Small-form-factor PCs are all the rage these days. It seems like you can hardly open the front page of your favorite hardware news site without seeing another story about a little-bitty PC destined for an entertainment center or in a living-room near you. These systems can offer a lot of power in a little package, but they pale in comparison to real desktop PCs, right?
Sometimes. Other times, you have a machine like the Corsair One. Make no mistake: the One is quite a bit larger than the last two mini-PCs I’ve reviewed. At 15″ tall and with a 7.9″-by-6.9″ footprint (38 by 20 by 18 cm), the One only just qualifies for “small-form-factor” status, much less as a mini-PC. Even so, it’s just half the volume (at 13L) of the Fractal Design Nano S, one of our favorite mini-ITX cases.
In this tower of power, Corsair—with MSI’s assistance—stuffed in a Core i7-7700K CPU, a Mini-ITX Z270 motherboard, and a full-fat GeForce GTX 1080 graphics card. Without a doubt, this is a serious gaming machine for serious gamers. High-refresh gaming at 2560×1440, or (with a few caveats) enjoyable gaming at 4K is the order of the day with hardware like this. That is, assuming the One’s thermal measures can keep up with the promise of its hardware.
Here’s a table with the key specs on this machine:
|Corsair One Pro|
|Processor||Intel Core i7-7700K|
|Memory||16GB DDR4-2400 (2x8GB DIMMs)|
|Chipset||Intel Z270 Express|
|Graphics||Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 with 8GB GDDR5X RAM|
|Storage||Corsair Force LE 960GB SATA 6Gbps SSD|
|Expansion and display outputs||1 USB 3.1 Type-C
1 USB 3.1 Type-A
3 USB 3.0 Type-A
2 USB 2.0 Type-A
2 HDMI 2.0
|Communications||Intel I219-V Gigabit Ethernet
Intel 8265 802.11ac + Bluetooth card
|Dimensions (HxDxW)||15″ by 7.9″ by 6.9″ (38 by 20 by 18 cm)|
|Weight||15.8 lbs (7.2 kg)|
|Included cables||Standard power cable|
|OS||Windows 10 Home|
It’s heavy stuff, for sure. The unit I’m reviewing here is not quite the top-end One, though. Corsair also offers a version of the One with a GeForce GTX 1080 Ti inside. That version, like the One Pro here, is only available from Corsair’s website. More broadly-available Ones start with a liquid-cooled Core i7-7700 and a GTX 1070 for $1800, while the e-tail-ready Pro features the same CPU and graphics card as our test unit paired with a 480GB SSD and a 2TB mechanical drive for $2200. A big thanks to Corsair for providing our review unit.
Corsair warrants the One for two years, with some caveats. According to the company, removing any of the base hardware voids that warranty, which puts something of a damper on the company’s claim that its baby uses “components that are standard sizes, enabling the user to upgrade at will.” You can still install a new 2.5″ SSD or upgrade the memory without issue, however. We figure that the hardware inside the One should be good for at least two years of speedy performance, but be aware of the company’s expectations with a machine this expensive.
Pillar of processing
Corsair shipped the One to me in a massive Pelican locking storage container. The shipping case was so large I had some difficulty getting it into my house. Based on that, and the promotional shots that I had seen, I was expecting it to be a lot bigger than it actually is. The actual size of the machine might be difficult to wrap your head around because of its elongated shape.
Even though the One is some 13 liters in volume, it’s tall and narrow. As a result, it has the footprint of a much smaller PC. In fact, it actually has a smaller footprint than the Zotac EN1070 I reviewed before. I had no problem finding a place for it on my workbench, and unlike MSI’s Trident 3, it doesn’t need a separate stand to stay upright. Most of the machine’s weight is in its bottom, so it’s pretty stable despite the height.
On the front of the One, you’ve got the power button, a USB 3.0 port, and an HDMI 2.0 port. That’s a perfect complement of ports for a VR setup. A tasteful grey Corsair One logo is printed just below the two ports, and there are cyan lights that run vertically along the sides of the machine. The omission of RGB LED lighting is curious from a company otherwise so enamored with the stuff. Corsair says that it felt that RGB lighting would “detract from the ethos of a quiet system.” The cool cyan lights do give an impression of chilly silence, so maybe Corsair is onto something.
Both sides of the machine are covered in fan grilles with an unusual triangular pattern. These grilles are the intakes for the twin 240-mm radiators on each side of the machine that cool the CPU and graphics card. Air is drawn through the radiators by the fancy Corsair 140-mm ML Series fan at the top of the machine, which is itself capped by a single large fan grille. The bottom of the machine is solid, although it does have a similar external look to the top, giving the illusion that the machine is a stack of fins surrounded by metal plates.
