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DroneSeed is planting trees from the air – TechCrunch

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Wildfires are consuming our forests and grasslands faster than we can replace them. It’s a vicious cycle of destruction and inadequate restoration rooted, so to speak, in decades of neglect of the institutions and technologies needed to keep these environments healthy.

DroneSeed is a Seattle-based startup that aims to combat this growing problem with a modern toolkit that scales: drones, artificial intelligence and biological engineering. And it’s even more complicated than it sounds.

Trees in decline

A bit of background first. The problem of disappearing forests is a complex one, but it boils down to a few major factors: climate change, outdated methods and shrinking budgets (and as you can imagine, all three are related).

Forest fires are a natural occurrence, of course. And they’re necessary, as you’ve likely read, to sort of clear the deck for new growth to take hold. But climate change, monoculture growth, population increases, lack of control burns and other factors have led to these events taking place not just more often, but more extensively and to more permanent effect.

On average, the U.S. is losing 7 million acres a year. That’s not easy to replace to begin with — and as budgets for the likes of national and state forest upkeep have shrunk continually over the last half century, there have been fewer and fewer resources with which to combat this trend.

The most effective and common reforestation technique for a recently burned woodland is human planters carrying sacks of seedlings and manually selecting and placing them across miles of landscapes. This back-breaking work is rarely done by anyone for more than a year or two, so labor is scarce and turnover is intense.

Even if the labor was available on tap, the trees might not be. Seedlings take time to grow in nurseries and a major wildfire might necessitate the purchase and planting of millions of new trees. It’s impossible for nurseries to anticipate this demand, and the risk associated with growing such numbers on speculation is more than many can afford. One missed guess could put the whole operation underwater.

Meanwhile, if nothing gets planted, invasive weeds move in with a vengeance, claiming huge areas that were once old growth forests. Lacking the labor and tree inventory to stem this possibility, forest keepers resort to a stopgap measure: use helicopters to drench the area in herbicides to kill weeds, then saturate it with fast-growing cheatgrass or the like. (The alternative to spraying is, again, the manual approach: machetes.)

At least then, in a year, instead of a weedy wasteland, you have a grassy monoculture — not a forest, but it’ll do until the forest gets here.

One final complication: helicopter spraying is a horrendously dangerous profession. These pilots are flying at sub-100-foot elevations, performing high-speed maneuvers so that their sprays reach the very edge of burn zones but they don’t crash head-on into the trees. This is an extremely dangerous occupation: 80 to 100 crashes occur every year in the U.S. alone.

In short, there are more and worse fires and we have fewer resources — and dated ones at that — with which to restore forests after them.

These are facts anyone in forest ecology and logging are familiar with, but perhaps not as well known among technologists. We do tend to stay in areas with cell coverage. But it turns out that a boost from the cloistered knowledge workers of the tech world — specifically those in the Emerald City — may be exactly what the industry and ecosystem require.

Simple idea, complex solution

So what’s the solution to all this? Automation, right?

Automation, especially via robotics, is proverbially suited for jobs that are “dull, dirty, and dangerous.” Restoring a forest is dirty and dangerous to be sure. But dull isn’t quite right. It turns out that the process requires far more intelligence than anyone was willing, it seems, to apply to the problem — with the exception of those planters. That’s changing.

Earlier this year, DroneSeed was awarded the first multi-craft, over-55-pounds unmanned aerial vehicle license ever issued by the FAA. Its custom UAV platforms, equipped with multispectral camera arrays, high-end lidar, six-gallon tanks of herbicide and proprietary seed dispersal mechanisms have been hired by several major forest management companies, with government entities eyeing the service as well.

These drones scout a burned area, mapping it down to as high as centimeter accuracy, including objects and plant species, fumigate it efficiently and autonomously, identify where trees would grow best, then deploy painstakingly designed seed-nutrient packages to those locations. It’s cheaper than people, less wasteful and dangerous than helicopters and smart enough to scale to national forests currently at risk of permanent damage.

I met with the company’s team at their headquarters near Ballard, where complete and half-finished drones sat on top of their cases and the air was thick with capsaicin (we’ll get to that).

The idea for the company began when founder and CEO Grant Canary burned through a few sustainable startup ideas after his last company was acquired, and was told, in his despondency, that he might have to just go plant trees. Canary took his friend’s suggestion literally.

