Sapphire Pure Mini 785G £78
28th Jul 2010 | 14:01
Small form factor fun from Sapphire
Sapphire Pure Mini 785G - Overview
We're big fans of small, and motherboards don't come much smaller than Sapphire's Pure Mini 785G.
The Mac mini, the Shuttle XPC, ASUS' EeeBox and Dell's Zino have all helped to prove that for nine-tenths of what we do, a server class chassis just isn't necessary and made the pint sized popular.
But while all these have captured the public imagination the original small form factor, Mini ITX, has remained in a niche.
Most will never have heard of it, and those who have will associate it with under-performing Atom or C3 CPUs.
That's where Sapphire's Pure Mini 785G comes in.
Like Zotac's H55-ITX, the Pure Mini couples the cut-down form factor with a full power processor. It's a socket AM3 board which supports AMD's dual core Athlon or Phenom CPUs, and it comes with built in ATI 4200 graphics and Via VT1708S audio.
There's even room for a PCI-Express graphics card, if you so wish.
That's a lot of power packed into a mere 17cm square of PCB. Is Sapphire's Pure Mini the most densely packed performer around?
Sapphire Pure Mini 785G - Benchmarks
We tested Sapphire's Pure Mini with a low power Athlon X2 255 and, as you can see, the difference in performance between running the CPU in this and a full size AMD 790 equipped motherboard is negligible.
What's more, the power usage is much lower too.
You can also bung a decent GPU in there thanks to the PCI-E lane so a mini gaming rig isn't beyond the realms of possibility.
Video encoding performance
3D rendering performance
Gaming performance (800x600, v.low graphics settings)
Sapphire Pure Mini 785G - Verdict
You can't really complain that the layout of the motherboard is cramped, given that so much is packed onto the surface of the Pure Mini. It is worth pointing out that you're likely to want any system based on it to be as audibly unobintrusive as it is physically.
That's going to mean using a decently large heatsink for your CPU, which could be a problem.
The bigger issue, however, is that although the Pure Mini has an AM3 socket, it doesn't support any AMD processor with a TDP higher than 65W.
There's no way of getting enough power to the board to run a three or four core CPU, as it only accepts a 20-pin PSU connector rather than the more common 24-pin plug. Similarly, the auxiliary CPU power is through a four pin adaptor, not the eight pin one required for a decently powered Phenom II.
That's not a problem if you're planning on building a low-power, small footprint desktop machine for office use or day-today tasks.
Stick in a decent graphics card and you'll even have a respectable gaming rig to be proud of.
What it does mean, however, is that as a media centre there's little reason to choose the Pure ITX over, say, a dual core Atom board like the Asus AT3N7A-I which comes with NVIDIA's ION graphics with a lower overall cost.
Both will serve your purpose for watching videos or listening to music, but neither are particularly good at encoding video.
Great if you just want to consume media, but forget about DVD ripping or editing movies unless you have a lot of patience.
For a small but serious all-rounder you're best off either moving up to a larger micro-ATX size or looking at Zotac's Core i5 supporting H55-ITX or the same company's Core 2 quad capable GeForce 9300-ITX-I-E instead.
A Mini-ITX board with a 'real' processor socket, DX10.1 capable graphics, digital audio out and an HDMI connector looks a lot better on paper than, say, an ION-based Atom system if you're thinking of building a media centre.
Building a small form factor system is always going to involve some sort of compromise.
There are limitations, though, which aren't alluded to on the company's website or the packaging. Only low power and energy efficient CPUs meet the maximum 65W overhead.
That's fine for watching films or general desktop use, but far from the best choice if you plan on video editing with your new PC.
Lots of cool features on a tiny PCB, but CPU restrictions hamper its potential.
Socket: AMD AM3
Form factor: Mini-ITX
RAM: DDR3 up to 8GB
Graphics: AMD Radeon 4200
Audio: Realtek ALC662HD (6 channel) w/digital out