Corsair’s One has become something of a legend among small-form-factor gaming desktops, packing top-shelf performance into an incredibly compact, column-shaped case that generates little to no noise. The new One a100 (starts at $2,999; $3,999 as tested) is the first AMD-based One and is aimed squarely at gamers, though it could easily pull double duty as a content-creation powerhouse. In fact, my test unit’s 16-core, 32-thread Ryzen 9 3950X processor is overpowered for pure gaming, though its Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Ti does the trick for 4K fragging. The base model’s combo of a Ryzen 9 3900X and a GeForce RTX 2080 Super is arguably a better value combo, but no matter the configuration, the One a100 earns our top recommendation for a high-end, small-form-factor gaming PC that gets almost nothing wrong.
Corsair’s Most Potent One
The addition of AMD’s monster Ryzen 9 3950X makes the One a100 the fastest model in Corsair’s One lineup, ahead of even the workstation-focused, Intel X299-based One Pro i200. Coupled with Nvidia’s flagship 11GB GeForce RTX 2080 Ti plus 32GB of RAM, there’s no game (or conceivable task, for that matter) that the One a100 can’t handle.
The Ryzen 9 3950X is overkill for gaming unless you plan to do some serious multitasking on the side. Corsair plans to offer the One a100 with an also-overkill 12-core, 24-thread Ryzen 9 3900X, all else the same as my review unit, for $3,499, plus a $2,999 base model that further drops to an 8GB RTX 2080 Super and halves the solid-state drive space to 500GB. Even that configuration is upper crust in the gaming desktop market; I’d like to see Corsair offer Ryzen 5 and Ryzen 7 chips that would offer gamers an even better value.
My One a100’s other specifications include a 1TB SSD with Windows 10 Home. The drive is a Corsair Force MP600 that, thanks to the AMD Ryzen chip, uses the new PCI Express 4.0 interface for higher throughput. (It’s doubtful most users would notice a difference versus a leading PCIe 3.0 SSD, but at least Corsair is making use of the latest and greatest that AMD’s platform has to offer.) There’s also a 2TB mechanical hard drive for extra storage. The One a100 is backed by a two-year warranty, which is certainly better than just a year, but three years of coverage would be nice at this price.
Oh, So Compact
I’ve reviewed several Corsair One series PCs and still marvel at their compact dimensions—just 7.9 by 6.9 by 15 inches for a volume of only 12 liters—and completely liquid-cooled internals. It’s brilliant engineering; its only real shortcoming is that it’s not upgrade-friendly, as only the memory and storage can realistically be upgraded. (Then again, it’s doubtful the top-shelf components in any of the One a100 models would need upgrading anytime soon.)
The One a100’s all-metal, all-black outsides are accented by a pair of lightning-bolt-like RGB LED strips down the front with eight individual lighting zones (four each) that can be controlled by the preinstalled Corsair iCUE software.
The power button sits between the strips while a convenient array of ports goes along the bottom edge:
The selection down here includes an audio combo jack, a pair of USB 3.1 Type-A ports, and an HDMI 2.0 port for virtual reality headsets. There’s no media card reader.
The remaining connectivity is on the back side. The AMD X570-based motherboard has four USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A ports, three USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A ports, a single USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C port, Gigabit Ethernet, and audio jacks (line in, line out, and microphone). What you won’t find here is Thunderbolt 3, support for which continues to be exceedingly rare on AMD platforms. That said, the One a100’s USB 3.2 Gen 2 ports provide up to 10Gbps of throughput, so it’s not lacking for high-speed data transfer options. (Thunderbolt 3 tops out at 40Gbps in a best-case scenario.)
The wireless antennas you see in the photos must be connected for the One a100’s Intel AX200 wireless card to have meaningful range. It supports the latest Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) standard and Bluetooth 5.
Just below, the GeForce RTX 2080 Ti offers three DisplayPort 1.4 video outputs. It lacks the VirtualLink (USB-C) connector which is present on the standard desktop card, though it’s hard to formally complain; despite the fact it has been around since late 2018, support for it in the virtual reality headset market has been next to nil.
The internal power supply is a Corsair SF600, a specialized SFX-format model designed for compact PCs like this. It supplies a respectable 600 watts of power and carries an 80 Plus Gold certification.
All Liquid Cooling
I’d normally show a picture of the interior for desktop reviews, but there’s no great way to get inside the One a100. Peeking through the slotted metal top reveals the system’s primary cooling fan, a 140mm Corsair ML140.
Its large diameter means it doesn’t have to spin at a high RPM to move a lot of air. It was nearly silent under any kind of workload I threw at this PC.
The fan draws air upward through the tower’s perforated sides, which are lined with liquid cooling radiators for the processor and graphics card. The latter has an additional 80mm fan and there’s also a 92mm fan in the power supply.
It’s possible for the One a100 to run completely silent if temperatures are low enough; all the fans have a zero RPM mode that will automatically engage. But even with the fans running, as I noted, this PC’s noise level is hardly noticeable. Compact towers often have noisy cooling systems, but that couldn’t be further from the truth with this Corsair.
