If you're after a small form factor (SFF) / mini desktop computer, you're spoilt for choice. There are highly configurable PC options like Intel's NUC and Gigabyte's Brix, not to mention the evergreen appeal of the sleek Mac Mini with its powerful Apple M1 system-on-chip processing power. Now MSI want's a piece of the mini PC action with its not-so-catchily named PRO DP20Z 5M. As mini desktop PCs go, it's not the smallest, measuring 85 x 160.55 x 193.3mm. But unless you're working off a seriously small desk, this PC is still extremely compact, and if you want something a little less tall, other PRO-series models are available with a lower physical profile.
MSI PRO DP20Z 5M PC review
In exchange for the relative bulk, you're rewarded with a good selection of front and rear ports for a PC of this size, along with space inside for dual m.2 NVMe SSDs, as well as a pair of 2.5 inch hard disk drives or SSDs. That's the kind of storage flexibility and upgradability Mac Mini owners can only dream of. It should also be remembered that while you could opt for a smaller mini PC, should it have fewer ports you could well need to resort to connecting dongles like a USB hub, therefore negating any size reduction of the PC itself.
MSI PRO DP20Z: Features
Size & weight: 85 x 160.55 x 193.3mm, 2.34kg
CPU: AMD Ryzen 3 5300G - Ryzen 7 5700G
Graphics: AMD Radeon Graphics (integrated)
RAM: Up to 64GB
Storage: 2x M.2 SSD (NVMe PCIe Gen3x4), 2x 2.5” HDD/SSD
Connectivity (rear): 2x USB 2.0 Type A, 2x Wi-Fi Antenna
1x USB 3.2 Gen2 Type A, 1x USB2.0 Type A, 1x RJ45, 1x VGA out, 1x HDMI out (2.0), 1x DP out, 1x DC Jack
Connectivity (front): 1x Mic-in/Headphone-out, 1x USB 3.2 Gen2 Type A, 1x USB 3.2 Gen2 Type C, 1x Mic-in
As you'd expect for a mini PC, the PRO DP20Z 5M is available in numerous spec configurations. You're restricted to AMD processors only, but Ryzen 3, 5 and 7 options are available. Two DDR4 SO-DIMM slots enable up to 64GB of RAM (take that, Mac Mini!), though with on-board CPU graphics only, you won't be buying this machine for serious gaming.
Connectivity is extensive for a mini PC, with no fewer than four USB Type-A ports on the rear and another on the front - great for those of us who still have a range of older USB-A peripherals and storage devices. Display connectivity options include HDMI, DP and even analogue VGA, while data connectivity includes Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and RJ-45 Ethernet.
MSI PRO DP20Z: Build & handling
Next a sleek, unibody Mac Mini, the DP20Z's case design looks utilitarian at best, and downright dated at worst. Its overall size and black sheet metal exterior construction is reminiscent of a typical ATX PC power supply unit, while the ridged front panel design has more than a hint of PlayStation 2 about it. Make no mistake, when it comes to the design at least, this is a PC aimed squarely at the business/productivity sector, rather than style-conscious creatives.
On the plus side, the ‘function over form’ ethos means airflow and cooling is excellent. Air is drawn in through the large side and rear vents, and the upward-firing CPU cooling fan then exhausts heat straight out of the sizable vent in the top panel. There are no filters on any of these vents though, so dust build-up is likely in the long-run. Thankfully, opening the case to clean inside is very easy.
MSI PRO DP20Z: Performance
The ability of the PRO DP20Z largely depends on how you spec its internal components, but here we'll be detailing our experience with our mid-to-high end review sample. This was equipped with an AMD Ryzen 5 5600G CPU (the middle of the three processor options available), but tricked out with a healthy 16GB RAM, and a spacious 1 terabyte m.2 NVMe SSD from Western Digital.
In terms of raw performance numbers, this set-up scored:
|Geekbench 5 (multi core)||6263|
|Geekbench 5 (single core)||1478|
When it comes to real-world performance, the 6-core/12-thread Ryzen 5 CPU teamed with 16GB RAM makes light work of intensive image editing, coping easily when working with high resolution, multi-layered Photoshop PSD files.
Equally impressive is how the DP20Z manages to do all this in almost total silence. A PC designed to be positioned on top of a desktop, right beside your monitor needs to be quiet, but even during an intensive looped performance benchmark, the CPU cooling fan was only ever barely audible - testament to MSI's excellent airflow, as well as the low thermal output of the Ryzen 5 processor.
When it comes to speccing your own DP20Z, we'd recommend 16GB RAM as a minimum for creative workflows. However, stepping down the entry-level Ryzen 3 5300G CPU option could well be worth considering to save a little cash. With 4-cores/8-threads and a 4GHz base clock speed, it's still got plenty of processing potential, despite its entry-level status.
When it comes to storage, you can install pretty much anything you like. And even if your internal HDD/SSD fills up fast and you don't fancy delving under the hood to install something larger, there are always the best external hard drives and best SSDs for easy storage expandability.
MSI Modern MD271QP monitor review
A fitting monitor pairing for the DP20Z mini PC is MSI's own MD271-series monitor. The screen’s matte black plastic casing and stand suit the exterior of the DP20Z, though of course you could pair the PC with any monitor which can connect via HDMI or DisplayPort.
Several versions of the MD271 are available - all 27 inches in size - but here we're testing the MD271QP. This packs a 2560 x 1440 resolution, whereas cheaper screens in the range, like the MD271P, make do with a Full HD 1920 x 1080 res, which we reckon is too low when spread across a large 27-inch display.
