Seven Small (But Powerful) Mini-PCs, Reviewed

Acer Revo RL80-UR22

Acer introduced its Aspire Revo series in 2009, starting with the Atom 230-equipped R1600. Like most nettops at the time, it was underpowered, but provided passable service in the most basic workloads. The RL80 we're looking at today is quite a bit different; it introduces some much-needed compute potential through an Ivy Bridge-based Core i3-3227U.

Running at 1.9 GHz, only two products in this round-up operate at a lower clock rate, but one also peaks with a 2.6 GHz Turbo Boost setting. The Revo doesn't have Turbo Boost enabled, so we expect it to bring up the rear in most of our CPU benchmarks. The on-die HD Graphics 4000 engine pretty much par in this group, and we know it to be capable of fairly mainstream gaming aspirations.

Priced at $430 on Newegg, including an operating system, the RL80's biggest selling point is a massive price advantage compared to the rest of the playing field.

Bundle And First Impression

Of the companies involved in our round-up, Acer is the most well-known as a system vendor, rather than a component manufacturer. This becomes evident in the bundle: the Revo RL80 is the only PC in this comparison that includes a wireless mouse, a wireless keyboard, and an operating system. Just hook up a display and you're good to go.

The system can sit horizontally or mount vertically. At 8.3" x 8.3" x 1.4" and 2.2 lbs, it's one of the larger mini-PCs in our story. But it's still small and light enough to attach to the back of a monitor, thanks to a VESA-compatible base.

There's not a lot to see up front except for two USB 3.0 ports, a memory card reader, and audio input/output jacks.

Most of the connectivity is found around back. You get HDMI and DVI outputs, two USB 2.0 and two USB 3.0 ports, an optical audio output, and a GbE jack, which isn't visible because it occupies the bottom corner.

A single screw holds the plastic cover down, although some force is required to pop it off. After that, remove a thin layer of metal for access to the hardware underneath.

First off, we notice that Acer's mini-PC has two memory slots for a dual-channel configuration, but only comes equipped with one 4 GB SO-DIMM. You can also see one mini-PCIe slot populated by the Atheros AR5B22 802.11n/Bluetooth 4.0 combo card. There's another mini-PCIe slot on the other side, which looks like it should be able to take an mSATA-based SSD, except that it doesn't. Only another mini-PCIe peripheral will work there.

On the left is the bundled Seagate Momentus Thin 500 GB hard disk with a 16 MB data cache and relatively slow 5400 RPM spindle. There's an unused combination SATA/power port right above the hard drive, which is seemingly useless in an enclosure like this with no room for another disk. Acer does offer an optical drive add-on module, though.

Unfortunately, the Seagate drive is bolted in from the back of the motherboard, so it's a pain to access if you want to swap in a 2.5" SSD. What's worse, Acer's firmware doesn't make it each to install another operating system without jumping through some hoops.

Special Features And Livability

The Revo RL80's biggest strength is its low price and very complete bundle, which comes with everything you need to get running, except for a display. Even if you add a second memory module and the optical drive add-on, it's still the lowest-cost system in our round-up. Enthusiasts may want to consider the other options, though; the locked-down BIOS doesn't let you do much more than install the factory copy of Windows.

Acer Revo RL80-UR22
Intel HM77
Intel Core i3-3227U, Dual-Core, Hyper-Threaded, 1.9 GHz, 3 MB Shared L3 Cache
Intel HD Graphics 4000, 350 MHz - 1.1 GHz
Graphics Memory
Shared with system memory
System Memory
1 x 4 GB Hyundai PC3-12800S, 1600 MT/s DDR3, 11-11-11-28-1T
Hard Drive
Seagate Momentus Thin, 500 GB, 16 MB Cache, 5400 RPM, SATA 3 Gb/s
Optical Drive
Operating System
Windows 8 64-bit , (upgraded to Windows 8.1 for testing)
Included Peripherals
Wireless Mouse and Keyboard Included
Internal Interfaces
Memory Support
Dual-Channel 2 x DDR3/L/-RS SO-DIMM slots, 1.35/1.5 V, 1333/1600 MHz, 8 GB Max
Two slots (one occupied by bundled wireless card)
Not included
Mass Storage Controllers
Chipset SATA
2 x SATA 3 Gb/s (One used with included 2.5" hard drive)
I/O Panel Connectors
Not Included
Not Included
MHSL Input
Not Included
4 x USB 2.0, 2 x USB 3.0 (One USB 3.0 port has power-off charging)
Memory Card Reader
Not Included
Digital Audio out
Analog Audio
Two front
IR Sensor
Not Included
Ethernet & Wireless
Integrated Gigabit
2T2R Dual-Band, Atheros AR5B22, 802.11n, mini-PCIe card
Bluetooth 4.0, (Atheros AR5B22 Wi-Fi Combo card)
HD Audio Codec
Analog and S/PDIF: Realtek ALC662
HDMI: Intel Display Audio
Audio Channels
5.1 Channel HD Audio
Physical Specifications
210 x 210 x 35.3 mm
(8.26" x 8.26" x 1.39")
998 g (2.2 lbs)
As Tested: $430
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  • outlw6669
    Not a single AMD based SFF PC?
    I am disappoint, this would be a great area for AMD to show their competitiveness.
  • ta152h
    @outlw6669I built one based on the A6 5200, and it's perfect for what I need it for. It's low power, more than fast enough for what 99% of the people do, quiet, and inexpensive. I'm a little surprised they didn't choose something based on the Jaguar for that reason, but it might just be a situation where nothing with one was sent to them for review. Certainly this is a poor representation, without both Jaguar and Bay Trail missing. I got to the first page, read what they had, looked at the cases, and moved on. Reading about different versions of Ivy Bridge and Haswell and how they compare to each other is profoundly uninteresting.
  • m32
    I wouldn't mind having a small system like this. Maybe Mid-Year when everyone's CPU/APUs are out, I'll have the chance to make a smart buy. Thanks for the article. :)
  • blackmagnum
    Buy a laptop and hook a screen to it; no compromises.
  • mesab66
    It is interesting that by going slightly larger with the enclosure space (still keeping within cube/rectangle/media player shape) opens up the possibility of so much more power....dedicated gfx, full cpu, etc etc., and, can be cheaper to build - depending on the users requirements.......of course, at the cost of power requirements, etc. I'm thinking most folk would ideally chose a slightly larger form factor for living room/media pc duties.On the other hand, if constraints are tight (form factor in this article) and the end user's requirements match, then these options are worth considering.
  • mesab66
    Maybe Tom's could do some options on Media PC/HTPC builds for a future article?
  • s997863
    Power. I don't care about no power. Where's the love for the old games? If I want to play some of the classics which just don't emulate properly, I have to hunt for a heavy old Pentium3 box and try to get it working. How about a cheap mini PC with miniaturized legacy hardware for full compatibility to dual-boot win98 & XP, with gameports, VGA & S-Video, PS/2 & USB, IDE & SATA external ribbon & power connectors, & a turbo button for choosing between 2 processors 200MHz & 3GHz?
  • elgranchuchu
    this was exactly was i was looking for deploying php software
  • vertexx
    I am a huge fan of compact systems. Almost everything I have built has been ITX. But I've had a hard time with the NUC form factor. As a desktop, I think it's actually too small. One of those boxes would get lost on my desk, continuously being pushed around by other clutter. Now, if I had a hutch with an optimally sized cubby, that might be a different story.

