Gigabyte's New Essence Chassis Enables Fanless Mini PCs

Subject: Cases and Cooling | August 17, 2014 - 01:18 AM |
Tagged: SFF, mini ITX, gigabyte, fanless, essence, Bay Trail

Gigabyte recently rolled out a new small form factor case called the Essence for DIY PCs. The chassis measures 300mm x 234mm x 74mm (~11.8" x 9.2" x 2.9"), comes bundled with a 120W PSU, and will happily hold a Mini ITX motherboard and laptop-sized hard drive. Large mesh vents on the side panels allow for plenty of airflow and ventilation to run a fanless system.

Gigabyte Essence SFF Case.png

The Essence case uses a SECC frame along with ABS plastic. A rectangular base, which hosts the front IO ports, holds the machine vertically and at a slight backwards tilt. The DC power components are mounted to the bottom of the motherboard tray and are driven by a 120W external power supply (Similar to the type of setup the Xbox 360 uses). The red removable motherboard tray (accessible via the right side panel) allows you to screw in a Mini ITX motherboard and a single 2.5" SSD or HDD up to 9.5mm thick.

Gigabyte Essence SFF Case With Removable Motherboard Tray and Components Installed.jpg

The front IO includes two USB 2.0 ports, one headphone output, and one microphone jack. Aesthetically speaking, the Essence looks nice with its red faceplate, silver power button, and black mesh side panels with embossed shapes. It is small enough that it could easily sit next to a monitor and act as a low power desktop or next to the TV as a home theater PC. So long as you do not mind it not fitting into an AV rack/stack, this case could be used along with a cheap SSD and fanless Bay Trail or Kabini-based system for a silent media box or streaming client for Steam games. 

Gigabyte Essence SFF Case With Removable Motherboard Tray.jpg

The Gigabyte Essence is now available in Japan for 13,800 Yen or approximately $125 USD. It comes with a one year warranty. There is no word yet on availability in other countries at this time, however.

Source: FanlessTech

Shuttle's DS81 comes bareboned but offers a lot of choice

Subject: Systems | July 21, 2014 - 03:53 PM |
Tagged: shuttle, htpc, SFF, DS81, barebones

The Shuttle DS81 ships with an H81 motherboard, an external 90 W power adapter and the 190 x 165 x 43mm case of course.  That means you have your choice of installed Linux or Windows and any combination of 65W or lower Haswell processor, memory and storage device to add to the ~$200 enclosure.  For outputs it provides HDMI and two DisplayPorts which means it can theoretically support 4K video, a pair of both USB 2.0 and 3.0 ports and two LAN ports as WiFi is optional.  While it has only headphone out for audio, the onboard codec is capable of outputting digital sound through DP or HDMI which would be the preference of many users.  Check out MadShrimps full review here.

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"The Slim PC chassis from been reincarnated in the shape of the DS81 which supports the latest Haswell processors with a TDP up to 65W and supports 4K video output thanks to the DirectX 11.1 IGP. The DS81 chassis features a 1.3-liter slim design with a thickness of only 43mm, so it is suitable for many commercial applications; a VESA mount is also included as a bundle in order to mount the device behind the monitor."

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Source: MadShrimps

SolidRun's New SFF HummingBoard PC Is A Modular Raspberry Pi Clone With Upgradeable ARM Processor

Subject: General Tech | July 16, 2014 - 02:21 AM |
Tagged: solidrun, SFF, Raspberry Pi, iot, i.mx6, Freescale, Cortex A9

SolidRun recently launched a new small form factor PC called the HummingBoard. The new kit is an open source hardware platform that can run a number of open source operating systems. It mimics the physical form factor of the popular Raspberry Pi and as a result is compatible with much of its accessories including cases and add-on boards.

 

The HummingBoard is comprised of two main pieces; the carrier board which hosts all of the I/O ports and pin-outs and the removable microSOM (Silicon on Module) which is a smaller circuit board housing the processor and system memory.

