Seven Small Systems With Fast Platforms
I have to laugh at how some ideas that flop get re-spun as the next big thing once technology catches up with the concept. For example, Microsoft pushed the idea of a tablet PC years before Apple popularized it. Back in 2001, the first list of specifications, designed to run Windows XP Tablet PC Edition yielded bulky, slow, and expensive products with uninspiring battery life. Almost a decade later, the iPad showed up with light weight, a better interface, and excellent battery life. It made all of the difference in the world.
Intel is hoping that its Next Unit of Computing (NUC) is doing the same thing for the mini-PC market. We were first introduced to the NUC at last year's CES. It leveraged the highly-integrated Sandy Bridge architecture to get a Celeron CPU, HD Graphics 2000, HDMI display output, USB connectivity, and GbE connectivity into a tiny little enclosure. Of course, the NUC generated buzz because of its size, the efficiency of its host platform, and the respectable performance Sandy Bridge was known to confer.
The first mini-PC round-up I put together in 2009 (Three Slim Atom/Ion 2 Based Nettop PCs Compared) was limited to dual-core Atom D500-series processors with 1 MB of cache that topped out at 1.8 GHz. The systems were sold with 2 GB of RAM. They were fast enough to surf the Web and play back 1080p video (so long as you were willing to live with occasional hiccups), but compared to low-end desktop PCs, they were simply slow. Most of the workloads in our benchmark suite weren't even viable, and you could forget about casual gaming.
That's not true of Intel's NUC and the other new systems we're testing in today's round-up. Power-sipping Intel Core i3, i5, and even i7 processors sport a minimum of 3 MB shared L3 cache, facilitating true desktop-class performance that is not only suitable for everyday productivity tasks, but even some serious work. Smooth video playback and moderate gaming are an added bonus.
Let's check out the stats of the seven small systems we're reviewing today:
|Header Cell - Column 0||Acer RevoRL80-UR22||ASRockVisionX 420D||Gigabyte Brix BXi7-4500||Intel NUCDC3217IYE(Ivy Bridge)||Intel NUC D54250WYK(Haswell)||LGXML300||Zotac Zbox Nano ID65 Plus|
|CPU||Intel Core i3-3227UDual-Core, Hyper-Threaded1.9 GHz3 MB L3 Cache||Intel Core i5-4200MDual-Core, Hyper-Threaded2.5 GHz (3.1 GHz Peak Turbo)3 MB L3 Cache||Intel Core i7-4500UDual-Core, Hyper-Threaded1.8 GHz (3.0 GHz Peak Turbo)4 MB L3 Cache||Intel Core i3-3217UDual-Core, Hyper-Threaded1.8 GHz3 MB L3 Cache||Intel Core i5-4250UDual-Core, Hyper-Threaded1.3 GHz (2.6 GHz Peak Turbo)3 MB L3 Cache||Intel Core i5-3427UDual-Core, Hyper-Threaded1.8 GHz (2.8 GHz Peak Turbo)3 MB L3 Cache||Intel Core i7-3537UDual-Core, Hyper-Threaded2 GHz (3.1 GHz Peak Turbo)4 MB L3 Cache|
|GPU||Intel HD Graphics 4000,350 MHz - 1.1 GHz||Radeon HD 8850M,775 MHz||Intel HD Graphics 4400,200 MHz - 1.1 GHz||Intel HD Graphics 4000,350 MHz - 1.05 GHz||Intel HD Graphics 5000,200 MHz - 1 GHz||Intel HD Graphics 4000,350 MHz - 1.15 GHz||Intel HD Graphics 4000,350 MHz - 1.2 GHz|
