The desktop PC market has been subject to many challenges over the last few years. However, the miniaturization trend (including the introduction of the ultra-compact form factor - UCFF - NUCs) has provided some bright spots. The recent introduction of the mini-STX (5x5) form factor has provided yet another option between the NUC and the mITX form factor for PC builders. The ECS LIVA One was one of the first mini-STX PCs to come to the market. MSI also quickly followed with the introduction of the Cubi 2 Plus models. The consumer-focused Cubi 2 Plus is complemented by the business-focused Cubi 2 Plus vPro.

Introduction and Setup Impressions

MSI entered the UCFF PC market with a set of models under the Cubi brand. They were based on Broadwell processors. Earlier this year, they launched the Cubi 2 Plus mini-PCs with a slightly larger form factor. Unlike the soldered processors in the Cubi-mini PC kits, the Cubi 2 Plus models come with a LGA 1151 socket and are capable of supporting Skylake CPUs with TDPs of up to 35W (-T series).

MSI initially wanted to sample the Cubi 2 Plus vPro, but, due to some logistics issues, we ended up with a regular Cubi 2 Plus unit. I went ahead and completed our standard mini-PC evaluation routine. After I sent some feedback and questions, MSI realized that we didn't have the vPro unit in hand, and arranged for a vPro unit to replace the regular version. The first sample had a Samsung SM951 128GB NVMe card and a 8GB DDR4 SO-DIMM (SK Hynix HMA41GS6AFR8N-TF) pre-installed. The vPro one came with a HGST HTS725050A7E630 (500 GB, 7200 RPM, SATA-III) hard drive and a single 4GB DDR4 SO-DIMM (SK Hynix HMA451S6AFR8N-TF). Both configurations had Windows 10 Home pre-installed. The regular Cubi 2 Plus was processed with its original hardware configuration, but, the OS was upgraded to Windows 10 Pro x64. For the vPro model, we completely reconfigured the unit. There was no point in handicapping it with single-channel memory and a hard drive for primary storage. Therefore, we installed a Mushkin Atlas Vital 250GB M.2 SATA SSD and a 2x8GB Patriot Memory DDR4 SO-DIMM kit.

The presence of a mini-STX motherboard in the Cubi 2 Plus models makes the ECS LIVA One a valid comparison point. The Cubi 2 Plus models are thicker (155.3mm x 147.9mm x 62.2mm) compared to the ECS LIVA One (173mm x 176mm x 33mm), though this doesn't consider the 2.5" disk drive / ODD add-on for the latter. While the ECS LIVA One can be oriented horizontally or vertically, the Cubi 2 Plus models are meant to be placed horizontally. VESA mounting is possible for both of them. The bigger z-height for the Cubi 2 Plus models enable more ventilation slots compared to the ECS LIVA One. Internally, the most obvious difference is the use of DDR4 SO-DIMM slots in the Cubi 2 Plus (compared to the DDR3L slots in the ECS LIVA One).

In addition to the main unit pictured above, the Cubi 2 Plus packages contain a 90W (19V @ 4.74A) power adapter, a VESA mount with appropriate screws, a user guide and a special cable to provide SATA connectivity if the end-user opts to install a 2.5" drive in the system. The vPro sample already had this cable pre-installed along with the hard drive.

The galleries below takes us around the packaging and chassis design of the two models. Important aspects to note include the completely revamped I/O in the lower part of the chassis. While the regular model has 2x USB 2.0 ports and a SD card reader in the front, the vPro model adds a serial port, a HDMI port and another USB 2.0 port in the rear. The rest of the I/Os are summarized in the table that follows the galleries.

The internal layout of the components in both the models is similar. The gallery below presents a limited teardown of the regular model.

The specifications of the review configurations of both models are summarized in the table below. While the regular model is configured as a powerful mini-PC for home users, the vPro model targets business use-cases.

MSI Cubi 2 Plus Specifications
  Cubi 2 Plus Cubi 2 Plus vPro
CPU Intel Core i3-6100T
(2C/4T Skylake x86 @ 3.2 GHz, 14nm, 3 MB L2, 35W TDP)
Intel Core i5-6500T
(4C/4T Skylake x86 @ 2.5 GHz, 14nm, 6 MB L2, 35W TDP)
PCH Intel H110 Intel Q170
Graphics Intel HD Graphics 530 (24 EU) @ 350 MHz (Turbo 950 MHz) Intel HD Graphics 530 (24 EU) @ 350 MHz (Turbo 1.1 GHz)
Memory SK Hynix HMA41GS6AFR8N-TF DDR4
16-15-15-36 @ 2133 MHz
1x8 GB
Patriot Memory PSD48G21332S DDR4
16-15-15-36 @ 2133 MHz
2x8 GB
Storage Samsung SM951 Series MZVPV128
(128 GB; M.2 Type 2280 PCIe 3.0 x4 NVMe; 16nm; MLC)
Mushkin Atlas Vital MKNSSDAV250GB-D8
(250 GB; M.2 Type 2280 SATA III; MLC)
Wi-Fi Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 3165
(1x1 802.11ac - 433 Mbps)
Ethernet Intel Gigabit Ethernet Connection I219-V with RJ45 connector Intel Gigabit Ethernet Connection I219-LM with RJ45 connector
Display Outputs 1x HDMI 1.4b,
1x DisplayPort 1.2
2x HDMI 1.4b,
1x DisplayPort 1.2
Audio TRRS connector for headset with microphone
Miscellaneous I/O Ports 1x USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-C (5 Gbps),
2x USB 3.0 Type-A (5 Gbps),
4x USB 2.0 (including one with charging capabilities),
SD Card Reader
1x USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-C (5 Gbps),
3x USB 3.0 Type-A (5 Gbps),
4x USB 2.0 (including one with charging capabilities),
SD Card Reader
Serial Port
Dimensions 155.3 x 147.9 x 58.6 (mm)
PSU External, 90 W
Pricing $210 (barebones), $496 (as configured) $270 (barebones), $683 (as configured)
Full Specifications Cubi 2 Plus Specifications Cubi 2 Plus vPro Specifications

