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
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  • NikosD - Saturday, December 31, 2016 - link

    In the paragraph of x264's description says:

    "Actual x264 encoding performance with the Kaby Lake processors and using the latest x264 releases (with AVX512 support) is bound to be even better compared to the numbers below."

    I don't think x264 or any other non extremely customized app has AVX512 support, but you probably mean AVX2.

    But even AVX2 is used no more than 5% by x264 last time I checked.

    It is x265 that makes heavy use of AVX2 instructions.
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Saturday, December 31, 2016 - link

    Thanks for the note. Yes, it is indeed AVX2, and the relevant section has been updated. Btw, do you have any studies confirming the 5% number? I based my note on this investigation: https://mailman.videolan.org/pipermail/x264-devel/... Reply
  • NikosD - Tuesday, January 3, 2017 - link

    Yes my source is an old comment for the mentioned subject by me here:
    http://forum.doom9.org/showthread.php?p=1690751#po...

    The comment I referred to by the developer of x264 mentioning 5% gain of AVX2 only over Ivy bridge is here:
    http://forum.doom9.org/showthread.php?p=1631325#po...
    Reply
  • Icehawk - Saturday, December 31, 2016 - link

    Are you ever going to switch to x265? Far superior encoding, I have been converting all of my video files over and saving 50-75% space with no visible quality change. Reply
  • Pazz - Saturday, December 31, 2016 - link

    I know of no x265 unifiable benchmark suite/program. Reply
  • lagittaja - Monday, January 2, 2017 - link

    Anything wrong with the HWBot benchmark?
    http://hw-museum.cz/hwbot_x265_benchmark.php

    Or you could just download the latest x265 and run the cli with your own test clip and settings. And you could just as well write yourself a little script to log the results along with a dump of relevant info from CPU-Z etc.
    Reply
  • vlado08 - Saturday, December 31, 2016 - link

    May be it will be interesting to test the HW h.265 encoder Reply
  • barleyguy - Saturday, December 31, 2016 - link

    The advantage of H.264 is that my tablet will play it without killing the battery (because of onboard decoding), and my TV will play it off a USB stick. We might get there with x265 someday. Reply
  • PyroHoltz - Saturday, December 31, 2016 - link

    The 1x1 NIC is a serious oversight IMHO Reply
  • KingGheedora - Tuesday, January 3, 2017 - link

    Can anyone elaborate on this line: "It is a pity that the display engine still doesn't support HDMI 2.0 natively"?

    What is the "display engine" referring to? Is it the Intel HD 620 hardware, or is it something in the drivers that can be fixed? Or is it an OS issue?
    Reply

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