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MINIX NGC-1 Review and Benchmarks with Windows 10 Home

February 11th, 2016 15 comments

MINIX NGC-1 mini PC is powered by an Intel Celeron N3150 quad core “Braswell” processor with 4GB RAM and a 128GB M.2SSD, and pre-loaded with Windows 10 Home. While the product aims to provide a convenient alternative to Intel NUC kits, as everything is pre-assembled and pre-installed, I’ll also compare the experience to Bay Trail and Cherry Trail mini PCs such as MeLE PCG03 or Tronsmart Ara X5. I’ve already provided NGC-1 specifications and some pictures, so today, I’ll test the capabilities of the device, and run some benchmarks in the review.

MINIX NGC-1 Setup

Once you’ve connected a USB keyboard and mouse, and the power supply, you are ready to start. Press the power button, the blue power will lit on the front of the device, and you’ll hear a beep and the very first time system will boot to Windows 10 setup screen where you’ll be asked to set the language, read and accept Windows’ EULA, configure the network, and select Express Settings, and you should have access to Windows 10 desktop.

Click for Original Size

Click for Original Size

For most people that’s all you need to do. Next time you boot, it should take between 20 to 30 seconds to get to the desktop, unless of course Windows decides it’s a good time for an update in which case it might take much longer..

MINIX_NGC-1_Resolution_Framerate

Video output was automatically configured to 1080p59, but since I connected the computer to a 4K television (LG 42UB820T) via an Onkyo AV receiver, I could also select 4K resolutions such as 3840×2160 or 4096×2160 up to respectively 30 Hz or 24 Hz as the computer features an HDMI 1.4 port.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

But for some of the review, I selected 1080p60 settings, expect when I played 4K videos in Kodi.

If you have connected speakers to the 3.5mm audio jack, Windows 10 should automatically detect it, but in case you get no audio, you may have to click on the Speaker icon on the taskbar to change the Playback device to Realtek High Definition Audio.

MINIX NGC-1 System Information

Let’s go to Control Panel-> System and Security -> System to double check the main hardware and operating systems.

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Click to Enlarge

MINIX NGC-1 with Intel Celeron N3150 processor @ 1.60 GHz, 4GB RAM, and Windows 10 Home 64-bit activated. All good. One of the downsides of low power mini PCs so far is that they come with only 32GB internal storage which, unless you only run one or two apps, will get filled pretty quickly. MINIX mini PC does not have this problem, as a 120 GB SSD is include, and shows a 118GB capacity with 99.7GB free in Windows, so I did not run out of space at any time.

MINIX_NGC-1_StorageI could also connect a Seagate USB 3.0 hard drive with four partitions to one of the USB 3.0 ports, and while as expected, the EXT-4 and BTRFS partition did not get any love, the system mounted both NTFS and exFAT partitions.

If you want a more detailed views of all hardware I’ve included a screenshot of the Device Manager.

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Click to Enlarge

Notable hardware include the SATA SSD (unnamed, but I’ve been told it’s a Toshiba model), Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 3165 module, Realtek PCie GBE controller, and more.

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Click to Enlarge

Running HWiNFO64 also shows the capabilities of the processor, GPU and memory configuration. For example, N3150 support dual memory channel, but the company opted for single channel configuration instead. The CPU features (green) are exactly the same as Intel Atom x5-Z8500, and the GPU is detected as Intel HD graphics 400/405 clocked at 320 MHz (base frequency).

MINIX NGC-1 Benchmarks

I’ve run both PCMARK 8 HOME 3.0 Conventional (Baseline) and Accelerated benchmarks.

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Click to Enlarge

Click to Enalrge

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Tronsmart Ara X5 got 1,048 points, and MeLE PCG03 got 1,052 points in the conventional benchmark, so in terms of performance NGC-1 is about 20% faster than their low end and much cheaper platforms. You can check the full NGC-1 report for Conventional and Accelerated results.

I’ve also run 3DMark to get a better idea of graphics performance.

NGC-1_3DMARK

You can see the full results on 3DMark website, and the performance is a little better than Intel Atom x5-X8300 based Tronsmart Ara X5.
NGC-1_CrystalDiskMark_SSDHowever, when we compare the storage results, NGC-1 is clearly ahead, and sequential read speed (298.5 MB/s) is well over three times faster then Ara X5, and nearly twice as fast as MeLE PCG03, and sequential and random write speeds are even better.

My USB hard drive did not work on Tronsmart Ara X5, but it did on NGC-1, and the performance is pretty good, although NTFS appears to be faster than exFAT based on CrytalDiskMark benchmark results. However, please note that mechanical hard drive performance may differ between partitions as you get further from the center, and in my case is higher on partition 1 compared to partition 4. (NTFS is partition 1, exFAT partition 3).

NGC-1_CrystalDiskMark_USB_NTFS

USB HDD NTFS Partition

NGC-1_CrystalDiskMark_USB_exFAT

USB HDD exFAT Partition

Few low power mini PCs support Gigabit Ethernet and/or 802.11ac  WiFi but NGC-1 supports both, and I tested network performance with iperf 2.x.

NGC-1_WiFi-AC

I’ve started by connecting NGC-1 to my 802.11ac router, and running the full duplex test.

I’ve compared the results against other Android and Windows 10 devices tested with iperf, and NGC-1 is right in the middle.

Throughput in Mbps

Throughput in Mbps

I ran the test a few times with similar results, so I also run the test again in only one direction but again, the performance is similar.

I switch the Gigabit Ethernet and ran the same test.

Compared to Android devices, the performance is lower than average. Both of these tests assume iperf client behaves the same in Android and Windows.

Throughput in Mbps

Throughput in Mbps

If I test in one direction only, the result is about the same

Increasing the window size will boost the results:

But I’ve noticed that if you do this in full duplex, the other direction performance will suffer. So while the wireless and wired networking performance is much better than with other low power Intel platforms I’ve tested, I was expecting even more.

I’ve summarized some of the results above in a chart comparing MINIX NGC-1, an Intel Celeron N3050 (dual core) NUC with 4GB RAM and a 120GB SSD, Kangaroo Mobile Desktop (Atom x5-z8500), and Tronsmart Ara X5. The results for Ice Storm 1.2 were divided by 10 to provide a readable chart.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

There are some minor improvements between Cherry Trail and Braswell platforms, but the greatest difference is the storage performance thanks to SSD used in Cherry Trail platform. The data for the other three platforms comes from a table released by Linuxium.

MINIX NGC-1 Usability Testing

Benchmarks are one thing, but at the end of the day, you’ll want to know what you can do with your mini PC. While low cost low power mini PCs with 2GB RAM and 32GB storage are fine as an HTPC, they come short as a desktop platform, and since MINIX NGC-1 has 4GB RAM, and 120 GB storage, I’d expected to be a potential desktop replacement.

So I’ve done several tests that may struggle in some mini PCs:

  • Multi-tasking – Using Firefox, Thunderbird, LibreOffice, and Gimp at the same time
  • Web Browsing
    • Loading multiple tab with CNX Software in Firefox
    • Playing 1080p YouTube Videos in Firefox, Chrome, and Microsoft Edge browsers
    • Playing a flash game  (Candy Crush Saga) in Microsoft Edge
  • Gaming with Asphalt 8
  • Kodi 16.0 RC3 @ 4K resolution with 1080p & 4K videos using H.265 or H.264 codecs.

You can watch the full tests in the video below.

The main takeaways are that MINIX NGC-1 is perfectly usable as a desktop machine, and multi-tasking between apps did not lead to slow-downs. YouTube videos (VP9) do not play smoothly in Firefox, but are fine in both Chrome and especially Microsoft Edge, so that with great disappointment, as a Firefox user, that I have to recommend the two others browsers on NGC-1. Candy Crush Saga is playable on the machine, but not quite as smooth as one my now mid-range Android smartphone (quad core Cortex A53). Asphalt8 is playable, but I’m not fully satisfied with the frame rate.

I switched the 3840×2160 @ 30 Hz before launching Kodi 16.0, and reboot the machine. H.265 videos could not play with hardware decoding (XVDA2) and all I got was a green screen for all videos. Both 1080p and 2160p H.264 (8-bit) videos up to 30 fps could play smoothly, and were using hardware (XVDA2) video decoding. However, 10-bit H.264 switching to software decoding, and the 4K sample I tried had a lot of artifacts, and was not very smooth.

If you wonder what a 4K desktop may look like, I’ve tiled 4 windows while the resolution was set to 3840×2160.

Click for Original Size

Click for Original Size

I also played Asphalt8 at 4K resolution, and it was not as bad as I would have expected, although it’s not really enjoyable at that resolution (and frame rate).

The main differentiating factor between devices with apparently the same specifications are thermal design, and if it done the wrong way it may negatively affect performance of the machine. I had some worries with my first NGC-1 sample as it would quickly throttle, and even at 220 MHz be very close to TjMAX (the maximum junction temperature), which lead me to write How to Check CPU Throttling in Windows 10, and since there was no easy solution, the company sent me a new sample, and I sent back the old one to Hong Kong for investigation a few days ago. The good news is that the new sample works very well, and at no time during my testing the processor throttled, even after three hours playing 1080p videos, something that bogged Tronsmart Ara X5 after 30 minutes.

MINIX_NGC-1_HWiNFO64_SensorsWhy is MINIX NGC-1 so expensive?

When MINIX Braswell mini PC was released most people talked about its price: $399. The company provided some explanations how the price.

  1. The Windows 10 Home License costs $85
  2. High performance components: Samsung DDR3L RAM, Toshiba MLC SSD, and Intel AC3165
  3. Metal case for passive cooling made by Apple’s MacBooks supplier.

The company also mentioned that NGC-1 can be summed up as a pre-installed NUC at no extra cost.

Conclusion

MINIX NGC-1 is a solid fanless machine with constant performance, very fast storage, that just works, and makes a decent desktop PC. However, I can’t really recommend it for pure HTPC use due to the price, as you’ll find something that works just as well for half the price or less.

MINIX NGC-1 will launch tomorrow for $399 in North America, 399 Euros in Europe, and 299 GBP in Great Britain.

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Ugoos AM1 4K TV Box Review

February 9th, 2016 12 comments

Ugoos AM1 is yet another TV box based on Amlogic S905. I’ve already published specifications and uploaded some pictures of the nice looking cyan box and its board, so today I’ll report on my experience after actually playing with the device, where I mostly focused on known problems found on other S905 mini PCs, and some extra features added to Ugoos firmware.

First Boot, Settings, and First Impressions

I filled all three USB ports with a USB webcam, a USB hard drive, and a USB hub with RF dongles for MINIX NEO A2 Lite air mouse,  Tronsmart Mars G01 wireless gamepad, and a USB keyboard (convenient for screenshots), and connected Ethernet, HDMI and power cables. A boot will usually take around 30 seconds.

Before going through the user interface, I’ll mention that OTA firmware upgrade worked very well, and it was one of the first thing I did before the review. Ugoos firmware version used for review is 0.0.3 as shown in the screenshot below.

Ugoos_AM1_OTA_Firmware_Update

The UPDATE&BACKUP app will download the update, reboot the device, perform the update and you’re done. The first boot you’ll be asked to choose between UgoosLauncher, or Launcher3.

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Click for Original Size

Launcher3 looks basically like stock Android launcher.

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Click for Original Size

UgoosLauncher has been designed internally, is more suitable for a TV experience, and is available on all recent Ugoos devices including Ugoos UT4, where the latest firmware includes the launcher. The menu selection on the right includes folder for apps called “Internet”, “IPTV”, “MEDIA”, “OTHER”, “ALL APPS”, “GAMES”, “TOOLS”, and “SETTINGS” as well as an “OPTIONS” section to customize the launcher with the number of rows and columns, color, time time, and wallpaper. I found adjusting the rows and columns did not work so well, as icons are cut a little when selecting 4×4.. Apps are automatically assigned to a folder, for example Antutu could be found in “Tools”, and YouTube or Kodi in “Media”. Sadly there does not seem to be a way to customize which apps you want in a particular folder. [Update: you can move apps between category by long pressing on an app, and the following menu appears to let you open, move, select category or delete an app.

Ugoos_Launcher_Change_CategoryNote that a long press with my air mouse in remote mote (using arrows key + OK) would only launch the application, but if I switch to air mouse mode, and long press an app with the mouse cursor it works.]