 

SolidRun HummingBoard i2eX Small Computer_Angled.jpg

 

SolidRun currently offers two reference versions of the carrier board, a base design and a higher-end model with beefier I/O. The HummingBoard Carrier is an open source design and the company allows hardware hackers and product developers to use their own custom carrier boards based on the reference design. Each carrier board has a special connector that the Micro SOM plugs into.

 

SolidRun MicroSOM.png

A microSOM (System on a Module) includes the CPU, GPU, RAM, power management, networking, and I/O connectivity hardware.

 

SolidRun currently offers up three microSOMs for use with the HummingBoard. The microSOMs use Freescale i.MX6 series SoCs (PDF), offer up to 1GB of RAM, and host the power management and networking hardware. Depending on the microSOM chosen, users can get a single or dual core CPU paired with a GPU that is at least OpenGL ES 2.0 compatible (the highest end model supports OpenGL ES 2.0 Quad Shader) and video encode/decode hardware units. The HummingBoard is upgrade-able and may support a microSOM with a quad core CPU in the future (a quad core microSOM already exists but is not currently supported by the HummingBoard).

 

SolidRun HummingBoard i2eX.jpg

 

Users can purchase the HummingBoard as a combo (carrier board+processor module) or in individual pieces. Specifically, SolidRun sells the HummingBoard i1, i2, and i2eX. Both the i1 and i2 use the base carrier board while the i2ex uses the pro version. The i1 comes with a single core i.MX6 CPU, GC880 GPU, and 512MB of system memory. The i2 ups the amount of RAM to 1GB and CPU core count by using the Freescale i.MX6 Dual Lite. Finally, the HummingBoad i2eX features a faster clocked dual core CPU (i.MX6 Dual), GC2000 GPU, 1GB of RAM, and significantly more I/O thanks to the higher-end carrier board and processing capabilities.

 

At a minimum, users can expect HDMI video out, 10/100 Ethernet, two powered USB 2.0 ports, a microSD card slot, a coaxial S/PDIF audio output, PWM mono audio, a 2-lane MIPI CSI 2.0 camera interface, and GPIO header. On the high end (HummingBoard Carrier Pro/HummingBoard i2eX/custom configs), the HummingBoard supports Gigabit Ethernet (limited to 470Mbps by the SoC), PCI-E 2.0, mSATA II, two additional USB 2.0 ports (via internal header), stereo audio output, microphone input, an IR receiver, and a Real-Time Clock (RTC) with battery backup.

 

SolidRun is aiming the HummingBoard platform at Internet-of-Things, home automation, and other embedded device developers. I believe that it will also appeal to hobbyists and Linux software developers.

 

SolidRun HummingBoard i2eX_IO.jpg

 

The HummingBoard is rather expandable and is nearly a drop-in alternative to the Raspberry Pi. The open source nature (though, like the Raspberry Pi's BCM2835, the SoC is not fully open source) is nice, and the modular/upgradeable design is sure to appeal to hardware enthusiasts. The HummingBoard starts at $45 and tops out at $99 for the highest end i2eX. It is more expensive than the Raspberry Pi, which is the platform it is most likely to be pitted against, but it features faster hardware (especially the CPU and its ISA: ARMv7 versus ARMv6) and is priced competively with devices like the BeagleBone Black and SolidRun's own CuBox lineup.

 

The small form factor (and "single board PC") market has really ramped up the last few years and it is exciting to watch it all unfold. Stay tuned to PC Perspective for more SFF PC coverage!

Source: SolidRun

Have a ball with the Zotac Sphere OI520

Subject: Systems | June 12, 2014 - 07:13 PM |
Tagged: zotac, SFF, htpc, Sphere OI520

Inside this unique casing you will find a Core i5 4200U, up to 16GB of DDR3 and room for an mSATA and a 2.5" drive; but not a GPU.  The onboard HD4400 can output to HDMI or DisplayPort and in addition to the connections you can see below there is indeed 802.11ac and Bluetooth for wireless connectivity.   The power supply is external so there is only one rather quiet fan to be found inside the ball, perfect for HTPC usage as you won't be very impressed by its ability to game.  Check out Bjorn3D's full review and the reason they expect this will be available for well under $1000.

