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Asus VivoMini VC65 – ComputerShopper.com


Measuring 7.75 inches square and 2 inches thick (or tall, depending on whether you stand it on end or lay it flat), the VivoMini VC65 fits nicely behind an HDTV or a flat-panel monitor. That said, the design is attractive enough that you may not want to hide it. The sides of the case, done up in iron gray (Asus’ description of the color), have a subtle circular pattern that resembles the one on the aluminum lids of some of the company s ZenBook laptops. In fact, before we hefted the VivoMini, we assumed that the plastic case was in fact aluminum.

Asus VivoMini VC65 - ComputerShopper.com

Sandwiched between the case’s book-end-like sides is a slightly recessed slice that houses the various ports and air vents. The look is much more understated than the designs of enthusiast- or gaming-oriented compact PCs such as the Intel “Skull Canyon” NUC Kit3 or Alienware Alpha R24, without being as fusty and utilitarian as certain business-oriented compact desktops from Dell and Lenovo. We like that the VivoMini VC65 has its power supply integrated into the chassis and thus does not require the external power brick that many other compact PCs do just a simple cord. Also, the chassis is VESA-mount-compliant, so you can mount it on a wall, beneath a counter, or behind a monitor.

Asus VivoMini VC65 - ComputerShopper.com

The diminutive design does come with a predictable drawback: The cramped quarters inside the case makes upgrading and servicing this system a little tricky for the uninitiated. On the plus side, Asus has made it easy to get inside the chassis. Simply remove the screw adjacent to the Kensington-style security-cable notch, slide the latch to unlock the lid, and lift off the top cover. Upgrading the hard drive is a snap, since it s right there on top. But accessing the RAM slots requires removing the drive and its bracket. Of course, most users aren t likely to ever crack the case, anyway. We do appreciate that this drive cage can accommodate up to four 2.5-inch drives, in any mixture of hard drives or solid-state drives (SSDs). That makes the VivoMini VC65 much more expandable than smaller compact PCs, such as Asus own VivoMini UN45 series5. Indeed, Asus notes that a similar version of the PC to the one we tested, dubbed “VivoMini VC65R,” will support RAID across these drives.

In our test unit, one bay was filled with a 1TB hard drive, and that was about our only quibble with the configuration; we’d have preferred, perhaps, a smaller-capacity SSD serving as the boot drive, paired with a hard drive for mass storage. According to Asus’ specifications page for the VC65, SSD-based configurations are (or will be) offered, but we weren’t able to find any actually for sale anywhere online in the weeks we spent with this machine. Also, we were surprised that this PC didn’t feature a slot on its mainboard for a small, onboard M.2 or mSATA SSD. We have no quibbles with the on-box connectivity that the VivoMini VC65 delivers. The front panel features the power button and two USB 3.0 ports…

Asus VivoMini VC65 - ComputerShopper.com

A flash-memory-card slot (supporting SD cards in their key varieties, as well as MultiMediaCard) is on what would be the top side if you place the machine vertically…

Asus VivoMini VC65 - ComputerShopper.comAsus VivoMini VC65 - ComputerShopper.com

The back panel has two more USB 3.0 ports, two USB 2.0 ports, a Gigabit Ethernet jack, and both mic and headphone jacks, as well as three video outputs

Asus VivoMini VC65 - ComputerShopper.comAsus VivoMini VC65 - ComputerShopper.com

This system relies on the integrated graphics built into its Intel CPUs, so for video connectivity you get HDMI and DisplayPort connectors to cover modern HDTVs and LCD monitors, as well as a VGA port for older projectors and monitors (such as the old CRTs that are all the rage for retro gaming). There s even a serial (COM) connector for legacy peripherals, such as hand scanners used at point of sale, medical equipment, or old custom hardware that may be in use by a business. All that s missing are parallel and SCSI ports! Ed.

One area where the relatively low price shows, though, is in the bundled keyboard and mouse. A wireless set would have been ideal, in keeping with the sleek aesthetic, but Asus put a wired set in the box. And they feel cheap. The full-size keyboard does have a number pad, but the island-style keys have a spongy, inconsistent action. (Some feel soft, while others feel clacky and not in the good clickety-clacky way of mechanical keyboards.) The ovoid, ambidextrous-design mouse falls somewhere between a full-size ergonomic mouse and a travel mouse in size, so it felt too small for our average-size hands. And it has no heft to it. Best to just leave those bits in the box and buy higher-quality ones. That said, many SFF PCs don’t bundle peripherals at all.

