For my selfie-Christmas present, I bought an ultra compact computer. It's as small as an Apple TV box, but instead contains an entire computer:
- 1.7GHz dual-core Intel i3 CPU with Intel HD 4400 GPU
- four USB 3.0 connectors
- HDMI (4096x2304 @24Hz) and mini DisplayPort (3200x2000 @60Hz) video out
- analog and digital audio output
- ethernet and wireless networking
- adapter plate to attach the unit to the back of a monitor
- external power brick
Price: around $300 for a box that's about 4.5" square and an inch tall. Its small size make a Mac mini look overgrown.
So, why did I order a UCPC? I had wanted one for years, but the premium price put me off. I wanted to see what a tiny box could do.
I had found the small Mac mini useful as a headless portable system. At weddings of our children, I take it along to the reception, hook up a projector, wireless keyboard-trackpad, and speakers -- for the mandatory slide show. Very handy.
I tried using the Mac mini to stream video from the internet to our projector at home, but its Flash is flaky and tends to crash the Web browser, irritating my wife. I suspected a Windows or Linux-based system would be more stable.
But look over the specs. See what's missing?
Low Voltage RAM
Yah, the RAM and a hard drive. And because there is no hard drive, there is no operating system, either. Sigh. (I noticed these problems only after the Gigabyte BXi3 was already being shipped to me.) Gigabyte says the omissions let you customize the box to your local conditions. Problem is, it does not emphasize this "benefit" on its product page: http://ca.gigabyte.com/products/product-page.aspx?pid=4742#ov
Missing RAM would not be a problem, I thought. I have several spare modules left over from upgrade projects. Well, at least I thought so.
After the unit arrived, the included one-page instruction sheet stated the computer uses DDR3L RAM. This was new to me. Turns out DDR3L is low-voltage RAM that runs at 1.35V. Checking sites that sell such RAM indicates it is expensive, probably because it is rare.
No matter. I stuck in the spare RAM modules I had laying around, plugged in the power and an HDMI cable to a monitor, and then turned on the system. No boot. Hmmm... I thought the PC would at least do a BIOS boot, even with no hard drive installed and improper RAM installed.
Since then I came across the official list of memory cards supported, and all are 1.35V types: http://download.gigabyte.us/FileList/Memory/haswell_memory.pdf [PDF file].
mSATA Hard Drive
In the meantime I ordered the hard drive. This computer, being so small, takes only an mSATA drive, which is the kind used in ultrabooks. The drives don't look like traditional hard hard drives with their s rectangular boxes; but rather like a plug-in memory card -- because that's what it is: a 60GB (or larger) memory card.
(The "m" in mSATA is short for mini.)
I looked around for the cheapest one I could find, and ended up ordering an ADATA 60GB SSD mSATA drive from Canada Computers and Electronics for $90 (including taxes and shipping). FedEx is due to deliver it later today.
Here is the official list of supported mSATA drives, which range from 60GB to 256GB: http://download.gigabyte.us/FileList/mSata/haswell_msata.pdf [PDF file]. And that's the problem with SSDs. If you want the cheapest one, the price-per-GB is expensive.
Next in part ii: what happens after I install the mSATA drive.