Crucial X6 Portable SSD 4TB Launches at $490: Phison’s U17 Flash Controller Enters Retail

Crucial introduced the X6 Portable SSD last year as an entry-level alternative to their NVMe-based X8 Portable SSD. Launched in capacities of up to 2TB, the X6 adopted a 96L 3D TLC version of the BX500 SATA SSD along with an ASMedia ASM235CM SATA to USB 3.2 Gen 1 bridge chip. Today, the company is launching a unique high-performance product in the external SSD space within the same X6 family.

Direct flash-to-USB controllers have traditionally been used only in thumb drives, where compactness is the primary feature. These controllers present a number of advantages including significant reduction in bill-of-materials (BOM) cost and overall device power consumption. However, such controllers have typically been restricted to speeds of around 400MBps. Taking advantage of the USB 3.2 Gen 2 and Gen 2×2 interfaces, Phison introduced a couple of high-speed flash controllers with a direct USB interface at CES 2021. The U17, sporting a USB 3.2 Gen 2 (10Gbps) upstream interface and a 2-channel 1200 MT/s downstream NAND interface, is the one on which Crucial’s Portable SSD 4TB is based.

Crucial claims speeds of up to 800MBps for both reads and writes. This is significantly higher than the 540 MBps numbers possible with the SATA-based external SSDs. Officially, the X6 drives have ‘Micron 3D NAND’ and there is no specification of the generation / layer count. However, Crucial indicated that the X6 4TB drives being shipped today come with 96L Micron 3D NAND (QLC). As is usual with Micron / Crucial, it is likely that the NAND generation may get updated in the future to allow Micron to offer even lower price points.

The new 4TB X6 Portable SSD is priced at $490. At this price point, it compares quite favorably with the other QLC-based external SSDs such as the Sabrent XTRM-Q (though the latter comes with a Thunderbolt interface). The other 4TB external SSDs in the market are from Western Digital, with prices ranging from $680 to $750. Given their 3D TLC flash and the usage of a NVMe drive behind a bridge chip, they can offer much better performance, endurance, and additional flexibility (such as the ability to salvage the internal SSD in the case of a bridge chip failure) for professional use-cases. However, for the average consumer, the price per GB as well as price to performance ratio are both in Crucial’s favor with the new X6 Portable SSD based on the Phison U17 controller.

Crucial introduced the X6 Portable SSD last year as an entry-level alternative to their NVMe-based X8 Portable SSD. Launched in capacities of up to 2TB, the X6 adopted a 96L 3D TLC version of the BX500 SATA SSD along with an ASMedia ASM235CM SATA to USB 3.2 Gen 1 bridge chip. Today, the company is launching a unique high-performance product in the external SSD space within the same X6 family.

Direct flash-to-USB controllers have traditionally been used only in thumb drives, where compactness is the primary feature. These controllers present a number of advantages including significant reduction in bill-of-materials (BOM) cost and overall device power consumption. However, such controllers have typically been restricted to speeds of around 400MBps. Taking advantage of the USB 3.2 Gen 2 and Gen 2x2 interfaces, Phison introduced a couple of high-speed flash controllers with a direct USB interface at CES 2021. The U17, sporting a USB 3.2 Gen 2 (10Gbps) upstream interface and a 2-channel 1200 MT/s downstream NAND interface, is the one on which Crucial's Portable SSD 4TB is based.

Crucial claims speeds of up to 800MBps for both reads and writes. This is significantly higher than the 540 MBps numbers possible with the SATA-based external SSDs. Officially, the X6 drives have 'Micron 3D NAND' and there is no specification of the generation / layer count. However, Crucial indicated that the X6 4TB drives being shipped today come with 96L Micron 3D NAND (QLC). As is usual with Micron / Crucial, it is likely that the NAND generation may get updated in the future to allow Micron to offer even lower price points.

The new 4TB X6 Portable SSD is priced at $490. At this price point, it compares quite favorably with the other QLC-based external SSDs such as the Sabrent XTRM-Q (though the latter comes with a Thunderbolt interface). The other 4TB external SSDs in the market are from Western Digital, with prices ranging from $680 to $750. Given their 3D TLC flash and the usage of a NVMe drive behind a bridge chip, they can offer much better performance, endurance, and additional flexibility (such as the ability to salvage the internal SSD in the case of a bridge chip failure) for professional use-cases. However, for the average consumer, the price per GB as well as price to performance ratio are both in Crucial's favor with the new X6 Portable SSD based on the Phison U17 controller.

Intel’s Tiger Lake NUC11: Panther Canyon for Asia Alone

The electronics industry supply chain is facing a number of issues due to the ongoing pandemic. Companies are unable to meet product demand, and are being forced to fine-tune their product distribution strategies. Intel’s Panther Canyon NUC was announced at CES 2021, with no official pricing or availability information. Yesterday, Intel provided some updates with the rather disappointing news that the Panther Canyon NUC family will only be distributed in the Asia-Pacific region.

The other markets will still get a wide range of Tiger Lake-based NUC products such as the NUC11 Pro (Tiger Canyon), Compute Element (Elk Bay), and the dGPU-equipped NUC11 Enthusiast (Phantom Canyon). Intel is citing tight supply of a few third-party components as the cause for the APAC-only focus of Panther Canyon. We expected the NUC11 Performance units to provide an affordable entry point for Tiger Lake mini-PCs. The other Tiger Lake NUC products are bound to be priced higher, given their target markets.

The APAC-only focus of the Panther Canyon products provides an opportunity for vendors such as ASRock Industrial to gain market share elsewhere. The company already has the NUC1100 series of Tiger Lake UCFF PCs available for purchase in the North American market with prices ranging from $600 for the top-end Core i7 version to $350 for the Core i3 one.

The electronics industry supply chain is facing a number of issues due to the ongoing pandemic. Companies are unable to meet product demand, and are being forced to fine-tune their product distribution strategies. Intel's Panther Canyon NUC was announced at CES 2021, with no official pricing or availability information. Yesterday, Intel provided some updates with the rather disappointing news that the Panther Canyon NUC family will only be distributed in the Asia-Pacific region.

The other markets will still get a wide range of Tiger Lake-based NUC products such as the NUC11 Pro (Tiger Canyon), Compute Element (Elk Bay), and the dGPU-equipped NUC11 Enthusiast (Phantom Canyon). Intel is citing tight supply of a few third-party components as the cause for the APAC-only focus of Panther Canyon. We expected the NUC11 Performance units to provide an affordable entry point for Tiger Lake mini-PCs. The other Tiger Lake NUC products are bound to be priced higher, given their target markets.

The APAC-only focus of the Panther Canyon products provides an opportunity for vendors such as ASRock Industrial to gain market share elsewhere. The company already has the NUC1100 series of Tiger Lake UCFF PCs available for purchase in the North American market with prices ranging from $600 for the top-end Core i7 version to $350 for the Core i3 one.

Intel Announces Phantom Canyon: Tiger Lake and Turing Tango in 3rd Gen Enthusiast NUC

As part of its CES 2021 announcements, Intel officially unveiled a number of NUCs based on their Tiger Lake SoCs. The NUC11 Performance lineup was covered earlier. This piece looks at another exciting NUC11 offering in the enthusiast category. As a refresher, Intel created the NUC Enthusiast category back in 2016 with the introduction of the Skull Canyon NUC (NUC6i7KYK). With a 4″ x 5″ motherboard, it had a slightly larger footprint compared to the traditional NUCs. However, the increased size allowed the incorporation of a 45W TDP processor with increased graphics flex. The second generation Hades Canyon moved to a slightly larger board (5.5″ x 8″), while retaining the industrial design of the Skull Canyon NUC. It used the Kaby Lake-G processors with a Kaby Lake processor and an AMD GPU packaged together (with a total TDP budget between 65W and 100W). For the 3rd generation, Intel has adopted the same board form-factor, but gone in with the traditional way of adding a discrete GPU to a SFF system. The NUC11 Enthusiast (codenamed Phantom Canyon) takes the Tiger Lake-U Core i7-1165G7 and adds a NVIDIA RTX 2060 (based on the Turing architecture) to create a compact system suitable for gaming, streaming, and content creation.

