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Zero Devices Z5C Thinko 4K H.265 TV Stick Review

November 26th, 2014 No comments

Zero Devices Z5C Think is one of the rare HDMI TV sitck powered by Rockchip RK3288 quad core Cortex A12/A17 processor available on the market. I’ve already take a few pictures of the device and internals, so today I’ll focus on testing the firmware, and performance of this thin and nice looking TV stick.

First Boot, Settings and First Impressions

There was a time when HDMI stick were powered by much slower, but power efficient processor based on Cortex A5 cores. One of these was CX-01 mini PC, and they could be powered by the USB port of the TV without problems. Now the processor are much more powerful, so normally you can’t power the device directly from the TV, but since I’ve seen people claim it was possible to drive RK3288 stick directly from the USB port of some TVs, I gave it a try, connected the stick to my Panasonic TV via the HDMI cable extension, as the two HDMI ports on my TV are too close, connected the micro USB to USB cable to my TV, and the power LED turned on, but the screen would stay black, and the TV display the message “Overcurrent error on USB device occured. Please remove the USB device and switch off the TV by mains power switch”.

Overcurrent_error_panasonic_TVSo that did not work out, but it was expected, and it’s not a problem with the stick, just that the TV can’t handle device with high power requirements.

So instead I used the power supply, and added a RF dongle for the Mele F10 Deluxe air mouse. Boot time is one of the best on the market so far, as it takes just 25 seconds between the time connecting the power supply, and getting to the Android Home Screen.

Android Home Screen (Click to Enlarge)

Android Home Screen (Click to Enlarge)

But the very first time, you’ll get through a wizard that let you select simplified Chinese, English or Others languages, scale your display for overscan compensation, and configure Wi-Fi. Unfortunately the first time, it did not find any Wi-Fi access point, so I went to Android Settings to check, and there was no MAC address either, probably meaning the Wi-Fi module was not detected. But everything got back to normal after a reboot, and Wi-Fi worked just fine.

Let’s have a look at the e Android settings. The Wireless & Networks sections comes with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Ethernet (for external USB dongle), and Data Usage menus, as well as a “More” section with VPN and Portable Hotspot. The Display settings mainly include font size adjustment, overscan compensation menu, and HDMI resolution selection between 9 modes: 1080p 24/25/30/50/60Hz, 720p 50/60, 720x576p-50 or 720x480p-60. Options for 4K output will be display if you own a 4K UHD TV. You can select the “Sound Output Device” in the “Sound Devices Manager” either “Default Output”, “Spdif Passthough” (which is not available on the stick), and “HDMI Bitstream” (HDMI pass-through).

About_Z5C_ThinkoThe 8GB eMMC is partitioned into two partitions:  a 0.95 GB “Internal Storage” partition for apps with 658 MB free, and a 8 GB (black magic yet again) “NAND FLASH” partition for data, with about 5.20 GB available space.

The “About Z5C Thinko” section reports the model number is Z5C, and it’s running Android 4.4.2 on top of Linux 3.10.0, and the vendor software version is 1.0.3. There’s also a System updates menu, that appears to properly connect to a server, but no new firmware was available at the time of the review.

Google Play works pretty well, and I could install apps such as ES File Explorer, Antutu, Beach Buggy Blitz, CPU-Z, etc…, with the only incompatible apps I’ve noticed being Vidonn Smartband app (as usual), and Real Racing 3. I’ve also installed Riptide GP2 through Amazon AppStore. However, I quickly ran out of space because of the sub 1GB app partition.

There’s no power button, and not proper power handling with this stick. Pressing the power button on the status bar will come up with a power off menu, but all it will do it reboot the device. Pressing the power button on Mele F10 Deluxe will simply blink the screen for one second, but it’s probably a remote key handling issue, which I’ve seen on another device, so after a fix, standby should be supported. But there’s probably nothing to be done to support power off, since it’s probably the way the hardware has been designed.

One of the biggest problems with Z5C Thinko is that it gets really hot, and sometimes hot enough to have the chip reboot itself. After Antutu, I could measure between 55 to 90°C, with the temperature especially hot on top of the Rockchip SoC, and close to the HDMI connector, since that’s where the heatsink spans.  The maximum temperature I got was 118°C. During idle time (i.e. in the home screen), the temperature is between 45 to 55°C, and in Kodi user interface it goes up to about 70°C. I’d like to point out the temperature varies a lot (-/+ 20°C on one given spot), probably because of the ventilation holes. So sometimes my IR thermometer may point to the plastic case, but sometimes I might measure the temperature directly from the heatsink, at least that’s my theory.

As long as you don’t perform demanding tasks, the firmware is mostly stable and smooth, but there are also various bugs, as I had to reboot to get Wi-Fi and Bluetooth work, USB storage connection may not be reliable, and because of the high temperature, it’s basically impossible to play 3D games, and even playing videos for over one hour may cause reboots. The tiny app partition is also annoying, but it’s something that’s easily fixable with a firmware update.

Video Playback

Kodi alpha 14 was pre-installed in the stick,. and it even let me know I should update, but since I don’t know whether the XBMC/Kodi version installed as been customized or not, I’ve tried using that version. Normally I play video from a SAMBA share, but for some reasons Kodi did not manage to find my computer, as it happened frequently in my previous review. So I switched to using my USB hard drive. I tried to connect it via the micro USB OTG port with the OTG adapter, but it was not recognized, and I tried a USB flash drive, but same problem. So instead I attached a USB hub to the single USB host port of the Android dongle, and my hard drive LED went on, but at first I could not see any partition in Kodi or ES File Explorer. I rebooted, and it worked, but since relatively unstable. So instead I installed SPMC from Google Play, and … it did not anything in the Video menu. So I ended playing videos from a SAMBA share using ES File Explorer and MX Player:

I played 1080p videos samples from samplemedia.linaro.org, and one extra 1080p H.265/HEVC videos:

  • H.264 codec / MP4 container (Big Buck Bunny) – OK
  • MPEG2 codec / MPG container – It’s playing, but not very smooth.
  • MPEG4 codec, AVI container – OK
  • VC1 codec (WMV) – OK
  • WebM / VP8 – OK
  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS container – OK

Some higher bitrate videos had troubles to play because I was over Wi-Fi:

  • ED_HD.avi – OK, no problem even in fast moving scenes
  • big_buck_bunny_1080p_surround.avi (1080p H.264 – 12 Mbps) – Playing OK, but buffering often
  • h264_1080p_hp_4.1_40mbps_birds.mkv (40 Mbps) – Playing OK, but buffering often
  • hddvd_demo_17.5Mbps_1080p_VC1.mkv (17.5Mbps) – Playing OK, but buffering often

Please note that most Android media player won’t be able to play these files smoothly over Wi-Fi + SAMBA, so the results are not really surprising.

High definition audio codec could play (downsampled) in MX Player, but since some of these are high bitrate I had buffering and audio cut issues:

  • AC3 – OK
  • Dolby Digital 5.1 / Dolby Digital 7.1 – OK (5.1), audio cuts and buffering (7.1)
  • TrueHD 5.1 & 7.1 – Black screen only
  • DTS-MA and DTS-HR –  Audio cuts and buffering

I tried to play Sintel-Bluray ISO, but it would load forever in MX Player.

4K video playback is about the same as with other RK328 boxes in MX Player, i.e. not that good:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 – Frequent audio  cut, and video in slow motion. It’s a 60 Mbps video so it can’t be realistically be played over Wi-Fi.
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv – Severe decoding issues with heavily distorted image
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – OK (H/W decode)
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – OK (H/W decode)
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts (H.265) –  Slow motion
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – Slow motion (maybe 1 to 3 fps)

This morning I tried again Kodi with SAMBA, and it worked for some reasons, so I tried the 4K videos in Kodi as well:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 – First time black screen only, second try: plays but with many skipped frames, and then buffering.
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv – Buffering a lot becasue bitrate is too high for Wi-Fi, but when video plays it’s not smooth either with many dropped and skipped frames.
  • 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) –  OK.
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – Kodi reports it plays at 8 to 10 fps, but it feels even slower than that. All four core at at 100% CPU usage.

I skipped the usual AVI, MKV, FLV, VOB, FLV and MP4 videos testing, but I still did play a 2-hour video (1080p / mkv / h.264) to test stability. The video did not feel very smooth, so I enabled Kodi debug overlay by pressing the ‘o’ key, and I regularly saw dropped and skipped frames, and the frame rate oscillated between 10 to 26 fps for that 24 fps video. Nevertheless, when I play the 2-hour video, I usually go to do something else, coming to check a few times, and after about one hour, I noticed I got back to the Android home screen. I did not connect the stick to my UPS, and I thought I heard a “micro” power failure (1 or 2 seconds), so I tried again, but it did play for one hour or so, and suddenly I saw the black, and shortly after the boot logo. So I rushed to scan the dongle with my infrared thermometer, and I go an amazing maximum temperature of 118 °C!

So proper video playback does not seem possible yet on Rockchip RK3288, and the small form factor even amplifies the issues, as it can’t play a full movie, at least at my room temperature (28 °C).

Links to various video samples used in this review and be found in “Where to get video, audio and images samples” post and comments.

Network Performance (Wi-Fi)

I’m transferring a 278 MB between SAMBA and the internal flash, and vice versa, for three times in ES File Explorer to get an idea of the Wi-Fi performance, and at 2.62 MB/s on average, the performance is decent, but not clearly outstanding. The good thing is that there was very little variation between the tests, so performance is not that great, but it’s reliable.

Throughput in MB/s

Throughput in MB/s

Miscellaneous Tests

Bluetooth

Sixaxis Compatibility Checker indicated the driver in Z5C can handle Sony PS3 controller, but when I used my controller clone, I got the message “Fake controller detected, attempting workaround”, but it just got stuck there.

Right after, sixaxis test, I tried to enable Bluetooth in the Android settings, but it did not work. A reboot fixed that, and I guess is the Sixaxis app may have caused troubles with Bluetooth. I could then pair my phone with Z5c, and transfer pictures.