“I started looking into how it’s done today,” he told me. “It’s incredibly outdated. Even at the most sophisticated companies in the world, planters are superheroes that use bags and a shovel to plant trees. They’re being paid to move material over mountainous terrain and be a simple AI and determine where to plant trees where they will grow — microsites. We are now able to do both these functions with drones. This allows those same workers to address much larger areas faster without the caloric wear and tear.”

It may not surprise you to hear that investors are not especially hot on forest restoration (I joked that it was a “growth industry” but really because of the reasons above it’s in dire straits).

But investors are interested in automation, machine learning, drones and especially government contracts. So the pitch took that form. With the money DroneSeed secured, it has built its modestly sized but highly accomplished team and produced the prototype drones with which is has captured several significant contracts before even announcing that it exists.

“We definitely don’t fit the mold or metrics most startups are judged on. The nice thing about not fitting the mold is people double take and then get curious,” Canary said. “Once they see we can actually execute and have been with 3 of the 5 largest timber companies in the U.S. for years, they get excited and really start advocating hard for us.”

The company went through Techstars, and Social Capital helped them get on their feet, with Spero Ventures joining up after the company got some groundwork done.

If things go as DroneSeed hopes, these drones could be deployed all over the world by trained teams, allowing spraying and planting efforts in nurseries and natural forests to take place exponentially faster and more efficiently than they are today. It’s genuine change-the-world-from-your-garage stuff, which is why this article is so long.

Hunter (weed) killers

The job at hand isn’t simple or even straightforward. Every landscape differs from every other, not just in the shape and size of the area to be treated but the ecology, native species, soil type and acidity, type of fire or logging that cleared it and so on. So the first and most important task is to gather information.

For this, DroneSeed has a special craft equipped with a sophisticated imaging stack. This first pass is done using waypoints set on satellite imagery.

The information collected at this point is really far more detailed than what’s actually needed. The lidar, for instance, collects spatial information at a resolution much beyond what’s needed to understand the shape of the terrain and major obstacles. It produces a 3D map of the vegetation as well as the terrain, allowing the system to identify stumps, roots, bushes, new trees, erosion and other important features.

This works hand in hand with the multispectral camera, which collects imagery not just in the visible bands — useful for identifying things — but also in those outside the human range, which allows for in-depth analysis of the soil and plant life.

The resulting map of the area is not just useful for drone navigation, but for the surgical strikes that are necessary to make this kind of drone-based operation worth doing in the first place. No doubt there are researchers who would love to have this data as well.

Now, spraying and planting are very different tasks. The first tends to be done indiscriminately using helicopters, and the second by laborers who burn out after a couple of years — as mentioned above, it’s incredibly difficult work. The challenge in the first case is to improve efficiency and efficacy, while in the second case is to automate something that requires considerable intelligence.

Spraying is in many ways simpler. Identifying invasive plants isn’t easy, exactly, but it can be done with imagery like that the drones are collecting. Having identified patches of a plant to be eliminated, the drones can calculate a path and expend only as much herbicide is necessary to kill them, instead of dumping hundreds of gallons indiscriminately on the entire area. It’s cheaper and more environmentally friendly. Naturally, the opposite approach could be used for distributing fertilizer or some other agent.

I’m making it sound easy again. This isn’t a plug and play situation — you can’t buy a DJI drone and hit the “weedkiller” option in its control software. A big part of this operation was the creation not only of the drones themselves, but the infrastructure with which to deploy them.

Conservation convoy

The drones themselves are unique, but not alarmingly so. They’re heavy-duty craft, capable of lifting well over the 57 pounds of payload they carry (the FAA limits them to 115 pounds).

“We buy and gut aircraft, then retrofit them,” Canary explained simply. Their head of hardware, would probably like to think there’s a bit more to it than that, but really the problem they’re solving isn’t “make a drone” but “make drones plant trees.” To that end, Canary explained, “the most unique engineering challenge was building a planting module for the drone that functions with the software.” We’ll get to that later.

DroneSeed deploys drones in swarms, which means as many as five drones in the air at once — which in turn means they need two trucks and trailers with their boxes, power supplies, ground stations and so on. The company’s VP of operations comes from a military background where managing multiple aircraft onsite was part of the job, and she’s brought her rigorous command of multi-aircraft environments to the company.

The drones take off and fly autonomously, but always under direct observation by the crew. If anything goes wrong, they’re there to take over, though of course there are plenty of autonomous behaviors for what to do in case of, say, a lost positioning signal or bird strike.

