Subject: Systems | January 6, 2014 - 09:30 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: Windows 8.1, SteamOS, steambox, SFF, maingear, CES 2014, CES
Not content to let Digital Storm have all the fun with SteamOS, MAINGEAR has launched a small form factor SPARK Steambox PC! Clad in the traditional red and black colors of Maingear, the Spark is a stylish gaming system powered by an AMD APU that is about the size of an Intel NUC. Maingear is offering the system with Valve's Linux-based SteamOS as well as Microsoft's Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 operating systems.
The Steambox PC measures 4.5" x 4.23" x 2.34" and weighs 0.98 pounds. The system has a vivid red and black design with large mesh vents on the sides and rear panel. IO includes two USB 3.0 ports and two audio jacks on the front as well as one HDMI, one Mini DisplayPort, one Gigabit Ethernet, two USB 3.0 ports on the rear IO panel. The design is striking and likely to appeal to gamers though it may clash with your other A/V equipment in the entertainment center (which really comes down to personal tastes).
Despite the small size, Maingear has managed to pack a respectable amount of PC hardware into the Spark. The SFF Steambox is powered by an AMD A8-5557M APU (four threads) clocked at 2.1GHz base and 3.1GHz turbo along with an AMD Radeon R9 M275X graphics card with 2GB of GDDR5 memory, and up to 16GB of DDR3 1600MHz memory (two SO-DIMMs). Storage includes a single SATA III 6Gbps port (with room in the case for a single 2.5" drive) and one mSATA slot that supports SSDs up to 256GB. The Spark does support Gigabit Ethernet, but it also comes with a pre-installed Mini-PCIe card that provides 802.11ac Wi-Fi (2.4GHz and 5GHz bands) and Bluetooth 4.0. Users will be able to customize the RAM and storage options, but the other specifications are not user-configurable.
The Maingear Spark will be available for purchase in late Q1 2014 for an as-yet-undisclosed price. For what it's worth, Maingear has stated that the tiny Spark gaming PC will an "affordable PC solution."
Personally, depending on price, I am interested in this steam machine as I rather like the aesthetics and the internal hardware should be sufficient for basic gameplay on the hardware itself and game streaming from my main desktop when that feature becomes available.
What do you think about Maingear's miniscule APU-powered Steam Machine?
Follow all of our coverage of the show at http://pcper.com/ces!
Small form factor cases and the push to Mini ITX designs took a dramatic journey during 2013 as the popularity of the smaller PC once again became a popular trend. Though a company like Shuttle, that hardly exists in the form it did in 2004, was the first PC hardware company to really drive home the idea of an SFF system design, many other players have released compelling products helping to strengthen it as one of the unique possibilities for enthusiast PCs.
Even better, though a Mini-ITX based platform could mean limited options for hardware and performance, with companies like ASUS, EVGA, BitFenix and others in the mix, building an incredibly fast and powerful gaming machine using small hardware is not only easy but can be done at a lower price than you might expect.
One entry that found its way to our offices this December comes from Silverstone in the form of the Raven Z, RVZ01 case. This case includes unique features and capabilities including the ability to support nearly any high end graphics card on the market (dual slot or single), space for larger heatsinks and even liquid coolers along with a home theater friendly look and style. Oh, and it's
the same almost the same design that Valve used for its beta Steam Machines as well. (Update: Turns out the size of the Steam Machine is actually a fair bit smaller than the Silverstone RVZ01.)
Subject: General Tech | September 18, 2013 - 08:43 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: usb 3.0, SFF, nuc, celeron, Bay Trail, atom
Intel and Gigabyte announced new Haswell powered SFF (small form factor) PCs earlier this month around the time of Intel's IDF 2013 conference. It seems that Haswell is not the only processor Intel has in mind for NUC, however. A recent report from Hexus.net suggests that a new lower-cost NUC will be available early next year for $140. The NUC DN2810FYK will use Intel's new Bay Trail-M Atom processor and be available as a barebones system or motherboard/processor combination. The barebones system, which includes a case, motherboard, soldered processor, and 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi module will have a $139 MSRP.
