How does Bento Lab’s thermocycler compare with conventional lab thermocyclers?

We’re often asked: “How does the Bento Lab thermocycler unit compare in performance to conventional laboratory thermocyclers?”

Bento Lab’s thermocycler is the heart of the Bento Lab portable PCR workstation. Here we break down the various features of Bento Lab’s thermocycler so you can decide whether it’s suitable for your research.

Thermocycler design

Bento Lab’s thermocycler functions very much like a conventional laboratory thermocycler, only smaller, featuring a 32-well thermocycler block rather than a 96-well block.

As with conventional machines, it uses Peltier technology to achieve heating and cooling, assisted by active fan cooling. PCR tubes are seated in a heat-conductive aluminium alloy block to provide even heating and cooling.

The thermocycler unit has a spring-loaded programmable heated lid (maximum 120 °C), and a firm clip-to-open snap-latch to allow easy opening and closing.


Like most conventional thermocyclers, Bento Lab’s thermocycler is fully controlled from a central navigation screen. Bento Lab has an on-board LCD interface and click-wheel navigation, which means that no other devices are needed to program or run the thermocycler; and a graphical PCR program screen, allowing simple visualisation of PCR program steps and cycles.

PCR yield and specificity

Bento Lab’s ability to produce amplicons with satisfactory yield and specificity during PCR have been demonstrated in published articles for application ranging from DNA barcoding for biodiversity exploration with an end point of Sanger sequencing [1] or Oxford Nanopore MinION sequencing [2,3]; multiplex PCRs and MinION sequencing [4]; metagenomics and pathogen detection [5], RT-PCR detection of SARS-COV-2 [6], biosurveillance [7], and detection of anti-microbial resistant bacterial strains [8], among others.

A direct comparison of Bento Lab’s thermocycler with Veriti® and Kyratech® thermocyclers to establish equipment interchangeability during workflows produced identical amplicons [7]. Additionally, a comparison of RT-PCR amplification of target RNA between the Bento Lab and a regular thermocycler by quantitatively measuring Cas12a-dependent fluorescence indicated that Bento Lab could be a “solid alternative” to conventional thermocyclers [6].

Temperature range

Bento Lab Pro’s thermocycler has an active heating/cooling range from 12 °C–102 °C, while Bento Lab Entry’s thermocycler has an active heating/cooling range from 21 °C–99 °C. Both models cover the expected range of thermocycling temperatures. However, unlike conventional thermocyclers Bento Lab can’t cool as low as 4°C for cold incubation steps or for simulating an ice block for cold PCR setup.

Ramp speed and PCR duration

Bento Lab’s thermocycler is optimised for portability in terms of small size, low weight, and energy efficiency. This means it is not the fastest thermocycler out there, with a maximum ramp/cooling rate of 2.5 °C/s (depending on ambient temperatures). For comparison, some conventional but much larger and expensive thermocyclers are capable of 5 °C/s. However, Bento Lab is comparable in speed to other small portable PCR machines, and to some older thermocyclers that may still be in use in some labs.

Depending on the PCR program a typical 35-cycle PCR with Bento Lab will take around 90–140 minutes. Shorter duration PCRs can be programmed as required, for example if you are using fewer cycles, an optimised fast PCR program, or fast polymerase master mixes.


Bento Lab Pro and Bento Lab Entry can store up to 100 PCR programs. PCR programs can be designed from scratch via the PCR program menu, or copied from existing programs and modified.

Bento Lab Pro can use touchdown PCR steps, but Bento Lab Entry cannot. However, stepdown PCR can be used instead.


Like other thermocyclers, Bento Lab’s thermocycler can be used as a heat block for a variety of purposes, using a dedicated heat block menu. Its 32 wells make it ideal for maximising throughput when doing 0.2 mL PCR tube format DNA extractions [2], enzymatic digestions [9], and library preparation for Oxford Nanopore MinION sequencing [2,3,4]


Bento Lab’s thermocycler uses generic 0.2 mL PCR tubes and does not require a proprietary PCR tube format. It can accommodate individual PCR tubes, 8-tube PCR strips, and 16-well to 32-well mini-plates. The heated lid has been designed to accommodate a range of PCR tube lids, from domed lids to flat-top lids.

Weight, footprint, and portability

The entire Bento Lab machine (including centrifuge and electrophoresis units) weighs 3.5 kg: slightly more than a heavy laptop, and a small fraction of the weight of standard lab thermocyclers that can weigh anything from 12 kg–17 kg.

It has a bench footprint of 33 x 21.4 cm — around the footprint of a large laptop. This is not dissimilar to conventional thermocyclers if you ignore the fact that Bento Lab also has centrifuge and electrophoresis units. However, Bento Lab is only 8 cm high, is much easier to pick up and put away in a case, box, or drawer! It is ideal for “hot desking”, and setting up in improvised lab settings such as in a field camp, a desk or in a car.

Bento Lab’s small size and light weight allow it to be easily carried by hand or in a backpack, case or storage box, and packed away when not in use to free up bench space.


Ultimately the decision of whether Bento Lab’s thermocycler is suitable for you will depend on your specific application.

  • General use in and outside of labs: If you’re looking for a small, portable, and affordable thermocycler (with additional centrifuge and electrophoresis units) that has been demonstrated to be suitable for a range of different applications, then Bento Lab could be for you.
  • Fieldwork: If you’d like to maximise sample processing, PCR, or MinION library preparation with a portable device during fieldwork, Bento Lab’s 32-wells could help you process more samples at the same time than other portable PCR devices on the market.
  • Education: If you’re looking for a small PCR device for education, then its affordability, small footprint, and on-board programmability could be an advantage, even before you’ve considered the additional centrifuge and electrophoresis units.

Whatever your PCR application, we hope that Bento Lab can work for you!

We’d love to know what aspects of Bento Lab you like, and what parts you would like to see improved in the future! If you have any comments on this post, or any features you would like more information, please get in touch!

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[1] Aplin, N. (2021). Stypella mirabilis, recollected after 24 years and transferred to the genus Myxarium following DNA barcoding. Field Mycology, 22 (4), 113-116

[2] Chang et al. (2020). Takeaways from mobile DNA barcoding with BentoLab and MinION. Genes, 11(10), 1121.

[3] Knot et al. (2020). DNA barcoding of nematodes using the MinION. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, 8, 100.

[4] Holzschuh et al. (2024). Using a mobile nanopore sequencing lab for end-to-end genomic surveillance of Plasmodium falciparum: A feasibility study. PLOS Global Public Health, 4(2), e0002743.

[5] Marin et al. (2022). Rapid oxford nanopore technologies MinION sequencing workflow for Campylobacter jejuni identification in broilers on site—a proof-of-concept study. Animals, 12(16), 2065.

[6] Alcántara et al. (2021). Unlocking SARS-CoV-2 detection in low-and middle-income countries. Cell reports methods, 1(7).

[7] Kambouris et al. (2020). Point-of-need molecular processing of biosamples using portable instrumentation to reduce turnaround time. Biosafety and Health2(3), 177-182.

[8] Hirabayashi et al. (2021). On-site genomic epidemiological analysis of antimicrobial-resistant bacteria in Cambodia with portable laboratory equipment. Frontiers in Microbiology, 12, 675463.

[9] Nistreanu et al. (2023). Diversitatea și ecologia speciilor de mamifere din Rezervația științifică „Pădurea Domnească”. Revista de Ştiinţă, Inovare, Cultură şi Artă, Akademos”68(1), 22-32.

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