Saturday, March 27, 2021

ASUS PN50 4300U as a portable system

I needed a computer for a remote location.  It would be used only for short periods of time a few times a year so it is not worth it to invest in a high end system, but it still needs to be powerful enough to do my work (including basic gaming for the kids).  In a more normal time, I might simply build a basic system for about $500, but the shortage of electronic components means many items are simply not available or have sky rocketed in price so that even low end systems now cost too much to build to make them worth it.

I considered getting a laptop but decided that a mini-pc fits this need better.  I am able to use it at home but can easily transport it to the remote location when needed.  My experience with the Asus PN50 has been very good so I decided to go with it again.  This time I opted for the lowest end model that uses the Ryzen 4300U with 4 cores/4 threads running at 2.7 GHz (base)/3.3.7 GHz (boost).  I went with just a single stick of 8 GB 3200MHz Crucial SODIMM and 500GB M.2 NVMe SSD.

For the monitor, I got a Lepow Z1-Gamut (2021) portable USB-C monitor.  It is easy to transport but also able to use at home.

  • $330 (PN50) 
  • $75 (storage)  
  • $46 (memory)
  • $160 (monitor)

Total cost came to $611 with no OS.  The price is reasonable given the current state of the world and portability it provides.  Note that if you don't have a keyboard or mouse, you'll need to provide one yourself.  I'm using it with a Logitech K400 Plus wireless keyboard that also has a track pad built in.  The keyboard is light and portable as well.

I had no problem setting up my previous PN50 with Windows and Linux, but did run into an issue with this particular unit when installing Windows 10.  During the installation, the lower part of the monitor was distorted.  I tried this on both the Lepow and on a existing monitor that I know worked.  The problem appeared on both.  I was still able to see the menu and install choices and the problem went away once the installer rebooted into configuration screen.  

Initially, Windows complained that it couldn't install to the drive and I worried that either the drive was bad or the memory was bad.  The ASUS BIOS doesn't normally show memory and it doesn't make it clear what drives it sees so it wasn't helpful in determining where the problem was.  I just took everything out and re-inserted everything.  This time, the installation worked.

After Windows finish installing, I couldn't access the internet through the ethernet connection to download anything and Windows itself couldn't get any updates and drives.  Ping/tracert from the command line worked but apps that tries to access the internet did not work.  I searched on Google, but none of the solution I found worked for me.

I had to use WIFI and that worked to get all the updates, drivers and patches.  Once those were all installed, using the Ethernet connection worked.  With Linux, I didn't experience this problem.

The Lepow monitor worked both through the USB-C and HDMI.  Using the USB-C, the video and power can be handled with a single cable between it and the PN50.   A problem occurred when it started to display something.  There was a whining sound coming it but it goes away if the brightness is turned up to 100% (the default setting is 30% - 50%).  Besides this issue, everything else worked as expected.

I'm not really sure why it was more troublesome installing this PN50.  Besides the CPU, the other difference with the PN50s I already own is the version of the BIOS so it is possible that the drivers on the Windows installation tool does match with this PN50 or its BIOS version.  I wish the BIOS settings were more descriptive, but fortunately everything ended up working and I didn't have to exchange any of the parts.

Boot time has been surprisingly slow from when the power button is pushed to when the Windows spinner shows up.  I can play Genshin Impact at medium graphics settings and I can run Tomb Raider at normal settings.  Although I don't think another 8 GB might help for running games on this CPU, it might help with running multiple apps in Windows so I'm thinking of getting another 8 GB to fill out the memory slot and then hopefully I'll never had to open up the case again!

The Ryzen CPU supports up to 3200 MHz memory and that's what I got, but based on some benchmarks that others have published it doesn't seem like the 4300U benefits much from it vs 26xx MHz memory.  In this case, the 3200 was actually a few dollars cheaper then the 26xx ones so I went with 3200 anyway.