There’s a new crop of tiny desktop computers that are small enough to hold in the palm of your hand. They all feature low-power Intel Gemini Lake processors, measure about 2.4″ x 2.4″ x 1.7″ and seem to be based on the same OEM design.

But there are a few key differences between models, and the new GMK NucBox is the most powerful 2.4 inch mini PC to date… on paper at least.

It has a faster processor than the Chuwi LarkBox, XCY X51, or Skynew M1T. It has more RAM and faster storage than the Chuwi LarkBox. And unlike the LarkBox, it has a metal chassis.

But in terms of real-world performance? There’s not really much difference. That’s not necessarily a bad thing — all of these tiny computers are surprisingly capable devices for general-purpose computing (and lousy options for gaming).

And the prices are reasonable: the GMK NucBox is available for pre-order for $179 and up through an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign, and folks who signed up early enough might have been able to score an even lower price. The NucBox will have a starting price of $209 when it goes on sale through retail channels later this year.

What are you supposed to do with PC this small?

GMK is pitching the NucBox as a multi-purpose computing device that you could use for home entertainment, an on-the-go office setup, or for business meetings.

A computer that weighs just a few ounces and which takes up practically no space could be a good solution for a home entertainment computer that you can place below or behind the TV for video streaming or web browsing in the living room. It does not have screw holes for a VESA mount kit like the Chuwi LarkBox, though, so you might have to rig your own solution if you want to affix it to the back of a TV.

You should also keep in mind that the NucBox is not fanless or silent. The computer has a tiny fan that spins up while the computer is working, and while it’s not very loud, it can be noticeable in a quiet room (or at a quiet moment when listening to music or watching a movie).

Weighing less than five ounces, the NucBox could also be a portable solution that you can easily throw in a bag and take with you as you travel. Just connect to a monitor, keyboard, and mouse when you get where you’re going. The small 12V/2A USB-C power adapter that powers the NucBox is also pretty portable, looking more like a smartphone charger than a typical PC power brick.

Or maybe you’re looking for a digital signage or point of sales solution that doesn’t take up a lot of space. Maybe you need an inexpensive computer for the kid’s room. Perhaps you’re just a minimalist.

The GMK NucBox isn’t a high-performance computer, but it is a general-purpose machine that ships with Windows 10 and should be able to handle most basic computing tasks. You’re not going to want to use it for CAD design, but it’s a perfectly capable device for web publishing.

How does it stack up against other 2.4 inch mini PCs?

All of the new 2.4 inch mini PCs are roughly the same size and shape, and they all have the same selection of ports. But there are some key differences in terms of memory, storage, processor, and wireless capabilities.

The GMK 4K mini PC definitely comes out on top in most areas… although not by an extraordinarily wide margin.

GMK NucBoxChuwi LarkBoxXCY X51Skynew M1T
ProcessorIntel Celeron J4125
4-cores/4-threads
2.5 GHz base
2.7 boost
10W TDP
Intel Celeron J4115
4-cores/4-threads
1.8 GHz base
2.5 GHz boost
10W TDP
Intel Celeron N4100
4-cores/4-threads
1.1 GHz base
2.4 GHz boost
6W TDP
Intel Celeron N4100
4-cores/4-threads
1.1 GHz base
2.4 GHz boost
6W TDP
GPUIntel UHD 600
250 MHz base
750 MHz boost
Intel UHD 600
250 MHz base
750 MHz boost
Intel UHD 600
200 MHz base
700 MHz boost
Intel UHD 600
200 MHz base
700 MHz boost
RAM8GB LPDDR46GB LPDDR48GB LPDDR48GB LPDDR4
Storage128GB/256GB/512GB M.2 2242 SSD128GB eMMC
M.2 2242 SSD slot
128GB M.2 2242 SSD128GB M.2 2242 SSD
Ports1 x USB Type-C
2 x USB 3.0 Type-A
1 x HDMI
1 x 3.5mm audio
1 x microSD card reader
1 x USB Type-C
2 x USB 3.0 Type-A
1 x HDMI
1 x 3.5mm audio
1 x microSD card reader
1 x USB Type-C
2 x USB 3.0 Type-A
1 x HDMI
1 x 3.5mm audio
1 x microSD card reader
1 x USB Type-C
2 x USB 3.0 Type-A
1 x HDMI
1 x 3.5mm audio
1 x microSD card reader
WirelessWiFi 5 (2×2) 867 Mbps
Bluetooth 4.2
WiFi 5 (1×1) 433 Mbps
Bluetooth 5.1
WiFi 5
Bluetooth 4.2
WiFi 5 (Intel AC7265)
Bluetooth 4.0
Dimensions62mm x 62mm x 42mm (2.4″ x 2.4″ x 1.7″)62mm x 62mm x 42mm (2.4″ x 2.4″ x 1.7″)62mm x 62mm x 42mm (2.4″ x 2.4″ x 1.7″)61mm x 61mm x 42mm (2.4″ x 2.4″ 1.7″)
Weight125 grams (4.4 oz)127 grams (4.5 oz)121 grams (4.3 oz)?

