While bigger is always better in bank account balances, smaller often wins in technology. Whether as a desktop PC built for the ever-shrinking cubicle or retail space, or hanging from the back of a monitor as a DIY all-in-one, or to power digital signage, the NanoPC from Equus Computer Systems and their Nobilis product line does a great job in all these areas. A computer that is often the size of a carry-on suitcase today is now the size of a paperback book (7x5x1.5 inches).
Officially the "Nobilis Nano Computing Device," but often called just the "Nano" or "NanoPC," is a small black box with a wide range of options. The review unit they sent us included a 3rd generation Intel i5 processor (i5-3317U CPU @1.70GHz) with 4GB of RAM and a 500GB 2.5 inch hard drive. Options include an i3 or i7 processor, a range of SSD and spinning hard drives, and room for up to 16GB of RAM. Ours came with Windows 7 Professional 64-bit, but Win7 32-bit and Windows 8 64-bit and Windows 8 Pro 64-bit are options as well. These devices are build-to-order, so any and all combinations are possible.
The chassis, smaller than many modern paperback books, includes some interesting details. First of all, the display connections are DVI-1 and HDMI. VGA is supported with a DVI to VGA converter. For digital signage use, this makes sense, and plugging in the small adapter for VGA is no problem. Two displays can be run by the Nano at once.
Intel's HD 4000 Integrated Graphics chipset is included, giving decent performance (4.5) on the Windows 7 Areo Experience test. Blazing gamer machine? No, but more than adequate as a general workstation or digital signage engine.
Interesting details? Six USB ports. The two on the front and two of four on the back are all USB 3.0 ports, meaning high-speed for a variety of attached devices. The other two on the back are USB 2.0, which means you don't have the cognitive dissonance of plugging your keyboard and mouse into USB 3.0 ports. An integrated 6-in-1 card reader handles the majority of card options out on the market today (SD/SDHC/SDXC/MS/MS Pro/MMC). Networking details are covered with a 10/100/1000 Ethernet port and 802.11b/g/n WiFi support.
Not surprisingly, a power brick is provided and supplies 65W AC to the unit. We can't hear a fan, but a large vent on the top of the device (when mounted in the supplied desktop stand) leaves plenty of room for heat to escape. Also included in the box are all the brackets and frames needed to mount to any VESA compatible monitor or TV. Audio supports include an internal speaker, headphone and microphone ports on the front, and an audio out on the back.
In use, the Nano works exactly like any other i5 Windows 7 PC. We set up Windows for the first time through the typical sequence of yes to English, name and password, agree to a license we didn't read, and so on. The video driver handled our slightly odd 1920x1200 monitor perfectly without intervention.
A tiny chip-USB drive includes a collection of drivers, utilities, and manuals along with a nice custom program to handle them all. None of this was necessary for our testing, because everything worked out of the box.
We downloaded LibreOffice 4.1.4 and typed this review using Libre Writer. The ride and drive was fine. We downloaded IrfanView for some screen captures, and it worked just as it should. Pumping some long, fullscreen video samples through, as if this were a display kiosk, didn't faze little Nano a bit. Didn't seem to get any hotter and we saw no degradation in video quality even in active and complex scenes.
This will not be the preferred box for gamers and modders. But the age of people adding several boards to their PCs for general purpose use is long past. Today, few customers ever open their PC case. And with Nano's six USB ports, wired and wireless networking, and 6-in-1 card reader, this little guy will excel in the vast majority of your space-challenged and digital display projects.
Available now, price determined by configuration details. Full specs on the next page.