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Chuwi HeroBox: What to expect from a mini PC with Windows 10?


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When we talk about low-cost computers, we now think of Raspberry Pi and other derivative boards based on ARM processors, sold for less than 50/100 euros. It is also possible to find turnkey machines, compact and silent, using an Intel processor. But what do they have worth? Twenty years ago, when we talked about a mini PC, the format was that of a shoebox. It was the days of Shuttle's iconic XPC. But since then, consumer computing has seen many revolutions, leading to the trend of SBC, or Single Board Computers.

If the Raspberry Pi is the symbol of this generation, it is not alone of its kind. We see it with competitors from Odroid, card projects for NAS like the Helios 64 or the Jetsons from NVIDIA for example. Enough to cover many uses, from the simplest to the most efficient, while remaining in an ultra-compact format.

Chuwi HeroBox

The Chuwi HeroBox

The PC has not been spared by this trend. Not so much do-it-yourself computers which are limited by their modularity. It imposes the presence of many locations and other sockets which occupy space on the PCB. In the best case, we are thus entitled to Mini STX. But in laptops (and other NUC) where all the components are soldered, the bulk of the machine has been around for a long time in a format that can go as far as the bank card. This inspired the smart kids who made them classic PCs, with just what it takes for office use, between 100 and 300 euros.

A complete PC running Windows 10 at 130 euros, really?

For this price, we are of course not entitled to a high-end machine, but to a processor from the Intel Atom range, accompanied by the necessary in terms of memory and storage, with basic connectivity and what to expect. connect to a wireless network. Chinese manufacturers are numerous in this niche. 

For our test today, we opted for a HeroBox from Chuwi (not to be confused with Chewie). Why? Simply because it was on sale on Amazon for 130 euros. For this price we were entitled to a functional computer, delivered under Windows 10. The configuration itself was rather interesting for this price: Celeron N4100 (4C / 4T from 1.1 to 2.4 GHz), 8 GB of memory (LPDDR4) and 180 GB of storage (M.2 2280 S-ATA SSD). 

Would the promise be kept? Do we have components at a discount? One thing is certain: this PC is more classically displayed at 190 euros, sometimes at 160 euros with a 15% discount.

Intel is everywhere

Upon receipt, no bad surprises: everything is there, the PC comes with a power supply, everything is functional, Windows 10 is well activated in its Family edition. And on closer inspection, many of the components present are actually from Intel: CPU, storage (Pro 2500 Series), Bluetooth 5.1 and Wi-Fi 5 at 433 Mb/s ( AC 9461, 1x1, 80 MHz). Perfect for Linux compatibility. The whole is therefore simply not fresh, since we are entitled to a platform put on the market in 2017 (the SSD dates from 2014, it is engraved in 20 nm). On the processor side there is also a subtlety: it is a Celeron N and not a Celeron J.

For those who are not familiar with Intel's nomenclatures, this means that it is a chip derived from the Atom architecture but designed for the mobile world. Thus, the TDP of an N4100 (Gemini Lake, 14 nm) is 6 watts against 10 watts for a J4105. In practice, it should therefore be less efficient, although easier to cool passively. The HeroBox is indeed without any fan.

Its hull sports a look inspired by Hades Canyon (without the LED skull but with some orange touches). There is a (minimal) VESA type mounting kit in the bundle. The housing has many vents for the passage of air. It is made of polycarbonate. 

Be careful, there seem to be different versions of this machine, previous ones having encountered overheating problems due to a too high TDP (12 watts), network problems (limited to 100 Mb/s) with a different Wi-Fi chip (AC 3165, BT 4.2). So be careful with your purchase. Our model was stamped CWI527).

Connectivity: just what it takes

The fairly basic platform of this PC does not prevent Chuwi from doing things intelligently, something that manufacturers too often lack. You can see it from the connection: on the front, in addition to the Power button (orange) and its LED (blue), there are three USB 3.0 (5 Gb/s), two Type-A and one Type-C (data only). 

They come with a microSD reader, allowing you to directly connect a card used on a smartphone or to transfer the image of an OS to Raspberry Pi for example. On the back there are two USB 2.0 (keyboard and mouse), 1 Gb/s network (Realtek), an HDMI 2.0, a VGA, a combo jack connector and a "reset" hole. 

So, there will be something for everyone. The machine is delivered with a compact power adapter (95 x 45 x 28 mm), with a fairly long wire, but we would have preferred it to be in plug format and the USB Type-C standard given its power: 24 watts (12V, 2A). The dimensions of the HeroBox are 188 x 138 x 37 mm for 590 grams.

