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MSI Cubi review

Tom Morgan
2 Jul 2015
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MSI Cubi three quarters
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
189
inc VAT

Impressive performance from this compact and great-value micro barebones PC

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Specifications

Processor socket: System-on-Chip, Chipset: N/A, Memory slots: 2, PCI-E x16 slots: 0, USB ports: 4x USB3, Video outputs: HDMI, Mini DisplayPort, Max 2 1/2in drive bays: 1

MSI is the latest company we've seen to attempt to squeeze a complete computer into a case no larger than a lunchbox. The Cubi goes further than all the other mini PCs we've seen to date, including Intel's tiny NUC, with a case the size of four slices of Mighty White. It's not just the diminutive size that's exciting, though; the Cubi is the first mini PC we've seen based on Intel's latest Broadwell architecture.

The Cubi is available with Broadwell Celeron, Pentium, Core i3 and Core i5 processors, with prices starting from £99 for a barebones Celeron model, which will need RAM and storage to turn it into a usable PC. Our £189 review unit used a Core i3-5005U processor, and we fitted it with 4GB of 1600MHz Crucial SO-DIMM RAM and a 128GB SSD for testing. At current prices, this would cost you around £20 for the RAM and £60 for the SSD; add in a copy of Windows and the total spend should be roughly £345, which is still cheaper than the equivalent Intel NUC.

MSI Cubi front ports

The dual-core processor runs at 2GHz, with no Turbo function for faster burst speeds. That being said, it's still a capable chip, managing an impressive 97 overall in the 1080p version of our benchmarks, which we run on lower-powered hardware. This is about the same speed as a mid-range laptop, and means the Cubi is perfectly suitable to normal desktop applications and multi-tasking. Our more intensive 4K benchmarks were still a bit much for the low-power chip, however, giving us an overall score of 24. More processor-intensive tasks like video editing are asking a bit too much of the CPU, but that's to be expected for such a small, power-efficient PC.

Broadwell is manufactured on a 14nm process, which Intel claims reduces power consumption by as much as 30% over previous-generation Haswell chips. Under full load, the Cubi drew around 28W from the mains; this is far less than the maximum 65W the external power brick can provide, and significantly lower than even an entry-level tower PC's power draw.

Intel has also upgraded its integrated graphics for Broadwell, with a claimed 40% performance increase. This might be good news for fans of browser games and Minecraft, but in practice the HD Graphics 5500 was still unable to get playable framerates in 3D games. It managed a choppy 20.2fps in our Dirt Showdown benchmark at 1,280x720, High detail and 4x Anti-aliasing, and failed to produce a playable result at 1,920x1,080 with the same settings.

Dropping the details to Medium and disabling anti-aliasing boosted the 1,280x720 frame rate to a more acceptable 31.1fps. Intel's Haswell-powered NUC might have an older GPU core, but it can boost its clock speed further than the Broadwell chip, helping it achieve better frame rates in games. The Cubi is still able to stream games using Steam In-Home Streaming, however, meaning it could be used to play games streamed from a more powerful PC in another room.

MSI Cubi rear ports

The Cubi isn't passively cooled, meaning it is possible to hear the fan whirring inside, but only in a completely silent room; it's so quiet that we had to put our ear right up against the exhaust vents to hear it in the office. It also got warm to the touch after an hour of benchmarking, but not uncomfortably so.

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