The Chuwi LarkBox is a tiny computer that measures just 2.4″ x 2.4″ x 1.7″ but which is a full-fledged PC capable of running Windows 10 or other desktop operating systems.
Powered by a 10-watt Intel Celeron J4115 quad-core processor, the LarkBox has 6GB of RAM, 128GB of eMMC storage.
The LarkBox will be available for pre-order through an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign that launches June 23rd. It’ll eventually have a retail price of $199, but early bird backers will have a chance to reserve one for $169 and up during the campaign.
Update: Liliputing readers will be able to reserve a Chuwi LarkBox for $149 using this link.
Chuwi sent me a LarkBox to review, and I’ve been testing it for the last few days. Despite its small size, the LarkBox makes a surprisingly capable little computer. I spent an entire work day using it to research and write articles for Liliputing and it only felt a little more sluggish than the laptop I usually use.
While you could use the LarkBox as a general-purpose computer, I suspect it’ll have more appeal for niche use cases. It would make a decent media streaming computer, a light-weight digital signage or kiosk system, or a small, quiet file server connected to your home network. And there are probably dozens of other applications I haven’t even thought of.
While the little PC ships with Windows 10, it’s also capable of running Ubuntu or other GNU/Linux distributions… although I find that graphics performance is better under Windows.
And while the Chuwi LarkBox doesn’t have a lot of ports or upgrade options, it does have an M.2 2242 slot that you can use to add a SSD if you want more (and speedier) storage. Overall, it’s a pretty versatile little computer with a reasonable price tag. Does anyone need a palm-sized desktop Windows 10 computer with a low-power processor? Probably not. But if you’re going to get one, it’s nice to know it will cost less than $200.
|Intel Celeron J4115
|Intel UHD 600
|128GB eMMC + M.2 2242 SSD
|2 x USB 3.0 Type-A, 1 x USB-C
|HDMI, headset, microSD card reader
|Active (there’s a fan)
|2.4″ x 2.4″ x 1.7″
|$199 (or $169 for early backers)
The one big selling point for the LarkBox is its little design. At about 2.4 inches square, the computer has a smaller profile than the Raspberry Pi 4, which is a 3.4 x 2.2 inch computer before you add a case.
It’s small enough to fit in a pants pocket and carry around, which isn’t something you can usually say about desktop computers. But more important, it won’t take up a lot of space on your desk, TV table, nightstand, or wherever it is that you want to put a tiny computer.
Chuwi also includes a VESA mount kit in the box, so you can attach the LarkBox to the back of a monitor or TV with a couple of screws. But since the computer is so tiny, it only needs a half-sized VESA mount that comes with two screws instead of four.
But despite the computer’s tiny size, it’s a fairly versatile machine that you can use for a variety of purposes. It has enough graphics horsepower to handle 4K video playback. Its 64-bit quad-core processor and 6GB of RAM make for reasonably decent multitasking performance. And when I decided to see if I could use the LarkBox as my primary work machine for a day, it was… fine.
Opening more than a dozen browser tabs while streaming music and listening to Spotify was definitely doable… although the system was a little more sluggish than the HP Spectre x360 and Dell Vostro 15 7590 laptops I typically use for work. But those computers have 15 watt Intel Core i5-8250U and 45 watt Core i7-9750H processors, respectively. They also both have at least 8GB of storage and PCIe NVMe SSDs.
The LarkBox does support solid state storage — there are four screws on the bottom of the computer that you can remove to open the case and get and an M.2 2242 slot. But I don’t happen to have an M.2 2242 SSD handy, so I wasn’t able to test that.
I suspect the processor is the more significant performance bottleneck though. While I could get through a day of using this little computer to research and write articles for Liliputing without pulling my hair out, I doubt that most people are looking at a 2.4 inch mini-desktop with a 10-watt Intel Gemini Lake Refresh processor as a workstation PC.
But let’s look at some raw performance numbers.
When Chuwi first unveiled the LarkBox, company indicated that it would ship with a 6 watt Intel Celeron N4100 quad-core Gemini Lake Refresh processor. But ahead of launch, Chuwi upgraded the chip to a 10 watt Celeron J4115 chip, which is a more powerful member of the same processor family.
We’re still looking at a processor based on Intel Atom architecture, which means it’s optimized for low cost and low power consumption rather than high performance. But by switching to a slightly more powerful processor designed for desktops rather than notebooks, Chuwi succeeded in making the LarkBox a little speedier than some other low-power devices I’ve tested recently, including mini-laptops like the Chuwi MiniBook (with a Celeron N4100 processor) and the One Mix 1S Yoga (with a Celeron 3965Y dual-core Kaby Lake chip) — at least according to tests including GeekBench 4 and Cinebench R15. But as you’d expect, the system falls behind most computers with Intel Core M3/i5/i7 processors.