Asus VivoMini VC65 - ComputerShopper.com

As for other features, Asus ostensibly offers a build of the VivoMini VC65 with a DVD+/-RW burner, a real rarity these days in a desktop this compact. (To accommodate the optical drive, this model houses just two internal drives instead of four and is a bit thicker.) Our test unit didn’t have the optical drive. But as long as Asus is in theory offering an optical drive, we would like to see a Blu-ray option to build a true media-room PC. That said, like many of the other options listed on Asus’ product page for the VC65, actual configurations on sale were scarce; we couldn’t find a U.S. configuration on the market at this writing that actually had the DVD. Wireless connectivity comes via either an 802.11ac-plus-Bluetooth 4.0 chipset (with 802.11ac also supporting 802.11a, b, g, and n), or an 802.11n/Bluetooth 4.0 chipset. It depends on the VivoMini model you pick. Our model supported 802.11ac.


Asus offers the VivoMini VC65 series in configurations with 6th-Generation (“Skylake”) Intel Core i3 or Core i5 CPUs. That s in contrast to some compact desktops, which make do with previous Intel Core i-series chips, or even Celeron or mild Atom CPUs. The company also offers various hard drive and SSD offerings, ranging in capacity up to 1TB, though we saw just the 1TB in U.S. shipping configurations at this mid-September 2016 writing. This is all in theory, in any case. At this writing, Asus’ online store showed no VivoMini VC65 models available direct, and searching the Web yielded only the model we are reviewing from a few resellers, as well as a VC65R-G039M bare-bones model (£409.99 from Amazon.com). The bare-bones model requires you to shop for and supply some key components: RAM, the hard drive, and the operating system. This is typical of SFF PCs these days; makers like Intel (with its Next Unit of Computing, or NUC, mini-PCs) or Gigabyte (with its similar Brix models) sell some or all of their models as bare-bones “kits,” into which you install and configure these key hardware and software components yourself.

The model that Asus loaned us for a review was a VivoMini configuration dubbed “VC65-G042Z,” which came with an Intel Core i5-6400T processor, Intel’s HD Graphics 530 silicon (built into the CPU), 8GB of DDR3L RAM (expandable to 16GB), and the 1TB platter-style hard drive we mentioned, with Windows 10 Home pre-installed. We’ll put it through its paces on some demanding benchmark tests. But know that if this configuration isn’t quite right for your needs, Asus offers a few other VivoMini-line options of a different makeup. The VivoMini VM65N series offers a slightly different exterior design and in some models, low-end dedicated Nvidia graphics, while VivoMini UN65H models have a smaller, NUC-like design. Just know that many of these other configurations use Intel “U”-series chips more about which on the next page.


ComputerShopper may earn affiliate commissions from shopping links included on this page. To find out more, read our complete Terms of Service6.

References

  1. ^ Intel Compute Stick (www.computershopper.com)
  2. ^ MSI Nightblade x2 (www.computershopper.com)
  3. ^ Intel “Skull Canyon” NUC Kit (www.computershopper.com)
  4. ^ Alienware Alpha R2 (www.computershopper.com)
  5. ^ VivoMini UN45 series (www.asus.com)
  6. ^ Terms of Service (www.ziffdavis.com)

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Gigabyte Brix S (2016, Core i5 Skylake)