Benchmarking the One
Let’s do a sanity check on the Corsair One a100’s value next to competing small-form-factor machines. I configured the Omen Obelisk (Late 2019) on HP’s website for $3,121, though with a much less powerful Intel Core i9-9900K processor. I also built a Falcon Northwest Tiki for $4,362 with a Ryzen 9 3950X; it doesn’t have a secondary hard drive at that price, though it does carry a three-year warranty. Last, I built an Origin PC Chronos for $3,639, though it tops out with a Ryzen 9 3900X. The One a100, all told, seems to be priced right where it should based solely on its hardware.
Now we’ll put that hardware to the test in our benchmarks, where the One will go head to head with the desktops in the chart below.
All pack serious performance, but the AMD-based desktops, including the One a100 and the Alienware Aurora R10 Ryzen Edition, hold the edge in CPU grunt. That said, the HP and especially the Falcon Northwest were able to keep up in several benchmarks where the CPU wasn’t a bottleneck as I’ll explain below.
Our first test is UL’s PCMark 10, a holistic performance suite that simulates different real-world productivity and content-creation workflows. We use it to assess overall system performance for office-centric tasks such as word processing, spreadsheeting, Web browsing, and videoconferencing. PCMark 8, meanwhile, has a storage subtest that we use to assess the speed of the system’s boot drive. Both tests yield a proprietary numeric score; higher numbers are better.
The One a100’s astronomical 7,541-point showing in PCMark 10 is almost double our 4,000-point target for high-performance PCs. Its PCI Express 4.0 SSD, on the other hand, didn’t distinguish it in PCMark 8 Storage, but that’s an older test that doesn’t let it stretch its legs. No harm, no foul.
Next up are two CPU-crunching tests: Cinebench R15 stresses all available processor cores and threads while rendering a complex image, while in our Handbrake test, we transcode a 12-minute 4K video down to 1080p.
The One a100 and the Alienware both scored as expected for their Ryzen 9 3950X chips in Cinebench R15, making the Velocity Micro something of an overachiever. The Handbrake results followed the same pattern. It goes unsaid that those three are in an entirely different league than the Core i9 9900K-powered Falcon Northwest and HP, though the Ryzen chips are admittedly much more expensive.
The final test in this section is photo editing. We use an early 2018 release of Adobe Photoshop Creative Cloud to apply 10 complex filters and effects to a standard JPEG image, timing each operation and adding up the totals. This test is not as CPU-focused as Cinebench or Handbrake, bringing the performance of the storage subsystem, memory, and GPU into play.
Though the Corsair didn’t top this chart, all the scores are close. None of these PCs would balk at advanced Photoshop tasks.
We use two benchmark suites to gauge the gaming performance potential of a PC. In the first, UL’s 3DMark, we run two DirectX 11-driven subtests, the mainstream Sky Diver and Fire Strike, which is more suited to gaming rigs. Our other graphics benchmark is Unigine Corp.’s Superposition, which uses a different rendering engine to produce a complex 3D scene.
The top spot in 3DMark Fire Strike went to the One a100, if by the narrowest of margins over the Alienware and Falcon Northwest towers, all three of which use a GeForce RTX 2080 Ti. As I mentioned earlier, the Ryzen 9 3950X chip is complete overkill for gaming; the Falcon Northwest tower drives this point home by performing just as well (or even slightly better) in both sets of benchmarks with its Core i9-9900K.
Last but perhaps most important, we’ll test some real games. We use the built-in benchmarks in Far Cry 5 (at its Ultra preset) and Rise of the Tomb Raider (at its Very High preset) at 1080p, 1440p, and 4K/UHD resolutions. Far Cry 5 uses DirectX 11, while we flip Rise of the Tomb Raider to DirectX 12. The results are measured in frames per second (fps); we look for at least 60 for smooth playability.
The One a100 showed exemplary numbers, but there are some noteworthy takeaways here. As in 3DMark and Superposition, the Falcon Northwest desktop was equally capable with its lesser CPU.
The other important point for value-seeking shoppers is that the Velocity Micro’s RTX 2080 Super performed very closely with the RTX 2080 Ti machines at 1080p and 1440p, only taking a backseat at 4K where the Ti’s extra video memory is helpful. This makes the least expensive One a100 configuration (with the RTX 2080 Super) a highly attractive “downgrade.”
Can a PC Be Too Powerful?
The only real complaint I can lodge about the Corsair One a100 is that the Ryzen 9 3950X model I reviewed isn’t the best value for a pure gaming system. For $1,000 less, the “entry-level” (if you can call it that) One a100 and its RTX 2080 Super will deliver comparable frame rates at 1080p and 1440p resolutions; 4K gamers might want to step up to the $3,499 model that keeps the GeForce RTX 2080 Ti.
Regardless of configuration, the One a100 continues to do what the One series has always done well, blending top-shelf performance into a wonderfully compact and quiet tower. Its proprietary nature limits its upgrade potential, though it’s not likely to need upgrading anytime soon. It earns our top accolades for a high-end, small-form-factor gaming PC. The Corsair is, quite literally, the one to beat.
Corsair One a100 Specs
|Desktop Class||Small Form Factor (SFF)|
|Processor||AMD Ryzen 9 3950X|
|Processor Speed||3.5 GHz|
|RAM (as Tested)||32 GB|
|Boot Drive Type||SSD|
|Boot Drive Capacity (as Tested)||1 TB|
|Secondary Drive Type||Hard Drive|
|Secondary Drive Capacity (as Tested)||2 TB|
|Graphics Card||Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Ti|
|Operating System||Windows 10 Home|