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MeLE PCG03 Apo Fanless Apollo Lake mini PC Review – Part 1: Unboxing and Teardown

June 8th, 2017 33 comments

You’ll now easily find mini PCs powered by Intel Apollo Lake processor, but many of them are actively cooled, and only support HDMI 1.4 output limited to 4K @ 30 Hz. MeLE PCG03 Apo, an update to the company’s PCG03 fanless mini PC, is powered by an Intel Celeron N3450 quad core processor, support HDMI 2.0 video output up to 4K @ 60 Hz, and is passively cooled. On top of that, it can also be upgraded with an M.2 SSD. The company has sent me a review for sample, and while I’ll focus on testing HDMI 2.0 support, audio pass-through, and whether the mini PC can handle high loads without CPU throttling in the second part of the review, I’ll first have a look at the hardware design today.

MeLE PCG03 Apo Unboxing

I’ve received the device in the usual black retail package showing the key features  with 4K UHD, HDMI 2.0, dual band WiFi, and USB type C.

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We have a quick rundown of the specifications on the side of the package.

The mini PC shops with a user manual in English, as well as a 12V/2A power supply with US, EU, UK, and AU plug adapters.

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The case design is the same as the older model with the top part made of plastic, and the bottom and rear panel made of metal.

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The front panel only comes with the power LED, and a window with the IR receiver. One of the side features a USB 2.0 port, a USB 3.0 ports, an SD card slot, and the power button, while the rear panel comes with a USB type C port (supported features not documented), the power jack, a VGA port, a HDMI 2.0 port, Gigabit Ethernet, two more USB 3.0 ports, a 3.5mm headphone + microphone jack, and an external antenna.

MeLE PCG03 Apo Teardown

Since customers may add there own M.2 SSD, the device has been made  easy to open, and you just need to loosen 4 screws on the bottom plate, and 2 screws on the rear panel, and the top cover should come off easily.


We can see a large heatsink covering the processor, memory and eMMC flash, a battery with a button to clear the CMOS on the bottom left, and a SATA connector on the right. It’s not really usable, at not least not easily in this enclosure, so it may have been designed for another model with a 2.5″ SATA bay. We’ll find the M.2 connector on the right of the board, and on the left of the SATA port, as well as a spacer and screw to keep M.2 80mm SSD card into place.

They’ve built a “wall” to elevate the internal antenna connected to the wireless module to provide a better signal, and possibly avoid the metal part to interfere / block the WiFi signal. Three unused connectors and headers are also found in this area with a fan connector, a 7-pin connector, and an LPC header. A jumper is used to select
“auto” or  “normal”, probably referring to boot mode.

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I’ve taken out the four screws and springers on the heatsink, but it would not come out, and I also further loosen four screws that seem to hold the main board on the metal part of the case, but again it would stay firmly in place. So I gave up, as I did not want to damage it before the review.

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It’s still interesting to check out the board, and the various notable chips on the board. From top left to bottom right:

  • Realtek ALC269 audio coded for the headphone jack
  • M-TEK G24101SCGX Gigabit Ethernet transformer
  • ParadeTech PS175HDM DisplayPort 1.2 to HDMI 2.0a converter
  • ITE IT6513FN DisplayPort to VGA controller
  • Realtek RTS5170 card reader controller driver
  • Richtek RT5074A, probably a power management IC
  • Intel 3165D2W wireless module for 802.11 b/g/n/ac WiFi  and Bluetooth 4.0 LE

 

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I also took a side shot to show the different measures taken to cool the board with apparently a heatsink and thermal pad on the top, and another thermal pad, and thick metal plate connected to the bottom metal case.

I’d like to thank MeLE for sending their latest mini PC for review, and if interested, you can purchase it for $159.20 including shipping on their Aliexpress store.

Intrynsic Open-Q 835 Development Kit Features Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 Processor, Support Android 7 and Windows 10

June 7th, 2017 1 comment

Intrinsyc has just launched one of the first development boards powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor with their Open-Q 835 devkit equipped with 4GB LPDDR4x, 128GB UFS 2.1 flash, 802.11ad WiFi, dual camera support and more.

