System Internals, Performance, and Final Thoughts
Installing system RAM and storage begins with the removal of the bottom plate, which is attached with four screws and comes off easily.
The bottom plate provides additional utility, as it is also the housing for an optional 2.5-inch drive, installed for your reference here:
The aluminum bracket above the 2.5-inch drive bay also serves as an M.2 heatsink if desired, with the raised section sitting against the installed M.2 drive (in conjunction with a pad of thermal interface material) when the bottom cover is replaced.
And now a look at the system board:
This design provides a pair of DDR4 SoDIMM slots supporting up to 32GB, with an M.2 slot supporting PCIe drives. A basic wireless card is pre-installed (Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 3165) and can be upgraded if desired. On the lower left you can see the SATA port with adjacent power input for the included 2.5-inch drive cables.
For our review Azulle sent over a 16GB stick of HyperX Impact 2133 MHz DDR4 and a 250GB Samsung 960 EVO NVMe drive:
With the components installed it was time to run a few benchmarks to see what we can expect from this fanless mini-PC and its Intel Core i5-7200U, with memory and storage all but eliminated as potential bottlenecks.
No suprises here, as performance relative to other recently-tested mini PCs is where you would expect from our Inspire's Intel Core i5-7200U. It sits just below the LIVA Z Plus (Intel Core i5-7300U) on these charts:
As to thermals during these test runs, the max temp recorded was 74 C (25 C ambient), with speeds of 3.09 GHz sustained (measuring during multi-core runs of Cinebench).
Storage is an advantage for the Inspire system, as previous Azulle and ECS LIVA mini PC platforms tested have only offered SATA support from the M.2 slot, with only the Intel NUC on the charts above supporting PCIe storage. With a Samsung EVO 960 250GB installed here is a quick look at speed potential using Crystal Disk Mark:
This is of course not a comprehensive test, but the EVO is not limited by the interface and performs as expected. Network reception is also excellent (and the dual antenna setup makes placement less critical), and I achieved full network performance during my brief testing. The maximum theoretical link from the installed Intel 3165 adapter is 433 Mb/s, which should be sufficient for most home internet connections and basic home networking.
Operating system support is limited to Windows 10 and Linux. There are no downloadable drivers from Azulle support page, but out of the box a clean install of Windows 10 did offer functional networking and Windows Update found the remaining drivers. My Ubuntu Linux experience was even smoother, with a trouble-free "live" experience and install with both 16.04 and 18.04 LTS.
Azulle's Inspire offers a solid fanless mini-PC experience for a little less than the price of a similarly-specified Intel NUC, and without any fan noise (unless you opt for the Core i7 version of the Inspire). Our review Core i5-7200U system retails for $335, which is about $15 lower than the taller version (supporting a 2.5-inch drive) of the Kaby Lake Core i5 Intel NUC – though Intel equips theirs with the slightly higher i5-7260U CPU. The silent aspect of Azulle's system is appealing, and for those who require a fanless solution this presents an attractive alternative to Intel's mini-PC kit computers while offering similar functionality.
Overall the Inspire is a well-constructed mini-PC platform with expected performance and no adverse effects from passive cooling in normal use thanks to a well-implemented heatsink and plenty of ventilation. It performed reliably under both Windows and Ubuntu Linux operating systems as well, and while still a new name in the industry both of my recent experiences with Azulle have been very positive (the first being the Byte3 mini-PC reviewed here). Azulle has provided a solid option for anyone shopping for a fanless mini-PC kit.