Its consumption (measured at the outlet) at rest is 2.1 watts. It climbs to 9.6 watts when the processor is used at full throttle. Temperature side, the CPU stagnates around 37° C at rest (in a room at 22° C). In conventional use, it is generally within 60° C.

But in the event of voluntary and prolonged “burn” of the CPU (several tens of minutes via an OpenSSL test launched in a loop), we manage to reach 70° C, the frequency then drops from 2.1 GHz to 1.6 GHz. It should therefore not be abused, even if we are still far from the RPi 4 which climbs very quickly to its temperature limit of 80° C without a fan present on the SoC. Here, a large, fairly dense metal plate ( Al-Mg alloy ) ensures the heat is spread.

Let us also mention the opening of the machine, which hides some good surprises but which can be improved. It takes place in three layers, where you have to successively remove between 4 and 6 screws. The first step provides access to a 2.5 "S-ATA slot to add an HDD / SSD. A welcome possibility. Then you can remove the bottom cover and see the motherboard. But you have to unscrew it and turn it over to access the components.

The memory (2x 4 GB Micron) is soldered like the CPU. However, you can modify the M.2 2280 SSD and the Wi-Fi card if desired. The motherboard is a GB3 model from IP3 Technology which means that no BIOS / UEFI update is available or easily found. We can only regret it.

Performance limited to office use

Windows 10 was pretty quick to set up, but updating to the latest version, May 2020 (2004), was rather long. It took us an afternoon of reboots to get there (and it wasn't because of our internet connection). The processor runs out of steam quickly. So don't expect anything better than browsing, word processing, or file manipulation. It will nevertheless be much more fluid than what can be seen on a Raspberry Pi, where even version 4 under Linux still shows its weaknesses too quickly.

Just like the famous SBC, we can also consider using it as a small multi-service server (DNS, HTTP, Samba, etc.), used remotely via RDP under Windows or SSH under Linux. The more do-it-yourselfers could also recover the motherboard to use it as an on-board solution here or there.

OpenSSL 4 threads - N4100 (WSL 2, Ubuntu 20.04):

  • 234 signatures/s
  • 13,485 checks/s 

OpenSSL 4 threads - Raspberry Pi 4 (Ubuntu 20.04):

  • 96 signatures/s
  • 6,530 checks/s 

Above all, you will enjoy the good support of Intel graphics chips and its hardware acceleration. We were thus able to play a large number of video formats up to 4K (such as Tears of Steel) without losing frames. One exception, however: 4K at 60 Hz on YouTube with a few images lost regularly. Quick Sync Video can also be used in applications like Handbrake (compression at 5 fps on average), as are instructions for data encryption (AES-NI) or virtualization (VT-x / VT-d). So you can activate WSL 2 without any problem or even install a hypervisor there. 

Note that the multiplication of the graphic effects of Windows 10 can sometimes give the impression of a lack of fluidity. To remedy this, simply deactivate them using the tool provided for this purpose ( SystemPropertiesPerformance.exe). Remember to leave font smoothing active. The Intel Pro 2500 Series SSD offers classic performance for an M.2 S-ATA model, in the 400 to 500 MB/s sequential read / write as appropriate. Its age is paradoxically an advantage since it is an MLC model, which will therefore last better than more recent TLC/QLC.

Once the machine was installed and configured, 165 GB could be used, 125 GB free, the rest being occupied by Windows. The missing 15 GB is the recovery partition that you can delete if you are not going to use Microsoft's OS or back up the SSD as a whole.

Chuwi HeroBox Conclusion

The Chuwi HeroBox therefore keeps its promises. This is a turnkey PC, to which there is nothing to add, with a good amount of memory and storage for typical office use. We appreciate the presence of Intel and Realtek components, even a little dated, rather than no-name chips. Admittedly its performance is limited, but we could not decently expect more from a machine sold between 130 and 190 euros with an Intel processor and a Windows 10 license. Those who want to save money and stay on Linux, who can accept a level of lower performance, will probably turn to a Raspberry Pi 4 (to which it will be necessary to add the power supply and a microSD card) or another SBC.

We appreciate the modular side of the machine, the storage can be updated. Just like its correct and well-organized connection. But also the silence of its passive design. Of course, we have some small regrets like the diet that could be reduced, but these are small details.

If you are looking for a spare machine that consumes little and will be discreet, for which your requirement for performance and ability to be updated (via its BIOS / UEFI) is not very high, this will be a very good solution. If you opt for another model of the same kind, check the reference of the processor used, the amount of memory or storage and the nature of the components before cracking. There can be many unpleasant surprises.

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