Tag Archive | "mini pc"

Samsung Galaxy TabPro S and Core i5 NUC incoming. (Your questions welcome in comments.)

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I’ve got two PCs coming in for a full review over the next two weeks and I’m happy to take questions. The detachable Samsung Galaxy TabPro S will be with me in the next 24 hours and the Intel NUC kit with latest Core i5 and Iris Graphics is expected by the end of the week. Although these two PCs use the same CPU design, they are targeted at totally different use-cases.

Samsung Galaxy TabPro S

Surface Pro 4, Lenovo Miix 700, HP Spectre X2 even the iPad Pro. These tablets want to replace your laptop and I have no doubt that they can. You’ll need to make a few compromises over the laptop form factor but yes, they are powerful enough. Latest Core m5 and m7 CPUs are about where we were with Ultrabooks two generation ago so you’ll have no problem with most business-focused office work, basic video editing up to 1080p and the usual range of multitasking. I’ve tested all the above and I’m now about to test the Samsung Galaxy TabPro S which fits into this category.  [I haven’t fully tested a Huawei Matepad yet so can’t comment on that.]

Up until now the Lenovo Miix 700 has been my favorite in this class although the Surface Pro 4 certainly outdoes all of them when it comes to long-term load performance. The advantage of a 15W TDP Core i5 shows up quickly.

In preparation for a full and detailed review for Notebookcheck that will take me over a week to complete I’ve checked out some of the detailed specifications. The Super AMOLED display is likely to be the highlight with infiniate contrast and the potential to boost low white-coverage (low APL) brightness in high ambient light situations. This could be the best outdoor tablet ever.

Indoors, the lack of keyboard backlight might be an issue and the fixed screen angles aren’t going to be great for lapping.

My key question is value. Why are Core m based 2-in-1s so expensive? The strategy of combining ‘Core’ marketing with higher prices seems to be the same as was done with ‘Ultrabook’ and high prices. I know it can help manufacturers get over the initial cost issues of designing and selling a new form-factor but we’ve dealt with this form factor for 3 years now. It’s time to cut the cost of Core m devices because they aren’t barrier-free for your average all-day multi-tasker. The Core m3 version with 4 GB of RAM is a silly 950 Euros in Europe now.

Intel NUC6i5SYH

This Core i5 barebones kit also has a Skylake CPU inside but that’s about the only similarity to the TabPro S. The Intel Core i5-6260U comes with Intel Iris graphics and can be fitted with M.2 and 2.5 inch SATA storage and up to 32 GB of RAM. There’s a fan inside. This is a kit that has potential for gaming, video editing and all-day office working.

The main questions for many people with be ‘how noisy is it’ and ‘can it play games.’ Yes, you’ll be able to get some ‘low settings’ gaming done on this but where non-Iris graphics modules tend to support older and less graphics-intensive games the Iris versions can handle a little more. I’ll be doing some games testing so if you have any specific tests, let me know.

The NUC6i5SYH has already been through the Notebookcheck lab tests and it’s on its way to me now. Again the review will take about a week.

If you’ve got specific questions about either of these Skylake-based PCs, let me know in the comments below and I’ll take them into consideration.

 

Inside the battery-powered Ainol Mini PC + Windows 10 upgrade tips.

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I’ve upgraded the Ainol Mini PC to Windows 10 and apart from it completely resetting itself to Chinese language everything went smoothly. After doing some battery tests I got a bit curious and opened it up. There was a surprise waiting for me inside.

I’ve started some testing which includes Kodi (summary: Great apart from some 1.5 Mbps Hi10p files.) but first let me give you a few images that will help you reset the language.

It helps if you have another Windows 10 PC in your own language next to you when you do that as the UI positioning is the same and that’s how I managed to sort out the problem.

 

There’s one other thing I needed to do to make sure that the login screen was in English…

Go to control panel and click on “Change date, time or number formats.”

Use the Administrative tab, select Copy Settings and select the two options at the bottom of the following window.

Reboot, possibly twice, and you should see a pure chosen-language experience which includes login screen.

Inside the Ainol Mini PC.