The Phantom Canyon NUC has only two SKUs – the NUC11PHKi7C is the barebones version, while the NUC11PHKi7CAA comes with 2x 8GB DDR4-3200 SODIMMs and an Intel Optane Memory H10 (32GB + 512GB) NVMe drive. The latter also comes with Windows 10 Home pre-installed.

The NUC11 Enthusiast sports a rich set of I/Os. There are two Thunderbolt 4 ports (one in the front and one in the rear) that also carry the display output from the Intel Iris Xe Graphics G7 in the TGL-U processor. Two USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A ports and a SDXC UHS-II slot, along with an audio jack and a quad-microphone array round out the front panel. On the rear, we have an audio output jack (supporting TOSLINK), a single 2.5 Gbps LAN port, four USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A ports, and the display outputs (HDMI 2.0b and mini-DP 1.4a) from the NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2060.

The table below compares the specifications of the flagships in the three generations of enthusiast NUCs. Note that the Skull Canyon and Phantom Canyon NUCs have only one barebones version. Only the Hades Canyon had two different versions – one with the 65W TDP Core i7-8705G, and another with the 100W TDP Core i7-8809G. Another aspect that is not mentioned here is that the Phantom Canyon NUC come with support for vertical orientation (unlike the Hades Canyon NUCs) as shown in the lead image

Intel Enthusiast NUCs
Model Phantom Canyon
(NUC11PHKi7C)
Hades Canyon
(NUC8i7HVK)
Skull Canyon
(NUC6i7KYK)
CPU Intel Core i7-1165G7
Tiger Lake-U, 4C/8T
2.8 – 4.7 GHz
28W TDP
Intel Core i7-8809G
Kaby Lake, 4C/8T
3.1 – 4.2 GHz
100W Package TDP
Intel Core i7-6770HQ
Skylake, 4C/8T
2.6 – 3.5 GHz
45W TDP
GPU NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2060 6GB GDDR6 (N18E-G1-B Notebook Class 115W) @ 1.285 GHz (Discrete)
Intel® Iris® Xe Graphics (96EU) @ 1.3 GHz (Integrated / On-Die)
Radeon RX Vega M GH 4GB HBM2 @ 1.19 GHz (Discrete / On-Package)
Intel® HD Graphics 630 @ 1.1 GHz (Integrated / On-Die)
Intel® Iris Pro Graphics 580 @ 1.05 GHz (Integrated / On-Die)
128MB eDRAM
Memory 2x DDR4-3200 SODIMMs
1.2V, 64GB max.
2x DDR4-2400+ SODIMMs
1.2V, 32GB max.
2x DDR4-2133 SODIMMs
1.2V, 32GB max.
Motherboard 5.5″ x 8″ UCFF 4″ x 5″ UCFF
Storage 1x M.2 22×80/110 (key M) PCIe 3.0 x4 NVMe/AHCI SSD
1x M.2 2280 (key M) SATA3 or PCIe 3.0 x4 NVMe/AHCI SSD
2x M.2 22×42/80 (key M) SATA3 or PCIe 3.0 x4 NVMe/AHCI SSD
I/O Ports 2x Thunderbolt 4 Fast-Charging (front + rear)
1x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A (front)
1x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A Fast-Charging (front)
4x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A (rear)
1x SDXC UHS-II Card Slot (front)
CIR (front)
1x SATA III Power + Data Internal Header
2x USB 2.0 Internal Header
2x Thunderbolt 3 (rear)
4x USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A (rear)
1x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A (front)
1x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C (front)
1x USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A Fast-Charging (front)
1x SDXC UHS-I Card Slot (front)
CIR (front)
1x SATA III Power + Data Internal Header
2x USB 2.0 Internal Header
1x Thunderbolt 3 (rear)
2x USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A (rear)
1x USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A (front)
1x USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A Fast-Charging (front)
1x SDXC UHS-I Card Slot (front)
CIR (front)
1x SATA III Power + Data Internal Header
2x USB 2.0 Internal Header
Networking Intel Wi-Fi 6 AX201
(2×2 802.11ax Wi-Fi + Bluetooth 5.1 module)
1 × 2.5 GbE port (Intel I225-LM)
Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 8265
(2×2 802.11ac Wi-Fi + Bluetooth 4.2 module)
2 × GbE ports (Intel I219-LM + Intel I210-AT)
Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 8260
(2×2 802.11ac Wi-Fi + Bluetooth 4.2 module)
1 × GbE ports (Intel I219-LM)
Display Outputs 2x DP 1.4a (via Thunderbolt 4 Type-C ports, iGPU Display Pipe)
1x mini-DP 1.4a (rear, dGPU, up to 8Kp60, MST)
1x HDMI 2.0b (rear, dGPU, up to 4Kp60)
1x HDMI 2.0a (front, dGPU)
1x HDMI 2.0a (rear, dGPU)
2x mini-DP 1.3 (rear, dGPU)
2x DP 1.3 (via Thunderbolt 3 Type-C ports, dGPU)
1x mini-DP 1.2 (rear, iGPU)
1x HDMI 2.0a (rear, iGPU)
1x DP 1.3 (via Thunderbolt 3 Type-C ports, iGPU)
Audio 7.1 digital (over HDMI and DisplayPort)
L+R+mic (front)
L+R+TOSLINK (rear)
Audio Codec Realtek ALC700 Realtek ALC233
Enclosure Metal and plastic
Kensington lock with base security
Power Supply 230W (19V @ 12.1A) Adapter 120W (19V @ 6.32A) Adapter
Dimensions 221mm x 142mm x 42mm / 1.3L 221mm x 142mm x 39mm / 1.2L 216mm x 116mm x 23mm / 0.69L
Miscellaneous Features Replaceable lid with customizable RGB LED illumination
Status LEDs in front panel
Quad beam-forming microphone array
VESA mounting plate
3-year warranty
Replaceable lid
Status LEDs in front panel
VESA mounting plate
3-year warranty

The block diagram below (sourced from Intel’s technical product specifications [PDF]) gives some insights into the design of the system in relation to the I/O capabilities.

The dGPU is surprisingly connected to the Gen4 x4 PCIe lanes (usually meant for M.2 NVMe storage). Intel indicated that this greatly reduces CPU-GPU communication latency, making it independent of other devices in the system. Other than that, we see the Realtek RTS5249S PCIe to SDXC bridge chip backing up the SDXC UHS-II slot, amd a couple of VIA Technologies VL822 USB 3.2 Gen 2 hub chips enabling the set of USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A ports in the system.

Overall, the Phantom Canyon NUC seems like a good step up from Hades Canyon despite the loss of the second wired LAN port. Most importantly, this should just be like a regular gaming notebook from a drivers support perspective. One of the problems with the Hades Canyon NUC was the drivers situation, with Intel and AMD attempting to pass the buck to each other while customers were left with GPU drivers that became flaky after Windows updates. The Phantom Canyon NUC should hopefully always work with the NVIDIA WHQL drivers for Turing GPUs.

SimplyNUC has a 128GB NVMe SSD + 16GB DDR4 SODIMM version priced at $1349. Pre-orders are being accepted for shipment in March. Another re-seller listing has the barebones version for $1130. The latter pricing seems more in line with what one should expect to pay for the internals of a gaming notebook in a SFF PC form-factor. Intel has not provided official pricing or availability information yet.

As part of its CES 2021 announcements, Intel officially unveiled a number of NUCs based on their Tiger Lake SoCs. The NUC11 Performance lineup was covered earlier. This piece looks at another exciting NUC11 offering in the enthusiast category. As a refresher, Intel created the NUC Enthusiast category back in 2016 with the introduction of the Skull Canyon NUC (NUC6i7KYK). With a 4" x 5" motherboard, it had a slightly larger footprint compared to the traditional NUCs. However, the increased size allowed the incorporation of a 45W TDP processor with increased graphics flex. The second generation Hades Canyon moved to a slightly larger board (5.5" x 8"), while retaining the industrial design of the Skull Canyon NUC. It used the Kaby Lake-G processors with a Kaby Lake processor and an AMD GPU packaged together (with a total TDP budget between 65W and 100W). For the 3rd generation, Intel has adopted the same board form-factor, but gone in with the traditional way of adding a discrete GPU to a SFF system. The NUC11 Enthusiast (codenamed Phantom Canyon) takes the Tiger Lake-U Core i7-1165G7 and adds a NVIDIA RTX 2060 (based on the Turing architecture) to create a compact system suitable for gaming, streaming, and content creation.