I install the APK for my Vidonn X5 fitness tracker in order to test Bluetooth Smart (BLE). The smart band could be detected, and the dongle retrieve data from it successfully.

Storage

Both a micro SD card and USB flash drive formatted with FAT32 could be mounted and accessed.
Using my USB 3.0 hard drive was more problematic, as at times, it would just umount itself, or even not be recognized at all. But when it worked, it could detect all four partitions, but only mount the FAT32 and NTFS partition.

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

Due to stability issues, and I believe people are less likely to connect a USB hard drive to their stick than a full box, I skipped USB / NTFS benchmark, but still used A1 SD Bench to check the Samsung eMMC performance.

Read & Write Speed in MB/s

Read & Write Speed in MB/s

The eMMC flash has very good read speed (34.26 MB/s), but the write speed (6..62 MB/s) is not quite as good. Strangely, it’s still faster than the 6MB/s listed in Samsung eMMC product brief.  The fast read speed explained the quick boot time (25s), but I did not notice slowdowns due to the write speed.

Gaming

Candy Crush Saga, Beach Buggy Blitz, and Riptide GP2 were the three games used for testing. No problem with Candy Crush Sag, as expected. I played the two racing games with Tronsmart Mars G01 wireless gamepad, which works just fine as usual. Beach Buggy Blitz was ultra-smooth with maxed out graphics settings, but I decided to try to play a few races, and check the temperature with that games. At the second race, the stick rebooted automatically, and I measured up to 105 °C, and I was quite surprised, as it was the first time (I played games, before I played videos) I got a temperature over 100 °C with an Android gadget. I decided to let the stick cool down for about 2 minutes, which I reckon is way too short,  before “playing” Riptide GP2.  As you may gues,s I did not end-up playing very long, as the device rebooted very soon, and I measured a maximum temperature of 110 °C.

Z5C Thinko Benchmarks

I expected the CPU frequency to be lower in a tiny HDMI adapter, compared to the easier to cool down full size TV box, so I ran CPU-Z to check the information, and the maximum CPU frequency is still 1.8 GHz, which at least partially explained the very high temperature I got.Z5C_Thinko_CPU-Z

The CPU is still detected as a Rockchip RK3066 with eight Cortex A12 core clocked between 312 MHz and 1.8 GHz, so it seems CPU-Z developers are not that interested in keeping up to date with Chinese SoCs by Allwinner or Rockchip.The total memory is correctly reported as 2019 MB, and internal storage has 0.95 GB because the app only included the first partition.

Z5C_Thinko_Antutu

Antutu 5.3 score is quite lower than other Rockchip RK3288 devices. Z5C Thinko gets 29,001 points, whereas TV boxes such as Tronsmart Orion R28 Meta get around 37,000 points. If we look into the details of the scores, Z5C takes a hit with UX, RAM, and CPU tests, but the GPU performance is exactly the same. Storage I/O is also weaker probably because of the slower eMMC write speed. So a more aggressive governor must have been implemented, or the 1.8GHz frequency reported by CPU-Z and Antutu is incorrect.

Conclusion

Zero Devices Z5C Thinko is small, looks great, and comes with a powerful Rockchip RK3288 processor. But unfortunately, there are just oo many problem with the firmware right now, include potential unreliable USB hard drive support, poor video playback (mostly common to other RK3288 devices), and most importantly high temperature issues, which makes 3D gaming, continuous video playback, and other tasks that may require a sustained load currently impossible, as the stick will just reboot to “save” itself.

PRO:

  • Fast new processor
  • Gook looking, thin, and small. One of the rare TV sticks based on Rockchip RK3288 processor
  • Fast boot (25 seconds)
  • 4K and H.265/HEVC support (although it needs improvement)
  • Video Output – 1080p support 24, 25 ,30 , 50 and 60 Hz output. 4K @ 60Hz should be supported (not tested).
  • Support for OTA update (server detected, but not tested since no new firmware was available at the time)
  • Bluetooth features seems to all work (File transfer, BLE, and maybe Sixaxis)

CONS:

  • Gets extremely hot (I measured up to 118 °C), leading to reboot, and it might affect the useful life of the device.
  • No power button, or proper power off handling, which can lead to data loss.
  • Many issues with video playback including dropped/skipped frames,  and it failed the 2-hour movie playback, because of issue #1 (temperature).
  • 3D games are unplayable due to temperature issues
  • Potential USB hard drive issue (unreliable)
  • USB OTG adapter does not seem to work, at least with USB mass storage devices.
  • At first boot, Wi-Fi module was not detected. Fixed after reboot, and the problem did not occur again.
  • The internal storage partition is only 0.95 GB, and it can be full after installing a few apps.

So at this stage, Z5C Thinko can probably only be used reliably as a portable mini PC to browse the web, check emails, and interact in social networks. But they’ve got some serious work to do when it comes to video playback, USB support, 3D gaming, and overall bug fixing. The temperature issue may only be fixable by lowering the CPU frequency to 1.2 or 1.4 GHz, and for 3D gaming the GPU may also have to be clocked down, but then you’ll end up with a much less powerful platform than existing RK3288 solutions.

Zero Devices Z5C Thinko can be purchased for $94.99 on Asiapads including shipping. The company also offers a USB + Ethernet Hub for an extra $5.

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ODROID-XU3 Lite Development Board – Android Setup and Benchmarks

November 21st, 2014 17 comments

It’s been nearly ten days since I make ODROID-XU3 Lite unboxing, and my plans to first test Linux on the board were thwarted due a problem with HDMI. Luckily, after several attempts I managed to boot the board with Android. So today, I’ll show how to install or update Android on the board, and run a few benchmarks. But since there’s always a silver lining, I’ll start buy writing a bit about the HDMI issue, as I learned a few things on the way.

HDMI Output Tribulations

ODROID-XU3 Lite looks like a nice and powerful kit, and it may be one of the most cost effective ARM board on the market since it comes to performance to price ratio, so I was excited to try it, but as you know if you’ve read my unboxing post I did not work quite as planned, as all I got was a black screen on my HDMI TV.

Here are some of the steps I followed to try to find out the cause or a workaround.

I usually connect the HDMI cable to an HDMI switcher as it’s more convenient to me. I got the connection light on the switcher but no image. Some devices won’t work with the switcher, so I decided to connect it directly to my Panasonic television instead, trying HDMI1 (DVI) and HDMI2 ports, but the result remained the same. I also connected the UART Debug board I got with ODROID-X board, and I could only see three lines related to HDMI in the log:

root@odroid:~# dmesg | grep -i hdmi                                             
[    0.417692] [c6] hdmi-en: no parameters                                      
[    2.753215] [c7] exynos-drm exynos-drm: bound 14530000.hdmi (ops hdmi_component_ops)                                                                         
[    4.787478] [c6] hdmi-en: disabling

So I tried with a Philips monitor, a slowly dying Samsung TV. Same results. So I decided to try with another micro HDMI cable, which I got with the older ODROID-X board. Still no luck. I was also instructed to try this Ubuntu image on a fast micro SD card, and after changing the boot switch position, the board booted from the micro SD “successfully”, but I still had a black screen. I also play around with boot.ini in the micro SD card to force various HDMI modes, but It did not work either.

Hardkernel decided to send me another ODROID-XU3 Lite board, and a few days later I tried again, and unfortunately I got the same issue. The company told me they sold several thousand ODROID-XU3 boards, and they did not get the same report before, so we even considered shipping my TV to Hardkernel office in South Korea. But, since I had troubles with three monitors/TVs, I thought it must have been another issue, and I wanted to try a few other things.

In the meantime, one reader informed me he had a similar issue with his ODROID board, the reason being the ground was not connected in the HDMI cable,and he fixed it by connecting one of the USB host port of the board to his TV. So I tried with both my ODROID-XU3 Lite board, but the problem persistently remained. Out of desperation I also tried a different power supply (SMPS), but it did not work.

Finally, I flashed Android 4.4.4 instead to the eMMC module, and using the “new” micro HDMI cable I got the same black screen, but switching to the “old” ODROID-X micro HDMI cable, I could finally get video output at 720p60, and see the Android home screen. Yeah!!! So finally, it looked like an HDMI cable issue, but there may also be a software issue, as Android works, but Ubuntu does not work (yet). It’s something I’ll have to check again.

I talked with one of Hardkernel’s developer on #odroid IRC channel, and they told me some HDMI cables lack a ground connection, and/or lines are mixed. They’ll check with their supplier(s) to make sure the problem does not occur again. There’s actually an interesting thread on odroid forum that explains various issues related to HDMI (cables).

Installing and Setting Up Android on ODROID-XU3 (Lite) Board

There are three images to install Android 4.4.4 Alpha on ODROID-XU3 (Lite), which can currently be downloaded @ http://dn.odroid.com/5422/ODROID-XU3/Android/:

  • android-4.4.4-alpha-1.3-emmc_installer-odroidxu3-20141105.img.zip – Zipped image to install Android from eMMC to eMMC
  • android-4.4.4-alpha-1.3-sd2emmc_installer-odroidxu3-20141105.img.zip – Zipped image to install Android from micro SD card to eMMC
  • android-4.4.4-alpha-1.3-sd_installer-odroidxu3-20141105.img.zip – Zipped image to install Android from micro SD card to micro SD card.

Since I have an eMMC pre-installed with Linux, and the microSD eMMC reader, eMMC I used the first image. I connected the eMMC reader to my PC using my USB card reader’s micro SD slot, and unzipped the image, and flashed it as follows:

unzip android-4.4.4-alpha-1.3-emmc_installer-odroidxu3-20141105.img.zip
dd if=android-4.4.4-alpha-1.3-emmc_installer-odroidxu3-20141105.img | pv | sudo of=/dev/sdX bs=1M
sync

where X is the letter for the eMMC drive. Check with lsblk command before you run dd, to make sure of the letter, or you may wipe out the data on your hard drive. Some system with built-in micro SD slot may show as /dev/mmcblk01 instead of /dev/sdX. If you want to boot from micro SD card, the procedure is the same, but use the “sd_installer” image instead. You can also do that in Windows using Win32DiskImager.