I’m also not a fan of listing apps by chronological order, which Ugoos Launcher does, as it makes more difficult to find the app you need, and switching between the main selections is not as fast as I’d like, as I needed to wait for one second, before switching between “ALL APPS” and “GAMES” for example.

As with other Amlogic S905 TV boxes, the user interface resolution is set to 1920×1080. Settings are basically the same as on the other devices too, so I invite you to check MINI MX review for more details about settings option. There’s however one difference: Ugoos settings.

Ugoos_Settings

You can probably expect Ugoos to add more goodies overtime as they push firmware updates out, but for now, there’s just an option to enable root or disable root access, which can be very convenient, since some apps require root, while others will refuse to run on a rooted device. Unrooting will require a reboot of the TV box.

You can have a better look at Ugoos Launcher and Ugoos specific settings in the video below.

The system set my TV to 1080p50 the first time, but I could set this to 2160p 60Hz in the settings. Unfortunately, like with most other S905 devices, AM1 won’t always keep the settings after a reboot.

About_Ugoos_AM1If we visit Android settings’ About MediaBox section, we’ll find the model number is UGOOS-AM1, which runs Android 5.1.1 on top of Linux 3.14.29.

The firmware also comes with a unified storage partition that gives the user 11.87GB out of the 16GB eMMC flash, with 6.57GB at the end of the review after installing apps, and copying some large files to the flash, so there should be plenty of space to fulfill the requirements of most users.

The HDMI CEC issue I have been having with Amlogic S905 and Onkyo TX-NR636 AV receiver was still there, so I could not enable HDMI-CEC, and all I got was the “This remote device does not support CEC” message.

I had no issues with Google Play Store, except for HPlus Watch app required for Makibes F68 smartwatch, but it’s likely because the app requires telephony support for handling call and SMS notifications. I also side-loaded Amazon Underground in order to install the free version of Riptide GP2. However, as I wanted to use YouTube, I was asked to install an update to Google Play Services, and Google service started to crash very often (like every 10 seconds), making the system usable, so I decided to uninstall the Updates and the system worked fine again, even if that means I could not use apps such as YouTube, or Google Hangouts. So that’s something the company will have to fix in next firmware.

Ugoos_AM1_Google_Play_Stopped

The firmware may have been rushed before Chinese New Year, as another side-effect of the firmware update is that the included IR remote was unusable, with the power key lowering the volume, and most keys having no effect. I guess that’s the “support for new remote layout” part that caused problem. It’s not clear right now whether the company decided to ship a different remote with new models, or simply made a mistake with the firmware.

That also means that the only way to control power is to use the power icon on the status bar. Clicking on the icon will show a menu with Power off, Sleep, Reboot, and Reboot recovery options. All four worked fine, but since the remote is not working with that firmware, or the remote I used was only send to a few reviewers or beta testers, the only way to power on the media player is to disconnect and reconnect the power supply. I’m sure a solution will quickly be found after Chinese New Year holidays.

Temperature was under control at all times with the maximum top and bottom covers’ temperatures being respectively 39°C and 46°C after Antutu 6.0, and 41°C and 53 °C after over 15 minutes playing Riptide GP2, without any noticeable performance difference over time.

I also measured power consumption in three modes with or without USB hard drive:

  • Power off – 2.0 Watts
  • Sleep – 1.2 Watt
  • Idle – 3.1 Watts
  • Power off + HDD – 4.1 Watts
  • Sleep + HDD – 3.3 Watts
  • Idle + HDD – 5.4 Watts

There are two problems here: 1. Power off power consumption is higher than in sleep mode, and 2. the USB port is not properly turned off in power off mode.

I also had an other issue on my device. The USB port close to the SD card slot would not work at all with either my USB hard drive or RF dongles. The firmware should have fixed this as one comment on Ugoos blog explained:

Some users had problems with OTG usb port that turns to a slave mode and doesn’t work with airmouses and pads. Now we add automatic slave/active mode for this USB port.

But it did not, unless I have another issue.

While the firmware is very responsive, and stable, there are currently too many issues to have satisfying experience, including the remote messed-up key mapping, a USB port not working, and issues with the latest version of Google Play services. I’m hopeful all those three critical issues will be fixed in upcoming firmware updates.

Video Playback in in Kodi 16.0

Kodi’s trademark policy is that if you distribute a modified binary, you can’t use Kodi in your application name. The rule is not followed by the vast maority of companies, but for example that’s why MINIX is called their port XBMC for MINIX, and WeTek will change the name of their “Kodi” app to something else. And at first when I went to Google Play in order to install apps, I noticed that Kodi was detected as installed, which would truly have been a first.

Kodi_Google_Play_Installed However the latest version of Kodi in Google Play is Kodi 15.2 released on October 2015, and the company installed a version of Kodi 16.0 Beta 4, modified or not, built on December 13, 2015. So we can’t trust the Google Play store to report the “truth” about this details.
Ugoos_AM1_Kodi_16.0I’ve tested Kodi many times on Amlogic S905 platform, so I’ll shorten the list of tested videos just like in G9C review. I’ve played all videos from a SAMBA share over a Gigabit Ethernet connection unless otherwise stated.

Playing 1080p Linaro media samples and 720p RealMedia samples went relatively smoothly:

  • H.264 codec / MP4 container (Big Buck Bunny) – 1080p – OK
  • MPEG2 codec / MPG container –  1080p – OK
  • MPEG4 codec, AVI container 1080p – OK, but I got a black screen until the user interface was activated
  • VC1 codec (WMV) – 1080p – OK
  • Real Media (RMVB), 720p / 5Mbps – OK
  • WebM / VP8 – OK
  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS container (1080p) – OK
  • WebM / VP9 (no audio in video) – OK
  • hddvd_demo_17.5Mbps_1080p_VC1.mkv (17.5Mbps) – Could be smoother (but unrelated to network).
  • h264_1080p_hp_4.1_40mbps_birds.mkv (40 Mbps) – OK
  • Jellyfish-120-Mbps.mkv (120 Mbps video without audio) – Could be smoother, but likely because Amlogic S905 cannot handle 100+ Mbps videos very well
HDMI audio pass-through only worked for Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1, and for some reasons videos were all played zoomed in:
  • AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 – Dolby D 5.1, but with some audio cuts; video zoomed in
  • E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 – Audio OK (Dolby D 5.1); video zoomed in
  • Dolby Digital+ 7.1 – PCM 2.0 only; video zoomed in
  • TrueHD 5.1 – PCM 2.0 only; video zoomed in
  • TrueHD 7.1 – PCM 2.0 only; video zoomed in
  • Dolby Atmos 7.1 – PCM 2.0 only; video zoomed in
  • DTS HD Master – DTS 5.1 only with some audio cuts; video zoomed in
  • DTS HD High Resolution – DTS 5.1 only with some audio cuts; no video, as the system stays in Kodi’s file browser.

That part did not work exactly well, and since Ugoos AM1 is not based on Amlogic S905-H, DTS and Dolby down-mixing is not supported outside of Kodi.

4K videos playback was also a mixed experience:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 – Plays with a micro pause every second or so.
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – OK
  • Ducks Take Off [2160p a 243 Mbps].mkv (H.264) – Lots of buffering, and when the video is not smooth when it plays.
  • 暗流涌动-4K.mp4 (10-bit H.264 @ 119 Mbps) – Massive artifacts, mostly green screen
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) –  OK
  • Samsung_UHD_Dubai_10-bit_HEVC_51.4Mbps.ts (10-bit HEVC / MPEG-4 AAC) – Stays in Kodi’s file browser for nearly 20 seconds, and then starts to play fine.
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video) – OK, after a long buffering at the beginning.
  • Fifa_WorldCup2014_Uruguay-Colombia_4K-x265.mp4 (4K, H.265, 60 fps) – OK
  • Astra-11479_V_22000-Canal+ UHD Demo 42.6 Mbps bitrate.ts (10-bit H.265 from DVB-S2 stream) – Plays fine until the image is stuck after a while. Typical of older Amlogic S905 SoC revisions found in boxes shipped so far.

I’ve added 暗流涌动-4K.mp4 to my list of file, as 10-bit H.264 is said to be supported by newer platforms such as Rockchip RK3229.

I played a full ~2-hour 1080p movie over SAMBA to test reliability, and it could play smoothly and until the end.

Finally, I also checked whether automatic frame rate switching would work, and it did not even after enabling HDMI self-adaptation in Android settings and setting “Adjusting display refresh rate” to “On start/stop” in Kodi settings.

Ugoos_AM1_DRM_InfoDRM info app indicated that Google Widewine DRM is enabled. The security level is blank, but it’s likely to be Level 3 for SD playback.

You can find links to video samples I use for reviews in my “video samples” post, and comments section.

Network Performance

Ugoos AM1 could transfer a 289 MB from a SAMBA over WiFi to the internal flash @ 3.18 MB/s on average with 802.11n @ 2.4 GHz, and 4.34 MB/s using an 802.11ac connection.

Throughput in MB/s

Throughput in MB/s

802.11n performance was slightly above average, and 802.11ac performance slightly below average, and both appeared to be stable and with satisfactory performance.

Throughput in MB/s

Throughput in MB/s

I repeated the same test, using ES File Explorer, and a large file, and on average the system could transfer a file @ 15.39 MB/s in both direction, making it one of the top performer in this test. however, please note that one of the transfers completely stalled, so I had to repeat the test again.

Since transferring a file over Gigabit Ethernet may be highly influenced by the eMMC flash write performance, I normally also run a full duplex iperf test, but AM1’s Ethernet connection just failed whenever I ran test, and very quickly, i.e. within 2 seconds. After the test I could still see a Gigabit Ethernet link on my Gigabit switch, but Android would indicate no Ethernet connection, and the only solution I found was to reboot the device. So it looks like while Ethernet usually performs well, there may also be some reliability issues.

Storage

The NTFS and exFAT partitions on a Seagate USB hard drive, and the FAT32 partition could be mounted. However, the infamous 10MB free space bug found in Amlogic Lollipop SDK dies hard, and I could still not copy large files to those partitions, nor run A1 SD Benchmark.

File System Read Write
NTFS OK No (10 MB free space)
EXT-4 Not mounted Not mounted
exFAT OK No (10 MB free space)
BTRFS Not mounted Not mounted
FAT32 OK OK

Internal storage has both decent read and write speeds @ respectively 38.05 MB/s and 14.16MB/s according to A1 SD Benchmark, and it surely helps making the firmware run smoothly.

Read and Write Speeds in MB/s - Click to Enlarge

Read and Write Speeds in MB/s – Click to Enlarge

Bluetooth

I had no issues pairing my phone to the device, and transfer some pictures, that is until I actually checked the pictures, all of which seemed to have been corrupted during the transfer with some lines shifted and color changes.  I’m not sure what may have caused this. I had a Bluetooth smart watch connected to my phone the first time, so I disconnected it first, and re-tried, but the results was just the same, as you can see from the image below.
Ugoos_AM1_Bluetooth_Picture_Problem

The root options in Ugoos settings is really convenient, and I could configure Sixaxis Controller app to use my PS3 Bluetooth gamepad clone with the device. I also tested Bluetooth Low Energy successfully with F68 smartwatch and its HPlus Watch app, as well as a Bluetoot headeset which I used to watch a music video on YouTube.

Gaming Performance

Since I’ve tested 3D graphics on several Amlogic S905 platforms already, I focused my testing on how good the system would maintain 3D graphics performance, by playing about 15 minutes with Riptide GP2. I set the graphics settings to the maximum, and the game did not crash like on some other Amlogic  mini PCs, and the game was very playable all the time. So that’s one of the positives for Ugoos AM1.

Ugoos AM1 Benchmarks

CPU-Z did not detect anything unusual, and UGOOS-AM1 appears to be a p200_2G platform, just like MINIX NEO U1, which is something you want to keep in mind if you want to try alternative firmwares.

Ugoos_AM1_CPU-Z
I just run Antutu 6.0.1 performance to make sure the result was as expected, and Ugoos AM1 achieved 35,068 points, which remains  comparable to the 36,741 points for Tronsmart Vega S95 Telos, but a bit short of MINIX NEO U1’s 38,032 points, with the latter most probably greatly helped by its ultra fast eMMC flash.

Ugoos_AM1_Antutu_6.0
You can get AM1 results details here.

