The average student relies on his or her PC to do just about everything. It’s a tool for studying, a distraction causing procrastination, a boom box for impromptu dorm parties, an entertainment center for gaming, a television and much more.
Velocity Micro has long recognized students’ need for computers, and frequently capitalized on this need by releasing “campus edition” desktops. These computers are tailored for dorm room or apartment living – small enough to be convenient, yet powerful enough to handle almost any task.
This year, the Velocity Micro Vector is representing student life. The Campus Edition starts at $749 and includes almost everything a student might need. Intel Core processor, gobs of storage, an attractive small enclosure – it’s all there.
Except for discrete graphics. Our review unit solved that exclusion with a spanking-new GTX 660 Ti graphics card, as well as an Arctic Cooling Freezer 7 Pro CPU cooler, and 8GB of RAM. The total cost for this configuration is about $1,300.
That’s reasonable for a computer with such impressive on-paper specifications. Can the Vector follow up its promising first impression with excellent execution, or did Velocity Micro cut corners? Let’s find out.
Velocity Micro has always had a thing for aluminum. Most of its cases are built by Lian-Li, a manufacturer well known for elegance and quality, and the Vector Campus Edition is no exception. It arrived in a simple but attractive silver aluminum enclosure that’s large enough to fit high-end hardware but also small enough to be comfortable on or under most desks.
A large side window allows the new owner to gaze in on the processor, graphics card and hard drive doing their jobs. Velocity Micro installed blue LEDs at the front of the case to light the company logo and blue LEDs on the rear fan.
Students will appreciate the aluminum’s light weight when moving from home to dorm. Comparable steel cases weigh noticeably more.
Velocity Micro has chosen a reversed layout. The company mounted the motherboard upside down in the case, and positioned the power supply at the top. This placement allows excellent airflow across all components. The placement can cause some confusion, however, because ports aren’t located where a user would normally expect them.
Plenty of ports
Location aside, this computer has few connectivity surprises. Perhaps the only unusual trait is a FireWire port at the front of the case. It’s joined by two USB 2.0 ports and individual microphone/headphone jacks. These jacks are at the bottom right edge of the case, which may be annoying for students who prefer headphones.
Around back we found six USB 2.0 ports and two USB 3.0 ports, along with dual DVI ports from the GTX 660 Ti graphics card. The USB ports remain the same in all models, but video connectivity varies, based on user options. For example, our computer with discrete graphics has the motherboard graphics output disabled.
Port selection offers no other surprises. A pair of USB 3.0 ports puts the Vector on the wrong side of average, although we doubt students will have numerous 3.0-capable peripherals to connect.
We spent little time with the Vector Campus Edition before we figured out it’s easy to upgrade. This was obvious from the moment we looked inside the case window. This computer has ample room inside, which is impressive considering it’s only a mid-tower.
Simplicity explains the acres of open space. The computer has no fancy bulky hard-drive tray, and little advanced tool-less design. The case is a nicely crafted aluminum box with holes for mounting hardware. If you know how to operate a screwdriver, you already know how to disassemble (and reassemble) this computer.
Upgradability is promising for a small, affordable PC. The motherboard has two PCIe 16x slots (one of which was occupied in our test rig) and three hard-drive bays along with two 5.25-inch drive bays. The Velocity Micro Vector is not exactly a workstation, but it’s plenty of computer for the typical student. The only additional option we’d like to see is a dedicated 2.5-inch solid-state drive bay.
Plenty of extras
Velocity Micro ships the Vector with a keyboard and mouse. The mouse looks fit for a gamer because of its aggressive grip and buffet of buttons, but it uses a basic infrared sensor and includes none of the features found on a “real” gamer peripheral.
The keyboard is also a poser. It uses island-style keys and is adorned with a brushed-aluminum palm rest, providing a luxurious look. But the aluminum is actually plastic, and overall build quality is so-so.
Every Vector comes with a goodie bag filled with the extras that accompany the hardware in your new PC. Our bag included an EVGA poster, some case stickers, and various unused cables. These will be handy if you ever decide to upgrade your rig, and the poster can decorate a blank dorm-room wall.
The Vector arrived with no software on which to comment, which is a good thing. Students will want to install an anti-virus, but many schools provide a free copy for students, or direct them to a free download such as Microsoft Security Essentials or AVG. The lack of bloatware was refreshing and gives this PC a user experience advantage over rigs from big-name manufacturers.
Our review unit arrived with an Intel Core i5-3570K processor, 8GB of RAM and an NVIDIA GTX 660 Ti video card built by EVGA. This is a powerful combination of parts, and it kicked things off by returning a combined score of 83.4 GOPS in SiSoft Sandra’s Processor Arithmetic test. This was followed up by a score of 18,887 in 7-Zip. These figures are far from the quickest we’ve recorded, but they are good for a system that barely clears a thousand bucks.
The same can be said of the system’s PCMark 7 score, which added up to 4,187. This again is not the best we’ve recorded, but it is solid given the price tag. Inexpensive systems, particularly those lacking a solid-state drive, usually struggle to clear 4,000.
We don’t have to use price to qualify the 3D benchmarks, however. This little system impressed us by scoring 30,781 in 3DMark 06 and 8,048 in 3DMark 11. Both of these figures place the Vector well above the common rabble. Dedicated gaming rigs can be much quicker, but they also tend to be larger and louder.
Besides, gamers need no additional grunt for gaming at 1080p. In our tests we found Diablo 3 consistently ran at more than 150 FPS at 1080p with settings at maximum. Skyrim played at 60 FPS (its V-Sync maximum) on ultra-high, and Battlefield 3 was a cinch at ultra. You’ll need a 2560 x 1400 display or multi-monitor setup to challenge this system. We doubt many students will be rocking either.
This is a powerful system, but not an absurdly quick one; so it requires few fans and little fancy cooling equipment. The Vector has a fan at the front, a fan at the rear, plus fans on the video card and processor. They all make noise – a user will always be able to tell when the system is on – but the sound level is tolerable. Eliminating the case window and using heavier metal or sound-deadening material would provide better acoustic results, but that’s not in the cards for this rig.
Heat wasn’t much of an issue. Gaming causes some warmth to exhaust from the GTX 660 Ti, but not enough to make the room uncomfortable or toast our shins when we placed the PC nearby.
The Velocity Micro Campus Edition is a great college PC. It’s light and easy to upgrade or repair. It has plenty of storage. We wish it had more USB 3.0 ports, but that’s our only negative thought.
Only one question remains: value. HP competes through its HPE Phoenix h9e, which offers gaming power in a similar size at a similar price. The HP offers fewer video card options, however, and the review unit we looked at was considerably more difficult to repair or upgrade.
Dell’s XPS 8500 is more serious competition because of its low price – just $1,200 when equipped with a Core i7-3770 and AMD Radeon HD 7870. It also will be harder to upgrade, but could be considered a valid alternative given its value.
Other boutiques such as Falcon Northwest and Origin might be a more obvious choice for a gaming-capable system, but we had a hard time tracking down a directly comparable system that provided anywhere near the same value as the Vector. This finding didn’t shock us. Velocity Micro has always been more focused on affordable systems than many boutique competitors.
Overall, we think the Campus Edition holds up against the competition, particularly when it’s equipped as configured. This system is fully capable of providing hours of gaming entertainment, application crunching or Web browsing. Students looking for a new or replacement desktop should put the Velocity Micro Vector Campus Edition on their short list.
- Attractive enclosure
- Small and light
- Easy to upgrade or repair
- Excellent gaming performance
- Good value
- Needs more USB 3.0 ports
- Poorly located headphone/microphone jacks
- Only three hard drive bays