A Review of the HP Elitedesk 705 G4 Mini Pc (Raspberry Pi Killer With a Caveat)

Fri 31 May 2024 Category: hardware

The HP Elitedesk G4 705 is mini PC is part of the tinyminimicro home lab 'revolution' started by servethehome.com about five years ago.

This revolution consists of Lenovo (tiny), HP (mini) and Dell (micro) computers and is based on the realisation that these small computers are often a much better value-for-money1 than a Raspberry Pi.

Elitedesk 705 G4

Click on the image for detailed specifications

This particular computer, the Elitedesk G4 705 has an AMD Ryzen 3 PRO 2200GE quad-core processor, with a single-core performance almost double the performance of a Raspberry Pi 52.

I got my unit3 with 16 GB RAM for €115 ($124) including taxes and shipping. The Raspberry Pi 5 with (max) 8 GB of RAM costs 91 Euro, almost exactly the same price as this computer without the 8 GB RAM upgrade. Yet, with the Pi, you still need:

  1. power supply (€13)
  2. case (€11)
  3. SD card or NVME SSD (€10-€45)
  4. NVME hat (€15) (optional but would be more comparable)

Meanwhile my particular Elitedesk came with a Samsung-based 256GB NVME drive that's €40+ new and comparing it with an SD card doesn't make any sense, the included Samsung SSD is multiple orders of magnitude faster in every conceivable metric4.

Why this CPU?

The Intel Core i5-6500T is a populair processor for these mini PCs, it's an affordable quad-core CPU that's slightly faster than the AMD Ryzen PRO 3 2200GE in my unit (also quad-core). I noticed that the Intel i5-6500T-based mini PCs with similar storage and RAM capacity sold for around €160. Thats around 40% more expensive. This is why I think the configuration with this AMD processor is a better value-for-money over i5-6500T-based systems.

There is a reason to spend the extra money on the i5-6500T: it supports Quick Sync which accelerates video transcoding. This is ideal for media player and streaming applications and it's well-supported. Although hardware-accelerated transcoding may work fine with the AMD 2200GE, I've no experience with it.

The Caveat

The CPU fan is noisy.

The particular unit I got has a fan that is audible at idle. It doesn't seem like a defective fan to me, although it could be a bit worn-down as it's second-hand. I'm unlucky as the fan noise resonates with the top half of the case, which can only be alleviated by putting a bit of weight on top. I'm very sensitive to fan noise and I would never tollerate this machine on my desk next to me.

Under heavy load, the fan is very, very loud.

However, when you do home lab work, it's often not about sustained CPU usage. It's more about executing some commands of workflows that result in brief bursts of CPU usage and in that case, the fan won't spin up that much.

Power consumption (down the rabbit hole)

I measured around 11 Watts idle power consumption running a preinstalled Windows 11. After installing Debian 12 the system used 18 Watts at idle and so began a journey of many hours trying to solve this problem.

The culprit is the integrated Radeon Vega GPU. To solve the problem you have to:

  1. Configure the 'bios' to only use UEFI
  2. Reinstall Debian 12 using UEFI
  3. install the appropriate firmware with apt install firmware-amd-graphics

If you boot the computer using legacy 'bios' mode, the AMD Radeon firmware won't load no matter what you try. You can see this by issuing the commands:

rmmod amdgpu
modprobe amdgpu

You may notice errors on the physical console or in the logs that the GPU driver isn't loaded because it's missing firmware (a lie).

This whole process got me to around 12 Watt at idle. To get to ~10 Watts idle you need to do two things:

  1. run powertop --auto-tune (saves 1 Watt)
  2. Unplug the monitor (run headless) (saves 1 Watt)

You have to put the powertop --auto-tune command in /etc/rc.local:

#!/usr/bin/env bash
powertop --auto-tune
exit 0

Don't forget to apply chmod +x /etc/rc.local

Given the whole picture, 10-11 Watt at idle is perfectly okay. A Raspberry Pi 4 or 5 does around 3-4 Watts at idle so it feels proportional.

KVM Virtualisation

I'm running vanilla KVM (Debian 12) on the Elitedesk G4 and it works totally fine. I've created multiple virtual machines without issue and performance seemed perfectly adequate.

Evaluation and conclusion

If the CPU fan noise is something you can deal with, this machine is a good homelab server at a great price. The small formfactor feels like a good fit and if you don't need GPIO pins for tinkering with hardware projects - just a good home server - this Mini PC seems to be a good option.

From a 'new computer' perspective, the Raspberry Pi 5 is still a cheap option. However, large organisations replace their computer hardware on a three to five year cycle and that gear hits the second-hand marked at a price point the Raspberry Pi 5 can't compete against. Especially because the Pi is limited to just 8 GB of memory, which doesn't cover some home-lab use cases.

I love the idea of the Raspberry Pi and I still have a ton of Pi 4s. This solar-powered blog is hosted on a Pi 4 because of the low power consumption.

Yet, I think any mini PC variant that is priced at or below €200 is almost always a better choice over the Pi 5.

  1. These computers are often second-hand enterprise gear that can be found all over the internet for decent prices 

  2. I'm looking at an average single-core Geekbench 6 score of ~600 for the Pi 5 and ~1100 for the 2200GE 

  3. The base price included the external power brick. 

  4. I measured multi-GB/s sequential read/write and 100MB+ random 4k read/write.