Conclusion

While Ugoos AM1 has a good hardware base with above average storage, WiFi and Ethernet performance, as well as a responsive firmware, there’s still some work to be done, as the firmware has some rather embarrassing bugs with the remote control not working with the latest firmware, and one of the USB ports does seem to work, and the pre-installed version of Kodi has disappointing video and audio capabilities. The saving grace here is that I expect Ugoos to get on updating the firmware and fixing bugs over time.

PROS

  • Responsive Android 5.1 firmware
  • Video Output – HDMI 2.0 up to 2160p with support for 24, 25, 30, 50, and 60 Hz refresh rates
  • Pretty good network performance both with WiFi and Ethernet
  • Relatively fast internal storage read and write speed leading to fast boot time, and load time, and virtually no slowdowns
  • Root can easily be enabled/disabled in the settings
  • Performance is high and constant overtime, as tested with Riptide GP2.
  • Ugoos commitment to provide firmware upgrades
  • Widevine DRM support (likely Level 3 only)

CONS

  • The remote control is not working at all with the latest firmware
  • One of the USB port is also not working at all, and this could be a firmware issue TBC.
  • Kodi has various bugs random black screens, some videos playing zoomed in, and some videos that should play well are not. Audio pass-through is also not working in a satisfying manner, limited to DTS and Dolby 5.1 with audio cuts, and complete lack of support for TrueHD and DTS HD
  • The latest Google Play services will always crash, and if the latest version is not installed, Google Apps like YouTube won’t run.
  • Power off power consumption is higher than sleep power consumption, and USB is not turned off in power off mode.
  • 10 MB free space bug on some USB device is still not fixed
  • Potential Ethernet instability under high traffic
  • Images get corrupted during Bluetooth transfer (Unsure of cause yet).

If you’d rather wait for the most critical issues to be fixed before purchasing the device, I’d recommend you to follow Ugoos Blog, where they post news about new firmware updates.

I’d like to thanks Ugoos for sending a review sample. and distributors or sellers wanting to purchase in quantities may contact the company via AM1 product page. Ugoos AM1 is now also available for sale on e-retailers such as Aliexpress for $89.90 with free shipping, GeekBuying for $87.99, ChinaVasion for $74.62 + shipping, or GearBest for $88.74.

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Mini Review of G9C Android Media Player

January 30th, 2016 16 comments

Shenzhen Tomato sent me their G9C Android TV box at the beginning of December, but as Google Play was not working reliably in the first firmware, I decided to delay the review a little, and the company has provided a new working firmware a few weeks ago, and I’ve now taken the time to test some the main issues I normally find on Amlogic S905 Android TV box. I’ve also ready shown pictures of the device and the board, so today, I’ll only report my experience with the firmware.

First Boot and First Impressions

I’ve connected all necessary cables, and several USB devices include an harddrive and RF dongles for MINIX NEO A2 Lite air mouse and Tronsmart Mars G01 gamepad. The device started automatically upon connecting the power, and on average the boot takes between 25 to 30 seconds. Not bad at all for an entry-level device.

Click for Original Size

Click for Original Size

The launcher looks familiar…

Click for Original Size

Click for Original Size

…and the list of apps as well (I installed DRM info by myself). So I invite you to check out MINI MX review if you want to find how more about the launcher and settings, as they are identical in G9C.

About_G9CIn the about section, the Android version (5.1.1), and kernel version (3.14.29) are also identical. But at least the person who built the kernel is different so the complete firmware must be a little different.

There’s a single storage partition with 4.76 GB total space, and 3.51GB available once I had installed the apps I needed for testing, and copied some files.

Like with other Amlogic S905, G9C did not like my AV receiver (Onkyo TX-NR636) for HDMI-CEC, and i was unable to enabled it, with the system reporting that “This remote device does not support CEC”.

Google Play works pretty well with the latest firmware (I can uploaded it if somebody needs it, as I was only given a temporary link), and I could install Riptide GP2 via Amazon Underground too, although the installation of the later took a little longer than usual, and it crashed the first time right after I logged in.

Power control is implemented properly as you can turn on and off the device with the remote, or go into standby. A short press will go into standby, and a long press on the power button of the remote control will pop-up a window asking whether you want to power off the device.

The firmware itself appears to be relatively stable, however I could sometimes notice slowdowns, where the mouse pointer could not move for short periods, and in several instances I had apps just exiting for not obvious reasons.

Video Playback with Kodi 15.2

The device is pre-loaded with a version of Kodi 15.2 built on November 4, 2015, and I played all videos from a SAMBA share over Gigabit Ethernet unless other stated.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

I’ve started with 1080p Linaro media samples (except for Real Media @ 720), and they could all play:

  • H.264 codec / MP4 container (Big Buck Bunny) – 1080p – OK
  • MPEG2 codec / MPG container –  1080p – OK
  • MPEG4 codec, AVI container 1080p – OK
  • VC1 codec (WMV) – 1080p – OK
  • Real Media (RMVB), 720p / 5Mbps – OK
  • WebM / VP8 – OK
  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS container (1080p) – OK
  • WebM / VP9 (no audio in video) – OK
  • hddvd_demo_17.5Mbps_1080p_VC1.mkv (17.5Mbps) – Network: Could be smoother, and later on the video is buffering; USB HDD: Could be smoother.
  • h264_1080p_hp_4.1_40mbps_birds.mkv (40 Mbps) – Won’t play at all (stays in UI)
  • Jellyfish-120-Mbps.mkv (120 Mbps video without audio) – Network: buffering all the time. USB: Playing, but not really smooth

So the system buffers even while playing videos with less than 20 MBit/s bitrate. That’s not quite normal, and they should look into it. The device is also struggling to play the 120 Mbps from the hard drive, but this should be Amlogic S905 limitation since it occurs on all other devices with that processors.

I’ve also tested HDMI audio pass-through from my USB hard drive, because from the network video playback was quite a disaster with constant buffering. Here are the results after changing audio device to HDMI pass-through, and corresponding Kodi settings:
  • AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 – Audio OK (Dolby D 5.1). Video not smooth
  • E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 – OK (Dolby D 5.1)
  • Dolby Digital+ 7.1 – PCM 2.0 only
  • TrueHD 5.1 – No audio
  • TrueHD 7.1 – No audio
  • Dolby Atmos 7.1 – PCM 2.0 only
  • DTS HD Master – DTS 5.1 only
  • DTS HD High Resolution – Network: Won’t play (stays in UI); USB HDD: DTS 5.1 only.

G9C simply does not support audio pass-through very well. Using some other version of Kodi could help.

I’ve also tested AC3 using PCM output (downmixing) with MoviePlayer and Video Player apps and there was no audio, most likely due to the lack of licenses for those codecs.

I’ve completed the video testing, by checking some 4K videos:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 – Network: Lots of buffering; USB HDD: OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – OK
  • Ducks Take Off [2160p a 243 Mbps].mkv (H.264) – Won’t play at all (stays in UI)
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) –  OK
  • Samsung_UHD_Dubai_10-bit_HEVC_51.4Mbps.ts (10-bit HEVC / MPEG-4 AAC) – Won’t play at all (stays in UI)
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video) – Won’t play at all (stays in UI).
  • Fifa_WorldCup2014_Uruguay-Colombia_4K-x265.mp4 (4K, H.265, 60 fps) – OK
  • Astra-11479_V_22000-Canal+ UHD Demo 42.6 Mbps bitrate.ts (10-bit H.265 from DVB-S2 stream) – Won’t play at all (stays in UI)

I’ve added a very high bitrate video with Ducks Take Off [2160p a 243 Mbps].mkv which plays at 243 Mbps, and is supposed to work on the latest RK3229 processor. But g9C did not manage to play that one at all, and none of the 10-bit H.265 videos either.

Automatic frame rate switching did not work, even after setting it in Android settings (HDMI self-adaptation) and Kodi settings.

G9C_DRM_InfoI’ve run DRM Info to confirm there was indeed no DRM installed at all in the device, like with many others. Shenzhen Tomato however told me they can implemented for OEM/ODM customers that need it.

WiFi performance

I’ve tested WiFi performance by transferring a 278MB between the internal flash and a SAMBA share three times with ES File Explorer, and with 1.7MB/s transfer on average, G9C is one of the devices with the poorest WiFi performance, at least with my setup.

Throughput in MB/s

Throughput in MB/s

Storage

The mini PC could mount my FAT32 SD card, as well as NTFS and exFAT partitions on my USB hard drive, but sadly the usual 10MB free space bug found in other Amlogic S905 devices is still there.

File System Read Write
NTFS OK No (10 MB free space)
EXT-4 Not mounted Not mounted
exFAT OK No (10 MB free space)
BTRFS Not mounted Not mounted
FAT32 OK OK

The eMMC flash has a pretty good read speed @ 38.64 MB/s, but a poor write speed @ 6.64 MB/s with the former explaining fast boot times, and the latter most likely being the reasons with the slowdowns experienced during use.

G9C_eMMC_Read_Write_Speed

Gaming Performance

3D graphics performance of Amlogic S905 platforms is quite well known, and usually the main difference between devices is how well the maintain the performance over several minutes of play time. So I tested Riptide GP2 for 15 minutes for this purpose. However, I had a few other issues at the beginning. The game would be choppy in the user interface at the beginning, but it quickly become usual after a minute of so, and I went through the tutorial without issues or slowdowns. Then I went to the settings, and tried to maxed out the graphics “resolution”, but it would crashed at MAX-2, and I repeated it three times with the same results. So I only set it to MAX-3, but the game would then crash when I wanted to play. So I reverted to default settings, and played for 15 minutes with the games being rendering at a good frame rate over the duration of the games. The temperature at the top and bottom was around 55 C after the game.

G9C Benchmarks

CPU-Z still reports a quad Cortex A53 processor @ up to 2.02 GHz with a Mali-450MP GPU, and the device reports itself as being model “AOSP on p200”.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

G9C achieved 36,060 points in Antutu 6.0.1, or in the same ball park as other S905 platforms such as MINIX NEO U1 (38,032 points)  or Vega S95 Telos (36.741 points). Please note that I had to run Antutu 4 times to get a score, as the app would crash before ending the results, or completely fail the 3D benchmark leading to a very low score.
G9C_Antutu_6.0

You can access the full results here.

Conclusion

G9C Android TV box has one of the fastest boot time of any other Amlogic S905 devices I’ve tried so far, but apart from that the media player has poor WiFi performance, a slow internal storage write speed leading to regular slowdowns, and possibly some apps crashing, Kodi still have a few issues that have mostly been resolved on other devices (e.g. frame rate switching, audio pass-through), and some older bugs I found on other devices that have not been resolved.

PROS

  • Recent Android 5.1 OS firmware
  • Video Output – HDMI 2.0 up to 2160p 60Hz; 24/25/30/50/60 Hz refresh rates supported
  • Fast boot time (25 to 30 seconds)
  • Relatively fast internal storage read speed
  • Power handling properly implemented (Power on/off with remote, and standby)
  • Performance seems to be constant over the hours.
  • Dolby 5.1 and DTS audio pass-through is working.

CONS

  • Frequent slowdowns due to slow write speed of internal storage
  • Potential instability with app using 3D graphics, e.g. Antutu, and Riptide GP2 with high graphics settings
  • Kodi does not support 10-bit H.265, HDMI pass-through is limited to Dolby 5.1 (AC3) and DTS 5.1, and automatic frame rate switching is not working
  • Streaming over Gigabit Ethernet will often buffer in Kodi.
  • 10 MB free space bug on some USB device is still not fixed, meaning those drives are basically read-only.
  • Complete lack of DRM support
  • No Dolby and DTS licenses, which can be an issue if you don’t use Kodi.
  • Poor WiFi performance

I’d like to thanks Shenzhen Tomato for sending a unit for review. If you are a distributor, reseller, or have a custom project that could use G9C hardware, you could contact the company via their G9C product page. Individual can purchase G9C on Amazon US ($56.99) or GearBest ($52.57).

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Amlogic S905 vs S812 Benchmarks Comparison

January 29th, 2016 14 comments

After seeing benchmarks comparisons between Amlogic S905 and S805, as well as Amlogic S905 vs Rockchip RK3368, several people asked me to compare the older Amlogic S812 32-bit processor to the newer Amlogic S905 64-bit processor, so I’ve gone ahead and compared the results for several benchmarks obtained with WeTek Core and K1 Plus Android 5.1 TV boxes, respectively powered by Amlogic S812 and Amlogic S905.