Intel's Bay Trail Atom processors use the Silvermont architecture which was built from the ground up with low power usage and efficient performance in mind. The new SoCs will span from smartphones and tablets to desktop PCs. The specific chip used in the upcoming DN2810FYK NUC PC is the Celeron branded N2810, which a dual core 7.5W TDP (4.5W SDP) Bay Trail-M SoC clocked at up to 2GHz with Intel HD Graphics clocked at 756 MHz. The processor comes pre-soldered onto the NUC motherboard which supports a single DDR3L SO-DIMM, one SATA port, and one mPCIe slot for the included Wi-Fi + Bluetooth 4.0 NIC. For the barebones system, users will only need to bring their own RAM and a SATA hard drive or SSD to the table.
External IO includes:
- 1 x USB 3.0
- 2 x USB 2.0
- 1 x IR receiver
- 1 x Analog audio jack
- 1 x HDMI
- 1 x Gigabit Ethernet port
As such, the Bay Trail-powered NUC is not quite as expandable as the Haswell model which supports four USB 3.0 ports (among other additional ports) externally and a mSATA SSD slot internally. On the other hand, because of the reduction in IO and hardware horsepower, the new NUC will be significantly cheaper than the existing models.
The DN2810FYK is slightly taller than the Haswell NUC at 55mm (versus 35.6mm), which is likely due to the use of mobile-class SATA drives rather than mSATA. Again, this is a compromise that allows Intel to offer up a budget SFF system.
Code-named "Forest Canyon," I expect the new Next Unit of Computing PC to be a popular NUC option that will help to drive adoption of small form factor systems thanks to the attractive $140 price point while still being sufficient performance wise for budget desktop, HTPC, and home server uses! I will wait for the full reviews to make up my mind, but I am optimistic about the upcoming Bay Trail-M NUC.
Is this Atom-powered NUC the one that you've been waiting for?
Subject: General Tech | September 14, 2013 - 02:54 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: SFF, nuc, Intel, hd 5000, haswell, 4k
Intel has announced a new Haswell-powered NUC called the D54250WYK. The new barebones kit includes an Intel D54250WYB NUC motherboard with soldered processor in a small form factor case that measures 4.6″ x 4.4″ x 1.4″. The new NUC is faster, has new IO options, and reportedly fixes the overheating issues of previous NUC systems. The Haswell-powered NUC has a bit of competition with the recently launched Gigabyte BRIX system which also got an upgrade to Intel's latest consumer architecture.
The new NUC D54250WYK barebones kit.
The Intel NUC Kit D54250WYK uses a new 4.33" x 4.33" motherboard with a pre-soldered Intel Haswell Core i5-4250U processor. The system further supports two DDR3 SO-DIMM slots (up to 16GB of 1600MHz memory), a single SATA port, two mini PCI-E slots (one for mSATA SSDs and one half-height for Wi-Fi NICs), and a USB 2.0 header supporting to USB 2.0 ports. The Core i5-4250U CPU is a 22nm chip with a 15W TDP. It is a dual core part clocked at 1.3GHz base and 2.6GHz Turbo with HyperThreading, 3MB of cache, and HD 5000 processor graphics (200Mhz base and 1GHz Turbo).
The new NUC motherboard and Haswell processor.
While Intel has removed Thunderbolt support, external IO is still decent, with the following ports:
- 2 x USB 3.0 ports
- 2 x Analog audio jacks
- 1 x Infrared receiver
2 x Video outputs:
- 1 x Mini DisplayPort 1.2
- 1 x Mini HDMI 1.4
- 1 x Gigabit Ethernet
- 2 x USB 3.0
Notably, the Intel NUC Kit with i5-4250U CPU requires active cooling, but aftermarket cases offering passive cooling are likely in the works. Of course, users will be able to purchase the barebones D54250WYK kit or just the D54250WYB NUC motherboard and CPU that can be paired with a third party or custom built case. Like Gigabyte, Intel has not released specific pricing or availability, but expect the new Haswell-powered NUC to be coming soon as the system appears to be ready to go. Hopefully full reviews will be hitting the Internet soon!
