The NucBox KV-1 is perfect for anyone looking for a low-end, power-efficient ultra mini PC for general low-end computing tasks. For those looking for a gaming system, look elsewhere.
- 4K streaming at 60 Hz
- Palm-sized computer
- M.2 2242 SSD
- Brand: GMK
- Storage: 128/512 GB SSD
- CPU: Intel Celeron N4125
- Memory: 8 GB
- Operating System: Windows 10 Home
- Ports: HDMI 1.4, 2x USB 3.0, USB-C, 3.5 mm, Micro-SD
- Fast SSD storage
- Excellent design
- Outstanding value
- Excellent energy efficiency
- Great thermal performance
- Not for gaming
- Loud fan
- Average wireless range
- USB 3.0 wireless bug
The GMK NucBox (model number KV-1 or K1) is a low-cost, ultra-tiny mini-PC. While not a performance beast, it manages to squeeze seamless 4K streaming at 60FPS into a palm-sized computer. But it’s also a decent productivity machine. So does top-tier efficiency and value justify a purchase?
Who is GMK Tec?
GMK Tec successfully launched the NucBox though Kickstarter in 2019. I can’t confirm whether GMK Tec makes electronics or resells them. Everything that I’ve seen so far indicates they are a manufacturer. The GMK Tec site has been up since 2019 and their reputation is good.
However, Aliexpress and Amazon list machines that look identical to the NucBox, with one difference: the clones have another company’s branding slapped on them. That means you’ll see many identical devices, for different prices.
This implies the NucBox is a white-label product. For example, XCY sells an identical machine on Aliexpress. As the name indicates, you might as well paste a white label on it and write your own name on it.
As illustrated above, the NucBox’s PCB layout appears similar to Chuwi’s LarkBox Pro. Even the LarkBox’s eMMC and Wi-Fi modules are positioned in near-identical locations. I’m not saying that Chuwi and GMK are the same company, but they may have used the same company to design their circuit boards. At the very least, it looks like these computers aren’t significantly different from each other to justify big price differences.
Competition in the Smaller-than-a-NUC mini-PC market
The 2020 GMK NucBox KV-1 competes with ECS’s Liva Q1D, and Chuwi’s Larkbox Pro in the ultra-tiny PC space. While some would use a tiny computer for productivity, its most obvious function is for 4K streaming. And while all three devices stream 4K video at a seamless 60FPS, the NucBox offers the best specifications, using a real SSD instead of an eMMC drive.
It’s worth noting that Xiaomi cloned the NucBox KV-1 with its Ningmei Rubik’s Cube Mini. That said, Xiaomi’s PC isn’t available on Amazon or from any retailer I could find in the United States.
The NucBox KV-1 sports adequate hardware for a low price:
- Dimensions: 62 x 62 x 42 mm (2.44 x 2.44 x 1.65 inches)
- Weight: 125g (4.41 oz)
- CPU: Intel Celeron N4125 “Gemini Lake Refresh” 2.7 GHz quad-core
- GPU: Intel UHD 600 integrated graphics
- Storage: 512 GB Netac SSD
- RAM: 8GB DDR4 1 GHz low-voltage, single channel
- Ports: 1x HDMI 1.4, 1x USB-C (power only), 3.5mm audio jack, 1x Micro-SD, 2x USB 3.0
- Wireless: Intel 9461, 1×1 antenna, dual-band, Wi-Fi 5, Bluetooth 5.1
- VESA mounting: Yes but doesn’t include a mounting bracket
Intel Celeron N4200 Vs. N4125
The NucBox KV-1 uses an Intel Celeron N4125 “Gemini Lake Refresh” processor. The N4125 architecture trades raw processing performance for performance-per-watt. And while it won’t win any races, the NucBox’s processor is great at efficiently streaming 4K video at 60Hz. While the LarkBox Pro and the NucBox use a Gemini Lake Refresh unit, its competitor, the ECS Liva Q1D, uses an older Apollo Lake, N4200 or N3500, processor.
