The Kaby Lake-U (KBL-U) series with 15W TDP CPUs was introduced along with the 4.5W Kaby Lake-Y ones in Q3 2016. The first set of products with Kaby Lake-U were ultrabooks. However, ultra-compact form-factor (UCFF) PCs were not long behind. There are already three vendors in the market with Kaby Lake UCFF PCs - ASRock (Beebox-S), GIGABYTE (BRIX), and MSI (Cubi 2). MSI was the first to launch KBL-U UCFF PCs in the North American market under the Cubi 2 tag. This review focuses on the build and performance of the Cubi2-005B - the KBL-U UCFF PC from MSI featuring the Core i7-7500U.

Introduction

Ultra-compact form factor (UCFF) PCs have become quite popular after Intel introduced the NUCs. They have become powerful enough to be the primary computing platform for many households. In addition to the Intel NUCs, many system vendors have come up with their own approach to UCFF PCs. These include ASRock (with the Beebox series), ECS (LIVA), GIGABYTE (BRIX), and MSI (Cubi) amongst others.

Kaby Lake-U, as per Intel's claims, is fabricated on a much more mature 14nm process and brings about a 11% improvement in performance for the same power consumption. The GPU's media engine has also been updated. On the whole, the performance improvements look good for UCFF PCs - particularly for those upgrading from the first or second-generation systems.

MSI's take on the UCFF PC market with the Cubi an Cubi 2 is interesting from two perspectives - Rather than having separate SKUs for units with / without support for 2.5" drives (like the GIGABYTE BRIX) or compromising on the thickness of the system to include 2.5" drives (like the ASRock Beebox), MSI allows for interchangeable bottom plates. The default one doesn't come with 2.5" drive support and results in a system thickness of 3.7 cm (while the extension bay / thicker bottom plate version makes the system 4.9 cm thick). The extension bay is also included with the Cubi 2 package. The second aspect is that MSI is targeting the Cubi 2 towards effectiveness for the average consumer. While a M.2 NVMe SSD can do wonders in terms of performance, the reality is that the high-performance versions come in the M.2 2280 form-factor. Rather than sacrificing the size of the unit, MSI has decided only to have a M.2 2242 slot in the PC. Even though it is connected to the PCIe lanes from the PCH, we believe it is likely that consumers will be using M.2 2242 SATA SSDs in that slot, or, end up using a 2.5" drive with the extension bay.

Similar to other UCFF PCs in the market, the Cubi 2 also comes in a version without memory or storage. The Cubi 2 can take up to two DDR4 SO-DIMMs (operating at 2133 MHz) and a 2.5" drive and/or a M.2 2242 SATA / PCIe SSD. We completed the hardware build to result in the following specifications for our MSI Cubi2-005B review configuration.

MSI Cubi2-005B Specifications
Processor Intel Core i7-7500U
Kaby Lake, 2C/4T, 2.7 GHz (up to 3.5 GHz), 14nm PLUS, 4MB L2, 15W TDP
Memory Micron 16ATF1G64HZ-2G1A2 DDR4
15-15-15-36 @ 2133 MHz
2x8 GB
Graphics Intel HD Graphics 620
Disk Drive(s) Crucial MX200 CT500MX200SSD1
(500 GB; 2.5in SATA 6Gb/s; 16nm; MLC)
Networking Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 3168
(1x1 802.11ac - 433 Mbps)
1x Realtek RTL8168 Gigabit LAN
Display 1x mini-Display Port 1.2 (3840x2160 @ 60 Hz)
1x HDMI 1.4b (4096x2160 @ 24 Hz)
Audio 3.5mm Headphone Jack, 3.5mm Microphone Jack
Capable of 5.1/7.1 digital output with HD audio bitstreaming (HDMI)
Miscellaneous I/O Ports 3x USB 3.0 (Type-A)
1x USB 3.1 Gen 1 (Type-C)
Operating System Retail unit is barebones, but we installed Windows 10 Pro x64
Pricing $499 (barebones) / $787 (as configured)
Full Specifications MSI Cubi2-005BUS Specifications

The MSI Cubi2-005B kit doesn't come with any pre-installed OS, but does come with a CD containing the drivers. In any case, we ended up installing the latest drivers downloaded off the component vendors' product support page. In addition to the main unit, the other components of the package include a 65 W (19V @ 3.42A) adapter, a US power cord, a VESA mount (along with the necessary screws), a 2.5" drive extension bay, SATA data and power cables, user's manual and a quick-start guide.

The gallery below takes us around the various chassis features.

The PCIe lanes in our review configuration of the MSI Cubi2-005BUS are distributed as follows:

  • PCI-E 3.0 x2 port #3      In Use @ x1 (Realtek RTL8168 PCIe Gigabit Ethernet Adapter)
  • PCI-E 3.0 x1 port #4      In Use @ x1 (Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 3168 WiFi Adapter)
  • PCI-E 3.0 x4 port #9      Not In Use @ x4 (M.2 NVMe Slot)

In the table below, we have an overview of the various systems that we are comparing the MSI Cubi2-005B against. Note that they may not belong to the same market segment. The relevant configuration details of the machines are provided so that readers have an understanding of why some benchmark numbers are skewed for or against the MSI Cubi2-005B when we come to those sections.

