The GMK NucBox is a tiny computer that fits in the palm of your hand, but which is a full-fledged desktop computer with a 10-watt Intel Celeron J4125 quad-core processor, 8GB of RAM, and a 128GB SSD.

It ships with Windows 10, and when I reviewed a pre-release version of the NucBox this summer, I focused on Windows performance… because I couldn’t get the demo unit GMK sent me to boot into Ubuntu or any other GNU/Linux distribution.

Now that the NucBox is available for purchase through retail channels for about $200, GMK sent me retail version of the little computer. And this time I had no trouble booting and installing Ubuntu 20.04 LTS on this 2.4″ x 2.4″ x 1.7″ computer.

Here are some thoughts.

Installing Ubuntu or another Linux distro is pretty simple. Just prepare a bootable USB flash drive, plug it into one of the USB 3.0 Type-A ports on the back of the NucBox, and press the power button to turn on the computer.

Hit the Esc key on your keyboard to enter the UEFI/BIOS screen, and you should be able to navigate to the Save & Exit tab, scroll down, and find your flash drive in the Boot Override section. Select that drive and you’ll bypass Windows and boot from your flash drive, giving you a chance to try out the operating system without installing it to the computer’s SSD.

After having good results with my test drive, I went ahead and installed Ubuntu, and now I have a dual boot system: every time I turn on the PC I’m greeted by the GRUB bootloader, which gives me the option of loading Ubuntu 20.04 or Windows 10. If I don’t choose, it will automatically run Ubuntu after a few seconds.

Once the OS is up and running, everything seems to work as it should. I had no problems connecting to my wireless network over an 802.11ac WiFi connection. I was able to use a Bluetooth mouse with the computer. Audio and video playback work, and I was able to stream 1080p video from YouTube without difficulty.

The NucBox does struggle with 4K video streaming from YouTube. And when I say struggle, I mean it’s practically unwatchable. But I’ve had mixed results with 1440p content.

With an Intel Gemini Lake Refresh low-power processor featuring four CPU cores, four threads, and Intel UHD integrated graphics, the NucBox isn’t exactly supposed to be a speed demon. If you’re looking for a gaming rig or a workstation for video editing and graphic design, this isn’t the computer for you. But that’s probably true of pretty much any computer in this price range… and it’s certainly true of any computer this small.

But the NucBox was able to at least run every app I threw at it, including commercial software like the Steam game client and Spotify music player and open source software like LibreOffice and GIMP.

I spent about four hours using the NucBox with Ubuntu as my primary work computer, which meant plugging it into a 2560 x 1080 pixel display and opening a dozen or more browser tabs to research and write articles, doing some light image editing and video viewing.

Firefox felt a little faster than Chromium, so I used that as my web browser for this test. And I used GIMP for image editing. Just to push my luck a bit, I used Spotify to stream music while working. And the NucBox was able to handle all of those things at once… It could do everything I asked of it, but it took slightly longer to get things done than I would have liked, particularly when opening new apps or browser tabs.

But that’s the same slight lag I felt when doing the same thing with Windows 10. For the most part, Ubuntu seems to run almost as well as Windows (3D gaming frame rates seem to be a bit lower, suggesting that the graphics driver could maybe use some work). But overall, I’d say that the NucBox is better suited for single-tasking or light multitasking than the sort of heavy-duty multitasking I was asking it to do.

Keep in mind that while the computer is small, it’s not silent. There’s a small fan inside the case that spins up and emits a high-pitched whining noise when the system is under load. This helps keep the system cool and it’s not very loud. But if you’re planning to use the NucBox as a media server, you might not want to put it too close to the place where you’ll be sitting unless you plan to play music or movies at loud enough volumes to drown out the fan noise.

Another thing to keep in mind is that while the computer’s SSD is replaceable, the processor and RAM are not. The NucBox does have a microSD card read that you can also use for removable storage, as well as a headphone jack, HDMI port, and two USB 3.0 Type-A ports. The computer’s single USB-C port is only used for power and not for data.

Update: I also decided to take LibreELEC for a spin on the NucBox. The lightweight Linux distribution is designed around the Kodi media center, and when it comes to using it with the NucBox, the operating system loads quickly and is capable of handling 4K video playback from local storage or while streaming from a network share drive over an 802.11ac WiFi connection.

Here’s a run-down of the little computer’s key specs:

Processor Intel Celeron J4125
4-cores/4-threads
2.5 GHz base
2.7 boost
10W TDP
GPU Intel UHD 600
250 MHz base
750 MHz boost
RAM 8GB  LPDDR4
Storage 128GB/256GB/512GB SSD options
Ports 1 x USB Type-C
2 x USB 3.0 Type-A
1 x HDMI 1.4
1 x 3.5mm audio
1 x microSD card reader
Wireless WiFi 5 (2×2)
Bluetooth 4.2
Dimensions 62mm x 62mm x 42mm (2.4″ x 2.4″ x 1.7″)
Weight 125 grams (4.4 oz)

You can find more details about the hardware, benchmarks, and Windows performance, among other things, in Liliputing’s GMK NucBox review.