The Ainol Mini PC reports a 13 Wh battery in Windows and when I tested video playback battery drain I was shocked at how efficient it was. Could it really play back video at 1.5 W battery drain? A second, longer test resulted in 1.68 W drain. For a 13 Wh battery that would be 7 hours and 45 minutes of playback but incredibly efficient.

I’ve tested hundreds of Intel Atom based PCs and full-HD video playback rarely uses less than 5W of battery power. Assuming the screen backlight takes 1-1.5W (which it does on smaller tablets) the maths didn’t add-up. Time to take a look inside to see exactly what was going on.

The inside of the Ainol Mini PC is primarily Li-Po battery and it’s big. 25.9 Wh is double what’s reported in Windows 10. That explains the exceptionally good power drain figures then!

You’ll still get 7 hours and 45 minutes of full HD playback from the Ainol Mini PC but the power drain is 3.36, not 1.68 W. It’s still very competitive but directly in-line with an Atom-based Windows tablets if you remove the screen drain from the equation.

It’s a tiny mainboard but the interesting bit for me was the sticky-back heat-spreader. You’ll need to make sure it’s replaced carefully to avoid overheating if you remove it.

As you can see, nothing is upgradeable.

I’ll be doing more testing on the Ainol Mini PC but as it stands I’m primarily interested in it as a home theatre PC. That battery means you don’t need mains power for an evening’s entertainment.

Thanks to Gearbest for sending the Ainol Mini PC over for testing. It costs just $99 to buy but I had to pay about 40 Euros in import costs here in Germany. You might be lucky on your import and get it for free but you might not. You can buy the Ainol Mini PC here.

Intel Compute Stick as a low-cost web-working solution.

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At $149 (trending down) this is an interesting Windows 8.1 PC but when you know it weighs just 54 grams /  0.116 pounds it becomes a bit of an eye opener. The Intel Compute Stick, and its branded variants, are starting to become available in the market and I’ve had one for testing (from Intel) for the last two weeks. It’s not a tablet and it’s not a desktop. It’s not even a mini PC. This is a PC sealed inside a pocketable stick that can be plugged into an HDMI port on your monitor, powered by USB and used with a keyboard and mouse. It runs Windows 8.1 and can be upgraded to Windows 10. You will not find anything with this flexibility at this price, but is it powerful enough? I’ve been running tests on the Compute Stick and wanted to focus on one aspect that will interest a lot of people – web working.

Intel Compute Stick – 56 grams of PC.

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Intel Compute Stick and Ainol Mini PC compared

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I’m testing the Intel Compute Stick and the Ainol Mini PC. These two ultramobile PCs have exactly the same processing platform but completely different use cases. My analysis and video follows.

Intel Compute Stick and Ainol Mini PC. Same CPU, different markets.

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Voyo V2 Mini PC coming with battery, storage options.

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Mini PCs with built-in batteries are cool. I’m currently testing the Ainol Mini PC and it’s very inspiring from a ‘project’ point of view, especially when you can run it wirelessly and knowing that Windows 10 will have some nice casting features. The Voyo V2 is coming soon though and it includes a battery and extra storage option.

Voyo V2 Mini PC

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Ainol Mini PC (with internal battery) First Look.

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I’m just about to start reviewing the Ainol Mini PC, an Atom-based PC with an interesting feature. It has a battery included in the unit and because it supports Miracast it can run completely without wires.

The Ainol Mini PC has triggered a few switches in my head as a solution for portable, secure computing or as an HTPC or presentation device. It’s silent, it’s compact and it can even charge a smartphone.. The embedded 13 Wh battery makes all the difference here and at $97 it’s looking like a bargain.

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ECS Liva Core. Silent Core M mini PC specs gallery and video.

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We’ve got two fanless Core M mini PCs to add to the mini-PC database now. The ECS Liva Core is now official and goes head-to-head with the Zotac Zbox ZI521.

ECS Liva Core silent mini pc with Core M

The design is very unique with its see-through top panel and the port selection good too although I don’t see any consumer IR support. The front-mounted ports seem a little over the top too. Surely a single USB and audio ports would be better? At the rear you’ll find another USB 3.0 port, Gigabit Ethernet, 2 HDMI ports and a headset port. There’s no dedicated digital audio port.

