Introduction and Case Exterior

Corsair's new Crystal Series 280X RGB enclosure brings tempered glass and lighting effects down to the size of the company's previous micro-ATX Carbide Air 240 case (reviewed here back in 2014), creating a high-end take on this compact dual-chamber design. Beyond the stylish appearance an important question presents itself: can the Crystal 280X RGB offer sufficient airflow for good cooling with all of those glass panels? We will find out!

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There is no more pervasive trend in the world of PC hardware than RGB lighting, and with the Crystal Series of enclosures Corsair adds the one component you will need to see as much of that colorful lighting as possible: glass, glass, and more glass. Yes, no fewer than three panels of the tinted, tempered glass variety adorn the 280X RGB, with the side, front, and top of the case covered - or, with the front and top, partially covered. About a third of the front is a solid panel, as is a third of the top, and this serves to help illustrate from the exterior that we are actually looking at a dual-chamber design.

Not so 'micro' ATX?

There are those who feel that an enclosure's internal volume must be low to qualify as "small form-factor", and that can certainly be argued; consider this design (like that of the Air 240), then, a compact take on the larger cube-like dual-chamber case that started with the Carbide Series Air 540 which we reviewed way back in 2013. As you will see, the ease with which a clean-looking build can be completed in such a case, and the ample storage and fan support, help mitigate the size. This case is wide for its height, though the rear chamber allows for the easy installation of a full-size ATX power supply, simultaneous installation of two standard hard drives and another three SSDs, and plenty of room for cable management.

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Continue reading our review of the Corsair Crystal Series 280X case!

Manufacturer: BitFenix

Introduction and First Impressions

The Portal isn't a new case by any means, but it's still a unique mini-ITX offering from BitFenix that blends an unusual design with an easy build process thanks to a sliding "dual-frame" design for unfettered component access. It offers a compact footprint while still supporting a full-length graphics card, and the aluminum exterior provides light weight and a high-end appearance.

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Our review sample includes a top window to showcase the graphics card, and between the white finish and black trim and stand this case really stands out. How well did it perform? Read on to find out!


Specifications

  • Chassis Type: ITX Chassis
  • Colors: Black or White
  • Materials: Aluminum, SECC Steel, ABS, Transparent acrylic
  • Compatibility:
    • Motherboard: Mini-ITX
    • CPU Cooler: Up to 125mm Height
    • Graphic Card Length: Up to 300mm
    • Power Supply: SFX Form Factor
  • Storage Capacity: 
    • 3.5" HDD x2
    • 2.5" HDD 1+2
  • Cooling Capacity
    • (Front) 120mm x 1 (Included)
    • (Rear) 80mm x 1 (Included)
    • Radiator Capacity (Front): Up to 120mm
  • Front I/O ports: USB 3.0 x2, 3.5 mm Audio
  • Dimensions with stand (WxHxD): 247 x 395 x 411 mm (9.72 x 15.55 x 16.18 inches)
  • Weight 5.81 kg (12.81 lbs)

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The Portal doesn't look like your typical mini-tower mITX case, but there is just enough room for a full system inside.

Continue reading our review of the BitFenix Portal mini-ITX enclosure!

Airtop2 Inferno: Compact Fanless Gaming PC Featuring a Core i7-7700K and GTX 1080

Subject: Systems | February 14, 2018 - 01:49 PM |
Tagged: small form factor, silent, SFF, nvidia, mini PC, Intel, Inferno, GTX 1080, gaming, fanless, core i7 7700k, compulab, Airtop2

Compulab, maker of mini systems such as the fitlet and Airtop is bringing the compact, fanless concept to a powerful gaming system - with no less than an Intel Core i7-7700K and NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080. The catch? Is is not yet available, pending an upcoming Kickstarter campaign beginning February 24.

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The teaser image of the upcoming Airtop2 Inferno fanless gaming system

The Airtop2 is already available for purchase in a fanless workstation version, built-to-order with up to an Intel Xeon E3-1275 v6 and NVIDIA Quadro P4000 (starting at $2575 for that configuration before adding memory/storage), and this new "Inferno" version of the Airtop2 promises to be very interesting to silent computing enthusiasts.