Now connect the eMMC to the board, and other item you may need. I’ve connected most ports with a USB 3.0 hard drive, a USB 2.0 webcam to the USB 3.0 OTG port via the blue adapter, HDMI to my TV, Ethernet, two USB RF dongle, a Bluetooth dongle, a USB flash drive, and the serial debug board to access the console.

ODROID-XU3_Lite_USB3_HarddriveFinally I connected the 5V/4A power supply to boot the board. In the console, it takes about 12 seconds to boot to the command line, but I had to wait a total of 1 minute 20 seconds for Android user interface to be displayed on my TV screen. I noticed in the console that between 12 and 65 seconds I did not get any message, and the first subsequent message was related to USB audio… My USB webcam comes with a built-in microphone, so I disconnected it, and boot time dropped to a more normal 29 seconds.

Android Home Screen (Click for Original Size)

Android Home Screen (Click for Original Size)

The default resolution is 1280×720, and my TV output resolution was also set to 720p60. So I went to Android Settings->Display, and… wait… nothing there to change the video output. You actually have to go to the list of apps.

odroid-utlityand start ODROID Utility app.

ODROID_Utility

There should can change the (framebuffer) resolution to 1280×800 (for ODROID-VU only?), 1280×720, or 1920×1080, and the HDMI phy, i.e. the actual video output mode. to 720p 50/60, 800p/59, 1080i 50/60, or 1080p 30/50/60. You can also select the orientation (portrait / landscape) which is very useful for digital signage applications. So I selected 1920×1080, and 1080p60, clicked on Save, and Apply and Reboot. The framebuffer resolution was properly changed, but for some unknown reasons, my TV will always fall back to 720p60. The Android image is currently in Alpha stage, so it still have a few bugs that will be fixed by Hardkernel and/or the community.

You may have noticed Google Play Store is not part of the pre-installed apps. That’s because in theory you need to have a certified device to install Google Mobile Services, and contrary to most Chinese vendors, Hardkernel rightly followed Google’s T&C. However, apparently nothing legally prevents the user from installing GMS by himself/herself. You could do so by downloading Gapps from goo.im, but there’s also GAppsInstaller_kitkat.apk that will easily and automatically do that for you. For full details read universal 1 click gapps installer for ODROID post.

ODROID-XU3_Apps_GappsAfter installation, we’ve got the Play Store, Hangout, Voice Search, Google, and so on.

So that’s all for the setup. Next time Hardkernel announces a new Android firmware update on their forums, you should not need to use an installer image, instead you can simply start ODROID Update app, which will automatically download and update the firmware.

ODROID_Updater

ODROID-XU3 Lite System, Storage, and Network Benchmarks

Before running actual benchmarks, I’ve started CPU-Z. The first surprised that is it can detect big.LITTLE configuration with four Cortex A7 cores @ 1.6 GHz, and four Cortex A15 cores @ 2.2 GHz. ODROID-XU3 Lite is supposed to have Exynos 5422 processor but clocked at a lower frequency (1.8 GHz) compared to ODROID-XU3 board (2.2 GHz). So maybe my processor is overclocked, or I got lucky. The GPU is also detected correcly as being an ARM Mali-T628. Internal storage is only shown to be 1.94 GB out of the 16GB eMMC, because there are two partitions with the other one having a 11GB+ capacity. ODROID-XU3_Lite_CPU-ZSo let’s get to the actual benchmark results, starting with Antutu 5.3.

Antutu 5.2 Score (Click to Enlarge)

Antutu 5.2 Score (Click to Enlarge)

As expected ODROID-XU3 Lite is a real beast with 45,815 points in Antutu, being one of the most powerful ARM Android platform currently available. It’s the highest verified score I’ve ever got on all the devices I tested. The only higher score was achieved by Tronsmart Draco AW80 mini PC with Allwinner A80 SoC (49,657 points), but it’s an unverified score.

Quadrant Score (Click to Enlarge)

Quadrant Score (Click to Enlarge)

ODROID-XU3 Lite got 9,256 points in Quadrant way ahead of last generation devices. It looks like Quadrant us not really up-to date so that’s probably the last time I use this benchmark.
ODROID-XU3_Lite_VellamoVellamo 3.1 scores are also very good. Metal score is 1,519 against 1,138 points for Allwinner A80 and 1,457 points for Rockchip RK3288, Multicore score is 1,449 against 1,352 points for Allwinner A80, and 2,003 points for RK3288, and the ODROID-XU3 Lite gets 2,868 points in the browser score against 2,109 points for Allwinner A80, and 2,549 points for RK3288. It does not make much sense for the quad core Cortex A12/A17 RK3288 to outperform the octa core Cortex A15 + A7 processor in the multi-core benchmark, and I’m not sure why that is. You can get comparison with other platform with the screenshots for Metal, Multicore, and Browser tests.

3Dmarks Ice Storm Unlimited (Click to Enlarge)

3Dmarks Ice Storm Unlimited (Click to Enlarge)

I’ve also tried to run 3DMarks Ice Storm Extreme to compare with A80 and RK3288, but unfortunately none of my three attempts could complete, either because of a kernel panic, or a problem with Mali driver (See log). So I switched to Ice Storm Unlimited test which runs at 720p, and could complete with a score of 15,184 points. That puts it close to flagship devices like  like the iPhone 6 Plus, Samsung Galaxy S5, which score between 16,000 and 18,000 points.

Beside standard benchmarks, I’ve also tested storage and network performance.

I used A1 SD benchmark to test the eMMC module, my class 10 SD card, and USB 3.0 + NTFS performance. The app also made the system unstable with kernel panic ensuing, but after a few tries I could complete all benchmarks.

USB NTFS Transfer rate in MB/S

USB NTFS Transfer rate in MB/S

ODROID-XU3 Lite is clearly ahead of the competition with its USB 3.0 port when it comes to NTFS read speed which reaches 47.90 MB/s. and that’s the only device that supports USB 3.0 type of performance, although not quite as good as as on my PC (100+ MB/s), but it was with another benchmark tool (Bonnie++) in Linux.

Transfer Rate in MB/s

Transfer Rate in MB/s

I’ve included both eMMC and a class 10 micro SD card used with ODROID-XU3 Lite in the chart above (ODROID results on right side), and for some reasons the eMMC 5.0 module only got 47.02MB/s read speed, which is very good but still far from the 180+MB/s advertised with another benchmark. Write speed (32.42 MB/s) however is much faster than any other platforms tested so far. The class 10 micro SD used as comparison reads at 34.26 MB/s and writes at 10.81 MB/s which is not too bad compared to most other solutions.

ODROID-XU3 is capable of great I/O performance as we’ve seen above, so it would be nice if we had a fast network interface to leverage fast I/Os. Hardfkernel does provide a USB 3.0 to Gigabit dongle, but it was not included in my kit, so I’m limited to the 10/100Mbit interface which is shown to provide a good transfer rate with iperf (Command line: iperf -t 60 -c 192.168.0.104 -d).

Throughput in MB/s

Throughput in Mbps

iperf log:

Client connecting to 192.168.0.106, TCP port 5001
TCP window size:  212 KByte (default)
------------------------------------------------------------
[  6] local 192.168.0.104 port 54914 connected with 192.168.0.106 port 5001
[ ID] Interval       Transfer     Bandwidth
[  6]  0.0-60.0 sec   656 MBytes  91.7 Mbits/sec
[  4]  0.0-60.0 sec   631 MBytes  88.2 Mbits/sec

So overall, ODROID-XU3 Lite has outstanding performance in almost all aspects, but Android 4.4.4, which is still considered Alpha, required some more work to make it stable. There’s also an Android 4.4.2 image which may be more stable (TBC).

Android SDK for ODROID-XU3 (Lite)

I haven’t tried the SDK this time, but with each firmware release, Hardkernel provides a BSP.

To get and build the latest source code, you simply need to type these four commands, provided you’ll already setup your build machine for Android development:

repo init -u https://github.com/hardkernel/android.git -b 5422_4.4.4_master
repo sync
repo start 5422_4.4.4_master --all
./build.sh odroidxu3

If you want the code for a specific release, for example November 5 release (Android 4.4.4 Alpha 1.3), the repo init command line would become:

repo init -u https://github.com/hardkernel/android.git -b 5422_4.4.4_master -m manifeset-5422_4.4.4_v1.3

With the other three commands remaining the same.

That’s all for today, and Android. The next step will be to check out Ubuntu / Linux. If you are interested in this board, you can purchase it directly from Hardkernel, or through distributors like Ameridroid (USA) or Pollin Electronics (Germany).

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MINIX NEO X6 Media Hub Review

November 18th, 2014 7 comments

Last week-end, I took a few pictures of MINIX NEO X6 media hub, and had a look at the company’s firmware and forum support which indeed seems to be good. Today, I’ve completed the full review of MINIX NEO X6, and I will compare it to two of its lower priced competitors: MXQ S85 and EM6Q-MXQ.

First Boot, Settings and First Impressions

The IR remote control works fine, including continuous up ad down pressing, but I switched to using Mele F10 Deluxe air mouse for convenience. I’ve connected an Ethernet cable, an HDMI cable, a micro SD card, a USB hard drive, and a USB hub with two RF dongles for my air mouse and gamepad, a USB flash drive, and a UVC webcam. I’ve connected the power, pressed the power button on the side of the box, but nothing happened at first… You have to press the button one second or more to start the box, then the blue LED turns off, a MINIX logo show ups, a few seconds later a short MINIX animation, and the first screen greets you asking to choose between “Launcher” and “MINIX METRO”, respectively the default Android home screen, or MINIX customized user interface. The boot takes about 1 minutes and 30 seconds. By comparison MXQ S85 takes a little over 40 seconds, and EM6Q-MXQ about 1m 50s.

