AMD Introduces New Ryzen Mini PCs To Challenge Intel

For the majority of hacker and maker projects, the miniature computer of choice these last few years has been the Raspberry Pi. While the availability issues that seem to plague each new iteration of these extremely popular Single Board Computers (SBCs) can be annoying, they’ve otherwise proven to be an easy and economical way to perform relatively lightweight computational tasks. Depending on who you ask, the Pi 4 is even powerful enough for day-to-day desktop computing. Not bad for a device that consistently comes in under a $50 USD price point.

Intel NUC compared to the Raspberry Pi

But we all know there are things that the Pi isn’t particularly well suited to. If your project needs a lot of computing power, or you’ve got some software that needs to run on an x86 processor, then you’re going to want to look elsewhere. One of the best options for such Raspberry Pi graduates has been the Intel Next Unit of Computing (NUC).

NUCs have the advantage of being “real” computers, with upgradable components and desktop-class processors. Naturally this means they’re a bit larger than the Raspberry Pi, but not so much as to be impractical. If you’re working on a large rover for example, the size and weight difference between the two will be negligible. The same could be said for small form-factor cluster projects; ten NUCs won’t take a whole lot more space than the same number of Pis.

Unfortunately, where the Intel NUCs have absolutely nothing on the Raspberry Pi is price: these miniature computers start around $250, and depending on options, can sail past the $1,000 mark. Part of this sharp increase in price is naturally the vastly improved hardware, but we also can’t ignore that the lack of any strong competition in this segment hasn’t given Intel much incentive to cut costs, either. When you’re the only game in town, you can charge what you want.

But that’s about to change. In a recent press release, AMD announced an “open ecosystem” that would enable manufacturers to build small form-factor computers using an embedded version of the company’s Ryzen processor. According to Rajneesh Gaur, General Manager of AMD’s Embedded Solutions division, the company felt the time was right to make a bigger push outside of their traditional server and desktop markets:

The demand for high performance computing isn’t limited to servers or desktop PCs. Embedded customers want access to small form factor PCs that can support open software standards, demanding workloads at the edge, and even display 4K content, all with embedded processors that have a planned availability of 10 years.

Power at the Edge

There are a number of current and upcoming Ryzen-based devices, which AMD apparently wants to call “Mini PCs” to distance themselves from the NUC terminology, and the common goal between them all is simple: to pack as much computing power as possible into a small and rugged case. Rather than the sleek consumer-friendly outward appearance that many Intel NUCs have, these first-generation AMD powered boxes have a distinctive industrial look. It seems the manufacturers most interested in putting Ryzen chips in their small form-factor computers expect them to live a very harsh life.

In fact many of the announced computers, built by relatively small firms like ASRock and OnLogic, make it clear they’re not intended for consumer use. These machines are designed for commercial applications such as driving high-resolution digital signage, or for use in communication networks. You aren’t supposed to be putting one of these things under your TV, and it shows.

All of these Mini PCs are part of the growing trend towards “Edge Computing”, where powerful processors and large amounts of RAM are brought closer to where they’re needed instead of being accessed remotely. Rather unsurprisingly, the need for an always-on broadband Internet connection can be a problem in many applications. If this sounds an awful lot like how we used to do things before “The Cloud” took over, you wouldn’t be wrong.

Professional Price

While there already seems to be a healthy number of entries into AMD’s new Mini PC ecosystem, one thing seems painfully missing: a product we can actually afford to hack on.

Being that these devices primarily target industrial and commercial applications, they unfortunately have a sticker price to match. For even a relatively barebones AMD Mini PC, the starting price looks to be around $500. Granted pricing and availability on several of the upcoming models isn’t currently available, but with just a glance at their construction and specs, it’s painfully obvious that the lowly hardware hacker isn’t the target audience.

This is obviously disappointing for those of us looking for something to roll into our projects immediately, but it’s important to remember that competition doesn’t always develop overnight. With their push into the small-form factor market, AMD is getting an overdue foot in the door. It’s logical that the first wave of machines would target where the money is, but as production of Ryzen Embedded chips ramp up, it seems inevitable that other companies will see the opportunity to spin off more consumer oriented products to put them in.