Amlogic_S905_vs_S812A ratio greater than one means Amlogic S812 is the fastest, and I’ve highlighted the ratio with red or green colors so that red color is a plus for S905, and green color means S812 achieved a better result.

Amlogic S905 Amlogic S812 Ratio
CPU Quad core Cortex A53 @ 2.02 GHz Quad core Cortex A9 @ 1.99 GHz
GPU Penta-core ARM Mali-450MP Octa-core ARM Mali-450MP
Antutu 5.x
Overall 28,027 33,953 1.21
Multitask 4,260 4,701 1.10
Runtime 2,721 3,383 1.24
RAM Ops 1,960 2,228 1.14
RAM Speed 2,420 2,181 0.90
CPU Integer (multi-thread) 2,310 2,393 1.04
CPU float-point (multi-thread) 2,483 2,687 1.08
CPU Integer (single thread) 1,587 1,735 1.09
CPU float-point (single thread) 1,510 1,483 0.98
2D Graphics(1920×1080) 1,374 825 0.60
3D Graphics (1920×1080) 6,126 10,942 1.79
Vellamo 3.x
Metal 763 735 0.96
Multicore 1,572 1,620 1.03
Browser 2,002 2,052 1.02
3DMark – Ice Storm Extreme v1.2
Total score 4,304 5,763 1.34
Graphics score 3,684 5,265 1.43
Physics score 10,468 8,616 0.82

The benchmarks basically match the theory that says Cortex A9 is slightly faster than Cortex A53 for integer performance, at a given CPU frequency, but overall the results are unlikely to be noticeable to the end user, except when it comes to 3D graphics where the octa-core GPU is faster then the penta-core core one, by 34% based on 3DMark, and 79% based on Antutu’s 3D graphics benchmark. For some reasons, 2D graphics appears to be significantly faster on Amlogic S905.

The main advantage of Amlogic S905 over S812 is support for HDMI 2.0 ports allowing 2160p @ 60 Hz video output, and 4K H.265 hardware video decoding up to 60 fps, while both are limited to 30 Hz on S812. Also bear in mind than most Amlogic S812 / S802 devices currently on the market are running Android 4.4, and will not perform quite as fast as Android 5.1 devices such as WeTek Core.

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Ugoos UT4 Android 5.1 TV Box Review

January 19th, 2016 2 comments

Ugoos UT4 is one of many Rockchip RK3368 TV boxes available on the market today, but it’s one of the model with higher-end specifications including  2 GB RAM, and 16 GB flash, as well as Gigabit Ethernet and 802.11ac WiFi, Ugoos offers regular firmware updates for their devices, and as I found out in Ugoos UT4 specs and teardown post, the mini PC features a fan to keep the device cool at all times. Today, I’ll focus on reviewing the firmware including video playback capabilities, performance and whether advertised features work as they should.

First Boot, Settings and First Impressions

Before powering on the device, I connected some cables (Ethernet, HDMI, optical audio, AV to speakers), and made use of all four USB ports with a USB hard drive, a webcam, a keyboard, and a USB hub with two RF dongles for MINIX NEO A2 Lite air mouse and Tronsmart Mars G01 gamepad, and to power my external speakers that are connected to the AV port. Finally, I inserted the power cable, and UT4 booted automatically with a typical boot time being 25 to 30 seconds, or one of the fastest start-up time I’ve experienced lately.

Click for Original Size

Click for Original Size

So Ugoos has decided not to include a TV launch with their device, and instead go with the typical Android Home Screen with some pre-installed apps including Settings, a File Manager, the Play Store, the list of Apps, Kodi, YouTube, and Chrome. The status bar can be hidden easily by clicking on the double down arrow icon on the right of the power icon. The notification bar at the top does not get out of the way in all apps, which may annoy some people… But it does disappear in Kodi and the games I tried. There’s also a small display bug when you hide the taskbar, and the gray icon highlighter, shown on the Settings icon in the screenshot above, will be have an incorrect vertical alignment afterwards (too high).

The box automatically detected the TV is HDMI 2.0 capable and set the video output to 2160p @ 60 Hz. However, I noticed later on that the resolution had changed to 1080p60 or even 720p60, so it’s better to go in the settings (Display->HDMI mode) to set this manually. I could also confirm that the AV port worked with my speakers. Both HDMI audio and AV are always enabled.

The most useful options inside Android Lollipop settings include:

  • Wireless & Networks – Wi-Fi, Ethernet, Data usage for Wi-Fi and Ethernet, Bluetooth, and a “More” section with: Airplane mode, Tethering & Tethering & portable hotspot, PPPoE and VPN
  • Device
    • USB – Connect to PC
    • Sound & Notifications – Volume for various sounds, notification settings, and a Sound Device Manager to select Default Output, Spdif Passthrough, or HDMI Bitstream
    • Display
      • Wallpaper, sleep, Daydream, font size, screen rotation
      • Cast Screen
      • Screen Scale
      • Output Interface – HDMI only
      • HDMI Mode:
        • Auto
        • 4096x2160p @ 60Hz (YCbCr420), 50Hz (YCbCr420), 30Hz, 25Hz, or 24Hz
        • 3840x2160p @ 60Hz (YCbCr420), 50Hz (YCbCr420), 30Hz, 25Hz, or 24Hz
        • 1920x1080p @ 60 Hz, 50Hz, 30Hz, 25Hz, 24Hz
        • 1280x720p @ 60 or 50 Hz
        • 720x576p @ 50 Hz
        • 720x480p @ 60 Hz
    • Storage – Two partitions: 3.87 GB “Internal storage” with 3.57GB free, and a  9.12 GB “NAND FLASH” partition

About_Ugoos_UT4While there’s no unified partition in the device, the 3.87GB internal partition should be large enough for most people. Usual settings like Accounts, Language & Input, Printing, accessibility are all enabled.

Going into “About device” shows UGOOS-UT4 model number is running Android 5.1.1 on top of Linux 3.10.0. There’s also “vendor software version” reports that’s UGOOS_UT4_V0.0.1.b on my device. OTA firmware updates appear to be working, but my system was detected as being up to date so I could not test it. The firmware is not rooted by default.

While I prefer using air mice like MeLE F10 Deluxe or MINIX NEO A2 Lite with Android TV boxes, an infrared remote control is normally included. So I added two AAA batteries to test the provided remote, and while it works, the range was rather short, and if I stood more than 4 meters away, key presses started to get unreliably detected. I tried with two sets of batteries, and the result was the same.

After successfully registering my Google account, Google Play Store complains I was unauthorized to access my list of apps… But I rebooted, and it worked quite well afterwards. I could install all apps I needed for review, except Hplus Watch for F68 Bluetooth LE smart watch, which I had to sideload. I could also install Riptide GP2 using Amazon Underground app.

At first, power handling appears to be properly implemented, as when you press the power key for a short time it goes into standby / sleep mode, and a long press – or clicking on the power icon in the task bar – pops up a menu with: Power off, Reboot, Sleep, Reboot bootloader. However while Reboot and Sleep modes are working fine, power off  and reboot bootloader modes do not seem to work. The screen does go black, but the power LED is still on, power consumption is high (~7 watts), and there’s no way to power it on again, except by powering cycling the device.

I still tested power consumption, but bear in mind power off mode simply hangs, so the consumption is higher than normal, and hopefully Ugoos can fix it in the next firmware. I tested power consumption without any USB device, and with a USB hard drive:

  • Power off – 4.0 Watts (system hangs)
  • Standby / Sleep  – 1.3 Watt
  • Idle – 4.2 Watts
  • Power off + USB HDD – 6.0 Watt (system hangs)
  • Standby / Sleep + USB HDD – 3.1 Watt
  • Idle + USB HDD – 6.4 Watts

So for the current firmware, I’d recommend to only use Sleep mode. Idle power consumption is also a little higher (1 Watt extra) compared to Kingnovel R8, another RK3368 TV box, and while there could be various reasons for it, the fan is likely the culprit here.

Since I’m talking about the fan, I’d like to mention it is rotating all the time, not only when the processor gets hot. Compared my computer, it’s very silent, but if I turn off my main computer, I can clearly hear the fan, even standing at about 2 meters away. I don’t find it noisy at all or disturbing, but it may be an issue for some people.

The fan clearly helps with temperature, as after running Antutu, the temperature was just 38 and 41°C on the top and bottom of the case, and it only went up to 40 and 44°C after 30 minutes playing Beach Buggy Racing and Riptide GP2.

Beside the power off issue, Ugoos UT4 is a good device with fast boot and app loading, and I only had slowdowns once or twice. So overall it’s a very responsive system, and performance can be sustained over time thanks to the cooling fan. There are also a few display bugs like icon highlight alignment when hiding/showing the task bar, and the notification bar may be an annoyance with some apps.

Video Playback with Kodi

Ugoos UT4 comes pre-loaded with a version Kodi 15.2-rc1 likely modified with specific patchsets to add Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD passthrough to RK3368, and it’s actually been compiled almost the same day as the source code release.
Ugoos_UT4_Kodi_15.2

I’ve played all videos from a SAMBA share in Kodi over Ethernet, unless otherwise noted. I’ve also enabled Automatic frame rate switching in Kodi, but unfortunately it did not work at all, so some videos may suffer from micro stuttering.

Linaro media samples, Elecard H.265 samples, and low resolution VP9 video could all play fairly well, except Real Media videos:

  • H.264 codec / MP4 container (Big Buck Bunny) – 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • MPEG2 codec / MPG container –  480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • MPEG4 codec, AVI container 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • VC1 codec (WMV) – 1080p – 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • Real Media (RMVB), 720p / 5Mbps – Could be a little smoother
  • WebM / VP8 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS container  – OK
  • WebM / VP9 (no audio in video) – OK

I then switched to some video with various frame rates

  • ED_HD.avi (1080p MPEG-4 – 10Mbps) – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_1080p_surround.avi (1080p H.264 – 12 Mbps) – OK
  • h264_1080p_hp_4.1_40mbps_birds.mkv (40 Mbps) – OK
  • hddvd_demo_17.5Mbps_1080p_VC1.mkv (17.5Mbps) – Could be smoother
  • Jellyfish-120-Mbps.mkv (120 Mbps video without audio) – OK from the network, except a micro pause occurs after about 2 seconds playback.

The next step was to test audio capabilities of the device using HDMI and S/PDIF pass-through in Kodi, and PCM output (downmixing) in both Kodi and Video Player.  I selected the output in Android Settings->Sound & Notifications->Sound Device Manager and chose Default Output, Spdif Passthrough, or HDMI Bitstream accordingly. For audio pass-through, I also configured Kodi as shown below.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

Video PCM Output
(Kodi)

PCM Output
(Video Player)

HDMI Pass-through
(Kodi)
S/PDIF Pass-through
(Kodi)
AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 Audio OK
video 1:1 aspect ratio
No audio OK (Dolby D 5.1) OK (Dolby D 5.1)
E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 OK No audio OK (Dolby D 5.1) OK (Dolby D 5.1)
Dolby Digital+ 7.1 OK No audio OK (Dolby D+ 7.1) Audio Formats Not Supported over S/PDIF
TrueHD 5.1 OK No audio OK (TrueHD 5.1)
TrueHD 7.1 OK No audio OK (TrueHD 7.1)
Dolby Atmos 7.1 OK No audio No (TrueHD 7.1)
DTS HD Master OK No audio DTS 5.1 only OK (DTS 5.1)
DTS HD High Resolution OK No audio DTS 5.1 only OK (DTS 5.1)

Audio downmixing and pass-through are working well in Kodi, but since Dolby and DTS licenses are not included most other video players and online video services won’t support Dolby and DTS audio, unless you are passing the audio through an AV receiver.

Some 4K videos can be played, but there are still some issues, and there’s no miracle as VP9 and 10-bit H.265 codecs are not supported by Rockchip RK3368 VPU:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 – OK
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv – OK most of the time, but a freeze lasting 9 seconds occurred at the 4 seconds mark (apparently not related to buffering).
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) –  OK
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – OK, but a micro pause happened once.
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts (H.265) – Won’t play, stays in UI
  • MHD_2013_2160p_ShowReel_R_9000f_24fps_RMN_QP23_10b.mkv (10-bit HEVC) – Black screen
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – Freeze at the beginning and get stuck there.
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video) – Won’t play, stays in UI
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 – Not very smooth and massive audio delay (4K H.264 @ 60 fps not supported by RK3368)
  • Fifa_WorldCup2014_Uruguay-Colombia_4K-x265.mp4 (4K, H.265, 60 fps) – OK
  • Samsung_UHD_Dubai_10-bit_HEVC_51.4Mbps.ts (10-bit HEVC / MPEG-4 AAC) – Won’t play, stays in UI
  • Astra-11479_V_22000-Canal+ UHD Demo 42.6 Mbps bitrate.ts (10-bit H.265 from DVB-S2 stream) – Won’t play, stays in UI

Both Sintel-Bluray.iso and amat.iso (Ambra – Prism of Life) Blu-ray ISO could play smoothly, as well as two 1080i video samples.

