Passively cooled computing systems carry many advantages. Most of these turn out to be very important for industrial and embedded applications. In recent years, both AMD and Intel have been paying extra attention to the peformance per watt aspect of their computing platforms. This has led to ultra-compact form factor (UCFF) PCs emerging as ideal candidates for passive industrial computing platforms. We have already reviewed a number of industrial PCs before. Today, we will be taking a look at the Compulab fitlet-XA10-LAN, a unique passively-cooled UCFF PC that doesn't sacrifice on I/O capabilities.

Introduction and Setup Impressions

Compulab is one of the major players in the passively-cooled embedded and industrial PC market space. They have different product lines catering to different requirements. One of the first Intense PC models was reviewed by us back in 2013. Since then, Compulab has introduced the uSVR micro-server for high-end applications and a range of more affordable small-footprint PCs such as the IPC2, fit-PC3 & fit-PC3i, fit-PC4 and the fitlet. The fitlet-XA10-LAN, powered by an AMD Mullins SoC, obviously belongs to the last category.

The dimensions of the PC come in at 10.8cm x 8.3cm x 2.4cm, making it smaller than the NUCs. Compulab has been making improvements to the chassis even after the introduction of the product into the market. The original thermal design allowed for the internal SoCs to operate at their rated TDPs. However, Compulab also started to offer a finned top panel last year. It is a slot-in replacement for the existing top panel and allows the TDP limitations to be safely bypassed. Starting this quarter, they will be replacing the original top panel with something similarly sized, but having a different coating based on the knowledge gained during the development of the Compulab Airtop. For the prupose of this review, Compulab sent us two units of the fitlet-XA10-LAN (one with the original chassis and another with the newly improved top panel). In addition, the fit-Uptime (a UPS for the fitlet series and NUCs with a 18 Whr battery) was also bundled with the review kit.

The fitlet-XA10-LAN comes with a host of additional items to improve I/O capabilities (including a HDMI to DVI adapter and an external USB 2.0 WLAN adapter). A 36W (12V @ 3A) AC adapter is also bundled with the unit. We will cover the hardware aspects in detail in a later section.

The most striking aspect of the fitlet-XA10-LAN is the presence of four gigabit LAN ports. Most fanless UCFF PCs sacrifice I/O capabilities in order to achieve good thermal performance in a compact size. Compulab's innovative FACE modules bring a unique solution to this interesting problem. They allow a compatible PC to sport different 'add-on cards' that provide I/O suitable for the desired application. These FACE (Function And Connectivity Extension) modules have well-documented specifications, enabling third-party designs also. FACE modules, however, are too big for the fitlet series. In its place, Compulab has developed FACET (Function And Connectivity Extension T-Cards) to provide extended peripheral and I/O connectivity for the dimunitive fitlet PCs. FACET cards interface with the main SoC / CPU using three PCIe 2.0 lanes. They also support routing of USB 2.0, SMBus and LPC signals while using the industry-standard mini-PCIe interface. The fitlet-XA10-LAN comes with a FACET LAN card that has three Intel I211 GbE controllers, each of which connect to one PCIe 2.0 lane on the FACET interface.

The specifications of our CompuLab fitlet-XA10-LAN review configuration are summarized in the table below.

CompuLab fitlet-XA10-LAN Specifications
Processor AMD A10 Micro-6700T
Puma+ x86 (Mullins)
4C/4T, 1.2 GHz (Turbo to 2.2 GHz), 28nm, 2MB L2, 4.5W TDP
Memory A-Data ADDS1600W8G11-B
9-9-9-24 @ 1333 MHz
1x8 GB
Graphics AMD Radeon R6
Disk Drive(s) Micron RealSSD C400v Series C400-MTFDDAT064MAM
(64 GB; mSATA 6Gb/s; 25nm; MLC)
Networking Mediatek (Ralink) RT5370 Wireless LAN 802.11n USB 2.0 Adapter
(1x1 802.11n - 150 Mbps)
4x RJ-45 Intel i211 Gigabit LAN
Audio 3.5mm Audio Jack (headphones / microphone)
Capable of 5.1/7.1 digital output with HD audio bitstreaming (HDMI)
Miscellaneous I/O Ports 3x USB 2.0
2x USB 3.0
1x micro-SDXC
1x Serial Port
Operating System fitlet-XA10-LAN comes with Linux Mint pre-installed
Benchmarking was done with a Windows 10 To Go installation from a USB 3.0 flash drive
Pricing (As configured) $379
Full Specifications fitlet-XA10-LAN Barebones Specifications

The CompuLab fitlet-XA10-LAN review kit came with Linux Mint pre-installed on both units. However, our evaluation workflow involves Windows. We prepared a Windows 10 Pro x64 installation 'to go' on a Corsair Voyager GTX 256GB USB 3.0 flash drive. We also instrumented it with all our standard benchmarks. On the main mSATA drive with the Linux Mint installation, we created a NTFS partition. This partition was used as the target drive for our storage benchmarking. The system operated flawlessly with our Windows To Go installation once the appropriate drivers were installed.

