Hands on: Chuwi HiGame review

The Chinese vendor tries something new with Intel’s revolutionary chip

What is a hands on review?
TODO alt text

Our Early Verdict

Chuwi’s first foray into the thin high-end micro gaming/workstation PC arena is a mixed bag. Sadly, the simple truth is it’s too expensive compared to the competition. Let’s see what the next iteration will look like.

For

  • Decent performance
  • Very well built
  • Plethora of ports

Against

  • No card reader
  • Single-channel configuration
  • Poor USB port spacing

To say that Chinese tech manufacturer Chuwi (which is nothing to do with hip-hop singer Chuuwee, or indeed Chewbacca from Star Wars) has been flexing its marketing muscles to push its latest product, the HiGame, would be an understatement.

Where to buy?

Chuwi sent us the sample and the HiGame (Core i5/8GB/128GB) is currently on pre-order at Indiegogo for $899 (around £685) 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

Colleagues at TechRadar have been bombarded with emails extolling the unique selling points of this pint-sized PC, namely the use of an 8th-generation Intel CPU with a Radeon RX Vega M graphics subsystem.

Before reading on, just bear in mind that this is a pre-production model nearing the production stage. Everything works as expected except for the heat dissipation system (a pair of 90mm fans) which generates up to a staggering 76dB under load (the sound meter was located next to the air vents).

Chuwi has given us a written assurance that this issue will be solved on production units sent to backers that have paid for the item. This is why we won’t score the HiGame just yet, so this article remains a hands-on preview for the time being.

(Update 17 August 2018 : Chuwi engineers have managed to reduce the fan rotational speed to 3500RPM without affecting the temperature of the device. The sound  is now down to 55dB to 65dB. New models will have an updated BIOS, increased heat conduction efficiency and a silicone grease with better heat dissipation)

Design

Some have compared the design of the HiGame to a miniature version of the old Mac Pro but in black, and of course minus the Apple logo. It goes without saying that the HiGame is stylish, similar to other Chuwi products like the LapBook Air which use metal as the primary construction material. The tone here is more industrial though, with sharp edges, a darker color theme and plenty of air vents and openings to facilitate air circulation.

The HiGame can be positioned horizontally or vertically, with a strategically placed rubber band for when it’s used in the former position, which serves to lift the device by a few millimeters to help air flow. Opening it is dead easy but necessitates a Torx screwdriver, and doing so gives you access to the storage and two memory slots.

The front of the device hosts a Thunderbolt 3 port and the power button while the back bristles with five USB 3.0 ports, audio connectors (there’s no SPDIF though), two HDMI 2.0 ports, two DisplayPort 1.3 connectors, a GbE Ethernet port and the power adaptor socket. There are no card readers which is a bit of a disappointment.

At 173 x 158 x 73mm, this PC is reasonably portable, although you will need to lug the external power adaptor around with it. An integrated PSU might have been a better option but then that would mean even more heat dissipation would be needed.

Spec Sheet

Here is the Chuwi HiGame configuration sent to TechRadar Pro for review:

CPU: Intel Core i5-8305G quad-core 2.8GHz

Graphics: Radeon RX Vega M GL

RAM: 8GB DDR4-2400

Storage: 128GB SSD

Ports: 1 x Thunderbolt 3, 5 x USB 3.0, 2 x HDMI 2.0, 2 x DisplayPort 1.3, audio jack, GbE Ethernet port

Connectivity: 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2

Size: 173 x 158 x 73mm

Specifications

The cherry on the hardware cake is that 8th-generation Core H-series CPU, the i5-8305G with Radeon RX Vega M GPU, designed to take on the 10x0 GeForce series from Nvidia. The 4GB of on-board HBM2 graphics memory provides ample bandwidth for video requirements, but we couldn’t help experiencing a twinge of disappointment at the solitary 8GB Samsung DDR4-2400 memory module, which means that you can only use the CPU in single-channel mode. Not ideal.

There’s a 128GB SATA SSD but you can also add in a 2.5-inch hard disk drive or a PCIe x4 NVMe SSD if needed. Wireless connectivity is handled by an Intel Wireless-AC3165 module that provides 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.2.

