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EBox T8-4 Review – A 4K Android TV Box Bundle Geared Towards the UK Market

July 24th, 2016 2 comments

I’ve already taken some pictures of the device and board in part 1 of EBox T8-4 review, so today, I’m going to report my experience with the Android 5.1 firmware for this Amlogic S905 TV box, air mouse, and wireless gamepad, specifically targetted to users leaving in the United Kingdom, but since the hardware is based on Zoomtak T8V, it may also be informative to international users, although the firmware, mostly launcher and IPTV services, will be different.

EBox T8-4 Setup Wizard & Configuration

Since I’ve already inserted an internal SSD into the SATA bay of the device, I did not connect an external USB harddrive, and only connected HDMI and Ethernet cables,  plus the RF dongle for the included air mouse, a USB keyboard to easily take screenshots, and of course the power cord. The power button will be red at this stage. If you want to start the TV box, you either need to press the button on the box, or the power button on the remote control, the power button LED will change to blue, and the display will show “boot”.

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A typical boot takes around one minute, but for the very first boot, you’ll be asked to go through setup wizard similar to what we find in few others boxes like WeTek Core or ARNU Box.EBox_T8-4_Setup_Wizard

Click Next to “select” your language.. English only for now.

EBox_T8-4_Language_Selection

Next window is to adjust the screen in order to remove any black orders on the edges of the screen. If you are using HDMI output, most TV should have a setting to underscan. For example it is called “Just Scan” on LG televisions. That way you don’t need to adjust the screen at all, and you can keep it at 100%.

EBox_T8-4_Adjust_ScreenThe next step is for network configuration for either Ethernet or WiFi.

EBox_T8-4_Setup_Wizard_Ethernet_Configuration EBox_T8-4_Setup_Wizard_WiFi_ConfigurationThe system correctly detected my three access points @ 2.4 GHz and 5.0 GHz, but I carry on with Gigabit Ethernet, and click on Finish button to access the main user interface.

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The launcher include EBOX MC fork of Kodi 16.1, EBOX APPS Hub folder with custom apps from the company including EBox  App to access support channels, EBox Apps app store, EBox OTA for firmware update, etc…, as well as icons to access all apps, the browser, settings, and to clean the memory.

Sadly, that’s another wizard that does not ask you to set your timezone, but maybe in that case it is understable since it’s designed for the British public and already set to the right timezone. Any I went through the settings, which looks quite similar as other Amlogic TV boxes.
EBox_T8-4_Settings_Network

You can change network configuration as needed, as well as display settings.EBox_T8-4_Settings_Display

HDMI auto-detection is ON by default, and it set the resolution to 1080p50 by default, so I disabled it and manually selected 4k2k-60Hz mode. Sadly it looks like it does not always remember that setting after a reboot.EBox_T8-4_Settings_Advanced

Advanced options are for Miracast, CEC Control is not working for me (same results as with all other Amlogic TV boxes I’ve tested), and you can also configure audio output to PCM, SPDIF or HDMI.EBox_T8-4_Settings_Others

Other settings show some system information: Android 5.1.1 on top of Linux 3.14.29 running on p200_2G platform. More Settings lead to another familiar setup menu.
EBox_T8-4_Settings

This is where I enabled HDMI adaptation (automatic refresh rate) via Play back settings, and set the correct timezone (Date & Time). You can access Android Lollipop settings by selecting “More setting”, so you’ve got three different settings user interfaces, which should really be unnecessary….

EBox T8-4 OTA Firmware

The company informed me by email of a new firmware update, so I updated it right before going further, by entering the System Update menu, but you can click on EBox OTA to enter the update app too. After clicking to check updates, I got a popup window “ROM update available”.

EBox_OTA_Firmware_Update

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So I start the download…

EBox_OTA_Firmware_Download

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Which was reasonably fast, and been asked whether I want to Wipe Data and/or Wipe Cache when installing the firmware. I always wipe the cache, but I avoid wiping the data since I like to keep my data (screenshots) and apps installed via Google Play.

EBox_T8-4_Wipe_Data_Wipe_Cache
Once I click on Install, I get another window explaining the box will reboot into recovery mode, flash the ZIP file, and automatically reboot.

EBox_T8-4_Install_Firmware

So I click in Install against and this time the box reboots, shows me an animation with a green Android logo amd a progress board, and after 3 to 5 minutes, reboot the the main launcher and the update is complete. That part was flawless.

Entertainmentbox.com Customer Support

However, I had a big hiccup with the firmware, after spending much time taking screenshoot, and testing apps, I tested on and off, and power consumption, and all of a sudden the device would not boot to the launcher, and all I could see if a blueish background photo (the vertical line is just an issue with my TV).

EBox-T8-4_DeadI sent an email to my contact in the company about the issue, but since it was a Saturday, I was not sure when I’d get an answer, so I went to their website, and saw a “Chat Now – Online”  section on the bottom right of the page, so I decided to give it a try and asked my question about the box being stuck at boot time.

Within a few seconds, a support person called Vikram told me to try to factory rest the box, and provide a link with detailed instructions, and the chat was over in about one minute. I followed the instructions, which involved wiping the data, but I tried to only wipe the cache as I wanted to keep my data, and I did not work.

I wanted to try to re-install the firmware without wiping out the data instead. So I went back to start a new chat to ask about the firmware since I could not find T8-4 on their firmware page. Again Vikram answered within a few seconds, and said he was aware of the issue, and forwarded to the persons in charge. Again efficient, polite and to the point, so my experience with support was very positive, although my problem was not resolved.

Eventually, I got answer from my contact, as they had uploaded T8-4 firmware with clear instructions. So I copied the file to a USB flash drive, went into recovery, and flashed the firmware apparently successfully, but it did not resolve my issue. So I ended up wiping out the data, and lost all my files and installed app, wasting a few hours of work.

The reasons was that EBox Play app (now removed from the firmware) that allows you to play retro games was not compatible with Android 5.1, and messed up with the firmware.

Anyway, while I was clearly not happy about that annoying firmware bug and wasted time, Entertainmentbox.com customer support appears to be very good. They also have support forums.

Installed Apps and IPTV Streaming

The TV box comes with some interesting apps including popular video streaming and on-demand app in the UK such as BBC iPlayer, FilmOn, and TVCatchUp.

EBox_T8-4_App_List_1BionicTCP should be interesting too on other devices, especially if you have troubles with streaming videos, as it allows you to tweak TCP buffers to allow for larger buffers possibly improve the streaming experience.

EBox_T8-4_App_List_2
So I had a quick try of the IPTV apps, although I’m not based in the UK.

Let’s start with Filmon.TV app which sorts live TV streams by country or categories.

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You can then select one category, and a stream from the list to watch live TV, in full screen or within the interface.

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There’s also an online TV guide (EPG) available from the app.

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After a while, the app will ask you to register. I think it’s free to watch SD channels, but you may have to pay to watch HD TV. (TBC)

TVCatchup is a service that allows to watch live TV even if you missed the right time when it was broadcasted. When the app start I’ve been asked to confirm I’m indeed based on the UK… to which I agreed…

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I could get the list of channels, and programs, but was unable to play any videos, most probably because I’m not actually in the UK…

TVcatchUp_ChannelsYou can also access the EPG from the app. You’d think free channels like Aljazeera would work from anywhere, but it did not play either.

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Finally, BBC iPlayer.. It asked me to install BBC Media Player, which I did, but then I could not stream any video due to geo-blocking.

BBC_iPLayer

BBC_iPLayer_Content_Not_WorkingSo the pre-installed app are interesting if you are based in the UK, and wants something easy to setup. If you live overseas, you’d have to use a VPN, or some DNS services like StrongDNS.