MINIX Metro Interface (Click for Original)

MINIX Metro Interface (Click for Original)

The status bar is hidden by default, and I simply pulled it up with the mouse pointer to take a screenshot. But before carrying on with the review, I noticed the company released Firmware 002 for MINIX NEO X6, so I decided to check the Update app in Android (on Monday), but the new firmware was not on the update server.  I even asked if they had a schedule to push the OTA update, but I did not receive an answer in time for the review. So instead, I used the standard firmware update method which involves USB Burning Tool for Windows, and pressing the recovery button. I was a pain, I did it in VirtualBox, but after one error, it finally successfully updated the firmware.

Back to the review. For some reasons, my TV resolution was automatically detected to be at 720p60, so i changed the settings to 1080p60 manually. I’ve noticed that switching to 720p still keep the user interface to 1920×1080 resolution, so there’s no performance gain doing so.

The Settingd menu is based on the same Metro-style interface found in most Amlogic boxes, but with MINIX green and grey skin with four sub-sections: Network, Display, Advanced and Other. I’ve highlighted the differences with MXQ-S85 in bold, and crossed the deleted options.

  • Network – Enable and configure Wi-Fi or Ethernet
  • Display:
    • Automatic or manual HDMI resolution: 480p/i @ 60 Hz, 576p/i @ 50 Hz, 720p @ 50/60 Hz, 1080i @ 50/60 Hz, or 1080p @ 24/50/60 Hz
    • CVBS Mode Setting: 480 CVBS or 576 CVBS (if Composite output selected on TV).
    • Hide or Show status bar
    • Display Position
    • Screen Save (Never, 4, 8 or 12 minutes)
  • Advanced:
    • Miracast
    • Remote Control
    • Google TV Remote
    • CEC Control
    • Location for weather (Chinese cities only)
    • Screen Orientation settings
    • Digital Audio Output (Auto, PCM, S/PDIF pass-through, or HDMI pass-through)
    • No Output to USB Audio
  • Other – System Update: Local file or OTA (connects to server OK), Backup, and “More Settings” for standard Android Settings.

CVBS and S/PDIF options have been removed since those two ports are not available in MINIX NEO X6, and they rightly removed the “Location for weather” because the services only works for Chinese cities. “No Output to USB Audio” is enabled by default, and it’s probably there to avoid audio capable air mouse, such as Mele F10 Pro, to takeover HDMI audio output automatically.

I’ve made a video to show MINIX NEO X6 user interface, system settings, as well as H.265 video playback and automatic refresh rate switching which both work in XBMC 13.3.3 MINIX Edition.

About_MINIX_NEO_X6MXQ-S85 comes with an 8GB eMMC flash with a single 5.32GB partition, with a little under 4GB free by the end of my review. The model number is reported as being “NEO-X86″ in “About MediaBox” section, and the system runs Android 4.4.2 on top of Linux kernel 3.10.33. The firmware is not rooted, and I have not rooted it, but since a USB cable is provided for the OTG port, and the firmware upgrade procedure worked, it should be able to root the device.

I had no problem installing apps with Google Play Store including the something problematic Vidonn Smartband app, a paid app, and messenger apps (Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp) which would not install in MXQ S85 TV Box. I’ve also installed Amazon AppStore, in order to test Riptide GP2.

MXQ S85 could not be powered off cleanly, but MINIX NEO X6 has no such problem. The power button on the side of the box is used to power it on (need to press 1 second or more), and the remote control or the soft power button in the status bar are used to pop-up a menu to let your “Sleep”, “Restart”, or “Power Off”. The only downside is that you can turn on the media player with the remote control, and you have to get up to press the power button on the device. It must be the coolest device I ever tested (no pun intended), the maximum temperature measured after Antutu 5.2 was 37°C and 45°C respectively on the top and bottom of the box.  After playing Riptide GP2 for nearly 30 minutes, the maximum temperature on top and bottom reached 40°C and 46°C.

MINIX NEO X6 firmware is rock solid, as during my testing I did not experience any noticeable slowdown, crash, or freeze. One game did fail to load once, but at the second attempt it worked just fine. For some reasons, I also had problems to connect the SAMBA shared in XBMC at first, but finally I could connect. I never had the message “app not responding” pops up like in MXQ S85 and EM6Q-MXQ.

Video Playback

Firmware 002 comes with XBMC 13.3 MINIX Edition pre-installed, but I saw they have XBMC 13.3.3 Beta MINIX Edition recently released with automatic refresh rate switching, something I only heard was possible in Linux so far (with ARM hardware), and better support for .ts files. So I installed it to give it a try. The 1080p XBMC user interface is rendered at about 30 fps with this hardware. Normally, I’d play video from a SAMBA share in Ubuntu 14.04, but for some reasons I got the message “Connection Refused”, albeit I got it working just fine with ES File Explorer. So most of the video test were made from a USB hard drive.

I started with videos from samplemedia.linaro.org, plus some H.265/HEVC videos (Elecard), and a 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), 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • Real Media (RMVB) – RV8, RV9, and RV10 – OK but not that smooth (S/W decode)
  • WebM / VP8 – 480p/720p OK, 1080p plays in slow motion all the time, and audio is cut.
  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS container (360p/720p/1080p) – OK, but it’s not possible to seek in the file.
  • WebM / VP9 (no audio in video) – OK

I also successfully tested automatic refresh rate switching with the HEVC / 1080p video @ 24 fps, where my TV output 1080p24 automatically, and reverts to 1080p60 after I interrupt video playback.

I also played some higher bitrate videos:

  • ED_HD.avi – audio only
  • 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) – OK, but could be smoother, and XBMC reports skipped and dropped frames regularly.
  • Jellyfish-120-Mbps.mkv (120 Mbps video without audio) – OK (Played from USB hard drive)

Next are some videos with high definition audio codec:

  • AC3 – OK
  • Dolby Digital 5.1 / 7.1 – OK, but I got some noticeable skipped/dropped frame in the 7.1 video.
  • TrueHD 5.1 & 7.1 – OK
  • DTS-MA – OK
  • DTS-HR – Audio is OK, I got some noticeable skipped/dropped frame in the video.

Sintel-Bluray.iso played OK in XBMC, so Blu–Ray ISO files are supported.

As with other Amlogic S805 based Android TV boxes, AVI, MKV, FLV, VOB/IFO, and MP4 videos could all play fine, without A/V sync issues, or noticeable frame dropped. I also watched a complete 1080p video (1h50 / MKV / 3GB) to test stability, and no issue here either. So overall, video playback capabilities of NEO X6 are quite impressive.

Links to various video samples used in this review and be found in “Where to get video, audio and images samples” post and comments.

Network Performance (Wi-Fi and Ethernet)

A 278 MB file is transferred between a SAMBA share (Ubuntu 14.04) and the internal flash, and vice versa, to test the network performance, repeating the test three times with ES File Explorer. Wi-Fi transfer speed is very good @ 3.01 MB/s on average, about the same as MXQ-S85, but not not quite as fast as the outstanding Wi-Fi performance of EM6Q-MXQ media player.

Throughput in MB/s

Throughput in MB/s

Ethernet worked fine at 100 Mbps connected to my Gigabit Ethernet switch, with performance a little better than other Amlogic S805 players.

MINIX_NEO_X6_SAMBA_Flash_Copy

Throughput in MB/s

I ran iPerf app using “iperf -t 60 -c 192.168.0.104 -d” command line, to get a raw Ethernet performance number, and it confirms NEO X6 is still the best in its category (S805 boxes have green dots):

MINIX_NEO_X6_iPerf

Throughput in Mbps

iperf output:

Client connecting to 192.168.0.105, TCP port 5001
TCP window size:  136 KByte (default)
------------------------------------------------------------
[  6] local 192.168.0.104 port 48372 connected with 192.168.0.105 port 5001
[ ID] Interval       Transfer     Bandwidth
[  6]  0.0-60.0 sec   625 MBytes  87.4 Mbits/sec
[  4]  0.0-60.1 sec   564 MBytes  78.7 Mbits/sec

Miscellaneous Tests

Bluetooth

Bluetooth file transfer works as expected. MINIX NEO X6 is advertized as “m201″, and I did not experience any issues while transferring pictures from my Android phone to the box.

I skipped Sixaxis Compatibility Checker test, as the device is not rooted, and I did not try to root it.

I used Vidonn X5 fitness band to test Bluetooth Smart (BLE), but the app could locate the smartband.

Storage

USB flash drive and a micro SD card formatted with FAT21 could be accessed by the system. NTFS and FAT32 partitions on my USB 3.0 hard drive could be mounted and accessed, but the EXT-4 and BTRFS partitions were completely ignored as usual.

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

USB hard drive and internal flash performance were tested with A1 SD Bench app. The read speed was 18.87 MB/s, and the write speed 22.37MB/s for NTFS partition in my USB hard drive (mounted in /storage/external_storage/sdb1). Both results are not very good, but equivalent to what I got with MXQ S85, yet much slower than EM6Q-MXQ.

Transfer Rate in MB/s

Transfer Rate in MB/s

MINIX claims to have use an eMMC flash with NEO X6, and the benchmark results indeed shows its the fastest S805 device when its comes to internal storage read and write speeds, achieving respectively 23.23 MB/s (read) and 9.95 MB/s (write), which makes sure the apps load a bit faster. Boot should also be faster, but for some reasons it’s not the case, at least against MXQ S85.

Read / Write Speed in MB/s

Read / Write Speed in MB/s

USB Webcam

I could make an audio call with Skype using the “Echo Service”, and the webcam was recognized and working, but although I could record a video message, it would never show up, and I could not share it with my contact. Google Hangouts also recognizes the USB webcam, but the image freezes a lot, so it’s currently unusable.

