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Intel's Thin Mini-ITX platform: nine months later


The do-it-yourself all-in-one PC grows up
— 9:25 AM on May 13, 2013

Not too long ago, all-in-one PCs were the realm of repurposed mobile processors and proprietary components. Buying one invariably meant sacrificing the prospect of serious upgrades. Oh, sure, you could always swap in a higher-capacity hard drive or a little extra RAM. But upgrading the processor or motherboard? Forget about it.

That all changed last year. Intel introduced its Thin Mini-ITX platform, which, at long last, allowed all-in-one PCs to be built using standard components. As we discovered last August, when we went hands-on with the platform for the first time, building a Thin Mini-ITX AIO is surprisingly straightforward. The process of hooking up the integrated display and peripherals does involve some unusual plugs and connectors, but all the required parts are available at retail, and users are free to mix and match them to their liking.

Here's what you need: a compatible chassis, a desktop processor with a 65W or lower TDP, and a matching motherboard. Thin Mini-ITX mobos have the same footprint as their Mini-ITX brethren, but their port clusters are shrunken to accommodate slimmer enclosures, and they have a few extra connectors on board—including those required to drive a touch-screen display. Intel provided the first wave of Thin Mini-ITX mobos, but companies like Gigabyte and ASRock were quick to introduce boards of their own. Today, there's a number of non-Intel models listed at online retailers.

You're also free to deck out your AIO with a Wi-Fi adapter, a Serial ATA or mSATA solid-state drive, a mechanical hard drive, a slim optical drive, and what have you. The exact expansion options depend on the kind of chassis you choose, but there's usually room for a little of everything.

Since these are all standard parts, upgrading to a new generation of processors is supposed to be quite straightforward. In theory, all you need is a new mobo and CPU, and perhaps new RAM, too. You can keep your old chassis and monitor. You can even hold on to your Wi-Fi card and storage devices.

Our first brush with Thin Mini-ITX left us impressed—and hungry for more. Now, almost a year later, Intel has sent us a new all-in-one machine with the latest the platform has to offer: an Ivy Bridge processor, an IPS panel with touch-screen capabilities, a blend of solid-state and mechanical storage, and Windows 8. The machine came pre-assembled, but since it's all built out of standard components, we're going to take great joy in dissecting it to see what's inside.

Also, we'll try inserting the components into our old AIO chassis from last year. That ought to give us some indication of how easy Thin Mini-ITX systems are to upgrade. Intel says there should be no obstacles in our way, but a little first-hand confirmation never hurt anyone.

 

Mmm. Purdy. Well, except for that Core i5 sticker, which kinda ruins the whole pseudo-iMac vibe.

This sleek and sexy system is based on a MiTac M780T barebones chassis, which includes a 23.6" IPS panel with a 1920x1080 resolution and 10-point capacitive touch input. (Don't worry; we'll cover the display more closely soon.) Out of the box, the chassis comes with its own cooling solution, but there's no motherboard, processor, or storage included. Users have to provide their own. The M780T retails for about $550 at Amazon right now.

Intel sent us the machine pre-configured with a Core i5-3470S processor, which has four cores, a 2.9GHz base clock speed, a 3.6GHz Turbo peak, and a 65W thermal envelope. The processor was strapped to a Gigabyte GA-H77TN motherboard. This diminutive mobo is packed full of USB 3.0 and Serial ATA 6Gbps goodness, not to mention all the right headers and connectors to accommodate the MiTac chassis' touch-screen panel, webcam, built-in card reader, and so on.

Intel also threw in eight gigs of DDR3 memory, a 180GB Intel 525 Series solid-state drive, a 1TB Western Digital mechanical hard drive, a slim DVD burner, an Intel Advanced-N 6235 Wi-Fi adapter, and a copy of Windows 8 Pro—because being able to poke and prod your way across Modern UI tiles is the whole point of that big, glass-clad touch-screen panel.

For reference, here's a tally of all the parts and their prices:

Component Item Price
Chassis MiTac M780T $551.16
Processor Intel Core i5-3470S $197.99
Motherboard Gigabyte GA-H77TN $124.99
Memory 8GB DDR3-1600 SO-DIMM $49.99
Storage Intel 525 Series 180GB mSATA $199.99
WD Blue 1TB 5,400 RPM $82.08
LG GT80N slim DVD burner $25.95
Wi-Fi adapter Intel Advanced-N 6235 $21.75
OS Windows 8 Pro OEM $96.19
Total   $1,350.09

Already, this is looking like a big step up from the 21.5" all-in-one we looked at last year. That system had a lowly Sandy Bridge dually, and the Loop chassis didn't have touch input, lacked an IPS panel, and featured a much less elegant design with a somewhat awkward port arrangement. That config gave us a glimpse of the possibilities enabled by Thin Mini-ITX. Now, it seems, we're finally seeing the best the platform has to offer.

Let's go in for a closer look, shall we?