Hystou PCs is not really a brand most people are familiar with. They are an original equipment manufacturer and international distributor based in Shenzhen, China offering really good value-for-money barebone (no ram and disks) mini-PCs selling their products through Alibaba, Ebay and their website. I had never bought from them before, but Chinese electronics, especially those from Shenzhen have an increasing reputation of delivering quality electronics.
So I figured I gave them a try, also considering they are offering proper full genuine Intel-based Mini-PCs at half the price of branded barebone PC equivalents. Hystou direct competitor includes the Intel NUC line of mini PCs, Zotac, Gigabyte Brix, Asus VivoPC, MSI Cubi and Acer Revo series.
Hystou prides themselves into offering Ultrabook-level desktop computing performance through a fanless all-aluminium chassis design. Their line-up usually feature Intel U-type low-voltage processors typically found on Ultrabooks with a TDU of 15-25W. If you don’t mind buying into last year’s intel processors as a bargain, the company has an extensive line-up of Haswell and Broadwell mini-PCs in i3, i5 and i7 flavours, with the i7 with Iris-Pro graphics being the highest performing, but most costly in the segment. They also do mini-PCs in form-factors for digital signage and ruggedized bodies for industrial use. There are no Skylake models at this point of writing.
A bargain Mini PC
The OEM retails through Alibaba, as well as on their main website offering cheaper prices (where I bought mine). I got myself a barebone Broadwell i3-5010U unit which costs me $160 USD (~ $224 SGD) including tracked EMS shipping to Singapore. A similar speced same generation i3 Intel NUC PC will set you back about twice as much $290 USD (~$400 SGD) from Amazon with free-ship or a rip-off $500 SGD from stores in Rochor Sim Lim square. Both Intel and Hystou offers a manufacturer-direct 3 year warranty on their Mini-PCs.
First impressions are pretty good, I am a big fan of mini PCs, particularly the Intel NUC. Despite the bland packaging, the mini PC comes in a solid machine-milled aluminum body, which is solid and feels really well finished. It is rather heavy too, weighing in at just under 2kg without RAM and Disks installed, which make it feel a little bit over-engineered for a PC case. You get an auto-sensing power brick with a removable plug cable to suit your region, a bag of screws, dual wi-fi antennas and a driver CD. The mini PC is square shaped with a flat top and bottom, besides looking great, the top fins are functional and acts as a large heatsink to dissipate processor heat and can get rather hot in operation, I feel could do better with a fan added. You also get a white plastic stand if you wish to have your PC mounted in a vertical standing position.
You get a very healthy array of ports on the device. The front of the device is minimalistic with a single power button with a bright blue status LED. The left side comprise of two twin aerial antenna ports, the right side has two USB 2.0 ports. The rear is where you find the bulk of the ports you will be using with four USB 3.0 ports (intel chipset), dual video outputs through a VGA output (rather outdated, displayport would be better) and full-sized HDMI interface (Hystou claims it supports up to 4K resolutions), a gigabit ethernet port (Realtek chip) and DC in power port.
The system board is firmly bolted onto the full aluminum body, which is probably sized with enough surface area to dissipate the i3 processor’s 15W TDP. The Mini-PC comes unassembled with its aluminum base plate removed. Here, you can access and install the user-serviceable parts, such as RAM, Disks and add-on cards. There are lots of space in the Mini-PC, the motherboard only occupies just over half of the available space inside the device, with plenty of space to spare.
The PC uses DDR3 SO-DIMMs (laptop memory), as speced for Haswells/Broadwell CPUs (current Intel Skylakes uses DDR4). Unlike the Intel NUC, Zotac and Brix, the plus point is that you can have space for two 2.5″ hard drives, brought to you by two independent SATA ports which can register two separate SATA-3 drives as seen on the BIOs (American Megatrends). You also get two mini-PCIE card slots, with one already taken by a Wireless-N card out of the box. As such, it is possible to have up to 4 drives (two MSATA and two SATA) drives, with a possible capacities exceeding 4TB if you throw in two 2TB 2.5″ platter drives- something you can’t do with the competition out there. This also potentially allows you do software RAID setups on the Hystou as a media box or a low-powered server (the i3-5010U supports VT-x and VT-d virtualisation). You have the option to install and boot your OS from either the MSATA or SATA-3 ports. There is however, only one SATA cable and power connector provided, as such you will need to obtain another SATA data cable and a 15-pin SATA power connector splitter if you need to run two SATA drives.