Gaming

I played the three usual suspects: Candy Crush Saga, Beach Buggy Blitz, and Riptide GP2. Candy Crush Saga was responsive enough, and I crushed candy with my air mouse. I used Tronsmart Mars G01 wireless gamepad for Beach Buggy Blitz and Riptide GP2. Beach Buggy Blitz exited while loading the first time, but after that it worked. The quad core Mali-450 GPU is powerful enough to handle this game at a decent frame rate with the default settings (low graphics settings), even at 1080p. The system struggles a bit more with Riptide GP2, but changing the graphics quality to “Smoother Framerate” improve the user experience. I played several races waiting for the usual freeze in Riptide GP2 on Amlogic devices, but I decided to give after the 7th races (about 30 minutes), as the game was still running good. I’m not sure if Amlogic or MINIX did something to the firmware, or Vector Unit changed something in their game.

3D games are working and, NEO X6 appears to be more stable than other Amlogic devices, but if gaming is important to you, you should still consider a faster devices based on Rockchip RK3288 processor for instance.

MINIX NEO X6 CPU-Z & Antutu Benchmark

I failed to have a look at the board in MINIX NEO X6 unboxing post, but CPU-Z provides some interesting insights, which could explain some of the close results with MXQ S85 in several benchmarks above. The model number is reported as NEO X6 (m201), whereas MXQ-S85 was reported as S85 (m201). At first I thought the board could be virtually the same, except MINIX took out S/PDIF, and replaced a standard NAND flash, by an eMMC flash, but the connectors placement are quite different, so they must really be different, and I’m not sure what m201 means in this case.

MINIX_NEO_X6_CPU-Z

The media hub gets 1716,448 points in Antutu 5.2, which is a bit faster than the scores achieved by EM6Q-MXQ (16,647), and MXQ S85 (16,448), mostly because the CPU is clocked at 1,536 MHz instead of 1,488 MHz, and faster I/Os.

MINIX_NEO_X6_Antutu

Conclusion

There’s no doubt MINIX NEO X6 is a good device. Firmware is very stable, I did not experience slowdowns, video playback is excellent, with rare features like H.265 support in XBMC, and automatic refresh rate switching, Ethernet and Wi-Fi both offer good throughput, 3D games won’t hang like in most Amlogic boxes, and the main downside is probably the rather poor USB / NTFS read and write performance, which becomes an issue in case you have very high bit rate videos (120 Mbps+) stored on a USB hard drive.

PRO:

  • Firmware is stable, and relatively fast (considering the processor involved)
  • Excellent XBMC support including H.265/HEVC support, and automatic refresh rate switching.
  • Good Wi-Fi, and Ethernet performance
  • Video Output – Supports 1080p24/50/60 (but not 25/30 Hz)
  • 3D games play without issues. (Performance is not optimal however due to the GPU/CPU)
  • Good power handling, although the device can’t be turned on with the remote control.
  • OTA firmware update
  • Webcam works with Skype
  • Support forum and community

CONS:

  • USB / NTFS storage performance is disappointing.
  • Bluetooth Low Energy / Smart is not currently supported.
  • OTA firmware upgrade connects to server, but firmware files may not be uploaded to the update server in a timely manner. (TBC)
  • USB webcam did not work reliably in Google Hangouts.
  • The remote control can’t power on the device.
  • Lacks optical S/PDIF output
  • Relatively slow boot time (1m30s) despite eMMC flash

MINIX NEO X6 media hub is clearly a better device compared to the low cost MXQ S85 and EMQ6-MXQ media players, albeit its outperformed in some individuals tests. Overall, there are less issues, XBMC runs better, and if support and regular firmware updates, probably for a year based on experience with previous MINIX devices, are important to you, it could be worth paying double price to buy MINIX NEO X6 instead of MXQ S85. For $100, you could also buy one of the many Rockchip RK3288 media player, and if video playback is not your focus, web browsing and gaming will be much faster, but if your main usage will be to play 1080p videos, including with the latest HEVC/H.265, NEO X6 capabilities are greater than on any of the RK3288 TV boxes I’ve tested so far. Devices based on Amlogic S812 will also be an option, in theory providing both the same excellent video playback (up to 4K), and much faster CPU/GPU performance, but it’s something I’ll test soon.

Tinydeal provided the sample for this review, and if are interested in the device, you could buy  MINIX NEO X6 for $99.99 including shipping on Tinydeal.  It is quite popular. so it can be found on many online resellers including DealExtreme, Amazon, Pandawill, GeekBuying, etc…

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Tronsmart Draco AW80 Octa core Android TV Box Review

November 9th, 2014 44 comments

Tronsmart Draco AW80 (click for full specs) is the first octa core Android TV box / mini PC thanks to Allwinner A80 processor. Draco AW80 Meta model comes with 2GB RAM / 16GB eMMC, and the upcoming Draco AW80 Telos will feature 4GB RAM and a 32GB eMMC. Geekbuying sent me the Meta version for review, and since I’ve already posted pictures of the device and board, today I’ll post my findings after testing the unit.

First Boot, Settings and First Impressions

I’ve inserted two AAA batteries in the provided remote control, and it works as expect, but as usual, I’ve used Mele F10 Deluxe air mouse to control the device during my testing, since it’s impossible to use most apps with an IR remote control, XBMC/Kodi being one exception. I’ve connected an HDMI cable, a USB 3.0 hard drive to the USB 3.0 OTG port of the TV box, an Ethernet cable, a USB webcam, inserted an SD card, as well as a USB hub with RF dongles for my air mouse and Mars G01 gamepad, and USB flash drive. There’s no power button, and the board boots immediately as you connect the power. It takes about 44 seconds to complete, which is quite slower than the 20 seconds with Rockchip RK3288 TV boxes coming with a fast eMMC such as HPH NT-V6 or Kingnovel R6.

Android Home Screen (Click for Original Size)

Android Home Screen (Click for Original Size)

We’ve got a clean Android home screen without any icon. The output resolution was 720p by default, but I switched to 1080p60.

About_Draco_AW80Let’s go to the Android Settings. The Wireless and Networks menu features the usual Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Ethernet, and Data Usage sections, as well as a “More” section with VPN, and Tethering & portable hotspot.… You can enable pass-through in the Sound Settings, and select three audio output modes: “AUDIO_CODEC”, “AUDIO_HDMI” and “AUDIO_SPDIF”. The dpi settings are set so that he box is better used as a mini PC (1 meter from screen) rather than a TV (e.g.3 to 4 meters) and the font size is quite small, so you may want to change the font to “Huge” if you are using the device as a TV box. The Display menu also let should select several output modes: 720p 50/60, 1080p 24/50/60 or 4K 30 for HDMI ,and PAL or NTSC for composite output. I’ve only used HDMI, not composite output.

The 16 eMMC flash in Tronsmart Draco AW80 Meta is partition in a single 12.04 GB “internal storage” partition for apps and data, with over 11.2GB available space. There are also some options to “enable media scanning” on SD card and USB, and enable “Blu Ray directory play mode”, but I’m not sure what’s the exact use of these functions.

The “About Box” section lists the model number as Draco AW80, and Android 4.4.2 running on top of Linux kernel 3.4.39. The build number is jaws_tvd_p1-eng 4.4.2 KOT49H 20141024 test-keys, which jaws_tvd_p1 being the board/platform name. The firmware is  rooted, and the “System Update” (no s) menu can perform OTA updates. I haven’t been able to test this feature, as there’s no new firmware, but the server check seemed to work.

In the video below, I boot the device, and go though the system settings, and play a video in Kodi.

I could install all apps required for the review from Google Play Store, except Vidonn activity tracker app again reported as “incompatible with your device”. This happens with many devices, so it could be any issues wit hthe app, rather than the firmware. I’ve also downloaded and installed Amazon AppStore in order to load Riptide GP2 game, which I got as a “free app of the day”.

Power handling may look like a detail, but the lack of power off function may lead to flash corruption because you need to cut the power from the mains, so I first was disappointed when I discovered Draco AW80 did not have power button in the unit itself. But luckily, they’ve done things right after all. The first time you connect the power supply, the box will start automatially, but you can use the remote control (Mele F10 Deluxe also work) to put the box in to standby (short press), or power the device off (long press). You can also turn it back on with the remote control power key, so you don’t need to get up from the sofa…. Thanks to the large heatsink and metallic enclosire, the box stays pretty cool, and after Antutu benchmark, the maximum temperatures measured with an infrared thermometer on the top and bottom of the box were respectively 39°C and 41°C.

Draco AW80 firmware is very stable, and the box feels fast and snappy, with a performance “feeling” pretty similar to Amlogic S802 and Rockchip RK3288 based devices. I did not have any problems of the box hanging, except with Riptide GP2 as we’ll see below.

Video Playback

This media player comes pre-loaded with Kodi 14-alpha 3. Normally, I would use a SAMBA share to play video over Ethernet, but at first XBMC/Kodi failed to find any network shares, so instead I played most videos from a USB hard drive, and only switched to SAMBA + Gigabit Ethernet later for the remaining videos, once I manage to connect. If Kodi had problem to play a particular video, I switched to MX Player for further testing.

Videos samples from samplemedia.linaro.org, plus H.265/HEVC video by Elecard, and a low res VP9 sample:

  • H.264 codec / MP4 container (Big Buck Bunny), 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • MPEG2 codec / MPG container, 480p/720p/1080p
    • Kodi – It can play smoothly at first, but after several seconds, many frames are dropped, leading to a slow motion effect.
    • MX Player – OK
  • MPEG4 codec, AVI container 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • VC1 codec (WMV), 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • Real Media (RMVB) – RV8, RV9, and RV10 – OK. Smoother than other ARM platforms.
  • WebM / VP8 – OK
  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS container
    • Kodi – XBMC simply exits once I tried to play these samples
    • MX Player – Black screen with H/W decode. The videos can only be played by selecting S/W decode, which looks OK for 480p/720p, but can be choppy in some scenes @ 1080p.
  • Vp9 (low re) – OK

Most videos can play, even though I had to switch to MX Player for smooth MPEG2, but H.265 / HEVC video completely failed to play with both players.

