Giada A51 Mini PC

Inside the Giada A51’s sleek one-inch thick profile is an AMD G-T56N Brazos APU system with a nice set of connectivity options. Though not particularly quiet, its dimensions make it a compelling option for users with less demanding needs.

November 5, 2012 by Lawrence Lee

Product Giada A51
Mini PC
Manufacturer Giada
Street Price US$320

Giada is a relatively unknown manufacturer specializing in nettop hardware, complete/barebones systems and mini/nano-ITX motherboards. As you can probably guess, they focus primarily on low power, energy efficient gear, a necessity for working with the thermal limitations of such small sizes. Our first experience with Giada was the Viako Mini Letter ML-45 which featured one of their motherboards. The ML-45 was outfitted with the E-350, one of AMD’s first Fusion APUs, while the system we’re looking at today uses a slightly ramped up version of the same chip.

Giada A51: Specifications
(from the product
web page
)
CPU
AMD® T56N
Chipset
AMD® A50M FCH
GPU
CPU embedded graphics
System Memory
2G DDR3-800/1066 (1 x SO-DIMM slot, Max. 4G)
Storage
320G 2.5″ HDD
I/O
1 x USB3.0, 4 x USB2.0, 1 x Card reader (SD/MMC/MS/MS PRO)
1 x HDMI, 1 x VGA, 1 x S/PDIF-out
LAN
Gigabit LAN + Wi-Fi 802.11n + Bluetooth
Audio
AUDIO-out/MIC-in
Power Consumption
30W
Size
192 x 155 x 26 mm
Color
Black & White
OS
Genuine Windows® 7 Home Premium (Optional)

The Giada A51 is powered by an AMD G-T56N, a dual core APU from the same generation of Fusion processors, aka Brazos, which was effectively AMD’s answer to Intel’s Atom processors. The specifications list a single SO-DIMM slot with 2GB of DDR3-800/1066 RAM though our sample had a 4GB stick running at DDR3-1333 speed inside. The A51 also has a notebook hard drive with 320GB of storage, a memory card reader, 802.11n, Bluetooth, gigabit ethernet, and USB 3.0 port, making it altogether a fairly well-rounded package. Our machine came pre-installed with Windows 7 Home Premium 64 which is also extra.


CPU-Z screenshot.

The G-T56N is an embedded version of the dual core E-450 (which is classified as a mobile APU) though we’re not aware what the difference is precisely as they share the same socket and specifications; perhaps the E-450 isn’t necessarily soldered to the socket. The G-T56N/E-450 has a TDP of 18W, runs at 1.65 GHz, and sports a Radeon HD 6320 graphics chip with 80 stream processors and a clock speed of 508 MHz.


The box.


Package contents.

The contents are split into two boxes, one with padded with styrofoam to protect the machine itself, the other packed with accessories. Our sample shipped with a power adapter, stand, wireless remote, and HDMI cable.


The Giada A51 and included accessories.

The A51 measures 19.2 x 15.5 x 2.6 cm which for reference, is a little bit longer and wider (but obviously not as thick) as a full-sized 5.25 inch optical drive. Most users will prefer to mount it on the plastic stand which orients the box vertically. A VESA mount to hide the system behind a monitor would have been nice; if desired, Giada offers a separate adapter.

FRONT & ACCESSORIES

The Giada A51’s dimensions are 19.2 x 15.5 x 2.6 cm or 7.6 x 6.1 x 1.0 inches (L x W x H when positioned horizontally) for a total volume of about 774 mL. The enclosure is primarily made of plastic, coated in a glossy midnight black paint job with silver trim at the front.


Placed on its side, the A51 is quite thin at a fraction over an inch tall. The front has an odd design with a plastic lip partially covering up a chrome bezel housing the power button. The system is really designed to be positioned vertically as there are intake vents on both of the broader sides.


Rear ports: HDMI, VGA, 4 x USB 2.0, RJ45. There’s also what appears to be a Kensington security slot which isn’t mentioned anywhere in the specifications. The fan exhaust is located at the top.


The plastic stand slips on without any screws or tools.


Hidden along the top is the memory card reader, a USB 3.0 port, a microphone and combined line-out and S/PDIF connector.


Feeding the beast is a 65W power adapter with a class V international efficiency rating from ENERGY STAR.


The remote has excellent range (> 30 feet) but requires line-of-sight. The receiver is built into the A51 so no USB dongle is required.

TEST METHODOLOGY

Software and Measurement/Analysis Tools:


Device listing.