In the rest of the review, we first take a look at the internal hardware organization, as well as the platform and the BIOS features. This is followed by a look at the various performance benchmarks under Windows. Usually, we talk about the HTPC capabilities of various PCs that we review, but, it is obvious that the target market for the fitlet-XA10-LAN is quite different. Instead of the HTPC aspects, we will discuss some networking performance benchmarks. After that, we move on to the thermal design and its efficiency. In particular, we will compare the thermal performance of the two different configurations. In the final section, we look at some miscellaneous aspects and provide some concluding remarks.

The table below has an overview of the various systems that we are comparing the CompuLab fitlet-XA10-LAN 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 CompuLab fitlet-XA10-LAN when we come to those sections.

Comparative PC Configurations
Aspect CompuLab fitlet-XA10-LAN
CPU AMD A10 Micro-6700T AMD A10 Micro-6700T
GPU AMD Radeon R6 Graphics AMD Radeon R6 Graphics
RAM A-Data ADDS1600W8G11-B
9-9-9-24 @ 1333 MHz
1x8 GB
A-Data ADDS1600W8G11-B
9-9-9-24 @ 1333 MHz
1x8 GB
Storage Micron RealSSD C400v Series C400-MTFDDAT064MAM
(64 GB; mSATA 6Gb/s; 25nm; MLC)
Micron RealSSD C400v Series C400-MTFDDAT064MAM
(64 GB; mSATA 6Gb/s; 25nm; MLC)
Wi-Fi Mediatek (Ralink) RT5370 Wireless LAN 802.11n USB 2.0 Adapter
(1x1 802.11n - 150 Mbps)
Mediatek (Ralink) RT5370 Wireless LAN 802.11n USB 2.0 Adapter
(1x1 802.11n - 150 Mbps)
Price (in USD, when built) $379 $379
Hardware Aspects and BIOS Features
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  • ganeshts - Wednesday, April 20, 2016 - link

    I was a bit surprised too, but, I think the reason is that the ERL might have hardware acceleration for NAT. On the other side, this is a full-fledged PC. It can do a lot more than just routing / I expect consumers might want to run more CPU-intensive network-related tasks in addition to routing duties.
  • freeskier93 - Wednesday, April 20, 2016 - link

    EdgeOS is Debian based and supports apt-get so you can install other things on it. Although it did bog down our connection a bit when someone was connected, our ERL ran OpenVPN good enough for occasional use.
  • easp - Wednesday, April 20, 2016 - link

    Not a big surprise, considering that ERL has hardware acceleration + tailored/optimized firmware. People running OpenWRT are often able to get a 50% boost out of much more modest with a bit of tuning of kernel parameters, so chances are, a little tweaking of the config would get closer to the max.
  • trane - Wednesday, April 20, 2016 - link

    A10 Micro 6700T may be the most underrated SoC in history. A couple of years back when it first released it was faster than Bay Trail across the board, and destroyed it for GPU performance. The Discovery tablet had good battery life too - I suspect within an hour or so of Bay Trail. Sadly, it got ambushed by Intel's Bay Trail contra revenues. Is this the first commercial design for it?

    It's surprising that it's still faster than Intel's latest 14nm Braswell, despite being on 28nm. Though yes, it does use a cTDP up.

    I look forward to see dual-core low power Zen APUs in this market.
  • yannigr2 - Wednesday, April 20, 2016 - link

    I was curious reading a review of this for over a year. Well, better late than never.
  • Compulab - Wednesday, April 20, 2016 - link

    Actually it was Compulab who held back the review. We had to improve the thermal characteristics of the product. Designing the heatsink and new metal panels and coating took a while.
    I think that the review reflects correctly the capabilities of fitlet, something we could not achieve sooner.
  • ely105 - Tuesday, June 28, 2016 - link

    When you order the fitlet-LAN from amazon, does it have the new/improved black coating?
  • serendip - Wednesday, April 20, 2016 - link

    An x86 SOC that runs Linux out of the box? I think I just saw a unicorn. Too bad AMD couldn't push the Mullins chips to tablet makers. I'm stuck with an Atom tablet that will probably never run Linux with full support, thanks to 32-bit UEFI nonsense and closed source drivers.
  • Compulab - Wednesday, April 20, 2016 - link

    Actually Compulab (together with Linux Mint) has been offering pre-installed "MintBox" for several years now, including MintBox Mini based on fitlet.
  • 2disbetter - Thursday, April 28, 2016 - link

    Ganesh, thanks for writing this up. It was the first bit of exposure I've had with Compulab, and I'm very happy I found out about them. Their Airtop and Fitlab models are both very interesting products. Very very interesting.

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