They fly in patterns calculated ahead of time to be the most efficient, spraying at problem areas when they’re over them, and returning to the ground stations to have power supplies swapped out before returning to the pattern. It’s key to get this process down pat, since efficiency is a major selling point. If a helicopter does it in a day, why shouldn’t a drone swarm? It would be sad if they had to truck the craft back to a hangar and recharge them every hour or two. It also increases logistics costs like gas and lodging if it takes more time and driving.

This means the team involves several people, as well as several drones. Qualified pilots and observers are needed, as well as people familiar with the hardware and software that can maintain and troubleshoot on site — usually with no cell signal or other support. Like many other forms of automation, this one brings its own new job opportunities to the table.

AI plays Mother Nature

The actual planting process is deceptively complex.

The idea of loading up a drone with seeds and setting it free on a blasted landscape is easy enough to picture. Hell, it’s been done. There are efforts going back decades to essentially load seeds or seedlings into guns and fire them out into the landscape at speeds high enough to bury them in the dirt: in theory this combines the benefits of manual planting with the scale of carpeting the place with seeds.

But whether it was slapdash placement or the shock of being fired out of a seed gun, this approach never seemed to work.

Forestry researchers have shown the effectiveness of finding the right “microsite” for a seed or seedling; in fact, it’s why manual planting works as well as it does. Trained humans find perfect spots to put seedlings: in the lee of a log; near but not too near the edge of a stream; on the flattest part of a slope, and so on. If you really want a forest to grow, you need optimal placement, perfect conditions and preventative surgical strikes with pesticides.

Although it’s difficult, it’s also the kind of thing that a machine learning model can become good at. Sorting through messy, complex imagery and finding local minima and maxima is a specialty of today’s ML systems, and the aerial imagery from the drones is rich in relevant data.

The company’s CTO led the creation of an ML model that determines the best locations to put trees at a site — though this task can be highly variable depending on the needs of the forest. A logging company might want a tree every couple of feet, even if that means putting them in sub-optimal conditions — but a few inches to the left or right may make all the difference. On the other hand, national forests may want more sparse deployments or specific species in certain locations to curb erosion or establish sustainable firebreaks.

Once the data has been crunched, the map is loaded into the drones’ hive mind and the convoy goes to the location, where the craft are loaded with seeds instead of herbicides.

But not just any old seeds! You see, that’s one more wrinkle. If you just throw a sagebrush seed on the ground, even if it’s in the best spot in the world, it could easily be snatched up by an animal, roll or wash down to a nearby crevasse, or simply fail to find the right nutrients in time despite the planter’s best efforts.

That’s why DroneSeed’s head of Planting and his team have been working on a proprietary seed packet that they were unbelievably reticent to detail.

From what I could gather, they’ve put a ton of work into packaging the seeds into nutrient-packed little pucks held together with a biodegradable fiber. The outside is dusted with capsaicin, the chemical that makes spicy food spicy (and also what makes bear spray do what it does). If they hadn’t told me, I might have guessed, since the workshop area was hazy with it, leading us all to cough and tear up a little. If I were a marmot, I’d learn to avoid these things real fast.

The pucks, or “seed vessels,” can and must be customized for the location and purpose — you have to match the content and acidity of the soil, things like that. DroneSeed will have to make millions of these things, but it doesn’t plan to be the manufacturer.

Finally these pucks are loaded in a special puck-dispenser which, closely coordinating with the drone, spits one out at the exact moment and speed needed to put it within a few centimeters of the microsite.

All these factors should improve the survival rate of seedlings substantially. That means that the company’s methods will not only be more efficient, but more effective. Reforestation is a numbers game played at scale, and even slight improvements — and DroneSeed is promising more than that — are measured in square miles and millions of tons of biomass.

Proof of life

DroneSeed has already signed several big contracts for spraying, and planting is next. Unfortunately, the timing on their side meant they missed this year’s planting season, though by doing a few small sites and showing off the results, they’ll be in pole position for next year.

After demonstrating the effectiveness of the planting technique, the company expects to expand its business substantially. That’s the scaling part — again, not easy, but easier than hiring another couple thousand planters every year.

Ideally the hardware can be assigned to local teams that do the on-site work, producing loci of activity around major forests from which jobs can be deployed at large or small scales. A set of five or six drones does the work of one helicopter, roughly speaking, so depending on the volume requested by a company or forestry organization, you may need dozens on demand.