The side USB ports and power button connects to the mainboard via header cables. You have 2 additional internal USB headers if you wish to install more USB ports. The case is not screw-less, installing the drives involves you to mount them on the removable base plate using the provided hard drive mounting screws. Similarly sized screws at each corner are used to close the Mini PC main access panel.
For my tests, I paired the mini PC with one 8GB stick of Crucial DDR3L 1600Mhz SO-DIMM (you can install 16GB maximum on 2 DIMM slot) and 1x Vertex 120GB SSD. The Mini-PC uses an American Megatrends BIOs, booting up on Windows 10 on a SATA-3 connection takes about 10 seconds on average. CPU-Z shows indeed that the mini-PC runs a proper genuine Intel i3-5010U dual core processor with the right specifications.
The dual wi-fi antennas are paired to a Broadcom 802.11n wireless adapter offering good wi-fi coverage than traditional internal antennas, but the speeds are less than expected transfer speeds of ~14.9Mbps. Wired ethernet connection on the realtek chip however achieved ~862Mbps and within 10% of the tested 1GBps fiber connection used for both wi-fi and ethernet tests. SSD Disk transfer is a respectable 200MB/s read and 55MB/s write on the SATA-3 interface reaffirming that you are truly getting SATA-3 speeds on the mini-PC.
3DMark, PCMark and Passmark scores
I am pleased to report that the Broadwell i3-5010U in the Hystou performs well and in some cases exceeded expected performance in its processor class. Desktop experience on general usage is smooth on two HD monitors using both the HDMI and VGA output with no visible cursor lag with Aero enabled.
The Hystou scores a decent Windows Experience Index score of 4.3, with the CPU score at 7.1, memory score at 7.2 and the graphics being its Achilles heel at 4.3. The lack of graphic processing on the integrated Intel HD 5500 shows it lack of horsepower again in the 3DMark tests, scoring 2355 on 3D Mark (Skydiver). The Broadwell i3-5010U, does a reasonable job with multi-core scores for productivity on PCMark 8, with a mediocre score of 2048.
With a Passmark score of 3137, the Hystou surprisingly also performed faster than a similar-speced actively-cooled Intel NUC5I3RYH i3-5010U Broadwell (scoring 3066) (~4% faster), which is an above average Passmark score for this processor segment.
Temperature and power consumption
Temperatures is always a big issue in passively cooled systems and is something which I was curious about when testing. The distinguishing factor to note here to other mini-PCs in the market is the Hystou’s fan-less design, which could potentially lead to lowered performance by CPU thermal throttling at loads. I am pleased to report that the mini-PC despite running rather hot on the exterior during benchmarks (the exterior heatsink can get up to 52°C, bit too uncomfortable to the touch), CPU temperatures peaks at 79-82°C max with a V-core of 0.870V and no noticeable thermal throttling on clockspeed and CPU voltage.
The unit is more than enough for productivity tasks, like word-processing, internet surfing and very light gaming. It is pleasing to note that the mini-PC performs well to expected average scores for the Broadwell i3 processor, and is within 5% of the global average for the i3 processor despite not having an active cooling system. The mini-PC comes with an auto sensing 100-240V power brick producing a rated output of 3A at 12v (36W). The mini PC draws 13.1 W on desktop standby/idle, averaging at 15-16.1W on regular use and peaking at 28-35.2W maximum on load at the wall outlet.
With Singapore’s power tariffs at ~$0.21 per kWh and if you choose to run the mini-PC 24/7, this translates to an annual power cost of < $40, making the PC extremely energy-efficient as a mini server or for digital signage. On standby, the unit enters an ultra low power mode, consuming 0.7W. This correspondingly equates to an electrical cost of about $3.65/year when left on standby 24 hours a day.
Conclusion- A recommended gem of a Mini-PC
The Hystou mini-PC is indeed a gem find at a price point simply unheard of. It offers solid performance in a quiet passively-cooled design which outperforms even most branded mini PCs twice its price. The Hystou’s biggest price competitor will be mostly sub- $100 USD PC-sticks such as the Meegopad with SoC Core-M or Atom x7 processors. But the expandability of two SATA ports, quality construction and excellent price point puts it’s a position one cannot help but recommend.
- Excellent performer in low-power CPU segment
- Very good price point
- Fanless- completely silent
- Quality and solid product
- Space for two internal SATA drives
- 3 year warranty
- Wi-fi card included with external antennas
- Can get uncomfortably warm
- Lack of second SATA drive data and power cable
- Lackluster wi-fi performance/li>
- Larger footprint than most mini-PCs
- VGA video output is pretty dated
- Outdated- No Skylake models