Mini-PC review: The Ryzen 5 Pro 2500U-powered Minisforum UM250

 Mini-PC review: The Ryzen 5 Pro 2500U-powered Minisforum UM250
This tiny PC's Ryzen 5 Pro 2500U is a couple generations out of date—but it's inexpensive, and it still packs a serious punch.
Enlarge / This tiny PC’s Ryzen 5 Pro 2500U is a couple generations out of date—but it’s inexpensive, and it still packs a serious punch.
Jim Salter

Minisforum’s UM250 is a very small form factor PC with the power and the ports to take on a lot of tasks. And due to its choice of an older CPU, it’s pretty cheap, too.

A couple of months ago, we reviewed Minisforum’s Comet Lake i5-powered U850. The UM250 we’re looking at today is cut largely from the same cloth—it’s got 16GiB RAM, flagship Intel Wi-Fi 6, a 256GB SSD, two wired Ethernet ports, and an attractive VESA-mountable case that’s easy to work on (and in).

The biggest real-world difference between the two models is price: $430 for the fully loaded, AMD-powered UM250 versus $700 for the Intel-powered U850.

Overview

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Like most of Minisforum’s models, the UM250 is an unassuming little silver-and-black brick stuffed with ports—including four USB type-A ports and enough video out to drive three displays via USB-C, DisplayPort, and full-size HDMI.

The UM250 we tested is “fully loaded” with 16GiB of socketed dual-channel RAM, a 256GB Kingston M.2 SSD, and a copy of Windows 10 Professional. If you’re looking to supply your own RAM, SSD, and OS there’s also a bare-bones version on Minisforum’s store at $320.

The reason the UM250 is so relatively inexpensive (not much more than half the cost of the Intel-powered U850) is the Ryzen 5 Pro 2500U powering it. The UM250’s 2500U is almost two years older than the Comet Lake i5 in the U850, but it goes neck-and-neck with the newer, more expensive Intel part in most benchmarks. Heck, the Ryzen even wins in some areas.

Minisforum also shaved off some cost by only providing a single SATA port versus the U850’s two, and by using a slower M.2 SATA model of the Kingston SSD. The UM250 also offers dual RTL8111 Gigabit Ethernet versus the U850’s RTL8111 Gigabit + Intel 2.5Gbps Ethernet. We suspect most of the folks in the market for this sort of mini-PC won’t mind those sacrifices, especially when considering they come at nearly $300 off the retail cost.

Moving past raw specs, the UM250 is pleasant to share an office with. Even in Time Spy and Cinebench R20 multi-threaded testing, its cooling fan stays reasonably quiet. If you’re close to it in a dead silent environment, you’ll be able to hear it—but even then, it’s a steady clean whoosh without any bearing whine. This mini-PC is slow to change RPMs rather than rapidly spinning up and down repeatedly.

Inside the UM250

Specs at a glance: UM250
CPU Ryzen 5 Pro 2500U
OS Windows 10 Pro (pre-installed) / Linux supported
RAM 16GiB DDR4 (2x 8GiB SODIMM)
GPU Vega 6 (integrated)
Wi-Fi M.2 Intel AX200 Wi-Fi 6, dual-band + BlueTooth 5.1
SSD Kingston M.2 256GB SATA SSD
Connectivity
  • one SATA port
  • one full-size HDMI 2.0
  • one full-size DisplayPort
  • one USB-C (full featured)
  • DC barrel jack
  • four USB3.1 Type-A
  • two 1Gbps Ethernet (Realtek 8111H)
  • one 3.5 mm audio
  • integrated mic
Price as tested $430 at Amazon / $470 at Minisforum

Much like the U850, the UM250 is extremely easy to get into and work on/in. The top plate can be removed by gently pushing two corners and letting it pop out (similar to some kitchen cabinet doors). Once inside the UM250, you’re presented with a socketed NVMe SSD on the left, an unpopulated SATA power+data connector in the center, and two socketed DDR DIMMs on the right.

Unlike the more expensive U850, the UM250 only offers a single SATA connector—and no sunken drive bays in the chassis itself. Instead, you can bolt a 2.5″ SATA HDD or SSD to the underside of the top plate. This is functional but a little irritating, since it means your SATA cable is attached to the plate you must remove to get into the box.