    VESA mounted on the back of a monitor, these look really clunky, and I'd rather go with an AIO kit using the thin mini-ITX form factor where I have more control over processor choice.

    I'd be more excited if this technology and form factor were applied in a more interchangeable system with a standardized GPU socket. I really like what ASRock and Gigabyte have done with their compact systems. They're not as compact, but having something a little more substantial on my desk is a good thing, and they pack a lot of punch. I just wish the standards were developed to allow builders to replicate that feat - pipe dream, I know.

    One thing is for sure, AMD needs to develop it's own equivalent of the NUC and thin Mini-ITX. The success of it's Kaveri line I think would be helped out by innovation in form factor.
  • axehead15
    I think you should compare the Mac Mini to these, that way we can see how it adds up.
  • Onus
    It would take a unique set of requirements for any of these devices to make sense, particularly compared to competition. With the possible exception of the ASRock unit, the price is outrageous. If you don't have room by your TV for a [much more powerful and versatile] mini-ITX system, for the difference in cost you can replace your TV stand or component rack instead.

    These are essentially for gadget-freaks with more money than sense.
  • bloodroses75
    Interesting concept for these machines, price to performance is not worth it yet though. Buying an Inwin (or other brand) mini-itx case with power supply and building your own machine from the ground up is a much better deal.As with Intel, the i7s are only dual core? I'd be personally upset if I bought one and realized that after plugging it in. They should have kept a standard with their naming, like on their desktops:Pentium= dual core, no HTi3= dual core, HTi5= quad core, no HTi7= quad core, HTand yes, I realize Intel did release an i5 that was only dual core with HT and thought it was a complete rip-off too.
  • MajinCry
    Why did people vote down s997863? I'd kill for a mini pc that could actually play NWN 1 and/or the horde of DOS games.
  • cleeve
    Anonymous said:
    Why did people vote down s997863? I'd kill for a mini pc that could actually play NWN 1 and/or the horde of DOS games.

    I'm pretty sure any of these will fit the bill for old windows games like NWN 1.

    DOS based stuff has its own challenges, I don't know enough about dosbox emulators but I suspect these are more than powerful enough.
  • Bolts Romano
    Thank you for the article, at least now I know some other brands never heard before. It is quite a surprise the price is hitting the same level as a notebook or mac mini price range or lower (remember this mini pc does not come w OS)
  • burkhartmj
    these devices are super cool, but it's hard to ignore the fact that one can generally get better performance out of a fully configurable and upgradable ITX form factor for the same price. For niche use cases, these would be incredibly helpful, but I don't see them becoming particularly mainstream.
  • MajinCry
    Anonymous said:

    I'm pretty sure any of these will fit the bill for old windows games like NWN 1.

    DOS based stuff has its own challenges, I don't know enough about dosbox emulators but I suspect these are more than powerful enough.

    On the contrary, there are plenty of performance issues with old games when using new hardware. My 6670 and 7850 play NWN 1 piss-poorly with my 965 BE, por ejemplo.

    Intel's IGPUs fare no better nor do NVidia's GPUs. Speaking from experience.
  • lockhrt999
    Why some i7 are dual cores?
  • Croc Ography
    Huge fail for the ASRock... Tom's Hardware is not reading their own listed specs:"Audio Channels: 7.1+2 Channel HD Audio Codec with Content Protection and DTS Connect support" -- this means that if you burn your own Blurays or DVD's to PLEX or BMC and any of them have Cinavia on them you will not be able to play them from this HTPC.Therefore this device is useless.
  • tntom
    Great article! Thank you! Thank you! I hope this segment becomes more competitive and brings the prices down. Right now the prices are too inflated. All of these have more than enough CPU but except for the Asrock are lacking in GPU performance.Please update with the Brix A8 APU and Iris Pro 5200 when you finish testing them out.