On the back of the One there’s a single latch button near the top, and then toward the bottom you have the usual assortment of ports and plugs that betray the Mini-ITX mobo inside. The power connection and video connections—comprising an HDMI port and two DisplayPorts—are simply the female ends of extension cables that connect to the standard SFX power supply and dual-slot graphics card inside the PC.
Thanks to the standard Mini-ITX mobo inside, we get a PS/2 connector, an RJ-45 socket for Gigabit Ethernet, two USB 2.0 ports, two USB 3.0 ports, and two USB 3.1 ports, one of which is a Type-C connector. There are also connections for the included Wi-Fi antennae, audio jacks for analog or digital 7.1 audio, and my favorite feature: a rear-panel clear CMOS button. I’m really glad that button is there, because without it resetting a bad batch of firmware settings would be a huge pain.
Should you want to, getting into the One is relatively easy. The button high on the back of the case releases the fan and grille on the top. From there, you can remove a couple of screws and remove either side panel. That part is super easy. The problem for the inquisitive is that the radiators mounted to the side panels use extremely short hoses.
That’s great for an extremely space-constrained system like this one, because it means you don’t have a bunch of extra hoses blocking airflow. However, for taking the machine apart it becomes a problem. There’s not even enough hose to fully pull the side panels away from the PC. I didn’t have the One for very long, so I didn’t want to risk breaking anything, and for that reason I didn’t fully disassemble the thing.
Suffice to say that even though it uses many off-the-shelf components, actually adding or removing devices to the One is not a simple task. That disappointing unfriendliness to DIYers seems to contradict the fact that Corsair claims user-upgradeability was one of its primary design goals for this system. Even if we take the company at its word, there’s not that much one could swap out inside the One without a lot of frustration.
The storage device is probably the most ready candidate for replacement or augmentation, in any case, so we explored that possibility. The One that Corsair sent me included a single storage device: a 960GB Corsair Force LE SATA SSD in one of its 2.5″ bays. The machine has another 2.5″ bay, as well as an M.2 socket hooked up to 4 lanes of PCIe 3.0. We appreciate the terabyte of solid-state goodness, but we also have to wonder why Corsair couldn’t have tapped one of its high-end Neutron XT SSDs instead. This is a pro machine by its own admission—we’d have expected top-shelf stuff all around. The Force LE series is Corsair’s entry-level TLC drive, and while it probably won’t make a difference to most users in their day-to-day, it’s the principle of the thing.
In any case, making use of this room for expansion means awkwardly unmounting one or both of the closed-loop liquid coolers while carefully holding the radiator in place to prevent it from tugging on the hoses. Having done similar things while working on my own custom loop in the past, that’s not a particularly appetizing prospect. In particular, using the M.2 socket means removing the entire graphics card, because the slot resides on the back of the motherboard.
In general, the One does use standard parts: an SFX power supply, a reference-PCB graphics card, and Mini-ITX motherboard. If a part did break past the end of the One’s warranty, the enterprising PC builder could replace it with some care and patience. Despite the company’s claims of DIY-friendliness, however, we wouldn’t want to dig into this box unless it was absolutely necessary.
Aside from the blower fan on the graphics card (which appears to be a modified Corsair Hydro GFX, also known as an MSI Sea Hawk), the only fan in the system is the one in the top. When I first saw this I became really concerned about the thermal performance of the One. So, how is it?
In a word: excellent. Actually, I’m a little bit stupefied at how well the cooling in the One works. Whether playing GTA V at 4K with the settings slammed to the ceiling, or gliding through the gorgeous Unigine Superposition demo, the One stays pretty cool.
I did manage to heat the machine’s Core i7-7700K CPU to 85° C briefly, before the fan kicked up a little and things cooled down. That was with a home-brewed torture test that consisted of running Unigine’s Superposition benchmark while transcoding a 4K video using x264. During normal testing, the CPU never topped 72° C, and the GPU itself never broke 60° C.
Those thermal ceilings were good for a 4.5 GHz all-core CPU Turbo speed out of the box (thanks, MSI multi-core enhancement!) and an 1847 MHz GPU core clock. Those figures are at least as good as what one might expect from a full-size desktop PC with similar specs, which is quite impressive given the One’s small footprint.
With that thermal headroom in mind, I cranked the GPU’s power limit up to 120% and it heated its way up to a scorching 61° C. (For those who aren’t aware, Nvidia specs the GTX 1080 for a maximum temperature of 94° C.) Unfortunately the MSI-built GeForce doesn’t allow me to raise the voltage any further, so I ended up voltage-limited at 1898 MHz. If you want to overclock this GTX 1080 further with Afterburner, at least it shouldn’t be thermally limited.
I didn’t try overclocking the CPU, but the firmware in the One’s MSI motherboard doesn’t have any locks on its multiplier or voltage settings, so you could conceivably take the Core i7-7700K to the thermal and noise limits of the One chassis if you wanted.