Even with a non-trivial performance difference between the two processors, 4K video playback is about equal. The N4200 uses slightly more power and supports fewer instruction set extensions.
Unfortunately, Gemini Lake Refresh and Apollo Lake aren’t the newest in low-power processors. Both technologies look ancient compared to Jasper Lake. Those looking for more performance and efficiency should wait until the end of the year when new products release.
Intel HD Graphics 505 Vs. Intel UHD Graphics 600
The NucBox’s UHD 600 GPU is an improvement over the Liva’s 505 HD platform. But in terms of 4k streaming, they aren’t vastly different from each other. Both graphics processors can stream fluid 4K content at 60FPS. Most consumers won’t perceive a difference between the two unless they attempt gaming. But neither processor is designed for gaming.
Ports and VESA-Mounting in an Ultra-Small Size
You’ll find a total of five ports: two USB-A 3.0, one HDMI 1.4, one 3.5mm audio jack, and one Micro-SD card slot. The Micro-SD card slot is bootable, meaning you can install Linux or Windows from it.
Unfortunately, the USB 3.0 standard suffers from a wireless interference bug, when a USB 3.0 cable or device is connected to it.
VESA-mounting: on the downside, the NucBox KV-1 lacks a VESA bracket, although it does include what appears to be mounting screw holes. Without a bracket, I’m not sure how it would attach to the back of a monitor as I couldn’t find any compatible brackets on Amazon or through GMK Tec’s website.
The NucBox isn’t a performance beast, but pound-for-pound it is a streaming titan.
Streaming and Playback: 4K Videos at 60Hz
The NucBox had no issues playing 4K videos at 60Hz. It never consumed more than 11 watts, never stuttered during playback, and its temperatures never exceeded the low sixties.
Unfortunately, the NucBox ran the fan up to fairly loud rotations, hitting a dBm of 53. While the fan speeds are fully exposed in BIOS, the default settings are loud. In comparison, ECS’s Liva made no audible sounds during playback, although its BIOS settings weren’t accessible.
Unlike other smaller-than-a-NUC PCs, the NucBox uses an SSD storage drive. My unit is equipped with a 512 GB Netac SSD. However, the 128 GB SSD is likely significantly slower than the 512 GB model.
In comparison, both the LarkBox Pro and the ECS Liva Q1D uses half-as-fast eMMC drives. So while the NucBox KV-1 storage drive has good performance, it’s not great. The KV-1 uses the last-generation SATA transfer protocol, rather than the latest NVMe (PCIe). Even so, the computer feels snappy and fluent, particularly compared to devices using eMMC.
On top of the built-in eMMC storage, the NucBox offers a bootable Micro-SD card slot for expandable storage.
BrowerBench.org, which measures CPU and GPU performance on rendering websites, rates the NucBox significantly higher than the ECS Liva.
- Jetstream 2: Liva 24.598 | NucBox 56.51
- MotionMark: Liva 27.54 | NucBox 37.65
- Speedometer: Liva 23.3 | NucBox 26.6
While these numbers are improved over the Liva, they are weak by desktop standards. However, the NucBox feels significantly faster than the Liva while browsing most websites.
PassMark isn’t a perfect benchmarking tool. Even so, the results imply that the NucBox’s N4125 processor isn’t a performance beast. Furthermore, it further illustrates its weak and strong points: it has a decent SSD, below average 3D performance, below average RAM, and below average processor performance. Even so, it’s an all-round improvement over the ECS Liva’s N4200 processor and adequate for most productivity-oriented tasks.
Using a power meter, I measured the following power consumption numbers for the NucBox:
- Peak consumption, 4k 60FPS: 11.1 watts
- Average consumption, 4K 60FPS: 8.5 watts
- Idle consumption: 3.8 to 4 watts
- Standby consumption: 0 watts
The overall power efficiency is slightly better than the Liva’s with power consumption while suspended being less than what my power meter can read. Furthermore, its peak power consumption is 11.1 watts, almost 2 watts lower than the 13-watts consumed by the Liva at maximum power draw.
