Skip to main content

Seven Small (But Powerful) Mini-PCs, Reviewed

Synthetic Benchmarks

I capped this chart at 9000 points because the VisionX's graphics score was so high relative to the competition (in excess of 16,000 points) that it made meaningful comparisons difficult. ASRock's system is the only one with a discrete GPU, and it shows.

With a 9000-point ceiling, however, we can identify a few trends. A single-channel memory configuration and low host clock rates push Acer's Revo to the back of the pack. Zotac's Zbox nano ID65 Plus suffers from the same bandwidth bottleneck, but manages to leap ahead of the Ivy Bridge-based NUC thanks to higher clock rates and more shared L3 cache, which bolster the Physics score.

The ML300 and Gigabyte Brix are a bit faster, but Intel's Haswell-based NUC distinguishes itself from the rest of the integrated graphics options with its HD Graphics 5000 GPU.

This PCMark 8 chart is sorted by the Home and Creative results, since the work numbers aren't as consistent with the other two categories.

The Home benchmark suite includes Web surfing, light gaming, photo editing, and video chat, while the Creative module involves more intense photo editing and video transcoding workloads. We'd expect those tasks to favor core count, but since these are all dual-core solutions, the emphasis is on clock rate in threaded applications more so than underlying architecture.

Because of this, the lower-clocked Ivy Bridge-based NUC and Acer Revo struggle compared to the other platforms, which produce similar results. The Work benchmark reflects simple document reading and writing applications, and it's curious to see ASRock's VisionX fall behind. Hard disk access speed might come into play, which would help explain the results.

Acer's Revo suffered a strange repeatable error when it came to the Creative benchmark suite, and was unable to complete it.

SiSoft Sandra's Arithmetic test focuses on integer and floating-point performance. In a line-up of dual-core-based platforms, clock rate is most influential, followed by architectural improvements that introduce enhanced instruction set support.

Case-in-point: the Cryptography benchmark reflects support for AES-NI and lots of memory bandwidth able to feed the x86 cores fresh instructions.

That's not the case for the GPU-based Cryptography test, which is driven by OpenCL performance. ASRock's discrete Radeon chip decimates the competition. The only other solution standing out is Intel's HD Graphics 5000 (GT3) engine, which is faster than the other on-die implementations.

Sandra's Memory Bandwidth module illustrates the bandwidth hit the single-channel solutions take. A second SO-DIMM would solve the problem for Acer's Revo. However, Zotac's Zbox nano ID65 Plus doesn't have another slot to populate.

The rest of the results scale with data rate. Because the Haswell-based Intel NUC and Gigabyte Brix don't work with 1.5 V modules, we had to use the 1.35 V DDR3-1333 memory available to us on those platforms.

The Storage sub-test makes it pretty clear which mini-PCs sport SSDs and which ones employ hard drives. The results come fairly close to each other, though we do see the LGX's Emphase Enterprise 128 GB SSD fall behind Intel's SSD 525 180 GB.

Although the SSDs are very fast, keep in mind that the mechanical disks counter with lower cost per gigabyte and higher capacity.