[REVIEW] Viako Mini Letter E-350 Hybrid WiFi
Most recently Viako send us a review sample of their ML E-350 barebone HTPC cases. Viako might not strike you as a big name in the hardware world, and globally speaking they aren’t yet. I dare say It will not take long before this Seoul based HTPC/Mini PC manufacturer will get its place in the spotlight. Quality wise this South Korean enterprise pushes the bar for ALL current competitors in this niche barebone HTPC/Mini PC market.
So many HTPC cases out there, and to be honest they all look fairly alike. This makes rating a new case VS its wide range of competitors not the easiest thing in the world. Viako’s designers were talking the minimalistic approach here (it comes in both Silver top with black bottom & back plate and a Black top with red bottom & back plate).
Fist looks were ok, the black edition we received does look very sleek and the red grill cutout on the bottom front gives it a sporty edge, quite original to say the least. But all this isn’t what makes the design really shine out, the build quality is! The Viako Mini Letter E-350 Hybrid WiFi’s exterior is made of a thick, very dense 3 mm aluminum alloy. The general production quality is not what I’ve seen before with other manufacturers, 3mm combined with the fact they used aluminum alloy compared to most competitors who stick to cold rolled steel, give this little girl sure a G.I. Jane appearance. I dare say this HTPC/Mini PC is rugged enough to fit military standards.
Let’s have a closer look at Viako’s Mini Letter E-350
On the front, the case has a gap to fit a sleeve in notebook model DVD/Blu-ray. We did not assemble one in our model since these drives cost at least 3x the amount of regular tray-mount desktop DVD/Blu-ray drive. Nowadays I prefer to buy an 8Gb USB stick and stuff a bootable Windows 7 on it, installs much faster and doesn’t make the noise optical drives make when reading DVD content.
Note to people trying to install from a bootable USB stick, make sure it’s IN a USB 2.x slot (usually black or red slots), don’t stick them in the (usually blue) slots dedicated for USB 3.x usage. We tried to boot from USB 3 and Windows complained that it required a disk driver. Same scenario in USB 2 resulted in no questions asked by Windows and a perfect install.
Further below the optical slot, we find the power on button. A very fancy solid aluminum button with a plastic edge around it; which shows you a nice disco-effect when you have the device powered on. There is a dual red/blue led behind this plastic edge, red is for system activity, blue is for disk activity. They both blend in very nice with each other.
On the side we have a cutout grill for extra circulation on the left, on the right there is a special honeycomb cutout fitted with a small 5cm fan for extra airflow.
Note here: the fan on the left is perfectly silent when the top was still off it, when we closed it down it started producing a slight turbine effect of air that gets blown into a large space. I didn’t like it, so I cut the fan’s power supply off. Now it’s perfectly silent.
And on the back we have…
Viako’s Mini Letter E-350 Hybrid WiFi comes pre-fueled with one of Sapphire’s Pure Fustion Mini E350 mainboards. Externally this means except for the default power jack and WiFi antenna mount, that it features the following ports:
-4x USB 2.0 ports
-2x USB 3.0 ports
-1x ESATA port
-Gigabit LAN port
-VGA (D-SUB) port
-5 jack Surround audio
Viako Mini Letter E-350′s guts
The Sapphire Pure Fusion Mini E350 mainboard inside has all the bells and whistles a modern HTPC/Mini PC should have. It features a dual core AMD E350 APU (1.6ghz), AMD Hudson M1 (A50M chip), AMD Radeon™ HD 6310 Graphics, 2 DDR3 SO-DIMM 800/1066mhz slots, 5 SATA 3 connectors, 4 USB 2.0 headers, a debug led, 16Mb SPI Flash and the regular CPU, Power and fan headers. Format: Mini-iTX, Size 6.8″ x 6.8″.
We would like to point out that due to the fact that the mainboard and power supply board are sitting so close together, the 2 SATA ports on the side are rendered inaccessible/useless. The 3 other SATA ports are the only ones to be used. Unless you are up for some modifications and relocate the power board, but let’s say this is not something the average buyer will do.
The main board also features a mini pci-e slot occupied by the wireless card. Another full size PCI-E 16x slot is available if you wish to connect a more powerful graphics card or satellite/TV receiver card.
I bought one of the latest generation SSD’s (6Gbps, yet this mainboard only supports 3Gbps SATA and isn’t getting the max performance out of the SSD). Furthermore an 8Gb kit of 1066Mhz SO-DIMM ram (notebook type) since this is the fastest RAM the E350 mainboard supports. As mentioned before, I didn’t buy a slim sleeve-in DVD/Blu-ray bay since I don’t use it. My kit cost about 275€ (which will be about the same in Dollar ex. VAT). You can turn this barebone into a fully operational PC by purchasing much cheaper parts. You can get a 5400/7200 RPM standard SATA hard disk + 2 or 4 Gb 800/1066 SO-DIMM for well below 75€/$ if you look around a bit.