Hi10p videos have the same problem as on other Android TV boxes in Kodi:

  • [Commie] Steins;Gate – NCED [BD 720p AAC] [10bit] [C706859E].mkv – Audio and subtitles OK, some video artifacts
  • [1080p][16_REF_L5.1][mp3_2.0]Suzumiya Haruhi no Shoushitsu BD OP.mkv – Audio and susbtites OK, more artifacts

This will likely only be possible with the upcoming Rockchip RK3229 and RK3399 SoCs that natively support 10-bit H.264.

LG 42UB820T 4K UHD television does not support 3D, but I still played some 3D videos to check 3D decoding capabilities of Ugoos UT4:

  • bbb_sunflower_1080p_60fps_stereo_abl.mp4 (1080p Over/Under) – Plays in slow motion, and some audio delay
  • bbb_sunflower_2160p_60fps_stereo_abl.mp4 (2160p Over/Under) – Blackscreen with audio only
  • Turbo_Film-DreamWorks_trailer_VO_3D.mp4 (1080p SBS) – OK

Finally, I tested various other videos in my library (VOB/IFO, MKV, AVI, MP4, XViD, DiVX, FLV and MKV), and I did not notice any issues, except for some FLV that could not play.

The stability test consisting of a 2-hour movie was successfully, and the movie played in its entirety reasonably smoothly, but not perfectly due to the mismatch between the video frame rate and the TV refresh rate. I also notice it was impossible to access the zoom menu while playing the video. During my testing, I adjusted the volume to the maximum while playing some videos, only to notice it was reverted back to some other values when playing another video.

Ugoos UT4 achieved 730 points in Antutu Video Tester 3.0. That’s not quite as high as on Amlogic S905 TV boxes (~900 points), but still a good progress over Beelink i68 (532) or Zidoo X6 Pro (328) scores.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

DRM info reports that neither Widewine nor PlayReady DRM are installed.
Ugoos_UT4_DRM_Info
However, since Netflix is now available internationally, I did have a try, and was able to stream a video at SD resolution. So either the lack of DRM for standard definition streaming is not an issue with Netflix, or the app reported incorrect information.

If you want to reproduce most of the tests above, you can download the video samples (mostly in comments section).

Network Performance (Wi-Fi and Ethernet)

I transfer a 278MB file between a network share (SAMBA) and the internal storage, and vice versa, using ES File Explorer in order to evaluate WiFi performance. The results for Ugoos UT4 are pretty good as 802.11n connection achieved 3.18 MB/s on average, and 802.11ac 5.87 MB/s,  one of the top three results, and about equivalent to MINIX NEO U1 WiFi performance.

Throughput in MB/s

Throughput in MB/s

I repeated the same test with Gigabit Ethernet, but instead of using a larger 885 MB file, and the average transfer rate was 9.4 MB/s, which for some reasons is quite lower than other devices I tested, possibly due to the low write speed of the flash, as we’ll see below. Having said that, it’s not that far from other Rockchip RK3368 based mini PCs file transfer throughput.

Throuput in MB/s

Throughput in MB/s

Since as Gigabit speeds, file transfer rate is likely to be limited by storage performance, it’s important to also test raw network performance, which I did with iperf -t 60 -c “server-ip” -d command in Android.

Throughput in Mbps

Throughput in Mbps

Here the performance is slightly over average, and very similar to other Rockchip RK3368 TV boxes such as Zidoo X6 Pro or Beelink i68.

iperf output:

Miscellaneous Tests

Bluetooth

Ugoos UT4 supports Bluetooth 4.0 LE, and shows as rk3368 Bluetooth device like most other device based on the same processor.  While I could pair it with my iocean MT6752 smartphone, and initiate photos transfer, it eventually failed with the message “Request can’t be handled correctly”, on both the device and my phone.Ugoos_UT4_Bluetooth_Issue

I has more luck connecting to a Bluetooth headset that I used to watch a 1080p YouTube video. I also tested Bluetooth LE (BLE) with F68 smartwatch successfully. Since the firmware is not rooted, I skipped the test with my PS3 gamepad clone using Sixaxis Controller app.

Storage

The mini PC could mount NTFS & EXT-4 partitions on my USB hard drive,  as well as an SD card formatted with FAT32, but it could not handle exFAT, nor BTRFS partitions.

File System Read Write
NTFS OK OK
EXT-4 OK OK
exFAT Not mounted Not mounted
BTRFS Not mounted Not mounted
FAT32 OK OK

USB storage performance, tested with A1SD bench, is average with respectively 21.98 MB/s and 27.01 MB/s read and write speeds for NTFS, and 22.44 MB/s and 26.17 MB/s for EXT-4.

Read and Write Speeds in MB/s

Read (Blue) and Write (Red) Speeds in MB/s

The internal storage (Samsung eMMC 5.0) has a good read speed (~60MB/s), but write speed is limited to less than 10MB/s, which probably explains why I experienced two or three slowdowns during this review.

Read and Write Speed in MB/s

Read and Write Speed in MB/s

Gaming

Candy Crush worked well with NEO A2 Lite air mouse, but that’s not a surprise. I then use a wireless gamepad to play Beach Buggy Racing and Riptide GP2, and both games were very smooth with default settings. I maxed out the graphics settings to “High Resolution”, while Beach Buggy Racing was just as smooth, Riptide GP2 was a little less so, but still very playable, and decided to perform my stability test with those settings. After playing around 15 minutes with Beach Buggy Racing, and then 20 minutes with Riptide GP2, the graphics performance was just the same all the way, so the cooling fan is doing its job.

Ugoos UT4 Benchmarks

Before running the benchmark, I ran CPU-Z, which detected UGOOS-UT4 model with an octa-core Cortex A53 processor @ 1.20 GHz, and a PowerVR G6110 GPU. So the company did not try to boost the CPU clock frequency despite the presence of the fan.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

The TV box got 39,032 points in Antutu 6.0.1, and managed to pass all tests, including Marooned graphics.
Ugoos_UT4_Antutu_6.0The score cannot be compared to Antutu 5.x, and the only other scores I have are 38,032 points for MINIX NEO U1 (Amlogic S905) and 35,069 points for GeekBox (Rockchip RK3368). That’s interesting that Ugoos UT4 is over 10% faster in Antutu than GeekBox that is a very a similar platform.

Ugoos_UT4_VellamoI’ve also run Vellamo 3.0, and results confirm a performance boost compared to other Rockchip RK3368 devices such as Beelink i68 or GeekBox in all three tests: Browser, Metal and Multicore.

Ugoos_UT4_VellamoOther platforms in the chart are based on Amlogic S905 (Neo U1, and K1 Plus), and Amlogic S812 (WeTek Core and Neo X8-H Plus). So proper cooling appears to provide some performance boost even in benchmark that do not last that long.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

Finally, Ugoos UT4 achieved 5,121 points in 3DMark’s Ice Storm Extreme that compared to 4,248 in Beelink i68 or 4,327 in MINIX NEO U1.

Conclusion

All in all, Ugoos UT4 is a pretty good device with responsive firmware, decent Kodi support including working 4K H.264 and H.265 video playback, and audio pass-through for DTS-HD and Dolby TrueHD, very good WiFi performance for 802.11ac, and thanks to the cooling fan a performance that stays high over time, and allows Ugoos UT4 to outperform other Rockchip RK3368 devices I’ve tested so far. However, it would have been even better if an eMMC flash with a higher writing speed had been chosen to completely eliminate some rare slowdowns, the firmware has still a few bugs, including power off and Bluetooth file transfer that do not work, and the lack of automatic frame rate switching in the pre-installed version of Kodi 15.2.

PROS

  • Stable firmware, and responsive most of the time
  • Constant performance throughout thanks to the cooling fan, which provides better performance than equivalent RK3368 based devices
  • Video Output – HDMI 2.0 up to 2160p 60Hz; 24/25/30/50/60 Hz refresh rates supported, and AV
  • Fairly good Kodi support with working 4K H.265 video playback, and Dolby 5.1, Dolby+7.1, DTS-HD and TrueHD audio pass-through via HDMI and S/PDIF.
  • Very good WiFi performance, especially 802.11ac, and 802.11n is above average.
  • Fast read speed of internal storage, leading to fast boot time (< 30 seconds) and app loading
  • 4 USB ports  allow for good expandability
  • 3D games are running well, even after playing for several minutes

CONS

  • Powering off the device does not work (UT4 appears to hang)
  • Kodi issue – Automatic frame rate switching is not working, some videos will freeze a short time a few seconds after the beginning of the video, most videos don’t have the option to adjust the zoom level.
  • Bluetooth file transfer does not work, at least with my smartphone
  • IR remote control has a relatively short range (4 meters)
  • No Dolby and DTS licenses, so there will be no audio if you use PCM output in some applications (Kodi is OK).
  • Lack of Widewine and PlayReady DRM which might be an issue with some premium video streaming apps, or a least limit their capabilities.
  • Relatively slow write speed of the internal storage may lead to some slowdowns (does not happen often)
  • The fan is always spinning, and audible in quiet room at one or two meters (I don’t really notice it personally, but some people may do).
  • UI bugs – Icon highlight misalignment when hiding or showing the task bar, volume settings may not be remembered

Ugoos sent me the sample for review, and if you are planning in purchasing in quantities, you could contact the company via their Ugoos UT4 product page. Individuals can purchase Ugoos UT4 for $103.90 on Ugoos Aliexpress store, as well as GearBest, GeekBuying, and probably some other online shops.

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Ten Most Popular Posts of 2015 and Statistics on CNX Software

December 31st, 2015 18 comments

In the second part of 2014, we saw a big jump in performance thanks to Cortex A15 and A17 based SoCs, and higher clocked Cortex A9 processors such as Rockchip RK3288 and Amlogic S812, but in 2015, TV box companies have focused on lowering the price and adding features such as HDMI 2.0, instead of looking for higher and higher CPU and GPU performance, and they’ve also moved to 64-bit ARM platform. Intel also continued its foray into low cost HDMI sticks and mini PCbased on Bay Trail, and later on Cherry Trail based devices.  The development boards story was also very much about lower cosst with the $15 Orange Pi PC, follow a few months later by the $5 Raspberry Pi Zero, although people looking for performance at any price still saw the release of Nvidia Jetson TX1 board. It’s was also a big year for IoT with the continued rise of ESP8266 with more and more options, and announcement of ESP32 Bluetooth and WiFi SoC, as well as various ever tinier boards featuring either WiFi and Bluetooth LE connectivity such as LinkIt Smart 7688 or WRTNode. We also started to see more and more wearables, and by the end of the year, I had reviewed 2 smartwatches, with one more in progress.