Subject: General Tech | September 13, 2013 - 04:15 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: solidrun, SFF, Freescale, cubox-i, arm
SolidRun Ltd. Has come up with its own ARM-powered mini computer called the CuBox-i. The new PC measures 2” x 2” x 2” and has some respectable IO for its size. The CuBox-i comes in multiple flavors from $45 to $120. The cheapest version competes in many ways with the Raspberry Pi while the top-end device is more in line with Android development boards that tend to run in the hundreds of dollars.
There are actually four SKUs in the CuBox-i series:
The CuBox-i PCs are powered by single, dual, or quad core variant of a Freescale i.MX6 SoC at up to 1.2 GHz. The SoC uses ARMv7 instructions and dedicated NEON media encode/decode hardware. The GPU included in the SoC supports OpenGL ES 2.0 on all models, and the GPU in the two higher-end models further supports OpenCL 1.1 embedded. Memory is 512MB on the $45 CuBox-i1, 1GB on both CuBox-2 systems, and 2GB of DDR3 on the CuBox i4Pro. The mini PCs support 1080p video playback, and are compatible with Android 4.2.2, XBMC, and various Linux distributions.
IO on the CuBox-i PCs includes two powered USB 2.0 ports, HDMI, Ethernet (Gigabit on the higher end models, limited to less than 470 Mbps internally), one eSATA 3Gbps port, an optical S/PDIF output, microSD slot, microUSB (RS-232 adapter on higher end models), and an infrared reciever. The two higher-priced models also include an infrared transmitter. The high end systems also support Wi-Fi b/g/n, Bluetooth, and a hardware RTC (Real Time Clock) with backup battery.
The table above shows the breakdown of IO and internal hardware in the various SKUs. While the systems start at $45, it is the higher priced models that add some interesting features. It is always nice to see competition in the mini PC space. The CuBox-i series will be available in limited quantities later this year. Pre-order pricing breaks down as follows:
- CuBox-i1 for $45
- CuBox-i2 for $70
- CuBox-2Ultra for $95
- CuBox-4Pro for $120
Compared to the previously-announced CuBox Pro, the CuBox-i series is slightly cheaper, uses a faster SoC, and is available in multiple SKUs. For example, the top-end CuBox-i4Pro is a bit cheaper at $120 versus $160 for the CuBox Pro's original price. Naturally, the lower end CuBox-i's are even cheaper but also have less memory and IO.
Subject: General Tech | September 8, 2013 - 10:01 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: SFF, Intel, htpc, haswell, gigabyte brix, gigabyte
Gigabyte recently updated its BRIX line of small form factor PCs to include Intel Haswell processors, 4K display support, and additional IO port options. The new BRIX systems measure 29.9mm x 107.6mm x 114.4mm and feature a chassis constructed of anthracite aluminum with a glass top panel. The new BRIX PCs come in four SKUs, each of which comes with an Intel Haswell processor of i7, i5, i3, or Celeron varieties.
The BRIX PCs come with the case, a small Gigabyte motherboard, an Intel CPU, and a wireless module with 802.11n and Bluetooth 4.0 radios. Users can choose their own mSATA SSD, DDR3 SO-DIMMs (two per system, up to 16GB), and operating system. The front panel of the Haswell-powered BRIX PCs includes two USB 3.0 ports and a headphone jack that doubles as an optical S/PDIF output.
The back panel of the BRIX system includes:
- 2 x USB 3.0 ports
- 1 x RJ45 Gigabit Ethernet (Realtek RT8111G NIC)
2 x Video outputs:
- 1 x Mini-DipslayPort
- 1 x HDMI
- 1 x DC-in
- 1 x Kensington Lock
Internally, the BRIX PCs have one Mini-PCI-E slot, one mSATA slot, and two DDR3 SO-DIMM slots. The Mini-PCI-E slot is used by the pre-installed Wi-Fi module, however. Processor options include the Intel Celeron 2955U, Core i3-4010U, Core i5-4200U, and Core i7-4500U. At the high end, the i7-4500U is a dual core CPU with HyperThreading, 4MB cache, and clockspeeds of 1.8GHz base and 3.0GHz turbo. The i5 also has turbo boost, but only up to 2.6GHz. The Core i3-4010U has HyperThreading but no Turbo Boost while the Celeron is stripped of both Turbo Boost and HyperThreading. The chart below lists all the processor specifications.
