Lenovo M93p Tiny Review – The Best Mini PC for Emulation?

May 31, 2020

How To, Videogames, Retrogaming

Lenovo M93p Tiny Review – The Best Mini PC for Emulation?

How To, Videogames, Retrogaming

May 31, 2020

In search of a thin-and-light retrogaming device, I recently purchased a Lenovo ThinkCenter M93p Tiny Desktop from eBay for ~$100. The form factor looks great under a TV and the spec handily beats most Single Board Computers out there:

  • Intel Core i5-4570T (2 cores @2.9GHz)
  • 8GB DDR3 1600MHz RAM
  • 500GB HDD
  • Intel HD Graphics 4600

Graphics Capabilities

The on-board graphics do hold it back a little vs a dedicated GPU, but there are always trade-offs in a form factor like this. The good news: emulators usually lean heavily on CPU and light on GPU. There’s more than enough grunt here for a great emulation experience and even some light PC gaming.

4K resolution is supported, but only at 30Hz. Move a touch lower to 1440p and you get full 60Hz. The recommended gaming resolution for this device is 1080p.

Emulation Performance

I hope to deep dive on emulation performance in a future post. But broadly it’s good news. 16-bit and most 32-bit consoles will run perfectly. Some newer consoles like the Dreamcast, Gamecube and PSP also run great. Find the summary below

Platform Experience What to Expect
SNES, Genesis Perfect Full speed, even with filters and upscaling. Expect anything older than this to run perfectly too
PlayStation Perfect Full speed, even with enhanced features like 2x native resolution
PSP Perfect Full speed at native and 2x native resolution
Dreamcast Perfect The Redream emulator will give you full speed gameplay even with a 720p upscale. Other Dreamcast emulators do not run full speed on this hardware
Gamecube/Wii Great Full speed emulation at native resolution. Higher resolution settings will cause slowdown in some games
Saturn Good 2D games run perfectly at full speed. 3D games like Sega Rally or Panzer Dragoon can stutter
PlayStation 2 OK Some games run full speed, but graphically intensive games like God of War or Gran Turismo 4 only manage 70-80% speed which makes gameplay feel sluggish

Upgrade Options

There’s space inside for one 2.5” SATA HDD. My unit arrived with a 500GB, 7200rpm drive - but you could easily upgrade to SSD.

Max memory is 16GB (2x 8GB PC3-12800 DDR3 SODIMMs). My unit arrived with 8GB which is more than enough for retrogaming.

You can upgrade the CPU. Standard upgrade options are the Core i7-4765T (4 cores @2.0GHz) and the Core i7-4785T (4 cores @2.2GHz). Some Xeon CPUs are compatible too. Find the full parts list here.

If you want to go off-road in pursuit of max performance, you can get this beast. It’s a laptop Core i7-4750HQ CPU rehoused to fit a Desktop CPU socket. You’ll need an upgraded 90W power brick, but the result is a much faster 4-core CPU and (as a bonus) a GPU upgrade to Intel Iris Pro Graphics 5200 - which roughly doubles the 3D graphics capability. The stock cooling seems to be sufficient - learn more here.

Conclusion

Given the tiny form factor, the M93p is a really great machine for emulation. It looks great under the TV and will handle most consoles up to Dreamcast and Gamecube perfectly. PlayStation 2 is a touch too much for this little machine, anything above that (Wii U, PlayStation 3 etc) is no-go. Overall it’s difficult to find better performance for ~$100 unless you go with a much larger tower PC.

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