Comparative PC Configurations
Aspect MSI Cubi2-005B
CPU Intel Core i7-7500U Intel Core i7-7500U
GPU Intel HD Graphics 620 Intel HD Graphics 620
RAM Micron 16ATF1G64HZ-2G1A2 DDR4
15-15-15-36 @ 2133 MHz
2x8 GB
Micron 16ATF1G64HZ-2G1A2 DDR4
15-15-15-36 @ 2133 MHz
2x8 GB
Storage Crucial MX200 CT500MX200SSD1
(500 GB; 2.5in SATA 6Gb/s; 16nm; MLC)
Crucial MX200 CT500MX200SSD1
(500 GB; 2.5in SATA 6Gb/s; 16nm; MLC)
Wi-Fi Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 3168
(1x1 802.11ac - 433 Mbps)
Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 3168
(1x1 802.11ac - 433 Mbps)
Price (in USD, when built) $499 (barebones)
$787 (as configured)
$499 (barebones)
$787 (as configured)
Performance Metrics - I
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  • MrSpadge - Friday, December 30, 2016 - link

    First paragraph:
    "The Kaby Lake-U (KBL-U)series with 15W TDP CPUs was introduced along with the 4.5W Kaby Lake-Y ones in Q3 2014."
    You mean Broadwell here instead of Kaby Lake, don't you?
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Friday, December 30, 2016 - link

    bad typo, with the link in it correctly linking to the Q3 2016 article. It has been fixed. Reply
  • Voldenuit - Friday, December 30, 2016 - link

    No tear down? Cooling system? System layout? Noise measurements? Reply
  • Great_Scott - Friday, December 30, 2016 - link

    It doesn't really matter anyways.

    This kind of system is a waste of time: laptops have greater functionality for less price, and the same components. The U-series doesn't distinguish between the i5 and i7 beyond clock speeds.

    You can go to any site online and get a U-series laptop for ~$400 US that also includes RAM and Storage.
    Reply
  • barleyguy - Saturday, December 31, 2016 - link

    For an HTPC, a NUC or UCFF is a lot more convenient than a laptop. They generally have less fan noise, fit in less space, and boot up with the TV (or projector) as the primary monitor.

    (I'm typing this on a Zotac Z-Box in my living room.)

    That said, I'm really skeptical of the U-series processors in general. My Z-Box has an i5-4200u, and I've had some issues with throttling under load. Hopefully they've improved from the 4200u to the 7500u.
    Reply
  • kmmatney - Monday, January 02, 2017 - link

    and the laptop will have an OS as well... Reply
  • milkod2001 - Tuesday, January 03, 2017 - link

    and it also has screen, keyboard and tracking device to start with and usually cost much less.

    I can only see good use of NUCs if the cheapest & crappiest NUCs are considered to buy to replace Intel P4 10 years old machines with existing monitors, keyboards and mice. For anything else: laptop is much better solution unless you need to Vesa mount your computer on telly.
    Reply
  • niva - Tuesday, January 03, 2017 - link

    I don't know about all that, please show me the laptop with a Kaby Lake "i7" chip and comparable specs that really stacks up to this NUC and obsoletes it.

    I think these boxes are ideal for installing linux on it, paying for a windows license when buying a laptop really irks me anyways so that's money down the drain too. I just bought an Acer Aspire E 15 from Amazon for $350 but that thing had a terrible drive in it, an i3-7100U, and only a single stick of 4GB RAM. Of course I had an old SSD from my previously dead laptop I could put in and I dumped linux on it which is fine with 4GB of RAM at this point, but you guys are seriously ignoring some of the components thrown into this NUC.
    Reply
  • BrokenCrayons - Tuesday, January 03, 2017 - link

    *shoulder taps* Psst, from one Linux user to another, Windows licenses are not a waste because close to or over 99% of laptops that ship with Windows end up as ....*drum roll*... Windows latops.

    As far as your Acer's sad configuration is concerned, welcome to the wonderful world of budget computers. You got what you paid for. If you want better new hardware, you'll have to dig a little deeper into the wallet.
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Friday, December 30, 2016 - link

    You guys are hard to please. In any case, this is a bog standard NUC, nothing special about it.

    Cooling system - all that matters is effectiveness, and I hope readers agree when I say that we have the most comprehensive evaluation of the effectiveness of the cooling solution of mini-PCs in the review circuit. Look at the graphs in the 'Power Consumption and Thermal Performance' section.

    Noise measurement - we only do subjective eval in these reviews. Providing noise numbers for these types of PCs (i.e, non gaming mini-PCs) is pretty much useless because the noise floor is too high and these types of PCs are too quiet in our evaluation setup. Creating a noise measurement lab is not worth the investment for the number of PC reviews that I do per year. You can find dedicated guys like SPCR ( Silent PC Review - http://www.silentpcreview.com/ ) who fill that market niche with excellent reviews and articles. (I would imagine even they would not find the Cubi 2 and other similar PCs interesting enough to do noise measurements)
    Reply

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