The Phantom Canyon NUC has only two SKUs - the NUC11PHKi7C is the barebones version, while the NUC11PHKi7CAA comes with 2x 8GB DDR4-3200 SODIMMs and an Intel Optane Memory H10 (32GB + 512GB) NVMe drive. The latter also comes with Windows 10 Home pre-installed.

The NUC11 Enthusiast sports a rich set of I/Os. There are two Thunderbolt 4 ports (one in the front and one in the rear) that also carry the display output from the Intel Iris Xe Graphics G7 in the TGL-U processor. Two USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A ports and a SDXC UHS-II slot, along with an audio jack and a quad-microphone array round out the front panel. On the rear, we have an audio output jack (supporting TOSLINK), a single 2.5 Gbps LAN port, four USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A ports, and the display outputs (HDMI 2.0b and mini-DP 1.4a) from the NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2060.

The table below compares the specifications of the flagships in the three generations of enthusiast NUCs. Note that the Skull Canyon and Phantom Canyon NUCs have only one barebones version. Only the Hades Canyon had two different versions - one with the 65W TDP Core i7-8705G, and another with the 100W TDP Core i7-8809G. Another aspect that is not mentioned here is that the Phantom Canyon NUC come with support for vertical orientation (unlike the Hades Canyon NUCs) as shown in the lead image

Intel Enthusiast NUCs
Model Phantom Canyon
(NUC11PHKi7C)
Hades Canyon
(NUC8i7HVK)
Skull Canyon
(NUC6i7KYK)
CPU Intel Core i7-1165G7
Tiger Lake-U, 4C/8T
2.8 - 4.7 GHz
28W TDP
Intel Core i7-8809G
Kaby Lake, 4C/8T
3.1 - 4.2 GHz
100W Package TDP
Intel Core i7-6770HQ
Skylake, 4C/8T
2.6 - 3.5 GHz
45W TDP
GPU NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2060 6GB GDDR6 (N18E-G1-B Notebook Class 115W) @ 1.285 GHz (Discrete)
Intel® Iris® Xe Graphics (96EU) @ 1.3 GHz (Integrated / On-Die)
Radeon RX Vega M GH 4GB HBM2 @ 1.19 GHz (Discrete / On-Package)
Intel® HD Graphics 630 @ 1.1 GHz (Integrated / On-Die)
Intel® Iris Pro Graphics 580 @ 1.05 GHz (Integrated / On-Die)
128MB eDRAM
Memory 2x DDR4-3200 SODIMMs
1.2V, 64GB max.
2x DDR4-2400+ SODIMMs
1.2V, 32GB max.
2x DDR4-2133 SODIMMs
1.2V, 32GB max.
Motherboard 5.5" x 8" UCFF 4" x 5" UCFF
Storage 1x M.2 22x80/110 (key M) PCIe 3.0 x4 NVMe/AHCI SSD
1x M.2 2280 (key M) SATA3 or PCIe 3.0 x4 NVMe/AHCI SSD
2x M.2 22x42/80 (key M) SATA3 or PCIe 3.0 x4 NVMe/AHCI SSD
I/O Ports 2x Thunderbolt 4 Fast-Charging (front + rear)
1x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A (front)
1x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A Fast-Charging (front)
4x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A (rear)
1x SDXC UHS-II Card Slot (front)
CIR (front)
1x SATA III Power + Data Internal Header
2x USB 2.0 Internal Header
2x Thunderbolt 3 (rear)
4x USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A (rear)
1x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A (front)
1x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C (front)
1x USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A Fast-Charging (front)
1x SDXC UHS-I Card Slot (front)
CIR (front)
1x SATA III Power + Data Internal Header
2x USB 2.0 Internal Header
1x Thunderbolt 3 (rear)
2x USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A (rear)
1x USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A (front)
1x USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A Fast-Charging (front)
1x SDXC UHS-I Card Slot (front)
CIR (front)
1x SATA III Power + Data Internal Header
2x USB 2.0 Internal Header
Networking Intel Wi-Fi 6 AX201
(2x2 802.11ax Wi-Fi + Bluetooth 5.1 module)
1 × 2.5 GbE port (Intel I225-LM)
Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 8265
(2x2 802.11ac Wi-Fi + Bluetooth 4.2 module)
2 × GbE ports (Intel I219-LM + Intel I210-AT)
Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 8260
(2x2 802.11ac Wi-Fi + Bluetooth 4.2 module)
1 × GbE ports (Intel I219-LM)
Display Outputs 2x DP 1.4a (via Thunderbolt 4 Type-C ports, iGPU Display Pipe)
1x mini-DP 1.4a (rear, dGPU, up to 8Kp60, MST)
1x HDMI 2.0b (rear, dGPU, up to 4Kp60)
1x HDMI 2.0a (front, dGPU)
1x HDMI 2.0a (rear, dGPU)
2x mini-DP 1.3 (rear, dGPU)
2x DP 1.3 (via Thunderbolt 3 Type-C ports, dGPU)
1x mini-DP 1.2 (rear, iGPU)
1x HDMI 2.0a (rear, iGPU)
1x DP 1.3 (via Thunderbolt 3 Type-C ports, iGPU)
Audio 7.1 digital (over HDMI and DisplayPort)
L+R+mic (front)
L+R+TOSLINK (rear)
Audio Codec Realtek ALC700 Realtek ALC233
Enclosure Metal and plastic
Kensington lock with base security
Power Supply 230W (19V @ 12.1A) Adapter 120W (19V @ 6.32A) Adapter
Dimensions 221mm x 142mm x 42mm / 1.3L 221mm x 142mm x 39mm / 1.2L 216mm x 116mm x 23mm / 0.69L
Miscellaneous Features Replaceable lid with customizable RGB LED illumination
Status LEDs in front panel
Quad beam-forming microphone array
VESA mounting plate
3-year warranty
Replaceable lid
Status LEDs in front panel
VESA mounting plate
3-year warranty

The block diagram below (sourced from Intel's technical product specifications [PDF]) gives some insights into the design of the system in relation to the I/O capabilities.

The dGPU is surprisingly connected to the Gen4 x4 PCIe lanes (usually meant for M.2 NVMe storage). Intel indicated that this greatly reduces CPU-GPU communication latency, making it independent of other devices in the system. Other than that, we see the Realtek RTS5249S PCIe to SDXC bridge chip backing up the SDXC UHS-II slot, amd a couple of VIA Technologies VL822 USB 3.2 Gen 2 hub chips enabling the set of USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A ports in the system.

Overall, the Phantom Canyon NUC seems like a good step up from Hades Canyon despite the loss of the second wired LAN port. Most importantly, this should just be like a regular gaming notebook from a drivers support perspective. One of the problems with the Hades Canyon NUC was the drivers situation, with Intel and AMD attempting to pass the buck to each other while customers were left with GPU drivers that became flaky after Windows updates. The Phantom Canyon NUC should hopefully always work with the NVIDIA WHQL drivers for Turing GPUs.

SimplyNUC has a 128GB NVMe SSD + 16GB DDR4 SODIMM version priced at $1349. Pre-orders are being accepted for shipment in March. Another re-seller listing has the barebones version for $1130. The latter pricing seems more in line with what one should expect to pay for the internals of a gaming notebook in a SFF PC form-factor. Intel has not provided official pricing or availability information yet.

