The GMKtec NucBox G2

It’s time for another hardware post, this time about an Intel N100 machine–and yes, I definitely have too many machines at this point, but there’s a method to my madness.

Well, at least I hope so.

The GMKtec NucBox G2, as seen on their website.

Note: I bought the G2 with my own money, so this is not really a but I’m sticking to the same overall approach in describing my experience with it.

Rationale

In short, I bought the GMKtec NucBox G2 to use at my electronics bench, with some initial reluctance–after all, my cluster now has seven physical hosts, and I’m currently in the process of both consolidating part of that and , so why another box?

Well, because of my hardware projects, really.

There is just too much software (like Rockchip’s low-level tools) that are either Windows-only or just plain don’t work on Linux, and the hassle of dual-booting one of my machines or trying to use a VM for some of it was just too much of a waste of time, to the point where the €150 (inc. shipping) I ended up paying for it seemed like a great deal.

Then there’s all the lower level stuff–even though the RK3588 boards I have are and let me browse documentation and plug in one of those dinky plastic ‘microscopes’ for zooming in on hard-to-see tiny soldering jobs (which I do ), I was getting seriously annoyed at the amount of proprietary tools I have to have around to do more sophisticated MCU work, and wanted them in a single place.

Also, having a bare-metal Windows machine is pretty rare around these parts–I have plenty of VMs, but the only one in the house is my work laptop, and that’s not for plugging random Chinese electronics into.

The G2 comes with a Windows Pro license, which is nice.

I used to have a netbook for this kind of thing, but it’s just too slow and unreliable these days, and it positively crawls when booting off its tiny rotating platter drive.

And before someone asks, yes I tried running the Rockchip tools in a VM on my , but the USB passthrough was just too flaky and I kept missing the right timing to enter MaskROM mode on RK3588 boards.

So, one day, I decided I had had enough–and I am actually happier for it.

Hardware

The NucBox G2 is a small, very definitely not fanless computer with an Intel N100, 12GB of RAM and 512GB of SATA SSD storage, which I picked out of an ever increasing line-up of N100 machines due to essentially three things:

  • Small size (86x86x40mm)
  • Having a bit more RAM and storage than average–the RAM is LPDDR5, by the way, even if it’s soldered to the board.
  • Using USB-C power delivery at 12V/3A instead of a barrel jack–so I can just hang it off my UGreen desktop charger, which also powers my soldering iron and everything else I run on my electronics bench.

Sadly, that USB-C port is the only real flaw I found on the machine, since it lacks the ability to connect to a monitor for single cable operation (most of my monitors have PD, and it would be nice to just switch desks and plug it in via a single cable if I needed a bigger monitor).

It also comes with a few bonuses:

  • 2 Gigabit Ethernet interfaces (as well as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi), so I can plug in other machines to it as a router, packet sniffer or just for P2P configuration.
  • 3 USB-A ports (so I will likely never lack extra ports for FTDI or serial module to talk to an MCU)
  • 2 HDMI ports (one more than I currently need, really)
  • 1 full-size DisplayPort (which I don’t need at all)

…and a headphone jack. Which, let’s face it, is a nice thing to have.

Inside The Box

Popping the case is very easy–all it takes is a credit card and some finagling along the top cover, and you have ready access to the SSD, Wi-Fi, and to the CMOS battery underneath a plastic cover:

One of the easiest machines to upgrade in recent memory (if you can call it that).

You can also go to the trouble of removing the rubber feet and unscrewing the bottom cover, but there’s not a lot to look at there–the fan is visible, as is the heatsink, but everything else (including the RAM) is soldered to the board underneath:

The little PCB on the right is an RGB LED ring that you can configure in the BIOS.

The LED ring at the bottom is a nice touch, but I would have preferred some kind of additional expandability.

BIOS Setup

The BIOS is very comprehensive, to the point where it seems overkill for a machine like this.

