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.
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!
Subject: Motherboards | May 31, 2017 - 09:34 AM | Sebastian Peak
Tagged: x299, small form factor, SFF, motherboard, mini-itx, computex 2017, computex, asrock
ASRock was the only player in the mini-ITX Intel X99 motherboard space, and they are at it again with their X299E-ITX motherboard. This time around memory is not limited to a pair of desktop DIMMs as with the existing X99E-ITX/ac, as the new X299 board features quad-channel memory support thanks to a switch to SODIMMs.
The ASRock X299E-ITX Motherboard (Image credit: ComputerBase)
Among the specifications are support for 3200+ MHz DDR4, a PCIe Gen 3 x16 slot for graphics cards, networking via Intel 802.11ac Wi-Fi and dual Intel NICs, a pair of USB 3.1 ports (Type-A and Type-C), six SATA 3 ports and a PCIe Gen 3 x4 compatible M.2 slot, and premium 7.1-channel audio with Nichicon capacitors. The X299E-ITX board also offers ASRock's 'Super Alloy' design and offers a 7-phase 'Digi Power' array for the LGA2066 CPU.
No word on pricing or availablity just yet, but if it follows the X99E-ITX/ac launch it should be somewhere near the $300 range. If you need mini-ITX and fancy the latest Intel enthusiast platform, this might be your best - and only - option.
Subject: Motherboards | April 24, 2017 - 07:31 PM | Sebastian Peak
Tagged: X370GTN, small form factor, SFF, ryzen, racing, motherboard, mITX, mini-itx, biostar, B350GTN, amd, AM4
We covered news of BIOSTAR's upcoming mini-ITX motherboards for AMD Ryzen processors at the beginning of March, and now the company has made them official. The RACING X370GTN and B350GTN are "the world’s first mini-ITX motherboards for AMD AM4 platform", and both support up to 95W AM4 processors and DDR4 speeds up to 3200 MHz - though officially only up to 2667 MHz for Ryzen CPUs.
"BIOSTAR is thrilled to announce the latest addition to the growing mini-ITX family of BIOSTAR motherboards with the introduction of the world’s first mini-ITX motherboards for AMD AM4 platform and the first mini-ITX RGB LED-capable motherboards with AMD X370 and AMD B350 chipsets. BIOSTAR is pleased to welcome the new BIOSTAR RACING X370GTN and RACING B350GTN mini-ITX motherboards into the RACING Series family.
Both motherboards aim to deliver the best balance of form and function, delivering the full potential that the AMD AM4 platform offers especially with AMD RYZEN CPUs, all in a small package. The BIOSTAR RACING X370GTN and RACING B350GTN comes equipped with BIOSTAR 2nd-gen RACING features like 5050 LED Fun Zone with dual 5050 LED header for DIY customization, the BIOSTAR exclusive VIVID LED DJ with full RGB LED control that lets enthusiasts design their own system lighting with precise control. Together with that, BIOSTAR also adds performance and quality features for maximum system performance and stability."