The Chuwi LarkBox and GMK NucBox have the fastest processors of the bunch, but the LarkBox ships with eMMC storage and has an empty slot that you can use to add your own solid state storage, while GMK’s mini PC ships standard with an SSD. It also has more RAM.

That’s enough to help it come out ahead in some benchmarks, but it actually lags in others… possibly because of differences in case design.

Like the XCY and Skynew models, the GMK NucBox has a metal chassis with a plastic section on top that houses a fan. This makes the little computer feel a little sturdier than the LarkBox, which has an all-plastic case. And theoretically the metal could help dissipate heat better. But the computer does get warm to the touch under heavy use, and I suspect thermal throttling can kick in under heavy load.

Performance notes

I spent an entire work day using the GMK NucBox to research and write articles for Liliputing. The little computer never struggled when I asked it to open up to two dozen browser tabs at once, or do some light image editing (mostly cropping and resizing) in Irfanview. I also streamed music and watched some YouTube videos without any trouble.

While it took a fraction of a second longer to load some apps or browser tabs than it would on a computer with a more powerful processor, I’d have no problem recommending the NucBox for someone looking for a small computer to use for web work, document editing, or other relatively lightweight activities.

I kept an eye on the power consumption and CPU temperature during the day, and noticed that the system tended to use between 2.1 watts and 16.1 watts, but averaged just 6.3 watts over the course of an 8-hour work day. The average CPU temperature was 65 degrees Celsius (149 Fahrenheit), but at times it went as low as 47C (117F) and as high as 94C (201).

Things get a little dicier if you want a computer with decent graphics performance. GMK positions the NucBox as a “4K mini PC,” but I found that streaming 4K video over the internet could be a bit hit or miss.

The first time I tried watching a 4K video on YouTube, I noticed a bit of stuttering, particularly in scenes involving a lot of motion. After a reboot, the same video played more smoothly, which is why I suspect thermal throttling may be an issue. 1080p or lower resolution video streams without any problems, even at high bitrates.

I also tried a couple of different games on the NucBox:

  • Darksiders – struggled to exceed 10 frames per second
  • Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair – only managed around 10-12 fps at high graphics settings, but managed to get 20 fps by decreasing graphics settings and changing screen resolution from 1080p to 1366 x 768.
  • 20xx – struggled during loading screens, but gameplay was consistently close to 30 fps
  • Alto’s Odyssey – played smoothly at around 60 fps with no problems

In other words, the games that are most playable are 2D platformers and/or games that are designed for mobile devices. Intel UHD 600 graphics just wasn’t made for gaming.

The same goes for video editing, graphic design or other activities that leverage a GPU such as cryptocurrency mining.

Here’s how the NucBox stacks up against the Chuwi LarkBox in graphics benchmarks. I also included results for several computers with more powerful Intel processors including the Core m3-8100Y, Core i5-10210Y, Core i7-10710U, and Core i7-1065G7, as well as results (when available) for a system with a less powerful Celeron N4100 processor.

I was somewhat surprised to the LarkBox come out ahead in most of these tests, although the differences are small enough to be negligible. The important thing to note is that these little computers have pretty weak graphics.

The NucBox takes a small lead over the LarkBox in general purpose computing benchmarks.

When you dig into benchmark scores though, it seems like the theoretically faster CPU may not be as important as the fact that the NucBox has more RAM and faster storage. In fact, despite having a processor with lower top speeds, the LarkBox actually comes out ahead of the NucBox in some CPU-specific tests.

Neither of these tiny computers is as fast as a mid-range laptop, and the differences between them are pretty small overall. But if you’re looking for the most bang for your buck, my testing does suggest that the Chuwi LarkBox has slightly better graphics performance while the GMK NucBox has slightly better all-around performance.