Temperature and Fan Performance
I ran a 4K video at 60FPS while monitoring NucBox’s processor temperature. While the fan reached high levels of noise production (47 dBm, measured at six inches from the fan), the processor temperature never went above the low sixties. This means that GMK prioritized processor temperature over acoustics, which is something of a mistake.
However, GMK allows the user to adjust fan speeds from within the BIOS settings.
CPU Temperature, CPU Load, Power Consumption
I did not detect any CPU throttling even under heavy synthetic workloads. Normally, small form factor computers use tiny fans and have limited space to vent heat. Sometimes you might see temperatures creep up over time, particularly under heavy workloads.
I did not observe any problems with cooling on the NucBox.
However, it also doesn’t appear that the Intel Celeron N4125 processor adjusts its power consumption based on CPU loads very much. I noticed that it consumes a consistent 8-11 watts of power.
Repairability, Modularity, and Warranty
Unlike the Liva Q1D, the NucBox KV-1 can be fully disassembled. The catch is that there are only two replaceable parts: the power supply unit and the M.2 2242 storage drive. Other major components, including Wi-Fi card, RAM, and CPU, are soldered onto the mainboard.
The 24-watt USB Type-C (USB-C) power adapter isn’t just replaceable, it’s modular. Because the NucBox pulls 11 watts at peak load, you can use a smartphone charger in case the power brick ever fails. However, I would not advise that, as USB-C power supplies can be dangerous.
Like many white-label products, the GMK NucBox KV-1 has a one-year warranty. Unfortunately, GMK requires you to pay return shipping costs to China. On a NUC-sized PC, that’s not a lot of money. But time is money. The waiting period could be months. GMK’s policy compares poorly to ECS’s 3-year warranty, with return costs covered.
The NucBox Kv-1 isn’t 100% Linux-ready. It suffered from various issues with Ubuntu 20.04 LTS, Debian, and Fedora. However, it managed to boot all three operating systems. Unfortunately, the Intel 9461 Wi-Fi 5 card wasn’t recognized out-the-box in Ubuntu. That means getting Linux working requires additional work. Additionally, HDMI audio didn’t work and no settings tweaks could fix it.
The ECS Liva Q1D offers better Linux compatibility. On the positive side, the Micro-SD card slot is bootable, unlike the Liva Q1D’s slot.
NucBox KV-1’s Problems
The only serious issues I could find were the limited Wi-Fi reception and fan noise.
Limited Wi-Fi and Wireless Capabilities
Unfortunately, the single antenna on the Intel 9460 Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) card combined with a metal chassis causes reduced Wi-Fi performance. While GMK reduced interference by tucking the antenna into the plastic fan, the Wi-Fi performance is not equivalent of ECS’s all-plastic Liva Q1D. Additionally, the aluminum frame causes a reduction in range of wireless peripherals, such as mice and keyboards.
Loud Fan Noise During 4K Streaming
Unfortunately, there’s a problem with the one thing that the NucBox should excel at: it produces loud fan noises during 4K playback of around 47 to 53 dBm (measured six inches from the fan). While you can adjust the fan speed, the NucBox should have been optimized for 4K right out of the box.
Should You Buy a GMK NucBox KV-1?
The GMK NucBox KV-1 beats the ECS Liva Q1D in browsing performance and power efficiency. However, its loud fan when playing 60FPS 4K streaming weakens an otherwise excellent tiny computer. Additionally, its wireless performance falls short of perfect. In short, it’s a more versatile machine than the ECS Liva Q1D. But it’s not better at streaming and can’t do dual displays.
On the other hand, the NucBox KV-1 offers a faster storage drive compared to its competitor, the Chuwi LarkBox Pro. Overall, I highly recommend the NucBox to anyone looking for a low-end, power-efficient ultra mini PC for general low-end computing tasks. For those looking for a gaming system, look elsewhere.
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