Intel Unveils Panther Canyon NUC11 Family: Tiger Lake Comes to NUCs

As part of its CES 2021 announcements, Intel officially unveiled a number of NUCs based on their Tiger Lake SoCs. Intel’s initial NUCs were all based on 100mm x 100mm (4in x 4in) boards, kickstarting the UCFF craze that contributed to revitalizing the PC market. Over the last few years, we have seen Intel expand the NUC to encompass multiple other form-factors, while keeping compactness in mind:

  • Performance: The original 4×4 UCFF units
  • Pro: 4×4 UCFF units with expansion support and vPro capabilities
  • Compute Elements: Add-in Card form factor with carrier boards for system design
  • Extreme: Compute Elements using a 45W TDP processor with a base board hosting up to three PCIe expansion slots (inclusive of a M.2 22110 NVMe slot) and a 5L chassis enabling compact gaming and workstation PCs
  • Rugged: NUCs designed for operation in industrial and factory-floor type environments, sporting processors based on the Atom microarchitecture
  • Essential: 4×4 NUCs sporting processors based on the Atom microarchitecture
  • Laptop Kit: Reference design / whitebook models for OEMs to bring notebooks to market faster
  • Enthusiast: Compact PCs with a 5.5in. x 8in. motherboard sporting a discrete GPU (either soldered or in-package)

The Panther Canyon NUCs are the Tiger Lake-based “Performance-class” units, with eleven different SKUs based on three different boards.

All the models operate the Tiger Lake processors (Core i7-1165G7, Core i5-1135G7, or the Core i3-1115G4) with a TDP of 28W. The K and H kits are the usual ones we have seen in previous generations – the latter has support for the installation of a 2.5″ drive. Panther Canyon also has a Q SKU that adds a wireless charging lid (up to 15W) on top of the H chassis. The specifications are summarized in the table below.

Intel Panther Canyon NUC (Tiger Lake-U) Lineup
Model NUC11PA{K/H/Q}i3 NUC11PA{K/H/Q}i5 NUC11PA{K/H/Q}i7
CPU Intel Core i3-1115G4
2C/4T
1.7 – 4.1 GHz (3.0 GHz)
12 – 28 W (28W)
Intel Core i5-1135G7
4C/8T
0.9 – 4.2 GHz (2.4 GHz)
12 – 28 W (28W)
Intel Core i7-1165G7
4C/8T
1.2 – 4.7 GHz (2.8 GHz)
12 – 28 W (28W)
GPU Intel® UHD Graphics for 11th Gen Intel® Processors (48EU) @ 1.25 GHz Intel® Iris® Xe Graphics (80EU) @ 1.3 GHz Intel® Iris® Xe Graphics (96EU) @ 1.3 GHz
DRAM Two DDR4 SO-DIMM slots
Up to 64 GB of DDR4-3200 in dual-channel mode
Motherboard 4.13″ x 4.16″ UCFF
Storage SSD 1x M.2-2280 (PCIe 4.0 x4 (CPU-direct) or SATA III)
DFF 1 ×  SATA III Port (for 2.5″ drive)
Card Slots Full-sized SDXC UHS-II
Wireless Intel Wi-Fi 6 AX201
2×2 802.11ax Wi-Fi + Bluetooth 5.1 module
Ethernet 1 × 2.5 GbE port (Intel I225-V)
USB Front 1 × USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A
1 x Thunderbolt 3 Type-C
Rear 2 × USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A
1 × Thunderbolt 3
Display Outputs 1 × HDMI 2.0b
1 x mini-DP 1.4a
2 × DisplayPort 1.4 (using Thunderbolt 3 Type-C ports)
Audio 1 × 3.5mm audio jack (Realtek)
PSU External (90W) External (120W)
Dimensions Length: 117 mm
Width: 112 mm
Height: 38mm (K), 51mm (H), 56mm (Q)
MSRP ? ? ?

Intel’s technical product specifications provide additional details on the I/Os. We see the front and rear Thunderbolt ports (curiously, marketed as Thunderbolt 3 instead of Thunderbolt 4) are enabled directly from the TGL-U processor. Two display outputs (DP 1.4a) are also routed through these Thunderbolt ports within the processor itself.

Interestingly, a protocol converter is still needed on the board to convert the DP 1.4a display output to HDMI 2.0b. There is a PCIe 4.0 x4 lanes set for attaching a NVMe SSD. The high-speed I/O lanes are multiplexed with a SATA port allowing the installation of a M.2 SATA SSD in the same slot. The LAN port is enabled by the i225-V 2.5 Gbps controller, while the SDXC card slot on the side requires an additional SDXC bridge chip. The Wi-Fi 6 capabilities are enabled by the soldered Intel AX201 CNVi card.

Panther Canyon looks to be a solid upgrade over the Frost Canyon NUC despite the loss of a couple of cores (the Frost Canyon NUC was a hexa-core affair), thanks to the improved CPU microarchitecture and a host of system-level upgrades. On the latter front, we have an additional Thunderbolt port, a 2.5 Gbps LAN port (compared to the regular Gigabit port in the Frost Canyon NUC), ability to install a PCIe 4.0 NVMe SSD, and the ability to drive up to four 4Kp60 displays. Additionally, we also have some of the Panther Canyon SKUs sporting a 15W wireless charging lid.

Various reseller listings have come up for the Panther Canyon NUCs in Europe. However, Intel has not provided a concrete launch date or pricing details for any of the SKUs yet.

As part of its CES 2021 announcements, Intel officially unveiled a number of NUCs based on their Tiger Lake SoCs. Intel's initial NUCs were all based on 100mm x 100mm (4in x 4in) boards, kickstarting the UCFF craze that contributed to revitalizing the PC market. Over the last few years, we have seen Intel expand the NUC to encompass multiple other form-factors, while keeping compactness in mind:

  • Performance: The original 4x4 UCFF units
  • Pro: 4x4 UCFF units with expansion support and vPro capabilities
  • Compute Elements: Add-in Card form factor with carrier boards for system design
  • Extreme: Compute Elements using a 45W TDP processor with a base board hosting up to three PCIe expansion slots (inclusive of a M.2 22110 NVMe slot) and a 5L chassis enabling compact gaming and workstation PCs
  • Rugged: NUCs designed for operation in industrial and factory-floor type environments, sporting processors based on the Atom microarchitecture
  • Essential: 4x4 NUCs sporting processors based on the Atom microarchitecture
  • Laptop Kit: Reference design / whitebook models for OEMs to bring notebooks to market faster
  • Enthusiast: Compact PCs with a 5.5in. x 8in. motherboard sporting a discrete GPU (either soldered or in-package)

The Panther Canyon NUCs are the Tiger Lake-based "Performance-class" units, with eleven different SKUs based on three different boards.

All the models operate the Tiger Lake processors (Core i7-1165G7, Core i5-1135G7, or the Core i3-1115G4) with a TDP of 28W. The K and H kits are the usual ones we have seen in previous generations - the latter has support for the installation of a 2.5" drive. Panther Canyon also has a Q SKU that adds a wireless charging lid (up to 15W) on top of the H chassis. The specifications are summarized in the table below.

Intel Panther Canyon NUC (Tiger Lake-U) Lineup
Model NUC11PA{K/H/Q}i3 NUC11PA{K/H/Q}i5 NUC11PA{K/H/Q}i7
CPU Intel Core i3-1115G4
2C/4T
1.7 - 4.1 GHz (3.0 GHz)
12 - 28 W (28W)
Intel Core i5-1135G7
4C/8T
0.9 - 4.2 GHz (2.4 GHz)
12 - 28 W (28W)
Intel Core i7-1165G7
4C/8T
1.2 - 4.7 GHz (2.8 GHz)
12 - 28 W (28W)
GPU Intel® UHD Graphics for 11th Gen Intel® Processors (48EU) @ 1.25 GHz Intel® Iris® Xe Graphics (80EU) @ 1.3 GHz Intel® Iris® Xe Graphics (96EU) @ 1.3 GHz
DRAM Two DDR4 SO-DIMM slots
Up to 64 GB of DDR4-3200 in dual-channel mode
Motherboard 4.13" x 4.16" UCFF
Storage SSD 1x M.2-2280 (PCIe 4.0 x4 (CPU-direct) or SATA III)
DFF 1 ×  SATA III Port (for 2.5" drive)
Card Slots Full-sized SDXC UHS-II
Wireless Intel Wi-Fi 6 AX201
2x2 802.11ax Wi-Fi + Bluetooth 5.1 module
Ethernet 1 × 2.5 GbE port (Intel I225-V)
USB Front 1 × USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A
1 x Thunderbolt 3 Type-C
Rear 2 × USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A
1 × Thunderbolt 3
Display Outputs 1 × HDMI 2.0b
1 x mini-DP 1.4a
2 × DisplayPort 1.4 (using Thunderbolt 3 Type-C ports)
Audio 1 × 3.5mm audio jack (Realtek)
PSU External (90W) External (120W)
Dimensions Length: 117 mm
Width: 112 mm
Height: 38mm (K), 51mm (H), 56mm (Q)
MSRP ? ? ?

