Comparison: Best mini-PCs in India

There's a mini-PC for everyone and we take a look at some of the best ones in the market

Published Date
13 - Jan - 2016
| Last Updated
14 - Apr - 2016
 
Comparison: Best mini-PCs in India

The Mini-PC market is slowly saturating with devices of every size and feature set within the domain that would qualify them as a Mini-PC. You have the credit card sized ones like the LIVA Core from ECS which are powered by an Intel Core M 5Y10c and, on the the other end of the spectrum you have the  ZOTAC Magnus EN970 which has an Intel Core i5 - 5200U making it a lot more powerful. However, putting both of them in the same bucket is a little unfair on the little ones. After all, they put a lot more effort in squeezing in all the components within a smaller footprint. So we decided to class them apart. We’ll be taking a closer look at the ZOTAC Magnus EN970 and the ASUS GR8 which occupy about four times the volume, and thereby, can squeeze in a lot more powerful components. Also, comparing a machine that costs Rs. 9,000 with another that costs Rs. 80,000 is not only unfair but also outright silly.

This leaves us with the ASRock Beebox, MSI Cubi, ECS LIVA Core and the Gigabyte GBBXi5H-5200. All four are small form factor machines with a variety of hardware for all kinds of usage scenarios. While this isn’t an exhaustive comparison, you should be able to find some connect between the specifications of one of the competitors with what you hope to buy.

FEATURES AND BUILD QUALITY

GIGABYTE Brix GB-BXi5H-5200 
Price - Rs. 27,299

Surely the Mini-PC with the beefiest hardware among all the competitors in this test. The Gigabyte Brix GB-BXi5H-5200 is powered by an Intel Core i5 5200U which is commonly used in laptops. The 15 W Broadwell  processor is not only clocked at the highest among all, but the onchip IGP is also the highest clocked with the most number of execution units. It also happens to be one of the two Mini-PCs in this comparison with 4K playback capability.

It has a sleek exterior and is relatively heavier once fully setup but not too much to be an inconvenience. On the inside, the construction is a testament to the durability that Gigabyte has been known for. Moreover, the components are well spaced and, the HDD and the CPU are well ventilated.

Specifications
CPU. .....................Intel Core i5 5200U 
GPU. .................................Intel HD 5500 
RAM. ...................16 GB (Not included) 
Storage. ..........................(Not included) 
Audio. .............................................ALC283 
OS. ......................................(Not included) 
Weight. ...........................................0.50 Kg 
USB. ........................................4x USB 3.0 
LAN. .............................Gigabit Ethernet 
Misc. ......................................Display Port

ECS LIVA Core
Price - Rs. 34,499

Terribly close on the heels of the LIVA X comes the LIVA Core. ECS has maintained the same build quality with the LIVA Core as  was the case with the LIVA X.  It has the second most powerful processor in this comparison test and an equally powerful IGP to go with it. Moreover, it offers more value for money since it comes pre-loaded with an Intel 535 series 120 GB M.2 SSD and RAM. This does allow for greater quality control and removing user intervention from the equation is a plus point for those who want a plug and play device. 

The body is made out of one solid piece of metal and it scores high in the looks department. Another plus point is that it has a massive heatsink that gels well with its external appearance. It is essentially, one huge heatsink.

Specifications
CPU. .....................Intel Core M-5Y10C 
GPU. .................................Intel HD 5300 
RAM. .....................................................4 GB 
Storage. ........Intel 535 120 GB SSD 
Audio. ...........................................On board 
OS. ......................................(Not included) 
Weight. ...........................................0.58 Kg 
USB. ........................................4x USB 3.0 
LAN. .............................Gigabit Ethernet 
Misc. .........................MicroSD Card slot

MSI Cubi 008-BEU
Price - Rs. 8,500

And with the MSI Cubi, we’re looking at an entirely different price segment. This is the sub-10K range entry level range. Most devices in this bracket are barebones and have a ULP SoC at their heart. In this case, the MSI Cubi has an Intel Celeron N3205U and the on-chip IGP isn’t spectacular. But these devices weren’t meant for an all round usage scenario. It’s mostly office work and media consumption that suit this device.

When it come to build quality, one would assume that there will be certain compromises made. While it doesn’t match up to the LIVA Core, it isn’t flimsy by any means. The chassis  is made out of plastic and metal. The extra base plate is a welcome addition and PCB on the inside is easy to remove and clean.