Higher bitrate videos:

  • ED_HD.avi – OK, no problem even in fast moving scenes
  • big_buck_bunny_1080p_surround.avi (1080p H.264 – 12 Mbps) – OK.
  • h264_1080p_hp_4.1_40mbps_birds.mkv (40 Mbps) – OK at first, for some frames are skipped and dropped near the end.
  • hddvd_demo_17.5Mbps_1080p_VC1.mkv (17.5Mbps) – OK, but many frames are dropped, so the video does not feel that smooth.
  • Jellyfish-120-Mbps.mkv (120 Mbps video without audio) – OK both from USB and SAMBA (Ethernet).

High definition audio codec:

  • AC3 – OK, but aspect ratio strangely set to 1:1.
  • Dolby Digital 5.1 / Dolby Digital 7.1 – OK
  • TrueHD 5.1 & 7.1 – OK
  • DTS-MA and DTS-HR – OK

Sintel-Bluray.iso could play well in XBMC/Kodi, so Blu-Ray ISO are also supported.

Yet again 4K videos are a disappointment, especially with the latest HEVC/VP9 codec, but none of the recent devices can handle all of these properly.

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4

    • Kodi – OK most of the time, but some frames are skipped
    • MX Player – OK
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv – OK!
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 – Slow motion (S/W decode) in Kodi, and even in MX Player where the app (incorrectly) mentions H/W decode.
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 – Slow motion (S/W decode) in Kodi, and even in MX Player where the app (incorrectly) mentions H/W decode.
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts – Slow motion (S/W decode) in Kodi, and even in MX Player where the app (incorrectly) mentions H/W decode.
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (3840×2160)
    • Kodi – The app exits
    • MX Player – S/W decode, super slow as with HEVC videos

I’ve also been asked to try 1080i MPEG2 videos, so I did just that:

  • GridHD.mpg – OK
  • Pastel1080i25HD.mpg – OK

Finally, I played some several AVI, MKV, FLV, VOB and MP4 videos all from the SAMBA share, and they could all play. However, I could notice some serious dropped / skipped frame issues in a t least two videos, sometimes it plays smooth for a while, and suddenly frames start to be dropped. I could not find a sure way to reproduce the issues.

In order to test stability, I also played a 1080p H.264 MKV video (1h50), and I had no problem. I did not notice frames dropped during my periodic checks, but Kodi did report 522 dropped frames, and 1021 skipped for the whole movie. As a side note, Kodi/XBMC normally makes use of all cores available on a platform, but with Allwinner A80 only two cores are used.

Links to various video samples used in this review and be found in “Where to get video, audio and images samples” post, and especially in the comments section.

Network Performance (Wi-Fi and Ethernet)

In order to evaluate network performance, I transfer a 278 MB file between a SAMBA share and the internal flash, and vice versa, using ES File Explorer, and repeat the test three times. Since Draco AW200 support both 802.11 b/g/n (2.4/5.0Hhz) and 802.11ac (5.0GHz), I use both my default router TP-Link TL-WR940N router for 802.11n, and TP-Link TL-WDR7500 (Archer C7) for 802.11ac testing. Wi-Fi performance of this mini PC is quite good reaching 2.89 MB/s (23.12 Mbps) for 802.11n, and 4.010 MB/s (32.08 Mbps) for 802.11ac with a reported link at 390 Mbps.

Draco_AW80_Wi-FI_Performance

Draco AW80 Wi-Fi Throughput (MB/s)

This mini PC is one of the few devices I’ve tested with a properly working Gigabit Ethernet connection, the only other being Orion R28 Meta, also from Tronsmart. I’ll also tested it by copying a file between SAMBA and the internal flash for reference only, since the transfer is limited by the flash writing speed, but this still gives an idea of time it would take to copy a file.

SAMBA  Flash File Copy Over Ethernet in MB/s

SAMBA Flash File Copy Over Ethernet in MB/s

As we’ll see below, the fastest storage option in this box is a USB hardware drive formatted with FAT32, where I can transfer a 928MB file between SAMBA and USB FAT32 in 44 seconds (21.09 MB/s), and from USB FAT32 to SAMBA (SSD) in just 35 seconds or about 26.50 MB/s.

Draco_AW80_Gigabit_Ethernet_Performance

Throughput in Mbits/sec

For a raw network performance number, I also used iPerf app and iperf in my Ubuntu PC, using “iperf -t 60 -c 192.168.0.104 -d” command line in Android. I’ve only tested Gigabit Ethernet, and skipped Fast Ethernet.

In the chart above, but Kingnovel K-R6 and HPH NT-V6 only transfer data quickly in one directory, and are painfully slow in the other directory. Draco AW80 Meta could make a transfer at 736 Mbits/sec in on direction, but only 234 Mbits/sec in the other. as you can see from iperf output below:
------------------------------------------------------------
 Server listening on TCP port 5001
 TCP window size: 85.3 KByte (default)
 ------------------------------------------------------------
 [ 4] local 192.168.0.104 port 5001 connected with 192.168.0.102 port 43225
 ------------------------------------------------------------
 Client connecting to 192.168.0.102, TCP port 5001
 TCP window size: 204 KByte (default)
 ------------------------------------------------------------
 [ 6] local 192.168.0.104 port 38064 connected with 192.168.0.102 port 5001
 [ ID] Interval Transfer Bandwidth
 [ 4] 0.0-60.0 sec 5.14 GBytes 736 Mbits/sec
 [ 6] 0.0-60.0 sec 1.63 GBytes 234 Mbits/sec

I’ve got about the same numbers with A80 OptimusBoard, a development board powered by Allwinner A80, so the asymmetric performance may be due to limitations of the Allwinner octa core processor (TBC).

Miscellaneous Tests

Bluetooth

I could transfer a few pictures by pairing “Draco AW80″ to my ThL W200 Android smartphone.

I managed to connect my PS3 wireless controller clone to the device with Sixaxis Compatibility Checker app, and get the device recognized by following those instructions.

I installed vidonn.apk manually, since It’s reported as not compatible in Google Play, and my Vidonn X5 activity tracker could connected to the device with Bluetooth 4.0 LE, and data was synchronized properly.

So full mark for Bluetooth!

Storage

Both a micro SD card and USB flash drive formatted with FAT32 could be mounted and accessed by the system
NTFS and FAT32 partitions on my USB 3.0 hard drive could be mounted, and read/written to, but as usual EXT-4 and BTRFS are not working.

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

A1 SD Bench was used to benchmark performance of the internal flash and USB 3.0 partitions. I also planned to test the SATA connector, but taking out the hard drive from the USB enclosure prove a bit more challenging than expected, so I skipped that part. I set the custom location to /mnt/usbhost0/8_17 in the benchmark app to test the NTFS partition. Since my external drive is a USB 3.0, and it can deliver 100+ MB/s read speed, and 46 MB/s write speed (NTFS partition) in my PC, I was expecting some very good results. But I quickly got disillusioned, as it’s even slower than some other devices with a USB 2.0 connection. The read speed was 25.29MB/s, and the write speed of 12.57MB/s.

Draco_AW80_USB_NTFS_Performance

Read and Write Speeds in MB/S

Draco AW80 has actual the slowest USB NTFS write speed ever recorded. I also experienced a slow write speed with A80 OptimusBoard, even worse at 3 to 4MB/s, but never published due to other issues, so I’m simply guessing Allwinner SDK has not been optimized for NTFS performance. To prove the point, I also tested the FAT32 partition (/mnt/usbhost0/8_19), achieving a more respectable 36.32 MB/s and 24.61 MB/s for respectively read and write speeds. These are still USB 2.0 kind of numbers however…

I haven’t tested SATA, but since it’s based on a USB 2.0 to SATA bridge, you should experience a similar or slower performance compared to the USB 3.0 hard drive.

The Samsung eMMC found on the board has pretty decent performance, but quite far from the theoretical values (160/50 MB/s) with 32.41 MB/s read speed,, and a 11.06 MB/s write speed.

Read and Write Speed in MB/s

Read and Write Speed in MB/s

It’s not quite as fast as some RK3288 devices, which partially explains the relatively slow boot time. Nevertheless that’s fast enough, and I only experienced a severe slowdown once (mouse pointer stuck for 2 or 3 seconds) while I installed multiple apps.

USB Webcam

Skype works OK, both with Echo service in Skype, and making a call. However, once I tried to record a video message, and it looked OK during recording, but the video was corrupted when I played it.

Google Hangouts is basically unusable, as it quits whenever I start a chat session.

Gaming

The three usual games where used to test gaming: Candy Crush Saga, Beach Buggy Blitz, and Riptide GP2. I played Candy Crush Saga with Mele F10 Deluxe, and it was nice and smooth as expected, and the two racing games with Tronsmart Mars G01 wireless gamepad. Beach Buggy Blitz is ultra smooth even with graphics settings set to the maximum. However, I had great problems while playing Riptide GP2. The first time, the image simply froze after 6 seconds in my first race, but I had used to box a few hours before. So I waited for a little while bit, and restarted the box. I could play one full race relatively smoothly, but in the second race the image froze again. Sometimes, the races won’t even load, so it was quite a disaster with that. So I also had to skipped the temperature measurement after the game, so I would not play it for more than 3 to 4 minutes if I was very lucky.

Tronsmart Draco AW80 Meta Benchmark

Before benchmark the device, I ran CPU-Z app toget some more information. An octa core processor is detected with ARM Cortex A15 cores, so it seems CPU-Z does not handle heterogeneous CPU architectures for now. The GPU is correctly detected as an Imagination Technologies PowerVR Rogue G6230. The model is called Draco AW80 (jaws_tvd_p1), with 1624 MB RAM (the rest being used by the GPU. VPU, and other hardware blocks), and the storage partition is 12.04 GB just like in the Android settings. The screen resolution in pixel and dp are the same at 1920×1032, which explains why the font looks small. Other systems often have a lower dp resolution, but if you plan to use the system as a computer a higher resolution in dp is better.