|Processor||Core i7-4500U||Core i5-4200U||Core i3-4010U||Celeron 2955U|
|Cores / Threads||2 / 4||2 / 4||2 / 4||2 / 2|
|Clockspeeds||1.8 GHz to 3.0 GHz||1.6 GHz to 2.6 GHz||1.7 GHz||1.4 GHz|
The new Haswell-powered Gigabyte BRIX PCs include the GB-BXCE-2955, GB-BXi3-4010, GB-BXi5-4200, and GB-BXi7-4500. Unfortunately, the company has not yet released pricing or availability for the SFF devices. More informtation on the Haswell models can be found on this Gigabyte microsite.
Read more about the Gigabyte BRIX platform and how it compares to the competition here.
Subject: Systems | August 5, 2013 - 09:00 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: SFF, msi, Intel, embedded, atom d2550
MSI recently launched the MS-9A29, which is a fanless small form factor (SFF) embedded PC. The new PC measures 196mm x 136mm x 43mm and weighs 1.2 kg. The MS-9A29 is encased in a small black chassis that is covered in fins to aid in passive cooling with the front and back banels hosting various IO ports.
Front IO includes four USB 2.0 ports and four COM ports. The back panel holds two RJ45 GbE jacks driven by two Intel 82583V NICs, one line out audio jack (Realtek ALC887 HD codec), two USB 2.0 ports, a single HDMI port, and one VGA port. Finally, the case provides two openings for antenna passthroughs.
Internally, the MSI MS-9A29 features an Intel Atom D2550 processor (dual core at 1.8GHz, 10W TDP), Intel GMA 3650 GPU (400MHz), a single DDR3 SO-DIMM slot (4GB maximum), and Intel NM10 Express chipset. The motherboard can be accessed by a removeable bottom panel on the case. The system supports one SATA drive, one mSATA drive, and two Mini-PCI-E cards. One mini-PCI-E slot can be used for a 3G SIM card adapter.
The SFF MSI MS-9A29 can be mounted to the back of monitors or on a wall. It supports Windows 7 and Windows XP and can output video to two simultaneous displays. It is aimed at kiosks, signage, POS, and industrial machines.
More information can be found on the MS-9A29 product page. However, the company has not yet released pricing or availability (expect it to be on the pricier side though as it is aimed at business/industrial users).
Subject: General Tech, Systems | August 3, 2013 - 04:13 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: SFF, open source hardware, open source, minnowboard, Intel, embedded system, atom
The Intel Open Source Technology Group along with CircuitCo recently launched a new small form factor bare-bones system based on open source hardware and running open source software. The Minnowboard includes a 4.2” x 4.2” motherboard, passively-cooled processor, rich IO, UEFI BIOS, and the Angstrom Linux operating system.
The Minnowboard is powered by a single core Intel Atom E640 processor clocked at 1GHz. It is a 32-bit CPU with HyperThreading and VT-x virtualization support. Other hardware includes an integrated Intel GMA 600 GPU, 1GB of DDR2 memory, and 4MB of flash memory used for motherboard firmware. Storage can be added by plugging a SSD or HDD into the single SATA II 3Gbps port.
The Minnowboard has following IO options:
- 1 x micro SD
- 1 x SATA II 3Gbps
- 2 x USB 2.0 ports
- 1 x micro USB
- 1 x mini USB (serial connection)
- 1 x RJ45 jack (Gigabit Ethernet)
- 2 x 3.5mm audio jacks (line in and line out)
- 1 x HDMI
The Minnowboard also has a GPIO header with 8 buffered GPIO pins, 2 GPIO LEDs, and 4 GPIO switches. As such, the system can be expanded by adding extra open source modules called “Lures.” The board is aimed at developers and embedded system manufacturers. The Minnowboard can be used as the bare system or can be integrated into a case or larger device.
The Minnowboard costs $199 and is available for purchase now from Digi-Key, Farnell (UK), Mouser, and Newark.
Obviously, the Minnowboard is nowhere near as cheap as the $35 Raspberry Pi, but it is running x86 hardware which may make it worth it to some users.