A few other things to consider

This little computer may have a USB Type-C port, but it’s for power only. It does not support data, and if you try plugging the power adapter into a USB-C dock and then running a cable to the NucBox, it will not power on. The same thing happens with the LarkBox, and I suspect it’s true of all the 2.4 inch mini PCs based on this design.

That said, you still have two USB 3.0 Type-A ports to use for peripherals such as keyboards, mice, game controllers, or external storage. And since the system supports Bluetooth, you may be able to free up a port or two by using wireless accessories as well.

An entry-level GMK NucBox comes with a 128GB M.2 2242 SSD that, at least according to my tests, supports read/write speeds of 516MB/s and 470MB/s, respectively. But GMK will offer larger SSDs for a price:

128GB SSD256GB SSD512GB SSD
IGG Early Bird price$179$199$229
Retail price$209$229$269

If you’d like to upgrade or replace the SSD yourself, all you need to do is take off the four feet on the bottom of the computer and then remove the screws holding the bottom cover in place to access the M.2 slot.

GMK NucBox

You’d have to dig further inside to get to the wireless card, fan, and other internal components. But the SSD should be very easy to replace.

One thing that may be a little trickier is changing the operating system — I had no luck getting the NucBox to boot Ubuntu, MX Linux, or Fedora from a USB flash drive. You can enter the computer’s BIOS/UEFI settings menu by hitting Del or Esc at boot, and there are options to change the boot device priority and/or to manually boot from a USB drive. But whenever I’ve tried to do that, I’ve been greeted with a blank screen.

For what it’s worth, I had no trouble running Linux on the LarkBox, and even installed Ubuntu to create a dual-boot system that allowed me to choose between Windows and Ubuntu at startup.

I should also point out that the demo unit GMK sent me to review shipped with an unactivated version of Windows 10, but the company tells me that units shipped out to customers and crowdfunding campaign backers will have active Windows 10 licenses.

Verdict

Look, does anybody need a desktop PC small that’s smaller than a computer mouse? Probably not. But it’s pretty impressive that they exist.. and it’s nice to have some choices.

In some ways the GMK NucBox is clearly a step up over the Chuwi LarkBox. It has a metal chassis instead of plastic. It has faster storage and more RAM. And it has a processor that should be faster… although benchmarks tell a more complicated story.

That said, the LarkBox comes with a VESA mount kit and seems to have better out-of-the-box support for Linux (at least until someone with more expertise than I have figures out why the NucBox doesn’t want to boot GNU/Linux distros from USB).

But for the most part, there’s not really that much difference between the NucBox and the LarkBox. If you’re in the market for a 2.4 inch mini PC, I’d say buy whichever is cheaper and/or ships first… and make sure you have reasonable expectations for performance.

The company is also offering a 13.3 inch portable 4K monitor for $199 during the Indiegogo campaign. The display features a built-in kickstand, stereo speakers, HDR support, USB-C and HDMI inputs, and it’s expected to sell for $349 after crowdfunding ends.

Thanks to GMK for sending Liliputing the demo unit featured in this review. You can pre-order the NucBox through Indiegogo for $179 and up.

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7 Comments

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  1. Thank you. This is an excellent review of the new form factor PCs (or whatever new moniker emerges for this category).
    This is Liliputing back to it’s original roots of presenting small form factor computers.

  2. GMK on the side of that little machine =’s a lost sale. Chinese excessive branding needs to stop…it’s getting ridiculous…and pointless.

  3. Hello, have you received any feedback from the company about the linux booting issue? On their indiegogo page they very clearly stated that this machine supports linux. Thanks.

    1. I purchased one hoping to run Linux; Mint or UBUNTU. I agree at this time there is no easy way to get the device to boot from USB. Hopefully a BIOS update will be made available that will allow that to happen

  4. I believe they’ve made an oversight in their cooling setup, based on another look at this. It seemed that the CPU wasn’t in contact with the heatsink in another review unit, so throttling was definitely happening. Hopefully, they do address that for the final units. I do think it was an oversight, since thermal paste was applied to the CPU. A thermal pad to fill the gap did improve performance.

    Small correction for the sake of clarity: For Yooka-Laylee, you said you dropped the resolution from 1080p to 1366p. Clearly, you switched your reference from vertical resolution to horizontal on that and meant 768 or 720.