Intel's technical product specifications provide additional details on the I/Os. We see the front and rear Thunderbolt ports (curiously, marketed as Thunderbolt 3 instead of Thunderbolt 4) are enabled directly from the TGL-U processor. Two display outputs (DP 1.4a) are also routed through these Thunderbolt ports within the processor itself.

Interestingly, a protocol converter is still needed on the board to convert the DP 1.4a display output to HDMI 2.0b. There is a PCIe 4.0 x4 lanes set for attaching a NVMe SSD. The high-speed I/O lanes are multiplexed with a SATA port allowing the installation of a M.2 SATA SSD in the same slot. The LAN port is enabled by the i225-V 2.5 Gbps controller, while the SDXC card slot on the side requires an additional SDXC bridge chip. The Wi-Fi 6 capabilities are enabled by the soldered Intel AX201 CNVi card.

Panther Canyon looks to be a solid upgrade over the Frost Canyon NUC despite the loss of a couple of cores (the Frost Canyon NUC was a hexa-core affair), thanks to the improved CPU microarchitecture and a host of system-level upgrades. On the latter front, we have an additional Thunderbolt port, a 2.5 Gbps LAN port (compared to the regular Gigabit port in the Frost Canyon NUC), ability to install a PCIe 4.0 NVMe SSD, and the ability to drive up to four 4Kp60 displays. Additionally, we also have some of the Panther Canyon SKUs sporting a 15W wireless charging lid.

Various reseller listings have come up for the Panther Canyon NUCs in Europe. However, Intel has not provided a concrete launch date or pricing details for any of the SKUs yet.

CES 2021: Zotac MAGNUS ONE Gaming mini-PC Flagship Charges Up Coffee Lake with Ampere

Zotac’s mini-PC lineup received a new flagship as part of its CES 2021 announcements – the MAGNUS ONE. It features a Coffee Lake CPU (Core i7-10700) along with NVIDIA’s RTX 3070 GPU. The new model is a natural evolution of features from the previous MAGNUS PCs like the EK71080 and the EN1080K before it, with a heavy dose of inspiration from Intel’s Ghost Canyon NUC. The EK71080 moved to a discrete GPU from a MXM-type one in the EN1080K. The new MAGNUS ONE continues that trend with the inclusion of a user-replaceable Zotac RTX 3070 Twin Edge in the system. Gone, however, is the humongous external power brick – Instead, we have a 500W 80+ Platinum internal PSU. The new 8.3L model is also meant to be oriented vertically. The last two aspects provide a distinct ‘Ghost Canyon NUC’ feel to the new MAGNUS ONE.

The motherboard in the MAGNUS ONE uses a H470 PCH. The CPU’s integrated GPU display output (HDMI 1.4a) is also available in the rear panel. The RTX 3070 Twin Edge features four display outputs, and either set can be active for up to four simultaneous display streams. The PC also includes Killer AX1650 Wi-Fi and dual LAN ports (1x 1Gbps + 1×2.5Gbps)

ZOTAC’s ZBOX MAGNUS ONE with Coffee Lake
  ZBOX MAGNUS ONE with 10th Generation Core i7 CPU
CPU Intel Core i7-10700
8C/16T
2.9 – 4.8 GHz
16 MB
65 W
GPU Zotac Gaming GeForce RTX 3070 Twin Edge
5888 CUDA Cores
8 GB GDDR6
Memory 2 × DDR4 SO-DIMM slots,
up to 64 GB of memory
Storage M.2 1x M.2 2280 slot for PCIe 3.0 x4/SATA SSD
1x M.2 2280 slot for PCIe 3.0 x4 SSD (incl. Optane)
DFF 1 × 2.5″ SSD/HDD
Card Reader 1x SDXC Slot
Wireless Killer Wireless AX1650 2×2 Wi-Fi 6 + Bluetooth 5 controller
Ethernet 1 × Gigabit Ethernet
1 × Killer Ethernet E3000 2.5Gbps controller
Display Outputs 3 × DisplayPort 1.4a (dGPU)
1 × HDMI 2.1 (dGPU)
1 × HDMI 1.4a (iGPU)
Audio 3.5 mm audio-in
3.5 mm audio-out
USB 1 x USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A (Front)
1 x USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-C (Front)
2 x USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A (Rear)
4 x USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-A (Rear)
PSU Internal 500W 80+ Platinum
OS Microsoft Windows 10 or none (barebones)
Pricing $1899
(16GB DDR4 DRAM + 512GB M.2 NVMe SSD + 1TB 2.5″ HDD + Windows 10 Home)

A key difference between the new MAGNUS ONE and the previous flagships from an upgradability viewpoint is the user-replaceable discrete GPU. As long as the GPU to be installed consumes 220W at the maximum and is not longer than 230mm (9.06 in.) and takes up only two slots at the maximum, it is for end users to upgrade the pre-installed RTX 3070 a year or two into the system’s service lifetime.

At 8.3L, the system is not as compact as the 5L Ghost Canyon NUC. However, the larger size and the honeycomb chassis should allow for more airflow and easier access to components. The MAGNUS ONE can also accommodate larger GPUs (the Ghost Canyon NUC tops out at 8in.)

The pricing for the MAGNUS ONE ECM73070C with Windows 10 (the ‘PLUS’ model in Zotac’s earlier terminology) is on par with the flagship MAGNUS pricing of previous years. Given the use of the H470 PCH, it appears that Zotac has made optimal use of all the available I/O to deliver a compelling platform for consumers looking at a compact alternative to pre-built PCs from boutique vendors.

Interested in more of the latest industry news? Check out our CES 2021 trade show landing page!

Zotac's mini-PC lineup received a new flagship as part of its CES 2021 announcements - the MAGNUS ONE. It features a Coffee Lake CPU (Core i7-10700) along with NVIDIA's RTX 3070 GPU. The new model is a natural evolution of features from the previous MAGNUS PCs like the EK71080 and the EN1080K before it, with a heavy dose of inspiration from Intel's Ghost Canyon NUC. The EK71080 moved to a discrete GPU from a MXM-type one in the EN1080K. The new MAGNUS ONE continues that trend with the inclusion of a user-replaceable Zotac RTX 3070 Twin Edge in the system. Gone, however, is the humongous external power brick - Instead, we have a 500W 80+ Platinum internal PSU. The new 8.3L model is also meant to be oriented vertically. The last two aspects provide a distinct 'Ghost Canyon NUC' feel to the new MAGNUS ONE.

