As a rule, when choosing a laptop or personal computer, users are often guided by the “more is better” principle: more cores, gigabytes of RAM and disk space, inches of display diagonal. Here, the ruthless marketing of large electronics retailers adds fuel to the fire, although, to be honest, even they sometimes have balanced assemblies on sale at an interesting price. Meanwhile, for many users, the requirements for a home personal computer are limited to working on the Internet and e-mail, editing texts and consuming digital content. Laptops and a variety of mobile gadgets can be used in such scenarios, but traditional PCs can offer larger screen sizes and a full keyboard, which are often the deciding factors when buying. As for professional use, whether it is organizing jobs for office workers or implementing commercial projects, for example, automating self-service checkouts in a supermarket or building an interactive information kiosk, in the absence of autonomy requirements, personal computers, consisting of a display and a system block. As the latter, in the absence of increased performance requirements, miniature solutions in the NUC form factor, named after the founder — Intel Next Unit of Computing, which was released back in 2012, are excellent. Since then, such solutions have been presented by most of the leading manufacturers of computer equipment, including Micro-Star Int’l (MSI), and, it should be noted, their debut in this class in the form of Cubi based on the Broadwell-U processor turned out to be very successful. And today we will get acquainted with its direct «descendant» — a miniature PC Cubi N 8GL, which is based on the Intel Gemini Lake platform.
In the photo, the hero of today’s review is posing in tandem with the MSI PRO MP241 monitor, and this is no accident! The vendor positions both of these products as entry-level professional solutions for a wide range of tasks. The display is based on an IPS matrix with a size of 23.8″, a resolution of 1920×1080 and a color gamut of 102% sRGB (CIE 1976), which is the best combination for office work, while the set of video inputs is represented by analog D-Sub and digital HDMI 1.4. The image refresh rate is 60 Hz, the average response time does not exceed 7 ms, and the brightness and contrast ratios are 220 cd / m2 and 1000: 1, respectively. As you can see, the display parameters are far from the record ones, but the price for MSI PRO MP241 is at the mark of UAH 3499 or about $125, which is not so much by modern standards. But, enough about the monitor, let’s finally get to know the new product and start with the specifications of the MSI Cubi N 8GL.
|Model||MSI Cubi N 8GL (002BEU-BN5000XX)|
|Official product page||ua.msi.com|
|Processor||Intel Pentium Silver N5000 1.1GHz (TDP 6W, 4 cores, 4 threads)|
|RAM||1x SO-DIMM DDR4 SDRAM 2 GB 2400 MHz (8 GB maximum)|
|Video card||Intel HD Graphics 605 (18 EU, 750 MHz)|
|Video connectors||1x HDMI 2.0, 1 x D-Sub|
|Disk subsystem||1h M.2 2280|
|I/O ports||4x USB 3.2 Gen1, 1x RJ-45, 1x 3.5mm analog audio jack|
|Sound subsystem||Realtek ALC283|
|Communications||1х Realtek 8111H (Gigabit Ethernet)|
|Power Supply||External (19V, 40W)|
|Dimensions, mm||116 x 112 x 45|
|Additional features||VESA mount, TPM module|
|Recommended price||5299 hryvnias|
Contents of delivery
The novelty is sold in a medium-sized cardboard box, designed in the now fashionable «ecological» style, which implies the rejection of color printing, which not only positively affects the final cost of the product, but also reduces the complexity of packaging recycling. On the front surface there is an image of the device from various angles, the name of the manufacturer and the name of the model, as well as the key features of the MSI Cubi N 8GL, such as the use of passive cooling, support for Ultra 4K HD image output, and others that we will talk about during the review.
The package of the miniature PC consists of:
- international warranty card;
- quick assembly guides;
- a metal adapter plate for mounting the device on a VESA bracket and four screws;
- power cord with CEE 7/4 plug;
- network adapter Delta Electronics ADP-40KD (19 V, 40 W);
- HDMI cable about 15 cm long.
One of the design features of the compact system unit is the ability to mount it on a VESA bracket behind the monitor. For this purpose, a complete metal adapter plate is used, which is fixed with four M4 threaded screws.
Thus, any monitor with VESA mounting holes can be turned into a monoblock with Cubi N 8GL, thus saving desktop space. The short HDMI cable included in the package will also come in handy here, which allows you to get rid of unaesthetic “armfuls” of wires.