The GMK NucBox is available for purchase from GMK or Amazon:

Amazon

GMK

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14 Comments

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  1. Does installing a second OS (Batocera in my case) and the GRUB bootloader as Brad did onto the internal M.2 SSD require a second bootable drive temporarily while the internal M.2 SSD is formatted/partitioned? Thanks!

  2. It’s good to see wifi hardware that works natively with open source Linux. Most of these mini PCs use lame proprietary wifi adapters (like Broadcom) and don’t work with Linux out of the box.

  3. Does the fan ramp up slowly? Or is it only On/Off? Asking because the Larkbox’s fan is On/Off which I find irritating.

    1. bradlinder – Brad Linder is editor of the mobile tech blog Liliputing, an independent journalist and podcast producer and editor based in Philadelphia.
      Brad Linder says:

      It’s definitely either on or off with no in between. If you’re paying attention you can hear it start up and shut down, and if you’re performing more resource-intensive tasks it never gets any louder. It’s just running or not running.

      1. Thanks Brad!

        It shares this design with Larkbox. The Larkbox fan isn’t loud. The problem really is myself: I have to work in absolute quiet, and a fan spooling up breaks my concentration. For the Larkbox I actually have an external blower pushing air through it so the fan no longer cycles on/off. The external blower is a louder than the built-in fan, but constant thrum is less damaging to my concentration than cycling on/off. To each their own!

        1. bradlinder – Brad Linder is editor of the mobile tech blog Liliputing, an independent journalist and podcast producer and editor based in Philadelphia.
          Brad Linder says:

          Makes sense. Happy this was easy to answer. It wasn’t something I recalled off the top of my head, but I just fired up the NucBox and gave it a quick stress test to see how it behaves.

        2. I bought Thinkpad Helix 2 with 8GB RAM for less money this Nuc cost (of course 2nd hand). This is always silent (no fan), and I got a ultrabook+tablet on package, so I have an integrated 1080p IPS display plus digitizer with pen. I use it mainly docked and connected to bug display by HDMI and mechanical keyboard. And it has a battery so you have a UPS just im case.

          Performance is better than that Nuc using one core but a bit lower using all cores as this only has 2 cores 4 threads.

          With this I see no reason to get that Much (at least new; But I don’t see a 2nd hand market for them).

          1. I think you made a smart buy.

            Each form factor suits a different purpose.

            My intended use case it is to run car diagnostics software. It will run off the 12V cigarette adapter, or from a small power bank. Since I already have a screen in my pocket whenever I am out of the house, I don’t want an extra one. I also don’t want a traditional keyboard. Etc. etc.

            Sometimes it isn’t about the “most bang for the buck” but rather “the greatest utility or meets the most use cases.”

            Cheers!

          2. Colin: If that soft needs x86 I think there was simpler ans cheaper x86 boards. But I don’t follow that market so I can’t advice.

            If you don’t need x86 for that soft, there are cheaper and more energy efficient solutions on ARM.

            For my car I plug a Bluetooth OBD adapter and I use my smartphone 🙂

          3. Thanks for your suggestions. I would make these final comments:
            – I think this thread has gotten a bit off-topic. For that I apologize. It was supposed to be about the GMK Nucbox, but I did not encounter any Larkbox reviews with any kind of depth (such as how the fan control worked). For the author’s generosity with his time, I am grateful. Many of us suspect that from an engineering perspective, the Larkbox and GMK Nucbox are identical, except for minor differences such as the capacity of the RAM chip that is soldered on, or the materials of the casing. They are identical right down to fan control.
            – I do believe that each product that is well-conceived, serves a particular market. We aren’t cogs that are interchangeable, and neither are the product categories that are created with intention.
            – We are bound by legacy: Toyota Techstream requires Windows 32; I have to create a VM just for that. Techstream is required for advanced functionality such as programming security keys etc. that aren’t exposed through common OBDII systems.
            – I don’t want a “board”. This has to cohabitate with wrenches and dirt and grease and survive a long trip on 4×4 trails and unpaved forest service roads. It has to be usable by mechanics, not computer nerds. You have to consider that a “board” isn’t going to serve mechanics as well. They don’t like soldering SMT components that got knocked off the board, or dealing with ESD. That’s why “boxed” computers exist, and are the largely dominant commercial form factor that computers come in. Nice that you also scored a used “boxed computer” on the cheap!

  4. Would this be a good candidate for double duty as media pc to watch Netflix and other streaming services on a regular non-4K TV while also functioning, during its off duty hours, as home server that I can use for downloading stuff, serving as a repository for family videos and pictures and backups for files. would need an eternal SSD. Would it be robust for 24/7 duty?

    1. This PC doesn’t have a network port so you’ll have to do all that on the WiFi or supply a USB to RJ45 adapter

      1. Yes, I think I can live with that. The home wifi can support the streaming for usual full HD. And since it’s more of a backup, casual repository for our media, that should probably also be sufficient. I was thinking of using a Raspberry Pi (which would definitely be cheaper) but don’t know how effective it would be for the Netflix, et. al. streaming bit.

  5. I had to flash the bios of my backer unit before I could even attempt to boot from USB like you mentioned in your previous article. After that I tried Pop_OS but all I got was a dark screen on boot. I guess I should give good’ol Ubuntu a try…