Specifications
CPU. ................Intel Celeron N3205U 
GPU. .........................Intel HD Graphics 
RAM. ...................16 GB (Not included) 
Storage. ..........................(Not included) 
Audio. ...........................................On board 
OS. ......................................(Not included) 
Weight. ...........................................0.58 Kg 
USB. ...............2x USB 3.0, 2x USB 3.1 
LAN. .................Realtek 8111G Gigabit 
Misc. ..Multiple base plates, Mini-DP

ASROCK Beebox N3150
Price - Rs. 9,649

Right behind the MSI Cubi is the ASRock Beebox powered by the Intel Celeron N3150. This quad-core Braswell SoC is  clocked slightly higher than the Cubi’s 3205U and that gives it a slight advantage. This particular Beebox is the only one with a USB Type-C port and has 2 HDMI and a Display port.  This makes it the only unit capable of running three displays simultaneously. Also, this was the only model that came with a media centre remote which made it a little more of an attractive HTPC option.

Like the Cubi, the Beebox also makes use of a plastic and metal combination for the chassis. And disassembly is quite simple as well. Scratches on the light coloured chassis  are really visible but then again, you can opt for a darker shade. 

Specifications
CPU. ....................Intel Celeron N3150 
GPU. .........................Intel HD Graphics 
RAM. ...................16 GB (Not included) 
Storage. ..........................(Not included) 
Audio. .............................................ALC283 
OS. ......................................(Not included) 
Weight. ...........................................0.58 Kg
USB. ........................................4x USB 3.0 
LAN. ..............Realtek 8111GR Gigabit 
Misc. ..........USB Type-C, Display Port

PERFORMANCE

GIGABYTE Brix GB-BXi5H-5200 

When you to make a transition from a laptop or a more powerful form factor, you’d feel at home with the Gigabyte Brix. The Intel Core i5 5200U pretty much aces all the benchmarks with this particular unit scoring the highest in all benchmarks. The on-chip IGP is sufficiently powerful to crunch out approximately 30 FPS in quite a few games with minimal reduction of graphics settings. 

While the device isn’t made for hard-core gaming like the MAGNUS EN970 and the ASUS GR8, you still can get away with a fair amount of gaming. 

All units compared in this test use the same Intel 3160NGW 802.11ac Wi-Fi module, so a performance difference in that aspect is out of the question. All that’s missing is a USB 3.1 connector and this’d be untouchable.

Benchmarks 
PCMark8 Home. ........................3049 
PCMark8 Creative. ....................3535 
PCMark8 Work. ...........................4016 
3DMark Cloud  Gate. ..................................................5345 
3DMark Sky Diver. ....................2864 
Cinebench 15. ...................28.03 FPS 
WinRaR. ...............................3854 KB/s 
Unigine Heaven. ...................245 FPS 
RE6 Score. .....................................2183

ECS LIVA Core

And then there’s the ECS LIVA Core which turned out to be the second highest performer in the comparison test. The Core M-5Y10c is slightly older than what the competing products are powered by but it is also the one with the lowest TDP making the LIVA Core relatively cooler. This is why it’s the only one using passive cooling effectively. And less moving parts bodes well since the LIVA Core is a little difficult to disassemble.

The Intel Core M 5Y10c’s HD 5300 being a generation older doesn’t perform as well as the rest so it ended up scoring the least in all gaming benchmarks.  Overall, it more than compensates for this by scoring second highest in all computing benchmarks. The Intel 535 Series 120 GB SSD gives it one of the best storage characteristics as well. 

Benchmarks 
PCMark8 Home. .........................2194 
PCMark8 Creative. ....................1003 
PCMark8 Work. ...........................3343 
3DMark Cloud  Gate. ..................................................2229 3
DMark Sky Diver. ....................1069 
Cinebench 15. ...................12.89 FPS 
WinRaR. ................................2514 KB/s 
Unigine Heaven. .....................46 FPS 
RE6 Score. ........................................912

MSI Cubi 008-BEU 

Regrettably, this particular CUBI scores the least in our compute benchmarks but that doesn’t make it a bad investment. It is designed for office productivity and casual multimedia consumption. And it performs these tasks without any hiccups. It’s gaming performance can be said to be a glimmer of sunshine as it does perform better than the LIVA Core and happens to be the second highest performer overall in graphics benchmarks. So if you turn down the graphics settings all the way down, then you can manage playable FPS rates. 

Internally, it’s cooling capabilities also happen to shine through. It has an active heatsink with a dedicated heat-pipe  which helps bring down temperatures after bursts of high performance runs.  