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Zotac ZBOX CI521 is a silent Core M Mini PC

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Have you been on the lookout for a silent but office-capable mini PC but don’t want to get into the rather complex self-build silent PC game? The Zotac ZBOX CI521 nano is the one for you. At least for today as we’re expecting a few more of these to appear at Computex over the next week. The Zotac ZBOX CI521 nano, without RAM or storage, is showing at some European retailers for under 370 Euro (inc tax, about $320 pre tax US dollars.)

The Intel Core M-5Y10c should ensure that you get a much more powerful experience than with the new Intel Braswell NUCs *which also have a fan inside) and you might even get some low-end desktop gaming running on it. Minecraft should work smoothly, for example.

There’s a plus version (showing for around 450 Euros in Europe right now) With 8GB RAM on board so you’re able to drop an M.2 SATA drive in (or boot from USB or network) and go.

Pricing appears to be a little high but this is a unique product with a very new CPU. If you’re prepared to wait for competition and CPU price discounts you’ll probably see this for 20-30% less in 6 months. If an office-capable silent PC is something you want now then put this on your list along with the ECS Liva X Core which is also launching at Computex.

 

Intel Braswell NUCs will start at $140 but aren’t fanless. Tech specs below.

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Intel’s new entry-level mini PCs, codenamed Pinnacle Canyon, have appeared in retail channels and will start at $140. The new NUCs, NUC5CPYH  and NUC5PPYH, will replace the Baytrail-M versions that were available in 2014 and add an SD card slot, optical audio output, optional VGA and replaceable lid modules. A consumer IR receiver is included on the front of the unit.

Intel’s Braswell-based NUCs for 2015

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Intel presents ‘no wires’ and Mini Lake Mini PC concepts

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You are probably familiar with Intel’s NUC range of Mini PCs. They’ve been popular and now that Braswell is shipping you’re probably going to see a new range of them. Intel are also introducing a Mini Lake reference design that will be over 30% smaller. Beyond Mini Lake though is a proposal for a completely wire-free Mini PC. Meet the ‘no wire’ Mini PC.

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Ainol Mini PC has everything + battery for $129

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I use my Intel NUC with Atom N2820 processor daily. It’s quiet, neat and runs Openelec like a dream. It was cheap too but now I’m wondering if I should have waited. The Ainol Mini PC comes with RAM, storage, a Windows OS and a 26 Wh battery for just $129. It’s silent too!

Ainol Mini PC

It doesn’t have a Gigabit Ethernet port but it does have USB3.0 so adding an adaptor is no problem. Retro-fitting an infra-red reciever might be a problem though and of course this Baytrail-T ‘tablet without screen’ is not going to allow for any expansion. The storage won’t be as fast as what’s possible with the SATA interface on an Intel NUC. The biggest problem I see though is that you might have problems installing your favorite Linux distro on this due to the 32-bit UEFI bug.  Some tablets come with a 64-bit Windows not but you can clearly see that this 64-bit CPU is running a 32-bit Windows version on the Geekbuying sales page.

Along with the Baytrail-T-based dongles these are interesting IoT-style products (and with a 3G dongle could be the perfect malicious hotspot) but until they allow you to boot your chosen 64-bit OS they’re not flexible enough. If anyone finds a similar one with 64-bit UEFI bootloader, let us know.

Update: Voyo has a similar product with a smaller battery.

Voyo mini pc with battery.

Hat-tip: Liliputing.

Intel NUC (DN2820FYKH, Celeron N2820) Windows 8.1 Performance Review.

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I started testing the Intel NUC with Bay Trail-M yesterday and in the post you’ll see some performance figures for Android 4.4. Today I’m looking at Windows 8.1 (Pro) which was a simple, if lengthy, install process. Windows installed correctly from a DVD but a lot of time was taken installing all the (64-bit) drivers. Today I’ve had a chance to go through my usual suite of tests and you see the results below along with some comparison figures.