55 thoughts on “AMD Introduces New Ryzen Mini PCs To Challenge Intel

          1. Looks like you missed the 36 ryzen powered small form factor like theHP Prodesk G4 with the Ryzen 2400GE. Fairly powerful cpu with vega graphics. On par with the i5/i7 with better integrated graphics. And they were on sale for under 300 a few weeks back.

  1. A better choice for less money is mini-ITX. I run two fan-less systems, one next to my router that acts as a web server, file server and backup device. Another is in the kitchen and connected to a 2.1 sound system for playing media while preparing meals. I made my own cases and because they are real PCs you can connect all the normal devices you would need. If only somebody would make a Ryzen mini-ITX I would do an upgrade.

          1. True… they have some 15W ones, which you wouldn’t want to box up too tight, but then if you’ve got lots of room even the 45W ones you can prolly slap on a fanless zalman cooler.

    1. Mini ITX boards are pretty large compared to the NUC form factor, on the order of 2.5+ inches in each dimension. Also, because it’s really just a small standard motherboard, vertically mounted memory, large IO panels and typically large heatsinks on the processor, makes it even more difficult to keep compact. The NUCs are around 4.5 inches square and 2 inches tall, and that’s case dimensions, the boards themselves are even smaller.

      If you don’t need the absolute smallest form factor, yea, Mini ITX is great. But NUC and similar systems are amazingly small.

        1. Still an inch+ larger in width/depth, and because they stand the DIMMs up, taller. The bare NUC boards are 4″ x 4″. I recently blew the dust out of one of mine, and it’s amazingly small and compact.

          Not knocking these other form factors at all, they’re great if you want to build a small form factor PC, but still a little large if your goal is to embed one in a non-PC type project.

    2. Hey @Rex,

      I am a big fan of the mini-ITX form factor.

      Please could you describe each of these fanless systems? What components you used to build them?

      It’s almost always a challenge to meet my requirements with this kind of SFF PC.

      My essential requirements are the following, which are all highly inter-related:

      – quietness to the point of silence or near-silence;
      – good airflow through the chassis;
      – a CPU or SoC that draws low power;
      – integrated GPU because I don’t like to waste valuable space or to block airflow by installing a discrete GPU card;

      Currently I’m working with a mini-ITX board with server functionality, the ASRock Rack E3C236D2I. It’s been a bumpy ride but I’m unable to precisely determine what the problem is, yet. It may just be the case that this board isn’t suitable for the kind of SFF server that I am trying to build.

      I am really looking forward to hearing about yours. It seems to me that the best mini-ITX boards meeting all my requirements were the Supermicro Atom C2000 series boards. As for the SM Atom C3000, and Xeon D-1500, E-2100, and E-2200… I can not say much because I don’t have much experience with them. So far they seem harder to keep very quiet.

      @ullbeking

      1. webserver: Intel D525MW Intel Atom CPU D525 @ 1.80GHz x 4
        OS: Mint 19.2 tina
        DE: MATE 1.22.0
        CPU: Intel Atom D525 @ 4x 1.8GHz
        GPU: llvmpipe (LLVM 8.0, 128 bits)
        RAM: 3928MiB
        Runs nginx, SFTP, VNC, qbittorent

        kitchen: Asus Dual-core Fusion APU E350 – E35M1-I (1/27/13)
        OS: Mint 19.3 tricia
        DE: MATE 1.22.2
        CPU: AMD E-350 @ 2x 1.6GHz [51.0°C]
        GPU: AMD PALM (DRM 2.50.0 / 4.15.0-72-generic, LLVM 8.0.0)
        RAM: 3549MiB
        Runs VLC, hdhomerun (for TV)

        Both systems have integrated graphics and SSDs. I use a ‘car’ power supplies, it’s a circuit board that plugs directly into the motherboard and runs off 12 volts. I have small 12 volt supplies, under $5 from Banggood. These systems are totally silent. My server is in an open case in a closet along with my router and switch. It is headless. The door is always open. The kitchen system is in a box I made out of wood. It sits on the side of a cabinet in a vertical position. Both the top and bottom are open for air flow. I mounted the monitor on the wall. To all the critics, both system are rock solid, they’ve been running for years.

