIMM slot populated by a 4GB DDR3-1333 module. Cooling is provided by a small heatsink with a single copper heatpipe and a small blower fan.


A 65W AC brick exceeds need as AMD’s integrated APUs are fairly efficient.

TEST METHODOLOGY

Software and Measurement/Analysis Tools:


Device listing.

Timed Benchmark Test Details

  • NOD32: In-depth virus scan of a folder containing 32 files of varying
    size with many RAR and ZIP archives.
  • WinRAR: Archive creation with a folder containing 68 files of varying
    size (less than 50MB).
  • iTunes: Conversion of an MP3 file to AAC.
  • TMPGEnc: Encoding a XVID AVI file with VC-1.
  • HandBrake: Encoding a XVID AVI file with H.264.
  • Photoshop: Image manipulation using a variety of filters, a derivation
    of Driver Heaven’s Photoshop
    Benchmark V3
    (test image resized to 4500×3499).

Video Test Suite


1080p | 24fps | ~10mbps
H.264:
Rush Hour 3 Trailer 1
is a H.264 encoded clip inside an
Apple Quicktime container.

1080p | 24fps | ~14mbps

H.264: Space is a 1080p x264 clip encoded from
the Blu-ray version of an animated short film. It features a hapless
robot trying to repair a lamp on a spaceship.


1080p | 24fps | ~22mbps

H.264: Crash is a 1080p x264 clip encoded from the
Blu-ray version of an science fiction film. It features the aftermath
of a helicopter crash.


720p | 25fps | ~2mbps

Flash: Iron
Man Trailer #1
is the first trailer from the feature film
of the same name. It’s a YouTube HD video, though technically it
is not quite 720p.

Testing Procedures

If available, the latest motherboard BIOS is installed prior to testing. Certain services/features
like Indexing, Superfetch, System Restore, and Windows Defender are disabled
to prevent them from causing spikes in CPU/HDD usage. We also make note if energy
saving features like Cool’n’Quiet/SpeedStep or S3 suspend-to-RAM do not function
properly.

Our first set of tests are designed to determine the overall AC power consumption
at various states. To stress the CPU, we
use either Prime95 (large FFTs setting) or CPUBurn depending on which produces
higher system power consumption. To stress the IGP, we use FurMark, an OpenGL
benchmarking and stability testing utility.

Our second set of tests focus on video performance with a variety of high definition clips. During playback, a CPU usage graph is created
by the Windows Task Manger for analysis to determine the average CPU usage.
High CPU usage is indicative of poor video decoding ability. If the video (and/or
audio) skips or freezes, we conclude the GPU (in conjunction with the processor)
is inadequate to decompress the clip properly. Power consumption during playback
of high definition video is also recorded.

Lastly, we run a short series of performance benchmarks — a few real-world
applications as well as synthetic tests.

Fan Control

Typical with most nettops, the Edge HD3’s BIOS doesn’t offer much customization &#151 the only significant hardware option is memory speed (800, 1066, or 1333 MHz). The "PC Health Status" menu does offer a few different fan control settings, however.


BIOS "PC Health Status" menu.

The fan speed can be set with static or dynamic settings. We recommend using SmartFan as in our experience, these slim devices tend to heat up a great deal with a large difference between idle and load temperatures. A steady fan speed adequate for cooling under all conditions would create unnecessarily high noise when the machine isn’t being stressed heavily.


SpeedFan with correlations entered.

Windows users have the option of using SpeedFan to control the CPU fan. To enable full control, change the F71808E chip’s PWM 1 mode value from "Auto set PWM" to "Manual set PWM" in the Advanced menu. Please note that the temperature sensor labeled "CPU" is not accurate, staying at 0°C throughout testing. We found that "Temp1" seems to stay in line with the CPU temperature reported by CoreTemp, but it is consistently 6°C lower.

Thermal & Acoustic Performance

System Measurements
System State
Temps
Fan RPM
dBA @0.6m†
Power (AC)
CPU
HDD
Ext*
Off
N/A
N/A
2W
Sleep (S3)
N/A
N/A
3W
Idle
48°C
32°C
32°C
3900
25~26
14W
H.264 Playback
56°C
34°C
35°C
4320
27~28
20W
CPU Load
74°C
35°C
40°C
5580
33
29W
CPU + GPU Load
89°C
37°C
49°C
5580
33
37W
Ambient: 20°C, 10~11 dBA.
*External temperature measured using an IR thermometer pointed at the hottest portion of the chassis.
We measure SPL at 0.6m for all devices meant to be used atop a desk, as it is more realistic a distance than the usual 1m. It also corresponds to the "seated user SPL" distance specified in the computer noise measurement standard ISO 7779.

At idle, the fan spun at 3900 RPM, producing a noise level of 25~26 dBA@0.6m which is a bit high compared to other nettops. The fan could easily be dialed down a bit during H.264 video playback as well as the CPU temperature remained well under 60°C. The default fan control settings are a little aggressive when the system isn’t being taxed. On load, the fan speed topped out at just under 5600 RPM, and could barely keep the CPU adequately cool when both the CPU and GPU stressed.

If used strictly as a simple web browsing or media playing system, the fan speed can be lowered to save a decibel or two without detriment, but if you’re going to push the hardware, there’s no way to avoid the noise. At 33 dBA@0.6m, the Edge HD3 is the loudest nettop we’ve tested on load.



The Sapphire Edge HD3 measured 25~26 dBA@0.6m and 33 dBA@0.6m when idle and on load respectively.

The fan noise generated by the Edge HD3 is fairly soft at idle, but a bit whiny and high pitched on load, similar to what you’d find on most notebooks.

Power Consumption Comparison


SpeedFan with correlations entered.

