While gamers and computer enthusiasts may require their PC to be a processing powerhouse, for most people a more modest rig will do. Business users, for instance, may require little more than a machine that can handle office applications and email. And home users who want to surf the web and even take in a film or two, but who don't feel the need to play games, can get by without the latest bells and whistles.
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So it makes sense to trade in some of that unwanted power in exchange for a PC that's smaller and far less obtrusive than the typical desktop Windows computer. That's where the mini microcomputer comes in, an example being the Sapphire Edge HD4.
The Sapphire Edge HD4 is the latest in Sapphire's Edge series of mini PCs. More modest in its scope than the Edge VS series (which hosts more substantial hardware), the Edge HD4 is there to provide you with enough firepower to juggle everyday computing tasks, but not a lot else.
Most unusually but potentially invaluable, it’s sold without an operating system. This makes the Sapphire Edge HD4 a far more interesting proposition for experimenting with Linux, for example.
Sapphire Edge HD4: Features
Proceedings are orchestrated by a 1.1GHz Intel Celeron 847. This isn't the first model in Sapphire’s HD range to employ an Intel processor – the original HD and HD2 used low-power Intel Atom chips, while the following Edge HD3 used an AMD Fusion processor, the E450.
Now Sapphire has moved back to an Intel chip, the low-cost and dual-core Intel Celeron 847 which has a modest TDP of 17W.
Attention to energy consumption makes this a rather gentle machine in power usage. It consumed a mere 13.5 watt when idle and, even when running through our Stalker graphics tests, just 32.8 watt.
The Sapphire Edge HD4 review isn't particularly loud in normal use, although it did push the sound levels up by around 26dB when being pushed to its maximum. Under normal circumstances it ran at around 21dB above background. It’s maybe not as noisy as most traditional Windows desktops, but it’s also far from the whispering device that you might have expected.
The Sapphire Edge HD4 is quite lovely to look at though, and the photographs don't really do justice to the way this slim device melts into the background. Less than eight inches tall, it’s also narrow at less than an inch – 22mm – thick.
If you want an inconsequential PC that can lie hidden on a shelf, the Edge should prove a strong choice. A compartment at the front of the case opens to reveal two USB ports, one of which is USB 3.0. Another pair of USB 2.0 ports are situated at the rear, along with HDMI and VGA, plus microphone and headphone sockets.
Gigabit ethernet is included, and the Edge also offers single-band 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, but no Bluetooth.
Sapphire has kept a lid on the power, but the HD4 has some solid specifications. Its 4GB of DDR3 is a decent complement of memory, especially if you avoid Windows.
The 320GB hard disk, a 5400rpm notebook drive, seems a little skimpy in these times of terabyte units, although such a capacity was deemed quite healthy only a few years ago. Even now 320GB should be enough providing you don’t plan on storing lots of video files.
Sapphire Edge HD4: Performance
General Windows performance is pretty poor, with the HD4 hitting a score of just 1318 points in the PCMark 7 suite.
In fairness to Sapphire, this Sapphire Edge HD4 is deliberately not aiming for power, and it remains quite usable in everyday applications. We were able to carry out some standard word processor and spreadsheet tasks without any delays.
And it's fine for watching films on as well. You don't get a Blu-ray drive – or indeed any optical drive – but if you have one handy, you should find that the HD4 can play BD-ROMs rather smoothly.
It's pretty patchy for games though. The Sapphire Edge HD4's graphics are run by a basic Intel HD Graphics controller, and this device will make a poor job of any fast-moving titles.
At a resolution of 1280 x 720 and with the settings on Medium, the HD4 mustered just 10.8fps across our Stalker: Call of Pripyat tests.
In the less demanding FEAR tests, it picked up just 12fps at Maximum settings, although it could muster up to 23fps with the detail levels dropped to High. If you have some older games titles, and don't mind playing them with low detail levels, you’ll just about get a playable experience from the HD4. In reality though, you should not be buying this PC for its gaming ability.
As the Sapphire Edge HD4 doesn't come with an operating system installed, you'll need to provide your own. We got it working with both Windows 7 and Windows 8 with the help of an external optical drive, although there are some rather trickier installation methods for the PC-savvy.
A drivers disc is included that should help you find the relevant files for some operating systems. We found that most of these worked well, although we did have an issue with the HDMI port not working properly with the supplied graphics card drivers.
If you know a bit about setting up PCs, you shouldn't have too many issues with getting an OS running. It's not for the faint-hearted though, and will put off a good number of those who hanker for a simple and discreet PC that can hide in a corner of the room.