As every year,  I’ve compiled a list of the most popular post of 2015 using the pageviews count from Google Analytics:

  1. Raspberry Pi 2 / ODROID C1 Development Boards Comparison (February 2015) – The big story at the beginning of the year was the release of Raspberry Pi 2 with a quad core processor., and the most popular post on CNX Software in 2015 was a comparison table against ODROID-C1 (now ODROID-C1+) board with similar features, and price, and released at the end of 2014.
  2. New FCC Rules May Prevent Installing OpenWRT on WiFi Routers (July 2015) – The second story went viral in social network, as some new rules at the FCC were unclear, and were worded in a few that made people believe the ability to install alternative firmware such as OpenWRT or DD-WRT was going to become impossible, or at least much more difficult. The FCC consulted with the public and a few months later, it was made clear they had no intention to prevent people from installing OpenWRT.
  3. Antutu Benchmark – Rockchip RK3288 (ARM) vs Intel Atom Z3735F (January 2015) – While some posts go viral, some other bring traffic in a steady manner, as is the case of this comparison between RK3288 and Z3735F processor, which got a little help from Google when several Rockchip RK3288 chromebooks were released, and people wondered about RK3288 performance.
  4. Raspberry Pi 2 Model B Features Broadcom BCM2836 Quad Core Processor (February 2015) – When blogging about technology, speed matters, and I was quick enough to write about Raspberry Pi 2 when I discovered one reputable website was a little early on their embargo… which brought a burst of traffic in the next few days.
  5.  Xiaomi Mi Box Mini Review (April 2015) – Over the long term, reviews are what bring traffic to a site like this, but I have to admit I was surprised to find many people interested in Xiaomi Mi Box Mini, a device designed for mainland China, and with an interface in Chinese only. I assume people saw a cute device from a knwon company, and decided to buy it, until they released they had to find out to change the user interface to English.
  6. Intel Atom Z3735F vs Atom x5-Z8300 Benchmarks Comparison (August 2015) – So it looks like people are interested in performance comparison between different processor, and with the release of Atom X5-Z8300 Cherry Trail processor, some people wondered how it would perform again the previous generation Atom Z3735F Bay Trail processor. It turns out there’s not that much difference, except for 3D graphics.
  7.  Kodi 14 Video Playback on Intel Atom Z3735F Computers Running Windows 8.1 (January 2015) – Intel Atom Z3735F was definitely a star on CNX in 2015, as it got featured in five of the 10 most popular posts this year. Specifically, people wanted to know how Kodi would run on the platform. Answer: excellent for 1080p videos.
  8. Getting Started with Orange Pi PC, Pi 2 and Pi Plus Development Boards (September 2015) – Orange Pi PC is probably the board that provide the most performance and features for the buck hardware-wise, but its poor and confusing documentation meant that people were looking for way to get started on the board.
  9. Understanding Windows 8.1 Licenses with MeegoPad T01 (and Other Intel Atom Bay Trail mini PCs (January 2015) – Chinese companies are not really well-known for their respect of licenses, and Microsoft made it confusing by offering free Windows 8.1/10 license for smaller tablets, but a different $15 to $25 license for mini PCs. The results that many Intel Bay Trail (Z3735F/Z3736F) mini PC and sticks shipped with Windows Pro trail version, a few with a free and apparently legal (but actually not) Tablet license, or the proper Windows with Bing NTE license.
  10. Wintel W8 Review – Dual Boot Android & Windows TV Box (April 2015) –  This Intel Atom Z3735F mini PC reviewe likely got relatively popular because of the device name: Wintel.

While traffic on CNX Software in 2014 was a steady rise, it was more like a not-so-steep roller coaster in 2015 due to a long 3 month trip during which I posted less frequently.

CNX_Software_2015_TrafficHowever, the overall traffic progressed from around 4.8 million pageviews in 2014 to about 7.2 millions pageviews in 2015, or a 50% increase. Not too bad.

“M8 Android TV box” and Google+ (aka the Ghost Town) were respectively the top keyword and referral site of 2014, but in 2015 “openwrt” and scoop.it took the lead. Google Analytics only shows the last three months for keywords, and the full year for referrals, but referrals exclude search engines such as Google or Bing that bring in a vast majority of the traffic.

Top 10 Keywords Top 10 Referrals
openwrt scoop.it
pine64 plus.url.google.com
ott tv box facebook.com
mini pc windows t.co
mxq box feedly.com
banana pi m3 forum.kodi.org
esp32 reddit.com
mxq tv box freaktab.com 
wetek core 4pda.ru
shiftwear shoes m.facebook.com

As usual I’ve also looked at the visitors origin, operating systems, and browsers.
CNX_Software_2015_Visitors_Country_CityThe US still claims the top spot, with the United Kingdom moving up to overtake Germany, but London has remained the city with the most sessions for the 3 years I actively tracked traffic.

CNX_Software_2015_OS_BrowserWindows share is still strong but dropped from 57.39% to 54.90%, while Android took the second spot at 17.02% (vs 13.01% in 2014), and relegated Linux to the third spot with 11.98% instead of 15.30% in 2014. Chrome lead has extended from 48.05% to 52.93%, while Firefox went down from 27.20% to 23.54%. As a Firefox user in Ubuntu 14.04, it makes me a little sad…

But I’ll conclude this post and 2015 with a positive note, by wishing you a very happy, prosperous, and healthy new year 2016, which should see more Cortex A57 and A72 designs and products hitting the stores, the rise of ESP32 Bluetooth+WiFi SoC, hopefully better working wearables, and innovations.

Happy_New_Year_2016_CNX_Software

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GeekBox and Landingship Android Overview and Benchmarks

December 21st, 2015 8 comments

This week-end I checked out GeekBox TV box, and Landingship baseboard, explained how to connect the two together and install various optional accessories such as an RTC battery and a cooling fan. GeekBox comes pre-loaded with Android 5.1 + Ubuntu dual boot image, and as I’ve already reviewed other Rockchip RK3368 TV boxes, and GeekBox is also a development platform, I’ll simply run several benchmarks on GeekBox, as well as test SATA performance with an SSD connected to Landingship carrier board in Android, before checking out the Linux part a little latter.

GeekBox_RunningThat’s no quite how you want to place the fan, but I wanted to show the USB to TTL debug board and other wires can be connected with the case closed. This allowed me to easily check whether the fan was spinning during testing, and it never did… According to one forum post, the temperature currently needs to reach 80 C for the fan to spin, so I may not have pushed the device enough for this.

First Boot and User Interface

Geekbox is very small, so you won’t quite connect as many cables and devices as usual since it simply has less ports, so I did not connect a USB hard drive this time. Once you connect the power nothing will happen, and this is normal, as you need to press the power button on the front right to turn it on. You should quickly see two blue LEDs turn on, and within 25 seconds have access to the home screen.

Click for Original Size

Click for Original Size

The system automatically detected LG 42UB800T 4K UHD television and set the video output to 2160p @ 60Hz, but as usual the user interface resolution is 1920×1080.GeekBox_Default_AppsGeekBox is also a ready to ue Android TV box with Google Play Store, Kodi, YouTube and Netflix apps pre-installed. Since the firmware supports both Linux and Android, only about 10GB of the flash is accessible in Android with a smallish 1.91GB “internal storage” partition for apps, and a 8.18GB “NAND Flash” partition for data.

GeekBox_Dual_Boot_MenuIf you press the power button on the remote for about 2 seconds, you’ll find the power menu with Power off, Reboot, and Reboot to Linux OS.

GeekBox CPU-Z

CPU-Z is still not aware of Rockchip RK3368 processor, detect the eight cores still clocked at

GeekBox_CPU-ZAndroid 5.1.1 is running on top of Linux 3.10, just like on other RK3368 devices like Zidoo X6 Pro. The firmware is rooted, and kernel is a 64-bit one (Aarch64).

Antutu 6.0 Benchmark

Antutu 6.0 is the new release of the popular benchmark, and it’s the first time I run it on a Rockchip RK3368 platform.

GeekBox_Antutu_6.0Interestingly enough, the 35,069 points score in Antutu 6.0 with Geekbox is quite similar to the score (34,171 points) in Beelink i68 and Antutu 5.7.1. You can get the detailed results for GeekBox here, where you’ll see that contrary to Amlogic S905 SoC with a weaker GPU, the PowerVR G6110 GPU in RK3368 managed to complete Marooned 3D graphics test. However, Amlogic S905 TV boxes are still found to be slightly faster in Antutu 6.0 with 36,741 points for Tronsmart Vega S95 Telos, and for MINIX NEO U1 media hub.

Vellamo 3.2 Benchmark

I’ve also run Vellamo 3.2 to have a better comparison with some other Android TV boxes.

GeekBox_Vellamo_3.2The comparison chart shows the Browser results are pretty much equivalent between devices based on Amlogic S812 / S905, and Rockchip RK3368, while somehow Rockchip octa-core processor features lower in the multicore scale. and MINIX NEO U1 has a non-negligible edge for the Metal score.

Vellamo_TV_Box_ComparisonAll devices are running Android 5.1, except MINIX NEO X8-H Plus with an Android 4.4 firmware at the time of the review.

WiFi and Ethernet Performance

I’ll test WiFi 802.11n @ 2.4GHz, and WiFi 802.11ac by transferring a file between SAMBA and the internal storage, while using iperf to test full duplex performance of the Gigabit Ethernet port.

802.11n (130 Mbps connection) throughput was a little disappointing @ 1.99 MB/s or less than average, but 802.11ac (468 Mbps connection in Android settings) was relatively decent @ 4.25 MB/s (34 Mbps), although we may have expected more out of AP6354 867 Mbps WiFi module, and something closer to Mygica ATV1900AC or MINIX NEO U1 performance. For some reasons, the upload speed was much faster (39 seconds on average) than the download (about 1 minute 30 seconds), and if download speed was equivalent to upload speed, GeekBox would have had a similar throughput as ATV1900AC TV box.

Throughtput in MB/s (Click to Enlarge)

Throughtput in MB/s (Click to Enlarge)

I’ve run iperf -t 60 -c server_ip -d to test Gigabit Ethernet throughput in both directions, and Geekbox does work, although performance is not outstanding. At least the transfer does not collapse on one side of the transfer, and the Ethernet performance is similar to other RK3368 devices.

Throuthgput in Mbps

Throughput in Mbps

iperf output:

Storage Performance

I’ve started by running A1 SD Bench on the 8.18 GB internal storage partition, where the read and write speeds were respectively 49.22MB/s and 10 MB/s. That’s above average, but I would have wished an eMMC with a faster write speed to have been included with an RK3368 device selling for a premium.

Read and Write Speed in MB/s (Click to Enlarge)

Read and Write Speeds in MB/s (Click to Enlarge)

I’ll skip, direct USB performance simply because Landingship had a SATA port, that is also implemented via a USB to SATA bridge (JMicron JM20329). So I open GeekBox to take out the board, and insert it into Landingship where I have connected a 2.5″ SSD drive that I got with CubieTruck Metal Kit.

GeekBox_LandingshipI move the power supply cable to the baseboard jack, and still had to press the power button on GeekBox board to start the board. I have two partition on the drive: one EXT-4 partition mounted in /mnt/usb_storage/USB_DISK0/udisk1, and one NTFS partition mounted in /mnt/usb_storage/USB_DISK0/(1). So I used custom location option in A1 SD bench to test the performance:

  • EXT-4 – Read: 24.3 MB/s; Write: 27.04 MB/s
  • NTFS – Read: 21.37 MB/s ; Write: 29.51 MB/s

So for some odd reasons read speed is slower than write speeds,. I also had to run the benchmark on the EXT-4 partition three times, as the first two times, A1 SD bench would just exit by itself. The write speed is quite OK for a USB 2.0 connection, but the read speed could probably be improved (with some software tuning?).

Read and Write Speeds in MB/s

Read and Write Speeds in MB/s (Click to Enlarge)

For reference that SSD achieved close to 180 MB/s read speed and 36MB/s write speed in Bonnie++ benchmark while connected to the SATA port of CubieTruck board (Allwinner A20).

The good thing is that I have not found any major flaws with the Android benchmarks, and GeekBox performance is above average in most tests, except 802.11n WiFi with my setup, but not outstanding. The main advantages of the platform are operating systems support (Android, Ubuntu, and Light Biz OS), hackability with expansion headers and hardware add-ons such as touch screen panel, and hopefully a community that will grow overtime.

I’d like to thanks GeekBuying for sending a GeekBox kit for review. If you are interested, and GeekBox sells for $109.99 shipped, and you can also get Landingship baseaboard for $29.99, and other accessories on the same page. Support is also available on GeekBox forums, and if you want to modify or improve Android 5.1 operating system for the platform, you’ll find the SDK on Github.

[Update: Since I plan to use a firmware image running Ubuntu (Actually Lubuntu) only instead of the dual boot image, I’ve quickly tried the dual boot in GeekBox with the pre-loaded firmware.

Click for Original Size

Click for Original Size

Ubuntu has it own 3.0GB partition, and can also access the 8.18GB “NAND Flash” partition found in Android. Clicking on Reboot2Android icon will pop-up a menu asking you whether you’d like to reboot to Android system.

]

The next step will be to checkout Ubuntu and Light Biz OS. I’m not sure in which order yet….