Both motherboard models are identical (other than the chipset, of course)
The full specs from BIOSTAR for both motherboards are reproduced below:
|BIOSTAR Mini-ITX AM4 Motherboard Specifications|
|Form Factor||Mini-ITX (170 mm x 170 mm)|
|Chipset||AMD X370||AMD B350|
|CPU Support||AMD A-series APU / Ryzen CPU / NPU for Socket AM4
Maximum CPU TDP (Thermal Design Power) : 95Watt
|Memory||Support Dual Channel DDR4 3200(OC)/ 2933(OC)/ 2667/ 2400/ 2133/ 1866 MHz
Support Non-ECC & ECC Un-buffered DIMM Memory modules
2 x DDR4 DIMM Memory Slot
Max. Supports up to 32GB Memory
* DDR4 2667 for AMD Ryzen CPU
|Storage||4 x SATA3 Connector
Support SATA RAID: 0,1,10
1 x M.2 Key M 32Gb/s Connector, support M.2 type 2260/ 2280 SATA 6Gb/s & PCI-E Storage(on the back of the motherboard)
* M.2 (32Gb/s) : The bandwidth is depended on CPU, Ryzen is 32Gb/s ; APU & NPU is 16Gb/s
|LAN||Realtek RTL8118AS - 10/100/1000 Controller
Support Super LAN Surge Protection
|Audio||Realtek ALC892 8-Channel Blu-ray Audio
Support BIOSTAR Hi-Fi
|USB||1x USB 3.1 Gen2 (10Gb/s) Type-C port (1 on rear I/Os)
1x USB 3.1 Gen2 (10Gb/s) Type-A port (1 on rear I/Os)
6x USB 3.1 Gen1 (5Gb/s) port (4 on rear I/Os and 2 via internal header)
2x USB 2.0 port (2 via internal header)
|Expansion Slots||1 x PCI-E x16 3.0 Slot (x16 for Ryzen CPU only, NPU/APU run at x8 speed)|
|Rear I/O||1 x PS/2
1 x USB 3.1 Gen2 Type-C Port
1 x USB 3.1 Gen2 Port
4 x USB 3.1 Gen1 Port
1 x HDMI Connector, resolution up to 4096 x 2160 @24Hz or 3840 x 2160 @30Hz
1 x DVI-D Connector, resolution up to 1920 x 1200 @60Hz
1 x RJ-45 Port
5 x Audio Connector
1 x S/PDIF Out Port
|Internal I/O||1 x USB 3.1 Gen1 Header
1 x USB 2.0 Header
4 x SATA3 6Gb/s Connector
1 x M.2 Key M 32Gb/s Connector, support M.2 type 2260/ 2280 SATA 6Gb/s & PCI-E Storage(on the back of the motherboard)
1 x Front Audio Header
1 x Front Panel Header
1 x CPU Fan Header
1 x System Fan Header
2 x 5050 LED Header
|OS Support||Windows 7 (x64), Windows 10 (x64)|
The rear I/O for both the X370 and B350 versions
As to pricing, BIOSTAR has set the MSRP for the RACING X370GTN at $129, with the RACING B350GTN at $109. A search of Amazon and Newegg does not show results for either board at time of press, but we should expect these in the retail pipeline soon.
Introduction and Specifications
The PC-Q17 WX is a compact, all-aluminum mini-ITX enclosure designed to appeal to gamers, and it features certification from ASUS ROG (Republic of Gamers). As with so many mini-ITX cases on the market there is room for a full-length graphics card, allowing the case to house a powerful gaming build.
The PC-Q17 WX is smaller than the mini-ITX cases I have looked at recently, with the trend for larger, micro-ATX sized designs prevalent in the last year or two. It is still quite a bit larger compared to the smallest designs on the market, with the NCASE M1 the smallest I have reviewed thus far. There is always an advantage in component support from a slightly larger case, and this case boasts full-length GPU and ATX power supply compatibity - though you will need a compact PSU to fit both of those concurrently (more on this later in the review).
As expected from Lian Li, this small chassis doesn’t just feature aluminum, it is all aluminum, making it ultra light with a premium feel. Getting to your components is easy thanks to side and top panels that simply snap in place with the company’s push pin style connectors, and there is a large acrylic window to show off your mini-ITX build. If you like its looks the only thing left is too see what fits inside and find out how it performs!
Introduction and Features
SilverStone continues to push the envelope of power density with the release of their new SX800-LTI small form factor power supply. Following close on the heels of the SX700-LPT, the new unit now packs 800 watts into a small chassis. SFX form factor cases and power supplies continue grow in popularity and in market share and as one of the original manufacturers of SFX power supplies, Silverstone Technology Co. is striving to meet customer demand.
(SX=SFX Form Factor, 800=800W, L=Lengthened, TI=Titanium 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 SX800-LTI to their SFX form factor series. There are now eight power supplies in the SFX Series, ranging in output capacity from 300W to 800W. The SX800-LTI is the third SilverStone unit to feature a lengthened SFX chassis. The SX800-LTI enclosure is 30mm (1.2”) longer than a standard SFX power supply case, which allows using a quieter 120mm cooling fan rather than the typical 80mm fan used in most SFX power supplies.