The motherboard in the MAGNUS ONE uses a H470 PCH. The CPU's integrated GPU display output (HDMI 1.4a) is also available in the rear panel. The RTX 3070 Twin Edge features four display outputs, and either set can be active for up to four simultaneous display streams. The PC also includes Killer AX1650 Wi-Fi and dual LAN ports (1x 1Gbps + 1x2.5Gbps)

ZOTAC's ZBOX MAGNUS ONE with Coffee Lake
  ZBOX MAGNUS ONE with 10th Generation Core i7 CPU
CPU Intel Core i7-10700
8C/16T
2.9 - 4.8 GHz
16 MB
65 W
GPU Zotac Gaming GeForce RTX 3070 Twin Edge
5888 CUDA Cores
8 GB GDDR6
Memory 2 × DDR4 SO-DIMM slots,
up to 64 GB of memory
Storage M.2 1x M.2 2280 slot for PCIe 3.0 x4/SATA SSD
1x M.2 2280 slot for PCIe 3.0 x4 SSD (incl. Optane)
DFF 1 × 2.5" SSD/HDD
Card Reader 1x SDXC Slot
Wireless Killer Wireless AX1650 2×2 Wi-Fi 6 + Bluetooth 5 controller
Ethernet 1 × Gigabit Ethernet
1 × Killer Ethernet E3000 2.5Gbps controller
Display Outputs 3 × DisplayPort 1.4a (dGPU)
1 × HDMI 2.1 (dGPU)
1 × HDMI 1.4a (iGPU)
Audio 3.5 mm audio-in
3.5 mm audio-out
USB 1 x USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A (Front)
1 x USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-C (Front)
2 x USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A (Rear)
4 x USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-A (Rear)
PSU Internal 500W 80+ Platinum
OS Microsoft Windows 10 or none (barebones)
Pricing $1899
(16GB DDR4 DRAM + 512GB M.2 NVMe SSD + 1TB 2.5" HDD + Windows 10 Home)

A key difference between the new MAGNUS ONE and the previous flagships from an upgradability viewpoint is the user-replaceable discrete GPU. As long as the GPU to be installed consumes 220W at the maximum and is not longer than 230mm (9.06 in.) and takes up only two slots at the maximum, it is for end users to upgrade the pre-installed RTX 3070 a year or two into the system's service lifetime.

At 8.3L, the system is not as compact as the 5L Ghost Canyon NUC. However, the larger size and the honeycomb chassis should allow for more airflow and easier access to components. The MAGNUS ONE can also accommodate larger GPUs (the Ghost Canyon NUC tops out at 8in.)

The pricing for the MAGNUS ONE ECM73070C with Windows 10 (the 'PLUS' model in Zotac's earlier terminology) is on par with the flagship MAGNUS pricing of previous years. Given the use of the H470 PCH, it appears that Zotac has made optimal use of all the available I/O to deliver a compelling platform for consumers looking at a compact alternative to pre-built PCs from boutique vendors.

Interested in more of the latest industry news? Check out our CES 2021 trade show landing page!

CES 2021: OWC Envoy Pro FX – A Dual Mode (Thunderbolt / USB) IP67 External SSD

As part of its CES 2021 announcements, OWC provided details of the Envoy Pro FX – an IP67-rated dual-mode SSD capable of operating optimally with both Thunderbolt 3 / 4 and USB hosts. We have generally been impressed with the industrial design of OWC’s external SSD offerings – in fact, the OWC Envoy Pro EX USB-C was one of the top performers when we compared the latest USB 3.2 Gen 2 SSDs last year. The Envoy Pro EX Thunderbolt 3 was based on a standard Phison reference design (also shared with the Plugable TBT3-NVME drives) with a rugged industrial design.

The new Envoy Pro FX combines the best of both SSDs – enabling 2GBps+ performance with Thunderbolt 3 hosts and 1GBps-class performance with USB 3.2 Gen 2 hosts. OWC carries forward its sleek premium aluminum housing from the Envoy Pro EX line. The FX is IP67-rated for usage in dirty and wet environments – even allowing for submersion in water at depths of 1m for up to 30 minutes, and also carries MIL-STD810G certification for ruggedness. The SSD is bus-powered, and also has non-skid rubber feet.

The OWC Envoy Pro FX is available in four capacities – 240GB ($169), 480GB ($199), 1TB ($299), and 2TB ($479). Given the capacity points, these drives are unlikely to be using QLC NAND. The IP67 rating and likely usage of 3D TLC are potential justification points for the ~$130 premium over other dual-mode SSDs like the Sabrent Rocket XTRM-Q we reviewed recently.

Interested in more of the latest industry news? Check out our CES 2021 trade show landing page!

As part of its CES 2021 announcements, OWC provided details of the Envoy Pro FX - an IP67-rated dual-mode SSD capable of operating optimally with both Thunderbolt 3 / 4 and USB hosts. We have generally been impressed with the industrial design of OWC's external SSD offerings - in fact, the OWC Envoy Pro EX USB-C was one of the top performers when we compared the latest USB 3.2 Gen 2 SSDs last year. The Envoy Pro EX Thunderbolt 3 was based on a standard Phison reference design (also shared with the Plugable TBT3-NVME drives) with a rugged industrial design.

The new Envoy Pro FX combines the best of both SSDs - enabling 2GBps+ performance with Thunderbolt 3 hosts and 1GBps-class performance with USB 3.2 Gen 2 hosts. OWC carries forward its sleek premium aluminum housing from the Envoy Pro EX line. The FX is IP67-rated for usage in dirty and wet environments - even allowing for submersion in water at depths of 1m for up to 30 minutes, and also carries MIL-STD810G certification for ruggedness. The SSD is bus-powered, and also has non-skid rubber feet.

The OWC Envoy Pro FX is available in four capacities - 240GB ($169), 480GB ($199), 1TB ($299), and 2TB ($479). Given the capacity points, these drives are unlikely to be using QLC NAND. The IP67 rating and likely usage of 3D TLC are potential justification points for the ~$130 premium over other dual-mode SSDs like the Sabrent Rocket XTRM-Q we reviewed recently.

Interested in more of the latest industry news? Check out our CES 2021 trade show landing page!

Akasa at CES 2021: Turing A50 Chassis for Fanless Ryzen and SOHO Series RGB Lighting Accessories

As part of the lead up to CES 2021, Akasa made a couple of interesting announcements related to its lineup of DIY fanless cases and a second family of RGB lighting accessories.

We have covered Akasa’s Turing fanless cases in detail earlier – starting off as a complete reimagination of a fanless Bean Canyon NUC (delivering excellent results in our review), Akasa also created the Turing FX based on the same design for the Frost Canyon NUC. Now, they have set their sights on one of the popular consumer-focused Ryzen-based mini-PCs in the market – the Asus PN50.

The Asus PN50, based on the Ryzen 4000-series mobile APUs (Renoirs with a TDP of 15W), has a physical footprint similar to that of the NUCs (with a ~4in. x ~4in. motherboard). The I/Os are a bit different compared to the NUCs, but Akasa could easily rework that aspect of the Turing design to quickly turn around a chassis capable of operating the PN50 without fans. Given the success that the Akasa Turing had with the Bean Canyon NUCs sporting a processor with a sustained package power consumption of 30W, it is likely that cooling the PN50 board (sporting a processor with a configurable TDP between 10W and 25W) should be a walk in the park. That said, we will reserve our final judgement for a hands-on review.

In other news, Akasa is also following up on their VEGAS series of RGB lighting accessories (CPU fans, case fans, and a RGB controller card) with a new SOHO series. This is a new set of addressable RGB (aRGB) products including case fans, LED lighting strips, a CPU cooler, and a controller card.

Akasa claims that the SOHO series case fan (SOHO AR) includes a redesigned sickle blade design and rotor technology to improve airflow and cooling efficiency compared to its previous case fans. The controller card ties all these accessories together in order to create a unified RGB solution for gamers looking to jazz up their system appearance. The key to any set of RGB lighting accessories is compatibility with applications from different vendors – Akasa indicates that the SOHO series aRGB controller and accessories are compatible with applications from GIGABYTE, ASUS, Razer, ASRock, and MSI.

Interested in more of the latest industry news? Check out our CES 2021 trade show landing page!

As part of the lead up to CES 2021, Akasa made a couple of interesting announcements related to its lineup of DIY fanless cases and a second family of RGB lighting accessories.

We have covered Akasa's Turing fanless cases in detail earlier - starting off as a complete reimagination of a fanless Bean Canyon NUC (delivering excellent results in our review), Akasa also created the Turing FX based on the same design for the Frost Canyon NUC. Now, they have set their sights on one of the popular consumer-focused Ryzen-based mini-PCs in the market - the Asus PN50.