We installed Windows 10 Pro x64 on both models. Drivers were downloaded from the product page and the setup process was uneventful. On the BIOS front, the features in the H110-based regular model were quite basic. It didn't even have a list of storage devices (SATA or M.2) attached to the system, and it also didn't report the amount of RAM installed. On the other hand, the Q170-based vPro model had a much more useful BIOS. In addition to the DRAM and storage device information, there is also support for Intel AMT (Active Management Technology) BIOS extensions. Secure boot options are available in both BIOS versions.

In the table below, we have an overview of the various systems that we are comparing the Cubi 2 Plus models 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 Cubi 2 Plus when we come to those sections.

Comparative PC Configurations
Aspect MSI Cubi 2 Plus vPro
CPU Intel Core i5-6500T Intel Core i5-6500T
GPU Intel HD Graphics 530 Intel HD Graphics 530
RAM Patriot Memory PSD48G21332S DDR4
16-15-15-36 @ 2133 MHz
2x8 GB
Patriot Memory PSD48G21332S DDR4
16-15-15-36 @ 2133 MHz
2x8 GB
Storage Mushkin Atlas Vital MKNSSDAV250GB-D8
(250 GB; M.2 Type 2280 SATA III; MLC)
Mushkin Atlas Vital MKNSSDAV250GB-D8
(250 GB; M.2 Type 2280 SATA III; MLC)
Wi-Fi Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 3165
(1x1 802.11ac - 433 Mbps)
Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 3165
(1x1 802.11ac - 433 Mbps)
Price (in USD, when built) $683 $683
Platform Analysis and vPro Capabilities
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24 Comments

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  • close - Wednesday, April 27, 2016 - link

    So Cubi 2 Plus vPro barebones costs under $300 with Intel Core i5-6500T? It looks like it's blowing any barebones NUC out of the water. Am I missing something?
    NUC5i5RYKis ~$350 on Amazon.
    Reply
  • cfenton - Wednesday, April 27, 2016 - link

    It sounds like 'barebones' in this case means it doesn't come with the CPU. The final page of the review says "In the North American market, MSI plans to offer only the barebones version (no CPU / hard drive / memory)."

    So, unlike a NUC, it sounds like you have to supply the CPU.
    Reply
  • Ratman6161 - Wednesday, April 27, 2016 - link

    On their previous models the CPU was included and I assume the same will be true with these (as is typical in this form factor). See: https://us.msi.com/product/barebone/Cubi-Mini-PC-K... Reply
  • ganeshts - Wednesday, April 27, 2016 - link

    No, CPU is not included in the $210 / $270 cost.

    The difference is that this is a socketed system, while the Cubi-Mini uses BGA processors (Broadwell-U) that are soldered.

    Think of the Cubi 2 Plus vPro as a motherboard + chassis + power supply combo.
    Reply
  • close - Thursday, April 28, 2016 - link

    Ok, I get it now. So add $250 for the CPU (if you want the vPro). Reply
  • Ethos Evoss - Friday, April 29, 2016 - link

    that's bullsht mini pc's always must come with cpu .. Reply
  • Ian Cutress - Wednesday, April 27, 2016 - link

    From the final page:

    Final Page:

    "In the North American market, MSI plans to offer only the barebones version (no CPU / hard drive / memory). The Cubi 2 Plus will be sold to the channels and have an approximate MSRP of $210 with a 2-year warranty. The vPro model will be a build-to-order one, priced at (from) $270 with a 2-year warranty. "

    Typically a 'barebones' system means chassis, motherboard, integrated WiFi and power supply only. If the 6500T is $247 alone, the whole unit plus CPU won't be $270 for sure. The unit as tested was $683, so $270 for the barebones, $247 for CPU, some for 2x8GB SO-DIMM and some for 250GB SSD, comes to $683 total.

    For volume sales, the vPro model is most likely going to be sold through system integrators who will kit the units out as per the customer specifications and provide a support package on top.
    Reply
  • close - Thursday, April 28, 2016 - link

    I missed the "No CPU" part. It sounded like a killer deal with basically a $250 CPU that comes bundled with free MoBo , case and PSU :D. Reply
  • Ethos Evoss - Friday, April 29, 2016 - link

    I have Msi Cubi celeron 128gb 8gb and am happy.. just for 250$ Reply
  • BrokenCrayons - Wednesday, April 27, 2016 - link

    The load power consumption is rather high. Isn't the PSU only rated at 90W? Reply

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