The emergence of edge computing as a paradigm has expanded the market for industrial PCs over the last few years. Traditionally an 'industrial PC' was built with a focus on reliable operation in a rugged environment - the emphasis on computing performance being secondary to the utility. This has changed recently with the need to process more data at the edge.

OnLogic (formerly, Logic Supply) has been servicing the embedded / industrial PC market with pre-configured small form-factor (SFF) systems since 2003. We have reviewed multiple systems from OnLogic before, such as the Broadwell-based ML100G-30 and the Skylake vPro-based ML100G-50. Both fanless systems were based on Intel's U-series processors configured with a 15 - 20W TDP.

In mid-2020, OnLogic introduced the Helix line of industrial PCs. The 300-series (based on Intel Elkhart Lake) caters to the IoT edge computing market with the traditional CPU performance requirements. The Helix 500 and 600-series are based on Intel Comet Lake, and  services the market opened up by the increased demand for performance density in edge computing. This review takes a look at the performance and value proposition of a high-end Helix HX500 configuration based on the Intel Core i7-10700T.

Onlogic Helix HX500: Core i7-10700T at 35 W

Passively cooled computing systems are one of the top choices for industrial PCs, where reliability and ruggedness are key requirements. The absence of noise, ventilation slots, fans and associated maintenance requirements, etc. serve as important advantages in many deployments where servicing is difficult and a long life cycle is required. OnLogic's Helix lineup of rugged industrial PCs was introduced in mid-2020 to cater to this market.

OnLogic's Helix line uses a board based on Intel's Q470 chipset. The HX500 is the most compact of the lot, coming in at 154mm x 210mm x 50.8mm. The HX600 approximately doubles the width of the system to add space for a GPU slot (using a GPU makes the system an actively cooled hybrid - the motherboard is still passively cooled). The HX610 retains the HX600 form-factor, but uses the additional space for dual SATA drive bays.


The OnLogic Comet Lake Helix Series - HX500, HX600, and HX610 (from L to R)

OnLogic sent over a fully pre-configured sample of the Helix HX500 earlier this year to put through our rigorous evaluation routine for fanless SFF PCs. The specifications of the review sample are summarized in the table below.

OnLogic Helix HX500 Specifications
(as tested)
Processor Intel Core i7-10700T
Comet Lake 8C/16T, 2.0 - 4.5 GHz
Intel 14nm, 16 MB L2, 35 W
Memory KInnoDisk M4S0-AGS1O5IK DDR4-2666 SODIMM
19-19-19-43 @ 2666 MHz
2x16 GB
Graphics Intel UHD Graphics 630
Disk Drive(s) Transcend TS256GMTS800
(256 GB; M.2 Type 2280 SATA III; MLC NAND)
Networking 1 × GbE port (Intel I219-V)
1 × GbE port (Intel I210-AT)
Audio 3.5mm Headphone Jack (Realtek ALC233)
Capable of 5.1/7.1 digital output with HD audio bitstreaming (DP)
Miscellaneous I/O Ports 4x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A (front)
2x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A (rear)
2x USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A (rear)
Operating System No OS as shipped / default option,
We installed Windows 10 Enterprise x64 21H1
Pricing $887 (base configuration)
$1694 (as configured / No OS)
Full Specifications OnLogic Helix HX500 Specifications

It must be noted that the $887 price for the base configuration is not a barebones one - it includes the Intel Celeron G5900T dual-core 35W processor, a 4GB DDR4-2666 SODIMM, and a 64GB M.2 SATA SSD. Since our review configuration was shipped with the OS configured as 'None', we had to download the drivers off OnLogic's support site to ensure that the system was up and running optimally after the Windows installation. A 120W (20V @ 6A) power adapter is bundled along with the package. The system can be wall-mounted (accessories sold separately), or used directly on a desktop (adhesive rubber bumpers bundled).

The various chassis features are brought out in the gallery below.

Disassembling the system to upgrade the storage and RAM is quite straightforward and doesn't involve messing around with the thermal solution. Four screws holding the rear I/O panel in place, and two screws that fasten the bottom panel need to be removed.

Installing M.2 drives and SODIMMs are as simple as just slotting them in. The thermal solution for the SSD can also be seen in the above picture.

The Helix HX500 chassis is solidly built, and appears to possess a thermal solution capable of handling 35W processors. At the same time, the ease of upgrading the DRAM and storage has not been sacrificed. The system I/Os match the expectations from an industrial PC. The ridges on the chassis are a tad sharper than other fanless PC chassis we have seen before - so, a little care is warranted while handling the unit even if one is used to handling PC cases that also double up as heat sinks.