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Front and rear views of the Inferno system

A fanless gaming system with high-end components is only going to be as effective as its cooling system, and here Compulab has a lot of experience on the industrial/embedded side of things.

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Exploded view of the standard Airtop2 design (no images of the Airtop2 Inferno interior available yet)

Compulab lists these specs for the Airtop2 Inferno (along with the teaser, "and a little more..."):

  • Unlocked Intel Core-i7 7700K
  • NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080
  • Up to 64 GB DDR4 2400 RAM
  • 2x NVMe + 4x 2.5″ SSD / HDD
  • 2x USB 3.1 + 7x USB 3.0 | dual LAN | front (and back) audio

Compulab has also provided some benchmark results to demonstrate how effective their fanless implementation of these components is, with results using 3DMark and Unigine Heaven available on the Inferno product page.

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The company has set up a Q&A page for the Airtop2 Inferno, but pricing/availability info will probably have to wait until February 24th when the Kickstarter campaign is active.

Source: Compulab

CES 2018: Digital Storm Announces Project SPARK PCs

Subject: Systems | January 9, 2018 - 09:00 AM |
Tagged: small form-factor, small form factor, project spark, Digital Storm, desktop pc

Digital Storm has just announced a new water-cooled, enthusiast PC, called Project SPARK. As the video shows, the device is about the width of a coffee mug and its handle, although it’s a bit deeper and taller. This cuts down on the amount of surface area the PC covers, which matters more than height for something that sits on a desk. The specs? Up to an Intel Core i7-8700k and an NVIDIA GTX 1080.

One of the interesting aspects of Project SPARK is that it is also user-upgradable. Digital Storm designed the system to have an accessible CPU and GPU, not just RAM and storage (but those are, of course, accessible too). Speaking of storage, the PC uses up to 3x M.2 SSDs. I should note that the PC uses MXM slot GPUs, so you can’t just plug in a triple-slot PCIe card in there… but, come on. You’re buying a small form factor PC.

The Digital Storm Project SPARK launches in Q2 with prices starting at $1299 USD (GTX 1060 SKU).

CES 2018: New ASUS Mini PCs, Chromebox, and Tinker Board

Subject: Systems | January 8, 2018 - 09:00 AM |
Tagged: Tinker Board 3, tinker board, small form factor, SFF, PN40, PB40, mini PC, Chromebox 3, Chromebox, CES 2018, CES, asus

ASUS has four new small form-factor devices on display at CES, with mini-PC hardware as well as a new Chromebox 3 and Tinker Board 3. We start with the mini-PCs:

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ASUS PB40 mini PC

“The ASUS PB40 mini PC offers unparalleled connectivity with up to six USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-C™ ports and a flexible I/O port design with VGA/DP/COM/HDMI support. Its metallic chassis houses the latest 8th Generation Intel Pentium® Silver processor for powerful performance. The PB40 is also offered in a fanless design with Intel Celeron® processors for completely silent operation. In addition to its compact design, the PB40 supports optional stackable modules such as optical drives to provide space-saving versatility for a wide range of usage scenarios.”

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ASUS PN40 mini PC

“Powered by 8th Generation Intel Pentium Silver and Celeron processors, the new ASUS PN40 mini PC features a sliding bottom case design for easy upgrades. Compact and lightweight, it measures 114 x 114 x 49mm and weighs just 1.54lbs. With a wide range of connectivity options including USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-C for fast data transmission, and a changeable I/O port for VGA or COM support, the PN40 is ideal for both home entertainment and business solutions.”

Next we have the third-generation Chromebox, ASUS's Chrome OS mini-PC:

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ASUS Chromebox 3

“ASUS Chromebox 3 is the latest addition to the ASUS Chromebox family and is powered by an 8th Generation Intel Core processor and DDR4-2400 memory for faster, smoother and more energy-efficient performance. It is equipped with a versatile USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-C port for quick data transfers, dual-band 802.11ac WiFi and Gigabit LAN for faster streaming along with DisplayPort and HDMI connectivity for 4K UHD playback of your favorite videos.”