Testing Procedures

If available, the latest BIOS is installed prior to testing. Certain services/features
like Indexing, Superfetch, System Restore, and Windows Defender are disabled
to prevent them from causing spikes in CPU/HDD usage. We also make note if energy
saving features like Cool’n’Quiet/SpeedStep or S3 suspend-to-RAM do not function
properly.

Our test is a simple one, determine the overall AC power consumption, noise level, and heat output of the product
at various states. To stress the CPU, we
use either Prime95 (large FFTs setting) or CPUBurn depending on which produces
higher system power consumption. To stress the GPU, we use FurMark, an OpenGL
benchmarking and stability testing utility.

Storage devices and subsystems are also tested briefly using CrystalDiskMark (1000 MB of 0x00 fill test data) and a Kingston HyperX 3K 120GB solid state drive. For USB and eSATA we use an external eSATA/USB 3.0 dock to connect the drive.

TEST RESULTS

Thermals & Noise

System Measurements
System State
Temps
Fan Speed
SPL @0.6m†
Power (AC)
CPU
HDD
Ext*
Idle
49°C
33°C
33°C
3320 RPM
24~25 dBA
13W
H.264 Playback
52°C
33°C
36°C
3440 RPM
25 dBA
18W
TMPGEnc Encoding
65°C
33°C
39°C
3840 RPM
27 dBA
24W
CPU Load
67°C
32°C
41°C
3880 RPM
27 dBA
26W
CPU + GPU Load
75°C
33°C
49°C
4120 RPM
29 dBA
33W
Ambient: 21°C, 10~11 dBA.
*External temperature measured using an IR thermometer pointed at the hottest portion of the external chassis
We measure SPL at 0.6m for all devices meant to be used atop a desk, as it is more realistic a distance than the usual 1m. It also corresponds to the “seated user SPL” distance specified in the computer noise measurement standard ISO 7779.

For such a small device, the A51’s cooling system keeps temperatures in check, more or less. In real world usage, the CPU is unlikely to surpass 70°C on load, something we could only accomplish with synthetic utilities. The hard drive kept quite cool throughout testing and the exterior only got lukewarm to the touch. The noise level was not great, varying between 24~25 and 29 dBA@0.6m but this isn’t particularly disappointing considering the size.

The system’s fan is very hissy and a bit whiny at higher speeds but is otherwise very similar to the acoustics of typical laptops, only louder. The noise generated was mostly high frequency with a tonal peak at about 700 MHz. If you’re looking for something quiet, it’s pretty much impossible at this size without dropping down to an Atom CPU. The A51 would benefit greatly from being VESA mounted; a large LCD monitor would block out a lot of the noise produced.

Fan Control

Like most systems this size, the BIOS doesn’t offer a lot of customization outside of adjusting the memory clock and video RAM size. There is however a decent set of fan control options. A wide range of static PWM values are available in manual mode, while automatic mode allows you to define the temperature at which the fan stays off, starts, as well as the minimum speed and how quickly it ramps up (slope).

If you’re using Windows, you can control the fan from the desktop using SpeedFan. To enable the “Pwm1” control, locate “PWM 1 mode” under the IT8721F chip in the advanced menu and set it to “software controlled.”

Mini PC Comparison

System Measurements: Giada A51 vs. Sapphire Edge HD3
System
State
Giada A51
Sapphire Edge HD3
CPU Temp
SPL @0.6m
CPU Temp
SPL @0.6m
Idle
49°C
24~25 dBA
49°C
25~26 dBA
H.264 Playback
52°C
25 dBA
57°C
27~28 dBA
CPU Load
67°C
27 dBA
75°C
33 dBA
CPU + GPU Load
75°C
29 dBA
90°C
33 dBA
Ambient: 21°C, 10~11 dBA.
*External temperature measured using an IR thermometer pointed at the hottest portion of the external chassis
We measure SPL at 0.6m for all devices meant to be used atop a desk, as it is more realistic a distance than the usual 1m. It also corresponds to the “seated user SPL” distance specified in the computer noise measurement standard ISO 7779.

Of the mini PCs we’ve tested in the past couple of years, the Giada A51 stacks up most closely to the Sapphire Edge HD3 which is equipped with effectively the same APU (E-450). The A51 has the edge, running noticeably cooler and quieter in all test states, except idle where the difference was minimal. The HD3’s slimmer profile seems to be more difficult to cool.

