The tendencies of miniaturization of computer technology once gave rise to a kind of competition between manufacturers in the field of creating the smallest x86-compatible personal computer capable of running Windows – and, accordingly, compatible with the entire set of “desktop” software accumulated over the decades of this system’s existence. In the process, everyone quickly reached the HDMI sticks, after which the direction faded, although not because it did not work out. In fact, manufacturers of “whistles” on Android have cooled off to this direction. The device turns out to be small, but it does not work to provide it with a reasonable number of expansion slots and a good cooling system, which greatly limits the potential filling. And the issue of power supply remained painful – only the most primitive configurations fit into the USB port (and this is the only thing that can be obtained without your own power supply unit – and even then not always). Something a little more complicated – and immediately you need a power supply that is larger than the computer itself. Why then would a computer be so compact?
As a result, trade-offs quickly emerged – between traditional mini-PCs with (relatively) more ports and some configuration options, and very minimalistic “whistles”. The last example of this kind that we studied in detail is ECS Liva Q: a miniature system measuring 70 × 70 × 31 mm and weighing 260 g, nevertheless equipped with a pair of USB connectors (3.0 + 2.0), HDMI 2.0 and even support for “wired” networks. True, the platform itself was quite “dead” even two years ago: a dual or quad-core processor of the “atomic” Apollo Lake family, 2 or 4 GB of RAM, built-in eMMC storage of 32 or 64 GB, expandable exclusively by microSD cards or USB drives … At the same time, only the most expensive models based on the four-core Pentium N4200 were equipped with HDMI 2.0 – the SoCs of this family had only built-in support for HDMI 1.4, so for something better it was necessary to use a DP-HDMI converter. At that time, SoCs of the Gemini Lake line appeared – with built-in support for HDMI 2.0 (but pure 2.0 – that is, 4K @ 60 Hz without HDR). A little later, the Liva Q2 model was released based on them – unfortunately, all with the same 2/4 GB of RAM and 32/64 GB of non-expandable flash memory, albeit in the same dimensions. It is clear that in 2019 such configurations could be considered only conditionally compatible with life, and the use of Windows 10 (this particular system was positioned as the main target) for 2/32 GB is akin to a sophisticated punishment prohibited by the European Convention on the Protection of Animal Rights 🙂
It would seem that the end of the story. But then the banner with the inscription “World’s smallest 4K mini PC” (almost word for word – only ECS had a “pocket”, not “mini”) was picked up by the well-known company Chuwi – and released LarkBox. More precisely, in order to attract maximum attention, it was first announced on the Indiegogo crowdfunding platform. Naturally, by that time, the development was already largely completed – the company was interested in pre-orders and the number of potential buyers. This turned out to be very large – at a price announced for the campaign participants of $ 170, almost a million was quickly collected, that is, several thousand buyers were found immediately. The regular price of the model is announced at $ 283 – which, in general, is not so much for a finished device of an “exclusive” format and bundled with Windows 10 Home. But until September 16, the computer was still on sale for $ 170 in a special promotion. What will be received for this money (except for the form factor) – it makes sense to study in more detail.
Chuwi says that a computer is comparable to an apple – in fact, a very small apple. The dimensions of the case are only 61x61x43 mm and weighs 127 g, which is even less than that of the Liva Q / Q2 (although the internal volume is a little larger, it makes no sense to be upset about this – which will be discussed later). Most of the body is solid metal. Plastic is used only in the upper “superstructure”, where the antennas and the processor cooling system are placed. And the bottom cover is the same.
On the front is just the power button. Liva Q / Q2 also had USB connectors here, which, taking into account the miniature size, did not give any advantages, but cables sticking out in different directions if you plug them in here. In this case, almost all the connectors are assembled on the rear wall – though there are not many of them: two USB (but both are already 3.0), a Type-C connector for the power supply and HDMI 2.0. There is no longer a wired network – which is a bit of a pity. On the other hand, Wi-Fi is usually sufficient nowadays. Especially at home, where few people took the trouble to “pull up” the cables to the same TV in advance.
As for the power connector, the impressions from it are mixed. On the one hand, one cannot but welcome the transition from the mass of incompatible “round” pins to the standard USB design. Moreover, 12 V is a normal phenomenon for such a performance, unlike Liva Q / Q2, where the same power was supplied via the Micro-USB connector. On the other hand, the selection of a suitable power supply unit (in which case) can still be difficult. If you approach “quite standard”, then 12V 2A falls within the scope of the third USB Power Delivery profile, but it requires special support “on both sides” and special cables. Chuwi doesn’t say anything about USB PD compatibility. So, most likely, we have a simple mechanical replacement of the connector, and nothing more. And trying to charge a smartphone with a complete power supply, for example, is also not worth it – if nothing burns out, it will still not work. In general, we could just put a round connector, since those are much more common (many universal power supplies with such characteristics are simply supplied with replaceable plugs). But it looks modern – no doubt 🙂
The rest of the functionality in the form of a microSDXC slot and a headphone jack is located on one of the sides. There is no microphone input. On the other hand, Liva Q / Q2 had no analogue sound output at all – not even stereo. In principle, when working with a TV, it is not too necessary, it is enough to broadcast sound via HDMI. But some scenarios for using the audio jack may be found – so let it be.
Contents of delivery
Exactly what was supposed to be removed from the dull gray box of recycled cardboard, which is familiar to the company’s products, is extracted (which includes a plate for attaching a mini-PC to a monitor / TV), but no frills.
The only thing that deserves attention is the comparison of the dimensions of the computer and its power supply. Directly hinting that miniaturization once had to be finished anyway – since the total dimensions of the system are no longer determined by the “system unit”. Moreover, when the BP was taken out of it.
Here, one, in general, could also be more compact – we saw models comparable in size and at 65+ W, and not just 24. And more than once the above-mentioned ECS Liva Q has a power supply unit of such power that was simply combined with an electric plug. True, by a strange whim of engineering thought, it was supplied with a Micro-USB connector – just replace it with Type-C, but put one in the box here. However, apparently, the chosen option turned out to be cheaper – albeit not so convenient due to its large dimensions.
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We have dealt with Chuwi LarkBox in detail – it’s time to summarize. Is this solution a complete compact computer? Yes, it is – because any software runs on it. Unless it makes sense to try to run games – but this is a common problem in the vast majority of mini-PCs. But is the LarkBox worth considering as a general purpose computer? It doesn’t make sense – it’s very small and relatively inexpensive, but still quite slow. In stationary conditions, it is better not to “squeeze” so much. But can it be viewed as a specialized niche solution? So the company does just that – positioning the LarkBox as the most compact computer with 4K output. Not complete, but for the lack of HDR support, we have to thank Intel. The platform copes with everything else perfectly – thanks to the modern decoder built into the GPU, and processor performance is no longer very important here. Moreover, the device’s capabilities are not limited by media content alone – programs for Windows work. Albeit not too fast, but acceptable for the “office workplace” level. And the compact size will come in handy in cases where the computer sometimes needs to be “untied” from the place – not to achieve complete self-sufficiency at the laptop level, but to move from a TV at home to a TV in the country, for example.
All in all, this is a good additional home computer. And inexpensive – if you focus on the $ 170 announced by Chuwi as part of the promotions. The fact that there is demand under such conditions has already been verified. The “usual” price looks a little doubtful – because for this money you can already buy a laptop with a comparable performance with a more or less decent screen and keyboard. But here you will have to weigh all the pros and cons yourself.