Draco_AW80_Allwinner_A80_CPU-Z

With 49,657 points (unverified), Draco AW80 is by far the fastest Android mini PC on the market, at least according to Antutu. Having said that, silicon vendors and manufacturers tend to try to cheat with Antutu, so the score should not be blindly relied upon.

Tronsmart_Draco_AW80_Antutu_5.0

That’s why i could be useful to run other benchmark, such as Vellamo 3.x.

Tronsmart_Draco_AW80_VellamoFor some reasons the scores are significantly lower than on Rockchip RK3288 (Nagrace HPH NT-V6) for all three benchmarks: 2,109 points for the Browser test (vs 2,549), 1,138 points for the Metal test (vs 1,457), and 1,352 points for the multicore test (vs 2,003). The latter is all the more surprising because Cortex A15 cores are supposed to be faster than Cortex A12/A17 cores, and Allwinner A80 has 8 cores to play with (4x A7, 4x A15) instead of the four Cortex A12/A17 on RK3288. Maybe the scheduler reduces the frequencies of the cores if they all run simultaneously. I’ll write a separate post to compare all these results side-by-side between A80 and RK3288.

Ice Storm Extreme benchmark score (6,461) in 3DMark is also lower compared to Rockchip RK3288 based media players which score between 7,000 and 7,500 at 1080p resolution.

Futuremark 3DMark Ice Storm Extreme (Click to Enlarge)

Futuremark 3DMark Ice Storm Extreme (Click to Enlarge)

Conclusion

Tronsmart Draco AW80 has some exciting specifications with a fast octa-core processor, high speed interfaces like USB 3.0, SATA, and Gigabit Ethernet, and the potential to support Linux. The device feels fast indeed, and stable, with very good Wi-Fi and working Gigabit Ethernet (a rare thing!). Video playback is OK most of the time, but VP9 and H.265 are simply not properly supported in either Kodi and MX Player, and I’ve noticed some apparently random issues with skipped frames while playing some videos. USB 3.0 performance is disappointing, and if you thought SATA would bring a boost in storage performance, I would not hold my breath (not tested) as it’s implemented via a USB 2.0 to SATA bridge. So all in all it’s a pretty good device, but maybe not just as good as could have been expected from the specs.

PRO:

  • Fast new processor, the only octa core mini PC / TV box in the market (excluding some ODROID development boards)
  • Very good 3D graphics (when ti works)
  • Stable and fast firmware.
  • USB 3.0, and SATA interfaces (with caveats)
  • Very good Wi-Fi performance, and Gigabit Ethernet working
  • Video Output – 1080p support 24, 50 and 60 Hz output. 4K @ 30Hz should be supported (not tested).
  • Proper power off/standby handling.
  • Aluminum casing and heatsink keep the device cool (40 C).
  • Webcam supported in Skype
  • Bluetooth well supported – File transfer, Bluetooth Smart (BLE), Sixaxis gamepad
  • OTA update appears to be supported
  • Support forum

CONS:

  • Some 3D games may have problems to run, at least, Riptide GP2 is basically unplayable for me due to the game freezing.
  • H.265 / VP9 codec not supported properly in both Kodi/XBMC and MX Player
  • Skipped frame issues in some videos (appears to start randomly).
  • Google Hangouts can be used with webcam (can’t start chat).
  • Slow write speed on NTFS/USB partition, USB 3.0 performance slower than most TV boxes with USB 2.0 port. SATA should be the same (USB 2.0 to SATA bridge)
  • Gigabit has an asymmetric performance (720Mbps / 220 Mbps) according to iperf, but still good enough for most use cases.

Tronsmart Draco AW80 Meta reviewed in this post sells for $149 on GeekBuying, and the upcoming Draco AW80 Telos with 4GB RAM and 32GB eMMC flash is available for pre-order for $199, and is expected to ship by the end of the month. You can also purchase either model on Aliexpress or DH Gate.

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Review of Rippl-TV Android XBMC TV Box

November 5th, 2014 10 comments

Rippl-TV is an Android TV box based on an update revision of Eny Techology/Shenzhen Tomato M8 (square) TV Box with an Amlogic S802 quad core processor, but featuring a different firmware with an alledgedly customized Android 4.4 OS called utilOS, and a launcher based on XBMC also called Rippl-TV. I’ve already written an unboxing post, including pictures of the board, so today I’l focus on the full review, and compare the performance to the original M8, as well as a closer look at the new user interface.

First Boot, Settings and First Impressions

Rippl-TV comes with an IR remote, and as long as your stay in XBMC and play videos, it’s fine, but as this type of remote is usable with most Android apps, I used Mele F10 Deluxe air mouse instead to control the device. I’ve connected an Ethernet cable, an HDMI cable, a USB hard drive, and a USB hub with  Mele F10 Deluxe and Tronsmart Mars G01 gamepad RF dongles, as well as a USB UVC webcam. There’s no power button, so as soon as you connect the power supply, the blue LED turns on the board boots. After Rippl-TV logo, comes a Rippl-TV animation with creepy audio, and after around 90 seconds the device is ready to use.

Rippl-TV Launcher (Click for Original Size)

Rippl-TV Launcher (Click for Original Size)

The first time, you’re being ask to select the “home app” either MediaBox launcher, the metro-like launcher found in other Amlogic TV boxes like Tronsmart Vega S89, or Rippl-TV, the XBMC centric launcher. I’ve used Rippl-TV launcher as it is one of the key selling point of the device.

The device comes with lots of add-ons pre-installed that let you watch live TV over IP, or even movies, probably more or less legally. The system menu has not been ported to Rippl-TV UI, and instead its using the metro-style system menu found in other S802 media players, as well as the standard Android settings for “advanced settings”. I won’t go through all settings, so simply read Tronsmart Vega S89 review or M8 review if you have never come across the user interface, although I’ll show it in my user interface walk-though video below. For a couple of minutes I struggled to find a way to access the list of apps from this launcher, and it turns out, you just have to click on Rippl-TV.

About_Rippl-TVSince virtually nobody is using composite output, I only used HDMI during my test, and it was set manually to 1080p60. There’s a single flash partition, which I find nice, with 5.75GB total space, and about 4.5 GB free after I completed this review. utilOS is based on Android 4.4.2 and runs on top of Linux kernel 3.10.33. The firmnware is rooted. It will probably be an issue to get a download firmware, since it could be easily installed on cheaper competing products.

Both Google Play and Aptoide are pre-installed in order to let your install various apps, and I have to say I failed to find any unsupported app in Google Play, except Vidonn smartband app. I tried to install Riptide GP2 via Aptoide, but the game failed to start (license check failed), so instead I installed it via Amazon AppStore since I got it as part of a “free app of the day” offer.

There’s no power button, so the only way to truly turn off the device is to disconnect the power. There are multiple power options in Rippl-TV including Timer, Power off System, Reboot, Hibernate, and Log Off, but most simply reboot the device. You can however go in standby mode with the power button on the remote control. It works with Mele F10 Deluxe power button too.  I’ve checked the temperature of the box after running Antutu benchmark. The top was 45 °C, the bottom 39 °C, with my room temperature around 28 °C. After Riptide GP2 the temperature went up to 55 °C (top) and 48 °C (bottom).

Watch the user interface walk-through to see the boot time, how to use Rippl-TV UI, and available options.

After testing the reboot option, Rippl-TV launcher refused to launch (black screen), and I had to clear data in the Android settings, meaning I lost all pre-installed add-ons, and some of XBMC settings (SAMBA shares), but I could restore the pre-installed add-ons with XBMC Backup as shown in that video. It hapenned another time, and instead of “clearing the data”, I simply “cleared the cache” and it could recover without losing settings and XBMC config.

Apart from that very annoying issue with the black screen and losing pre-installed add-ons, I did not really encounter any other major issues with the firmware, all is nice, fast and smooth. So stability is definitely better than with the firmware I tried on M8 last April.

Video Playback

Rippl-TV reports XBMC 1.1 version which does not mean much, but it’s probably based on XBMC 13 Gotham. I’ll only test video with Rippl-TV in this review, and play them from a SAMBA share located on a PC running Ubuntu, unless otherwise stated.

I played videos from samplemedia.linaro.org, and as well as H.265/HEVC codec and VP9 test 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), 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • Real Media (RMVB) – OK for RV8, RV9 and RV10, but smoothness could be a bit better.
  • WebM / VP8 – 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS container, 360p/720p/1080p – Audio only. H.265 is not supported in this version of XBMC.
  • VP9 – Won’t even start

I’ve also tested some higher bitrate videos:

  • ED_HD.avi (1080p MPEG-4 – 10Mbps) – No video, audio only.
  • 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) – Video is playing but frames are skipped or dropped, and it’s clearly noticeable.
  • Jellyfish-120-Mbps.mkv (120 Mbps video without audio) – OK (Played from USB hard drive)

Mostly no problem with high-end audio codec (PCM output):

  • AC3 – OK
  • Dolby Digital 5.1 / Dolby Digital 7.1 – OK. However. some bright parts of the video with 7.1 audio are blinking.
  • TrueHD 5.1 & 7.1 – OK.
  • DTS-MA and DTS-HR – OK.

The processor used is S802, not S802-H with proper Dolby/DTS license, so XBMC is handling decoding by software.

Sintel-Bluray.iso is playing fine, so Bluray ISOs are supported.

4K video play as expected, except for the new codec (H.265/VP9)

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 – OK
  • Sintel-4k.mkv – Plays, but artifacts can be seen on the right of the screen

Over twenty AVI, MKV, FLV, VOB and MP4 videos could also play without issues. There’s a recurrent display bug in Rippl-TV with the last video frame often shown in the background, when it should not be. At one point, I also have had problem s changing the view mode of the video (16:9, Stretched, Zoomed) as it did not have effect, but it does not happen all the time.

