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Cheap Fanless Mini PC with Dedicated GPU

Update: ASRock have released a new, similar motherboard, the J4105B-ITX, based on the Gemini Lake, aka Goldmont Plus platform with the J4105 chip. The most powerful chip, the J5005 has only one mobo so far, the ASRock J5005-ITX, but unfortunately, that has only x1 PCI-E. Too bad, because the incremental upgrades come with pretty substantial performance gains:

Anyhow, the original article follows.


Guys, I’ll be honest with you. Intel HD 2D acceleration is atrocious. Friggin’ god awful. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s decent when it works. But Intel manages to break it most of the time. Random GPUs on random Windows versions with random driver versions work. The rest is putred. I purchased the Zotac CI327 recently, and boy does it suck. Even 1080p YouTube playback is a challenge. In any browser. At 30 FPS. On paper, this PoS is supposed to play back even 2160p just fine. Which is 4 times the pixels. It’s unforgivable. Naturally, web browsing sucks just as much. An average website takes 10-20 seconds to load. Assuming you don’t do anything else in the background. Oh. My. God.

Well anyway, after this fiasco, I came to the conclusion that you should avoid Intel HD at all costs. Then comes the problem: mini PC vendors assume that if you want anything other than Intel HD, you’re a gamer, so they throw a GTX 1060 at you. For ridiculous prices, of course. And yes, you guessed it: it won’t be fanless either. Why would it be.

So then came the 2nd conclusion: if you want something done right, you gotta do it yourself. After hours and hours of “research”, I compiled a build that seemed viable. And yesterday I received all the items I needed, too. Since then, I assembled the whole thing, installed Windows, watched an HD movie, surfed a little, installed a bunch of crap, and I’m very happy to report: it kicks ass! Let’s take a look at this little beast:

It’s totally fanless, small and fast, folks!

Check out the specs:

Part P/N Price
Case Realan E-i7 $100
Mobo ASRock J3455B-ITX $80
GPU MSI GeForce GT 1030 2GH LP OC $80
SSD (any 2.5″) $80
RAM (DDR3/DDR3L SO-DIMM) $30
Total $370

That’s well under $400, which is way below the pre-built alternatives (spoiler alert: most of them are above one grand).

Now you may be wondering, where’s the rest? Well, the CPU is integrated on board. It doesn’t even need a separate PSU, it comes with the case – heck, I estimate total power drain to be under 50W under load.

Did I mention that this little beast is 245 x 100 x 236 in size, which puts it under the 6L mark in volume?

Notes:

  • Pay attention to the mobo part number, there’s an alternative, J3455-ITX (without a B), but it doesn’t have an x16 slot.
  • The GPU has been carefully selected and you’re discouraged from replacing it with a different model. If you really need to, note that the GPU has to be low-profile. This specific one has some other merits too: it has HDMI + DP outputs, is fanless, and actually (just barely) fits in this case.
  • Even though Realan officially sells the case for around $60, they have an obligatory expedited shipping for like $40, so I decided to factor that in, otherwise it’d be misleading.

If I really need to complain about something, I’d say it’s a pity there’s no integrated WiFi+BT chip on this mobo. Other than that, I’m really satisfied with it, it really is surprisingly good to me. Let me know if you think there’s any improvement that could be made to this build, I’d be more than happy to hear about it!

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