But again, considering the massive price disparity between the U850 and UM250, we’re not complaining. We’re just happy there’s a SATA connector and mounting bracket at all, given that the primary drive is NVMe.

Multi-threaded CPU Performance

Those of you who made sour faces at the Comet Lake powered U850 and said “I’ll wait for the AMD version” should feel pretty vindicated right now. Despite UM250’s Ryzen 2500U being almost two years older, it runs neck-and-neck with U850’s much newer (and more expensive) Comet Lake i5 CPU.

The two processors turn in essentially identical Cinebench R20 runs. Meanwhile, Passmark slightly favors the Ryzen 2500U, and the Intel-loving Geekbench 5 gives both the i5-10210U and i5-1035G1 moderate wins. If the only criterion you have for a mini-PC is performance, the U850 is the slightly better bet… but it costs nearly twice as much and has a somewhat more obnoxious fan noise to boot.

Single-threaded CPU performance

Unsurprisingly, the Ryzen 5 Pro 2500U doesn’t do as well in single-threaded testing, losing by margins of 20%-30% to newer, more expensive processors. Just as unsurprisingly, we warn readers not to get unduly excited about this—truly single-threaded workloads are rare.

Even workloads which bottleneck on a single CPU thread generally do so with significant activity on at least one other CPU thread. And “the one thread I care about the most” inside a multi-threaded workload is generally not the same thing as the truly single-threaded results you see above.

Storage performance

Storage performance is the most painful compromise the UM250 makes, with a SATA-only M.2 drive.
Enlarge / Storage performance is the most painful compromise the UM250 makes, with a SATA-only M.2 drive.
Jim Salter

The biggest real compromise the UM250 makes to keep the cost down is dropping down to a SATA-only M.2 drive. The 256GB Kingston SNS-8180-S3 in this little PC isn’t slow enough to make a Windows desktop feel pokey, but its shortcomings are pretty obvious in comparison to the NVMe drives in the more expensive U850 and in the Acer Swift 3 laptop.

Gaming performance

Nobody ought to think of any of the machines in these charts as “gaming PCs” by any stretch. But within its own bracket, the UM250 turns in some outstanding results—its somewhat-elderly Ryzen 5 Pro 2500U turns in Time Spy scores almost double what either Ice Lake i5-1035G1 or Comet Lake 15-10210U can manage. The UM250 even comes within yelling distance of the Ryzen 7 4700U-powered Acer Swift laptop.

When we drop down to Night Raid—the gaming benchmark targeted to non-gaming PCs—the lead shrinks a little, but it by no means disappears. UM250 still manages a solid 35% lead on its Intel-powered competitors. This is a bigger lead than the newer processors had in single-threaded CPU tests.

Linux support

Linux support on the UM250 is flawless. We installed Ubuntu 20.04 to test, and the only unclaimed devices are an IOMMU and a crypto accelerator.

Both Ethernet interfaces, the Intel Wi-Fi 6, and all onboard sound and video worked flawlessly. The UM250 is simply an excellent choice for small form factor Linux computing, for either desktop or medium-power “server” workloads.

Conclusions

UM250 is another solid effort from Minisforum, providing an extremely cost-effective mini-PC suitable for either desktop or project use. With dual gigabit Ethernet plus Intel AX200 Wi-Fi 6, this little PC would make an excellent router, too.

In practice, this is a very easy machine to share an office with—although actively cooled, its fan is quiet and unobtrusive, with no bearing whine or rattle in what noise it does make. The UM250 also tends to stay at the same RPM for long periods, rather than spinning rapidly up and down as CPU load changes.

The biggest performance compromise the UM250 makes is in its storage, which is a Kingston M.2 SATA SSD. The Kingston isn’t horrible, by any means—the Windows desktop felt snappy, and the machine boots pretty quickly. But because of this choice, the UM250 won’t really hang with high-end SATA SSDs, let alone M.2 NVMe drives like you’ll find in the more expensive U850.

The good

  • Intel Wi-Fi 6
  • Windows 10 Pro on a <$500 PC
  • Toolless chassis
  • Socketed everything
  • Dual Ethernet
  • Excellent Linux support
  • Great performance-per-dollar
  • Quiet cooling
  • VESA mountable
  • Supports up to 3 4K displays (USB-C + DisplayPort + HDMI)

The bad

  • M.2 SATA SSD
  • No free puppy

The ugly

  • Ryzen 5 Pro 2500U is three years old