In the next section, we take a look at the BIOS options along with an analysis of the motherboard platform. Following that, we have a number of sections focusing on various performance aspects. Prior to the conclusions, we also take a look at the thermal profile of the system under stress. Read on for the full review.

Setup Notes and Platform Analysis
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  • Oxford Guy - Friday, September 17, 2021 - link

    138W. Reply
  • Wrs - Saturday, September 18, 2021 - link

    No issue there. Adapter is rated for DC output; review measured AC input “at the wall.” 120 into 138w is 87% efficient. We don’t actually know the system was pulling the full 120w DC. The fanless system obviously cannot dissipate that sustained, but settles in the 50-55w range, 60w at the wall. That’s how modern CPUs work. They idle cold, blow past the normal power budget for load and then settle closer to rated power when things warm up. Reply
  • Oxford Guy - Saturday, September 18, 2021 - link

    Ok. Thanks for the clarification.

    So, it's only a single design failure then (thermal throttling).

    My view of thermal throttling is that it should only happen as a preventative measure to keep a system from being ruined due to user error (such as letting a machine become clogged with dust).

    Otherwise, you're clocking the chip wrong or doing something else wrong with the design. Stuffing 14nm into a passive case in 2021 probably is part of the mistake.

    But, for tricking people with numbers I guess hiding the real performance behind a shifting facade of throttling is fun.
    Reply
  • Wrs - Sunday, September 19, 2021 - link

    So there is normal throttling and then there is emergency throttling or sometimes shutdown. The CPU is rated for 35w, even though the same silicon is known to be capable of 65 or 95w. What they do is as long as all the temperatures are cool, they let the silicon use 60w+ for a few seconds. This can happen in a laptop, or in this industrial enclosure. It makes it feel just as fast as a desktop, but it can’t last for a heavy sustained workload because of heat buildup. After it warms up, it goes back down to the voltage and frequency it was designed to sustain.

    It has nothing to do with 14nm. My 7nm desktop works similarly. In 2021 Intel’s got 10nm for low-power (that’s what all Tiger Lake laptops are), but OnLogic was too cheap for that or figured their clientele doesn’t want the latest and greatest. Their case successfully prevented the 35w chip from emergency throttling, so it passed the thermal design test in my book.
    Reply
  • Oxford Guy - Sunday, September 19, 2021 - link

    Marketing magic to try to justify inadequate cooling. Not a fan. Reply
  • Wrs - Monday, September 20, 2021 - link

    I mean, it is a fanless, almost sealed enclosure the size of a standing router or cable modem - how much more can you expect? The benchmarks were more than fine. They way outclassed the Zotac, which is also fanless and the size of a router, but uses commodity plastic hole vents which would be wholly inappropriate in industrial settings but would be suitable as a living room htpc. The OnLogic system gets close to 80c peak on the case; one would hope for the sake of longevity that they used high temperature components throughout and that would be the reason for the high price.

    Potential improvements are obviously a finer process node like Tiger Lake or one of the Zen 3 laptop chips, a low-power specialized fab node... but all that R&D takes time and $$. The world isn't perfect and we don't have infinite population.
    Reply
  • Oxford Guy - Tuesday, September 21, 2021 - link

    ‘how much more can you expect’

    I expect parts to match the capability of the cooling versus putting too-demanding parts into a box and relying on throttling. If the parts need a larger heatsink box then use that or choose less demanding parts.

    The only exception is turbo that is designed to safely ‘overclock’ a chip if the cooling is better than the norm. That is a good feature.
    Reply
  • Wrs - Tuesday, September 21, 2021 - link

    As far as I can tell the parts match very well. All the CPU choices for the little box top out at 35w. Obviously the 138w momentary draw came from turbo; there is no separate GPU. The review found the junction temperature under sustained load hit 98C which is just under the throttling temp of 100C. A 15w chip would have undersold the capabilities of the design, and a 65w+ desktop part would have been throttled under sustained load unless perhaps operating out of Antarctica…

    That’s not to say some won’t take issue with the incomplete seal, or that there might be component longevity issues down the road which is where a warranty comes in.
    Reply
  • Jonny314159 - Friday, September 17, 2021 - link

    Any VRM cooling on this? I think I see a thermal pad for the SSD, but the VRMs will be a long term point of failure running in a sealed box with no conductive path to the heatsink. Reply
  • eastcoast_pete - Saturday, September 18, 2021 - link

    Does this setup have anything resembling an IPx7 or X8 rating, i.e. is it sealed against water and dust ingress? Those would be among the reasons that might justify the price. Without any such protection, I wonder just how long it'd actually last in an environment that requires a fanless setup. Reply

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