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"There was a time when a computer in most cases consisted of a big beige box that you certainly did not want to show off or which took up a lot of space on your desk. Those days are gone and today we have a lot more variety both how computer looks and how big they are. Zotac is a company that for quite some time have been pumping out smaller mini-PC’s under their ZBox brand and today we are taking a look at their new round ZBox Sphere OI520."

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Source: Bjorn3D

Corsair's H75, you pay for the miniaturization

Subject: Cases and Cooling | April 28, 2014 - 03:47 PM |
Tagged: water cooling, SFF, Intel, H75, corsair, amd

Corsair's H75 has a smaller footprint than previous models, the radiator of 120 x 152 x 25mm should fit inside even smaller cases, allowing you to reduce the noise produced in the smaller case.  As well they have dropped support for LGA775, the change in mounting hardware should make it easier to install on both AMD and Intel systems.  While Morry was quite pleased with the performance of this cooler considering it's size; [H]ard|OCP had a slightly different take.  When they looked at the cooler in terms of price for performance they felt that there are better values on the market but do still recommend it for those who need a small, powerful cooler and are willing to shop around to find it on special.

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"Corsair has been in the liquid CPU cooling game for over 10 years now. As sealed system liquid CPU coolers have become the norm among hardware enthusiasts, the competition has gotten stiff to say the least. Another thing that has changed over the years is that many DIYers are going to smaller cases for their systems; the H75 looks to address this."

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Source: [H]ard|OCP

AAEON's SoC is an impressive implementation of Bay Trail

Subject: Systems | April 10, 2014 - 02:57 PM |
Tagged: linux, mini-itx, AAEON, EMB-BT1, Bay Trail, SFF, htpc

You may not recognize the name AAEON but you will recognize its parent company, ASUS.  AAEON makes low power small form factor single board SoCs and with the introduction of Bay Trail they may become more common.  The EMB-BT1-A10-3825 sports a quad-core Atom E3845 @ 1.33GHz and Ivy Bridge era Intel HD graphics with support for up to 4GB of DDR3-1067.  It has a total TDP of 6W but unfortunately Phoronix's WattsUp meter was busy on another system so you will need to wait for an update on total power consumption.

The connectivity on this SoC is incredible, mSATA for an SSD, two SATA 6Gbps ports and two SATA-2 ports, dual gigabit LAN ports, a pair of USB 2.0 ports and a single 3.0 port, HDMI, VGA, COM, and audio jacks.  You could configure this as a small media server or as it supports dual displays it would serve wonderfully as an HTPC.

aaeon.jpg

"For those after a low-cost mini-ITX board for use within an HTPC, SOHO file server, or other low-power situations, AAEON has out an interesting board called the EMB-BT1, or more formally the AAEON EMB-BT1-A10-3825. This mini-ITX motherboard has onboard an Intel Atom E3825 "Bay Trail" SoC for delivering decent performance out of the six Watt SoC and having open-source-friendly graphics under Linux."

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Source: Phoronix

Video Perspective: Gigabyte Brix Projector BXPi3-4010 SFF System

Subject: Systems | March 12, 2014 - 07:38 PM |
Tagged: video, SFF, projector, i3-4010u, gigabyte, bxpi3-4010, brix projector, brix

With more than a few of NUC-sized SFF PCs floating around these days, the BRIX Projector, with a catchy model number of BXPi3-4010, has something that no other option can offer: an integrated mini projector.  As the name would imply, the BRIX Projector is part BRIX and part projector, and the combination is unique to the market as far as I can tell.

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The guts of the BXPi3-4010 are split seemingly in half between the computer components that make up the BRIX and the DLP LED projector that rests on top.  The processor inside is a Core i3-4010U that runs at up to 1.7 GHz and includes integrated Intel HD 4400 graphics.  With a dual-core HyperThreaded design, the 4010U is competent, but nothing more, for standard application workloads and productivity.  The HD 4400 graphics can run your most basic of games (think Peggle, FTL, Starbound) but isn't up to the task of most demanding 3D games like Bioshock.  