Performance

So far, the G2 feels appropriately snappy. Most of what I run on it is Edge, and the Arduino IDE, and with WSL2 installed the user experience is roughly equivalent to my Linux laptop.

As usual on any kind of Windows machine, Windows Update brings the machine to a crawl and can take literally forever (I had to leave it overnight the first day), but it remains usable while downloading updates (so even though the SSD is SATA rather than NVMe, it is perfectly adequate).

But it fits both my criteria for “good enough” Windows performance, which are, generally:

  • Must run Edge, VS Code and WSL2 simultaneously without any significant slowdowns
  • Should be able to take a Teams call with video and desktop sharing without becoming unusable (it was a bit slow and the fan noise was noticeable, but perfectly usable in a pinch).

Power Consumption

I didn’t take an extended look at the G2’s performance envelope, but a couple of short tests with a USB power meter and a couple of extension cords showed it idling at 6W and going up to 16-20W in typical use, which seems reasonable.

Ollama

Even though I am not using the G2 in a comparable way to for edge AI, I ran my ollama inference benchmarks inside WSL2 since I know the virtualization overhead is negligible:

 for run in {1..10}; do echo "Why is the sky blue?" | ollama run tinyllama --verbose 2>&1 >/dev/null | grep "eval rate:" | grep -v prompt; done | awk '{ total += $3; count++ } END { print total/count }'

Machine Model Eval Tokens/s

GMKtec G2 (WSL2)

dolphin-phi 8.01
tinyllama 21.13

Banana Pi M7

dolphin-phi 4.25
tinyllama 10.3

Intel i7-6700

dolphin-phi 7.57
tinyllama 16.61

Orange Pi 5+

dolphin-phi 4.65
tinyllama 11.3

Raspberry Pi 4

dolphin-phi 1.51
tinyllama 3.77

YouYeeToo R1

dolphin-phi 3.9
tinyllama 10.5

CPU clock speed varied a bit during testing (and I ran all of the tests without tweaking TDP limits), but it’s quite impressive (if not really surprising) to see that the G2 is significantly faster than , a machine that I routinely use to work on my projects and which I .

It’s definitely not comparable to a , but for such a tiny, low power machine, it certainly packs a punch.

Minor Annoyances

Besides the bottom LED strip (the color of which can be configured in the BIOS), the NucBox G2 has a… distinctly green power button, which is… OK, I guess.

I would have preferred a more subdued color, mostly because to my eyes it masks the blue power LED when the machine is on.

But there are a few other things beyond the cosmetic:

  • The fan can be just a trifle whiny, which is sad because it tends to come on fairly often, even while browsing.
  • Not having USB-C monitor connectivity seems like a missed opportunity
  • You need to use all three sides of it to hook up a monitor, power, and a keyboard, which takes up a little space.
  • One thing it’s missing for use at an electronics desk is a TF/SD card slot, but that’s a trivial thing to solve with an adapter.

Comparison with a Raspberry Pi (or ARM SBCs)

At €150 and with so much storage, RAM and connectivity, comparisons are inevitable–and having tested so many RK3588 devices by now (including the , which costs slightly more without a case), things aren’t looking good for SBCs, and I look forward to seeing the low-power mini-PC market

Yes, SBCs typically have GPIO ports and specialist connections of several kinds, but I have to say that these days I don’t see any reason for using anything but an ESP32 or a Pi Pico for most entry-level hobbyist projects–although of course your mileage may vary.

Conclusion

I like this new era of low-power, relatively high-performance Intel chips.

The G2 has already coped with a few weird scenarios, like compiling binaries locally while accessing it via Remote Desktop from my desktop Mac. It was able to remotely drive both my displays without any real slowdown, and in general it feels at least as fast (and sometimes faster) as the did when I used it as a desktop machine.

As long as you don’t expect it to be extremely fast (or extremely quiet), it’s a great little machine for the price, and I’m happy to have it around.

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