I played a 2h00 1080p mkv video without issues, so I could not reproduce the 30-minute playback issue some people had with M8/.

Links to various video samples used in this review and be found in “Where to get video, audio and images samples” post and comments.

Network Performance (Wi-Fi and Ethernet)

To evaluate network performance, and the time it takes to transfer a file over Wi-Fi or Ethernet, I transfer a 278 MB file between a SAMBA share and the internal flash, and vice versa, using ES File Explorer, and repeating the test three times. Rippl-TV had decent, but average performance with a speed of 2.69 MB/s on average.

Throughput in MB/s

Throughput in MB/s

Fast Ethernet performance is also OK, and actually one of the fastest devices.

Throughput in MB/s

Throughput in MB/s

In order to get a “pure” network test, I also used iPerf app and iperf in my Ubuntu PC, using “iperf -t 60 -c 192.168.0.104 -d” command line in Android, and here we can see some weakness when it comes to pure Ethernet performance, but it might be the same for all Amlogic devices.

Throughput in Mbps

Throughput in Mbps

Miscellaneous Tests

Bluetooth

I use ThL W200 Android smartphone to send a picture to Rippl-TV which is recognized as “bluedroid”.

Sixaxis Compatibility Checker mentions PS3 Bluetooth Gamepads “appear to be supported”, but the driver segfaults, so I could not connect my Sony game controller clone to the device.

Vidonn X5 activity tracker was used to test Bluetooth 4.0 LE. Since I could not install Vidonn app from Google Play (incompatible), I directly installed vidonn.apk, and successfully connected to my wristband to get the data.

Storage

The system could detect and mounted a micro SD card and USB flash drive formatted with FAT32, but only the the NTFS and FAT32 partitions on my USB 3.0 hard drive could be mounted, as with most other Android devices..

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

A1 SD Bench is used to test performance for internal storage, and the USB NTFS partition. In this firmware, the NTFS partition is located in /storage/external_storage/sda1. The read speed is 24.98MB/s, and the write speed  23.47MB/s, both of which are a little underwhelming.

USB NTFS Performance in MB/s

USB NTFS Performance in MB/s

The internal storage of Rippl-TV is good enough not to suffer from poor loading time, and slowdowns. Yet for some reasons, boot time is painfully slow.

Rippl-TV_Flash_PerformanceUSB Webcam

Skype and Google Hangouts are both working well with a generic USB UVC camera with built-in microphone.

I tested audio successfully with the Echo service in Skype, and could record a video message too, something that often crashes in other devices. Google Hangouts also recognized the camera, and I could make a video call.

Games

Candy Crush Saga and Beach Buggy Blitz were very smooth and nice to play. I played the former with Mele F10 Deluxe, and the latter with Tronsmart Mars G01 wireless gamepad. Beach Buggy Blitz was set to the best graphics quality possible, and ran smoothly. Riptide GP2 is also playable, but just not as smooth as on Rockchip RK3288 platforms, and I encountered the same “3D graphics freeze” issue, where the game is stuck on a picture for a short while, before carrying on,. It started to happen on the fourth race, before it become impossible to play on the 6th race. The solution is to wait, and let the system cool down. Temperature measurements after 6th race: 55°C (top) and 48°C (bottom).

Rippl-TV Benchmark

I’ll keep the benchmark section short, since I’ve tested enough Amlogic S802 devices previously, and simply ran Antutu.

Rippl-TV_Antutu_5Rippl-TV gets 29,849 points in Antutu 5.1, a very good score for an Amlogic S802 based device.

I was also expecting CPU-Z app to report a k200 board (like for M8), but it reports “Rippl-TV” model made by “Tomato” manufacturer, and based on “rtv83″ board.

Conclusion

Rippl-TV is clearly a better product than M8/TM8 TV box, with a firmware much more stable, better Wi-Fi performance, and the same if not slightly better video playback support in XBMC. Rippl-TV user interface may be confusing at first, but once you get used to it, it’s pretty nice. The pre-installed add-ons are convenient if you want to watch live TV or movies, and don’t know which add-ons to install, or don’t want to spend the time to do it. The only worrying part is when I tried the “reboot” function once, and Rippl-TV launcher failed to start (black screen), and I could only fix it by “Clear Data” for Rippl-TV app in the Android settings, which meant I lost all pre-installed add-ons, and had to re-install them. The black screen issue happened twice, but is not easily reproducible.

PRO:

  • Stable and fast firmware
  • XBMC 13? pre-installed with many add-ons for Live TV, movies, series, etc…
  • Blu-Ray ISO and 4K video playback
  • 1080p user interface, 4K video output up to 30 fps supported
  • Good Ethernet performance (60 Mbps video playback OK), and decent Wi-Fi performance
  • Good video formats/codecs support in XBMC
  • USB webcam works with Skype and Google Hangouts

CONS:

  • No power button
  • Potential black screen issues with Rippl-TV launcher. Fixable with “Clear Data” or “Clear Cache” in Android settings.
  • Rippl-TV / XBMC Issues: Last video frame sometimes shown in XBMC user interface, and sometimes changing the View Mode (16:9 Stretch, Zoom, Original…) as no effect.
  • OTA firmware update not supported.
  • Relatively slow boot time (90+ seconds)
  • Some 3D games, such as Riptide GP2, may freeze after a while. Common to other platforms using Mali-450MP GPU.
  • Sony Sixaxis game controller are not recognized
  • More expensive than other Amlogic S802 boxes with similar hardware features.

Shenzhen Tomato provided the sample for review, and if you want to buy in quantity, you can contact them via rippl-tv.com. Individuals can purchase Rippl-TV for $139.90 on Amazon and Aliexpress plus shipping.

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Applied Micro X-Gene (64-bit ARM) vs Intel Xeon (64-bit x86) Performance and Power Usage

October 26th, 2014 5 comments

A group of researcher at CERN have evaluated Applied Micro X-Gene 1 64-bit ARM XC-1 development board against Intel Xeon E5-2650 and Xeon Phi SE10/7120 systems, and one of them, David Abdurachmanov, presented their findings at ACAT’ 14 conference (Advanced Computing and Analysis Techniques) by listing some of the issues they had to port their software to 64-bit ARM, and performance efficiency of the three systems for data processing of High Energy Physics (HEP) experiments like those at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), where performance-per-watt is important, as computing systems may scale to several hundred thousands cores.

HEP_Test_Systems_X-Gene_Intel_Xeon
Intel Xeon Phi platform based on Many Integrated Cores (MIC) computer architecture was launched the HPC market, and contrary to the table above features 61 physical cores. Applied X-Gene 1 (40nm process) was used instead of X-Gene 2 built on 28-nm process which was not available at the time. The ARM platform ran Fedora 19, whereas the Intel processor used Scientific Linux CERN 6.5.

The researchers run the CERN’s CMSSW applications for testing. Let’s jump to the results.

AOM_X-Gene_1_vs_Intel_XeonAs expected Intel Xeon processor and Phi coprocessor both have more performance than X-Gene 1 ARM SoC.

X-Gene_Intel_Xeon_Phi_Performance_Per_WattHowever, when it comes to performance-per-watt, APM X-Gene 1 is clearly ahead of Intel Xeon E5-2650 and there’s no comparison against Xeon Phi systems.

The conclusion of the report reads as follows:

We have built the software used by the CMS experiment at CERN, as well as portions of the OSG software stack, for ARMv8 64-bit. It has been made available in the official CMS software package repository and via the CVMFS distributed file system used by Grid sites.

Our initial validation has demonstrated that APM X-Gene 1 Server-on-Chip ARMv8 64-bit solution is a relevant and potentially interesting platform for heterogeneous high-density computing. In the absence of platform specific optimizations in the ARMv8 64-bit GCC compiler used, APM X-Gene 1 shows excellent promise that the APM X-Gene hardware will be a valid competitor to Intel Xeon in term of power efficiency as the software evolves. However, Intel Xeon Phi is a completely different category of product. As APM X-Gene 2 is being sampled right now, built on the TMSC 28nm process, we look forward to extending our work to include it into our comparison.

You can read the full report “Heterogeneous High Throughput Scientific Computing with APM X-Gene and Intel Xeon Phi” for details.

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LG NUCLUN Octa-core ARM SoC Powers G3 Screen Smartphone

October 25th, 2014 5 comments

LG has been making mobile devices since 1997, has entered the smartphone market in 2010, and they’ve now decided to foray into mobile SoC, with their very first SoC being an octa-core Cortex A15/A7 processor called NUCLUN, and found in their latest G3 Screen smartphone running Android 4.4.4.

LG_G3_Screen_NUCLUN_Processor

Details about NUCLUN processor are sparse, but the company did provide some specifications for LG G3 Screen smartphone:

  • SoC – LG NUCLUN (LG7111) Octa-Core big.LITTLE processor with four ARM Cortex A15 cores @ 1.5GHz, four ARM Cortex A7 cores @ 1.2GHz.
  • System Memory – 2GB RAM
  • Storage – 32GB  eMMC + MicroSD slot
  • Display – 5.9″ Full HD IPS touchscreen
  • Camera – 13MP OIS+ rear camera, 2.1MP front-facing camera
  • Network – LTE-A Cat.6 for up to 225Mbps download speed.
  • Battery – 3,000mAh
  • Dimensions – 157.8x 81.8x 9.5mm
  • Weight – 182g

The phone,  also codenamed as LG Liger F490L, F490K or F490S (depending on carrier) , runs Android 4.4.4 KitKat on top of Linux 3.10.40+. The GPU was not listed, but based on some CPU-Z screenshots a PowerVR GPU (Series 6?) is used in NUCLUN. The firmware may not be optimized for performance just yet, as Antutu 5.1.5 score is just 25,460 points.

LG_G3_Screen_CPU-Z_Antutu

LG G3 Screen will only be available later this week in Korea, but price has not been disclosed yet.

Via Liliputing, GSMArea, and kenhcongnghe

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