A 27-inch monitor is a good sweet spot between having a useful amount of screen real estate, while still maintaining reasonably compact overall display dimensions. What's more, a 2560 x 1440 resolution is an ideal fit for this screen size, meaning you don't need to resort to any Windows display scaling in order to increase the size of icons and toolbars, as would be necessary should you step up to a 4K resolution.
MSI Modern MD271QP: Features
Despite being a relatively low-budget monitor, the MD271QP is still based around a high-quality IPS LCD display, meaning you get 178 x 178-degree viewing angles without noticeable colour or contrast shift - essential for colour-critical content creation. This is only an 8-bit panel, however, so isn't able to display anywhere near the full spectrum of demanding colour spaces like Adobe RGB or DCI-P3. MSI does claim it can display 100% of the sRGB colour space though. Elsewhere, a 250-nit max brightness is par for the course for a monitor in this price point, as is the 75Hz refresh rate and 1000:1 contrast ratio.
Screen size: 27-inch
Aspect ratio: 16:9
Resolution: 2560 x 1440
Panel technology: IPS
Contrast ratio: 1,000:1
Supported colors: 16.7 million
Colour space coverage: 100% sRGB
Viewing angles: 178/178 degrees (horizontal/vertical)
Connectivity: 1x HDMI, 1x DP, 1x USB Type-C
Don't expect anything too special when it comes to connectivity - we're talking just a single HDMI and DisplayPort connection, and the USB Type-C port doesn't support Power Delivery, so won't charge a connected device. However this is to be expected for a monitor in this price range.
MSI Modern MD271QP: Build & handling
Despite its relatively utilitarian black plastic finish, the MD271QP still retains a sleek overall look thanks to its slim screen bezels. The stand offers a good amount of ergonomic adjustability at this price point, with -5 to 20 degrees tilt, -30 to 30 degrees swivel, -90 to 90 degrees pivot and 110mm of height adjustment. The only thing lacking is any pass-through opening in the stand's vertical upright to help with cable management.
MSI's on-screen display is visually appealing, however the controls for navigating through the various menus leave a lot to be desired. Where some monitors employ a 4-way joystick on the rear of the display for intuitive menu navigation, the MD271KP makes do with buttons along the lower right edge of the screen bezel. The same two buttons in this array are used to scroll left and right, as well as up and down the menus, which is both illogical and continually confusing.
MSI Modern MD271QP: Performance
Thanks to its IPS LCD panel, the MD271QP impresses from the off with its consistent colour and contrast. The screen's matte anti-glare coating keeps reflections to a minimum, while colours look punchy in the default 'User' colour profile.
To test MSI's colour space coverage claims, we broke out our DataColor Sypder X Elite monitor calibrator. Slightly disappointingly we measured 97% sRGB coverage - a little short of MSI's 100% claim - though this shouldn't be noticeable in general use. As expected for an 8-bit display, Adobe RGB and P3 coverage is unremarkable, at 77% and 78% respectively. However, you'd need to spend considerably more money on a 10-bit display to get increased coverage of these colour spaces.
MSI makes no claims about the colour accuracy of the MD271QP, and this combined with the screens low-ish price means we weren't expecting anything special in this test. Indeed, with the monitor in its sRGB image preset, colour accuracy was poor, so we switched instead to the default 'User' mode, and were very pleasantly surprised.
With a Delta-E average of 0.49 (zero being perfect colour accuracy), this is one of the most colour-accurate display's we've ever tested! Unsurprisingly, calibrating the display didn't provide any significant improvement in accuracy. Of course, we could well have just got lucky with our test sample, so your mileage could vary, but it bodes well nonetheless.
Although MSI quotes a peak brightness of 250 nits, we recorded 350 nits with brightness set to 100% - a nice bonus, though for typical creative workflows, you wouldn't want to use a brightness anywhere near this high anyway.
The MSI PRO DP20Z and MSI Modern MD271QP make a great pairing for creatives wanting a well-priced computer and monitor for moderately intensive workflows.
Though the PRO DP20Z may look a little utilitarian and dated, it performs flawlessly, and does so in near-silence, while also sporting excellent connectivity. If ever there was a case of 'don't judge a book by its cover', this is it. Competition is fierce in this sector, but MSI's pricing is keen. We've been hard-pressed to find the exact specification of our review sample available on the retail market, but a configuration with the same processor, 8GB RAM and a 250GB NVMe SSD can be had for $600.
A downside of the DP20Z compared to somethign like a Mac Mini is customising the PC at the point of purchase to suit your exact requirements depends entirely on the retailer you buy from. Most simply offer pre-configutred systems with no additional customisation options, so trying to find your perfect set-up can be a mission. It's therefore best to find a machine close to your ideal spec, then add things like extra RAM yourself if necessary (disclaimer - this might void your warranty - check before tinkering!). With an 8GB DDR4 SO-DIMM stick costing around $32 at the time of writing, this is a cost effective solution, and installation should be simple thanks to the easy upgradability of the DP20Z's design.
But arguably the star of the show here is the MD271QP monitor. For just $250 you get an extremely capable 27-inch IPS display with good ergonomic adjustment and a sleek - if slightly subdued - look. Its superb colour accuracy is an unexpected but very welcome surprise, making it great for colour-critical work. If you don't need extensive Adobe RGB or DCI-P3 colour space coverage, or a high refresh rate for gaming, this is a bargain display for creatives.
We have no hesitation recommending both this PC and monitor to creatives who want a small yet powerful set-up which won't break the bank.