Open-Q 835 Devkit with Cooling Plate Underneath

Open-Q 835 development kit is comprised of a “processor board” and a baseboard with the following specifications:

  • Processor Board
    • SoC – Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 (APQ8098) octa-core processor with four high performance Kryo 280 cores @ 2.20 GHz/ 2.30 GHz (single core operation), four low power Kryo cores @ 1.9 GHz, Adreno 540 GPUwith  OpenGL ES 3.2, OpenCL 2.0 Full support, and Hexagon 682 DSP with Hexagon Vector eXtensions (dual-HVX512)
    • System Memory – 4GB LPDDR4x RAM
    • Storage – 128GB UFS2.1 Gear3 2 lane Flash
    • Connectivity
      • Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac 2.4/5Ghz 2×2
      • Bluetooth 5.0 + BLE
      • WiGig60 802.11ad with on-board antenna
    • Dimensions – 70 x 60 mm
  • Carrier Board
    • Display – 1x HDMI 2.0 out up to 4K Ultra HD, 2x 4 lane MIPI DSI + Touch Panel connector for optional LCD panel accessory
    • Audio
      • On-board Audio Codec; Audio in & out expansion headers, 1x ANC Headset Out
      • Optional SW features – Qualcomm Fluence HD with Noise Cancellation, high fidelity music playback 24-bit/192kHz, Dolby 5.1 support
    • Camera
      • 3x 4-lane MIPI CSI connectors
      • Dual Qualcomm Spectra 180 ISP
      • Optional SW Features – Qualcomm Clear Sight camera; Hybrid Autofocus, Optical Zoom; HW-accelerated Face Detection; HDR Video Record
    • Other Interfaces
      • GNSS daughter card with GPS, GLONASS, Beidou, and Galileo, PCB antenna and SMA connector option
      • 1x UART debug (USB micro-B)
      • 1x USB3.1 Type C
      • 1x uSD 3.0 UHS-1
      • I2S, SPI, GPIO, sensor header
    • Power Supply – 12V/3A DC; optional 3,000 Li-Ion battery
    • Dimensions  — 170mm x 170mm (mini-ITX form factor)

The company provides support for Android 7 Nougat, and Windows 10 should be feasible too but you are asked to “contact sales”. An optional WQHD AMOLED LCD is also available. Intrynsic explains the development kit is particularly suited for OEMS and device makers evaluating the processor and peripherals, and for premium mobile device development.

The “Early Adopter Version” of Open-Q 835 development kit can be purchased for $1,149, subject to an approval process. You may be able to find additional details on the product page.

Zotac PI225 Ultra Slim Apollo Lake Mini PC is Smaller than a 2.5″ SSD, About as Thick as a Smartphone

June 3rd, 2017 13 comments

We’ve covered a large number of tiny mini PCs and TV sticks powered by Intel processors, but usually they are thicker than your smartphone because of USB, HDMI, and Ethernet ports if the latter is included. Zotac decided to leverage USB type C data and display capabilities to do away with USB & HDMI ports, and used a micro USB port for power in their latest Zotac PI225 mini PC resulting in an ultra thin (8mm) mini PC that is smaller than a 2.5″ SSD.

Zotac PI225 mini PC specifications:

  • SoC – Intel Celeron N3350 dual core “Apollo Lake” processor @ 1.1 / 2.4 GHz with 12 EU Intel HD Graphics 500 (6W TDP)
  • System Memory – 4 GB LPDDR3
  • Storage – 32 GB eMMC flash, micro SDXC slot
  • USB – 2x USB 3.0 type C connectors with data and DisplayPort support
  • Connectivity – 802.11ac WiFi and Bluetooth 4.2
  • Power – 1x micro USB port
  • Dimensions – 90 x 60 x 8 mm

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The mini PC should run Windows 10 64-bit. We do not have pricing nor availability information at this stage.

Via Liliputing, Tom’s Hardware, and WinFuture (in German)

UP Core Intel Board Has Launched for 69 Euros and Up on Kickstarter

June 1st, 2017 2 comments

During spring, we discovered UP Core, a tiny board powered by Intel x5-Z8350 Cherry Trail processor  that promised to sell for as low as 69 Euros. But at the time, it was not available yet for purchase, and the good news is that UP has just launched a one month crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter to raise funds for mass production, and promote the board.

