With the Winter Steam Sale in full swing, there are a few questions that are fresh on the minds of PC gamers. What happened to the release of Steam OS? Why is Big Picture such an unstable mess? And when, if ever, will we see our first glimpse of Half Life 3?
While the first two are up to interpretation and the third will probably only be answered after the Second Coming, the missing answers haven’t been enough to stop the influx of party-ready PC/console hybrids that have shown up just in time for Santa to leave one under the tree.
Steam OS or no, the CyberPower’s Syber Vapor is well equipped to do the job it’s built to accomplish. With a 3.5GHz Core i3 processor, eight gigabytes of DDR3 RAM, a GTX 750Ti graphics card and one terabyte of available storage, the Vapor I is prepped for anything you have to throw its way and proves there’s might be something to PC/console hybrids after all.
Chunky, but loveable
The first thing we noticed about the Vapor I is that of the various Steam Machines we’ve reviewed over the past few weeks, this PC is considerably heavier than its cousins. At a shelf-crunching 36 pounds, the Vapor will be a hefty addition to anyone’s collection, though once it’s installed you won’t have any reason to move it again.
The Vapor is the most powerful console replacement PC we’ve tested.
Green LEDs line the Vapor’s exterior but fortunately aren’t bright enough be an annoyance, and while the case itself isn’t exactly sleek, the functionality this rig provides overrides our minor gripes about the system’s size and weight. It’s a simple, functional unit that looks slick without overdoing its style.
Ports! Ports! Get yer ports here
Connectivity is just the first of many areas the Vapor shines brighter than Rudolph’s nose. Let’s start with video. HDMI 1.4 and DVI-D are supported by the video card, which means the Vapor can handle resolutions up to 1440p.
Next to the video outputs we found four USB 2.0 ports, two USB 3.0, and an array of audio output and input options powered by a Realtek 7.1 channel surround sound chip integrated into the motherboard.
The front of the case carries another three USB inputs for any thumb drives or controllers you need to plug in as well as an additional set of audio in/outs for headphones or microphones you might want to use for online gaming.
One drawback in this department is the lack of internal Bluetooth, which struck us as a bit of an odd choice considering CyberPower’s inclusion of a mini-keyboard and Logitech controller. The keyboard does come with its own Bluetooth 4.0 dongle in the packaging, but you have to give up one of the available USB ports for it to work.
Customized to perfection
Inside the prebuilt, mid-tier $699 model we tested, known as the Vapor I, you’ll find an Intel Core i3-4150 processor attached to an ASRock H81 mini-ITX motherboard, eight gigabytes of DDR3 RAM and one terabyte of storage. The more affordable Vapor A has an AMD processor while the Vapor Extreme has a Core i7 quad.
This computer is ready to be customized into almost any configuration you could come up with.
Every Vapor is customizable to your own specifications when ordering online. You can choose from a huge variety of available options that range from the basic color of the outer shell (white with blue LEDs or black with green), all the way up to the exact motherboard, video card and RAM combo that best fits your price range and power requirements. Most competitors offer almost no configuration options, so it’s refreshing to see such flexibility.
Upon opening up the case of the Vapor we found an interior that’s reasonably spacious and open for upgrades. The machine’s large size compared to the iBuyPower SBX and Alienware Alpha makes all the sense in the world once you see how easy it is to mess with its guts in your own due time. The space around the PCI-E 2.0 x16 slot is more than enough to welcome all an Nvidia GTX 980 has to offer if you were so inclined to go that route, and all the cards inside are made to be quickly swapped out in an instant if you ever need to upgrade for an upcoming game.
Speaking of framerates
The Vapor handily breezed past its competitors in Geekbench on its warpath towards total dominance. Neither the Alienware Alpha nor the iBuyPower SBX could keep up with the Syber in our Geekbench tests, with the latter of the three scoring almost 1,000 points ahead of the rest.
The CrystalDisk hard drive results echoed a similar sentiment, hitting sustained reads of 184 megabytes per second and sustained writes of 177Mbps. While these numbers fall short of systems with a solid-state drive, which can often hit sustained speeds of over 400Mbps, the Vapor’s mechanical disk provides far more storage at an affordable price. These results also best the iBuyPower SBX by about 80Mbps.
As mentioned, the Vapor can be upgraded in a variety of ways, but it packs reasonable gaming power by default. Its Nvidia GTX 750Ti video card posted results well beyond what its competitors could muster in 3DMark.
Cloud Gate/Fire Strike score – Higher is better
The Alpha is not that far off the Vapor, which is a bit surprising given its use of a mobile graphics chip, but the Alpha has a far slower processor. It’s clear that Syber’s entry is a more rounded performance package. IBuyPower’s much smaller SBX, meanwhile, can’t possibly keep up.
Our benchmarks have already shown the Vapor is capable, but what does that mean in real-world games? Can it actually play the latest titles at acceptable frame rates? We loaded our test suite to find out. Each game was tested at 1080p resolution.
Diablo 3 was the smoothest title of them all and set an acceptable benchmark against which the other more resource-heavy games could be easily compared.With settings tuned to low we pulled a maximum frame rate of 140, a minimum of 104, and a clean average of 123 frames per second. Placing all detail settings at their highest presets barely slowed the Vapor to a maximum of 97, a minimum of 82, and an average 91 FPS.
