The Pantera PicoPC is a tiny PC (2.5" square and 1.7" tall) that runs fast enough to pass muster as a practical daily driver. Though a little larger than some rival models, that fact brings us to its distinctive feature: active cooling. As current mini-PCs are often said to have heat issues, the fan (which adds a few millimeters to the top) gives the PicoPC fresh appeal.

It has a Celeron J4125 CPU, 4 or 8GB of RAM, eMMC or M.2 storage (short sticks only!), four USB Type-A ports, a card slot, HDMI and a 3.5mm audio jack. It comes with Windows 10 but also runs Ubuntu and Linux Mint. It comes in many colors, including bubblegum pink, but all of them glow blue.

I haven't used the other recent Gemini Lake models, to be fair, so can only talk in general terms and in comparison with older generations. Two conclusions: First, it never showed any evidence of heat issues or throttling while in use, so if that's your problem, here's a fix. Second, the PicoPC's performance is good given just how tiny it is. I tired of card deck-sized PCs because they were compromised experiences, sluggish in Windows and Gnome, and useless for games or any sort of performance-intensive application. The Pantera, on the other hand, handles multiple tabs, high-definition video, and even (very) light gaming.

A detailed benchmarking review posted by ETA Prime shows it playing 4K video without chop and running Minecraft at basic settings, and confirms that it runs cool. My experience tracked closely to this, with 4K youtubes losing only a handful of frames (mostly at initiation) and Minecraft chugging along acceptably at about 20-30fps at 1080p.

That said, it's never great. You can always feel that you're using a low-end box. It's hard to imagine that anyone reading a site like Boing Boing would use it as a main machine rather than as a media player, or granny PC, or MAME brain or whatever. But times have progressed! This is a basic PC that's smaller than, and faster than, my Raspberry Pi. It's the "finally!" box for the people who have been waiting.

Admittedly, I find something baffling about the desktop use case that it's pitched for. With it on my desk, my mouse is now bigger than my PC. Surrounded by a keyboard and a monitor and whatnot, its ultra-smallness seems moot. A stiff HDMI cable may hoist it slightly to rest on one corner. Slightly larger mini-PCs (e.g. Intel NUCs) are significantly more powerful. But that's the idea ("death to regular tower desktop PCs!") and the other uses I might imagine for it—servers, tinkering, storage—suggest the ethernet port it doesn't have.

At $149 and up depending on configuration, though, it is among the most inexpensive ready-to-use PCs money can buy. And it's not as if Intel SBCs are easy to find if you do plan on hacking it. With its low price and out-of-the box utility, it's an easy recommendation for those who know what they're looking for.

XDO Pantera PicoPC [Kickstarter]