Considering how poorly AMD’s A-series APU did in our Budget Builds story, you’d think that type of chip would be outclassed by its AM3+ siblings and Intel’s crew in all scenarios. But, while that’s true in the case of big desktops, when you miniaturize the chassis to something you can slip into your murse, things get a bit more competitive. Such is the way with Sapphire’s Edge VS8 mini PC. Built around AMD’s A8-4555M mobile chip, this quad-core proc boasts a 1.6GHz chip that Turbo Clocks up to 2.4GHz. Boxes this small have typically included Intel Atom and AMD E-450 series chips, and though both are getting better, they are pretty weak CPUs. AMD’s A8-4555M, on the other hand, uses the fairly powerful Piledriver dual-core modules on the x86-side of things, and a Radeon HD 7600G for graphics. Initially, we thought we’d compare the Edge VS8 to an older E-450 or Atom-based mini PC, but the pricing of the Edge VS8 puts it firmly in the neighborhood of Intel’s Core i3-3217U-based NUC. That’s because to get the $300 NUC up and running, you’d need to add an mSATA SSD, RAM, wireless card, and OS, pushing the price to $600.
An SSD would greatly help the performance of this tiny PC.
In general compute performance, we found the A8-4555M couldn’t quite go head-to-head with the Core i3-3217U, but it put up a decent fight, and was nowhere near as dog-slow as an Atom or E-450 processor. In ProShow Producer, the Edge VS8 was about 17 percent slower than the i3-based NUC and 34 percent slower than the NUC in Stitch.Efx 2.0. In gaming, the Edge VS8 got its payback, cranking out a 3DMark 11 score that was about 47 percent faster than the NUC’s HD4000 graphics. When performance was isolated to just the GPU, the Radeon HD 7600G produced a score about 61 percent higher. We put the NUC’s graphics capability in real games at something akin to Portal 2 on low settings. The Edge is definitely better equipped for gaming, but at 1600x900 rather than 1080p.
In our opinion, the Edge VS8 is better suited for HTPC applications. Here it excels with enough computing power to drive even the new PowerDVD 13 and its new real-time frame-by-frame sharpening algorithms. PowerDVD 13 played HD-res files as well as Blu-ray discs just fine. There were a couple of hitches when trying to skip forward several chapters, but it quickly smoothed out after a few blips. Of course, you’ll need a USB Blu-ray drive to play actual discs, but the Edge VS8 had plenty of pep to do that.
Overall, Sapphire’s Edge VS8 does a great job of fulfilling all our HTPC streaming needs. Our primary complaint is probably with its 500GB laptop drive. We’ve become so accustomed to SSD performance that we forgot how slow laptop hard drives can be. Any enthusiast can quickly swap out the drive for an SSD, though, by opening the case. Once inside, you’ll also see a pair of SO-DIMMs and the machine’s sole source of noise: a small heat pipe and fan. Externally, the Edge VS8 features a nice rubberized finish with a built-in stand. The machine can lie on its side but it will wobble a bit.
An SSD would greatly help the out-of-the-box performance but it would also exacerbate our other complaint, which is that once an OS is added (yes, it ships sans OS), the cost tips $550. That’s within striking distance of the NUC outfitted with a 128GB mSATA SSD and 8GB of RAM, plus OS. We wish the Edge VS8 was about $100 cheaper, but once you get down to the $350 range, you’re back into the sluggish territory of Atom and E-350/E-450 parts. Still, it’s a powerful enough box with a healthy graphics advantage over the NUC.