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You'll get a set of four USB 3.0 ports, a Gigabit Ethernet connection, mini-DisplayPort and HDMI output.  Combined with the projector, you can use any TWO displays at one time: projector plus HDMI, HDMI plus mDP, etc.  

The mini-HDMI input is pretty interesting and allows you to use the BRIX Projector as a stand alone projector, hooking up a DVD player, game console or anything to be displayed.  The power button on the projector is separate from the PC power and you can run each without the other.

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The unit comes as a barebones design, meaning you'll have to add mSATA storage and DDR3 low power SO-DIMMs to get up and running.  Once you have your OS installed, you are going to be met with a rather small 854x480 resolution projector powered by a 75 lumen output.  It's good, but not great.  

That low resolution causes some issues with browsing the web and using some applications like Steam because we have all moved past the likes of 800x600 - thank goodness.  Windows works fine and even Big Picture mode in Steam is an easy fix.

You can see in the video review below that image quality was pretty good for such a small device but the noise levels of the fan cooling the projector are quite high.  I was even thinking of ripping it open and trying more creative ways of cooling the display components until Gigabyte informed me they need it back in a...functional capacity.  Oh well.

The Gigabyte BRIX Projector BXPi3-4010 is selling for about $550 on both Newegg.com and Amazon.com which does NOT include the memory or storage you'll need (WiFi is included though).  That seems kind of steep but considering other pico or mini projectors can easily cost $250-350, this BRIX unit is a better deal that the price might first indicate.

Sapphire Launches Low Profile R7 240 GPU For HTPCs

Subject: Graphics Cards | March 2, 2014 - 03:14 AM |
Tagged: sapphire, R7 240, htpc, SFF, low profile, steam os

Sapphire is preparing a new low profile Radeon R7 240 graphics card for home theater PCs and small form factor desktop builds. The new graphics card is a single slot design that uses a small heatsink with fan cooler that is shorter than the low profile PCI bracket for assured compatibility with even extremely cramped cases.

The Sapphire R7 240 card pairs a 28nm AMD GCN-based GPU with 2GB of DDR3 memory. There are two HDMI 1.4a display outputs that each support 4K 4096 x 2160 resolutions. Specifically, this particular iteration of the Radeon R7 240 has 320 stream processors clocked at 730 MHz base and 780 MHz boost along with 2GB DDR3 memory clocked at 900 MHz on a 128-bit bus. The card further has 20 TMUs and 8 ROPs. The card has a power sipping 30W TDP.

Sapphire Radeon R7 240 Low Profile Graphics Card for SFF Desktops and HTPCs.jpg

This low profile R7 240 is a sub-$100 part that can easily power a home theater PC or Steam OS streaming endpoint. Actually, the R7 240 itself can deliver playable gaming frame rates with low quality settings and lowered resolutions delivering at least 30 average FPS in modern titles like Bioshock Infinite and BF4 according to this review. Another use case would be to add the card to an existing AMD APU-based system in Hybrid CrossFire (which has seen Frame Pacing fixes!) for a bit more gaming horsepower under a strict budget.

The card occupies a tight space where it is only viable in specific situations constrained by a tight budget, physical size, and the requirement to buy a card new and not an older (single and faster, not Hybrid CrossFire) generation card on the used market. Still, it is nice to have options and this will be one such new budget alternative. Exact pricing is not yet available, but it should be hitting store shelves soon. For an idea on pricing, the full height Sapphire R7 240 retails for around $70, so expect the new low profile variant to be around that price if at a slight premium.

CompuLab Launches Haswell-Powered SFF Intense PC 2

Subject: General Tech | February 24, 2014 - 10:22 PM |
Tagged: windows 8, SFF, mintbox, linux, ipc2, haswell, compulab

CompuLab, the company behind the MintBox, launched its small form factor Intense PC 2 last month in four SKUs using Intel's latest Haswell processors. The systems are now available for purchase starting at $388 for the base model. The Intense PC 2 shares a similar form factor to the existing Intense PC and MintBox systems (resembling a consumer router), but features new hardware and IO options.