Finally we have the new Tinker Board S, with "S" clearly meaning storage here as this new Tinker Board adds 16GB of onboard eMMC. This should make getting a project started that much easier as the previous design only offered a memory card slot, requiring a microSD card of at least 8GB.

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ASUS Tinker Board S

“The new Tinker Board S features 2GB of RAM and 16GB of eMMC storage, while retaining the same board size and component placement as the original Tinker Board.”

Availability for all of these products - PB40, PN40, Chromebox 3, and Tinker Board S - is expected in the first half of 2018, with pricing to be announced at launch.

Source: ASUS
Author:
Manufacturer: SilverStone

Introduction and Features

Introduction

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It has been several years since we looked at a true SFX form factor power supply, but today we are going to take a detailed look at one of SilverStone’s new SFX units, the SX650-G. As one of the original manufacturers of SFX power supplies, Silverstone Technology Co. is meeting demand with new products; continuing to expand their product offering with two new SFX units, the SX500-G and SX650-G.

SX650-G

(SX = SFX Form Factor, 650 = 650W, and G = 80 Plus Gold certified)

SilverStone has a long-standing reputation for providing a full line of high quality enclosures, power supplies, cooling components, and accessories for PC enthusiasts. With a continued focus on smaller physical size and support for small form-factor enthusiasts, SilverStone added the new SX-G power supplies to their SFX form factor series. There are now ten power supplies in SilverStone’s SFX Series, ranging in output capacity from 300W to 800W. Unlike the larger SX-L units which are 30mm (1.2”) longer than a standard SFX chassis, the SX650-G retains the original SFX dimensions.

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(Courtesy of SilverStone)

The new SX650-G power supply features high efficiency (80 Plus Gold certified) and comes with all modular flat ribbon-style cables.

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SilverStone SX650-G PSU Key Features:

•    Small Form Factor (SFX) design
•    650W continuous power output
•    Fluid Dynamic Bearing (FDB) fan for quiet, reliable operation
•    80 Plus Gold certified for high efficiency
•    Powerful single +12V rail with 54.2A capacity
•    All-modular, flat ribbon-style cables
•    High quality construction with all Japanese capacitors
•    Strict ±3% voltage regulation and low AC ripple and noise
•    Support for high-end GPUs with four PCI-E 8/6-pin connectors
•    Safety Protections: OCP, OVP, UVP, SCP, OTP, and OPP

Please continue reading our review of the SilverStone SX650-G PSU!!!

ASUS Announces ROG Strix X370-I and B350-I Gaming Mini-ITX Motherboards for AMD Ryzen

Subject: Motherboards | October 20, 2017 - 12:25 AM |
Tagged: X370-I Gaming, strix, small form factor, SFF, ryzen, motherboard, mITX, mini-itx, gaming, B350-I Gaming, amd, AM4

While Intel users have long enjoyed the option of a premium ASUS ROG mini-ITX experience, AMD Ryzen owners are now on equal footing with the annoucement of a pair of mITX gaming boards with premium features. ASUS has apparently been working on these for a while now, and they think they will be worth the wait.

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"Mini-ITX boards are among the most difficult to produce. Their diminutive 6.7” x 6.7” dimensions leave little real estate for slots and ports, let alone the extra features that make ROG unique. We’re not willing to compromise your experience for a compact footprint, so it takes some time and creativity to make everything fit. But it’s worth the effort, because our new Strix X370-I Gaming and Strix B350-I Gaming motherboards for Socket AM4 raise the bar for small-form-factor Ryzen builds. They match the cutting-edge features of their full-sized siblings, including liquid-ready cooling and addressable RGB lighting, and they combine an M.2 SSD heatsink and amped-up audio on an innovative riser card."

