Chuwi’s first foray into the thin client/micro PC arena is a mixed bag. It’s too expensive, and not quite up to scratch on an overall level in our books. Let’s see what the next iteration will look like.
Good compute performance
Windows Update issues
Graphics performance is underwhelming
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Chuwi is one of the more recognized Chinese tech vendors on the market (outside of the usual big names), and it unveiled a micro-computer called the GBox back at CES which offers both a Gemini Lake CPU and a D-Sub (i.e. VGA) connector, clearly positioned to serve a business audience.
Chuwi sent us the sample and online Chinese retailer, Gearbest, sells the GBox for $180 at the time of writing, a price that includes an original magnetic docking keyboard. Note that, while this price includes delivery, it is exclusive of any taxes that may be levied by HMRC or the courier companies on behalf of the vendor. Want to buy tech from online Chinese retailers? Read this first.
Note that we reviewed a pre-production unit that requires a few tweaks. We’ll talk further about how this impacted on the sample machine over the course of this review.
The GBox looks like a black metal (aluminum alloy) brick, built using unibody stamping micro-level CNC cutting. The device looks well-built and you’ll only notice that the top and bottom are made of plastic after touching them.
There are plenty of vents, on top and below, that allow for air circulation to cool this fanless device, and plenty of ports as well. The front houses a USB Type-C connector, two USB 3.0 ports, a microSD slot, a red power button and a status light.
A reset button, the power port, a VGA port, HDMI 2.0, a Gigabit LAN connector, two USB 2.0 ports and an earphone jack are located at the rear. At 187.6 x 138.3 x 37.3mm, the GBox is a discreet piece of tech which is so silent you won’t even know it is switched on.
Here is the Chuwi GBox configuration sent to TechRadar Pro for review:
CPU: Intel Celeron N4100 quad-core 2.4GHz
Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 600
RAM: 4GB LPDDR4
Storage: 32GB eMMC SanDisk DF4032
Ports: 1 x USB Type-C, 2 x USB 3.0, 2 x USB 2.0, HDMI 2.0, VGA, audio jack, Gigabit LAN, microSD
Connectivity: 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
Size: 187.6 x 138.3 x 37.3mm
The most notable improvement here is the arrival of Intel’s Gemini Lake processor – the N4100 has twice the amount of cache compared to previous generation Apollo Lake-based CPUs, along with support for DDR4 RAM and a better graphics subsystem. There is 4GB of LPDDR4 system memory.
The device comes with a 12V,2A power supply unit, an air mouse remote control (that didn’t work for us) and a VESA-compatible mounting bracket.
There’s the capacity to add an extra SATA-based 2.5-inch drive (either HDD or SSD). This device supports 802.11ac Wi-Fi out of the box and comes with Bluetooth as well, plus there’s a Gigabit Ethernet connector.
Usage and performance
We encountered quite a few issues with the GBox which Chuwi attributed to the fact that it was a pre-production unit. We had some BSODs and Windows Update stubbornly refused to work, while the internet connection dropped a few times. Note that Chuwi expects the final version to be Linux-friendly.
There was no extra 32GB SSD (as some earlier news alluded to); only 32GB of eMMC storage. Expect the final shipping units to have 64GB on-board eMMC storage, though.
Here’s how the Chuwi GBox performed in our suite of benchmark tests:
Passmark CPU: 1968
CPU-Z: 187 (single-thread); 752 (multi-thread)
Geekbench: 1675 (single-core); 5017 (multi-core); 6822 (compute)
Cinebench: OpenGL: 8.25 fps; CPU: 97
CrystalDiskMark: 190 MBps (read); 118 MBps (write)
Atto: 286 MBps (read, 256mb); 125 MBps (write, 256mb)
Sisoft Sandra (KPT): 2.57
Windows Experience Index: 4.5
The overall performance of the GBox is a tale of two halves. We were disappointed by the poor showing of the UHD 600 graphics subsystem, something that can be attributed to the pre-production status of the review model, as well as the fact that the tests were run at 4K which taxed the GPU quite heavily.
Compute performance was reasonably good, higher than the previous Apollo Lake devices based on the N3450 CPU, and on par with the popular J3455 processor. The N4100 that powers the GBox has a slightly more powerful sibling, the J4105, which has a higher TDP (10W) and costs the same – and would be a better candidate for this machine. As expected, there’s no trace of any bloatware here.
There’s plenty of competition for the Chuwi GBox, and these rivals are cheaper as well!
The Alfawise T1 Mini has the same set of hardware with an additional front microphone that is Cortana compatible, and it runs with 64GB eMMC 5.0 storage, plus it has a flat top which makes it great as a potential stand. That device retails for $199.99 (£155). The Beelink S2 is a clone of the Alfawise T1 Mini and sells for the same price.
Even cheaper is the Beelink AP34 Pro. At $180 (£140), it has an Apollo Lake CPU so is likely to take a performance hit. However, with four USB 3.0 ports, two HDMI connectors, 6GB of RAM (likely to be in dual-channel mode), and an external antenna, it might be a better choice for those looking for features rather than pure grunt. Even more wallet-friendly still is the similarly configured Beelink M1 which swaps one HDMI port for a VGA connector, and comes without the antenna.
Last but not least, we have the AcePC AK1 which is powered by the J3455 processor, and that makes it almost as powerful as the N4100 – but for a far cheaper outlay. It even features a USB Type-C connector as well as a slot for a 2.5-inch hard disk drive.
Should businesses buy the GBox?
In its current form, we find it hard to recommend the GBox for businesses. There are a few other rivals out there that sport better hardware and are slightly more affordable, or perhaps even more temptingly, slightly worse hardware for a much cheaper price tag.
That said, this device’s VGA port will appeal to those looking for a solution that can extend the useful life of legacy display devices like XGA projectors or monitors.
Here are a couple of things Chuwi should consider improving for the next iteration of this micro PC. The manufacturer could make the GBox’s top flat and sturdier, so that you could place a monitor on top of it (think Apple TV 1st generation or the older Apple Mac mini).
Also, it would be nice to have a stand so that the device can be placed on its side, which is great for space-constrained desks. It’s also worth exploring the possibility of swapping the N4100 CPU for a J4105, since both cost the same. The latter has a much higher base frequency for both its CPU and GPU which will translate into better all-round performance.
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Désiré has been musing and writing about technology during a career spanning four decades. He dabbled in website builders and web hosting when DHTML and frames were in vogue and started narrating about the impact of technology on society just before the start of the Y2K hysteria at the turn of the last millennium.
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