UP Core specifications have not changed since the first announcement:

  • SoC – Intel Atom x5-Z8350 “Cherry Trail” quad core processor @ 1.44 GHz / 1.92 GHz (Burst frequency) with Intel HD 400 graphics @ 200 / 500 MHz
  • System Memory –  1, 2 or 4 GB DDR3L-1600
  • Storage – 16, 32, or 64 GB eMMC flash, SPI flash ROM
  • Video Output / Display – HDMI 1.4 port, full eDP (embedded DisplayPort) connector
  • Audio I/O – Via HDMI, and I2S
  • Connectivity – 802.11 b/g/n WiFi  @ 2.4 GHz, Bluetooth 4.0 LE (AP614A)
  • USB – 1x USB 3.0 host port, 2x USB 2.0 via header
  • Camera I/F – 1x 2-lane MIPI CSI, 1x 4-lane MIPI CSI
  • Expansion
    • 100-pin docking connector with power signals, GPIOs, UART, SPI, I2C, PWM, SDIO, I2S, HDMI SMBUS, PMC signals, 2x USB HSIC, CSI, and PCIe Gen 2
    • 10-pin connector with 2x USB 2.0, 1x UART
  • Misc – Power & reset buttons, RTC battery header, fan connector, BIOS reflash connector
  • Power Supply – 5V/4A via 5.5/2.1mm power barrel
  • Dimensions – 66 x 56.50 mm
  • Temperature Range – Operating: 0 to 60 °C
  • Certifications – CE/FCC Class A, RoHS compliant, REACH

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The board supports Microsoft Windows 10, Windows 10 IoT Core, Linux via Ubilinux, Ubuntu, and the Yocto Project, as well as Android 6.0 Marshmallow. The block diagram shown in March also included an extension HAT connected to the 100-pin docking port, but we did not have many details. With the launch on Kickstarter two stackable expansion boards are available:

  • Expansion board A [BRKH01] carrying high-speed signals: 1c2 channel PCI Express switch, Gigabit Ethernet (RTL8111G-CG / RJ45), HSIC/USB ports, uSIM card reader, SD card, etc…
  • Expansion board B [BRKL01] based on MAX10 CPLD exposing low-speed signals such as RS-232/422/484, I2C, I2S, and GPIOs, as well as 12 to 24V power input

The documentation to make your own UP Core expansion board will be made available, so more are likely coming, and up to three expansion boards can be stacked under UP Core board. The company will also pay royalties to makers of expansion boards that are selected (by UP community) to be sold on their store.

A chassis for UP Core and its carrier boards is also available in your prefer to keep the boards in an enclosure.

The company goal is to raise at least 10,000 Euros, but they should reach a much higher level once the campaign is completed. Some of the most interesting rewards are:

  • 69 Euros (early bird) then 75 Euros for UP Core with 1GB RAM, 16GB eMMC
  • 85 Euros (early bird) then 95 Euros for UP Core with 2GB RAM, 32GB eMMC
  • 119 Euros (early bird) then 129 Euros for UP core with 4GB RAM, 64GB eMMC
  • 125 Euros starter pack with UP Core with 2GB RAM, 32 GB eMMC, aluminum chassis, AC adapter, and WiFi+Bt antenna
  • 189 Euros dev.pack with UP Core with 4GB RAM, 64GB eMMC, A & B expansion boards, AC adapter, and WiFi+Bt antenna

They also have variations up to the 225 Euros super pack with comes with the 4GB/64GB board, the two expansion boards, three aluminum chassis, and accessories. Shipping adds 16 to 27 Euros depending on the destination country, and delivery is scheduled for August to October 2017 depending on the selected reward.

Thanks to Harley for the tip.

Windows 10 ARM Mobile PCs Demonstrated with Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 SoC at Computex 2017

June 1st, 2017 13 comments

Windows on ARM has been tried before with Windows RT, but the systems were crippled, and it was not exactly a success. Microsoft and Qualcomm are now giving it another try with ARM mobile computers running the full version Windows 10 on Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor, and Asus, HP, and Lenovo building devices based on the solution.