Video and Audio Support in EBOX MC (Kodi 16.1)

EBOX MC (EBMC) used Confluence skin with a different background image.

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It is based on Kodi 16.1 with possible some customizations under the hood.

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Since I’ve reviewed so many Amlogic S905 TV boxes, I’ll just try 4K videos, and audio capabilities (e.g. HDMI pass-through). All files will be played from a SAMBA share.

4K video samples:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 – OK
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv – OK
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265 @ 30 fps) –  OK
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265 @ 30 fps) – OK
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts (H.265 @ 30 fps) – OK
  • MHD_2013_2160p_ShowReel_R_9000f_24fps_RMN_QP23_10b.mkv (10-bit HEVC) – OK
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video; 36 Mbps) – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – OK
  • 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) – OK
  • Astra-11479_V_22000-Canal+ UHD Demo 42.6 Mbps bitrate.ts (10-bit H.265 from DVB-S2 stream) – OK
  • Ducks Take Off [2160p a 243 Mbps].mkv (4K H.264 @ 30 fps; 243 Mbps; no audio) – Won’t start to play, and stays in UI.

So no problem playing most 4K video samples with the codecs supported by Amlogic S905 SoC (i.e. excluding H.264 4K @ 60 fps, and 10-bit H.264) expect a very high bitrate H.264 video. However, please note that automatic refresh rate switching is not working, even after it is configured in both the system and EBMC.

Time to test audio.

Video PCM 2.0 Output
(Kodi/EBMC)
PCM 2.0 Output
(Video player)
HDMI Pass-through
(Kodi/EBMC)
AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 Audio OK but video not smooth No audio Audio OK but video not smooth
E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 OK No audio Dolby D 5.1 (OK), but frequent short noise
Dolby Digital+ 7.1 OK No audio PCM 2.0
TrueHD 5.1 OK No audio PCM 2.0
TrueHD 7.1 OK No audio PCM 2.0
Dolby Atmos 7.1 OK No audio PCM 2.0
DTS HD Master OK No audio DTS 5.1 with frequent short (0.5s) noise
DTS HD High Resolution OK No audio DTS 5.1 with frequent short (0.5s) noise
DTS:X OK No audio DTS 5.1 with frequent short (0.5s) noise

As expected Ebox T8-4 does not have the DTS and Dolby licenses for audio down-mixing since it’s using Amlogic S905, and not S905-H, but that’s a disappointment to find out that HDMI pass-through is basically unusable even for 5.1 channel audio due to a short noise that happens every 5 to 10 seconds, at least with Onkyo TX-NR636 receiver.

Gaming with Ipega PG-9028 Bluetooth game controller

I’m normally using Tronsmart Mars G01 RF gamepad in my review, but since the bundle I received includes a Bluetooth gamepad, that’s what I used with Riptide GP2 installed from Amazon Underground. At first, I had troubles pairing the gamepad as I only pressed the Home key, but then I was asked to press Home and X blue buttons together, and the gamepad would show a new device Bluetooth MAC address, and once paired show it as PG-9028.

PG-9028_Bluetooth_PairingSubsequently, you’ll just need to press the Home button to connect the gamepad to the TV box. I had then no issue navigating the user interface with B button for “Back”, A button for “Accept”, and the top left joystick to move around the launcher, and start Riptide GP2.

The game was a fluid as on other good Amlogic S905 TV boxes, so I set the graphics setting to the maximum, and played for over 15 minutes without any degradation of performance over time. The device stayed cool at all time, and the top and bottom temperatures of the case were respectively 36° C, and 39° C.

Other interesting features of the gamepad include the touchpad area to control the mouse pointer, and the five buttons at the bottom for volume, play/pause, back and next, which makes it suitable to control Kodi/EBMC. It is also possible to place your smartphone on top of the gamepad, if you want to play games on the phone instead of the TV box. You’ll find detailed pictures of the controller in the first part of the review.

EBox T8-4 Benchmarks – Antutu, Storage and Networking

Amlogic S905 is a now extremely well known platform, so I just ran Antutu 6.1.4 to double check there wasn’t any issue.

EBox_T8-4_Antutu

35,473 point is typical for this kind of device. All good.

I also tested internal storage performance A1SD bench, and the eMMC flash is reasonable fast @ 26.21 MB/s for sequential read, and 14.80 MB/s for sequential write.

Read/Write Speed in MB/s

Read/Write Speed in MB/s

One of the key selling point of the device is the presence of an internal 2.5″ SATA bay. I started by inserting an SSD with both NTFS and EXT-4 partitions, but it was mounted as a USB device with 0 MB size, so I switched another 1TB hard drive formatted with NTFS inside a Linux machine, which was a little loose in the SATA bay but still inserted to the SATA connector, and this time it was not detected at all. When I removed it, it was warm so I assume it got power. It’s quite possible the hard drive needs to be prepared inside a Windows computer to work with the box, based on a video for their older T8-3 box. That part was very disappointing.

Let’s switch to network performance with Gigabit Ethernet and iperf -t 60 -c server_ip -d command for full duplex transfer.

So the system cannot handle full duplex transfer very well, with the speed in one direction very fast (as it should), but very slow in the other direction. That test is worse case scenario though, and unless you plan to use the box as a server too, it should not be an issue, and I had no problem streaming 60 Mbps+ videos.

I’ve tested 802.11ac by transferring a 278MB file from SAMBA to the flash and vice versa 3 times using ES File explorer. For some reasons download was much faster than upload @ 5.67 MB/s vs 2.89 MB/s, and on average the transfer rate was a decent 4.27 MB/s.

Throughput in MB/s

Throughput in MB/s

Other remarks

The included air mouse is very convenient with mouse mode, remote side, and QWERTY keyboard side, and while usually I have to switch to the IR remote control to power on other devices, T8-4 can be powered on with that air mouse too. The air mouse function works well, the keyboard includes the media player keys (play/pause, etc..), and the only two downsides I found is the lack of tabulation key, and Alt key Blue on black markings are hard to read, at least with my eyesight (I need to remove my glasses to read them).

Power handling have been properly implemented too, but with only power on and power off modes. Power consumption is 0.2 watts in power off mode, 5.0 watts at idle with SSD, and 5.2 watts at with (non-detected) HDD.

I had no problem at all with Google Play with free and paid app, and Amazon Underground.

Conclusion

EBox T8-4 Android TV box performs well over time (no overheating), delivers good video playback performance in Kodi (EBMC), include pre-installed IPTV streaming app for the UK, and provide a good overall user experience, but there are still some issues that need to be fixed such as very poor HDMI pass-through implementation, and problems with internal SATA bay.

PROS

  • Complete easy to setup and use bundle with TV box, air mouse, and wireless Bluetooth gamepad
  • Stable and responsive firmware
  • Good 4K video playback performance in Kodi with both H.264 and H.265 videos
  • (Legal) pre-installed IPTV app for the UK market like BBC iPlayer, Filmon, and TVCatchup
  • Gigabit Ethernet and good 802.11ac WiFi performance
  • 2.5″ internal SATA bay (see CONS too!)
  • OTA firmware update
  • Good customer support with Live chat, forums, and online documentation

CONS

  • HDMI audio pass-through is not working well, with only 5.1 channel audio support, and I got short white noise for almost all videos.
  • No Dolby / DTS licenses
  • My 2.5″ SSD (NTFS + EXT-4) and HDD (NTFS) were not recognized by the system
  • DRM support limited to Widewine Level 3
  • (Minor) Settings are spread over  3 menus
  • (Minor) Somewhat slow boot (One minute)
  • I loss all my data and installed apps after a while due to a bug in the firmware (But it should be now be fixed, and I could not reproduce the issue).

