Window Shopping: Mystery Mini PC of Many Names

An interesting item came to my attention via Newegg marketing mailing list for discounts: an amazingly tiny Windows PC. My attention was captured by listing picture showing its collection of hardware ports. Knowing the size of an Ethernet port and HDMI port we can infer this is an itty-bitty thing. Newegg’s specific sale item was generically named “Mini PC” with an asking price of $200. I’m not entirely sure the thing is real: all the images look perfect enough I couldn’t tell if they’re 3D renderings or a highly retouched product photos.

I looked at the other listings by the same vendor “JOHNKANG” and saw several other generically named devices ranging from laptops to external monitors. There were no other similar products, so I think JOHNKANG is a distributor and not the manufacturer of this palm-sized wonder. If JOHNKANG is a US distributor for such merchandise, I guessed they probably have an Amazon listing as well. Sure enough, they have it listed on Amazon also at $200(*) at time of writing. Unlike the Newegg listing, the Amazon listing included this exploded-view diagram showing internals and capabilities.

That’s… pretty darned good for $200! With an Intel Celeron N5105 processor, I see a machine roughly equivalent to capabilities of a budget laptop but without the keyboard, screen, or battery. Storage size is serviceable at 256GB and can be swapped out with another M.2 SSD, though in a less common 2242 format which is shorter than the popular 2280. Its 8GB of RAM are soldered and not easily expandable, but 8GB is more than sufficient for this price point.

A few features distinguish this tiny PC from equivalent-priced laptops, starting with its dual HDMI port where laptops only have one. That might be important for certain uses, but I’m more interested in its wired Gigabit Ethernet port and that it runs on USB-C power input. This machine appears to check off all of my requirements for a candidate Sawppy Rover brain. It’s a pretty good candidate for running ROS slotting just below an Intel NUC in capability but compensates for that with a lower price and smaller physical size. Heck, at this size it is starting to compete with Raspberry Pi and might even fit in a Micro Sawppy.

I found no make or model number listed, which is consistent with a distributor that really doesn’t want us to comparison shop against anyone else who might be distributing the same product for less money. If I want hard details, I might have to buy one and look over the hardware for hints as to who built it. Still, searching for “Mini PC” and “MiniPC” with N5105 CPU found this eBay listing of a used unit with Rateyuso branding. Then I found this AliExpress listing with ZX01 as model name. That AliExpress listing is a mess, showing pictures of several other different mini PCs. Not confidence inspiring and definitely turned me off of buying from that vendor. However, the “ZX01” model name was useful because it led me to this page, which linked to a Kickstarter project that has apparently been taken down due to intellectual property dispute.

Performing an image search using the suspiciously perfect picture/render found the GMKtec Nucbox5(*) which appears to be the same product but with “GMKtec” stamped on top. Looking at the Amazon storefront for GMKtec (*) I see many other small form factor PCs without any family resemblance between their industrial designs. My hypothesis is that GMKtec is a distributor as well, but they have built up a collection of products from different manufacturers and that’s why they all look different. I thought this was encouraging. It implies experience and knowledge with the ecosystem of tiny PCs, offering a breadth of products each making a different tradeoff. I looked over their roster and found one more to my taste.

(*) Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

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