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Review of MINIX NEO U1 Media Hub

December 14th, 2015 40 comments

We’ve already seen that MINIX NEO U1 has some impressive hardware to offer with a good thermal solution, and high-end chips for storage and WiFi, as well as some neats additions like RTC support. But obviously the most important is to find out how the box performs, so I’ve put it through it spaces with video playback and features testing, as well as some benchmarks.

First Boot, OTA Firmware, Settings and First Impressions

The device has three full-sized USB 2.0 ports, which become four once we had the provided USB OTG adapter to the remaining micro USB port. So I’ve connected a USB 3.0 hard drive, the RF dongle for NEo A2 Lite air mouse, a USB hub with a USB webcam, a USB keyboard, and the RF dongle for Tronsmart Mars G01 gamepad, as well as USB powered speakers to the micro USB port. After inserting HDMI, optical audio and Ethernet cables, as well as the speakers cable into the 3.5mm speaker jack, I connected the 5V/3A power supply, and… nothing happened. So you just need to press the power button on the remote or unit itself to boot the device. A boot typically takes just over 30 seconds, or quite faster than the 50 seconds or so on lower end Amlogic S905 devices such as K1 Plus or Beelink MINI MX.

Click for Original Size

Click for Original Size

That’s the typical MINIX launcher, but an improvement over MINIX NEO X8-H Plus home screen when it launched last year. The top 4 icons shows WiFi, Ethernet, Bluetooth and VPN status. The first 8 icons in the center are “folders” for apps categorized in Videos, Kodi, Music, Games, Internet, Online streaming. Screencasting, and Social, with the last one redirecting to Amlogic settings app, as seen on all other Android Lollipop firmware for Amlogic TV boxes. The bottom row is for shortcuts, and the right column features time/data, a File Explorer apps folder, the full list of app (confusingly sorted in Chronological order), and App Market apps folder, and All Tasks Killer to automatically kill all background tasks. The status provided a convenient link to the Download folder, as well as the usual other buttons Home, Back, Volume, etc… You can hide the bar with the double down arrow icon on the right, and make it show again by pulling it up from the bottom.

Before going to the settings, I’ll mention my experience with FOTA (Firmware Over The Air) update. MINIX asked me to delay the review until their release FW003 firmware and XBMC for MINIX, which was out Friday evening. So I went to MINIX System Update app, and the new firmware was properly detected.

Click for Original Size

Click for Original Size

I liked that the update comes with a full log, and that it was a small incremental 30.71 MB download. The process went very smooth, with the device rebooted after unpacking the firmware, and flashing it with the usual Android firmware update animation. I would have however preferred that XBMC for MINIX was included inside that firmware, instead of asking users to side-load MINIX_XBMC_20151209.apk  themselves.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

The main options in the settings app are exactly the same as in MINI MX, as shown above, however the company also made some improvement (in bold) to the most important options:

  • Network – WiFi, Ethernet, and VPN configuration
  • Display
    • Screen resolution: Auto, 480p-60Hz, 576p-50Hz, 720p 50/60Hz, 1080i 50/60Hz, 1080p 24/50/60Hz, 4K2K 24/25/30/50/60Hz or SMPTE
    • Screen position
    • Screen rotation (middle port, force land, original)
  • Sound – System sound (On/Off), Digital sounds (Auto detection, PCM, HDMI or SPDIF), and USB audio
  • Preferences – HDMI CEC (But not working: “This remote device does not support CEC”), and Play back settings with “HDMI self-adaption” with three options: 
    • OFF – no processing
    • Level 1 – 23.976fps videos are processed under 1080p60Hz mode;
    • Level 2 – Switching TV’s output according to source video fps
  • Remote & accessories – Add Bluetooth devices (redirect to Android lollipop Bluetooth configuration)

As with other Amlogic devices, configuring the network options (WiFi, Ethernet and Bluetooth) went well. I could set video output to 4k2k @ 60Hz, but sometimes the video output would fall back to 1080i50 or 2160p25. The former happened once or twice after a reboot, or power cycle, and is easily noticeable, as the mouse pointer will be much bigger. I think the latter (2160p25) happened after playing some videos (TBC).

You can go to Android Lollipop settings by clicking on More Settings.  I could immediately a new feature that stands out: MCU setting.
MINIX_NEO_U1_MCU_SettingsAbout_NEO_U1You can configure the MCU behavior in this section. For example, you can select to automatically start the device when power is on, instead of having to press the power button. I’ve not sure what “RTC alarm” means in that context, maybe “low battery”?, but if the MCU is also handling RTC some neat feature like timed power on/off could also be implemented in the future. Finally, I could upgrade the MCU firmware to Version V1 without issues.

The 16GB eMMC flash is partitioned with a single unified 11.87GB partition, which is plenty of space for apps, and some data, and at the end of the review I still had 7.57GB  free space. All options that you can find in Android Lollipop are also there including Language & Input, Backup & reset, Printing, Accessibility, and so o.

The “About Mediabox” section reports NEO-U1 model number running Android 5.1.1 on top of Linux kernel 3.14.29, with the firmware firmware version being U1 FW003 20151210. The firmware is not rooted by default.

A MINIX infrared remote control is included by default. I added two AAA batteries, and I could use it without problem, even up to 10 meters. But I strongly recommend you also purchased MINIX NEO A2 Lite air mouse as well, especially if you don’t already a wireless keyboard or air mouse with keyboard, as it makes the user experience much better with a three-in-one keyboard, air mouse, and remote control. The mouse pointer works just as well as in MeLE F10 Deluxe, but the dedicated air mouse activation key removed unwanted clicks I sometimes get with the MeLE device when I want to enable air mouse mode. The keyboard is also nice with large keys, and the range is also very good, as I could test it up to 10 meters. I only found some “minor” issues. I found myself pressing the top button of the D-pad quite often instead of the OK button, so the design might have been slightly more ergonomic if the D-Pad was slightly higher. That one probably depends on your hand size though. While the keyboard is really nice, I wished the often used Space and Back key where left alone as in a full keyboard, as when Fn is enabled, pressing space will display the equal sign “=” instead, and the Back key will feel like it’s not used as all since it’s in “Delete mode”. But as I said these are minor, and possibly just something to get used to. Another input option is to use the Android remote control app for MINIX NEO U1 with your smrtphone.

The Google Play Store worked for all apps I had to use for the review, and most apps I previously installed on my phone would also install, except when telephony is required, or an app can now be only installed in specific countries. I also installed Amazon Underground, in order to play Riptide GP2 for free.

Power handling is very well implemented, and you can go into standby or power off the device with the remote control, or the power button.  MINIX NEO H8-Plus would not support turning on the device with the remote control, which was a pain, the company fixed that with NEO U1 and you can comfortably control the system from your sofa using either the included IR remote or NEO A2 Lite air mouse.

Power consumption is also good, and the hard drive is properly turned off in standby or power off modes:

  • Power off – 0.1 Watt
  • Standby – 1.2 Watt
  • Idle – 3.2 to 3.4 Watts
  • Power off + USB HDD – 0.1 Watt
  • Standby + USB HDD – 1.4 Watt
  • Idle + USB HDD – 4.3~4.4 Watts

So you’ll actually spend a little less money compared to cheaper Amlogic alternatives when the box is in power off or standby mode. I did come across two issues:

  • Once I got stuck in standby mode, which required a power cycle
  • When I disconnected the USB hub, all other USB ports went down… so the hard drive, and A2 Lite air mouse would not work… That was a little scary, but I used the IR remote control to turn off and on the device again, and it worked.

Amlogic S905 processor is already low power, and just like Beelink MINI MX, NEO U1 stays cool during operating. I measured 41°C and 45°C respectively on the top and bottom of the case after Antutu 6.0, and the temperature went up slightly after playing Riptide GP2 for 20 minutes to 45°C and 50°C. Those are values measured with an IR thermometer, and I scanned both top and bottom covers of the case to find the highest temperature.

Overall, the firmware is very and extremely responsive, as I never had slowdown during use, so the user experience is very good with this device, and much different from the cheaper Amlogic S905 devices. As seen above there are still some small bugs, which hopefully they’ll be worked on in due time.

Video Playback with Kodi/XBMC 15.3 for MINIX

So far, Kodi was not really usable on Amlogic devices, so I had to review K1 plus with Video Player, and MINI MX with MX Player. But some patchsets have made it to Kodi, and MINIX must have leveraged them by releasing their own XBMC for Kodi 15.3. You’ll actually have two versions in the firmware: Kodi 16.0 alpha that comes with the firmware, but you should really download and install MINIX version instead.

So I played all videos with “Kodi 15.3 MINIX” from a network share over Ethernet, unless otherwise noted. The first time I started Kodi, I could not hear much, unless I boosted my TV volume to 100%. I exited the app, and when adjusting the volume from the launcher, I noticed it was only about 30% (but showed 100% in Kodi), so I adjusted it to the max, reduced my TV volume to 25%, and restarted Kodi to have proper audio volume.

Let’s start with the easy video with with Linaro media samples, Elecard H.265 samples, and low resolution VP9 video:

  • H.264 codec / MP4 container (Big Buck Bunny) – 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • MPEG2 codec / MPG container –  480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • MPEG4 codec, AVI container 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • VC1 codec (WMV) – 1080p – 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • Real Media (RMVB), 720p / 5Mbps – OK
  • WebM / VP8 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS container  – OK
  • WebM / VP9 (no audio in video) – OK

Clean sheet here. Please also note that HDMI self-adaption, better known as automatic frame rate switching, worked very well too.
I’ve also gone through some videos with higher bit rates, still over SAMBA and Ethernet:

  • ED_HD.avi – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_1080p_surround.avi (1080p H.264 – 12 Mbps) – OK
  • h264_1080p_hp_4.1_40mbps_birds.mkv (40 Mbps) – OK
  • hddvd_demo_17.5Mbps_1080p_VC1.mkv (17.5Mbps) – Could be smoother
  • Jellyfish-120-Mbps.mkv (120 Mbps video without audio) – Not 100% smooth, but no buffering while playing from network… Same results on USB drive.

Not too bad. The Jellyfish video felt exactly the same as on MINI MX with MX Player, so Amlogic S905 might struggle with 100 Mbps+ videos.

After that I tested audio capabilities of the device with PCM, HDMI and S/PDIF pass-through in Kodi, as well as PCM (downmix) with MX Player and MoviePlayer apps. For pass-through you need to configure Kodi/XBMC 15.3 as shown below. With S/PDIF you should also enable Dolby Digital (AC3) transcoding.
Kodi_TrueHD_DTS-HD_Pass-through
You’ll notice that DTS-HD capable receiver is not enabled, and it’s not a mistake, as MINIX made clear this is not supported right now.

Video PCM Output
(Kodi)

PCM Output
(MX Player)

HDMI Pass-through
(Kodi)
S/PDIF Pass-through
(Kodi)
AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 Audio OK, video not smooth No audio OK (Dolby D 5.1) OK (Dolby D 5.1)
E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 OK No audio OK (Dolby D 5.1) OK (Dolby D 5.1)
Dolby Digital+ 7.1 OK No audio OK (Dolby D+ 7.1) Audio Formats Not Supported over S/PDIF
TrueHD 5.1 OK No audio OK (TrueHD 5.1)
TrueHD 7.1 OK No audio OK (TrueHD 7.1)
Dolby Atmos 7.1 OK No audio No (TrueHD 7.1)
DTS HD Master OK No audio DTS 5.1 only OK (DTS 5.1)
DTS HD High Resolution OK No audio DTS 5.1 only OK (DTS 5.1)

So that’s pretty good overall, except DTS-HD pass-through is not working yet over HDMI, and since DTS and Dolby license are not included, only apps that handle DTS/Dolby by software will output anything when PCM is selected. I had a question marked to “Atmos OK” because I could hear audio fine, and TrueHD 7.1ch B was shown on my AV receiver, but I’m not 100% sure if Atmos should have shown instead. [Update: Based on this video, Onkyo TX-NR636 will show Dolby Atmos for such content]

4K video can now be played pretty well in Kodi, almost as well as with MX Player:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 – OK
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv – OK
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) –  OK
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – OK
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts (H.265) – It would not play the first time, but I clicked again and it was OK…
  • MHD_2013_2160p_ShowReel_R_9000f_24fps_RMN_QP23_10b.mkv (10-bit HEVC) – OK
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – 3 to 4 fps
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video) – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 – The video is not very smooth and large audio delay (4K H.264 @ 60 fps not supported by S905 VPU)
  • Fifa_WorldCup2014_Uruguay-Colombia_4K-x265.mp4 (4K, H.265, 60 fps) – OK
  • Samsung_UHD_Dubai_10-bit_HEVC_51.4Mbps.ts (10-bit HEVC / MPEG-4 AAC) – Failed. It will show the first images, and gets stuck at ~85% buffering. The same behavior occurs from a USB drive.
  • Astra-11479_V_22000-Canal+ UHD Demo 42.6 Mbps bitrate.ts (10-bit H.265 from DVB-S2 stream) – The first time it played zoomed in with only one quarter of the video showing on the full screen. But I tried later and it played fine, and without the bug where the video freezes for a short time, as in MX Player and Video Player in the other two S905 boxes I tested.

