Near the tail end of last year, Azulle Tech announced a new barebone series of mini PCs called “INSPIRE”, breaking out with three new models. Moving into a different direction where you get to finish the build with your own chosen parts, these new models feature the specs to deliver a great 4K experience within a small footprint. Within each of them is an Intel dual-core Kaby Lake processor.
We have been testing their mid-level model (of the three) to see what it can accomplish, resulting in some great findings, really living up to the experience we have had with Azulle thus far. It features an Intel i5-7200U dual-core processor inside (2.5GHz base and up to 3.10GHz turbo).
The overall unit features a square design, running just less than five inches around each side, and around two inches tall. It has a strong aluminum enclosure that feels well-built with a decent amount of weight to it, heat ventilation all around. The color theme is strict to black outside of white print for the logos, and of course the colored USB inputs.
The front side of the PC features a USB Type-C input, IR receiver, microSD slot, 3.5mm headphone jack, and a USB 3.0 input. Off to the right of those, you find the power button with Azulle’s logo printed on it (which lights up with your status LED), with the “INSPIRE” name printed just underneath.
The rear side of the PC contains the rest of your connectivity, including two BNC connectors for the antennas (provided). You have options for both Displayport and HDMI for external display (monitor or TV), an ethernet jack for wired internet, two additional USB 3.0 inputs, a small hole for a device lock, and a serial port.
Both antennas are firm, preventing them from flopping around on their own, either by gravity or bumping into the unit, and give you the idea that this unit means business.
The inside of the unit can be accessed via the bottom plate that comes off with four screws, and there isn’t anything about this system that a intermediate or higher user will be confused by. You will quite likely find yourself running within a few minutes (as long as you have the extra parts needed to complete it).
Building it out
It comes with everything except for the memory, hard drive and operating system (and monitor of course). So you will need these items to continue. The price will go up from her and completely depends on where you go with it all.
After removing the four screws on the bottom, the bottom plate can be popped off with a little force (it features a firm grip that snaps into place nicely when installing or removing it). Once the plate is removed, you will have access to everything you need to get to.
You would add your memory just like you would a laptop, sliding it into their slot(s) at a 45-degree angle, and swinging it down gently with your finger until it snaps into the locks (always starting from the bottom slot of course). You can go as much as 2 sticks of memory, and as high as 32GB (combined). In our tests, we used a single stick of 16GB DDR4 HyperX Impact memory.
Next, you would install a hard drive. With this, you have two options to choose from. You can either go with a typical 2.5-inch laptop style drive (HDD or SSD), or with one of the newer PCIe M.2 drives, including the latest NMVe options.
The latter of the two offers the best performance, and the drives are so small, making cable management non-existent. If going that route, install the M.2 drive into the slot, which places the drive directly across from the memory as seen in the image above. The drive installs just like the memory, only M.2 features a small screw you would remove before inserting the drive, which goes back in afterward to hold the drive down with.
Thankfully the price of M.2 is becoming a lot more affordable if you don’t need a large capacity (either that or you can go M.2 for your boot drive, and SATA for additional space).
In our tests, we used a Samsung Evo 256GB PCIe NVMe M.2 drive.
Which leads us to our second option of SATA. If you prefer to use SATA instead, or want to use the drive as a secondary drive to expand your space with, the PC does offer SATA connectivity for one SATA drive, and even includes the data and power cable. Both inputs for the cables on the board are located to the side of the memory slots, and are quite easy to find.
What’s neat, is that the bottom plate you pull off has a bracket under it to install the drive into, so that it isn’t just randomly thrown into the space sitting on top of the memory (or M.2 card if you are using that as well). Makes for a very neat configuration/install, and gives you all the space in between to tuck the wires and forget about it all.
That’s it! You can put the plate back on onto the PC and start working on your external connections (power, display, etc). Plug it into power, connect your monitor, figure out your USB mouse/keyboard solution (I would assume you would go for a wireless option), and boot the system up.
This past is really the only reason I mentioned intermediate or higher users won’t have a problem. There is no disk drive, which means you will have to install your operating system to the drive inside via USB. So you will have to figure out which OS to use, know where to go to find it, and set up a USB thumb drive with the installation. As long as none of that scares you, you will be just fine.
If you noticed from any of the images, there are no fans inside the PC. This is a characteristic that you find in any PC made by Azulle. It’s all about keeping things both small and quiet, and there is nothing quieter than no noise at all. The PC does get a little warm after you begin multitasking, but in our tests, we never got it to a temperature that came anywhere close to being worried about anything. In fact, the case still felt mostly cool to the touch with some slight warmth to it.