The HiGame also comes with a brick power adaptor, a 180W model (19V, 9.43A) which is substantial both in terms of size and weight, and should be more than capable of powering the device with all the components inside. Note that there are no expansion slots due to space constraints.

Usage and performance

Chuwi bundled a Windows 10 Pro license with the HiGame rather than the usual Windows 10 Home (although official documentation shows that the latter is the default option). We’re not sure why that is the case as the product is geared more towards home users, although business users and content creators will find plenty to like about it.

As for performance, the HiGame did stunningly well, especially on graphics-heavy benchmarks, showing that even integrated graphics can deliver good performance across the board in a space-constrained chassis. The one blot was the write speed under CrystalDiskMark which seems to be far too low, especially when the Atto benchmark produced results that were around 80% higher.

Benchmarks

Here’s how the Chuwi HiGame performed in our suite of benchmark tests:

Passmark: 3619

Passmark CPU: 8383

CPU-Z: 328 (single-thread); 1779 (multi-thread)

Geekbench: 4000 (single-core); 12696 (multi-core); 69519 (compute)

Cinebench: OpenGL: 110 fps; CPU: 742

CrystalDiskMark: 539 MBps (read); 256 MBps (write)

Novabench: 1760

Atto:  539 MBps (read, 256mb); 440 MBps (write, 256mb)

Sisoft Sandra (KPT): 13.21

Windows Experience Index: 7.8

And just to give you an idea of how good its graphics performance is, this PC managed to score higher than a Xeon/Quadro pair on Cinebench’s taxing OpenGL test, scoring a whopping 110 frames per second.

The ports at the back of the device are quite close together, which means that plugging in, for example, slightly bigger USB drives, might be problematic.

The competition

The Chuwi HiGame has a starting price of $899 (around £685), which is not cheap. There’s an even more expensive model that features a Core i7 CPU and an SSD which is twice the size for $1,099 (around £840). Both of these prices carry significant discounts (up to 30%) off the suggested retail price (SRP).

Intel’s very own gaming-focused NUC, the Hades Canyon NUC8i7HNK, carries an SRP of $799 (around £610) for the Core i5 model and $999 (around £760) for the Core i7 model. It doesn’t come with any memory, storage or operating system, so you will have to buy them separately. Intel’s protégé is better kitted out as well – it has far more connectivity options and is a smidgen smaller. It also has a card reader which the HiGame doesn’t offer.

The Zotac Magnus EN1060K is also an interesting choice. It features an older 7th-generation Core i5 CPU but has a separate, more powerful, Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 6GB GDDR5 graphics module, and at the time of writing, Newegg is offering a free 120GB Teamgroup SSD when you buy it for less than $900 (around £685).

Even cheaper (but without the SSD) is the Gigabyte Brix GB-BNi7HG6-1060, a rectangular mini tower that looks like a brick and packs the same components as the Zotac Magnus. You don’t get the free SSD but you do get a much cheaper price ($830 – that’s around £630) via Newegg.

But perhaps the best reason for swerving a product like the HiGame is the fact that you can get a better-specced laptop for the same price. Take the Dell G5 15 gaming laptop which comes with a 6-core Core i7 CPU, dual-channel memory setup, an Nvidia GTX 1060 and a 15.6-inch FHD display for $1049.99 (around £800) with up to 9% of the total value of the device back if you take finance. Granted, that notebook has a smaller SSD, but makes up for it with a 1TB hard disk drive.

Final verdict

Is there a demand for such a PC? The fact that the HiGame achieved more than $362,000 (around £275,000) of funding – seven times its original goal – could be viewed as a resounding yes. But then bear in mind that this amounts to just 376 backers, a mere fraction of the total addressable market of gamers and content creators.

In truth, a similarly-priced laptop would probably be a better purchase for the vast majority of that audience, as it is more flexible and comes with a display, keyboard and battery. But if you’re looking to connect multiple 4K monitors, then yes, products like the HiGame are more attractive.

Sadly for Chuwi, the rest of the competition either offers the same for cheaper, or something better for not a lot more, making it hard to recommend the system as it stands. Will the HiGame drop in price? Will the specs be beefed up? Are there any improvements in the pipeline? Stay tuned for more!

What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee.