[IMGCAP(1)]Most of the time, it seems as if technology moves faster than I’m able to cover it. Just a few weeks after I wrote about tiny PCs, two more showed up. And they are just different enough that I thought they were worth a detailed mention.
First to show up was a new desktop from Acer, the Revo One RL85. It has a tiny footprint, about 4 x 4 inches, and is only about 6 inches tall. With rounded corners, it looks somewhat like a really small, shiny white stereo speaker, but without a grille cloth. All the ports are on the rear of the unit, including HDMI and DisplayPort outputs (you can run two displays at once), a gigabit Ethernet port, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and four USB ports (two USB 2.0 and 2 USB 3.0). There’s even 7.1 audio out if you want to serenade the office while you work.
Revo One prices start at $280 for a unit with a Celeron Dual-Core CPU, 2GB RAM, and a 60GB SSD hard drive. The one they sent for me to test was the top-of-the-line, $580 RL85-UR45. This little beauty has a Core i5 Dual-Core, 8GB RAM (the maximum supported), and a 1TB hard drive. It also came with a wireless mouse and small wireless keyboard. Acer also has another Celeron and a Core i3 model in the lineup.
The one thing that I think sets the Revo One RL85 apart from the other tiny PCs I’ve looked at is the ability to stick two more hard drives in the device. They have to be a 2.5 inch laptop form factor drive, but doing so lets you run the drives in RAID 1 (mirroring) mode so everything on the original drive is backed up on the second drive. You can find a 1TB laptop drive for about $60. All of the Revo One models come with Windows 8.1 installed. I didn’t have an extra monitor to test the Revo One, so Acer sent along one of its K242HL bid monitors. This 24 inch display has HDMI, DVI and VGA inputs and sells for about $140. It has 1920 x 1080 resolution and, for an inexpensive monitor, looks great.
Tiny PC number two is an Intel NUC5i5RYK. Intel’s NUC (Next Unit of Computing) offerings are bare-bones PCs. They have a case, motherboard, CPU and power supply, but no RAM, hard drive or operating system. This particular model has a Broadwell i5 CPU, which is a very low power processor used in many Ultrabooks. I had to load it up with RAM and a SSD hard drive and install the OS (I have a copy of Windows 8.1 that I use only for testing), but in about 20 minutes, most of which was waiting for Windows to install, I had a 4 x 4 x 1 inch PC capable of running a decent sized office network.
The NUC5i5RYK kind of redefines DIY. It took me literally two minutes to install 16GB of RAM and a 240GB SSD. The NUC has two RAM sockets and uses laptop DDR3 RAM. Kingston was kind enough to send me two pieces of 8GB SODIMM. This is somewhat expensive memory, at about $55 per module, but the NUC should work fine with less expensive and/or smaller capacity RAM. If I were building it for general office use or as a mini-server, I’d probably use one 8GB SODIMM to start.
The SSD that this NUC model uses is different from the standard SSD or laptop drives that you are probably familiar with. It’s in the M.2 form factor, which looks like stick of standard RAM, but with the contacts on the side rather than on the bottom. Both Kingston and Samsung sent 240GB drives. The Kingston drive is about $160 and the Samsung a bit less expensive at about $120. Both actually worked great.
Intel makes a version of this NUC with a different case and room for a standard 2.5 inch form-factor SSD or hard drive. It’s about 2 inches high rather than an inch, and is probably the one I’d get to build a system, though the 240GB M.2 drive is large enough for most uses.
The Intel NUC has changed my mind about DIY. Yes, when you add up the costs, it’s going to run about $600 or so, and you can buy an already assembled tiny or, for that matter, standard desktop PC for about the same cost.
But you won’t have the ability to configure it exactly like you want, and it’s so easy to finish and/or upgrade that almost anyone could do it. As an added bonus, the NUC5i5RYK came with a metal plate that replaces the top cover and allows the PC to be attached to any monitor that has VESA mounting capability, which is just about every monitor sold today.
It used to be that you had to give up a considerable amount of capability when you went small. That’s just not true any longer. Tiny PCs are easy to hide, and they generally use less power than larger models, so you may want to give them serious thought when it’s time to add or replace a large power-sucking desktop.
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