The main thing I like about EBox T8-4 bundle is that it’s easy to setup and comes with everything you may need to watch local and live TV (in the UK), the included air mouse and Bluetooth gamepad just work out of the box, without headache due to potential interoperability issues.

EBox T8-4 + S77 Pro air mouse + Ipega Bluetooth gamepad bundle I reviewed can be purchased for 108.33 GBP exc. VAT ($142 US), but you can also purchase the box alone for 79.16 GBP exc. VAT (~$104 US), or select other bundles with different input devices and/or an included 1TB hard drive (which could mitigate the issues I had).

FriendlyARM NanoPi NEO Board Benchmarks

July 22nd, 2016 1 comment

We’ve already seen how to setup NanoPi NEO with Ubuntu Core, and while it’s mostly designed as an IoT node, for example to control relays over Ethernet or the Internet, I’ve still decided to see how it would perform under load by running Phoronix benchmarks, and then network and storage (micro SD card provided by FriendlyARM). It’s a small board, so we should expect it to heat a lot under load, especially it does not come with an heatsink by default. Also bear in mind that performance may dramatically change depending on the software implementation, and for the test, I’m using the company’s Ubuntu Core firmware.

Before start the benchmark, I noticed that QTe-Demo was running in the background, probably because it was used on their other board with video output or LCD. but it’s taking some CPU usage, and is absolutely not needed here.

To disable it, edit /etc/rc.local, and comment out one line as follows:

I also planned to install RPi-Monitor, which is very easy to install in armbian, but I could not find a quick way for the Ubuntu core image, so I skipped it for now, instead manually checking the temperature.

Let’s install Phoronix Test Suite:

and run the benchmark against Orange Pi, Banana Pi, Raspberry Pi, etc… boards results.

Since it will take a while (4 to 5 hours) checking the terminal output while the benchmark is running may be informative:

Phoronix will run the same test several times, and in theory, every iteration of the test should have roughly the same results, but in practice, modern processors do overheat, and either reduce frequency or cut the number of cores to keep the temperature below the (safe) junction temperature. The results here don’t look good, because they become slower overtime. A temperature check with an IR thermometer after one hour or so, shows the CPU is getting really hot.
NanoPi_NEO_CPU_TemperatureWe can also verify this in the command line by reading one of the temperature sensor:

It’s hot, and the temperature tops at 80 C, and sometimes drops down to 76 C, before getting back to 80C, so the system is clearly throlling and the final results made that clear (ARMv7 rev 5 is NanoPi NEO without heatsink). Please also note that all 6 boards included below are using the same governor settings (interactive or ondemand). However, NaniPi NEO’s Ubuntu core Linux kernel is configured to run the RAM at the lower frequency to either decrease power consumption or heat generation.

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John the Ripper is a multi-threaded password cracker, and in theory NaniPi NEO should have about the same performance as Orange Pi One, but there’s clearly a massive drop in performance.

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Same thing for single threaded FLAC audio encoding, where NanoPi NEO is almost 50% slower than Orange Pi One, and about the same as Raspberry Pi 2.

So let’s check what happens is we had an heatsink. I glued the largish heatsink (for that board) by putting thermal paste on Allwinner H3 and the Samsung DDR3 SDRAM chip. It is not centered on the board because the Ethernet jack pins prevent this. You could add some thermal pads to work around this.

NanoPi_NEO_Heatsink_Thermal_Paste

So let’s start again phoronix-test-suite to see if this improves anything:

Terminal output for the first benchmark:

We can see the results are both higher, and more stable, so that’s a good sign.

The heatsink temperature is about 54 C after around one or two hours.

NanoPi_NEO_Heatsink_TemperatureBut the CPU temperature is still high, and topping at 80 C from time to time:

Nevertheless the final results are way better. I repeated the test with heatsink twice to some issue with uploading the results the first time…

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FLAC audio encoding is now just as good as on Orange Pi One.

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John the Ripper is still a bit lower on NanoPi NEO, which could either be because of RAM clock or overheating despite the heatsink. The multi-threaded performance is still better than on Raspberry Pi 2 however.

So if you want to want NanoPi NEO to control some relays, you probably don’t need to care at all about this, but if you plan to use it as part as a cluster or build farm, you’d have to consider using a heatsink and possibly a fan to get optimal performance, as well as make sure the board does not die prematurely…

Let’s switch to Ethernet performance, but running iperf server on the board:

and running iperf client on a computer running Ubuntu 14.04 to test dual duplex performance:

So the download speed is all good at 93.8 Mbps, but the upload speed is not quite up to the task at 25.8 Mbps. Remember that a dual duplex test is a worse case scenario with heavy traffic going in both directions at the same, and it does not mean upload speed is limited to 25 Mbps in more typical scenarios.

NanoPi NEO does not come with any storage, and you can use any micro SD card you want, but FriendlyARM sells and recommend Sandisk Ultra 8GB SD micro card,  so it would interesting to see how the one they’ve sent me performs.

For that purpose I’ve installed iozone to test the micro SD card performance. You’ll need to edit /etc/apt/source.list to add multiverse at the end of the first two lines, and then:

I’ve run iozone3 with armbian community command line options, so that it can be compared to other SD cards:

So it’s not quite the fastest around, especially in terms of random write for some files, and if you want a board that boot very fast (i.e. faster than the 10 seconds boot I got), and your application is I/O depend you may want to get something better like Samsung EVO 32GB.

Morefine M1+ Review – A Dual Boot Windows and Android TV Stick

July 11th, 2016 11 comments

Karl here and I will be reviewing the Morefine M1+. It is an Intel based stick PC with an Intel Atom x5-Z8300 processor with 2GB RAM and 64 GB of storage. It dual boots Windows 10 Home 32 bit and Android 5.1. In this review, I won’t be doing many benchmarks because they have been done a lot in the past.

Be careful when researching this product because there are 2 devices with same name with different specs. The other one has an Intel Atom z3735 and only 32GB storage and Android 4.4.

The box came expertly wrapped and I have never seen a package delivered and protected so well.

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In the box was the stick, short HDMI extension, power cable, and instruction manual. No micro USB OTG cable is included. I didn’t find this an issue because I had several already.

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Specs

  • OS Version: OS Windows 10 (Trial Version) and Android 5.1
  • CPU: Intel Quad Core Atom x5-Z8300
  • GPU: Intel HD Graphics
  • Processor Speed (turbo): 1.84 GHz, normal 1.44 GHz
  • RAM: 2GB
  • Internal Memory: 64GB
  • External Memory: Support up to 128GB
  • Supported Resolution: 1920×1080
  • Wi-Fi: 802.11 a/b/g/n (2.4G/5G)
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • Built-in Intelligent Temperature Control Fan

When power is connected and after pushing the power button I was prompted with android logo and windows logo. I used a Logitech K400 to navigate and left right arrows are used to choose Android or Windows. It remembers what you booted last when you reboot.