Performance & results
At first I didn’t have high expectation of Sapphire’s mainboard, but it surprised me and actually changed my mind that this little sprout is capable of delivering a full desktop experience for most home users.
First things first, let’s check what Windows tells us when we check the performance rating of this system. So, 3.8 is nothing to write home about… but hold on there is more underneath its little bonnet. When you check the numbers on the side you can see Windows picks the lowest number of all these scores. Looking deeper into this, you can clearly see the solid state disk is the speed leader with 7.8, next one up is the graphics chip which rates at 5.6 for business & gaming graphics, Windows desktop performance only gets a 4.0. When further analyzing these scores you notice that the 1.6Ghz AMD dual core CPU is the “car causing the traffic jam” here. The Windows performance index is still for a major part based on CPU performance, and will not consider the ATI Radeon HD 6310’s potency.
The board itself was designed to be an ecological power consuming HTPC/Mini PC, so one should not expect quad core performance for a logic board that is designed mainly for full HD video playback. When playing full HD 1080p video, the Radeon is the one that renders the content, so it’s a logical that Sapphire chose not to aim for computational power when the rendering power of the graphics chipset is key for its usage. Sapphire chose wisely to designate the “juice” to the Radeon and keep the E350 CPU bound to the essentials.
I did not run disk benchmark tools or video render performance test, because this machine was never intended to be a rendering workhorse. 1.6Ghz dual core just isn’t going to cut it here.
Crysis II showdown
For test purposes I made an image file of a Crysis II disk. Installing it on the MiniPC (copied the ISO file to the internal SSD and loaded the installer up) took just 2 minutes and 32 seconds for a 7,67Gb game to install… fairly impressive to say the least.
Loading up the game turned out to be a bit more difficult. First thing was the EA loader to tell me the graphics card was unsupported by the game. Not really a surprise since the CryTek engine is a heavy piece of artillery, made to get even the most powerful graphics cards on their knees. This Radeon HD 6310 just isn’t the definition of a gamer’s card.
After ignoring the warning and loading up the game I did get excellent performance when it came to load times. Unfortunately the texture rendering didn’t turn out to be fancy and the default 1024*768 setting felt like pushing the envelope. Turning everything down to 800*600 did make the game more playable but after about 30 minutes the BSOD spoiled the fun. (Blue Screen Of Death). I dare say, since it was actually able to run this resource hogging game, the Radeon HD 6310 will run a lot of the older games perfectly fluent even on high settings.
FutureMark 3DMark 2011 result
I tested the board with FutureMark’s 3DMark 2011. Mainly because this is somewhat the golden standard in PC benchmarking to see how they rank up one another. This combination raked in 447 point in the E test (Essential). Comparing these results to 2 fairly similar combinations, one coming from Asus (score: E 446 ) and the other one being a Radeon HD 6310 paired up with an AMD Athlon 64 Mobile CPU (score: E 447 ).
Tests with 3DMark 2011 clearly show that this board from Sapphire delivered a slightly better result than its direct competitor and set the exact same score of AMD’s Athlon 64 Mobile yet with a serious decrease in power consumption over the Mobile platform. Overall I would say Sapphire has a winner here.
Viako’s Mini Letter E-350 Hybrid WiFi comes with a 1.5A (on 100-240V) power adapter… which kind of let the cat out of the bag when it comes to guessing this little sprout uses less electricity than your average Blu-ray player or set-top box. On average it consumes about 22 w when idle, and about 32 w when kicked in the ***** under fully load.
And now the bill please…
Viako’s marketing responsible told us the Mini Letter E-350 Hybrid WiFi will sell for $364 and the H67 Hybrid WiFi model will run you about $384. Considering the overall build quality and the fact that the Sapphire Mini E350 is still very new, this barebone kit comes at a fair price tag. If you want the sheer build quality coming from the 3mm aluminum case and world’s most powerful small form factor GPU from ATI.. . You pay for quality.
Pro & Con-clusion
I think most has been said over the course of this review, this Mini PC as Viako likes to call it, is quality. Except for the fact the fans inside would have been better off if they were bigger at lower rotational speed to inhibit it from creating internal turbulence noise. But this really is the only thing I can come up with. Oh… Well maybe the fact that (for me personally) they could drop the space reserved for the optical bay and thus generating the possibility to make the case even an inch smaller.
Power wise this is definitely the way to go. Making Viako’s barebone kit certainly a very ECO friendly alternative for people who use their pc mainly for browsing the web, sending emails, downloading various kinds of stuff, playing light games and editing office document.