Falcon Northwest Offering X99 Based PCs In Three Form Factors

Subject: Systems | September 1, 2014 - 01:06 AM |
Tagged: X99, system builder, SFF, Intel, Haswell-E, falcon northwest

Haswell-E is official and components supporting the new X99 platform are flooding the market (or at least your news feed!). Intel's latest chip is not just for the DIY crowd, however. Boutique system builders have started announcing their refreshed lineups. First up is Falcon Northwest which has refreshed its product lineups to feature Haswell-E in small form factor (Mini ITX), mid-tower, and full tower systems.

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Falcon Northwest has updated the Mach V, Talon, and FragBox PCs to include Haswell-E, updated X99 chipset motherboards, up to 64GB of DDR4 memory, and the latest connectivity options such as at least six USB 3.0 ports and up to 10 SATA III 6Gbps ports. 

Users will be able to configure the refreshed models with any of Intel's launch CPUs: the six core i7 5820K, hexacore i7 5930K, and flagship 8-core i7 5960X (our review). All three processor options will come with a liquid cooler and optional overclock.

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A tray of Intel Core i7 5930K Haswell-E Processors. Photo Courtesy Falcon Northwest.

Per the press blast, Falcon Northwest President Kelt Reeves had the following to say about Intel's new enthusiast desktop platform:

“In our 23 years of building high-end PCs, I can’t ever remember seeing this much new tech hitting at the same time.” said Kelt Reeves, president of Falcon Northwest. “Our fall desktop lineup of Intel X99-based systems with 8-core CPUs, 10 SATA ports, 12 USB 3.0 ports, and 64 gigs of DDR4 memory make the systems we built even a year ago look like antiques. Intel X99 is that big of a leap forward.”

The new systems can be configured with various storage, graphics card, and case/aesthetical options much like their predecessors. The newer platform which supports more processor power, 40 PCI-E 3.0 lanes, USB 3.0, Thunderbolt 2, and DDR4 (which uses less power and offers up more bandwidth versus DDR3) is the notable factor here.

The small form factor (and LAN party friendly) FragBox PC starts at $2,313. The mid-tower Talon and full tower Mach V start at $2,330 and $3,021 respectively. You can find the updated custom built boxes on the Falcon Northwest website.

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While I would not go as far as Mr. Reeves, I do think Haswell-E noticeably improves upon Ivy Bridge-E and it brings hardware to bear that will be most welcomed by professionals in workstations and servers that can take advantage of the power. For enthusiasts and gamers, it also represents a much waited-for trickle down of technology from the Xeon lineup of an Intel chip with 8 physical cores to consumers at a price that is relatively affordable (heh).

Are you excited for Haswell-E? Will you be upgrading or carrying on with your current setup? Here's hoping Broadwell-E (or whatever the next generation ends up being called, of course) brings the 8 core monster to the $400 space so my i7 860 can finally rest and graceful Linux test box retirement before I end up killing it from too much time overclocked and over-volted ;).

A Haswell powered ZBox

Subject: Systems | August 28, 2014 - 01:46 PM |
Tagged: SFF, zotac, zbox, zbox ID92. haswell

The Zotac Zbox ID92 is not quite as small as the PI320 pico at 7.4" x 7.4" x 2" (188 x 188 x 51 mm) nor as inexpensive as it ships for $486 sans memory, storage and OS.  However with a 2.9GHz Core i5-4570T is significantly more powerful and the HD4600 GPU will allow you to enjoy some light gaming and to enjoy 4K content with an appropriate display.  With both SATA and mSATA the storage subsystem is more agile and also upgradeable as are the two SO-DIMM slots.   The Tech Report quite liked this device for media but suggest those intending to spend more time gaming spend an extra $100 on the Zbox EN760 with its GTX860M.

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"In recent months, we've reviewed two Gigabyte mini-PCs with Haswell inside. In light of those experiences, we figured we'd take a look at one of Zotac's newest Zbox systems: a 7.4" x 7.4" x 2" machine with a 35W Haswell processor, room for dual storage devices, and generous connectivity."

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Viva the LIVA sale; ECS' barebone HTPC

Subject: Systems | August 22, 2014 - 01:44 PM |
Tagged: SFF, sale, LIVA, htpc, fanless, ECS

The ECS LIVA is currently on sale at NewEgg for $165 after instant rebate and you can knock another $33 of that price until August 31st with the code LIVADISC. 

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This tiny little machine contains a Bay Trail-M N2807 @ 1.58GHz, 2GB of DDR3L and 32GB eMMC storage with 802.11a/b/g/n and Bluetooth 4.0 thanks to the NGFF card installed in the M.2 slot.   As you can see below it has both HDMI and D-Sub ports which can be used simultaneously and has onboard stereo audio thanks to the Realtek ALC282.  It only draws 15W and is completely fanless, making it a perfect HTPC.  You can get the full specs from ECS here.

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Source: NewEgg

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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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).

 

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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.

 

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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.

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"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.