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You don't always need a laptop. Sometimes you want a desktop PC and sometimes you want it to be as small as possible. Thanks to SSDs and CPUs designed to run cool, a desktop PC can be really quite small -- the kind of size that used to be restricted to Arm-based systems.
The XDO Pantera Pico PC is chunk of compute bristling with ports with a lot built into a stylish cube-shaped case measuring less than 3 inches (76.2mm) on each side. It weighs just 0.39lbs (177g).
The Pico PC comes beautifully packaged, with excellent attention to detail -- down to XDO-branded cable wraps on every cable. Our 8GB/256GB unit (which is from a pilot production run) arrived in a hard case you could use when travelling, with foam cut-outs for the PC itself and the power supply, with a zipped mesh section in the lid for cables. It also came with a felt case to protect it if you're carrying it without the hard case and don't need the power supply because you'll have access to USB-C power.
The (optional) accompanying Pico Projector also came with its own hard case, with room for its own power supply (a 5v power jack rather than USB-C in this case). XDO also has a matching USB-C battery, folding keyboards, mice, hubs, different carrying cases and power supplies as optional accessories.
As a new PC vendor (with experience shipping Android devices), ODX is selling through Kickstarter, which suggests it's aiming for the enthusiast rather than business market. You can pick the colour of the aluminium case -- gunmetal grey, red, black, blue, pink, purple or rose gold -- and choose 4GB or 8GB of RAM and SSDs from 64GB up to 1TB, with 'early bird' prices starting at £109 and going up to £180. It ships with the 20H2 version of Windows 10 Home, although it's also been tested with Linux distros like Ubuntu and Mint -- and it will run Windows 11 when that comes out.
The XDO website suggests that the internal SSD is relatively easy to replace, but the quick-start supplied with the device suggests that's for experts only and would void your warranty. It's certainly not obvious how to open the case, and you're not going to be able add more RAM yourself.
The compact case has ports on two of the sides. Orienting by the XDO logo, there are two USB 3.0 ports and a MicroSD slot on the front along with the power and reset button. On the back there's another USB 3.0 slot, with a USB 2.0 slot, a USB-C port (only for power, from the power supply or a USB-C battery), an HDMI port and a 3.5mm audio jack, plus a reset hole you can push a paperclip into.
There's no Ethernet port, although a USB Ethernet adapter will obviously work, but you do get wi-fi (dual band 2.5GHz and 5GHz) and Bluetooth 5.0.
The PP-100 Pico Projector is a similar size to the Pico PC and comes in matching colours, although the design doesn't quite match (rounded corners rather than square). This is a multi-function device in its own right that can store files, act as a wi-fi hotspot, run Android apps (it comes with YouTube and Netflix apps installed and pinned to its home screen), mirror the screen on an Android, iOS or Windows device using MiraCast, Airplay or the Eshare app or connect to an iPhone over USB.
The Pico Projector has speakers and a battery, plus a touchpad on top that you can use to control the volume, drive the mouse pointer and scroll through the Android interface with two fingers. We found this rather fiddly, so you might prefer to use the basic remote control that comes with it. (That's one point where the usual ODX attention to detail is missing; batteries not included). You also get a mini-tripod.
And, of course, you can connect the projector to the Pico PC with the supplied HDMI cable. We had trouble getting this working though, initially seeing a colour-shifted desktop and then 'No Signal'. It's not a particularly powerful Android device and takes a while to boot.
The projector's WVGA (854 x 480) resolution is fine for video, but as Windows will default to driving it at 1360 by 768 it's going to be better for watching media than for working on documents. As a result, we'd put the projector down as useful on the move rather than a daily driver. The Pico PC itself can drive anything up to a 4K display, although that works better when it's playing a local file than trying to stream a large file over wi-fi.
A tiny cube PC looks very neat all on its own. But once you start plugging in the power and peripherals to those handy ports, it quickly starts to look more cluttered, making you think more about the compromises that the form factor imposes.
The Pico PC was dwarfed by a full-size HDMI cable that we used to plug it into a screen, for example -- in fact, the weight of the cable threatened to tip it over if we balanced it on top of the screen. You'll want to plug in a keyboard and mouse as well, so pick Bluetooth or wireless peripherals to save on the cables.
You can probably rely on the wi-fi, and using the MicroSD card slot to add storage avoids the need to plug in another cable for an external drive. You could certainly use the Pico PC with a portable screen, but at that point you might as well pick a cheap laptop instead.
The main advantage of the size is that the Pico PC is very portable and can tuck into any corner, so the nest of cables may not be particularly visible. It's a shame there isn't any way of mounting it behind a screen or on a wall though.
The blue LED light that runs around the top of the case is striking; in fact it's uncomfortably bright in a dim room and as this is the power indicator, there's no setting to turn it off. The Pico PC is very quiet in operation, but just downloading and installing Windows updates is enough to turn it into something of a handwarmer.
Inside the case is a Gemini Lake Refresh SoC with an Intel UHD Graphics 600 GPU and the same Intel Celeron J4125 quad-core CPU as other mini cube PCs like CHUWI's LarkBox Pro, GMK's NucBox and the Xiaomi Ningmei Cube (although it has two more USB ports than those models). That's a step up from the Intel Celeron N4100 in the otherwise similar LarkBox and the XCY X51 you can buy from AliExpress. This is a processor family you'll find in cheap laptops and the performance of the Pico PC is on a par with those.
XDO overclocks the 2.0GHz processor to 2.7GHz and the Geekbench 5 performance scores came in a little above other Celeron J4125 devices when we ran them with the power profile set for balanced performance. Oddly, the scores were slightly worse when we ran the benchmark with the Windows power profile set for performance. The SSD performance was reasonable rather than outstanding.
What you're getting with the Pantera Pico PC is a very small, portable system that performs like a cheap laptop and fits into a small space. It supports hardware virtualisation (although this isn't turned on in the BIOS by default). You could use this for a smart home system like Home Assistant, for media or as a storage server (with external drives) -- or, of course, for general computing or low-end gaming (instead of buying a Steam Link or a Raspberry Pi to run emulators).
It's not quite as small, cheap and low power as a Raspberry Pi, but if you're more comfortable with PCs you can use it for similar projects where a laptop or desktop would be just too cumbersome. Just remember that you don't get the power and expandability of a bigger system.