Benchmarks 
PCMark8 Home. .........................1482 
PCMark8 Creative. ....................1604 
PCMark8 Work. ...........................2832 
3DMark Cloud  Gate. ..................................................2638 
3DMark Sky Diver. ....................1617 
Cinebench 15. ...................19.95 FPS 
WinRaR. ................................1583 KB/s 
Unigine Heaven. ............................FPS 
RE6 Score. .....................................138

ASROCK Beebox N3150

Standing out from the crowd for implementing features that are very premium in an economy segment price bracket is the Beebox N3150. However, in an attempt to be the jack of all trades – which it is – it takes a few steps back in almost all departments. It’s compute performance pegs it at third position in this comparison and its graphics performance pegs it at third as well. 

Casual gaming is all you should expect from the Beebox N3150. But like we said, it has managed to squeeze in 4K playback on one display or power three separate displays simultaneously. Overall, its performance is just a little ahead of the MSI Cubi but with the amount of  features that ASRock have managed to pack in, the Beebox does manage to be the jack of all trades in this comparison. 

Benchmarks 
PCMark8 Home. .........................1684 
PCMark8 Creative. ....................1884 
PCMark8 Work. ...........................1323 
3DMark Cloud  Gate. ..................................................2266 
3DMark Sky Diver. ....................1222 
Cinebench 15. ....................14.17 FPS 
WinRaR. ................................1564 KB/s 
Unigine Heaven. .....................85 FPS 
RE6 Score. .......................................985

VERDICT

BEST BUY: ASROCK Beebox N3150
Price - Rs. 9,649

PROS: 

  • Value for money 
  • Multimedia Remote 
  • USB Type-C

CONS: 

  • Moderate build quality 
  • Glossy finish prone to scratches

BEST PERFORMER: GIGABYTE Brix GB-BXi5H-5200
Price - Rs. 27,299

PROS: 

  • High performing CPU 
  • Moderately clocked IGP 
  • Actively cooled heat-sink

CONS: 

  • Could have better placement of ports

EDITOR’s PICK: ECS LIVA Core
Price - Rs. 34,499

PROS: 

  • Low power SoC 
  • Excellent build quality 
  • Effective passive heatsink

CONS: 

  • Low graphics performance 
  • Lack of availability
HOW WE TESTED

Initial setup: All Mini-PCs were assembled and the same hardware was used where ever possible. We used Kingston’s Impact RAM clocked at the highest any Mini-PC would allow. The DIMMs themselves were capable of going all the way to 1866 MHz. For the SSD we used the ZOTAC Premium Edition 240 GB so as to maintain a level playing field. The LIVA Core comes pre-installed with an Intel 535 Series M.2 SSD, so we let that be. We then installed Windows 10, all drivers and essential software along with the requisite benchmarking software were installed. We then proceeded to install all Windows updates and set the Windows Power Plan to a custom High-Performance preset.

During the assembly phase, we took at look at the internals to assess the build quality of each competitor.

Performance tests: Our benchmark software suite consists mostly of industry standard tools like PCMark8, 3DMark 8, Cinebench, POVRay etc. We also throw in a few storage benchmarks, like ATTO and WinRaR. While we did use the same hardware for all Mini-PCs, the storage test was basically used to re-affirm that the assembly was done and all storage devices were performing equally across  all Mini-PCs.

Features score: The features  that were unique to each Mini-PC garnered it the same weightage as any other. This ensures that having something unique did not propel any device to such an extent that the others couldn’t catch up.

Build quality: The metrics that we observe are largely based on what we’ve seen before and that makes build quality a subjective score. However, the parameters are still based on common sense. 

Final score: The final score that we arrive at in the performance tests is what decides which Mini-PC becomes the Best Performer

The feature score is used to aid in picking the best buy, so the device with the highest performance/rupee ratio clubbed with the feature score gets to be the Best Buy

The Editor’s Pick is awarded to whichever device that we  feel has narrowly missed out on either the Best Performer or the Best Buy. This does make it a little subjective but the scoring mechanism is largely rooted in how the device scores overall.

This comparison was published in the January 2016 issue of Digit magazine. To get the comparisons first, subscribe to the Digit magazine or download the Digit e-magazine app.​

Mithun MohandasMithun Mohandas

While not dishing out lethal doses of sarcasm, this curious creature can often be found tinkering with tech, playing vidya' games or exploring the darkest corners of the Internets. #PCMasterRace https://www.linkedin.com/in/mithunmohandas/


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