Other tests, including GeekBench 5, PassMark, and PCMark tell a more complicated story, with the LarkBox coming ahead in some areas, but behind in others.
One reason for that may be that the LarkBox has relatively slow storage. I only tested the system using the built-in 128GB eMMC flash storage, since I don’t have an M.2 2242 SSD that I can use. But it’s possible that one way to improve performance would be to use speedier storage.
According to CrystalDiskMark, the LarkBox’s eMMC storage supports top sequential read speeds of 211MB/s and write speeds of 57.1MB/s, which makes it far slower than just about any other computer I’ve tested recently. The computer’s PassMark Disk Mark score tells a similar story, putting the LarkBox in the same league as the Chuwi MiniBook and GPD MicroPC, which have eMMC and SATA SSD storage, respectively.
If you scan through the benchmarks above, you’ll notice that I didn’t just compare the LarkBox with other systems featuring low-power, Atom-based processors. While it compares well to systems in that category, it trails far beyond computers with Intel Core chips in most tests… especially in graphics tests.
Computers with Core M3-8100Y, Core i5-1035G7, Core i7-1065G7, and Core i7-10710U processors came out ahead in just about every test, and the differences were especially stark in 3DMark gaming tests.
In fact, even the One Mix 1S Yoga with its Celeron 3965Y processor bested the LarkBox in 3DMark tests. That chip may be a 6 watt, 2-core/2-thread processor, but it’s based on 7th-gen Intel Core architecture and feature Intel UHD 615 graphics, which gives it a bit of an edge. Unsurprisingly the best performance came from more recent and powerful 10th-gen Core processors with Intel UHD 620 or Iris Plus graphics.
Some more use notes
It’s hard to squeeze a lot of ports onto a computer this small, but the LarkBox has a decent selection of input and output options.
On the back of the computer you’ll find two USB 3.0 Type-A ports, an HDMI port, and a USB Type-C port. On the right side there’s a microSD card reader and a 3.5mm audio jack.
While that should be all you need to connect a keyboard, mouse, display, printer, speaker, and other accessories, you may need a hub if you want to use more than a few peripherals with this little computer. Alternately, you can opt for Bluetooth accessories.
For example, using a Bluetooth mouse allowed me to free up a USB port that I could use for a flash drive while using the other USB port for a keyboard.
One thing to note is that the USB Type-C port is also the computer’s power input jack. And I think what the icon above that port is telling me is that it’s only used for power and not data — which would seem to be in line with what my testing has shown.
The LarkBox comes with a 12V/2A USB charger with a small power brick. Plug the adapter into the computer’s USB-C port and it powers on.
Update: After meeting a crowdfunding stretch goal, Chuwi has announced it will ship the LarkBox with a smaller, phone-like AC adapter rather than the power brick that came with the pre-production prototype the company sent me.
But the USB-C port is for power only, not data. When I tried plugging the power adapter into a USB-C hub and then connecting the hub to the computer, the LarkBox would not turn on. So I reached out to Chuwi to find out if maybe the issue was my hub. It was not. The company confirmed that the USB-C port is only used for power.
In other words, if you need more than two USB ports, you’ll probably need a USB-A hub or docking station.
Another thing to keep in mind about this little computer is that it features active cooling. That means there’s a fan that bring in hot air through a small vent on the front of the PC and blows it out through a vent on the top. This helps keep the processor from overheating and slowing down, but it also means that the computer makes a little bit of noise when you’re using it.
But I’d place emphasis on the word little, because the fan is pretty quiet. If you’re in a room with no other ambient noise, you may notice the whirring noise of the computer’s fan from time to time. But play some music or watch a video and you probably won’t notice the fan at all — especially if you’re more than a few feet away. So if you set up the LarkBox next to a TV and then sit down on a couch to watch videos, the fan most likely won’t disrupt your viewing experience.
More importantly, the fan seems to do a pretty good job of keeping CPU temperatures under control.
After a few days of usage, I did start to see some dust accumulate in the vent area, so that may be something to keep an eye on over time for both performance and aesthetic reasons. It’s a little tricky to get dust out without disassembling the computer, but blowing a little compressed air through the grate helps a bit.
Overall the computer does a reasonably good job with most of the tasks I threw at it in my tests, including 4K video playback, music streaming, image editing, and a lot of web activity (I typically open 12-20 browser tabs in Google Chrome during my workday, using some to check email and news feeds, others to research specific topics or update social media, and a tab or two to create content for Liliputing).
As you may have guessed from the benchmarks above, gaming isn’t really the LarkBox’s strong suit. While you could certainly run some lightweight games, it struggles with more graphically-intensive titles.