Windows

I was most interested in Windows so booted to it first. I have already used a box based on z8300 so I had realistic expectation of performance. UI is acceptable and most tasks can be performed with just a little bit of waiting. I went to update and found that it was already up to date. I was expecting a couple hours of updates. I also found a WiFi access point still saved in wireless settings. I performed an update and only had to update virus definitions. (After factory restoring Windows I believe Chinavision updated the stick before shipping. I did have to do a big update and I received normal Windows first boot screens)

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Then I installed the software below:

  • True Temp
  • Kodi
  • Emby
  • Plex
  • Netflix
  • HDHomerun App
  • VLC
  • Chrome with h.264 YouTube addon
  • Minecraft for Windows 10 beta
  • League of Legends
  • Microsoft Office 2016

It didn’t come with Windows activated and I had a key for Win 7 pro available. I went to the Windows store and searched for Upgrade Windows Pro and I put in this generic key VK7JG-NPHTM-C97JM-9MPGT-3V66T that I found on the Microsoft website. This key installs Pro but does not activate it. I let the system upgrade then I went to activation and put in my key to properly activate it. So there are a couple options to activate Windows.

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Morefine M1+ Partitions – Click to Enlarge

I tried to do a fresh Windows 64 Pro install but the stick wouldn’t recognize my thumb drive. I contacted the manufacturer and asked for 64-bit drivers but they were not able to provide any. I didn’t want to brick the stick so did not experiment any more. I received links to restore img as I was completing this review so I did not have time to test. Here is the link, and instructions are the same as the original M1+. The process seems straightforward. I tried to do a restore and I think there is an issue with the Android restore provided by Morefine. Complains of being 64-bit when only 32-bit capable. I let Morefine know and I will update when I find out what the issue is…Maybe I can’t follow instructions…wouldn’t be the first time.

Thermal Design

The thermal design for the stick is adequate. I kept True Temp running while reviewing and only saw it spike to 80 deg. Celsius once. It was during the installation of Microsoft Office while browsing with Chrome at the same time. Most of the time it ran between 50 and 60. The fan on the stick runs at different speeds depending on the temp and when only running light apps turns off completely. I didn’t find it annoying and barely audible. For a comparison the air coming out my vents for HVAC is substantially louder. I performed a 30 min stress test with prime95 while streaming Netflix and the fan only kicked into its highest speed once. 2 screenshots below show right at the end and the stick cooling off quickly.

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Windows Gaming

I don’t play much games but I did play Minecraft from the Windows store and it ran really well. I did have some hiccups playing network games with Android tablets but it still is in beta and I don’t think it is attributed to the stick. The only other game I play occasionally is League of Legends. It is not a demanding game but I was impressed that it played well. League of Legends is a real time strategy / RPG game that any lag gets you killed and I didn’t feel like I was at a disadvantage using the stick.

HTPC

I feel like a home theater PC is the best way to utilize this stick. I tested out Kodi, Plex, Emby, and HD Homerun app. All of which played well. I was able to play some 4k content but only up to 8-bit HEVC. I could not get 10 bit to play in any player. All the 1080 content I tested played well.

Wifi

I found WiFi to be only mediocre. Windows was better than Android. It might be the fact that I had it so close to my TV. If I moved it to the right spot, it would copy about 4 MB/s. The access point has 3 walls to penetrate which includes a bathroom with copper pipes. You can see below where moving the stick made speeds fluctuate considerable up and down.

Morefine_M1+_WiFi_Performance

I tested a rtl8188etv USB adapter but there was some sort of driver conflict with built in WiFi and I had to restore the driver for the built in Wi-Fi from the double driver backup I made. I did use a ASIX USB 3.0 gig adapter and it worked really well. I also tested a ASIX 10/100 adapter and it worked well.

Android

I was a slightly disappointed on the Android side. I really like that it didn’t have any bloat but but this is extreme. No play store was included. I tried for several hours to install Google play store and Google play services kept getting constant app closings so I uninstalled them. Android is not rooted. ADB does not work. I installed aptoide and used it to install all my apps. I don’t like using it but it is better than side loading all the apps from the web. Kodi worked well.

As I was using Android I am really impressed by the UI. This is my first experience with Android on Intel. It is really fluid. I am not sure why Android on Intel didn’t take off. I guess my ignorance kept me from it and I imagine others as well. I had no issues with apps and they all seemed to work well. I was always worried that apps wouldn’t work well on Intel processors.

Misc

There is the issue with time when booting between Android and Windows. Time gets off. A little hack can be applied to Windows so that time doesn’t become off when switching OS’s. What is needed is to set windows to use universal time. Below are some pics of inside the stick and internal storage test.

Morefine_M1_Plus_CrystalDiskMarkWiFi chip is AP6234 and notice that the antenna is not soldered on. It would be easy to mod and install an external antenna. I loath the sticky soldered antenna.

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Bios

There are quite a few BIOS settings but the only one I changed was an option for the stick to turn on when power is applied. I prefer it to come on in case power is lost so it will reboot on its own. Its nice if you use as a micro server.

One final note

In the event you do not wish to use Android you can recover most of the space used by Android. I used the built in disk management under Computer management and deleted all the partitions and tried to extend the main Windows partition but it was greyed out. I then downloaded Minitool Partition Wizard and completed the final extend and this is what I ended up with. You still will get the initial choice of Windows and Android but Android bombs. Reboot and choose Windows….this might be able to be fixed and boot directly into Windows without a choice if a recovery USB is made and have it fix booting.

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Conclusion

Overall, I was really pleased with this stick. The thermal design is well engineered. Easy to use. I have been playing with Android boxes for the home theater for several years now. I have to admit having a product that just works feels pretty good. I can plug in just about anything and Windows will find the drivers and install…or with just minimal searching find a suitable one. I don’t have to beg a dev to compile a kernel with necessary drivers. If you have any questions feel free to ask below in the comments.

I would like to thank Chinavision for sending the Morefine M1+ to review, and you can purchased on their website for $81.69. Alternative shopping options include Tinydeal and Banggood, with most other shops only selling the older Bay Trail version with Android 4.4 and 32GB storage.

Review of Vorke V1 mini PC Powered by Intel Celeron J3160 Processor

July 2nd, 2016 30 comments

After checking out Vorke V1 mini PC hardware in the first part of the review, it’s now time to publish the review starting with system information, benchmarks, and user testing. The device competes with similarly priced devices based on Intel Atom x7 processor such as Voyo V3 and Beelink BT7, so I’ll also include some comparisons to those in the review.

Setup and System Information

I connected USB keyboard and mouse, an Ethernet cable, HDMI and VGA cables to check dual display support, as well as the power supply. I did not connect my USB 3.0 hard drive since, I’ve already fitted the mini PC with an internal 1TB hard drive.

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Pressing on the large power button on the top of the device will boot it, and after a few seconds, you’ll get to go through Windows 10 setup by first accepting the EULA.

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The next steps are Custom or Express settings selection, and user account creation. I have not been asked to select the language, nor configure the network, as with some other Windows 10 mini PCs. That’s something you can do later, and with Ethernet, you should have Internet connectivity without doing anything provided your router is using DHCP.

Apart from that there’s nothing else to configure really. In my case, my hard drive was formatted to EXT-4, so I had to reformat it with NTFS in order to access it in Windows. The C: drive (included FORESEE SSD) had 47.2GB free out of 59.1GB in total, the 1TB hard drive (my own) had 931 GB capacity after I formatted it.

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Then I went to the Control Panel to check the Windows 10 license was indeed activated, and some basic hardware information.

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Vorke V1 comes with an Intel Celeron J3160 quad core processor @ 1.60 GHz, 4GB RAM, and runs a legit Windows 10 Home 64-bit as advertised. The Device Manager list some of the peripherals and chips used by the system.

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HWiNFO64 provides more details about the Intel Celeron J3160 SoC, memory (single channel only), and some information about the motherboard (THD RX2) and UEFI version.

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Celeron J3160 has exactly the same “CPU Features” as Intel Atom x7-Z8700.