Those results aren’t bad in any case, but they’re even more fantastic given that the One almost does not make audible noise. I am not exaggerating when I say this. I went to considerable lengths silencing my normally-quite-noisy home and I can’t hear this thing unless I run a benchmark and then place my ear directly next to the exhaust fan. Corsair says the One was designed for silence and tested in an anechoic chamber, and I believe it. The other mini-PCs I’ve tested have been impressively quiet, but this machine is on a whole other level of silence.
We didn’t spend a lot of time on detailed performance testing with the One, because the Core i7-7700K-and-GTX-1080 combo is such a well-quantified platform by this point. Suffice it to say that without many (if any) thermal or power limitations, the One will perform as well as a similar full-size desktop. That’s really quite mindblowing given how much larger the average ATX case is compared to this little tower of power.
Get with the programs
As a prebuilt system, the One comes with a copy of Windows pre-installed. I didn’t test it exhaustively because we do our testing on a clean copy of Windows, but there wasn’t a whole lot to test anyway. Corsair keeps the bloat that tempts many other manufacturers at bay.
Corsair boasts that it ships the One with a pretty fresh Windows install. Indeed, when I hooked up the machine it booted directly to the Windows 10 desktop with little else loaded. A small icon near the notification area allowed me to launch the Corsair One Diagnostics app. This is basically a re-skinned version of PC-Doctor. If you aren’t familiar, PC-Doctor is a decent little app to help folks who aren’t as computer-savvy as the rest of us make sure everything is running smoothly. It can also be a useful first-step diagnostic tool when working on a friend or family member’s PC.
Corsair also shipped the One with its Corsair Link software installed. This is the app that you would normally use to monitor and control the performance of Corsair’s stand-alone liquid-cooling hardware and Corsair Link-enabled power supplies. The options available on the Corsair One, at least with the pre-installed version of Link, are pretty limited. In fact, just about the only use for Link on the One is to toggle the cyan lights on the front between off, breathing, or fully-on modes. You can use it to monitor temperatures and fan speeds, but it’s a bit cumbersome to use for that purpose alone.
Besides those two apps, Corsair included its SSD Toolbox app for the Force LE SSD, Nvidia’s GeForce Experience, and… that’s it. I considered testing with the included OS to save myself the time of freshly installing Windows, but with a machine this fast it wasn’t even half an hour before I was installing games and running benchmarks. Out of the box, however, I have no complaints with Corsair’s largely bloat-free setup.
If you’re a regular TR reader, you’ve probably built a system or two in your time. We all have our own reasons for custom-building, and most of us wouldn’t even think of buying a pre-built gaming system. There are so many advantages to building your own machine, like complete control over your choice of components, the opportunity for creative aesthetic customizations, and saving a bunch of money. Not to mention that it’s just fun.
The thing is, there are also a lot of advantages to buying a pre-built system. You save the worry of incompatible parts and the hassle of building the machine yourself. If something goes wrong, you can box the whole affair up and send it away to be fixed. In the case of the Corsair One, a prebuilt machine can also take advantage of a company’s engineering know-how to produce something that matches custom rigs in performance while being much smaller and quieter.
The Corsair One isn’t flawless. My biggest complaint about the machine is how difficult it is to work with inside, despite Corsair’s claim that one can “upgrade at will.” It seems easy, at first: just pop the top and unfasten a couple of screws. Actually doing anything inside the machine is going to take a lot of work and care, though, even if the One does house mostly-standard parts.
Still, you have to expect some concessions when stuffing full-size performance into a tiny footprint, and at least the One’s relate to ease of tweaking rather than performance. The Corsair One is small, quiet, cool, and most importantly quite fast. If you’re up to date on your colloquialisms, you’re probably already bracing for the worst. That’s right: it’s little, fast, and quiet—and that means it’s expensive. Corsair wants $2300 for the One as tested, and you can only get the same system through the company’s online store.
I reckon most gerbils can build a PC that will match this machine’s performance and be nearly as quiet for less money. However, I also know it won’t be as small or as cool-looking. Corsair’s design team really knocked it out of the park with this machine; it looks like something straight out of Deus Ex. The cool cyan lighting on the front of the Corsair One can even be disabled entirely, leaving you with an unobtrusive yet techy-looking tower. It could go almost anywhere in a home and provide a whole lot of performance without hogging a ton of space or making a lot of noise.
The value of the One ultimately rests on whether you need its full-bore performance in such a tiny and well-tailored footprint. For my dollar, the answer is no—even though I’m absolutely over the moon with the One. It looks fantastic and it delivers on every bit of its promise, but I’m given to tinkering with my hardware, plus I’m about halfway to deaf anyway.
For someone with no time to build and who doesn’t want to compromise on performance, or for the fashion-conscious gamer who needs their PC to look as good as they do, the Corsair One is without question one of the best prebuilt options around. We’re happy to send it home TR Recommended.