In terms of power consumption, the A51 improves on previous Brazos devices like the aforementioned Edge HD3 and the Viako ML-45. The idle and H.264 playback draw was slightly lower, making it competitive with systems using the latest iteration of Atom. The AMD chips still use much more on load but to be fair, they pack more horsepower both in the CPU and GPU department.

PERFORMANCE

CPU & GPU

As the G-T56N APU is essentially the same as the E-450, we refer you to the CPU and GPU benchmarks we attained in the Sapphire Edge HD3 review. Its CPU performance is in between that of Atom and CULV versions of Core 2. General responsiveness is not great, lagging when any type of multitasking is involved, though the hard drive might be partially responsible. Demanding tasks take a long time to complete. Its GPU is stronger than all of Intel’s pre-Sandy Bridge integrated graphics but it doesn’t produce acceptable framerates in most modern gaming titles except at very low resolution and detail levels. Video playback is solid, smooth on 1080p content including H.264 MKV/MOV and the Flash variety (YouTube HD).

Hard Drive

A quick run of CrystalDiskMark reveals that the Hitachi Z5K500 hard drive inside our A51 sample is quite slow by today’s standards. The latest WD Scorpio Blue 500GB is the slowest recent drive we have on hand and it appears to have almost double the sequential read/write speed with large block sizes.

USB 3.0

The native USB 3.0 controller of the A50M chipset isn’t impressive either, staying under 100 MB/s in sequential read/write despite our using a SandForce drive (Kingston HyperX 3K 120GB) and an easily compressible data set. Intel’s latest chipsets are more than twice as fast but keep in mind that the G-T56N’s main competitor, Atom, is very rarely bundled with USB 3.0 at all.

AUDIO RECORDINGS

These recordings were made with a high resolution, lab quality, digital recording
system inside SPCR’s own 11 dBA ambient anechoic chamber, then converted to
LAME 128kbps encoded MP3s. We’ve listened long and hard to ensure there is no
audible degradation from the original WAV files to these MP3s. They represent
a quick snapshot of what we heard during the review.

Each recording starts with ambient noise, then 10 second segments of product
at various states. For the most realistic results,
set the volume so that the starting ambient level is just barely audible, then
don’t change the volume setting again while comparing all the sound files.

Comparatives:

FINAL THOUGHTS

As one would expect, the Giada A51 is best-suited as a media PC thanks to its smooth multimedia playback capabilities and excellent energy efficiency. The G-T56N APU also offers a generally faster experience than anything packing an Intel Atom processor. 802.11n, Bluetooth, and USB 3.0 are also included, rounding out the machine with some good connectivity options. The only thing missing from the package is a VESA mount to tuck the machine behind the monitor, though you can pick one up separately.

The enclosure is slim and takes up minimal space on a desktop when situated vertically. While it’s not the quietest system you’ll encounter, the fan control system does an admiral job given the hardware inside and size of the chassis. Naturally, many of our thoughts echo those we had regarding the Sapphire Edge HD3 as the two have very similar hardware within their sleek outer casings. In comparison it’s clear now that Sapphire sacrificed airflow in favor of a more attractive unibody enclosure design. The thinner profile and impeded side intake vent results in poorer cooling, requiring its fan to spin faster. Giada’s thicker boxy case is not nearly as attractive but the more practical approach results in the A51 being both cooler and quieter by a significant margin.

Our only real complaint is the relatively slow hard drive which compounds the generally poor performance of these types of PCs have to begin with. If you’re used to the firepower of “proper” desktop hardware, especially if you’ve had experience with an SSD, you’ll be sorely disappointed. It’s not particularly snappy and gets bogged down when multitasking. It’s a basic machine for basic tasks.

We spotted only one retailer in North America carrying the A51, E-ITX, with a 4GB version with no O/S or remote for US$320. Similar systems such as the Acer Revo RL70, Zotac ZBOX AD04 Plus, and Sapphire Edge HD3 can be attained in the same price range. However, as we mentioned before, the sleeker HD3 isn’t as well cooled, while the Acer and Zotac boxes are substantially thicker than the A51.

If size isn’t a big issue, the ZBOX AD04 seems to be a more affordable and versatile option. It’s an E-450 barebones with a remote and VESA mount included for about US$225. Adding the cost of 4GB of RAM and a 320GB hard drive brings it up to about US$295 but you also have the option of outfitting it with an SSD for presumably, a much better experience. Your media library after all, can and probably should be stored somewhere else on your local network.

Our thanks to Giada
for the Giada A51 Mini PC sample.

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