There are plenty of inexpensive Intel PCs running Windows 10, so what would be the benefits of using Snapdragon 835 SoC? Qualcomm explains that it’s the first to coming integrate Gigabit LTE, it offers up to 50% longer battery life in specific use cases like watching videos and gaming, and thanks to big.LITTLE technology provides up to 4 to 5 times improvement in battery life compared to Intel’s solutions.

Windows 10 does not have the same limitations as Windows RT had, and you can do pretty everything that you would on an Intel PC, including installing and running 32-bit x86 application thanks to an emulation layer that convert x86 instructions to ARM ones.

Qualcomm Mobile PC Board vs Intel Mobile PC Board

Mobile Geeks filmed a demo in Qualcomm booth, showing Office (Word, Excel, Powerpoint), Outlook, installing a 32-bit x86 application, multi-tab web browsing over an LTE connection, and playing some YouTube video, including a 4K video. As a side note, the demo guy told the “legal department told him to only show Qualcomm content”, probably because of inane copyrights laws. That’s really ridiculous that those laws apply to showing a 10s clip for an hardware demo. But I digress, and it was stressed again that it was the first time big.LITTLE was supported in Windows 10, and allowed for much better efficiency.

Via Liliputing

CHUWI Lapbook 12.3 is a Windows 10 / Ubuntu Apollo Lake Laptop with a 2K Display, 6GB RAM, Up to 256 GB SSD Storage

April 27th, 2017 7 comments

I’ve reviewed CHUWI LapBook 14.1 laptop earlier this year with an Intel Celeron N3450 Apollo Lake processor, 14.1″ Full HD display and 4GB RAM, and found it to work reasonably well for the price in Windows 10, as well as Ubuntu 17.04. The company has been working on another model called CHUWI LapBook 12.3 with the same processor, but a smaller yet higher resolution 12.3″ 2K display, more memory (6GB RAM), 64GB eMMC flash, and support for M.2 SSDs up to 256 GB.

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CHUWI LapBook 12.3 specifications with highlight in bold showing differences against LapBook 14.1 model:

  • SoC – Intel Celeron N3450 quad core “Apollo Lake” processor @ 1.1 GHz / 2.2 GHz (Burst frequency) and 12 EU Intel HD graphics 500 @ 200 MHz / 700 MHz (Burst freq.); 6W TDP
  • System Memory – 6GB DDR3
  • Storage – 64 GB eMMC flash + micro SD slot up to 128 GB + M.2 SSD up to 256 GB
  • Display – 12.3″ display with 2736 x 1824 (2K) resolution; 3:2 aspect ratio
  • Video Output – 1x micro HDMI port
  • Audio – HDMI, 3.5mm audio jack, built-in stereo speakers and microphone
  • Connectivity – Dual band 802.11 b/g/n/ac WiFi, and Bluetooth 4.0. (Intel Wireless AC-3165 module)
  • Camera – 2.0MP front-facing camera
  • USB – 1x USB 2.0 host port, 1x USB 3.0 port
  • Power Supply – TBD
  • Battery – 8,000mAh / 7.6V (60.8 Wh) Polymer Li-ion battery
  • Dimensions – 300 x 223 x 16.7 mm
  • Weight – 1.44 kg (vs 1.74 kg for 14.1 model); all metal body

So apart from the extra memory, different display, a smaller battery, and of course, dimensions  and weight both laptops are pretty similar. CHUWI LapBook 12.3 will first sell with Windows 10, and later the company plans to offer an Ubuntu version.

 

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The laptop will be released in May for $349 which you can compare to the $260 for CHUWI LapBook 14.1. GearBest has already listed the laptop on their website, where you can register to get an arrival notice, once it is up for sale or pre-order.

Beelink AP42 Apollo Lake mini PC Linux Review with Ubuntu, KDE Neon, Elementary OS….

Beelink’s latest Intel mini PC offerings includes the AP34 and AP42 which are their first models using Intel Apollo Lake processors. The former uses an Intel Apollo Lake Celeron N3450 processor (burst frequency 2.2GHz, Intel HD Graphics 500 with Graphics Burst Frequency 700MHz and 12 Execution Units) while the latter uses the slightly more powerful Pentium N4200 (burst frequency 2.5GHz, Intel HD Graphics 505 with Graphics Burst Frequency 750MHz and 18 Execution Units). Both support Windows 10 (Home) and Beelink’s marketing claim they “support Linux system”. GearBest has given me the chance to review running Linux on the AP42 model so here are my findings.