Once you have installed your operating system, you will find that things move just like they would on a full-size system or laptop. We got Windows to boot within a matter of seconds, reaching the desktop anywhere within 10-25 seconds depending on various conditions (ie, an average fresh boot vs Windows Update working on a few things). It really does help to use a PCIe M.2 drive. If you opted for SATA and used a general HDD, then the boot time will of course be around the same time as any other modern PC with a plain ol’ HDD inside.
For video, it makes use of Intel’s integrated HD Graphics 620 vs a major chipset like Nvidia or ATI. At first, we didn’t know what to expect from this, but we didn’t run into a single problem playing back 4K content, regardless of which files we tested with. You won’t find yourself playing any hardcore games with this, as it won’t perform to the likes of a full-size case with the ability to run something like an Nvidia 1080 card, but it has the power of conquering any small to mid-resource games, as well as some basic experience on the nicer games. Keep in mind, this isn’t meant to be a gaming system as much as it is a general PC, media PC, or other tasks like signage, presentations, and so forth. It isn’t a gaming beast per se, but it feels much better than any entry-level PC. Even better if the parts you add to it are high performance.
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We found that literally every application we threw at it opened instantly, including large 4K videos that have been known to cause frame rate issues or lag in smaller systems. Application/software and video performance is great.
Since we tested using a powerful drive inside, file transfers were quick. We tossed in a USB SSD thumb drive (to really get an idea of speeds with), and transferred a few 10GB videos to the Inspire. Speeds on average were around 340-345MB/s. Moving files around the drive were instantaneous. This is mostly thanks to the drive, but if the system wasn’t manufactured with the right quality, it would have caused a bottleneck for a lot of our tests.
I can comfortably say that once everything is built, and if you have used quality parts, this system will compare to a mid-level PC you’d buy in the store (only much smaller in size and sound). If you are looking for something that isn’t going to take up a lot of space, but still has a good deal of flexibility, this would make an excellent choice.
You get a power cable and brick, two antennas, both a data and power SATA connector (for a SATA drive), and an IR remote. There is also a quickstart guide which isn’t pictured above since our test unit did not come with it (yours will though). Of course, you also get the Inspire barebone PC.
The included IR remote is pretty small and fits just right in the hand. Similar to remotes for TV set-top boxes (like Android boxes, or Rokus), it offers basic functionality that can help you navigate around menus with. Especially useful when watching video on apps like Netflix. It is very light in design and features a CR2032 coin cell battery inside. Distance is about average for an infrared remote, and you will find yourself opting for a keyboard and mouse for anything beyond the things I just mentioned. Although it offers the most basic functionality, it proves to be quite useful at times.
As I mentioned, the possibilities of this system greatly depend on what you put inside for the memory and drive. No matter what you choose to go with, it should perform around the same as any mid-level PC with the same specs would. It’s best to go with 16GB of memory if you are a power user, or 8GB if you are more of a relaxed user or only need it for a few common tasks. If you go with 16GB+ and a PCIe NVMe M.2 drive, this system will be lightning fast. The fact that there is no fan noise, only makes the experience all the better. The Inspire is a reliable barebone system that will deliver just about anything you’d expect something of its size to do, and then some (quite possibly a lot of some).
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*Average price is based on the time this article was published
User Manual — Click Here
- Processor (3 model options)
- Dual-Core Intel® Kaby Lake i3-7100U
- Dual-Core Intel® Kaby Lake i5-7200U
- Dual-Core Intel® Kaby Lake i7-7500U
- BIOS: Wake On LAN/ PXE/Auto Power
- RAM: Up to 32 GB DDR4 (Max)
- Storage: SATA & M.2 support
- GPU: Intel® HD Integrated Graphics 620
- Wi-Fi: 2.4g/5.0g Dual-Band
- Ethernet: Up to 1GBps
- Bluetooth: Bluetooth 4.0
- DisplayPort: x1 Port, up to 4K @ 60 FPS*
- HDMI: x1 Port, up to 4K @ 60 FPS*
- USB: x3 3.0 Port, x1 Type-C
- SD Card Slot: x1
- M.2. Slot: x1
- SATA: x1
- IR (Infrared): Yes (controller included)
- Audio Output: 3.5 mm Jack (stereo), via HDMI (digital/surround)
- Power Supply: 12V/3A
- Dimensions: 4.9 in x 4.9 in x 1.9 in
Are you a manufacturer or distributor that would like us to test something out for review? Contact us and we can let you know where to send the product and we will try it out.