If you are interested, you can learn more about the hardware and get involved with the Minnowboard project over at Minnowboard.org.
Subject: General Tech, Cases and Cooling | July 20, 2013 - 03:29 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: Intel, dccp847dye, nuc, SFF, pcn, wi-fi
Intel recently posted a Product Change Notification (PCN, number 112432-00) regarding one of its first NUC bare-bones systems, model number BOXDCCP847DYE. The PCN seeks to address the overheating issues that several hardware review sites encountered when performing large file copies across the network using the built-in Wi-Fi card. Intel has reportedly found a solution by adding a 9.5mm thermal pad to the underside of the top cover. The thermal pad will make contact with the mSATA SSD and facilitate heat transfer from the drive into the metal chassis.
The overheating problems spotted by PC Perspective (in our review) and other tech sites lead to system freezes and restarts. When transferring large amounts of data across the network, the built-in mPCI-E Wi-Fi card would heat up, and because the SSD is mounted just above the Wi-Fi card, the system would lock up or crash when the SSD overheated. Thus, Intel’s workaround is to improve the cooling of the SSD such that it (hopefully) will no longer overheat and users will not have to resort to buying a USB Wi-Fi dongle or running an Ethernet cable to the switch.
According to the PCN, the solution works and system retailers should expect shipments of the BOXDCCP847DYE with upgraded cover to arrive as early as August 1st. Notably, Intel is planning to ship out all pre-modification inventory before moving onto shipping updated bare-bones systems. It may be some time before consumers can be sure they are getting the updated model. In the meantime, users can always opt to use one of the many third party NUC cases that take full advantage of passive cooling techniques.
Subject: General Tech, Systems | July 14, 2013 - 11:51 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: utilite, ubuntu, silent, SFF, linux, fanless, cortex-a9, compulab, arm, Android
CompuLab has announced a new fanless, small form factor PC called the Utilite. This new PC comes from the same company that engineered the MintBox, MintBox 2, and Fit PC series. The Utilite is a low-power desktop PC powered by a quad core ARM Cortex A9 processor and runs either Ubuntu Linux or Google’s Android operating system.
The upcoming Utilite measures 5.3” x 3.9” x 0.8”(135 x 100 x 21mm) and consumes anywhere between 3W and 8W of power depending on the particular hardware configuration. It is designed to be a quiet desktop replacement with plenty of IO.
CompuLab will provide single core, dual core, and quad core CPU SKUs. Specifically, the Utilite is powered by a Freescale i.MX6 ARM Cortex-A9 MPCore processor that is clocked at up to 1.2 GHz. Users will be able to further configure the system with up to 4GB of DDR3 1066 MHz memory and a 512GB mSATA SSD. Storage can be further expanded using Micro SD-XC cards (maximum of 128GB per card). The GPU in the SoC is compatible with OpenGL ES 1.1 and 2.0 as well as OpenVG 1.1 and OpenCL EP. It is capable of hardware decoding multi-stream 1080p video in a variety of common formats.
Wireless functionality includes an 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi card and Bluetooth 3.0.
The Utilite has a dark gray case with silver front and rear bezels.
The front of the Utilite PC features the following IO options in addition to the power button and indicator LEDs.
- 1 x USB OTG (Micro USB)
- 1 x RS232 (ultra mini serial connector)
- 1 x Micro SD card slot
- 2 x USB 2.0
- 2 x 3.5mm audio jacks (line in, line out)
The rear of the PC hosts:
- 1 x DC power input
- 1 x Wi-Fi antenna
- 1 x RS232 (ultra mini serial connector)
- 2 x USB 2.0
- 2 x Gigabit Ethernet RJ45 jacks
- 2 x HDMI video outputs
According to fanless PC guru FanlessTech, CompuLab will be releasing the ARM-powered Utilite mini PC next month with a starting price of $99 and a variety of SKUs with varying amounts of CPU cores, memory, and storage. The Utilite PC is a bit on the expensive side, but this is a system for industrial and enterprise use as well as consumers, and Olivier from FanlessTech notes that build quality should be on par with those goals/industry aims.