WP_20140508_22_39_28_Pro

It’s important to note that I’ve gone for a fast SSD drive in the system. The MyDigitalSSD BP4  I have is a 240GB version but you can pick up the BP4 in a 64GB version for around $60 and it’s something I would recommend because this dual-core Atom CPU isn’t hugely powerful. We’re talking about the CPU and GPU power of an 8-inch Windows tablet here so in order to use this as a desktop PC you really can’t cut corners on storage speed. Oh, and why wouldn’t you just use an 8-inch tablet with a free copy of Microsoft Office? It’s a good question but a SATA disk interface and USB3.0 are just two arguments against that but given that a Windows 8 license is around $100 on top of the, approximately $240 you’ve already spent on the NUC, RAM and disk, if you’re also in the market for a student solution with MS Office you can afford to look at a 64GB Lenovo Thinkpad 8.

Buying a tablet isn’t as much fun as building your own NUC though and I suspect that most NUCs won’t end up running Windows. XBMCbuntu or some other free Linux distribution is more likely, especially when you consider the built-in IR receiver. Advertising displays, education, POS and automotive industries (and hobbyist) are also likely to be interested. Having said that, I’m enjoying this Windows 8.1 solution so far. The SATA SSD is making it feel much faster in operation than a Windows 8 tablet and it’s quieter than any laptop once the unit is mounted behind a monitor. The Gigabit Ethernet port is helping to boost internet speeds too.

Systeminfo

devicemanager

System information and device manager information.

In terms of raw power I am a little disappointed. I should know better but the promise of a 2.4Ghz dual-core CPU had me thinking in terms of Ultrabooks and not tablets. It’s good, but don’t get over excited about anything like PC gaming or video editing. On that topic, note that there is no Intel Quick-Sync hardware video encoding so rendering videos could take a long time unless, you have a very very recent (we haven’t seen any in circulation yet) version with the N2830 processor inside. That version does support Intel Quick Sync and should improve basic video encoding performance by about 10X.

As mentioned, general performance is OK. It reminds me of the performance I got from the Acer V5 laptop with A6-1450 CPU after I had done an SSD upgrade. That platform, however, has better GPU performance. The PCMark7 score was good at 2732 points which safely beats al the Bay Trail-T tablets and even the Lenovo 11S with an Ivy Bridge Y-Series Core i3 CPU. Ultrabooks with recent CPUs and SSDs are getting around 5000 points in this test though and that’s the sort of performance you should be looking for if you’re doing serious multitasking and are looking for a ‘barrier-free’ office PC platform.

PCMark7

For a raw CPU test we ran Cinebench 11.5 64-bit and saw a rather poor score of 0.83 which is the slowest CPU we’ve tested this year. The Z3740-based Windows tablets are showing 50% better CPU performance. Clearly the SSD is helping to prop-up the PCMark7 scores so if it’s CPU performance you need (excel calculations, software development environments for example) then step away. A 2012/2013 Acer W510 running Clovertrail returned 0.53 points in our review so at least it’s a step up from that.

cinebench cpu

In addition to Cinebench we ran Passmark.

Intel NUC (N2820) Passmark CPU: 970

  • Integer Math:2313
  • Floating Point Math:723
  • Prime Numbers:2.35
  • Extended Instructions (SSE): 2.49
  • Compression:1242
  • Encryption:174.2
  • Physics:55.6
  • Sorting: 958
  • Single Threaded:537

GPU performance is comparable to the Bay Trail-T tablets we’ve seen. The Cinebench OpenGL test returned 6.0 FPS. We also ran the cross-platform 3DMark Ice Storm Extreme and saw results slightly above that which we see on the Intel Windows 8.1 Bay Trail-T tablets. The Ice Storm result on Windows 8.1 was also 13% better than the result on the NUC when we tested it with Android 4.4 although that OS build is still an early one and might need some optimizations. Again, this isn’t a gaming platform but Windows 8 ‘modern’ games did play smoothly. Pinball FX was smooth and responsive on a Full HD screen. F18 Carrier Landing was the same; Drift Mania Street Outlaws too.