The only really problem is with Samsung_UHD_Dubai_10-bit_HEVC_51.4Mbps.ts, and times when videos can play, and other don’t but overall it’s very good. It’s also the first Amlogic S905 that can play those files from the network without buffering issues.

You can see how I configured the system in the video below, as well as show 4K videos and audio pass-through in action.

Sintel-Bluray.iso and amat.iso (Ambra – Prism of Life) Blu-ray ISO could play smoothly, as well as two 1080i video samples. Hi10p videos can be decoded somewhat, but with so many artifacts that they are not really watchable:

  • [Commie] Steins;Gate – NCED [BD 720p AAC] [10bit] [C706859E].mkv – Audio and subtitles OK, some video artifacts
  • [1080p][16_REF_L5.1][mp3_2.0]Suzumiya Haruhi no Shoushitsu BD OP.mkv – Audio and susbtites OK, more artifacts

The TV used for review, namely LG 42UB820T does not support 3D, but I could still check whether the system could decoded some stereoscopic 3D videos:

  • bbb_sunflower_1080p_60fps_stereo_abl.mp4 (1080p Over/Under) – Video OK, but some audio/video sync issues
  • bbb_sunflower_2160p_60fps_stereo_abl.mp4 (2160p Over/Under) – Blackscreen with audio only
  • Turbo_Film-DreamWorks_trailer_VO_3D.mp4 (1080p SBS) – OK

Most videos and movies in my library (VOB, IFO, MKV, AVI, MP4 and MKV) played without issues, but some FLV did not have audio for some reasons.  I also played a a 2-hour video to test stability, and it played very well. For reference, Kodi’s log window reported 3 dropped frames and 1 skipped frame, which is very good, although we can’t also trust the data from Kodi here.

MINIX NEO U1 achieved 901 points in Antutu Video Tester 3.0, or about the same as K1 Plus (906) and MINI MX (891), so no surprises here.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

I also ran DRM info, and contrary to the other two boxes, Widewine is said to be enabled in NEO U1, but for some reasons, the app does not reports the security level.
MINIX_NEO_U1_DRM_InfoSo I tried iflix, the equivalent of Netflix for south-east asia, as I have a free one month trial, and it could stream videos, albeit the quality was not really good.

Video samples used for this review can be found here.

Network Performance (Wi-Fi and Ethernet)

In order to evaluate WiFi performance, I transfer a 278MB file between a network share (SAMBA) and the internal flash for three times using ES File Explorer, and average the results. I tested both 802.11ac (connected at 780 Mbps) and 802.11n (connected at 117 Mbps), and both results are very good.

Throughput in MB/s (Click to Enlarge)

Throughput in MB/s (Click to Enlarge)

802.11ac performance is nearly at the very top of the chart with 6.0MB/s transfer rate, and 802.11n is also pretty good at 3.01 MB/s (around 24 Mbps) and above average.

I repeat the same test for Gigabit Ethernet, but with a 885 MB file instead of the average performance (12.4 MB/s) is OK, but for some reasons it was much faster in one direction (22.12 MB/s) and slower in the other direction (8.59 MB/s).

Throughput in MB/s

Throughput in MB/s

I also ran iperf -t 60 -c server_ip -d to test raw dual duplex performance, and the latest Ethernet IP in Amlogic S905 appear to much better than in previous generation Amlogic S8xx processors.

Throughput in Mbps (Click to Enlarge)

Throughput in Mbps (Click to Enlarge)

iperf output:

Miscellaneous Tests

Bluetooth

MINIX NEO U1 shows as p200 Bluetooth device, and I could pair it with my smartphone to trnsfer some pictures. It worked, but one of the picture got corrupted during the transfer. I also successfully connected a Bluetooth headset, and paired No.1 D3 smart watch with the device. The firmware is not rooted, so I could not try Sixaxis app for PS3 gamepads.

Storage

The “10 MB free space bug” is still remaining in NEO U1, as in all other 5 devices I’ve tested with Amlogic and Android Lollipop. So while the NTFS & exFAT partitions on my USB hard drive could be mounted, but the total and free space would only show as 10MB, and I could not copy files larger than 10MB. A FAT32 micro SD card could be mounted

File System Read Write
NTFS OK No (10 MB free space)
EXT-4 Not mounted Not mounted
exFAT OK No (10 MB free space)
BTRFS Not mounted Not mounted
FAT32 OK OK

So again, I skipped USB storage benchmarks, and only tested the internal storage with A1 SD bench app. The results are quite phenomenal with 118.37MB/s read speed and 73.85 MB/s write speed, the best so far for any device reviewed on CNX Software, and at least twice as fast as any other TV boxes tested so far, and about 5 to 10 times faster than the cheaper Amlogic S905 devices.

Read and Write Speed in MB/s

Read and Write Speeds in MB/s (Click to Enlarge)

This must at least partially explain why I never noticed any slow downs on the device…

USB Webcam

I connect a standard UVC webcam to the box, and login with Skype and successfully run the Echo/Service test, and make a video calls. However, after two tries at different times, I never managed to login to Google Hangouts, and I would only see the spinning wheel as it tried to login.

Gaming

Beelink MINI MX struggle a bit with games in my last review, but MINIX NEO U1 perform way better. First, I played Candy Crush Saga with NEO U1 air mouse without any issue.

Then I switch to 3D racing games and used Tronsmart Mars G01 wireless gamepad. Beach Buggy Racing was very smooth with default settings, so I maxed out the graphics settings to “High Resolution” and it was still very much playable and enjoyable, albeit possibly with a slightly lower frame rate.

Riptide GP2 was also super smooth with default settings, and with graphics settings set to the max, it was still playable, but not really optimal, so I went back to default settings for the longer test. Other device tends to slow down after playing the game for a while, but NEO U1 was stable after 15 minutes, and it was fun so I played about 5 minutes more (6 races), and I had the same performance all the way. I suspect the large heatsink in the device really helps avoiding GPU throttling.

MINIX NEO U1 Benchmarks

CPU-Z detects NEO U1 is another p200 platform (p200_2G), and that it features a quad core Cortex A53 processor @ up to 2.02 GHz with a Mali-450MP GPU without recognizing Amlogic S905 processor yet.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

Since I’ve run Antutu 6.0 benchmark on the device, and it gets 38,032 points, but remember scores between Antutu 5.x adn Antutu 6.x are not directly comparable. If we look into the details of the score, we’ll notice that Marooned 3D graphics benchmark (3D 孤立)  did not complete, so if somehow this is fixed in the feature, the scores will automatically go up, and the reason is because this test is based on OpenGL ES 3.1, which is not supported by the GPU. For reference, Vega S95 Telos, another Amlogic S905 platform, got 36,741 points, with the gap most entirely due to UX I/O test, and the ultra eMMC flash in NEO U1.MINIX_NEO_U1_Antutu
So to compare to other devices, better run some other benchmarks like Vellamo 3.2.

Click for Original Size

Click for Original Size

I’ve drawn a comparison chart with K1 Plus (low cost Amlogic S905 platform), and MINIX NEO X8-H Plus (previous generation Amlogic S812 device).

MINOX_NEO_U1_vs_NEO_X8-H_Plus_vs_K1_PlusSo apart from the metal score, results are pretty equivalent on all three devices. Please note that MINIX NEO X8-H Plus runs Android 4.4, and does not benefit from the faster ART runtime found in Android Lollipop and greater.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

NEO U1 media hub scores 4,327 points in 3Dmarks’ ICE Storm Extreme benchmark, against 4,304 in K1 plus, and 6,056 points in NEO X8-H Plus. It’s not surprising that the penta-core GPU in Amlogic S905 SoC is slower than the octa-core GPU featured in Amlogic S812 processor.

Conclusion

It’s quite difficult to find a device where both the hardware and software are very good. Most of the time, I’m given decent hardware with half-baked firmware, but I’ve also tested boxes with outstanding hardware and rather poor firmware (e.g. Mygica ATV1900AC), or on the contrary very good firmware, but hardware that could be better (e.g. WeTek Core). So I’m happy to report MINIX guys have managed to combined excellent hardware with very stable and responsive firmware that works (the vast majority of the time).

One the hardware side, you’ve got good (802.11n) and excellent (802.11ac) WiFi transfer rate, and Gigabit Ethernet works very well, even for streaming high bitrate videos, while the eMMC flash is the fastest I’ve tested in any devices, and whatever performance I get is sustainable thanks to the large heatsink in side the device keep everything cool and running smoothly over time.

One the software side, the system feel very responsive at all times, certainly helped with the good hardware, but most of advertised features just work out of the box, with XBMC for MINIX running well enough for be your primary media player / center, a first on the Amlogic S905 devices I tested. That’s not to say there aren’t any flaws, or bugs but there are not major, and I’m sure many will be fixed with upcoming firmware updates.

PROS

  • Recent stable and always responsive Android 5.1 OS firmware
  • Video Output – HDMI 2.0 up to 2160p 60Hz; 24/25/30/50/60 Hz refresh rates supported
  • Good Kodi support (XBMC 15.3 MINIX Edition) with smooth 4K H.265 (10-bit) and H.264 video playback
  • Dolby 5.1, Dolby+7.1, DTS and TrueHD audio pass-through are working (HDMI and S/PDIF).
  • Proper implementation of power handling with more feature possible as the MCU firmware is upgradeable and the included RTC.
  • 3x USB ports + 1x micro USB port with USB OTG
  • Very good to outstanding network performance with Gigabit Ethernet and WiFi (802.11n / 802.11ac)
  • Fastest internal storage I’ve seen in any device tested so far
  • Decent platform for 3D games
  • Skype working fine with USB webcam
  • Working OTA firmware upgrade
  • Active support forums

CONS

  • HDMI – DTS HD pass-through not working yet; CEC not working; Video output resolution set in settings is not always used at next power on, and may fall back to 1080i50. I’ve also noticed the resolution switch to 2160p25 (instead of 2160p60), after playing some videos.
  • A few video playing OK in MX Player has issues in Kodi XBMC for MINIX.
  • Lack of DTS and Dolby support for PCM (downmix) output. Does not affect Kodi users, or people with an AV receiver.
  • DRM installed, but lacks Widewine Level 1 required for full HD and 4K video streaming in some apps (e.g. Netflix)
  • USB hard drive partitions (NTFS / exFAT) reported as having 10MB free only, basically rendering the partitions read-only. (likely bugs related to having multiple partitions on a single hard drive)
  • Some small UI issues – Mouse pointer looks quite small at 4K resolution, list of apps shown in chronological order instead of alphabetical, Kodi folder empty in home screen after firmware update.
  • System may be stuck in standby mode (only happens once)
  • Potential USB port shutdown issue (only happened once when I disconnect a USB hub and all USB port turned off).
  • I could not login to Google Hangouts
  • Volume may be very low in Kodi (Workaround is to adjust volume in launcher first).

I also tested MINIX NEO A2 Lite air mouse in the review, and I really recommend it, this is an excellent input device, and IMHO better than MeLE F10 Deluxe due to larger keyboard keys, and a dedicated button to activate air mouse function.

I’ve seen some people ask whether they should upgrade their MINIX NEO X8-H Plus to NEO U1. In terms of performance, you won’t see much differences, and X8-H Plus should have higher 3D performance, but if you care about H.265 video playback at 4K @ 60 Hz, 10-bit HEVC support, 802.11ac WiFi, and get something that you can turn on/off with the remote control, then go ahead you won’t be disappointed.

MINIX NEO U1 sells for $129.99 on Amazon US, Amazon UK, DX.com, GearBest, GeekBuying and others, but I really recommend you spend $20 extra and get the bundle with MINIX NEO A2 Lite air mouse on these sites. The air mouse is also sold separately for $29.99 shipped.

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