Except for an APU with slightly higher clock speeds, the hardware inside the Edge HD3 is very similar to configuration of the Viako ML-45 barebones nettop we reviewed several months ago. The two systems consumed nearly identical amounts of power at idle and H.264 video playback, but the Sapphire used 4~5W more on load. It was still more energy efficient than than previously tested ION configurations of the Zotac ZBOX and Asus Eee Box.

CPU Performance


CPU-Z screenshot on load.

The Edge HD3 is powered by an AMD E-450 APU with the same dual core CPU as the E-350, only a scant 50 MHz faster. We don’t expect any significant performance differences.

The E-450 was faster to the tune of 5~6% in some of our tests, but the overall performance level is still far behind that of Intel’s CULV Celeron SU2300 which based on the Core 2 architecture. An E-series chip is a big step up from an Atom processor, but not as speedy as a modern desktop CPU.

3D Performance


GPU-Z screenshot.

The HD 6320 graphics chip is as you would expect, an iterative improvement over HD 6310, offering a small boost in core clock speed. With only 80 shader units and relatively low core and memory speeds, the HD 4350 is its closest desktop competitor.

In 3DMark05/06, the Edge HD3 achieved scores 20% higher than the E-350 based Asus E35M1-M motherboard, while the improvement in our H.A.W.X 2 and Lost Planet 2 benchmarks was 9~10%. An extra two frames per second at 1366×768 doesn’t really change the overall gaming experience.

Hard Drive Performance


Note: Motherboards tested with WD Scorpio Blue 500GB, Edge HD3 with stock Samsung Spinpoint M7E 320GB.

The Samsung Spinpoint M7E 320GB 5400 RPM hard drive that shipped inside our Edge HD3 sample wasn’t a speed demon, but it held its own with an average read speed of 78 MB/s according to HD Tune. Access time was average for a drive of this class.

USB 3.0 Performance


Note: Motherboards tested with WD Scorpio Blue 500GB, Edge HD3 with stock Samsung Spinpoint M7E 320GB.

A brief test of the Edge HD3’s ASMedia USB 3.0 controller shows it to be on the slow side. We attained an average speed of 98.4 MB/s when copying a large file from a USB 3.0-connected WD VelociRaptor 600GB. The Renasas controller on the Asus P8H67-I and the native AMD controller on the Gigabyte A75M-UD2H both produced speeds greater than 110 MB/s. It should be noted, however, that the Samsung drive in our Edge HD3 sample is faster than the WD Scorpio Blue we use for motherboard testing.

Wireless Performance

We were surprised that the Edge HD3 lacks an external antenna for its Realtek 802.11n adapter. We expected issues with range, but we didn’t anticipate an almost complete inability to function. It would not connect to two different routers in different buildings, even at short distances with no obstructions. Windows reported a signal strength of just one bar and the adapter couldn’t detect the networks of neighbors, etc. It did manage to connect to an Android phone in WiFi hotspot mode, but only at a distance of 3~4 feet where it reported full signal strength. At 5 feet we only got one bar it would not connect. The cause is most likely a defective WiFi adapter as it’s unfathomable that such a glaring issue could be widespread.

Audio Recordings

These recordings were made with a high resolution, lab quality, digital recording
system inside SPCR’s own 11 dBA ambient anechoic chamber, then converted to
LAME 128kbps encoded MP3s. We’ve listened long and hard to ensure there is no
audible degradation from the original WAV files to these MP3s. They represent
a quick snapshot of what we heard during the review.

Each recording starts with ambient noise, then 10 second segments of product
at various states. For the most realistic results,
set the volume so that the starting ambient level is just barely audible, then
don’t change the volume setting again while comparing all the sound files.

  • Sapphire Edge HD3 at 0.6m distance
    — idle, CPU fan at 3900 RPM (25~26 dBA)
    — H.264 playback, CPU fan at 4320 RPM (27~28 dBA)
    — CPU load/CPU+GPU load, CPU fan at 5580 RPM (33 dBA)

FINAL THOUGHTS

The Sapphire Edge HD3 succeeds in delivering a fully-capable multimedia experience in a svelte form factor. It offers superior energy efficiency and CPU performance compared to Atom/ION configurations. Rounding out the package are connectivity options including front USB 3.0 ports, a gigabit ethernet controller, and a wireless 802.11n adapter, though it should be noted our sample shipped with an apparently defective WiFi module. The lack of a proper operating system is also a bit of a disappointment for Windows users as they won’t benefit from the discount Microsoft offers to OEM manufacturers.

The hardware inside is appropriate for a machine of this type, but making it thin and sexy had thermal and acoustic consequences. The casing is almost as small as physically possible and despite forced-air cooling, the interior heats up substantially when the system is stressed. This equates to high fan speeds, necessary to keep the components adequately cool. The HD3’s fan control system can be tweaked to generate less noise when the machine is being tasked with less strenuous tasks like browsing the web or playing video, but if you stress it with something demanding, you can expect an annoying and unavoidable 30 dBA or higher at 0.6 meters. This would be perfectly acceptable in a home theater environment where the seated distance is much greater, but problematic if situated on a desk right next to you.

The HD3 is designed to be placed vertically on the included stand to reduce its desk footprint, but we were surprised it didn’t include a VESA mount to hide it behind a display. Such a feature would have added to the device’s versatility; this position also helps to mask some of the generated noise from a seated user.

The Edge HD3 is expected to launch soon with an approximate price-tag of £290 in the UK (including VAT). This is on the high side compared to other Fusion offerings from Zotac, etc. The price premium unfortunately doesn’t give you any extra functionality, only a sleeker look and feel. A market adjustment is probably necessary for successful sales in North America.

Our thanks to Sapphire
for the Edge HD3 Mini PC sample.

* * *

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* * *

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