One thing I liked about Beelink BT7 is that it shipped with a CD ROM driver, but Vorke V1 does not, and I could not find them online. I’ve asked, and wait for an answer.

Finally, I tried dual display support, and the VGA cable was connected to a Full HD Sharp TV, and I could setup extended display very easily.

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However the maximum resolution I could set was 1680×1050, and the text was rather blurry, even more so than usual on VGA monitors.

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Vorke V1 Benchmarks

The first benchmark I ran was PCMARK 8 Conventional and Accelerated (with OpenCL).

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The scores are only slightly better than the ones I got on Beelink BT7 with 1,545 and 1,315 against 1,509 and 1,211 points on the Cherry Trail mini PC. So I would not expect the end user to notice much difference here.

You can consult the results for Conventional and Accelerated benchmarks for the complete details.

Normally, I’d run 3DMark next, but after downloading and installing it several times, I was never able to run any of the tests, with all ending quickly with zero score and an undefined error. AndroidPC.es did run 3DMark’s Ice Storm and Cloud Gate on their own sample however, and respectively achieved 20,984 and 2,451 points. Again the results are quite close to Beelink BT7 scores: 23,999 and 2,185 points.

Passmark 8 results show around 9% improvement over BT7 with 921 points.

Vorke_V1_Passmark_8

Next up is storage performance, which should not be neglected while buying a mini PC, as everything will feel snappier when storage is fast, and the random write and read performance is especially important for the drive used by the operating systems. As usual, I ran CrystalDiskMark on the C: drive (SSD with Windows 10), as well as on the D: drive with my own 1TB SATA drive connected inside the mini PC.Vorke_V1_CrystalDiskMark_SSDFORESEE is not exactly known for their ultra eMMC or NAND flash, but here the results are not too bad, and even a little better than the M.2 SSD used in Beelink BT7.

Vorke_V1_CrystalDiskMark_HDD

The hard drive performance is more or less as expected for a mechanical drive, with slow random I/Os, and around 110 MB/s for read and write sequential speeds.

At first  I was disappointed with Ethernet, as while Vorke V1 specifications clearly mention a Gigabit Ethernet port, it only connected at Fast Ethernet speeds to my Gigabit switch (FE: Orange LED; GbE: Green LED), but later it began working at Gigabit speeds, and a full duplex transfer test using “iperf.exe -t 60 -c server_ip -d”  showed excellent performance:

WiFi supports 2.4 and 5.0 GHz and I could connect to all my access points, including at 802.11ac speed.

I ran iperf in one direction (download), and the results were rather good @ 55.6 Mbps, much better than on either Voyo V3 or Beelink BT7 which averaged around 30 Mbps.

Finally, I draw a chart between various low power Intel platforms, and that shows the Cherry Trail and Braswell are in the same ball bark, and if you really want a boost in performance you have to go with the much more expensive Core M platforms.

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3DMark Ice Storm results are divided by 20 in order to generate a readable chart. The storage part of chart also shows the FORESEE SSD used in Vorke V1 is not bad at all compared to other competitors, even against the more expensive MINIX NGC-1.

Vorke V1 User Experience

The benchmarks showed the mini PC has decent performance, with the only hiccup being that I was no able to run 3DMark at all, but others did.

I used to select Microsoft Edge during review due to better YouTute performance, but since I’ve now found out that disabling VP9 on Chrome and Firefox fixes video stuttering in YouTube, I decided to replace Edge with Chrome in Vorke V1 video review.

So the tests will be as follows:

  • Multi-tasking – Using Chrome, Thunderbird, LibreOffice, and Gimp at the same time
  • Web Browsing with Chrome
    • Loading multiple tab with CNX Software
    • Playing a 1080p YouTube Videos
    • Playing a flash game  (Candy Crush Saga)
  • Gaming with Asphalt 8
  • Kodi 16.1 @ 4K resolution with 4K videos using H.265 or H.264 codecs, and HDMI audio pass-through

The performance and capabilities of Vorke V1 Braswell mini PC in those tests match exactly the ones in Cherry Trail Atom x7 mini PCs with 4GB RAM, with all tasks performing smoothly, and Asphalt 8 game that would benefit from higher frame rates. Kodi 16.1 can handle XVDA2 hardware decoding for 8-bit H.265 and H.264 videos up to 4K @ 30 fps, but 10-bit and VP9 videos fall back to software decoding, and the processor is not quite powerful enough to handle 4K that way. HDMI audio pass-through works for Dolby Digital and DTS,  but 7.1 audio formats such as TrueHD and DTS HD are not supported. You can still get audio using Kodi’s audio transcoding feature, or accepting down-mixing to PCM 2.0 audio.

I usually only check for thermal throttling during benchmarks and the tests done above, but I’ve now decided to push the devices a bit more by running OCCT stress tool, although I may switch to other stress testing tools in the future. The tool runs heavy load on four cores, and I can check CPU temperature and frequency, as well as throttling status using HWiNFO64 utility.

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I ran that test for a little over 3 hours, and Vorke V1 had no problems at all with the maximum temperature reached being 78 C,  well below the 90 C junction temperature. The frequency chart generated by the utility also shows the system was running at the turbo frequency (~2.24 GHz) for the whole time, except for a small dip.

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So you can expect a constant performance over time under any kind of loads.

Conclusion

I’m pleased with my experience with Vorke V1 mini PC, performance is good without throttling at any time, Windows 10 is activated, storage performance is very good, and both Gigabit Ethernet and 802.11ac WiFi deliver excellent networking performance.  The only downsides I can think of are that it’s not fanless – the fan is always on but relatively quiet -, and the case design is much larger than the ones of competitors, and IMHO not quite as good looking. Another minor issue is that while 7mm 2.5″ SATA hard drives will fit without issues into the internal SATA, 9.5mm hard drives will slightly bend the bottom cover, and leave a tiny gap as explained in the unboxing and teardown post. But if you don’t care about the fan, and the design, and want something that works, I can highly recommend Vorke V1. I’m not a big fan of installing Ubuntu on devices where you have paid a Windows license, but Ubuntu 16.04 can be installed using the standard ISO, something you cannot do with Cherry Trail mini PCs without losing some features. I told GeekBuying they should provide a model without Windows, but they did not seem interested at all.

Vorke V1 price is also rather attractive, as while the standard price is $199.99 on GeekBuying, you can bring that down to $159.99 with VORKE40OFF coupon.  The only other seller that showed in a Google search was Banggood ($199.00).

Stress Testing Windows mini PCs with OCCT Overclock Checking Tool

July 1st, 2016 5 comments

I’m mostly a Linux user, but the marketplace has chosen Windows 10 as its preferred operating systems for mini PCs, so I’ve been reviewing fanless (or not) mini PCs running Windows 10 for around two years since Intel decided to provide low cost and low power processors. I normally run some benchmarks such as PCMark 8 or 3DMark, as well as typical user tasks, while monitoring CPU temperature and throttling using HWInfo64 utility, but those benchmarks are not really pushing the device to its limits. However, I’ve just learned out about OCCT “Overclock Checking Tool” that’s just doing that, and installed OCCT 4.4.2 on Vorke V1 to check it out.

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The tool has four taps: CPU: OCCT, CPU: Linpack, GPU: 3D, and Power Supply to stress test different part of the system. I just let it run for over 3 hours after pressing the ON buttons, and you can see all four cores of the Braswell processor at 100% CPU usage in turbo mode, the memory used, cores frequency, and CPU cores temperature in real-time.

