Compact computing systems have gained significant market share over the last decade. Improvements in the performance per watt metric of processors have enabled the replacement of bulky desktop PCs by ultra-compact form-factor (UCFF) machines with a 4 in. x 4 in. footprint. Motivated by IoT applications at the edge, some companies started creating x86 systems in sub-4×4 form-factors using Intel’s Apollo Lake processors. ECS was one of the first mainstream vendors to pay attention to this segment with their LIVA Q Series using Intel’s Atom series and AMD’s first-generation Ryzen Embedded SoCs. With the introduction of more power-efficient platforms, Asian manufacturers such as ACEMAGIC, GMKtec, and MinisForum have also entered this micro-PC market with a wider range of processor choices.
Intel introduced the Alder Lake-N (ADL-N) product family to take over Jasper Lake’s role in the cost-conscious low-power PC market. As ADL-N ramps up and Jasper Lake winds down, we are seeing products based on both families being actively sold in the market. We took advantage of this opportunity to source two micro-PCs – the LIVA Q3D from ECS, and the T8 Plus from ACEMAGIC – and put them through our evaluation routine to study the benefits of ADL-N’s Gracemont microarchitecture over Jasper Lake’s Tremont. Read on for a detailed look at the results along with a discussion of the tradeoffs involved in pursuing a smaller-than-UCFF footprint.