 

3DMark ISE

3DMark Ice Storm Extreme (Windows 8.1) : 8468  (Android 4.4): 7504

Update: Under ‘Performance’ power profile and with the latest BIOS installed we saw a score of 8604 under Windows 8.1

 

Browsing speeds are good on the NUC. The SSD and Gigabit Ethernet are helping but tests like Peacekeeper and Sunspider show some lead over Baytrail-T devices. A Sunspider score of 495 beats all the Baytrail-T tablets we’ve tested and a Peacekeeper score of 1374 is good too. It doesn’t come close to the value you get out of an Acer C720 Chromebook though – and that’s cheaper!

peacekeeper

sunspider

Finally we come to video performance. In a Handbrake encoding test both with and without Intel Media SDK options turned on we saw under 9 FPS in our test which is truly bad. The Bay Trail-T tablets are scoring over 100 on this test and current Ultrabooks score over 300 fps. As for decoding, we played a 50 FPS Full HD H.264 video (30Mbps) through Windows Media Player and saw no problems but a CPU utilization of over 70%. Under Windows 8 Video app, however, the utilization was down to under 20%. Clearly there’s some hardware acceleration going on under Windows 8 modern that doesn’t happen when using Windows Media Player on the Desktop. Playing a 3Mbps H.264 video from a network drive through the Windows 8 Video app resulted in about 6% CPU utilization.

YouTube performance varied between browsers with Chrome struggling to offer a 1080p video without dropping frames at 100% CPU utilization. Both Modern and desktop versions of Internet Explorer were able to provide a smooth playback experience with under 20% CPU load. We continue to recommend Internet Explorer for YouTube playback on Windows 8.1 (the Modern app comes with extra security advantages too.)

A video playback test under XMBCbuntu is probably more relevant for many people thinking about the Intel NUC. We’ll be testing that out at a later stage.

Disk Speed.

We are using a MyDigitalSSD BP4 240Gb unit to test with. Here are the Crystal DiskMark results.

CDM

Intel NUC DN2820FKYH (2)

As you can see there’s not much to moan about. In a previous test with this SSD on an AMD A6-1450 system (here) we saw slightly lower scores.  We don’t recommend using this NUC as a desktop with a spinning hard-disk as it will significantly slow down the perceived performance of the system.

Power.

Idle power used on this platform is so low that it’s not possible to measure it accurately using a consumer ‘Watt’ meter. In our tests it looked like the PSU was actually using 9W of power. We’ll set up a DC-only test at some point in the future in order to allow us to more accurately measure power usage.

Other Tests.

Noise measurement has proved almost impossible here as the levels are so low. As ambient noise on the workbench is 44 dB it’s very difficult to tell if the NUC is on when mounted behind the screen but there is definitely fan noise detectable if you listen carefully in a silent room. We are running the latest BIOS with default cooling settings and understand from owner feedback that it might be possible to reduce the fan noise through settings available in the BIOS.

We haven’t performed tests on the WiFi module or done any audio tests.

In a follow-up article we’ll be looking at XBMCbuntu.

Feel free to ask questions in the comments section below.

Summary.

We’re reluctant to call this NUC an all-round capable Windows desktop PC but there are definitely some interesting use cases here. It’s small and quiet and can support fast SSDs. It works well as a video playback unit (assuming Modern or IE is used as the playback environment) and keeps up well with multi-tab browsing usage. With the built-in WiFi unit it’s very portable and could make a useful camping, holiday home or hotel solution. For those thinking of Microsoft Office use cases we would suggest to take a look at the Lenovo Thinkpad 8 which comes with a 64GB SSD, USB3.0, HDMI and Office Home and Student for the same price as a NUC with Windows 8 and the Office license. For those looking for a browsing only solution, you can’t beat the Acer C720 at $220 with this unit.

Overall we think that the Celeron N2820 NUC may appeal to those who have specific Windows 8 use cases in mind (data collection, control, advertising, education, kiosk, IoT etc) or for those that have a spare SSD, memory and Windows license lying around. For those wanting a media-center solution, stay tuned. We’ll be looking at XBMCbuntu where we really think this NUC will shine.