The Kaby Lake-U (KBL-U) series with 15W TDP CPUs was introduced along with the 4.5W Kaby Lake-Y ones in Q3 2016. The first set of products with Kaby Lake-U were ultrabooks. However, ultra-compact form-factor (UCFF) PCs were not long behind. There are already three vendors in the market with Kaby Lake UCFF PCs - ASRock (Beebox-S), GIGABYTE (BRIX), and MSI (Cubi 2). MSI was the first to launch KBL-U UCFF PCs in the North American market under the Cubi 2 tag. This review focuses on the build and performance of the Cubi2-005B - the KBL-U UCFF PC from MSI featuring the Core i7-7500U.

Introduction

Ultra-compact form factor (UCFF) PCs have become quite popular after Intel introduced the NUCs. They have become powerful enough to be the primary computing platform for many households. In addition to the Intel NUCs, many system vendors have come up with their own approach to UCFF PCs. These include ASRock (with the Beebox series), ECS (LIVA), GIGABYTE (BRIX), and MSI (Cubi) amongst others.

Kaby Lake-U, as per Intel's claims, is fabricated on a much more mature 14nm process and brings about a 11% improvement in performance for the same power consumption. The GPU's media engine has also been updated. On the whole, the performance improvements look good for UCFF PCs - particularly for those upgrading from the first or second-generation systems.

MSI's take on the UCFF PC market with the Cubi an Cubi 2 is interesting from two perspectives - Rather than having separate SKUs for units with / without support for 2.5" drives (like the GIGABYTE BRIX) or compromising on the thickness of the system to include 2.5" drives (like the ASRock Beebox), MSI allows for interchangeable bottom plates. The default one doesn't come with 2.5" drive support and results in a system thickness of 3.7 cm (while the extension bay / thicker bottom plate version makes the system 4.9 cm thick). The extension bay is also included with the Cubi 2 package. The second aspect is that MSI is targeting the Cubi 2 towards effectiveness for the average consumer. While a M.2 NVMe SSD can do wonders in terms of performance, the reality is that the high-performance versions come in the M.2 2280 form-factor. Rather than sacrificing the size of the unit, MSI has decided only to have a M.2 2242 slot in the PC. Even though it is connected to the PCIe lanes from the PCH, we believe it is likely that consumers will be using M.2 2242 SATA SSDs in that slot, or, end up using a 2.5" drive with the extension bay.

Similar to other UCFF PCs in the market, the Cubi 2 also comes in a version without memory or storage. The Cubi 2 can take up to two DDR4 SO-DIMMs (operating at 2133 MHz) and a 2.5" drive and/or a M.2 2242 SATA / PCIe SSD. We completed the hardware build to result in the following specifications for our MSI Cubi2-005B review configuration.

MSI Cubi2-005B Specifications
Processor Intel Core i7-7500U
Kaby Lake, 2C/4T, 2.7 GHz (up to 3.5 GHz), 14nm PLUS, 4MB L2, 15W TDP
Memory Micron 16ATF1G64HZ-2G1A2 DDR4
15-15-15-36 @ 2133 MHz
2x8 GB
Graphics Intel HD Graphics 620
Disk Drive(s) Crucial MX200 CT500MX200SSD1
(500 GB; 2.5in SATA 6Gb/s; 16nm; MLC)
Networking Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 3168
(1x1 802.11ac - 433 Mbps)
1x Realtek RTL8168 Gigabit LAN
Display 1x mini-Display Port 1.2 (3840x2160 @ 60 Hz)
1x HDMI 1.4b (4096x2160 @ 24 Hz)
Audio 3.5mm Headphone Jack, 3.5mm Microphone Jack
Capable of 5.1/7.1 digital output with HD audio bitstreaming (HDMI)
Miscellaneous I/O Ports 3x USB 3.0 (Type-A)
1x USB 3.1 Gen 1 (Type-C)
Operating System Retail unit is barebones, but we installed Windows 10 Pro x64
Pricing $499 (barebones) / $787 (as configured)
Full Specifications MSI Cubi2-005BUS Specifications

The MSI Cubi2-005B kit doesn't come with any pre-installed OS, but does come with a CD containing the drivers. In any case, we ended up installing the latest drivers downloaded off the component vendors' product support page. In addition to the main unit, the other components of the package include a 65 W (19V @ 3.42A) adapter, a US power cord, a VESA mount (along with the necessary screws), a 2.5" drive extension bay, SATA data and power cables, user's manual and a quick-start guide.

The gallery below takes us around the various chassis features.