This design looks stylish, especially when paired with a wireless keyboard and mouse, however, in this case it becomes not very convenient to use the power button, and access to expansion ports becomes more difficult. The last question can be solved with the built-in USB 3.2 hub, but, alas, the MSI PRO MP241 lacks one. But, unlike All-in-One monoblocks, with this solution, users have ample opportunities for upgrading, up to replacing the display or the system unit itself with a similar design, but with the required characteristics.
As for appearance, MSI Cubi N 8GL looks unusual, its top cover has a complex shape and is completely perforated for better ventilation. The case is made of black matte plastic, its dimensions are 116x112x45 mm, and the weight barely exceeds 550 g. In the lower left part of the cover there is a power button with a built-in LED indicator, which emits a dim blue light during operation.
On the front panel there are two USB 3.2 Gen1 «Type A» ports, one of which supports the function of accelerated charging of mobile gadgets, a disk subsystem activity LED and a combined 3.5 mm analog audio jack.
Ports on the rear panel include an external power supply connector, analog D-Sub video output, a pair of USB 3.2 Gen1 “Type A” ports and an RJ-45 network socket, as well as an HDMI 2.0 digital video output with the ability to output images in Ultra 4K resolution HD. Thus, two monitors can be connected to the device at the same time, which is enough for most user scenarios.
The side faces of the case are unremarkable, with the exception of ventilation grilles and a hole for a Kensington lock. The bottom cover is made of metal, stickers with service information are glued in the center, there are rubber feet in the corners, and two slots are visible closer to the middle, which are necessary for mounting the device behind the monitor on a VESA bracket.
The bottom cover serves as a heatsink for cooling the M.2 2280 solid-state drive; for this, a thick gasket made of thermally conductive material is glued on its inner surface, which, in the working position, just contacts the front side of the SSD.
Inside the device is a system board that occupies all the free space. The board has a single SO-DOMM slot for installing DDR4 memory modules with a frequency of up to 2400 MHz inclusive and a maximum capacity of 8 GB. Also, on the «motherboard» there is a pair of M.2 connectors, one of which is used for the wireless network adapter, and the second is for installing an M.2 2280 solid-state drive with SATA 6 Gb / s or PCI Express interface. It is noteworthy that Wi-Fi is not specified in the specifications, but in our case, an Intel Wireless-AC 3168 adapter was installed with support for IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n+ac and Bluetooth 4.2 standards. Attentive readers may have noticed a SATA connector that can be used to connect a 2.5 ”drive with support for the corresponding interface, but for this you need to purchase a special bottom cover and a cable with a power connector. Finally, the Realtek 8111H with Gigabit Ethernet support is responsible for the wired network, and the analog audio output is provided by the Realtek ALC283 HD audio codec.
As mentioned at the beginning of our review, the MSI Cubi N 8GL is based on the Intel Gemini Lake platform, namely the energy-efficient Intel Pentium Silver N5000 SoC. This single-chip system, manufactured using a 14-nm process technology, has four processing cores with the Goldmont Plus microarchitecture, familiar to us from reviews of devices based on the Celeron N4000 and a 4 MB L2 cache array. SSE4.1 and SSE4.2 SIMD instructions are supported, as well as hardware-accelerated AES encryption and SHA hashing. The TDP of the chip is limited to 6 W, which makes it possible to use a passive cooling system, which the Cubi N 8GL developers did not fail to take advantage of. Apart from the zero noise level, this solution obviously has a reliability advantage over active systems due to the lack of moving parts. As for the speed characteristics, the nominal clock frequency of the SoC is at around 1100 MHz, depending on the load, this value can increase up to 2700 MHz, and at idle times it can drop to 800 MHz.
Along with the Intel Pentium Silver N5000 processor cores, it contains a dual-channel DDR4 / LPDDR4 memory controller with support for frequencies up to 2400 MHz and an Intel HD Graphics 605 graphics accelerator. The video core has 18 execution units that operate at frequencies from 200 to 750 MHz inclusive and provides support for the DirectX API 12.1, OpenGL 4.5 and OpenCL 2.0.
But, more importantly for a device that claims to be an economical media center, the Intel HD Graphics 605 graphics accelerator contains a Quick Sync 2.0 unit, which provides hardware-accelerated playback of video content in 4K and even 8K resolution. This is confirmed by the report in the DXVA Checker diagnostic utility, while in practice, the MSI Cubi N 8GL provided smooth playback of a YouTube video stream at a resolution of 3840×2160 at 60 fps.