The Asus PN50, based on the Ryzen 4000-series mobile APUs (Renoirs with a TDP of 15W), has a physical footprint similar to that of the NUCs (with a ~4in. x ~4in. motherboard). The I/Os are a bit different compared to the NUCs, but Akasa could easily rework that aspect of the Turing design to quickly turn around a chassis capable of operating the PN50 without fans. Given the success that the Akasa Turing had with the Bean Canyon NUCs sporting a processor with a sustained package power consumption of 30W, it is likely that cooling the PN50 board (sporting a processor with a configurable TDP between 10W and 25W) should be a walk in the park. That said, we will reserve our final judgement for a hands-on review.

In other news, Akasa is also following up on their VEGAS series of RGB lighting accessories (CPU fans, case fans, and a RGB controller card) with a new SOHO series. This is a new set of addressable RGB (aRGB) products including case fans, LED lighting strips, a CPU cooler, and a controller card.

Akasa claims that the SOHO series case fan (SOHO AR) includes a redesigned sickle blade design and rotor technology to improve airflow and cooling efficiency compared to its previous case fans. The controller card ties all these accessories together in order to create a unified RGB solution for gamers looking to jazz up their system appearance. The key to any set of RGB lighting accessories is compatibility with applications from different vendors - Akasa indicates that the SOHO series aRGB controller and accessories are compatible with applications from GIGABYTE, ASUS, Razer, ASRock, and MSI.

Interested in more of the latest industry news? Check out our CES 2021 trade show landing page!

Plugable Updates USB-C 7-in-1 Hub with Ethernet and 4Kp60 Display Support

A major issue faced by owners of notebooks and compact SFF PCs such as the NUCs is the paucity of USB ports or even the absence of often-needed functionality like SD /microSD card slots and RJ-45 ports. Multi-function USB hubs come to the rescue here (at the cost of physical system footprint). One of the well-reviewed low-cost offerings in this market segment is Plugable’s 2020 USB-C 7-in-1 Hub. This offering allowed MFDP (multi-functional Display Port) USB-C ports in a host system to support a micro-SDXC, full-sized SDXC, HDMI 1.4 (4Kp30) display output, and three USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A ports in a small rectangular unit. While capable of being bus-powered, the hub also includes a USB charging pass-through port, allowing for up to 87W of power delivery to the host system.

Plugable’s 2020 USBC-7IN1 Multi-function Hub

At CES 2021, Plugable is updating the hub with new internals and I/Os. Thanks to the inclusion of a Parade PS186 DP 1.4 to HDMI 2.0 protocol converter, the HDMI 1.4 (4Kp30) port is now replaced by a HDMI 2.0 (4Kp60) port, enabling extended compatibility with DisplayPort 1.4 hosts that are becoming more common now. One of the USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A ports is also being replaced by a RJ-45 Gigabit LAN port using a Realtek RTL8153 USB to GbE controller. The other ports and features (including the 87W pass-through charging port to which the host notebook’s original charger can connect – enabled by a VIA Technologies VL103 PD controller) are retained. The USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A ports are enabled by the VIA Technologies VL817 hub chip, and the card readers have a Genesys Logic GL3224 chip behind them.

Plugable’s New 2021 USBC-7IN1E Multi-function Hub

The new 2021 Plugable USBC-7IN1E multi-function USB-C hub is now available for $30 (after applying a $5 off coupon on the MSRP of $35).

Interested in more of the latest industry news? Check out our CES 2021 trade show landing page!

A major issue faced by owners of notebooks and compact SFF PCs such as the NUCs is the paucity of USB ports or even the absence of often-needed functionality like SD /microSD card slots and RJ-45 ports. Multi-function USB hubs come to the rescue here (at the cost of physical system footprint). One of the well-reviewed low-cost offerings in this market segment is Plugable's 2020 USB-C 7-in-1 Hub. This offering allowed MFDP (multi-functional Display Port) USB-C ports in a host system to support a micro-SDXC, full-sized SDXC, HDMI 1.4 (4Kp30) display output, and three USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A ports in a small rectangular unit. While capable of being bus-powered, the hub also includes a USB charging pass-through port, allowing for up to 87W of power delivery to the host system.

Plugable's 2020 USBC-7IN1 Multi-function Hub

At CES 2021, Plugable is updating the hub with new internals and I/Os. Thanks to the inclusion of a Parade PS186 DP 1.4 to HDMI 2.0 protocol converter, the HDMI 1.4 (4Kp30) port is now replaced by a HDMI 2.0 (4Kp60) port, enabling extended compatibility with DisplayPort 1.4 hosts that are becoming more common now. One of the USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A ports is also being replaced by a RJ-45 Gigabit LAN port using a Realtek RTL8153 USB to GbE controller. The other ports and features (including the 87W pass-through charging port to which the host notebook's original charger can connect - enabled by a VIA Technologies VL103 PD controller) are retained. The USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A ports are enabled by the VIA Technologies VL817 hub chip, and the card readers have a Genesys Logic GL3224 chip behind them.

Plugable's New 2021 USBC-7IN1E Multi-function Hub

The new 2021 Plugable USBC-7IN1E multi-function USB-C hub is now available for $30 (after applying a $5 off coupon on the MSRP of $35).

Interested in more of the latest industry news? Check out our CES 2021 trade show landing page!

Netgear Introduces RAXE500 – An AX11000-Class Wi-Fi 6E Tri-Band Router

Netgear has a bunch of new product announcements at CES 2021, and the most interesting of the lot is the RAXE500 – their first Wi-Fi 6E router with support for 2.4 GHz, 5 GHz, and 6 GHz bands. The key here is the availability of the wide-open 6 GHz band – while the move to 6 GHz doesn’t deliver any extra bandwidth, the absence of interference (and additional free channels) in that band results in more stable throughput in practical scenarios.

The availability of client chipsets – the AX210 from Intel that is already shipping in some systems, as well as the Broadcom BCM4389 for mobile devices – means that we should see fairly rapid adoption and consumer benefits from Wi-Fi 6E compared to the long road that we had with Wi-Fi 6. Netgear shared some test results of 5GHz and 6GHz connections in a RF chamber and open air scenario to bring out the benefits of 6GHz channels.

Coming to the hardware itself, the RAXE500 follows the same industrial design of the other Nighthawk AX routers from Netgear. On the rear, we have two sets of LAN port pairs capable of link aggregation (one of them is capable of acting as a WAN port). There is also a 2.5Gbps LAN port, and two USB 3.0 Type-A ports. Internally, the WiSoC is a quad-core 1.8 GHz processor, and the radio chains are 4×4 each on the 2.4 GHz (at 40 MHz for 1.2 Gbps), 5 GHz (at 160 MHz for 4.8 Gbps), and 6 GHz (at 160 MHz for 4.8 Gbps) – allowing Netgear to claim up to 10.8 Gbps of theoretical throughput.

The additional radios for the 6 GHz band take the MSRP of the RAXE500 up to what the first AX12 (RAX200) was introduced at – $599. Netgear stated that the router should be available in the market by February 2021.

Interested in more of the latest industry news? Check out our CES 2021 trade show landing page!

Netgear has a bunch of new product announcements at CES 2021, and the most interesting of the lot is the RAXE500 - their first Wi-Fi 6E router with support for 2.4 GHz, 5 GHz, and 6 GHz bands. The key here is the availability of the wide-open 6 GHz band - while the move to 6 GHz doesn't deliver any extra bandwidth, the absence of interference (and additional free channels) in that band results in more stable throughput in practical scenarios.

The availability of client chipsets - the AX210 from Intel that is already shipping in some systems, as well as the Broadcom BCM4389 for mobile devices - means that we should see fairly rapid adoption and consumer benefits from Wi-Fi 6E compared to the long road that we had with Wi-Fi 6. Netgear shared some test results of 5GHz and 6GHz connections in a RF chamber and open air scenario to bring out the benefits of 6GHz channels.