The PCIe lanes in our review configuration of the MSI Cubi2-005BUS are distributed as follows:

  • PCI-E 3.0 x2 port #3      In Use @ x1 (Realtek RTL8168 PCIe Gigabit Ethernet Adapter)
  • PCI-E 3.0 x1 port #4      In Use @ x1 (Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 3168 WiFi Adapter)
  • PCI-E 3.0 x4 port #9      Not In Use @ x4 (M.2 NVMe Slot)

In the table below, we have an overview of the various systems that we are comparing the MSI Cubi2-005B against. Note that they may not belong to the same market segment. The relevant configuration details of the machines are provided so that readers have an understanding of why some benchmark numbers are skewed for or against the MSI Cubi2-005B when we come to those sections.

Comparative PC Configurations
Aspect MSI Cubi2-005B
CPU Intel Core i7-7500U Intel Core i7-7500U
GPU Intel HD Graphics 620 Intel HD Graphics 620
RAM Micron 16ATF1G64HZ-2G1A2 DDR4
15-15-15-36 @ 2133 MHz
2x8 GB
Micron 16ATF1G64HZ-2G1A2 DDR4
15-15-15-36 @ 2133 MHz
2x8 GB
Storage Crucial MX200 CT500MX200SSD1
(500 GB; 2.5in SATA 6Gb/s; 16nm; MLC)
Crucial MX200 CT500MX200SSD1
(500 GB; 2.5in SATA 6Gb/s; 16nm; MLC)
Wi-Fi Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 3168
(1x1 802.11ac - 433 Mbps)
Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 3168
(1x1 802.11ac - 433 Mbps)
Price (in USD, when built) $499 (barebones)
$787 (as configured)
$499 (barebones)
$787 (as configured)
Performance Metrics - I
POST A COMMENT

32 Comments

View All Comments

  • voicequal - Saturday, December 31, 2016 - link

    I just spent 20 mins looking at the power & thermal charts. It's fascinating to see how the CPU & GPU clock respond to the shared 15W power and thermal budget of the integrated package. Time 1800-3600 shows how the GPU steals performance from the CPU, resulting in the CPU clock dropping to 1.2 GHz, far below the Core i7-7500U spec of 2.7 GHz. I've always thought it misleading to claim this a 15W 2.7GHz CPU, when this is only the case if GPU utilization is negligible. Reply
  • niva - Tuesday, January 3, 2017 - link

    That is indeed interesting, but the whole i7 label on these chips is misleading in my opinion. Reply
  • BrokenCrayons - Tuesday, January 3, 2017 - link

    I know right. There've been i7 dual core processors since 2010 or so and despite all those years, it's still dreadfully complicated and confusing. Intel is so hush-hush about specifications too. They don't publish anything about the CPU specs. It's like they're all mysterious black boxes. Reply
  • Robalov - Saturday, December 31, 2016 - link

    If it's same as cubi 1, the heat sink fan mounts are soldered onto the pcb.

    They're weak and fall off. The system will barely last to warranty and is difficult to repair.
    Reply
  • Kakti - Friday, December 30, 2016 - link

    "We didn't evaluate 4K Netflix streaming on this PC because there is no HDCP 2.2 support."

    Intel really dropped the ball in regards to their Y and U chips not being able to decode HDCP 2.2 streams. Do we know if the 200-series chipset for LGA 1151 Kaby Lake processors will include native HDCP 2.2 support, or will it be the same story there?
    Reply
  • vlado08 - Saturday, December 31, 2016 - link

    At the end of the review: "Over the next few months, we will be reviewing a few more Kaby Lake-U PCs that bring in features like HDMI 2.0b and full Netflix 4K support with HDCP 2.2" Reply
  • Pazz - Saturday, December 31, 2016 - link

    In respect of the HDCP 2.2, Ganesh is referring to the Beebox-S and BRIX Kaby Lake models which both feature a LSPCon. Reply
  • fanofanand - Friday, December 30, 2016 - link

    I'd still rather have the skulltrail unit Reply
  • 1_rick - Friday, December 30, 2016 - link

    You mean the skull canyon NUC? It's pretty awesome--I have one. With 16GB of RAM you can run two simultaneous VMs running small SQL Server database as well as light gaming in the host OS. You wouldn't want it for high-end gaming without an eGPU, but for everything else, it's pretty sweet. Reply
  • fanofanand - Saturday, December 31, 2016 - link

    That's the one! It is similarly priced but even a year later holds it's own with the iris GPU Reply

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now