At least that’s true with Windows 10, which is the operating system that comes pre-installed. But I also installed Ubuntu 20.04 on the LarkBox and while most hardware seems to work out of the box, I did notice that 4K video playback and 3D gaming didn’t work as well under Linux.
It’s possible that a kernel or driver update may be able to help, but here are some out-of-the-box observations.
Advanced use cases (Linux usage & BIOS settings)
Booting Ubuntu or another operating system is as simple as preparing a bootable USB flash drive, inserting it into one of the rear ports, and then powering on the computer. I didn’t have to take any special steps to boot right into Ubuntu 20.04 and for the most part everything seemed to work out of the box including WiFi, Bluetooth, audio, and hardware-accelerated graphics.
Unfortunately while running USB from a flash drive, I made a dumb mistake while trying to reformat a microSD card… and accidentally deleted my Windows partition. But that actually presented me with a few opportunities.
First, I decided to just go ahead and install Ubuntu to local storage and spend some time with it. And second, I decided to re-install Windows 10 by creating another bootable flash drive by downloading a Windows 10 ISO and flashing the image to a USB drive using Rufus.
Installing Ubuntu was fast and easy, and I was able to install a number of third-party apps including Spotify, Kodi, and Steam. But I was also able to determine that graphics performance wasn’t quite as good as it is on Windows.
Hardware-accelerated graphics does seem to be supported, but the computer struggled a bit when I tried to do some of the same things with Ubuntu that I was able to do with Windows.
For example, I fired up a 4K YouTube video that played smoothly at 60 frames per second under Windows, and playback was much choppier in Ubuntu. Switching the streaming quality to 1080p was all it took to make the video play smoothly though, so that may be good enough for some users.
I also spent a few minutes playing a 10-year-old PC game under both operating systems. While I saw frame rates ranging from 20-25 fps under Windows, I was only able to get around 9-15 frames per second with Ubuntu. Neither is great, but the game was practically unplayable with Ubuntu, while the occasionally jittery images were only a little frustrating with Windows.
If you want to try tweaking performance the BIOS/UEFI setup utility offers a decent set of options… at least on the pre-production prototype Chuwi sent me to review. It’s possible the company will lock down some of these settings on the units it eventually ships to customers, but here are some of the options I saw:
- Enable/disable specific CPU cores
- Adjust the TDP power limit
- Enable/disable Turbo boost
- Adjust boot device priorities
I didn’t play with these settings very much (and as you’ll see in the pictures, the boot options are a little messy on my system thanks to my re-installation of Windows), but it’s nice to have the options.
Speaking of re-installing Windows, despite having deleted my original Windows partition, doing a clean install of Microsoft’s operating system was quick and easy. And when I finished setting up Windows I was pleasantly surprised to see that the operating system was activated, indicating the Chuwi seems to have tied its Windows license to the hardware in a way that allows Windows to detect the license during installation. This isn’t unusual for major PC makers, but I had my doubts that a system from a Chinese PC maker like Chuwi would support this.
The Chuwi LarkBox is one of the smallest computers capable of running desktop operating systems including Windows 10, Ubuntu Linux, and probably just about anything else that can run on a 64-bit x86 processor.
It may not be the best option for everyone — the computer has a relatively slow processor, a limited set of ports, and there’s no option to upgrade the RAM. But it’s a surprisingly versatile system that can be used for a variety of applications. And Chuwi’s decision to include an M.2 slot means that the storage, at least, is upgradeable.
The price is also just about right for a device like this. If this were a $499 computer, it’d be easy to complain about its lackluster performance. But for $199 or less, it’s hard to find fault with a system that can run most Windows application with ease, handle multi-tasking reasonably well, and works with 4K video streams (when you’re using Windows, at least).
It’s worth keeping in mind that while Chuwi has been making PCs for some time, the company is based in China and tends to have a limited presence in Western markets. That means that while you can buy Chuwi products from a number of retailers, you often get limited (if any) customer service or support.
The LarkBox is going up for pre-order through a crowfunding campdiscountaign, but I have very little doubt that it will ship to backers after the campaign ends. Chuwi uses crowdfunding to generate buzz (and pre-orders) rather than to raise necessary funds to complete production of its hardware. But if you run into any hardware or software issues with the LarkBox or other Chuwi products, it’s probably best not to expect the same level of service that you’d get if you bought a computer from Acer, Asus, Apple, Dell, HP, or Lenovo, for example.
Overall, I think the Chuwi LarkBox offers decent bang for the buck for anyone looking for an incredibly tiny PC that’s also a full-fledged desktop computer. But I just want to make sure that you know what you’re in for if you decide to spend money on this device.
You can sign up at Chuwi’s LarkBox promotion website to be notified when the Indiegogo campaign goes live.