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I also ran HWInfo64 at the same time to double check CPU temperature and throttling, but it turns out OCCT is also generating charts for CPU usage, bus frequency, CPU #0 frequency, memory usage, and temperature for all cores. You can access the charts by clicking on the icon in the right of “Monitoring” on the right part of the screen (first screenshot). I’ve included one of the charts showing CPU usage and temperature.

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This shows Vorke V1 appears to be handling high loads very well, and does not overheat. It’s not a fanless system though, so the included fan certainly helps.

OCCT is free for personal use, and costs $150 per year for commercial use, with the commercial version also supporting custom tests, CSV output, and other features.

Intel Atom x7-Z8700 (Cherry Trail) vs Intel Celeron N3150 (Braswell) Benchmarks Comparison

June 6th, 2016 5 comments

Intel tend to release lots of processors, and it’s not also clear how they perform against each others, but generally the rank from slowest to highest goes something like Atom < Celeron < Pentium < Core M < Core i3 < Core i5 < Core i7. Recently, I’ve seen and reviewed a few low power Intel Atom x7-Z8700 “Cherry Trail” and Intel Celeron N3150 “Braswell” mini PCs, both quad core processors @ 1.6 GHz (base), and I could not find much differences between the two during use.

Atom_x7-z8700_vs_Celeron_N3150

So to have a clear and objective view of the relative performance of the two processors, I’ve compared the results I got with Intel Atom x7-Z8700 based Beelink BT7 mini PC to the ones I got with MINIX NGC-1 mini PC powered by Celeron N3150 processor in the table below. Both machines have been designed quite well (good heat dissipation) and with storage devices having similar performance. A ratio greater than one (green) means the Celeron processor is faster, and if it is lower than one (red) the Atom processor prevails.

Benchmark Beelink BT7
Intel Atom x7-Z8700 @ 1.6 GHz / 2.48 Ghz (Turbo)
MINIX NGC-1
Intel Celeron N3150 @ 1.6 GHz / 2.08 GHz (Turbo)
Ratio
PCMark 8 Accelerated
Overall Score 1,509 1,492 0.99
Web Browsing – JunglePin 0.59309s 0.63426s 0.94
Web Browsing – Amazonia 0.19451s 0.2141s 0.91
Writing 8.53975s 9.3966s 0.91
Casual Gaming 7.96 fps 9.7 fps 1.22
Video Chat playback 29.99 fps 30.01 fps 1.00
Video Chat encoding 301 ms 193.333 ms 1.56
Photo Editing 0.65544s 0.81038s 0.81
Passmark 8
Passmark Rating 846 781.9 0.92
3DMark
Ice Storm 1.2 23,999 23,032 0.96
Cloud Gate 1.1 2,185 1,961 0.90
Sky Diver 1.0 1,131 1,108 0.98
Fire Strike 276 258 0.93

So in the end, both processors have a very close performance, except for video chat encoding where the Atom processor is about 56% slower than the Celeron processor. The Atom’s 16 EU GPU @ 200/600 MHz is faster than the Celeron’s 12 EU GPU @ 300/640 MHz in most case, but only marginally. Both SoCs are capable of decoding 4K videos with H.264 and H.265 video codecs. Systems based on the Intel Axom x7-Z8700 processor could consume less electricity as Atom x7 has a 2W SDP, while Celeron N3150 a 4W SDP, but the  power consumption of a complete mini PC also depends on its overall design.

So there seems to be very little to gain by purchasing a system with Celeron N3150 “Braswell” processor  over one with a Atom x7 “Cherry Trail processor, if a mini PC matches your requirements. One noticeable advantage of Braswell processors should be Linux support with the default/standard ISO images, while Atom x7 systems currently require community hacked ISO images for support of features such as HDMI audio, WiFi and Bluetooth. You can also find a side-by-side comparison of the features of the two processor on Intel website.

Beelink BT7 Review – Windows 10 mini PC Based on Intel Atom x7-Z8700 Processor

June 5th, 2016 24 comments

Beelink BT7 mini PC powered by Intel Atom x7-Z8700 processor offers an interesting alternative to the fanless Voyo V3 mini PC, as it is actively cooled by a small fan, supports (Gigabit) Ethernet, and comes with three full USB 3.0 ports. There are three versions with either 64, 128 (64+64) or 320 (64+256) GB stortage, and I got Beelink BT7 128GB to play with. Since I’ve already checkout the hardware, I’ll focus on the performance and stability of the device on Windows 10 in the second part of the review.

Setup and System Information

I placed the mini PC on my desk, made use of the three USB 3.0 ports with a USB keyboard, a USB mouse, and a Seagate USB 3.0 hard drive, and connected Ethernet, HDMI and the power cable.
Beelink_BT7_desktop_mode

However, if you happen to own a TV or monitor that supports VESA mounts, you can use the include VESA bracket and screws, as well as the short HDMI cable to hook Beelink BT7 right behind the display.

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This is definitely a plus if you are short on space, or just want a cleaner desk. Press the red button on the side to start the computer. The boot will typically take 20 seconds, but the very first time you’ll go through Windows 10 setup starting by language selection between German, English, Spanish, Russian, and simplified Chinese. I assume other languages might also be available, but I’m unclear if it can be selected here.

Beelink_BT7_Windows_10_SetupThe rest of the usual Windows setup includes EULA agreement, Custom or Express settings selection (I went with Express), and account creation. Contrary to the pre-installed version of Windows 10 on Voyo V3 which lacks account support, Windows 10 on Beelink BT7 appears to be “clean”.

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As indicated in my unboxing and teardown post, I was confused at first because while I had been sent a 128GB version, all I got was a 64GB SSD in the device. But as you can see from the screenshot above, leaving apart the NTFS and exFAT partition from my USB hard drive, there are two storage devices with the C: “Windows” drive (eMMC flash) with 58.9 GB in total, and E: “New Volume” drive (SSD) with 57.5 GB.

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We can check some of the info in Control Panel->System and Security->System to find out an activated version (i.e. properly licensed) of 64-bit Windows 10 Home is installed, and the processor is indeed an Intel Atom x7-Z8700 CPU coupled with 4GB RAM.

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The Device Manager confirms the two hardware storage devices with “PowerSSD” and “Toshiba 064G70”, Bleutooth and WiFI connectivity, Gigabit Ethernet, etc…

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HWiNFO64 information is mostly the same as for Voyo V3 for CPU, GPU, and Operating System, but the reported memory is a little higher (4010MB vs 3882 MB), and the BIOS and storage info are obviously different.

Since many people did not trust the Windows 10 version installed on Voyo V3, they reinstalled Windows 10 themselves, but met a roadblock while finding the drivers. The company did release the complete firmware image (5GB+), so people extracted the drivers and provided a much smaller download link. Even though the issue was resolved after a while, many users went through the unnecessary steps of finding the drivers. With Beelink BT7, fewer people are likely to re-install Windows 10 since the security features are still enabled, and if you still do, the company provide  CD in the package with all Windows 10 drivers for Beelink BT7.

CD Content

CD Content

List of drivers available in the CD.

Vendor Driver or Utility name Driver Version Released date WHQL’d
Intel Intel(R) HD Graphics 20.19.15.4308 04/11/15 Y
Intel I2C Controller 604.10146.2654.7394 04/11/15 Y
Intel GPIO Controller 604.10146.2652.3930 04/11/15 Y
Realtek Realtek I2S Audio Codec 6.4.10147.4327 04/11/15 Y
Intel Intel SST Audio Device 604.10135.2664.5232 04/11/15 Y
Microsoft HID-compliant System control 10.0.10586.0 04/11/15 Y
Realtek Realtek PCle GBE Family Controller 9.1.402.2015 04/11/15 Y
Broadcom Broadcom 802.11abgn Wireless SDIO Adapter 5.93.102.19 04/11/15 Y
Microsoft Intel SD Host Controller 10.0.10586.0 04/11/15 Y

So when it comes to Windows 10 integration, and driver availability, Beelink BT7 clearly comes ahead of Voyo V3.