Coming to the hardware itself, the RAXE500 follows the same industrial design of the other Nighthawk AX routers from Netgear. On the rear, we have two sets of LAN port pairs capable of link aggregation (one of them is capable of acting as a WAN port). There is also a 2.5Gbps LAN port, and two USB 3.0 Type-A ports. Internally, the WiSoC is a quad-core 1.8 GHz processor, and the radio chains are 4x4 each on the 2.4 GHz (at 40 MHz for 1.2 Gbps), 5 GHz (at 160 MHz for 4.8 Gbps), and 6 GHz (at 160 MHz for 4.8 Gbps) - allowing Netgear to claim up to 10.8 Gbps of theoretical throughput.

The additional radios for the 6 GHz band take the MSRP of the RAXE500 up to what the first AX12 (RAX200) was introduced at - $599. Netgear stated that the router should be available in the market by February 2021.

Interested in more of the latest industry news? Check out our CES 2021 trade show landing page!

CES 2021: Western Digital’s Portable SSDs Get Capacity Upgrades: 4TB of TLC for $680

Western Digital markets portable SSDs under different brands, catering to different market segments. The flagships in each brand make use of of very similar platforms – a M.2 NVMe SSD behind an appropriate bridge chip. The industrial design varies from brand to brand to appeal better to the target market. The WD My Passport and SanDisk Extreme Portable SSDs are USB 3.2 Gen 2 (10Gbps) SSDs using an ASMedia ASM2362 bridge chip and a WD SN550E PCIe 3.0 x4 NVMe SSD. The WD_BLACK P50 and SanDisk Extreme PRO Portable SSDs are USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 (20Gbps) SSDs using an ASMedia 2364 bridge chip with a SN750E and a SN730E PCIe 3.0 x4 NVMe SSD respectively.

Under the WD branding, the My Passport SSD with its hardware encryption capabilities targets the average consumer who wants to back up work files, user-generated multimedia, and personal files securely. The SanDisk Extreme and Extreme PRO targets professional users creating content on-the-go outside a standard office environment with its IP55 rating and two different speed levels – 1GBps-class for the Extreme and 2GBps-class for the Extreme PRO. The WD_BLACK P50 is meant for gamers who need fast and high capacity storage for their games and do not mind paying a premium for a stylish device fulfilling those requirements.

Currently, all four families mentioned above top out at 2TB. Today, Western Digital is announcing 4TB versions in all four, with market availability slated before the end of February. Internally, the four portable SSDs are all moving to a double-sided SN750-class NVMe drive. This means the same BiCS4 3D TLC NAND flash along with an in-house SSD controller. 256-bit hardware AES support is built-in, and enabled on all but the WD_BLACK P50 drive.

In terms of pricing, the 4TB versions of the 10Gbps-class SanDisk Extreme and WD My Passport SSD are coming out with a MSRP of $700 and $680, while the 20Gbps-class SanDisk Extreme PRO and WD_BLACK P50 for the same capacity are priced at $750. The premium is not only for the bridge chip with better performance, but the premium industrial design with liberal aluminum usage also. Interestingly, the 4TB internal drive is priced at $800 on WD’s site.

The physical dimensions of all the 4TB versions are similar to the lower-capacity ones in each family except for the WD My Passport SSD. The move to a double-sided NVMe drive forces the 4TB version of the My Passport SSD to become 0.8mm thicker (9mm to 9.8mm). The drive’s sleek nature was noted in our review of the 1TB version, and this thickness increase is a small price to pay for the increased capacity.

At price points of $680 – $750, it is evident that these are premium portable SSDs. 4TB of high-performance flash storage in a compact bus-powered enclosure was pretty much unimaginable even 5 years ago, and as the technology makes its way into the market, the premium is only expected. Professionals may not balk at such price points, as they realize the benefits of such drives for their use-cases and be willing to treat them as business expenses. To note, these are not the first such 4TB drives in the market – In fact, Sabrent’s Rocket XTRM-Q is available in capacities up to 8TB, and works with optimal performance in both Thunderbolt 3 (22Gbps) and USB 3.2 Gen 2 (10Gbps) modes. The 4TB XTRM-Q is priced at $700, and the new 4TB portable SSDs from Western Digital straddle that price point. However, Western Digital’s value proposition is in the use of mature and proven 3D TLC flash in the drive (compared to the QLC NAND used in the Rocket XTRM-Q). The Sabrent offering does have Thunderbolt 3 performance up its sleeve. But, this 3D TLC offering at very similar price points should help push the pricing of high-capacity QLC-based drives further down. And, that is definitely good news for consumers.

Interested in more of the latest industry news? Check out our CES 2021 trade show landing page!

Western Digital markets portable SSDs under different brands, catering to different market segments. The flagships in each brand make use of of very similar platforms - a M.2 NVMe SSD behind an appropriate bridge chip. The industrial design varies from brand to brand to appeal better to the target market. The WD My Passport and SanDisk Extreme Portable SSDs are USB 3.2 Gen 2 (10Gbps) SSDs using an ASMedia ASM2362 bridge chip and a WD SN550E PCIe 3.0 x4 NVMe SSD. The WD_BLACK P50 and SanDisk Extreme PRO Portable SSDs are USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 (20Gbps) SSDs using an ASMedia 2364 bridge chip with a SN750E and a SN730E PCIe 3.0 x4 NVMe SSD respectively.

Under the WD branding, the My Passport SSD with its hardware encryption capabilities targets the average consumer who wants to back up work files, user-generated multimedia, and personal files securely. The SanDisk Extreme and Extreme PRO targets professional users creating content on-the-go outside a standard office environment with its IP55 rating and two different speed levels - 1GBps-class for the Extreme and 2GBps-class for the Extreme PRO. The WD_BLACK P50 is meant for gamers who need fast and high capacity storage for their games and do not mind paying a premium for a stylish device fulfilling those requirements.

Currently, all four families mentioned above top out at 2TB. Today, Western Digital is announcing 4TB versions in all four, with market availability slated before the end of February. Internally, the four portable SSDs are all moving to a double-sided SN750-class NVMe drive. This means the same BiCS4 3D TLC NAND flash along with an in-house SSD controller. 256-bit hardware AES support is built-in, and enabled on all but the WD_BLACK P50 drive.

In terms of pricing, the 4TB versions of the 10Gbps-class SanDisk Extreme and WD My Passport SSD are coming out with a MSRP of $700 and $680, while the 20Gbps-class SanDisk Extreme PRO and WD_BLACK P50 for the same capacity are priced at $750. The premium is not only for the bridge chip with better performance, but the premium industrial design with liberal aluminum usage also. Interestingly, the 4TB internal drive is priced at $800 on WD's site.

The physical dimensions of all the 4TB versions are similar to the lower-capacity ones in each family except for the WD My Passport SSD. The move to a double-sided NVMe drive forces the 4TB version of the My Passport SSD to become 0.8mm thicker (9mm to 9.8mm). The drive's sleek nature was noted in our review of the 1TB version, and this thickness increase is a small price to pay for the increased capacity.

At price points of $680 - $750, it is evident that these are premium portable SSDs. 4TB of high-performance flash storage in a compact bus-powered enclosure was pretty much unimaginable even 5 years ago, and as the technology makes its way into the market, the premium is only expected. Professionals may not balk at such price points, as they realize the benefits of such drives for their use-cases and be willing to treat them as business expenses. To note, these are not the first such 4TB drives in the market - In fact, Sabrent's Rocket XTRM-Q is available in capacities up to 8TB, and works with optimal performance in both Thunderbolt 3 (22Gbps) and USB 3.2 Gen 2 (10Gbps) modes. The 4TB XTRM-Q is priced at $700, and the new 4TB portable SSDs from Western Digital straddle that price point. However, Western Digital's value proposition is in the use of mature and proven 3D TLC flash in the drive (compared to the QLC NAND used in the Rocket XTRM-Q). The Sabrent offering does have Thunderbolt 3 performance up its sleeve. But, this 3D TLC offering at very similar price points should help push the pricing of high-capacity QLC-based drives further down. And, that is definitely good news for consumers.

Interested in more of the latest industry news? Check out our CES 2021 trade show landing page!