In addition to its small size, the SX800-LTI features very high efficiency (80 Plus Titanium certified), all modular flat ribbon-style cables, and provides up to 800W of continuous DC output (850W peak). The SX800-LTI also operates in semi-fanless mode and incorporates a very quiet 120mm cooling fan.
SilverStone SX800-LTI PSU Key Features:
• Small Form Factor (SFX-L) design
• 800W continuous power output rated for 24/7 operation
• 80 Plus Titanium certified for very high efficiency
• Quiet operation with semi-fanless operation
• 120mm cooling fan optimized for low noise
• Powerful single +12V rail with 66A 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, OPP, OVP, UVP, SCP, and OTP
Here is what SilverStone has to say about their new SX800-LTI power supply:
“Since its launch in 2015, the SFX-L form factor has garnered popular recognition and support among enthusiasts with its larger 120mm fan able to achieve better balance of power and quietness in small form factor PCs than what was possible with standard SFX. And as a leader in power supply miniaturization, SilverStone has continued its efforts in advancing the SFX-L forward to reach ever higher limit.
The SX800-LTI not only has unprecedented 800 watts of power output but also has the highest level of 80 PLUS efficiency with a Titanium rating. It includes all features available from top of the line SilverStone PSUs such as flexible flat cables, all Japanese capacitors and advanced semi-fanless capability. For those looking to build the most efficient small form factor systems possible with great quality and power, the SX800-LTI is definitely the top choice.”
Introduction: A Hybrid Approach
The Hex 2.0 from Phononic is not your typical CPU cooler. It functions as both a thermoelectric cooler (TEC) - which you may also know as a Peltier cooler - and as a standard heatsink/fan, depending on CPU load. It offers a small footprint for placement in all but the lowest-profile systems, yet it boasts cooling potential beyond other coolers of its size. Yes, it is expensive, but this is a far more complex device than a standard air or even all-in-one liquid cooler - and obviously much smaller than even the most compact AiO liquid coolers.
“The HEX 2.0 combines a proprietary state-of-the-art high performance thermoelectric module with an innovative heat exchanger. The small form factor CPU cooler pioneers a new category of cooling technology. The compact design comfortably fits in small chassis, including mini-ITX cases, while delivering cooling capacity beyond that of much larger coolers.”
Even though it does not always need to function as such, the Hex 2.0 is a thermoelectric cooling device, and that alone makes it interesting from a PC hardware enthusiast point of view (at least mine, anyway). The 'active-passive' approach taken by Phononic with the Hex 2.0 allows for greater performance potential that would otherwise be possible from a smaller TEC device, though our testing will of course reveal how effective it is in actual use.
HEX 2.0 features an Active-Passive design (Credit: Phononic)
The goal for the HEX 2.0 CPU cooler was to provide similar cooling performance to all-in-one (AIO) liquid coolers or the very largest fan-heat sinks in a package that could fit into the smallest PC form factors (like miniITX). The active-passive design is what makes this possible. By splitting the CPU heat into two paths, as shown in Figure 1 (Ed. the above image), the thermoelectric device can be sized at an optimal point where it can provide the most benefit for lowering CPU temperature without having to be large enough to pump the entire CPU thermal load. We also designed electronic controls to turn off the thermoelectric heat pump at times of low CPU load, making for an energy efficient cooler that provides adequate cooling with zero power draw at low CPU loads. However, when the CPU is stressed and the CPU heat load increases, the electronic controls energize the thermoelectric heat pump, lowering the temperature of the passive base plate and the CPU itself. The active-passive design has one further benefit – when used in conjunction with the electronic controls, this design virtually eliminates the risk of condensation for the HEX 2.0.