Beelink BT7 Benchmarks

Let’s run first run PCMARK 8 HOME accelerated and conventional benchmarks.

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Both scores are slightly higher than on Voyo V3. The PCMARK 8 Home Accelerated score is 1,509 points (vs 1,428), and PCMARK 8 Home Conventional is 1,211 points (vs. 1,066). Please note that the graphics driver on Voyo V3 would often crash, so I had to repeat the test a few times. Beelink BT7 had no such issues.

Something changed in 3DMark benchmark, and you now need to run each tests individually. I could run Sky Diver 1.0, Ice Storm 1.2 and Cloud Gate 1.1 successfully, while in Voyo V3 Skydiver would not run at all.

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However the two benchmark that went through on both mini PCs have vastly different scores in favor of Voyo V3. Cloud Gate 1.1: 1,664 vs 2,065 points; Ice Storm 1.2: 9,599 vs 20,853 points. A side by side comparison of the two Ice Storm 1.2 scores only show a different UI version, and strangely the width and height for Voyo V3 is not reported. The maximum CPU frequency was also only 1,760 MHz on BT7 against 2,319 MHz on Voyo V3, so maybe some throttling was happening.

So I ran the Ice Storm 1.2 and Cloud Gate 1.1 benchmarks again another day, and the results became much better with respectively 23,999 and 2,185 points.

Beelink_BT7_3DMark

Passmark 8 benchmark results ended being nearly the score as Voyo V3 with 845.9 points (vs 839.9 pts).

Beelink_BT7_Passmark-8CrystalDiskMark was used to test performance of the internal flash (C:), the SSD (E:), and the NTFS partition on my USB drive (D:).

Beelink_BT7_CrystalDiskMark_eMMC_FlashSequential read is excellent, sequential write not that much, with random write and read speeds roughly equivalent to the storage devices in Voyo V3 and MINIX NGC-1. Random I/Os are quite important when you’re going to run the operating systems, and there are many small read and write operation.

Beelink_BT7_CrystalDiskMark_SSDThe SSD does not perform quite as well, but should still be OK for data and programs. I’d still recommend installing programs on, and set the caches’ paths to, the eMMC flash (C:) for better performance.
Beelink_BT7_CrystalDiskMark_USB-3.0_NTFSUSS 3.0 performance was basically the same as on Voyo V3. The first run however had a very low 20 MB/s sequential write speed, which improved to 80MB/s+ in my second attempt. The random I/Os (4K Q32T1 and 4K) are quite slow, but it’s normal for a mechanical drive.

Finally, I installed iperf-2.x to test Gigabit Ethernet and WiFi performance.

Gigabit Ethernet dual duplex transfer with “iperf.exe -t 60 -c -d“:

That’s actually the best device I’ve tested when it comes to Ethernet performance.

iperf Full duplex Transfer over Ethernet (Mbps)

iperf Full duplex Transfer over Ethernet (Mbps)

The Wireless module is supposed to support 2.4 and 5.0 GHz WiFi, but only 2.4 GHz access points were detected in Windows. I repeated the same test with WiFi @ 802.11n:

Results were a bit disappointing but similar to the WiFi performance I got with Voyo V3. Since WiFi is not really designed for full duplex, I repeat the test in one direction only.

Again the results is about the same as I had with Voyo V3’s WiFi.

I’ve created a comparison chart between Beelink BT7 against Voyo V3, MINIX NGC-1, Tronsmart Ara X5, Intel NUC, Intel Core-M compute stick, abd Kangaroo mobile desktop in order to have a better feel of the relative performance of those systems. 3DMark Ice Storm results are divided by 20 to get a more readable chart.

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While the more expensive Core m3 stick is clearly ahead, Beelink BT7 is pretty good, and overall slightly better than Voyo V3 expect for sequential write speed.

Beelink BT7 User Experience and Usability Testing

Beelink BT7 passed the benchmark test almost flawlessly, with the main worry being the low 3D graphics performance during my first run of 3Dmark possibly due to some throttling, but the most important of course is how the system perform in real-life tasks. I perform the following using 1080p59 resolution, except for Kodi were I set the resolution to 3840×2160 @ 30 Hz:

  • Multi-tasking – Using Microsoft Edge, Thunderbird, LibreOffice, and Gimp at the same time
  • Web Browsing with Microsoft Edge
    • Loading multiple tab with CNX Software
    • Playing a 1080p YouTube Videos
    • Playing a flash game  (Candy Crush Saga)
  • Gaming with Asphalt 8
  • Kodi 16.1 @ 4K resolution with 4K videos using H.265 or H.264 codecs, and HDMI audio pass-through

Note that I’m using Microsoft Edge browser, instead of Chrome or Firefox, because the last two simply do not work very well in YouTube. It could be because Edge uses MP4, and the other two VP9, and Cherry Trail processors are not quite powerful enough to handle this without dropped frames.

Overall, Beelink BT7 did very well in all those tasks, although I would have wished higher frame rates in Asphalt 8, but the GPU is just not powerful enough to achieve optimal performance. Kodi could play 4K video using XVDA2 hardware decoding for H.265 and H.264 videos, but 4K 10-bit H.264 and H.265 videos could not be played smoothly, as Kodi fell back to software decoding. HDMI audio pass-through works but is limited to Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1, and TrueHD and DTS HD is not supported (Kodi can transcode TrueHD to DD 5.1).

I also ran HWiNFO64 in the background during my tests, including benchmark to check whether the system would throttle.
Beelink_BT7_HWINFO64_Sensors
One core did throttle on average, but nothing too bad, and Voyo V3 had two cores throttling on average for the same set of tests.

However, I normally also test playing a 1080p YouTube video for over one hour in Microsoft Edge in full screen mode, and when I came back to check out the status,  the video was buffering, which could happen due to poor connectivity to the YouTube servers unrelated to the device itself, but I soon found out that something else was wrong.

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The CPU was shown to be stuck at 0.13 to 0.26 GHz (in Task Manager) and 480 MHz (6x) in HWiNFO64, without any of the core overheating at the time, and the frequency would not go up whatever I did with the computer. It’s very similar to what happened with my first MINIX NGC-1, except the temperature was perfectly under control. So I turned the mini PC off, waited a few minutes, before starting it again, and playing the video for one more hour.

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The video only had 5 dropped frames out of over 100,000, which happened when I switched between full screen and windowed mode. So no problem at all here, and I have not explanation for what happened, unless there some bug with Windows 10, UEFI, or the drivers.

If you think that I should have used Chrome browser instead, I have a screenshot for you 🙂

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Power consumption in idle mode is normally around 5 to 7 watts, playing a 4K is around 10 to 12 watts, and in power off mode my meter reported 0.0 watt. The power consumption in sleep mode is a little odd, as after one minute the consumption varied between 5 and 10 watts, and after 30 minutes it was still 7 to 7.4 watts, ore greater than in idle mode. The fan turns all the time, but it’s really not that noisy. I can’t hear it when my main PC (which I reckon is quite noisy) or aircon is running. In a quiet room (PC and aircon off), I’m able to hear the fan at around 2 meters away, but the noise is very low.