Spot the difference!

Normally I first make a disk image before booting Windows or installing Linux. However initial attempts at booting a Live USB with a variety of Linux systems failed so both the reseller and manufacturer were contacted for comment. Interestingly there was no immediate reply but early indications that something was amiss was when the reseller’s advert (right) changed compared with the manufacturers advert (left).

As I’d previously had a comment on my website about using rEFInd boot manager when a system wouldn’t boot I gave it a try by manually building an Ubuntu Live USB which successfully booted. Unfortunately the ISO I had used was Ubuntu 16.04.2 and whilst it ran fine on the USB drive, it couldn’t ‘see’ the eMMC of the AP42. Further experimentation with Ubuntu 17.04 Beta 2 and a variety of kernels showed that a minimum 4.10 kernel was required in order to access the eMMC. Anyone wanting to boot an Ubuntu ISO can either manually add the rRFInd boot manager, or use the latest version of ‘isorespin.sh’ to respin the ISO with the rRFInd boot manager and optionally update the kernel.

Then having taken a disk image I booted Windows only to find that Windows was already set up with an ‘Admin’ account. Which of course gave me the opportunity to test a full Windows restore that fortunately worked.

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So with a nice clean and activated Windows system and 24 hours later due to all the updates download and installing I was able to run my usual Windows tests to given me a basic comparison with other Intel devices.

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As can be seen there is a performance increment over Cherry Trail devices including better graphics performance and the new Apollo Lake Pentium N4200 processor is overall slightly better than the earlier Celeron N3150 processor.

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​Being a passively cooled device I was interested to see whether temperature was an issue. I ran HWiNFO64’s Sensor Status utility before and after each test and rather unscientifically held the box to see how hot it was. Neither indicated that I had any reason to be concerned as whilst the box felt warm the temperature maxed out at around 70 °C and no thermal-throttling was encountered.

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Having put the device through its paces under Windows, it was time to look at Linux performance. For a comparison I was going to use the results from my Phoronix ‘mini PC’ test suite run on Intel Compute Sticks. However I initially had problems getting the ‘unpack-linux’ test to install so I decided to download the latest version directly from www.phoronix-test-suite.com rather than use the one provided through ‘apt’. And because comparing results across different versions of test software and different releases of OS is often meaningless I first had to reinstall Ubuntu 17.04 on the comparison hardware and then run the tests in parallel across each device. For those not familiar with the model names they decode as STCK1A32WFC is the Intel Compute Stick (Falls City), STK1AW32SC is the Intel Compute Stick (Sterling City) and STKM3W64CC is the Intel Compute Stick (Cedar City) with the specs listed in the above table. Unfortunately with the Phoronix Test Suite some tests give decidedly strange and confusing results even those they are the average of three runs. However, as per the Windows results there is a noticeable improvement as the power of the processor increases and the AP42 performance is as expected.

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I also ran the Octane 2 on Chrome which was also comparable with the Windows result albeit slightly lower which in iteself was slightly unusual given it is typically slightly higher in Ubuntu than with Windows normally. Interestingly Octane 2 has now been retired as it seems too many programs were cheating their scores (all too familiar).

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In terms of what works under Ubuntu it was nice to find that all the usual problem areas were fine, with working audio, WiFi, Bluetooth and SD cards (including Sandisk). I did encounter a problem with HDMI audio in that you must first select the audio device under Sound Settings before it works. And in Lubuntu this was impossible to do as only Headphones showed up until I plugged in some external speakers into the headphone jack and then after unplugging them the HDMI output option then appeared. But otherwise the device ran smoothly on Ubuntu.

Some specifics about the hardware.

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The memory is single channel and is 2x 2GB DDR3 1600 MHz…

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… and the eMMC storage is CJNB4R which is a Samsung 64GB storage chip…

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… with WiFi/Bluetooth provided by an Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 3165 chip with Bluetooth 4.2 as reported by inxi.