Subject: Cases and Cooling | March 16, 2017 - 09:34 AM | Sebastian Peak
Tagged: small form factor, SFX, SFF, Portal, mini-itx, enclosure, case, bitfenix, aluminum
BitFenix has announced the Portal, which is one of the more interesting-looking chassis designs to hit the market in recent memory. Available in both black and white, and with or without a top-mounted window to show off your GPU (thanks to the inverted motherboard layout), the Portal is a sleek mini-ITX enclosure with a smooth, rounded aluminum exterior that is certainly a departure from typical case designs.
One of the design concepts made possible by SFX power supplies is a slimming down of the standard tower concept, which leaving component layout identical. In the case of this mini-ITX mini tower case from BitFenix, you might at first think you are looking at a larger case, but that PSU opening is in fact SFX, and the case is just wide enough to accommodate a standard PCIe graphics card.
A smaller mini-ITX case is often more challenging to work in, but here BitFenix has a clever solution with their dual-frame design:
"Designed for ITX Motherboards, the striking key component of the interior is the Dual Frame Design for easy access and quick installation. The inner chamber, equipped with enough space for high-end components, slides into the housing via a ball bearing runner design."
The external housing slimply slides off to reveal a standard chassis frame, allowing for easy component installation. Beyond the requirements of mini-ITX motherboard and SFX power supply, the Portal allows for CPU coolers of up to 125 mm, and full size graphics cards up to 300 mm long.
- Chassis Type: ITX Chassis
- Colors: Black | White
- Materials: Aluminum | SECC Steel | ABS | Transparent acrylic
- 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 x1 (included), rear 80mm x1 (included)
- Radiator Capacity: (Front) Up to 120mm x1
- Front I/O ports: USB 3.0 x2 | HD Audio Mic & Headphone
- 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)
Cooling is another area that has received BitFenix's attention, as they have implemented what they call their "intelligent cooling solution" with the Portal:
"To cool the built-in hardware, the portal is equipped with air inlets at all four corners and the bottom of the housing. The air-permeable inner chamber is further equipped with included 120mm intake and 80mm exhaust fan, for a stable airflow for basic Office and Home Theater PCs."
The BitFenix Portal is available now for $139.99 with your choice of color and window option (product pages already up on Newegg.com).
Subject: Motherboards | March 4, 2017 - 11:32 AM | Sebastian Peak
Tagged: X370GTN, x370, small form factor, SFF, ryzen, racing, motherboard, mITX, mini-itx, B350GTN, b350, amd, AM4
The first images of a mini-ITX AM4 motherboard are here, courtesy of BIOSTAR (via ComputerBase). Part of their second-generation RACING-series of gaming motherboards, BIOSTAR is now the first company to show an AMD Ryzen-capable mini-ITX option with their X370GTN.
Image credit: ComputerBase
There had been mention of an upcoming mITX board for AMD Ryzen CPUs from BIOSTAR, with a (rather low-key) mention of such a product in a recent company press release (“the exciting new RACING X370GTN in the mini-ITX form factor will also be available”), and these images from the company's RACING event are now circulating along with the specs of two different mITX offerings.
Image credit: ComputerBase
There will in fact be two mini-ITX motherboards, with both X370 (shown) and the lower-end B350 chipsets (with the RACING B350GTN). ComputerBase provided slides with specifications (via Zolkorn, Thai language) who covered the BIOSTAR event:
BIOSTAR has not announced availability or pricing of their mini-ITX Ryzen boards yet, but given the pent-up demand for mini-ITX solutions for enthusiast AMD processors (with AM3 conspicuously absent from mITX), this is great news for small form-factor enthusiasts.
Subject: Motherboards | February 8, 2017 - 10:15 AM | Sebastian Peak
Tagged: small form factor, SFF, PCI-E 3.0, MXM, motherboard, mobile gpu, mini-stx, H110-STX-MXM, asrock
ASRock has announced a new mini-STX motherboard with an interesting twist, as the H110-STX MXM motherboard offers support for current MXM (version 3.0b, up to 120W) mobile graphics cards.