Conclusion

Beelink BT7 is a good mini PC. The hardware build is of good quality, Windows 10 is activated and without some strange hacks like in Voyo V3, but if you want to reinstall Windows 10 anyway, the drivers are provided. Performance is very slightly better than Voyo V3, except for networking thanks to the Gigabit Ethernet interface. I still found some downsides, such as 5 GHZ WiFi access points are not detected, and in some rare & random cases the performance did suffer a lot (3Dmark benchmark and  one hour 1080p YouTube video). I have not good explanation for the latter issue, as the CPU did not overheat when it happened, and a reboot would apparently fix the issues. I have not tried Linux on the platform, yet but thanks to recent work, you should be able to run a fully working Ubuntu firmware (HDMI audio, and maybe WiFi and Bluetooth) using Ubuntu 16.04 ISO by linuxium.

Price is also an important factor in a purchase decision, and considering both Voyo V3 and Beelink BT7 (128GB) are about the same price (when using coupons), it’s likely a no-brainer to go with Beelink BT7, unless you don’t want a fan at all. The cheapest way to current buy Beelink BT7 is via GearBest for respectively $168.99 (64 GB – coupon: GBBT76), $195.99 (128 GB – coupon: GBBT72), and $249.99 (320 GB – coupon: GBBT73), but it can also be found on Banggood, Amazon UK, and Beelink themselves sell it directly on Amazon US.

Pine A64 Board Quick Start Guide & Benchmarks with Android 5.1

May 31st, 2016 11 comments

Pine A64 is one of the development boards with the best cost/performance ratio, as it sells as low as $15 + shipping. I received Pine A64+ board with 2GB RAM at the end of last month, and decided to start playing with Android, as Linux distributions such as Longsleep Ubuntu appear to require a little more work. So in this post, I’ll report my experience with installing and running Android 5.1 on the board, and share some Android benchmark results.

Pine A64 Board Pictures

You’ll receive the board in cardboard package with Pine64 branding.

Pine_A64_package

You can check which version of the board you’ve been sent on the side of the package: PA64512 (512 MB RAM), PA641GB (1GB RAM), or PA642GB (2GB RAM).
Pine_A64_Version

The top of the board has been photographed often but here it is again. I’ve been sent the 2GB version without wireless module.

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The bottom of the board has two RAM chips, and not much else.

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I was quite surprised by the size, as it’s quite bigger than I expected.

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From top left to bottom right: Raspberry Pi 2, Raspberry Pi Zero, Orange Pi One, ODROID-XU3, and Pine A64

Installing and Running Android 5.1 on Pine A64 Board

The list of Android and Linux firmware images can be found on Pine64 Wiki. The latest version of Android 5.1 has been released on May 5 2016 with SD card images for 8, 16, 32, and 64GB capacity, as well as Phoenix Card image with need to be installed with Windows or Linux tools. The only advantage of the Phoenix Card image is that it will not waste any bytes on your micro SD card, but since it should be negligible, I went ahead with the 32GB SD card image version:

I did so in a Ubuntu 16.04 computer, but other Linux distributions will have similar instructions, and in Windows you can either follow the instructions below with Windows for Linux subsystem or instead used Win32DiskImager program.

Once you’ve insert your SD card inside your computer (mine was a Toshiba class 10 32GB micro SD), check the device name with lsblk, which should be /dev/sdX or /dev/mmcblkY, with X some letter, and Y some numbers. I’ll call it <sd_device> below. First unmount partitions.

Normally, I’d use one command to extract, and once command to flash the image to the SD card, but since I was in a TV stick with 18GB free storage, I instead use a one liner to uncompress the 1.1 GB firmware and flash it to the micro SD card:

Now remove the micro SD card from your computer, insert it into the micro SD slot on Pine A64, connect Ethernet, a USB mouse and keyboard, and the power. My first board (and an early Android image) would not boot, so I connected the serial console to the EULER header: GND to pin 34, Tx to pin 30 and Rx to pin 29.

Pine_A64_Serial_Header

I ran minicom configured with /dev/ttyUSB0 115200 8N1 to find out what was going on:

The RAM clearly failed to initialize, so I reported this on the forum, and others had the same issue. I was sent another board, which booted just fine… sort of. The bootloader logo came very quickly, but then nothing happened, so I connect the serial console gain (I think a USB to TTL board is a must with Pine A64 at this stage of development), and I noticed a lot of erase operation on the micro SD card:

After 5 minutes it became quiet, and I though briefly the Android home screen, but it quickly fell back to another boot logo, and got stuck there. So I rebooted the board, and I got to the stock launcher in a little over one minute.

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The Android firmware appears to be based on the smartphone version instead of the table version used in most Android TV boxes. A few apps are pre-installed such as the Google Play Store and ES File Explorer.

Pine_A64_Android_Apps

I could login to the Play Store, but soon I found that network connectivity did not seem to work well at all, and although I could browser app, the system was unable to download any, and later one I got an error message about network timeout while checking out apps. Internet connectivity issues do happen, and it’s seldom a problem with the board, so I went to ES File Explorer to install the apk manually through my SAMBA share, but networking was also unreliable on my LAN, which is not normal at all. The symptom was very similar to early Rockchip RK3288 TV boxes with Gigabit Ethernet, the link would show a Gigabit Ethernet connection, but the connection itself was unreliable, So I disconnected the board from my Gigabit switch (D-Link DGS-1005A), and instead connected it a 10/100M switch, and everything started to work as expected, so I installed apps from Google Play. The good news is that a firmware update might be able to fix the Gigabit Ethernet issue, if the root cause is the same as on RK3288.

Pine_A64_Android_Storage

My 32GB SD card has 26.27 GB usable by the user on a single unified partition.

Pine A64 Android Benchmarks

Let’s start with CPU-Z first to find a little more about the system.

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Allwiner A64 processor has 4 Cortex A53 cores clocked at 480 MHz to 1.34 GHz with a Mali-400 MP2 GPU. The model is PINE A64 (tulip_chiphd), and the hardware 50iw1p1. The app detected 1987 MB RAM for the system with 26.27 GB for storage, and the resolution is set to 1920×1080.  The system runs Android 5.1.1 on top of a 64-bit Linux 3.10.35 kernel.
Pine_A64_Antutu_6.1.4

We should not expect a Cortex A53 @ ~1.4 Ghz with a weak Mali-400MP2 GPU to get an amazing score, and the board got 24,568 points in Antutu 6.1.4, which is barely above the 21,500 points I got with Rockchip RK3229 quad core Cortex A7 based Zidoo X1 II TV box, and quite below the 35,000+ points in Amlogic S905 or Rockchip RK3368 based hardware platforms.

Pine_A64_Vellamo

Vellamo pretty much confirm the performance with 1,292 points for multicore, 648 for Metal, and 1,610 for browser benchmarks, which compares to respectively 1,572, 763 and 2,002 points in K1 Plus TV box powered by Amlogic S905 quad core Cortex A53 @ 2.0 GHz.

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3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited was used to get a score for the GPU, and 1,701 points is on the low side, but expected.

Finally, I tested the Ethernet connection using iperf for Android performing a full duplex transfer:

The results connected to my Ethernet switch are just fine:

But switching to my Gigabit Ethernet switch confirm the problem I had earlier as the transfer only properly occurred in one direction instead of both:

Overall performance is as expected, expect for Gigabit Ethernet, with only Fast Ethernet working reliably with my setup.

If you are interested in the board, you can purchase it on Pine64 online store for $15 (512MB RAM), $19 (1 GB RAM) or $29 (2GB) + shipping. Please note that the 512 MB version is only suitable for Linux distributions, and Android requires at least 1GB RAM.