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The motherboards both feature a 6-phase VRM design, which ASUS says is the same as their full-sized AM4 motherboards, with memory support of up to DDR4-3600. One-click overclocking is provided via the ASUS "5-Way Optimization technology", which can calibrate fan curves in addition to tuning CPU speeds. Speaking of fans, there are three PWM fan headers, one of which is configured by default for a liquid cooling pump.

An interesting design choice was made in the interest of space, as the sound card (S1220A codec) and an M.2 slot (PCIe Gen 3 x4) are part of a shared riser card:

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"The Republic of Gamers has a history of working around Mini-ITX limitations by building up with additional circuit boards. Our Maximus Impact series made room for upgraded audio with a dedicated riser, and the Strix X370-I and B350-I Gaming go one step further with an M.2 Audio Combo card that contains both SupremeFX sound and M.2 storage. This small PCB is sandwiched between isolated heatsinks for an M.2 drive and the platform chipset, ensuring effective cooling without taking up too much space."

ASUS Aura Sync RGB lighting effects are on board, as is an 802.11ac Wi-Fi solution with 2x2 antenna and integrated Bluetooth. Connectivity includes a pair of USB 3.1 Gen 2 ports and four USB 3.1 Gen 1 ports, Gigabit LAN, and multi-channel audio on the rear panel, with 4x SATA ports, dual M.2 slots (one on the rear as well as the riser card), and headers for both USB 3.0 and 2.0 onboard.

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The ASUS ROG Strix X370-I and B350-I Gaming motherboards will "be available starting late-October in the United States with pricing to be released in the coming weeks" according to ASUS.

Source: ASUS
Author:
Manufacturer: bequiet!

Introduction and Features

Introduction

BeQuiet! recently expanded their power supply lineup with the addition of two new small form factor (SFX-L) units, the SFX-L 500W and SFX-L 600W. The new power supplies are fully modular and optimized for quiet operation as you might expect from BeQuiet!. The SFX-L 500W and SFX-L 600W are 80 Plus Gold certified for high efficiency and feature a high-quality 120mm cooling fan thanks to the lengthened SFX-L chassis design.

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While SFX-L power supplies are designed for use in small form factor enclosures, the BeQuiet! SFX-L power supplies can also be used in standard ATX cases to save room via the included SFX to ATX adapter bracket. However, keep in mind the cables are quite short as these power supplies are mainly intended for Small Form Factor builds. We will be taking a detailed look at the new BeQuiet! SFX-L 600W power supply in this review.

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BeQuiet! SFX-L 600W PSU Key Features:

•    Compact design for Small Form Factor PC systems
•    High-quality 120mm cooling fan with Fluid Dynamic Bearing
•    All-modular, flat ribbon-style cables
•    80 Plus Gold certified for high efficiency up to 92%
•    Powerful +12V rail design (50A) for high stability
•    Safety Protections: OCP, OVP, UVP, OPP, OTP, and SCP
•    MSRP for SFX-L 600W: $119.99 USD

Specifications

The BeQuiet! SFX-L 600W power supply is rated for a combined, continuous output power of 600 watts at up to 40°C max operating temperature. The PSU incorporates a single +12V rail that can deliver up to 50A, the full rated capacity of 600W.  The PSU includes universal AC line input (automatically adjusts the AC line voltage 100-240 VAC) and active PFC, which makes the unit more environmentally friendly to the local power grid.  

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Please continue reading our review of the BeQuiet! SFX-L 600W PSU!!!

Subject: Systems
Manufacturer: ECS

Introduction and Design

The ECS LIVA Z Plus is a mini-PC with far more capable processors than the non-Plus variants of the current LIVA family, and we have for review a version with the top-end Intel Core i5-7300U CPU option, along with a 128GB SSD and 4GB of RAM. These specs position the LIVA Z Plus against similarly-powered Intel NUC mini-PCs, and the LIVA has the advantage of being ready to go out of the box (just add an OS).