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Given the kernel limitation, I found running other Linuxes rather limiting. I did get OpenELEC to successfully boot and run from USB but installing would be an issue. I also tried Android-x86 and Chromium OS loaders but they were also impacted and not usable. My initial Remix attempts were unsuccessful and Phoenix took too long to download to be worth waiting for another failure. Other Ubuntu based distro ISOs worked as long as they were respun with a later kernel (I tested LinuxMint, Neon and Elementary with the latest v4.11-rc7 kernel). The only other Linux distro I tried was Debian but this was also unsuccessful due to the kernel issue, however other distros with rolling releases like Tumbleweed and Arch should be okay.

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KDE Neon – Click to Enlarge

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In terms of support Beelink are somewhat lacking. Despite having released the device for nearly a month, there are still no download links for BIOS or Windows drivers. They have just added a download for the entire Windows OS, but have failed to create a forum for AP42 users. For the Linux issue, they did eventually respond with “Sorry for that we don’t allow the right of Linux now” which is a somewhat unexpected response given their advert.

So for a new device running Linux it is arguably hit and miss. Depending on what you want to run will rule out the device completely at this stage and if you are looking for flexibility it may also be too restrictive. It may be that a BIOS update addresses the current Linux limitations, but equally given Beelink’s response it could restrict Linux even further.

The price is also somewhat questionable given it has a range from US$180 to US$270 which is the current price on Amazon. In comparison a barebones Zotac ZBOX CI323 with Celeron N3150 is currently US $148 on Newegg and a barebones Intel NUC NUC6CAYS with Celeron J3455 is US $149 on Amazon so the value for money given the level of support and current Linux restrictions is worth considering before purchasing. GearBest – who sent Beelink AP42 mini PC for review – somewhat sweetens the deal, as they sell it for $179.99 including shipping with coupon GBAP42. Beside Amazon and GearBest, you can also purchase the mini PC on sites like Aliexpress and Banggood for $185 to $190.

Zotac CI327 Nano Apollo Lake Fanless mini PC Features HDMI 2.0, DisplayPort 1.2, and VGA Video Outputs

April 23rd, 2017 7 comments

While many Apollo Lake mini PCs have been launched, few support 4K @ 60 Hz video output, but Zotac CI327 Nano mini PC does even better than that thanks to HDMI 2.0 and DisplayPort 1.2 outputs allowing for dual 4K UHD @ 60 Hz setups, and it also adds an extra VGA port to enable triple display setups.

The rest of the specifications are not too bad either with three models CI327 Nano (windows / no windows) and CI327 Nano Plus with slightly different hardware specifications:

  • SoC – Intel Celeron N3450 quad-core  processor @ 1.1GHz / 2.2GHz with Intel HD Graphics 500
  • System Memory
    • Nano with Windows and Nano PLUS – 4GB DDR3L (one slot occupied, up to 8GB)
    • Nano – 2x 204-pin DDR3L-1866 SO-DIMM slots (up to 8GB)
  • Storage – 1x 2.5″ SATA 6.0 Gbps SSD/HDD slot; 3-in-1 (SD/SDHC/SDXC); Nano with WINDOWS only: 32GB M.2 on-board SATA SSD
  • Video Output
    • HDMI 2.0 up to 3840×2160 @ 60 Hz
    • DisplayPort 1.2 up to 4096×2160 @ 60 Hz
    • VGA up to 1920×1080 @ 60 Hz
  • Audio – 3.5mm headphone and microphone jacks, lossless bitstream via HDMI
  • USB – 1x USB 3.0 type C port, 2x USB 3.0 ports, 2x USB 2.0 ports
  • Connectivity – Dual Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11 ac WiFi + Bluetooth 4.2
  • Misc – Power button, Kensington lock, Power/HDD/WiFi LEDs, VESA mount
  • Power Supply – 19V/40W AC adapter
  • Dimensions – 127 .8 x 126.8 x 56.8 mm

The mini PC ships with a WiFi antenna, an AC adapter with power cord, a warranty card, a user manual, a quick install guide, a driver disc, and a VESA monitor mount (with 4 screws). Nano with Windows version also comes with a O/S recovery DVD. The only operating system listed as supported is Windows 10 Home 64-bit, so it’s unclear whether you’d be able to install Linux distributions.

The barebone version – Zotac CI327 Nano – sells for as low as 172.13 Euros in Germany. You’ll find a comparison of the three models on Zotac website.

Via FanlessTech