The Brix line is available in a startling array of models and configurations. The Brix S model we are examining here is one of the midrange units within the overall line. The vanilla Brix (non-“S”) models are lower in profile, while this unit is a tad thicker to accommodate the 2.5-inch drive. Gigabyte also offers a Brix Pro4 series with higher-horsepower CPUs, and a Brix Gaming5 line, with modest dedicated AMD or Nvidia mobile graphics chips. The company also still offers its quirky Brix Projector6, which we reviewed a while back, a light-hitting Core i3 model with a built-in short-throw pico projector. In other words, you have scads of options if you re looking for a PC like this, never mind the models in Intel’s NUC and Zotac’s Zbox lines, among others. The various Brix-es support, in different models, USB 3.1/Thunderbolt, discrete GPUs, more (or less) powerful CPUs, 4K playback, and more. Most of these models, though, are in bare-bones kit form and require you to supply your own SSD, RAM, and OS. At this writing, the pre-built models come in only three Brix S configurations, outlined on this page on Gigabyte’s site7, along with a non-S “plain” Brix model based on a Pentium chip. The Core i5-6200U chip in the model we tested is mounted on the underbelly of a small motherboard that has components on both sides. When you first pry open the unit and remove the bottom cover (assuming you go with the same pre-built version we’re looking at here), you ll see the cable tethering the hard drive to the mainboard. You’ll want to detach that, with care, before digging further.

Gigabyte Brix S (2016, Core I5 Skylake)

This side of the motherboard houses most of the crucial components, including the wireless card (which is implemented via an M.2 interface), and the stick of RAM in one of the two SO-DIMM slots. The 802.11ac card is a dual-band adapter. Another M.2 slot, meant for M.2 SSDs, sits above the wireless card, so that any M.2 SSD you install will bridge over the Wi-Fi card. (You can see the M.2-drive mounting-screw posts nearby; it will take modules up to 80mm in length.) This M.2 slot supports PCI Express x4 drives, including models that use the NVMe protocol. As a result, it can accept the fastest M.2 drives currently available, among them the Samsung SSD 950 Pro8. (See our guide to the best M.2 SSDs9 for more info on understanding and shopping these drives.)

Gigabyte Brix S (2016, Core I5 Skylake)

The flip side of the motherboard is home to just the CPU and its cooling apparatus, and neither is upgradable. Not that you’d need to access this side of the motherboard, but to get to it, you have to unscrew the board from the chassis.

Gigabyte Brix S (2016, Core I5 Skylake)

The bottom of the chassis home to the 2.5-inch drive bay was in our test unit occupied by a Western Digital 1TB Blue drive, which spins at 5,400rpm. It offers capacious storage in exchange for poky, hard-drive-grade performance, but at least it was quiet in the course of our tests. Basically, the only main component in the Brix S that you can t upgrade down the line is the CPU. But so long as you keep your performance expectations in check, the Brix S should have some longevity, due to how easy it is to upgrade the rest of it. There s no way to add USB 3.1/Type-C ports, or any other type of connectivity, but Gigabyte sells other (bare-bones) models that include those types of ports, if that is important to you. The only downside to these upgrade options, of course, is that this system, which may seem inexpensive in its bare-bones or basic pre-built versions, suddenly becomes something that you ve dumped £1,000 or more into if you go the a la carte route. But in that regard, it s no different from any other PC: Performance parts cost money, and you have to upgrade a PC if you want it to keep running the latest software over time.

It should be noted, too, that only four screws hold the chassis together, and they are quite easy to remove. From there, it s just one more screw holding the motherboard in place, though there s little reason to remove the board from the chassis in the way we did for photos, apart from perhaps cleaning the CPU cooler. But the point is that upgrades are a cinch. Overall, the Brix S is easy to crack open, and well laid-out internally. You might expect a compacted mass of wires inside, but as you can see, the interior is quite clean, and it’s easy to figure out which parts go where.


ComputerShopper may earn affiliate commissions from shopping links included on this page. To find out more, read our complete Terms of Service10.

References

  1. ^ Next Unit of Computing (NUC) line (www.computershopper.com)
  2. ^ Brix Pro GB-BXi7-4770R (www.computershopper.com)
  3. ^ “Skull Canyon” NUC6i7KYK (www.computershopper.com)
  4. ^ Brix Pro (www.gigabyte.us)
  5. ^ Brix Gaming (www.gigabyte.us)
  6. ^ Brix Projector (www.computershopper.com)
  7. ^ outlined on this page on Gigabyte’s site (www.gigabyte.us)
  8. ^ Samsung SSD 950 Pro (www.computershopper.com)
  9. ^ our guide to the best M.2 SSDs (www.computershopper.com)
  10. ^ Terms of Service (www.ziffdavis.com)

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