Like the ECS H110 motherboard featured in our recent Mini-STX build, the ASRock H110-STX MXM is based on the LGA1151 socket (though CPU TDP was not in the source post), offers a pair a DDR SODIMM slots for up to 32GB of DDR4 notebook memory. Storage support is excellent with dual SATA ports and M.2 SSD support. Importantly, this ASRock board uses PCI Express 3.0 on both the MXM (PCIe 3.0 x16) and M.2 (PCIe 3.0 x4) slots. Display output capability is excellent as well, quoting the TechPowerUp post:
"Display connectivity includes one HDMI port that's wired to the CPU's onboard graphics, a second HDMI port wired to the MXM slot, a full-size DisplayPort wired to the MXM, and a Thunderbolt port with mini-DisplayPort wiring to the MXM."
There are some roadblocks to building up a gaming system with this motherboard, not the least of which is cost. Consider that compatible MXM 3.0b options (with a recent GPU) are hundreds of dollars from a place like Eurocom (a GTX 980M is around $800, for example). Naturally, if you had a damaged gaming notebook with a usable MXM GPU, this board might be a nice option for re-purposing that graphics card. Cooling for the MXM card is another issue, however, though harvesting an MXM card from a notebook could potentially allow implementing the existing thermal solution from the laptop.
Look closely and you will see a Z270 product name in this ASRock photo
Update: We now have full specifications from ASRock's product page, which include:
- Socket LGA1151 for Intel Core i7/i5/i3/Pentium/Celeron (Kabylake)
- Supports MXM Graphics Card (Type-B , Up to 120W)
- Supports DDR4 2400MHz, 2 x SO-DIMM, up to 32GB system memory
- 1 x HDMI (4K@60Hz), 1x HDMI, 1x DisplayPort, 1x Mini-DisplayPort
- 3x USB3.0 Type-A, 1x Thunderbolt 3 with USB 3.1 Type-C
- 1x M.2 (Key E), 2x M.2 (Key M)
- 1x Intel i219V Gigabit LAN
- DC 19V / 220W power input
Of note, the chipset is listed as Z270, though the product name and primary motherboard photo suggest H110. The H110-STX MXM is part of ASRocks industrial motherboard offerings (with signage and gaming the mentioned applications), and includes a 220W power supply. Pricing and availability were not mentioned.
Mini-STX is the newest, smallest PC form-factor that accepts a socketed CPU, and in this review we'll be taking a look at a complete mini-STX build that will occupy just 1.53 liters of space. With a total size of just 6.1 x 5.98 x 2.56 inches, the SilverStone VT01 case offers a very small footprint, and the ECS H110S-2P motherboard accepts Intel desktop CPUs up to 65W (though I may have ignored this specification).
PS3 controller for scale. (And becuase it's the best controller ever.)
The Smallest Form-Factor
The world of small form-factor PC hardware is divided between tiny kit solutions such as the Intel NUC (and the host of mini-PCs from various manufacturers), and the mini-ITX form-factor for system builders. The advantage of mini-ITX is its ability to host standard components, such as desktop-class processors and full-length graphics cards. However, mini-ITX requires a significantly larger enclosure than a mini-PC, and the "thin mini-ITX" standard has been something of a bridge between the two, essentially halving the height requirement of mini-ITX. Now, an even smaller standard has emerged, and it almost makes mini-ITX look big in comparison.
Left: ECS H110S-2P (mini-STX) / Right: EVGA Z170 Stinger (mini-ITX)
Mini-STX had been teased for a couple of years (I wrote my first news post about it in January of 2015), and was originally an Intel concept called "5x5"; though the motherboard is actually about 5.8 x 5.5 inches (147 x 140 mm). At CES 2016 I was able to preview a SilverStone enclosure design for these systems, and ECS is one of the manufacturers producing mini-STX motherboards with an Intel H110-based board introduced this past summer. We saw some shipping products for the newest form-factor in 2016, and both companies were kind enough to send along a sample of these micro-sized components for a build. With the parts on hand it is now time to assemble my first mini-STX system, and of course I'll cover the process - and results - right here!