    3. Sometimes you need something smaller though, and that’s where these come in. Now, if you can show me a mini-ITX motherboard that can fit into a case the size of an ATX power supply with enough room left over for an SSD then sure, mini-ITX would be better for the sort of things that people would buy one of these, or an Intel NUC for. But so long asn mITX is notably larger, your suggestion is for a different set of requirements.

      Also, there are a lot of m-ITX AM4 motherboards out there.

  2. Besides price the other question is what sort of electrical power supply they need. A Pi will easily run off a 5V rail attached to the 5V pins so long as the supply can do up to about 2.1A without voltage drop, not difficult for lithium or NiMH batteries. What sort of voltages will NUCs and the AMD equivalent need, perhaps rather higher than easily available from the batteries folks are likely to be using for their sensors and actuators? And how much current might your system have to be able to supply?

    1. NUCs typically, not sure if they have any special industrial/vehicle/etc. that do 12, 24 or 48v specifically, normally expect a pretty typical laptop power supply. 19v with a nominal output of at least a couple of amps.

      I’m sure that the lower spec ones, especially if not being run hard or laden with USB devices pulling close to maximum allowed power, can get away with under an amp; but supplying 19v is kind of a nuisance in many contexts(19v barrel plug adapters are cheap and ubiquitous, because they seem to be the preferred input for a lot of laptops; but it’s just a bit high to confidently run from 12v infrastructure; while low enough that PoE derived 48-ish is going to need some DC-DC conversion down; and 24v vehicle might not be wholly safe or efficient without some regulation as well).

      If you do push a NUC hard it isn’t actually all that low power; it’s most of a laptop in a small box.

  3. > these miniature computers start around $250,

    Nope. I run a few mini computers with Intel CPUs, none of which costed me more than 150,-€ net. including RAM and built-in SD drive. Good enough to run Win10 on.

    But I welcome competition. If the AMD work and have auto-boot-after-power-loss, I’m in.

  4. Sounds like a nice part actually… question is, can you buy the bare CPU chip? Probably would pay through the nose for a suitable PCB to make the motherboard because it’ll be a multi-layer impedance-controlled job.

    We might see a successor of the PCEngines APU3 at some point. The APU3 is a GX-412TC, runs CoreBoot as its boot firmware, and schematics are available, so quite hackable. It’s a little bigger than a NUC, but not by much.

    More industrial PC options is good too… currently at work we use a particular model Advantech box which uses an AMD SoC (not sure which one) and they’ve got reasonable grunt for a cheap-ish fanless machine that will work at up to 60°C ambient.

      1. Geode’s didn’t even do PAE let alone AMD64, so no… I do have one of the Geode-based Advantech boxes… a UNO-1150G that’s ex-Amberley air base, but it’s a very different beast to the ones we’re using now at work.

  5. Am I the only person on HAD that uses ComExpress? Ive got atoms, i7s, and xeons. You can run MXM graphics cards with a carrier board, and STILL stay walkman sized.
    Or what about pc104? Its like the arduino shield format for industrial embedded PC. TONS of manufacturers, TONS of well developed accessories. A HUGE surplus market of parts.

    But by all means,,,,just jump on board some other companies cash grab for hobbyist dollars.

    1. $180ish US@NewEGG for a bare-bones? (no CPU, no Ram, no Hdd/Ssd, no WiFi, no Optical, no OS), after I add all that, how is this all that ideal or affordable to play/hack around?

      1. sorry, 150 with wifi, if ordered direct from newegg, not ‘easternstar’ as asrock directs to when clicking on their buy link still pricey though for what is actually included and how much is needed to add

  6. They’re not *quite* as small, but Dell and HP ultra-small form factor PCs from the Sandy Bridge era can be had on eBay for usually $70 or under shipped. I got a HP Elite 8200 USDT with its power supply for $45 shipped.

    1. @robert Liam Kelly, The mentioned PI 4 has broadcom. As to the AMD ryzen mini pcs…. some list realtek, but are you sure all models have that? (when I checked most didn’t specify). Realtek has had some questionable implementations and a lot of different chipsets, but they are not all bad. Certainly wouldn’t assume as much total performance on a heavy network device without testing…. A lot of Intel NUCs have realtek, so worse case it’s just as good as an Intel NUC.

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