That’s all yet to be explored, but DroneSeed is confident that the industry will see the writing on the wall when it comes to the old methods, and identify them as a solution that fits the future.

If it sounds like I’m cheerleading for this company, that’s because I am. It’s not often in the world of tech startups that you find a group of people not just attempting to solve a serious problem — it’s common enough to find companies hitting this or that issue — but who have spent the time, gathered the expertise and really done the dirty, boots-on-the-ground work that needs to happen so it goes from great idea to real company.

That’s what I felt was the case with DroneSeed, and here’s hoping their work pays off — for their sake, sure, but mainly for ours.

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Apple to boost ads business as iPhone changes hurt Facebook

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Enlarge / Tim Cook, chief executive officer of Apple Inc., speaks about the new iPhone during an event at the Steve Jobs Theater in Cupertino, Calif. on Sept. 10, 2019.

Bloomberg

Apple will expand its advertising business, according to two people familiar with its plans, just as it brings in new privacy rules for iPhones that are likely to cripple the ads offered by its rivals, including Facebook.

The iPhone maker already sells search ads for its App Store that allow developers to pay for the top result. In searches for “Twitter,” for example, the first result is currently TikTok.

Apple now plans to add a second advertising slot, in the “suggested” apps section in its App Store search page. This new slot will be rolled out by the end of the month, according to one of the people, and will allow advertisers to promote their apps across the whole network rather than in response to specific searches.

Apple declined to comment.

The expansion is the first concrete sign that Apple plans to enhance its own advertising business at the same time as it shakes up the broader $350 billion digital ads industry led by Facebook and Google.

Apple’s forthcoming software update, iOS 14.5, will ban apps and advertisers from collecting data about iPhone users without their explicit consent. Most users are expected to decline to be tracked, dealing a huge blow to how the mobile advertising industry works.

Apple has said the changes will improve the privacy of its users, but some critics have accused the company of hoping to boost its own fledgling advertising business. Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook chief executive, said, “Apple may say they’re doing this to help people, but the moves clearly track with their competitive interests.”

Apple has long wanted to be a big player in mobile advertising. In 2010, it paid $275 million to acquire Quattro Wireless, a mobile advertising company, after being beaten by Google in the bidding for $750 million AdMob.

The same year, it launched iAd, a multiyear effort to build an advertising business.

At launch, iAd had a minimum contract price of $1 million, but within a year it had cut the requirement by half. Apple tried to maintain creative control over ads and was reticent to share user data with marketers, according to analysts at Bernstein. Two years later, Apple cut the minimum contract to just $50 and the whole effort was shut down in early 2016.

Meanwhile, the market for online advertising has boomed, with annual sales of $378 billion, according to the market research group Insider Intelligence.

Google and Facebook are the two biggest players in the market, but Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive, has repeatedly attacked their business models as unsustainable because of how they accumulate large troves of data to target their ads.

Bernstein estimated that Apple currently earns around $2 billion a year from search ads in the App Store, with 80 percent margins. Apple also sells ads in its Stocks and News apps.

A second advertising slot in the App Store is likely to appeal to advertisers after the iPhone’s privacy changes reduce the effectiveness of targeted ads. But there is more than money at stake, according to Eric Seufert, a mobile advertising expert.

A decade ago, the App Store played a critical role in how consumers discovered new content. Seufert told the tech site Stratechery earlier this year that Apple used to be “king maker—if you got featured, your company valuation might increase by a hundred million dollars.”

He suggested that Apple now wishes to regain this level of control. “If Apple cripples mobile advertising, then the App Store becomes the primary discovery point for apps again, and Apple decides how people use our iPhones. Apple decides which apps are the most popular,” he said.

© 2021 The Financial Times Ltd. All rights reserved. Not to be redistributed, copied, or modified in any way.

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Garmin’s 2 new smartwatches want to make the casual athlete more advanced

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Garmin

Garmin has just launched its latest pair of smartwatches, the Garmin Venu 2 and Venu 2S, aimed at those who feel Apple Watches and typical Android smartwatches just don’t give enough health and fitness data. Garmin has a seemingly bottomless roster of smartwatches, and most cater to those who train rather than just exercise casually.

The Venu 2 and 2S seem suited best for somewhat serious to moderately serious trainers who want data informed by all of the latest wearable sensors (SpO2, GPS, HR). At the same time, it covers its smartwatch bases quite well with a vibrant AMOLED touchscreen, onboard music storage, smartphone notifications for iPhone and Android devices (including texts you can reply to on Android), and 11-day battery life.