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The Intense PC 2 measures 6.3” x 7.4”x 1.57” and has an aluminum chassis that acts as a passive heatsink for the internal components. The case is dark gray with a finned top surface. The front of the system can be customized with FACE modules that offer different IO options. However, by default the Intense PC 2 has two USB 3.0 ports and three indicator LEDs on the front and the following IO ports on the rear:

  • 2 x Gigabit Ethernet ports (Intel NICs)
  • 2 x HDMI video outputs
  • 1 x DisplayPort video output
  • 2 x USB 3.0
  • 2 x USB 2.0
  • 3 x RS232
  • 3 x (2 x analog, 1 x digital S/PDIF)
  • 1 x SIM card slot
  • 2 x antenna connectors

The FACE modules can expand connectivity to include VGA ouptuts, video capture inputs, additional networking, and additional USB ports (among other options).

IPC2 IO.jpg

Internally, the Intense PC 2 has a small motherboard that comes with an Intel Celeron, i3, i5, or i7 Haswell processor, up to 16GB of DDR3L 1600 MHz memory (two slots), a single mSATA port, and a single mPCIE port (the mSATA port is a combo mSATA/mPCIe port). An 802.11ac+Bluetooth 4.0 radio is included as part of the package. The 15W TDP CPU can be passively cooled, and at the high end you can get up to an Intel Core i7 4600U with HD 4400 graphics. The dual core (plus hyperthreading) chip can turbo up to 3.3 GHz. The table below from the CompuLab specification sheet (PDF) details the hardware layouts of the various IPC2 SKUs.

IPC2.jpg

The Intense PC 2 is aimed at desktop users as well as the industrial sector. The passively cooled mini PC can be easily used as a desktop, home server, router+802.11ac access point, HTPC, or Steambox (streaming endpoint mainly), for example. It is also capable of driving signage and large 4K displays for adversiting and other tasks.

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The Intense PC is available in four base SKUs ranging in price from $388 to $902. Adding an SSD and/or pre-installed OS add to that base price. CompuLab offers a 5 year warranty on the SFF system.

Source: CompuLab

Zotac Shows Off Spherical ZBOX 01520 SFF PC

Subject: General Tech, Systems | January 12, 2014 - 03:08 AM |
Tagged: zotac, zbox 01520, zbox, SFF, CES 2014, CES

Zotac unveiled a number of products at CES 2014 in Las Vegas including several small form factor (SFF) PCs. In addition to the ZBOX Steam Machine, Zotac showed off a ZBOX 01520 computer in a spherical form factor. The ZBOX 01520 comes in bare-bones and PLUS SKUs, similar to the other, existing, Zotac ZBOX computers.

On the outside, the new PC is a small black orb with straight edges on the back and bottom to support it. Inside, Zotac has fitted a tiny motherboard, an Intel Core i3-4010U dual core processor clocked at 1.7 GHz, two SO-DIMM slots (up to 16GB), a spot for a single 2.5" hard drive. The motherboard further includes one mSATA slot for a solid state drive and wireless radios for 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0.

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Greek tech site Tech Blog managed to snap photos of the new Zotac PC.

Rear IO on the ZBOX 01520 orb includes four USB 3.0 ports, two USB 2.0 ports, HDMI video output, one Gigabit Ethernet port, and a single 4-1 card reader slot.

The bare-bones kit includes the motherboard, CPU, and case while the PLUS version adds 4GB of DDR3 memory and a 500GB hard drive. Users can add their own mSATA drive for increased performance.

Beyond the basics, details are scarce on the new Zotac PC. Pricing and availability have not yet been announced. Stay tuned to PC Perspective for more details on the SFF PC as it becomes available.

Are you interested in the spherical ZBOX 01520?

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Source: TechBlog