The Maingear Spark is Big Gaming Fun in a Tiny Box

Reading Time: 4 minutes

image(1)

Recently crowned the Popular Science Product of the Future at CES 2014, the Spark from MAINGEAR is probably the most affordable gaming PC to hit the market in recent years. While the new consoles are making their own impacts in the gaming market, PC Gaming is still a strong arena for gamers. MAINGEAR has been at the forefront of creative devices to fully encapsulate your PC Gaming experience. The SPARK is no different. Well, it’s a little different.

Designed to be the perfect machine to run Valve’s SteamOS, which hopefully will be a fully operational OS coming out of beta in the near future, the Spark is ready to replace your current living room gaming center. I was recently sent a unit to review, and the first thing one notices about the SPARK is that it is small. Not just small, like a slim PC, but small like a box of gourmet chocolates. MAINGEAR CEO Wallace Santos tells me that keeping it small was one of the main goals in the development of the Spark.

“Offering an ultra-small form factor gaming PC that can be placed anywhere, and used anywhere was a primary goal. We wanted something perfect for hooking up to a big screen TV, taking advantage of Steam’s big picture mode and upcoming SteamOS.” In conjunction with Gigabyte, that is exactly what has been created. An ultra-small form factor (SFF) PC with the gaming power of something ten times its size.

Of course, jamming all that gaming power into a small box was not without its challenges. Says Santos, “Getting the right combination of performance in the product that can still be a powerful gaming box as well as minimizing the footprint, while optimizing the cooling needs of the system is always a challenge. The cost of the components for an ultra-SFF was also an issue until now. The Spark utilizes mobile APU and GPU from AMD that offer a cost effective solution for a small powerful ultra SFF PC.”

The best part is, the MAINGEAR Spark starts at $699. For a gaming PC, that sounds pretty affordable. Of course, you’ll want to customize the hell out of it, but as is, the Spark is a powerful little machine. To wit, the technical specifications:

Technical Specification:

Processor: AMD A8-5557M, 4 Core Frequency of 2.1 GHz and Turbo Frequency of 3.1 GHz
Video Card: AMD Radeon R9 M275X
Memory: 2 x SO-DIMM DDR3, 1600/1333 MHz, Max.16GB
Hard Drive: 1 x mSATA slot support SSD up to 512GB, 1 x 2.5’’ HDD tray support SATA III 6Gb/s
Network Adapter: GigabitLAN (Realtek RTL8111G)
Audio: Realtek ALC269
WiFi: IEEE802.11b/g/n,/ac 2.4 -5Ghz bands, Bluetooth: v4.0/ 3.0+HS, 2402MHz~2483MHz
Expansion Slots: 1 x mSATA slot and 1 X Half size mini-PCIe slot occupied by WiFi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac + Bluetooth 4.0 & 3.0 combo half mini card
Power Supply: 135W power adapter with power cord, Input: AC 100-240V, Output: DC 19V, 7.1A
I/O Ports: 1 x HDMI-Out, 1 x Mini DisplayPort, 4x USB 3.0, 1 x RJ45, 1 x Audio, 1 x Kensington Lock
Dimensions: (W)4.5? x (H)2.34? x (D)4.23?
Weight: 0.89 LBs

Said Santos on the technical specs, “We wanted the Spark to be able to game at 1080p so the Spark has a discreet AMD graphics card. The AMD RadeonTM R9 M275X has 2GB of GDDR5 memory and supports the latest graphics acceleration technologies including AMD Mantel API and Microsoft® DX12. For overall system speed and performance, is uses a 4-core AMD A8-5557M APU with a Frequency of 2.1 GHz and Turbo Frequency of 3.1 GHz, and up to 16GB of 1600MHz memory. Paired with an SSD for the operating system, you get a very responsive computer that easily deals with everyday computing tasks, gaming, and watching media.”

As for me, I immediately added a cool Adventure Time theme to all my Windows backgrounds and downloaded Steam. While downloading a couple games to test out on the Spark, I brought up my Netflix account and watched re-runs of Chuck. As it should, the Spark never seemed to care that I was doing multiple multimedia things at once. With The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings loaded after a few hours (which is inevitable), I experienced expected gameplay, that is, I’m terrible at the game. For the sake of testing, I didn’t use the included Xbox style controller, opting for a wireless keyboard. My PC gaming skills are still lacking due to carpal tunnel from too much console gaming. I didn’t experience any lag or jumps in frame rate as I was dying in-game. The Spark runs cool and quiet, only giving off a little bit of warmth after a couple hours, no more than a compact laptop.

I’m not sure what I was expecting to go wrong, but looking at that tiny PC I expected something to be amiss. Yet, MAINGEAR stress and pressure tests each one of their PCs as they head out the door. I’ve seen it in person. If a PC is lagging in specs, then they take it back to the beginning. I did experience one issue with WiFi, as I run two routers in the house and the Spark was sitting right next to my Xbox WiFi adapter. There might have been some confusion. Either way, there were no other outstanding performance issues with the Spark. Frankly I spent half the time playing and half the time telling my friends how freaking small it is.

While size is totally subjective, one of the problems that plagues the gaming PC industry is cost. Many gaming PCs can run into the thousands of dollars. While the Spark isn’t completely up to par with much more expensive machines as far as liquid cooling and over-clocking, it is a great entrance into the arena. There is a lot of power packed into this ultra-small form factor PC. The Spark is available now via the MAINGEAR website and will most likely be the front running PC of choice if Valve gets around to releasing the SteamOS. For now, install Linux.

Get the Official GeekDad Books!