|GPU RAM||Shared with System Memory||1 GB GDDR5,1125 MHz||Shared with System Memory||Shared with System Memory||Shared with System Memory||Shared with System Memory||Shared with System Memory|
|Sys. RAM||1 x 4 GB Hyundai DDR3-1600,11-11-11 1T||2 x 4 GB Asint DDR3-1600,11-11-11 1T||NotIncluded||Not Included||Not Included||2 x 8 GB Transcend DDR3-1600,11-11-11 1T||1 x 4 GB Samsung DDR3-1600,11-11-11 1T|
|Hard Disk||Seagate Momentus Thin500 GB, 16 MB Cache,5400 RPM, SATA 3 Gb/s||Western Digital Blue1 TB, 8 MB Cache,5400 RPM, SATA 3 Gb/s||NotIncluded||NotIncluded||NotIncluded||Emphase EnterprisemSATA 128 GB SSD||Samsung Spinpoint M8500 GB, 8 MB Cache,5400 RPM, SATA 3 Gb/s(includes adapter for 2 x mSATA SSD drives, optional RAID)|
|Opt. Drive||NotIncluded||Lite-On DL8A4SHSlim DVD-RW(Blu-ray optional)||NotIncluded||NotIncluded||NotIncluded||NotIncluded||NotIncluded|
|OS||Windows 8 64-bit (upgraded to Windows 8.1 for testing)||NotIncluded||NotIncluded||NotIncluded||NotIncluded||Windows 7 Professional x64 (upgraded to Windows 8.1 for testing)||NotIncluded|
|Misc||WirelessMouse and Keyboard||Media Center Remote||NotIncluded||NotIncluded||NotIncluded||NotIncluded||NotIncluded|
|WiFi||2T2R Dual BandAtheros AR5B22802.11nmini-PCIe card||2T2R Dual BandBroadcom BCM4352 802.11acmini-PCIe card||1T1R Single BandRealtek RTL8723AE 802.11nmini-PCIe card||NotIncluded||NotIncluded||NotIncluded||2T2R Single BandIntel Centrino 2230802.11nmini-PCIe card|
|Size||210 x 210 x 35.3 mm(8.26" x 8.26" x 1.39")||200 x 70 x 200 mm(7.87" x 2.76" x 7.87")||29.9 x 107.6 x 114.4 mm(1.18" x 4.24" x 4.5")||116.6 x 112 x 39 mm (4.59" x 4.41" x 1.55")||116.6 x 112 x 34.5 mm (4.59" x 4.41" x 1.36")||196 x 36.75 x 131.20 mm(7.72" x 1.45" x 5.17")||127 x 127 x 45 mm(5” x 5” x 1.77”)|
|Wgt.||998 g (2.2 lbs)||2665 g (5.88 lbs)||371 g (0.82 lbs)||500g (1.1 lbs)||478 g (1.05 lbs)||1111 g (2.45 lbs)||537 g (1.18 lbs)|
|Price||As Tested: $430(Newegg)||As tested: $980 (with added Windows 8.1 Pro x64)Hardware: $850 (MSRP)||As tested: $954.98(with added Windows 8.1 Pro x64, Intel 525 Series 180 GB SSD and 2 x 4GB Crucial DDR3 SO-DIMMs)Barebone: $530 (Newegg)||As tested: $701.95(with added Windows 8.1 Pro x64, Intel 525 Series 180 GB SSD, Intel 7260 Wireless AC card, and 2 x 4 GB Adata DDR3 SO-DIMMs)Barebone: $250.97 (Newegg)||As tested: $833.97(with added Windows 8.1 Pro x64, Intel 525 Series 180 GB SSD, Intel 7260 Wireless AC card, and 2 x 4GB Crucial DDR3 SO-DIMMs)Barebone: $375 (Newegg)||As Tested: $1245.65(with Windows 7 Ultimate x64. Tested with Windows 8.1 Pro x64 for benchmarks)Case Only: $129 (Logicsupply)||As tested: $709.98(with added Windows 8.1 Pro x64)Hardware: $570(Amazon)|
Interestingly, despite the Core i3, i5, and i7 nomenclature, each machine in our round-up sports a dual-core Hyper-Threaded processor with at least 3 MB of shared L3 cache and clock rates between 1.3 and 2.5 GHz. The Core i3s don't benefit from Turbo Boost of course, and the Core i7s enjoy 4 MB of L3, but their basic specifications are so similar that we aren't expecting huge differences in processing power.
Although these mini-PCs share some important traits, they're targeted at very specific usage models. We'll discuss each one's characteristics, strengths, and weaknesses on the following pages.