That handily beats the iBuyPower SBX, which managed an average of just 66 FPS at maximum detail.
Sid Meier’s Civilization: Beyond Earth
Civilization: Beyond Earth (which comes included with the Vapor I free of charge in select configurations) was a bit behind the curve, but not by enough to notice.
We saw a maximum of 106 FPS at medium detail with 2x MSAA turned on, a minimum of 39, and a very playable average of 71 FPS while the map was zoomed out in full.
Cranking detail up to ultra with 8x MSAA slowed the Vapor a bit. It posted a maximum of 65 FPS, a minimum of 29, and an average of 43. A bit slow at times, to be certain, but certainly playable. That’s a big jump over the SBX’s unplayable average of 14 FPS.
This where we expected the midrange Vapor to stumble, but we were pleasantly surprised when it held its own against DICE’s demanding first person shooter.
With settings dialed to medium and anti-aliasing off we recorded a maximum frame rate of 111, a minimum of 87 and an average of 98. At ultra detail the Vapor still hit a maximum of 61, a minimum of 37 and an average of 44. While that’s short of the 60 FPS ideal it’s still smooth enough to be enjoyable.
Once again the SBX loses this battle, as it hit an average of just 32 FPS at ultra. Still playable, but below the Vapor’s minimum frame rate at the same settings.
Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor
Shadow of Mordor proved that the Vapor can take any challenge that might be thrown its way by the biggest releases of the past few months. In the game’s built-in benchmark we saw a steady average of 55 FPS, a maximum of 82, and a low of 39.
Using the included Logitech F710 gamepad nearly gave us carpel tunnel.
It was only at ultra on that the Vapor finally buckled, crawling in with a maximum of 71 FPS, a minimum of only 7, and a choppy 22 FPS average by the time our test scene had played itself through. It’s clear the GTX 750Ti simply lacks the memory required by the ultra preset’s high-resolution textures.
Ultra also tripped up the SBX, which average only 15 FPS. At medium the SBX averaged 37 FPS, eighteen frames less than the Vapor.
The best Big Picture yet
The Vapor rarely feels it wasn’t made for Windows, a problem we continually ran into with the iBuyPower SBX. Everything works the way you’d expect it to without the sensation that Microsoft’s OS was begrudgingly installed after it turned out Valve’s alternative would not be available.
One tool that helps craft this impression is the small Bluetooth keyboard/trackpad combo that comes with the system. Steam’s controller-ready Big Picture mode launches as the default UI from the moment you power the Vapor on, but if for any reason you need to jump into the Windows side of things, the process is effortless thanks to this tiny peripheral.
Typing is a cinch and navigating from one window to the next is just as easy as with a standard keyboard and mouse. You can lean back on your couch while browsing Facebook, reading emails, and scrolling through multiple pages of Google News and Reddit.
We were less satisfied with the Logitech F710 wireless controller Syber hopes we’ll do the lion’s share of our gaming on. Overall the device is cumbersome and the triggers on each side are sticky enough to induce carpal tunnel syndrome. This slight setback is easily rectified, however, if you have a spare Xbox 360 controller and wireless receiver to plug in or buy a wired Xbox 360 gamepad for Windows.
A whisper on the wind
The Vapor was eerily quiet throughout our load tests, registering so low on our decibel meter that we hardly registered a 36db grunt from it even during benchmark tests. Near-silent operation is an important boon, as users will expect this rig to sit in a home theater without causing a racket.
This is easily the best so-called ‘Steam Machine’ we’ve yet seen.
Power draw wasn’t bad, either, pulling in around 74 watts at idle, and upwards of 178 while Battlefield 4 was pounding away during the crescendo of a frantic firefight. These numbers exceed the iBuyPower SBX by about 30 watts at idle and 40 watts at load, but the Vapor is a much quicker system. Somewhat higher consumption is to be expected.
CyberPower PC offers a three year parts, one year labor warranty with its pre-built computers, and also backs its products up with a risk-free 30-day full refund for any boxes sold directly from the site that show up dead on arrival.
At $699 the Vapor is the priciest PC/console we’ve tested so far, exceeding most of its peers by about $100. That extra Benjamin buys a lot of value, though, as Syber’s entry is much quicker than its peers. It also has better bundled peripherals, remains quiet at load and looks slick.
Performance is this system’s most important advantage. The iBuyPower SBX and Alienware Alpha arguably fail to deliver an experience that’s better than a PlayStation 4 or Xbox One. The Vapor, though, can run many games at maximum or near-maximum settings, and as a result it’s a viable PC alternative to the console experience. No, it’s not as simple as a console (and won’t be at last until Steam OS arrives) but it does offer a better selection of games and peripherals.
The Vapor is the best Steam Machine we’ve yet seen and a must-have for anyone who hopes to get their Steam library out from the office and into the living room.
- Works as a viable console replacement out of the box
- Solid connectivity
- Performs well for its price
- Offers numerous customization options
- Initial cost might seem prohibitive to the console faithful
- Still stumbles in the most demanding games