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We recently took a look at the entry-level ECS LIVA mini-PC, which is a fanless device equipped with a low-power Intel Apollo Lake Celeron N3350 in its base configuration (as reviewed). The performance was merely 'okay' for most desktop computing, and that entry-level LIVA Z was more of a need-specific choice, useful for some applications such as a DIY router as it includes dual NICs in addition to the wireless networking on board. But I kept wishing I had more CPU power the entire time I was testing out the base LIVA Z, and the Plus version seemed like the perfect solution. There is just one catch: it isn't fanless. (Gasp!) Was this an issue? Was it even audible? How were thermals with a 15W Intel Core i5 processor inside such a small enclosure, even it is was being actively cooled? Read on to find out!

First, a look at the specs from ECS:


Specifications:

  • Platform:
    • Intel Kaby Lake Core i5-7300U SOC
    • Intel Kaby Lake Core i5-7200U SOC
    • Intel Kaby Lake Core i3-7100U SOC
    • Intel Kaby Lake Celeron 3965U SOC
  • Memory:
    • DDR4 Up to 32GB
    • 2x SO-DIMM Memory Slots
  • Storage Support: 1x M.2 2242 SSD (SATA / PCIE)
  • Audio: 1x Combo Jack, 1x Digital Mic
  • LAN: 2x Gigabit LAN (1x Intel LAN)
  • USB:
    • 3x USB 3.1 Gen1 Ports
    • 1x USB 3.0 Type-C port
  • Video Output:
    • 1x HDMI Port (HDMI 1.4)
    • 1x mDP Port
  • Wireless: Intel 802.11ac Wi-Fi & Bluetooth 4.0
  • PCB Size: 115 x 111 mm
  • Dimension: 117 x 128 x 33 mm
  • VESA Support: 75 mm / 100 mm (bracket included)
  • Adapter: Input AC 100-240V, Output DC 19V / 3.42A
  • OS Support: Ubuntu 16.04 LTS, Windows 10
  • Accessories:
    • 1x Power adapter
    • 1x VESA Bracket
    • 6x VESA Mount Screws
    • Quick Guide & Driver DVD

  • ECS LIVA Z Plus: $489 MSRP

Package contents are identical to that of the non-Plus LIVA, as we are presented with the LIVA Z Plus, power adapter, and VESA mount.

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The LIVA Z Plus is externally identical to the LIVA Z, with the same complement of three USB 3.1 Gen1 ports, a USB 3.0 Type-C port, and 3.5 mm audio jack on the front, and dual NICs, HDMI 1.4, and mini DisplayPort on the back.

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The side panels are also identical to the passively-cooled LIVA Z, with vented sides that in this case allow for intake and exhaust for the small internal fan.

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If you think this LIVA Z Plus looks like the standard LIVA Z, you're right. Externally, the two are identical:

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Next we'll take a look inside and then see how it performed with a few benchmarks.

Continue reading our review of the ECS LIVA Z Plus!!

Subject: Systems
Manufacturer: ECS

Introduction and First Impressions

The LIVA family of mini PCs has been refreshed regularly since its introduction in 2014, and the LIVA Z represents a change to sleek industrial design as well as the expected updates to the internal hardware.

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The LIVA Z we have for review today is powered by an Intel Apollo Lake SoC, and the product family includes SKUs with both Celeron and Pentium processors. Our review unit is the entry-level model with a Celeron N3350 processor, 4GB memory, and 32GB storage. Memory and storage support are improved compared to past LIVAs, as this is really more of a mini-PC kit like an Intel NUC, as the LIVA Z includes an M.2 slot (SATA 6.0 Gbps) for storage expansion, and a pair of SODIMM slots support up to 8 GB of DDR3L memory (a single 4GB SODIMM is installed by default).

The LIVA Z is a very small device, just a bit bigger than your typical set-top streaming box, and like all LIVAs it is fanless; making it totally silent in operation. This is important for many people in applications such as media consumption in a living room, and like previous LIVA models the Z includes a VESA mount for installation on the back of a TV or monitor. So how does it perform? We will find out!

Continue reading our review of the ECS LIVA Z fanless mini PC!