Add in rapid recharging, which gives you a day of smartwatch use from a 10-minute charge (or 1 hour of GPS with music playback) and all of this should add up to quick-and-easy, everyday integration into your life and routines. Garmin wants to help this along with a revamped UI aesthetic to match the sharper, more colorful AMOLED display and a series of new aggregated metrics that explain what all the data it’s gathering actually means for your health.

Features like Fitness Age, Body Battery, stress tracking, and sleep scores aren’t new to Garmin watches (though, Fitness Age is new to the Venu series), but tips to improve your fitness age, as well as sleep tracking and the all-new Health Snapshot are. Using your resting heart rate and BMI (or body fat percentage if you own a Garmin Index Smart Scale), the Venu can approximate your “fitness age” and explain how to impact this within the Garmin Connect companion app.

The Health Snapshot feature takes a more all-encompassing survey of your body’s functions via a two-minute session that records heart rate, heart rate variability (the variation in time between heartbeats, commonly looked at as an indicator of cardiovascular health), blood oxygen levels, respiration, and stress to create a health report, also viewable in the Connect app.

There are also two new activities added to the more than 25 sport-specific tracking modes: HIIT workouts and a more advanced strength-training mode. HIIT tracking will include timers for AMRAP (as many reps as possible), EMOM (every minute on the minute, where a certain number of reps are done in a minute’s time, using leftover time as the only interstitial rest), and Tabata (20 seconds on, 10 seconds off, for four minutes).

Preloaded guided workouts for over 75 workouts can be accessed from your wrist, or create your own from the 1,400+ exercises in the Garmin Connect app.
Enlarge / Preloaded guided workouts for over 75 workouts can be accessed from your wrist, or create your own from the 1,400+ exercises in the Garmin Connect app.

Garmin

Advanced strength training can scale your one-rep max (manually logged) to applicable exercises of your choosing, lat pulldowns to upright rows, for instance, ensuring you’re training efficiently. It also keeps track of your personal records (also manually logged) for barbell back squats, barbell bench presses, barbell deadlifts, barbell upright rows, and overhead barbell presses. When you’re done working out, you can view your PRs, as well as the muscle groups you worked, directly on the watch.

These new modes work with the more than 75 workouts provided by Garmin or any custom workouts you’ve created from the 1,400+ exercises in the Garmin Connect app. Many of the exercises have videos and graphics within the app to explain them, and it displays an image of the activity on the watch while you’re performing it.

From our experience with other Garmin watches, the on-watch graphic hasn’t been the most seamless way to view and complete an exercise—it’s much easier to follow along on a screen detached from your body—but having prompts on your wrist to guide you through the workout, rather than teach you the exercise, proved properly useful. Like most of Garmin’s watches, you can also enable Garmin Coach to help you train for a 5K, 10K, or half marathon with tailored, dynamic coaching to keep you on a safe and effective pace for your goals.

All the basics and then some

As far as your usual broad-range activity tracking, you’re well-covered on the Venu 2/2S with GPS, blood oxygen monitor, and a heart rate sensor, as well as an altimeter, compass, and gyroscope for more outdoors-y adventures. Speaking of which, the Venu 2/2S still has access to the company’s Livetrack feature for friends and family to check up on you during hikes, runs, and other outdoor activities, as well as automatic incident detection (and a manual trigger), which can alert emergency contacts with your real-time location.

And, of course, if all’s going to plan on your adventures, you can pair up some headphones and enjoy the motivating or calming effect of up to 650 songs stored on your wrist, as well as playlists saved from Spotify, Amazon Music, and Deezer. There’s no cellular connection built in, so if you want to stream music then you’ll have to bring your phone.

The Venu 2S is 5ATM water-resistant and comes with a 1.1-inch AMOLED display, surrounded by a stainless-steel bezel in either gold, silver, rose gold, or black, with silicone bands in beige, gray, white, or black, respectively. The Venu 2 is a bit larger at 1.3 inches and either comes with a navy or black silicone band and silver or black bezels for each. They’re both available now for the same $399.99 price, which may seem high, grazing Apple Watch territory, but if you’re serious about your training, Garmin’s watches have proven they’re worth a look.

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

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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

Minisforum UM250 product image

Minisforum UM250

(Ars Technica may earn compensation for sales from links on this post through affiliate programs.)

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.

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